Nuclear Energy

AuthorDavid A. Repka and Tyson R. Smith
Page 547
I. Introduction: The Role of Nuclear
Energy in Decarbonization
e Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP)
report calls for fundamental changes in U.S. energy sys-
tems, including switching energy end u ses such as transpor-
tation to electricity and decarbonizing the electricity fuel
supply. According to the U.S. Energy Information Admin-
istration (EIA), as of 2016, nuclear energy accounted for
nearly 60% of the carbon-free electricity generation in the
United States.1 e contribution of nuclear to carbon-free
electricity presently exceeds the contributions of hydro-
power and other renewables combined.2 e DDPP report
projects a doubling of U.S. demand for electricity by 2050,
even accounting for increased energy eciency and con-
servation. In two DDPP scenarios—t he High Nuclear and
Mixed Scenarios— this demand would be met by signi-
cant increases in nuclear, wind, and solar energ y by 2050.
Although there are obstacles to widespread deployment of
1. EIA, U.S. E-R C D E, 2016 (2017).
2. According to the EIA, hydro accounted for 19% of carbon-free generation,
while wind and solar combined for 20%. Id.
nuclear energy, the technology oers the clear potential to
reach the scale needed to achieve t he DDPP goals by 2050.
In 2017, 99 U.S. nuclear power reactors operated at a
capacity factor of 92.2% and generated 805 billion kilo-
watt hours (kWh) of electricity,3 representing about 20%
of electricity in the United States.4 To put the DDPP goals
in perspective, the current insta lled nuclear capacity in
the United States is approximately 100 gigawatts (electric)
(GWe).5 e DDPP High Nuclear Scenario involves more
than 400 GWe of nuclear.6 is is four times current capac-
ity. (e DDPP report shows nuclear at 40.3% of U.S.
3. EIA, Frequently Asked Questions—What Is U.S. Electricity Generation by
Energy Source?, (last updated Apr. 18, 2017).
4. Id.
5. EIA, U.S. Nuclear Generation and Generating Capacity,
xn4y5 (last released Dec. 22, 2017); see also World Nuclear Association,
Nuclear Power in the USA, (last updated Oct. 2017).
Gigawatts measure the capacity of large power plants or of many plants. One
GW = 1,000 megawatts (MW) = 1 billion watts. A typical nuclear unit would
have a capacity around 1,000 MW. Future units may be larger or smaller,
depending on the design and technology. A typical combined-cycle natural
gas plant is about 600 MW in size.
6. J H. W  ., P  D D  
U S, U.S. 2050 R, V 1: T R xiv
(Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project & Energy and Environmental
Economics, Inc., 2015), available at
Chapter 21
Nuclear Energy
by David A. Repka and Tyson R. Smith
e Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP) reports project a doubling of demand in the United
States for electricity by 2050, even accounting for increased energy eciency and conservation. In two DDPP
scenarios—the High Nuclear and Mixed Scenarios—this demand would be met by signicant increases in
nuclear, wind, and solar energy by 2050. e DDPP High Nuclear Scenario involves more than 400 gigawatts
of nuclear. is is four times current nuclear capacity in the United States. e DDPP Mixed Scenario involves
approximately 200 gigawatts of nuclear capacity, or two times current capacity. A sustained national commit-
ment to nuclear energy in the United States would be necessary to meet the DDPP goals—for either the High
Nuclear or Mixed Scenario. Advanced nuclear technologies exist or are under development that could support
a signicant, rapid expansion of nuclear energy capacity. But under current conditions, those technologies are
not likely to be deployed at the scale required to meet the assumptions in either DDPP scenario. is chapter
therefore highlights various factors that impact nuclear energy and proposes legal, regulatory, and policy changes
to reduce barriers and promote increased use of nuclear generation.
Page 548 Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States
electricity in 2050 for the High Nuclear Scenario.7) e
DDPP Mixed Scenario involves approximately 200 GWe
of nuclear capacity (27.2% of the increased U.S. electricity
supply), or two times current capacity.8 is chapter there-
fore focuses on identifying obstacles to achieving those
capacities and the policy cha nges needed to overcome those
obstacles. Consistent with the DDPP scenarios, increased
nuclear generation would be developed in concert with
increase d relianc e on renewable s (whether utility-sca le or
distributed), as substantial nuclear and renewable contri-
butions are contemplated in both scenarios.
Both DDPP scenarios would likely require preservation
of at least some of the existing nuclear eet. An operating
license (OL) from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
(NRC) is initially issued with a term of 40 years.9 Based
on required technical ana lyses, most operating plants have
been granted a renewed license that extends their license
terms by 20 years.10 But even so, by 2040, one-half of the
nation’s existing nuclear eet will have turned 60 years old
and a renewed license will have expired. For plants still
operating at 60 years, NRC regulations allow an applica-
tion for a second license renewal for 20 additional years.11
But the regulatory process for second license renewa l has
not yet been tested. By 2050, absent second renewal, nearly
all currently operating nuclear units will be retired.
ere has also been a trend in recent years of prema-
ture closure of nuclear plants for technical, politica l, and
economic re asons.12 ese closures will make achieving
the DDPP goals more dicult. Plants that have perma-
nently ceased, or announced plans to cease, operations
since 2013 include Crystal River, Fort Calhoun, Indian
Point, Kewaunee, Pilgrim, San Onofre, Vermont, and
Yankee, with additional closures predicted in t he next few
years.13 e operator of Diablo Canyon in California also
announced that it will not renew the OLs for those t wo
units beyond 2024 and 2025, due to a policy preference in
California for renewable energy sources. A s long as natural
gas generation is needed to make up for intermittency of
wind and solar, replacing nuclear generation with a combi-
nation of intermittent wind or solar and natural gas lead s
to far greater emissions than simply maintaining existing
7. Id. at 19-20 tbl. 7.
8. Id. at 36 g. 30.
9. 42 U.S.C. §2133.c.
10. NRC, Backgrounder on Reactor License Renewal, (last
updated Nov. 27, 2017). As this book went to press, 84 of the 99 operating
reactors had received renewed licenses.
11. NRC, Subsequent License Renewal Background, (last
visited Dec. 23, 2017). NRC explains that there are no specic limitations in
the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) or NRC’s regulations restricting the number
of times a license may be renewed. e decision to grant a renewed license is
based on the outcome of an NRC review to assess if the nuclear facility can
continue to operate safely during the 20-year period of extended operation.
12. See Emily Hammond & David B. Spence, e Regulatory Contract in the
Marketplace, 69 V. L. R. 141, 147-48, 190 (2016).
13. See, e.g., Jim Polson, Exelon Shutting Two Nuclear Plants After Legislation
Fails, Bloomberg, June 2, 2016,
nuclear generation. is has been demonstrated by emis-
sions increases in California, Florida, New England, and
Wisconsin following closures of nucle ar plants there.14
e same dynamic occurred in Germany, where emissions
declines have stagnated following nuclear closures despite
a decade of heavy investment in renewables.15 Preserving
existing nuclear avoids tak ing a backward step on the path
to decarbonization.
Regardless of the existing eet, the nuclear capacity
assumptions in both the High Nuclear and Mixed Sce-
narios require the development of a substantial amount
of new nuclear generation capacity utilizing advanced
nuclear technology. In the United States, one new nuclear
unit (Watts Bar Unit 2 in Tennessee) began operating in
2016—the rst new commercial unit to begin operating
since 1996. Only four units (two in Georgia and two in
South Carolina) have begun construction, and construc-
tion had been suspended at two (the units in South Caro-
lina) as this book went to press, following a bank ruptcy
ling by Westinghouse, the nuclear vendor and parent of
the company responsible for construction. NRC has issued
early site permits (ESPs) and combined licenses (COLs) for
several other new units, but there are no plans to imme-
diately begin construction on any of those projects. e
DDPP projections therefore represent a signicant cha l-
lenge—one that cannot be met with the status quo in
nuclear energy economic s and public policy.
Advanced nuclear technologies exist or are under devel-
opment that could support a signicant, rapid expansion
of U.S. nuclear energy capacity. With appropriate regu-
latory policies and economic and market conditions, the
most optimistic DDPP projections may be challenging,
but are achievable. ere is precedent. From 1973 to 1988,
with the support of the government and industry, France
radically altered that country’s electricity generation from
almost entirely fossil fuels (mostly imported oil) to more
than 80% nuclear, at a rate of up to six new nuclear plants
per year.16 A nd the U.S. renewable industry today is the
product of more than a decade of policy choices, portfolio
standards, and subsidies, a s well as improved technology
and rapidly declining costs, r ather than pure market forces.
A similar sustained national commitment to advanced
nuclear energy in the United States would be necessar y to
meet the DDPP goals—rst for the Mixed Sc enario and
even more so for the High Nuclear Scenario. In addition
to carbon benets, advanced nuclear could, as a matter of
14. M C  ., T B G, N R E
 CO2 E: P  C C R (2016), http://; James Conca, Are California Carbon Goals Kaput?, F,
Oct. 2, 2014,
15. Stanley Reed, Germany’s Shift to Green Power Stalls, Despite Huge Investments,
N.Y. T, Oct. 7, 2017,
16. World Nuclear Association, Nuclear Power in France,
(last updated Oct. 2017); Jake Richardson, Why France Went Nuclear,
CT, Aug. 6, 2014,

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