Nuclear Energy Program

Cooling towers of a nuclear power plant. photo courtesy of US Dept of Energy

The Nuclear Energy Program at CSIS collaborates with industry, government, and the non-governmental sector to address the challenges facing the peaceful use of nuclear energy, including the challenges to the existing U.S. fleet. The case for U.S. leadership in nuclear energy, domestically and globally, is based on various dimensions of national security benefits to the U.S. While there are several critical areas of focus going forward, a principal area of immediate focus in the program will be the development and deployment of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).

The Future of Nuclear Energy

The United States may face a substantial contraction of commercial nuclear energy in the coming years. Very low prices for natural gas have fundamentally transformed the energy economy, with many positive benefits, but in so doing also contributed to a reduction in the competitiveness of commercial nuclear power. In addition, state and federal mandates and direct and indirect subsidies for renewable energy—particularly wind—create market distortions in the electricity sector that contribute to undermining the economic viability of nuclear power. Together, these forces are causing nuclear energy facilities to become increasingly uneconomic, particularly in competitive state electricity markets. Indeed, as many as a quarter of commercial nuclear energy facilities in America are cash-flow negative, or may be so soon, or could be facing difficult investment decisions which may lead to early shutdowns.

Such a contraction would have a significant impact beyond the commercial nuclear energy sector, affecting university physics and engineering programs, material science laboratories, manufacturers, labor programs for training nuclear welders, and much more. It would undoubtedly affect the defense establishment and our nuclear Navy’s capabilities, as well as the United States’ ability to shape global standards for safety, security, operations, emergency response and nonproliferation.

Ongoing Work:

  • Promote policies that ensure regulatory prioritization and increase regulatory certainty for the commercial nuclear energy sector,
  • Educate policy makers on the market distortions created by certain targeted mandates and subsidies (direct and indirect) that put additional pressure on the economic viability of nuclear power, thus undermining U.S. national interests,
  • Model the impact of a significant reduction in the number of operating nuclear power plants on the U.S. economy and defense establishment, including forecasting scenarios depicting a significant sectoral collapse.  Conversely, model the impact of a healthy sectoral expansion,
  • Advance the development and deployment of small modular reactors (SMRs) in a manner to support U.S. interests.  Include  consideration for deployment at military bases and government facilities, helping to insulate those facilities from cyber attack, while providing clean and reliable electricity,
  • Encourage policies that result in the expansion of export markets for U.S. companies to help preserve domestic manufacturing capacity for nuclear technologies.