Nuclear is developing fast to support national carbon reduction goals

21 April 2023

With Earth Day being marked this weekend, it is a good time to discuss the place of nuclear power in helping countries meet their carbon targets, as well as the role nuclear developers and our team plays in supporting nuclear technology to reach its potential.  

Energy trilemma: low carbon, available and affordable

A good framework for thinking about energy is the ‘trilemma’. That is the need for energy sources to meet three criteria for them to be successful. Energy sources must generate electricity with low carbon emissions. That electricity must also be available whenever we need it and be affordable by people of all incomes.    

Nuclear is one of a small group of very low carbon emitting energy sources. Unlike many of its low carbon peers it is also highly available. A nuclear plant will supply low carbon electricity at a continuously high level for decades.

Where nuclear is less strong is price. In the late 1970s, nuclear was a cheap energy source, with a supply price in today’s money of $50/MWh. Safety concerns lead to a large number of new regulations being applied to the industry, which made delivering new nuclear plants increasingly expensive. This resulted in nuclear losing much of its early price competitiveness and the industry’s expansion slowed almost to a stop.

Changing energy priorities bring nuclear back into focus

Over recent years, low carbon and availability considerations have gained greater weight in infrastructure decisions, bringing nuclear back into focus. More recently still, the full cost-benefit of grid-attached renewables has become better understood and the price of fossil fuels temporarily reached hitherto unimaginable new heights. This helped close the price gap and underscored the practical qualities of nuclear, creating active interest in nuclear plant life extension programmes and building new nuclear capacity.

Today’s challenge for the nuclear industry is to maintain its momentum by ensuring its cost profile remains competitive while still complying with modern safety regulations. If it can return to somewhere near its 1970s price, it will pass the trilemma test and achieve its full potential to help us live well with far lower carbon emissions.

Nuclear developers are rising to today's challenges

Companies active in nuclear are rising to this challenge. Lowering the cost of construction, materials, technologies and full-lifecycle servicing so that $/MWh reaches a competitive target is central to business plans. Confidence that companies will meet their cost goals is the basis on which investors continue to supply funding: hitting cost-based milestones is central to their ongoing existence.  

Innovation is progressing more rapidly today than it has for decades. Advanced reactors will deliver more power for less input. Small Modular Reactors promise to bring significant construction and logistics efficiencies. Large new build plants create savings through design repetition. Behind all of these advances are teams of hugely capable and skilled scientists, engineers and programme managers. 

Ultra Energy is helping to deliver our customers' critical milestones

Wherever those teams are working so too is Ultra Energy and we share their focus on delivering the milestones within their business plan. Our nuclear heritage extends back to the first days of civil nuclear power generation. The IP we’ve created in nuclear safety solutions is unique. Today, we work with customers to adapt our proven technology to their requirements, ensuring the safety of their designs while delivering time and cost savings.

We are absolutely certain that nuclear power is stepping into a new golden era. It is the best placed energy source to meet the energy trilemma and so support both human welfare and our responsibilities to planet Earth. It is an exciting time to be in this industry and we look forward to making breakthrough progress with our customers to change the world for the better.

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