In this post, I will explore how the DOE Loan Programs Office (LPO) is supporting U.S. advanced nuclear energy projects.
To meet President Biden’s goals to achieve a clean grid by 2035 and reach a net zero emissions economy-wide by 2050, an array of decarbonization technologies—including clean firm power like nuclear energy—will play a critical role. Advanced nuclear will become an increasingly important source of safe, reliable, and flexible baseload power as the nation decarbonizes its energy systems. Advanced nuclear, along with other firm and flexible energy sources, will help ensure there is reliable and affordable energy on a modern, decarbonized grid.
The United States will likely need 200 gigawatts of new nuclear generation by 2050 to meet national decarbonization targets. The Department recently highlighted the opportunities and challenges associated with the advanced nuclear sector in its Pathways to Commercial Liftoff reports. U.S. domestic nuclear capacity has the potential to scale from ~100 GW in 2023 to ~300 GW by 2050, driven by the deployment of a range of advanced nuclear technologies in a range of size categories. Generation III+ (Gen III+) reactors, similar to the conventional reactors operating in the United States; and Generation IV (Gen IV) reactors, which will use novel fuels (e.g., high-assay, low-enriched uranium [HALEU] and coolants), will be needed. In addition, large reactors (~1 GW), small modular reactors (~50-300 MW), and microreactors (50 MW or less) are all expected to play a part.
However, the risks perceived by utilities and other potential customers of construction cost overruns and project abandonment have limited committed orders for new reactors. As the Liftoff report on advanced nuclear suggests, rapid expansion of the nuclear supply chain starting by 2030 will help us achieve our decarbonization targets and avoid supply chain overbuild. For example, a five-year delay in rapidly scaling deployment, from 2030 to 2035, would require 20+ GW per year to achieve the same 200 GW deployment by 2050 as starting to scale these technologies in 2030 and ramping to 13 GW per year by 2040. And it could result in as much as a 50% increase in the capital required to achieve our goals.
But advanced nuclear deployment is already underway. In the last year, LPO has seen several notable milestones at Vogtle, an example of a Gen III+ reactor deployment financed through LPO’s Title 17 Innovative Clean Energy Loan Guarantee Program. The United States, Poland, and Canada recently announced plans to complete the design of the GE-Hitachi BWRX-300, a small modular reactor design.
Title 17 can finance a variety of projects across the nuclear supply chain, including:
- front end nuclear fuel cycle projects,
- a variety of advanced nuclear reactors (including light water reactors),
- reactor uprates and upgrades,
- advanced nuclear component manufacturing, and
- other eligible technologies.
In addition, through the Title 17 Energy Infrastructure Reinvestment Program (Section 1706) as authorized by the Inflation Reduction Act, LPO can support asset and infrastructure conversion, including converting retired fossil fuel assets to nuclear power plants.
LPO is uniquely situated to help support key parts of the advanced nuclear value chain in order to reach our decarbonization goals. As of the end of April 2023, requested financing from LPO for nuclear projects via active loan applications totaled over $16.6 billion. For more current details, view LPO’s Monthly Application Activity Report, which explains the level of interest from applicants for LPO financing and what technology sectors have been most actively engaged with LPO.
Advanced Nuclear: Vogtle
DOE has issued a total of up to $12 billion in loan guarantees to Georgia Power Company, Oglethorpe Power Corporation, and three subsidiaries of Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia to support the construction of Vogtle Units 3 and 4 near Waynesboro, Georgia—representing the first U.S. deployment of the AP1000 Generation III+ reactor. The reactor is an evolutionary improvement over existing reactors, featuring advanced safety systems.
In March 2023, Unit 3 safely reached initial criticality and generated power for the first time. In April 2023, Unit 3 generated electricity for the first time. And in May 2023, Unit 4 completed hot functional testing. Once all four units are operating, Plant Vogtle will be the largest clean energy generator in the United States. Creating more than 9,000 construction jobs at peak and 800 permanent jobs once the units begin operating, Vogtle is currently the largest jobs-producing construction project in the state of Georgia.
Advanced Nuclear News Roundup
- Westinghouse reveals small modular reactor (Reuters)
- Georgia nuclear plant begins splitting atoms for first time (AP News)
- A new nuclear reactor in the US starts up. It’s the first in nearly seven years. (CNBC)
- Nuclear power gets a boost in the United States (Forbes)
- DOE maps plan to supercharge hydrogen, nuclear, storage (E&E News)
- America's green industrial strategy 2.0 (Canary Media)