new 1.4 GW plants would need to be built by 2030 (not including new plants built to replace any that may be retired during this period), according to the reference-case projections of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA, 2008).8

The amount of new U.S. nuclear generating capacity that could reasonably be added before 2020 is limited; however, if the first handful of new evolutionary plants (about 5 plants) are constructed and are successful, the potential for nuclear power after 2020 will have much increased. Thus, deployment of the first few nuclear plants would be an important first step toward ensuring a diversity of sources for future electric supply. It may prove to be important to keep the option of an expanded nuclear deployment open, particularly if carbon constraints are applied in the United States in the future.


The existing nuclear plants in the United States were built with technology developed in the 1960s and 1970s. In the intervening decades, ways to make better use of the existing plants have been developed, as well as new technologies that are intended to improve safety and security, reduce cost, and decrease the amount of high-level nuclear waste generated, among other objectives. These technologies and their potential for deployment in the United States are explored in the following sections.

Improvements to Existing Nuclear Plants

Over the last few decades, there have been significant technical and operational improvements in existing nuclear power plants. These improvements have allowed nuclear power to maintain an approximately constant share of U.S. electrical capacity, even as demand has grown and no new plants have been constructed. This trend of increasing output from current plants is likely to continue over the coming decades and, before 2020, could result in additional nuclear capacity comparable to what could be produced by new plants. The potentials for improvements are focused in the following three areas:


According to the EIA, U.S. electricity demand could rise by as much as 29 percent between 2008 and 2030. The reader is referred to footnote 14 of Chapter 7 of this report (“Fossil-Fuel Energy”) for a discussion of uncertainty in EIA projections.

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