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RICH POWELL: Here’s The Biggest Development That Emerged From COP28

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Rich Powell Rich Powell is CEO of ClearPath, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that develops and advances policies that accelerate breakthrough innovations to reduce emissions in the energy and industrial sectors.
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The strongest development coming from the annual United Nations climate conference this year was the ambitious call to triple nuclear energy capacity by 2050.

The U.S., UK and Canada, along with more than 20 other countries, launched this initiative at the United Nations Climate Change Conference’s (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP28), an annual event that has often shunned or ignored nuclear energy as a climate solution.

To triple nuclear capacity from now until 2050, the world will have to build around 30 large reactors each year, even more, if replacing retiring capacity is necessary or if smaller reactors take off.

This goal is achievable if the U.S. gets its federal policy right. Despite the anti-nuclear crowd’s best efforts in recent decades, the U.S. is still, in fact, the global leader in nuclear technology and, with the right policies, could see a booming U.S. industry with global reach.

To capitalize on this opportunity, policymakers should focus on three things: fixing how we license new nuclear reactors, ensuring we get innovative designs to market and developing a robust domestic fuel supply chain.

Congress has been grappling with how best to modernize permitting and make the 1970s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) work for energy projects of the 2020s, streamlining litigation backlogs and providing pre-clearance for projects regulators know will have no environmental problems. These reforms are needed across the energy spectrum, including nuclear.

American entrepreneurs are also up to the challenge of meeting demand. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) anticipates at least 13 applications for advanced reactors by 2027. The projects in the pipeline today employ thousands of Americans, and these are just the tip of the spear.

Last year, Southern Nuclear loaded fuel in the first Westinghouse AP1000 reactor at the Vogtle site in Waynesboro, Georgia. When all units are operational, the entire Vogtle Plant will be the largest producer of clean energy in the U.S., powering more than one million homes and businesses and employing more than 800 highly paid professionals.

Meanwhile, GE Hitachi (GEH) is preparing to build its BWRX-300 small modular reactor (SMR) in Clinch River, Tennessee, with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Building off its first project, slated to come online at the Darlington site in Canada by 2028, GEH is hiring 400 employees in Wilmington, North Carolina. These staff will support the TVA project, a nuclear fuel facility in partnership with TerraPower, and the construction of three additional reactors in Canada.

TerraPower, alongside GEH and supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s flagship Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), is evaluating up to five additional TerraPower reactors by 2035 with its utility partner PacifiCorp. These projects would build off TerraPower’s project in Kemmerer, Wyoming, which aims to come online this decade. TerraPower also closed an $830 million equity raise, one of the largest advanced fission fundraisers to date.

X-energy broke ground on its fuel facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, this past October. X-energy’s reactor demonstration, also supported by the ARDP, is also slated to come online this decade. The company is partnering with U.S. industrial leader Dow Chemical to decarbonize a facility in Seadrift, Texas, using its high-temperature gas reactor.

Of course, all of these reactors will require fuel. Today, the U.S. and many of our allies are unfortunately dependent on Russia for fuel.

Russia supplies about one-quarter of the low-enriched uranium powering America’s civilian nuclear reactors and is currently the only source of commercially available fuel for some advanced reactors. A rough equivalent of 1 in 20 U.S. households was powered by Russian-enriched nuclear fuel in 2022. This is leading to $1 billion dollars annually exiting the U.S. straight to the Russian nuclear agency.

Congress has taken steps to address this, passing H.R. 1042, the Prohibiting Russian Uranium Imports Act, which will accelerate the timeline to reduce reliance on Russian fuel and incentivize domestic industry to build new capacity to secure the U.S. our nuclear fuel supply chain and support our allies.

The world is looking to U.S. leadership and we must work with our allies to tackle the global climate challenge, ensure reliable and responsible supply chains for clean technology and grow our respective markets for these technologies. Concerted action at COP28 with our friends around the world through American leadership is an essential counterweight to American adversaries that do not have our best interests, nor the world’s climate, at heart.

Rich Powell is CEO of ClearPath, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that develops and advances policies that accelerate breakthrough innovations to reduce emissions in the energy and industrial sectors. ClearPath has donated to the DCNF.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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