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Innovation and commercialization in nuclear energy

On April 26th, 2013, a group of about 40 experts in nuclear energy technology, energy policy, energy and venture finance, regulation, and philanthropy gathered at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts to discuss the challenges and barriers to innovation and commercialization of new nuclear energy technologies and to discuss solution strategies.

Many participants were motivated by the conviction that nuclear energy is an important technology for climate change mitigation, and that in fact meaningful reductions in CO2 emissions seem far-fetched without it. Some were motivated by the need to reduce other negative fossil fuel emissions, and many were also concerned about the decline in US participation in the global nuclear energy industry and the implications for jobs, nuclear safety and security, and US influence over global nuclear energy policy and operations.

The first session focused on technological issues, and the extent to which private industry is able to overcome them without government assistance. The second session covered regulatory pathways, considering the merits and possibilities for improving the NRC process, using an international licensing regime, or remodeling the US nuclear regulatory system after a system used in another industry or country. The session on the challenges of financing nuclear energy projects spanned a wide range of topics, from the need for high-risk high-reward R&D funding to creative mechanisms for supporting demonstration projects and market adoption.

The session on policy reforms built on the three preceding sessions, and in it participants attempted to identify real, plausible policies that would help to reduce barriers to innovation without jeopardizing safety Many ideas were advanced, and one of the goals going forward is to prioritize those ideas and gather feedback from others on their feasibility and usefulness.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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