Nuclear energy is at a crossroads. It supplies a substantial share of electricity in many developed economies — 19 percent in the United States, 35 percent in South Korea, 40 percent in Sweden, 78 percent in France — but these figures may decline as reactors built in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s retire. Meanwhile, developing countries are increasingly turning to nuclear to meet rapidly growing energy demand and to reduce pollution. China is currently building 28 reactors and has plans for dozens more; 11 are under construction in Russia, seven in India. Nevertheless, fossil fuels remain dominant worldwide, with coal the reigning king and natural gas production booming. The central challenge for nuclear energy, if it is to become a greater portion of the global electricity mix, is to become much cheaper.

A new Breakthrough Institute report, How to Make Nuclear Cheap: Safety, Readiness, Modularity, and Efficiency, details a number of new advanced reactor designs that bring substantial benefits over the existing light-water fleet, such as inherent safety mechanisms and the ability to reuse spent fuel. Yet not all features will result in lower costs. So what are the key characteristics that will make advanced nuclear energy cheaper?

By Michael Shellenberger, Ted Nordhaus, Jessica Lovering
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