Decarbonization: What the Net-Zero by 2050 Goal Means for the Nuclear Industry

Posted by Jordan Trocchio on July 7, 2021

In recent years the push for decarbonization, specifically in the global Energy System, has gained traction as we prioritize protecting and preserving the environment and its people, globally.

More pressure is being put on the energy industry from government authorities, policymakers, and the public to make a rapid move from fossil fuel combustion, such as coal, oil and gas, to a cleaner energy source with a zero carbon output.

Both hydroelectric power and nuclear power generation are being looked to for their production of clean energy. 

With the aggressive goals set for 2050, the industry is not prepared to ensure clean energy needs are met.

Nuclear is currently the largest source of clean energy in the United States, helping to eliminate over 470 million metric tons of carbon output each year. 

There are, however, challenges to overcome within the nuclear industry for it to be increasingly relied upon by the public for the primary energy source.

1. Preparing for Successful Nuclear Power Plant Builds

Southern Company at Plant Vogtle 3&4 in Waynesboro, Georgia is currently building 2 Westinghouse AP1000 Pressurized Water  Reactors, the first new power plant build in over 30 years. Why has it taken so long to commit to a new build? The conventional nuclear reactor designs are high dollar, highly regulated projects with a lengthy project timeline.

Finding strategies to improve the construction and regulatory process will be critical in order to move forward with making more clean energy available.

Cohesive’s Joe Klecha, former Vice President of Site Operations at Vogtle 3&4 said: “the technology exists for nuclear to be the leader in solving the World’s carbon problem, regulatory bodies and strong leaders need to come together to drive sustainable solutions in the market.” 

Joe’s experience lends him to explain that leadership is the main driving force behind a successful build or implementation.

2. Incorporating New Nuclear Infrastructure - The Modular Reactor and MicroReactor

In an effort to solve this construction complexity of nuclear power plants, organizations, with the support of the Department of Energy (DOE), are creating microreactors and small modular reactors (SMR). Advantages of a SMR are; small footprint, about 15 acres, ability to have additions put on to increase power as needed, and a reduced cost.  Microreactors will be factory fabricated and transportable - they can be used for emergency power to remote or devastated areas. 

Incorporating these new infrastructure designs into power plants will increase the footprint of nuclear power generation. 

3. Decreasing Operating Cost

In order to supply large amounts of affordable energy to power the public, Nuclear power plants will be increasingly challenged to decrease operating costs. Modernizing nuclear power plant systems will reduce maintenance and operating cost, increase reliability and improve performance. This means the businesses will achieve a higher ROI and the customers they serve will benefit from reliable, affordable, clean energy.

What does modernizing the power plant look like?

  •  Design changes to replace Analog equipment with Digital controls
  • Replacing aged equipment with new designs to improve reliability and efficiency
  • Introduction of wi-fi throughout the plant to allow mobile applications for work, monitoring, and trending
  • Emphasizing the alignment between process and technology 
  • Assessing system use, streamlining processes and check points

When nuclear power plants decrease operation cost, and in turn - increase efficiency, the result is increased production. If the nuclear industry works together to modernize and streamline plants across the globe, we can expect more new builds to help reach the goal of net-zero carbon output by 2050.

We help Nuclear power plants modernize, streamline, and simplify their operations so they can deliver on clean energy and the Nuclear promise, while running a profitable business. 

Learn more about our work with maintenance programs in the nuclear industry here. 

Written by Jordan Trocchio

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