Meeting the world's demand for electricity over the next several decades while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions requires a significant focus on power generation that is both emissions-free and capable of providing power at the terawatt scale by mid-century. Expanded use of nuclear power is an obvious option for satisfying these criteria.
Currently, nuclear power plants provide 7 percent of the world's commercial energy and more than 15 percent of its electricity. A variety of barriers must be overcome, however, if we are to realize the potential of nuclear power to produce vast amounts of carbon-free electricity. These barriers include reducing the cost of building and operating safe nuclear plants, managing and disposing of high-level radioactive waste, reducing proliferation risks and improving public acceptance.
Roadblocks to nuclear power are substantial but also present research opportunities in areas such as new plant design, plant life extension, modular and proliferation-resistant reactors and novel approaches to nuclear waste such as deep borehole disposal. However, research and technology development alone are not sufficient to enable large-scale deployment of incremental nuclear power. Significant and coordinated technically informed policy analysis to address nuclear waste management, nuclear proliferation concerns and public resistance to nuclear power is a prerequisite to realizing its potential to meet growing energy demand and mitigate climate change.