Nukes have long been thethird rail to the environmental movement; Greenpeace, after all, got its startas an anti-nuke organization. But while radioactive waste and the risk of majoraccidents still leave many greens wary of nuclear power, there's no ignoringthe fact that nuclear is the only utility-scale, non-intermittent electricitysource that doesn't emit carbon. If you replaced all of the U.S.'s nuclearplants — which supply about a fifth of the the nation's electricity — with coalplants, carbon emissions would skyrocket.
But there's still areluctance to build nuclear plants — no new one has been constructed in theU.S. in decades — and it goes beyond environmental concerns. Nuclear powerplants are incredibly expensive investments, and right now few utilities wouldtake on the financial risk of building one, or get banks to lend them thenecessary capital, even with additional government aid. But what if you couldshrink the size of a nuclear plant? That's what companies like NuScale Powerand Babcock & Wilcox are trying to do. By building a modular plant thatmight be a quarter the size of a the current multi-gigawatt operations, it'spossible to reduce the capital expenditures needed to start construction andcut the risk that would be associated with an accident. We may at last beapproaching a time that nuclear goes nimble.