The Challenge and Promise of Next-Generation Nuclear Reactors

U.S. start-ups are making headway on next-generation nuclear reactors. But companies worry about the big challenges they face to get new designs up and running in the U.S. That’s the message I heard after spending the better part of a day with nuclear industry insiders in Washington, D.C., at the Advanced Nuclear Summit and Showcase, an event for top nuclear players to tout recent developments and make their pleas to lawmakers. The mood was a mixture of guarded optimism and deep concern over government inaction.

Designs in the works are smaller, cheaper and safer than the current crop of reactors, which account for 20% of America’s electricity mix. Small modular reactors, for instance, can be manufactured at a factory and pieced together at the power plant site. Some novel reactor designs turn trash into treasure by running on spent fuel from conventional reactors in operation today. Other reactors in the works are so small and cheap they could replace diesel generators in off-the-grid areas such as small islands.

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