The White House has announced significant new steps to support new nuclear power plants in the USA as the Biden administration targets a carbon-free power sector by 2035.

A primary goal is to reduce project risks associated with large nuclear builds. The White House has announced the creation of a ‘Power Project Management and Delivery working group’ made up of experts that would help identify opportunities to proactively mitigate sources of cost and schedule overrun risk.

Cost and schedule overruns are a major hurdle for new nuclear projects. Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4 in Georgia were the first nuclear reactors built in the USA in more than 30 years. The effort, led by Georgia Power, cost billions more and took years longer than originally projected.

Working group members would be made up of federal government entities, including from White House and the Department of Energy (DOE).  The group would also include a range of stakeholders, including project developers, engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) firms, utilities, investors, labour organisations, academics, and NGOs.

The US Army has also announced that it would soon release a Request for Information to inform a deployment programme for advanced reactors that would power multiple Army sites. Small modular reactors (SMRs) and micro-reactors could provide defence installations resilient energy for several years amid the threat of physical or cyber-attacks, extreme weather, pandemic biothreats, and other emerging challenges, the White House said.

Nuclear lifeline

Recent policy has thrown large, conventional reactors a lifeline. For example, the Diablo Canyon plant in California is leveraging DOE’s Civil Nuclear Credit programme to fund the plant’s life extension. In Michigan, the Palisades plant would be the first U.S. nuclear facility to restart after shutting down. Holtec plans to reopen Palisades and is supported by a $1.5 billion conditional loan commitment from DOE. And a production tax credit from the Inflation Reduction Act offers existing nuclear plants support to continue operating.

There are also more than three dozen working designs for small modular reactors and micro-reactors, some of which have goals to be commercially operable by 2030. Proponents say these smaller advanced reactors offer cheaper and faster build times. However, this promise has yet to be fully tested.

 Nuclear power represented 19% of the total electricity produced in the USA in 2023.