Simply put, we won’t reach our clean energy targets without nuclear playing a major role.
While solar and wind have seen terrific growth in the past 20 years, they will soon reach a plateau. This is mostly due to the cost of unreliability and interconnection complexity. The ideal energy mix varies by location, but even in the sunniest or windiest places, we won’t see large grids powered exclusively by solar and wind.
Like solar and wind, nuclear had a rapid expansion in its first 20 years. By the 1960s — 70s, nuclear had become Earth’s cheapest energy source (cheaper than coal at 5¢ / kWh in 2023 dollars). This was the First Atomic Age, and nuclear’s future looked bright.
However, this momentum hit a wall in the 1980s. Climate change was less of a concern then. New energy demand in the West was slowing. The public didn’t feel nuclear was worth its perceived risks. As a result, the regulatory ratchet began to tighten with limited pushback. This caused a regression in nuclear’s economics, and halted innovation (the one thing that can lower costs, while maintaining safety).
But nuclear is coming back into the spotlight in a big way. We are on the verge of a Second Atomic Age.