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Innovation Fuels Nuclear Energy’s Revival, But Challenges Remain

31. 05. 2023

Georgia’s nuclear renaissance comes with a hefty price tag: The result was a project 7 years late and 17 billion dollars over budget because of obstacles to offsite prefabrication and bureaucratic delays. Even though conventional nuclear power technology remains one of the safest forms of energy and is a low-carbon energy solution to combat climate change, bureaucratic paralysis, policymakers’ myopia, and public stigmas have hampered it worldwide. Former paragons of nuclear power, such as Germany, have phased it out and relapsed into heavily polluting fossil fuels such as coal and brown coal (lignite) instead. However, with innovation and a heightened awareness of climate change threats and costs, a new generation of nuclear technology may help reverse this trend.

Thankfully geopolitical and geoeconomic incentives align with emerging tech. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased the need to accelerate the clean energy transition and diversify sources of energy, including nuclear. Massive geopolitical and geoeconomic imperatives stemming from China’s nuclear power expansion which would create yet another state-supported juggernaut, Russia’s Rosatom domination of civilian nuclear enrichmentincreasing uranium production, and the Western Nuclear Fuel Alliance have all increased nuclear power’s political support.

While political, economic, and environmental factors all play crucial roles in revitalizing nuclear energy, the technological component is vital for its revival. Technological innovations and advanced reactor designs that ensure enhanced safety, efficiency, and versatility are central to nuclear energy’s future. Breakthrough technologies, including advanced fuel cycles, thorium-based reactors, and small- and medium-modular reactors (SMRs), are gaining momentum and investment due to their cost-effectiveness, reduced waste generation, and flexible deployment. In the next ten years, it is very likely that nuclear power plants could become prefabricated or transported wholesale like any other industrial machinery.