One small step for Congress

Today the President is expected to sign legislation to help promote the next generation of nuclear energy. The legislation, which had strong bipartisan support in the Senate and the House, is a small step but an important one, as we make the transition to a carbon-free energy system.

Decarbonizing the United States’ energy system is a monumental task. It will require reducing our greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent or more by mid-century to help stave off the worst impacts of climate change. To date, the U.S. has only managed to reduce its net emissions a little more than 12 percent below 2005 levels. That leaves a significant margin yet to account for.

In order to accelerate the rate of decarbonization, we will need breakthroughs in technology and strong policy signals for businesses to innovate.

Advanced reactors can dependably generate zero-emission electricity and useful heat, and they are scalable to produce large quantities of energy from a very small footprint. New designs hold the promise of being more affordable, even safer, and are expected to produce less waste than the current generation of reactors.

The Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA) directs DOE to prioritize partnerships with private innovators to test and demonstrate advanced nuclear reactor concepts. It authorizes the creation of a National Reactor Innovation Center to combine the technical expertise of the National Labs and DOE to enable the construction of experimental reactors.

Modeling to date clearly shows that we need nuclear power, renewables, carbon capture, and improved energy efficiency to achieve large-scale, economy-wide emission reductions. It is absolutely necessary to pursue all promising zero-emissions technologies with equal vigor.

Importantly, existing nuclear power plants are a critical bridge to our advanced nuclear future. Keeping the U.S. nuclear fleet in place for as long as practical helps avoid backsliding in emissions, helps maintain our domestic nuclear expertise, and buys us the critical time necessary to develop, deploy and commercialize the next generation of nuclear reactors and other zero-emission technologies.

NEICA and policies like it will help to speed the development process and spur the kind of innovation that we will need to provide a cleaner second half of the century.

With thoughtful leadership, this step proves bipartisan backing exists for solutions to support the development of clean technologies like advanced nuclear, carbon capture, energy storage, and others – even in a challenging political environment. To meet our climate and clean energy goals, we must seek stable solutions that endure political transitions and maintain an ambitious pace to reduce emissions – and NEICA is an encouraging sign that there are potential partners for cooperative action.

Photo courtesy of Idaho National Laboratory, via Flickr.