Can Innovation Make Nuclear Energy Cheap?
By Michael Levi
Nuclear power promises zero-carbon electricity but suffers from serious cost challenges. That makes calls for more research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) efforts to promote innovation natural. But ask sixty experts where nuclear energy is heading, or ask them whether innovation could change that, and you’ll get sixty different answers. Who should you believe?
In a paper published last fall in Environmental Science & Technology (that, as best I can tell, has gone unnoticed in policy circles), a team at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Venice-based FEEM answers the question in an new and enlightening way. Their bottom line will surprise many people: experts are very pessimistic about the ability of even greatly increased RD&D to bring down nuclear costs over the next twenty years.
The researchers develop their results by combining individual surveys of sixty experts (thirty each in the United States and Europe) with an exercise that forces the experts to weigh and incorporate each others’ judgments into their own views of the world. This novel approach yields results that give a great sense of where the overall body of expert opinion points.
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