​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The Future of Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy is the optimal choice to help meet decarbonization goals by integrating and complementing renewable resources to maintain a clean, reliable, and resilient electric system.  Nuclear energy provides firm, baseload power 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This consistent, predictable generation of carbon-free electricity ensures electricity is available when it is needed and provides a​ foundation for the electric grid. Nuclear power is also cost-competitive, and each plant supports thousands of direct and indirect famil​y-wage jobs, with major economic benefits to surrounding communities. The reason for nuclear power's cost advantage is not in its plant-level costs. Instead, it resides in its overall cost to the electricity system. Renewables have seen tremendous reductions in cost but their intermittency – they generate electricity only 25-35 percent of the time – means additional energy sources are needed to fill the gap when the sun isn't shining, and the wind isn't blowing.

The importance of the nuclear energy industry to the nation's energy security is becoming increasingly clear. 

Nuclear power is the only large-scale, carbon-free electricity source that the country can widely expand to produce large amounts of electricity. Currently, nuclear energy produces 19% of all electricity generated in the United States and 56 percent of our carbon-free electricity – and all of this comes from only 94 existing nuclear power plants. The energy density of nuclear power leads to abundant electricity being created from a very small footprint.

Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program

In 2019 Washington state passed the Clean Energy Transformation Act, also known as CETA, which sets the state on a path to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045.  Energy Northwest, with its portfolio of 100 percent carbon-free resources, began an intensive analysis of how to accomplish this ambitious climate goal. In 2019 the agency commissioned a study by Energy + Environmental Economics (E3), a San Francisco-based consulting group, to calculate the energy capacity needs in the northwest over the next several decades and analyze a suite of clean, reliable and affordable energy resources available to meet that demand. The resulting study, released in 2020, found the optimal energy portfolio is a combination of current and new renewable and clean resources, including the deployment of advanced nuclear energy technologies and small modular reactors.

Shortly after publication of the E3 study, the U.S. Congress created the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) launched ARDP in May 2020. Intended to help domestic private industry demonstrate advanced nuclear reactors in the U.S., the program is accelerating the deployment of advanced reactors through cost-shared partnerships with the private sector. By rapidly developing these advanced reactors that hold tremendous potential, ARDP will expand access to clean energy, help power the carbon-free electric grids of the future and maintain the U.S. as a global leader in nuclear energy innovation and technology.

Energy Northwest partnered with two advanced nuclear energy companies –X-energy and Terra Power-GE Hitachi on their applications to DOE and in October 2020 DOE selected both companies for the program.​EN continues to work with both companies to develop their technologies with the goal of siting one project in Washington state as an ideal addition to our future carbon-free electric grid.

Versatile Test Reactor Project

In February 2019, the U.S. Department of Energy announced its plans to build a Versatile Test Reactor, or VTR. This new research reactor will be capable of performing irradiation testing at much higher neutron energy fluxes than what is currently available today.

This capability will help accelerate the testing of advanced nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation, and sensors. It will also allow DOE to modernize its essential nuclear energy research and development infrastructure, and conduct crucial advanced technology and materials testing necessary to re-energize the U.S. nuclear energy industry.

The project is being led by Idaho National Laboratory in partnership with five national laboratories (Argonne, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest and Savannah River) and Energy Northwest.

A VTR could be completed as early as 2026 at the site of one of DOE's national laboratories.