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Motivating Nuclear Technology Development with Modern Electricity Grid and Market Insights

  • Room 24-213 77 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA (map)

Daniel Curtis

MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering

The electricity delivery systems of the world’s developed economies have been significantly reorganized during the last 20 years as different nations and jurisdictions have carried out various types of “deregulation” or “restructuring” reforms. These reforms generally mandate a transition from regulated monopoly utility organizations to market competition in generation, transmission, distribution, and/or retail sales of electricity.

In that time, no new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States, and a variety of plans both for new construction and major new technology development have stalled out. The major motivations for new technology development in this time have been 1) to provide reactor designs safer than typical Generation II light water reactors, and 2) to provide reactor designs with lower electricity costs. Base-load electricity production remains the most common proposed market purpose for new reactor types.

The basic features of electricity distribution, and the transitions that have occurred in electricity markets in the United States will be reviewed briefly. Major trends in future demand and generation will be discussed, with emphasis on the insights that define the social and economic need for new types of nuclear power plants. Two MIT-led projects, the Nuclear Oil Shale Project and the Fluoride-Salt-Cooled High-Temperature Reactor (FHR) will serve as examples of application of these insights.