11 Nuclear Energy Wins to Give Thanks for This Year
Looking for reasons to be cheerful? There are plenty…
If you are the type of person that reflects on all of the things you are thankful for on Thanksgiving, here are some nuclear energy “wins” from the last year that you can add to your list. Above all else, we are thankful for all of the support and activism efforts from those who believe in our cause that the world needs nuclear energy. We could not have had the success we have seen this year without you.
1. Byron, Dresden, and Braidwood: SAVED (US)
Positioned to retire in November of 2021 due to a broken electricity market, three Illinois nuclear energy units were saved after the passage of Illinois Senate Bill 2408 in September. The bill allocates up to $140 million per year, for five years, to maintain the operations of three of Illinois’ nuclear plants, Byron, Dresden, and Braidwood. It is a key part of Illinois’ plan to transition the state towards clean energy by 2045. With nuclear energy providing over 50% of Illinois’ electricity, state lawmakers working to save these power plants was a huge win for the environment and Illinoisans, and it wouldn’t have happened without tireless grassroots advocacy by Gen A and our allies.
2. Nuclear Energy in the Regulated Asset Base (UK)
Another legislative victory for nuclear energy came out of the UK in October of 2021 with the passage of the Nuclear Energy Finance Bill. This memorandum changed the financing structure for nuclear energy projects from the Contracts for Difference (CfD) model to a Regulated Asset Base (RAB) model. The main difference between the two is that under the CfD model, “developers have to finance the construction of a nuclear project and only begin receiving revenue when the station starts generating electricity”, whereas in the RAB model, “a company receives a license from an economic regulator to charge a regulated price to consumers in exchange for providing the infrastructure in question”. While this may seem like a small change in financing structure, the RAB model is projected to save GBP30 billion (USD 41 billion) dollars over a project’s lifetime, lowering the cost of the build and cost to customers. To put that into perspective, the UK’s high profile new build “Hinkley Point C” used the CfD model, and as a result, over two-thirds of the cost of building the plant is interest on the financing.
3. US Infrastructure Bill Allocating $6B for Existing Nuclear, $2.5B for Advanced Reactors
US President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law in mid-November of 2021 allocating $6 billion to prevent the early retirement of existing nuclear energy facilities and $2.5 billion towards demonstrating future nuclear technology with the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program. Under the Civilian Nuclear Credit program, this Act provides a lifeline to nuclear energy plants by restoring profitability that has been eroded by fracking and subsidies to competing energy sources. With roughly one-third of our remaining nuclear generation (one-eighth of American clean power) at significant risk of early retirement, passing this piece of legislation helped protect the equivalent of three times the US’s current solar generation. Gen A’s social media and digital action campaigns around this provision helped drive in hundreds of emails and phone calls to lawmakers from around the country in support of the bill.
4. EU Push to Include Nuclear Energy in Taxonomy for Sustainable Investment
A letter initiated by France and signed by nine other EU countries in October of 2021 pushed the European Commission to include nuclear energy in its taxonomy of sustainable energy sources. In an interview at COP26 in November of 2021, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi reported that he is “absolutely confident” that nuclear will be included in the taxonomy for sustainable investment, noting the remark made by President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, stating that “we need it as a stable source”. The inclusion of nuclear energy into this list “opens up a sector to green finance, giving it a competitive advantage”, and provides potential investors and policymakers with guidance about what activities are environmentally sustainable. Earlier this year Gen A and our allies, such as Voices of Nuclear, Nuklearia, Fota4Climate, Finnish and Swedish Ecomodernists, Foreningen Atomkraft Ja Tak, TerraPraxis, and many more sent over 5,000 letters to the European Commission and key staff working on this issue in support of nuclear energy’s inclusion.
5. TerraPower to Build Natrium at Former Coal Facility in Wyoming
In a region dominated by the coal and fossil fuel industry, Kemmerer, Wyoming will be the new location for TerraPower’s first demonstration reactor. Not only will this nuclear energy plant bring clean, sustainable energy to the state, but it will also bring an influx of new high-paying jobs — over 2,000 direct jobs during peak construction. The nuclear reactor will be the first to use an advanced reactor design called Natrium, which uses liquid sodium as a coolant. The Natrium reactors also allow for energy storage using molten salt, and this “stored heat can be turned into electricity upon demand from the grid when [the] need [spikes] or wind and solar sources are unavailable”. Funded partially by TerraPower and the US Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, the project is projected to be finished by 2028.
6. Over 1,000 Signatures Requesting Sierra Club Revisit its Stance on Nuclear Energy
Over 1,000 people, including prominent scientists and Sierra Club members, signed a letter in the Fall of 2021 asking the Sierra Club to reconsider its position against nuclear energy. The Sierra Club, an organization widely known for its environmental activism, has traditionally made its position against nuclear energy very clear. The letter, written by Generation Atomic and distributed to over 700 Sierra Club volunteer leaders, asks that the Sierra Club consider the “significant additional data regarding the relative risks associated with climate change and civilian nuclear power” and requests “a reexamination of previous suppositions and concerns about fission technology”. To view the list of all signees and add your support, visit the campaign here.
7. United Nations — ECE Names Nuclear Energy as THE Most Sustainable Energy Source
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe released a report in August of 2021 on Life Cycle Assessment of Electricity Generation Options. The report’s findings demonstrate that nuclear energy has the lowest life cycle carbon emissions, lowest land use, and lowest mining/metal use of all low-carbon technologies. Acknowledgment by agencies such as the UNECE on the benefits of nuclear energy lends credibility to what advocates have been saying for years — if you care about humans and the environment, you must support nuclear energy.
8. Lifespan of Nuclear Energy Plants Extended to 80 years — Possibly 100
Four reactors in the United States, two in Florida and two in Pennsylvania, have received approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to extend their operations to 80 years. This decision comes after reevaluation of the lifespan of safe nuclear energy operations by the NRC and agencies such as the Electric Power Research Institute and ensures that existing nuclear plants will continue producing carbon-free energy into the future. Other nuclear energy facilities, such as Duke’s three-reactor Oconee nuclear plant in South Carolina, have requested similar extensions from the NRC, with discussions of possibly continuing operations for up to 100 years. This will give us valuable time to develop and scale up the next generation of nuclear reactors for rapid and reliable deep decarbonization.
9. Record Nuclear Support at #COP26
COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference, saw the biggest presence for “team nuclear” ever in November of 2021. With supporters coming from all over the world, nuclear energy advocates performed a flash mob in the streets of Glasgow, Scotland, receiving international attention for their message #NetZeroNeedsNuclear. According to an article published by RealCleanEnergy reflecting on COP26, author Dan Byers notes that beyond not being able to walk around without bumping into someone wearing a t-shirt saying “Let’s Talk Nuclear”, he notes that “as the conference winds down and we take stock of the most meaningful outcomes, strengthened support for nuclear energy is likely to emerge as a major COP26 success story”. Contrary to the traditional treatment of nuclear energy as an “ideological burden,” IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi noted that “This COP is perhaps the first where nuclear energy has a chair at the table”. Strengthened support and increased access to crucial meetings is a huge win for nuclear and its future. The next two COPs are slated to be in Egypt and the UAE, countries that have both made large commitments to build nuclear plants to help achieve an abundant clean energy future.
10. Polls Show Increased Support for Nuclear (US)
In the annual American Climate Perspectives Survey conducted by ecoAmerica, public support for nuclear energy has grown in the last year. Up from 49% in 2018, findings of the survey demonstrate that overall national approval has risen from 59% in 2021, with Republicans (64%) and Democrats (60%) alike showing an increased interest in nuclear energy as well. The report’s findings not only indicate growth in support for nuclear power as a clean source of energy but also for the financing of new nuclear projects. A similar report from Bisconti research showed national support at an all-time high of 76% in 2021. These results indicate considerable progress for the US and its changing attitudes towards nuclear energy.
11. New Nuclear Builds!
Finally, new nuclear projects all over the world have been announced in the last year. Countries such as Ukraine, Kenya, Indonesia, Brazil, Poland, the United States, Romania, and France have all either pledged financial support for the expansion of nuclear energy or have confirmed new nuclear plant builds. China in particular is planning on building 150 reactors in the next 15 years, committing about $440 billion as part of its goal to be carbon-neutral by 2050.
As you can see, there is a lot to be thankful for this year, and it would not have been possible without the dedication and efforts of those who believe that nuclear energy is vital in securing clean, reliable energy for the future. What seem like small acts of activism make a huge impact when we all come together for a common cause — so thank you!