The United States has made significant strides in the field of nuclear energy in 2023, with the aim of achieving zero net emissions by 2050. These accomplishments include the approval of the country’s first small modular reactor design, signaling growing confidence and momentum in the sector. As we enter 2024, here are the five major achievements that the U.S. aims to build upon for further progress.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has finalized its rule to certify NuScale Power’s 50-megawatt power module, marking the first certified small modular reactor (SMR) by the NRC. This achievement, made possible through licensing efforts supported by industry awards and collaboration with the Department of Energy (DOE), will serve as a blueprint for other SMRs currently under development. The NRC has also granted approval for the construction of Kairos Power’s Hermes reactor in Tennessee, potentially starting in 2026.
Kairos Power Reactor Hermes is the first Generation IV reactor to receive a construction permit from the NRC. It utilizes fluoride salt-cooled high-temperature technology and will contribute to the development of Kairos Power’s commercial reactor. This reactor is supported by the DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP).
The DOE has supported the installation of a low-temperature electrolysis system at the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station in New York, which aids in cooling the power plant and enables clean hydrogen production. This project, along with two others at the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio and the Prairie Island plant in Minnesota, demonstrates how nuclear power plants can assist in reducing costs and scaling up clean hydrogen production. Additionally, the DOE has announced $7 billion in funding to establish seven regional clean hydrogen hubs across the U.S., with three of these hubs incorporating nuclear energy as a component of their projects.
Centrus Energy Corporation has produced the first 20-kg of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) in over 70 years. HALEU is a crucial material required for many advanced reactor designs. This achievement marks a key milestone in the DOE’s HALEU Demonstration project in Piketon, Ohio. The HALEU material will be used for fueling the initial cores of the DOE’s two demonstration reactors granted under the ARDP, as well as supporting fuel qualification and other testing of new reactor designs. Centrus plans to increase its HALEU material production to a rate of 900 kilograms per year starting in 2024.
The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has implemented various improvements to its TREAT (Transient Reactor Test Facility) reactor to facilitate advancements in nuclear energy. One notable upgrade involved developing a specialized capsule for conducting transient testing on fast reactor fuels. In collaboration with Japan, the U.S. will conduct tests on certain fuels at TREAT in 2024 that haven’t been conducted for over two decades. INL has also initiated the construction of the NRIC DOME, the world’s first microreactor test bed, which will support the creation and authorization of new reactor technologies. The facility, managed by the National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC), is expected to begin testing as early as 2026.
On the global stage, nuclear energy has achieved notable recognition. It secured its place in the final COP28 agreement in Dubai, with commitments from the United States and allied nations to triple worldwide nuclear capacity by 2050 and mobilize over $4.2 billion in government-led investments. The objective is to establish a global commercial nuclear fuel market independent of Russian influence. The U.S. also organized its inaugural U.S.-African Nuclear Energy Summit in Ghana, aiming to establish a framework for sustainable growth of nuclear energy in the region. Additionally, the DOE unveiled plans to build a clean energy training center in Ghana and launched a virtual training initiative to assist nations in exploring nuclear energy for economic development, energy security, and environmental goals.
The year 2023 has been a landmark year for the United States in advancing its nuclear energy initiatives. With these achievements, the U.S. is poised to continue its momentum into 2024, capitalizing on technological advancements and strategic partnerships to lead the way in clean and efficient nuclear energy solutions.