Nuclear Energy in North America – Upside v. Downside

In North America, nuclear energy is a significant power source and currently provides around 20% of the total electricity generated in the United States and approximately 15% in Canada.

Opportunities for nuclear energy in North America include its ability to provide a reliable and stable power source and its low emissions profile compared to fossil fuels. Nuclear power plants also have a long operational lifespan, with many plants in the United States and Canada operating for several decades.

However, there are also some significant pitfalls associated with nuclear energy. Let’s dive in and see where nuclear energy fits into North America’s energy mix.

nuclear energy


There are several opportunities for energy companies in North America to invest in nuclear energy, including:

Life Extension of Existing Nuclear Power Plants

Many existing nuclear power plants in North America are approaching the end of their original operating licenses and are preparing to for decommissioning. However, this end does not have to be the absolute end. Like any technology, nuclear reactor engineering and design has improved over time.

These old reactors can be safely operated for 20 years or more with proper maintenance and upgrades. This creates an opportunity for energy companies to invest in life extension projects to continue generating low-carbon electricity from these plants.

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)

Small modular reactors are a new type of nuclear reactor that is smaller and can be manufactured in a factory, allowing for more accessible transport and deployment. These reactors have the potential to be used in a variety of settings, including remote communities and industrial facilities, and can provide a low-carbon energy source for these areas.

Decommissioning And Waste Management

As nuclear power plants end their active life, energy companies can also invest in decommissioning and waste management services to decommission the facilities and manage the radioactive waste safely and responsibly.

Nuclear Fusion

Nuclear fusion is a promising technology that could provide a nearly limitless source of clean energy. Energy companies could invest in research and development of fusion technology, which has yet to be commercialized, to be among the first to harness this energy source.

Nuclear-Renewable Hybrid Systems

Nuclear and renewable energy sources can be combined in hybrid systems to balance the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources. Energy companies could invest in developing and implementing these hybrid systems, which could help increase the penetration of renewable energy in the grid.

It’s worth noting that, as with any industry, the nuclear energy sector is subject to regulations, political and social acceptance, and the cost of alternatives, such as renewable energy sources. Additionally, the industry is facing challenges, such as growing concerns over nuclear safety, waste management, and the disposal of radioactive materials.

Therefore, it’s essential for energy companies to carefully consider these factors and conduct a thorough risk analysis before investing in nuclear energy projects.


Several significant pitfalls and obstacles are standing in the way of nuclear energy’s addition to the energy mix, including:

High costs

The construction and maintenance of nuclear power plants are prohibitive, having risen significantly in recent years, making them less competitive with other energy sources such as natural gas and renewable energy.

Safety concerns

Nuclear energy is associated with safety risks, including the potential for accidents, such as those that occurred at Fukushima and Chernobyl, which resulted in widespread public fear and mistrust of nuclear energy. These accidents have resulted in stricter regulations and increased scrutiny of nuclear power plants, further increasing costs.

Waste management

Nuclear power plants produce large amounts of radioactive waste, which must be safely stored and disposed of for long-term storage. There is currently no permanent solution for the disposal of nuclear waste, and the safe storage of waste remains a significant challenge for the industry.

Public opposition

Nuclear energy is often met with public resistance, especially in the wake of major accidents. This opposition can take the form of protests, legal challenges, and local or national campaigns against new nuclear power plants, which can delay or prevent the construction of new plants.

Proliferation risks

Nuclear energy is also associated with proliferation risks, as the technology used to generate nuclear power can also be used to develop nuclear weapons. This can lead to concerns about the spread of nuclear weapons and increased international tension.


The decommissioning of nuclear power plants is a complex and costly process that includes the management of radioactive waste, decontamination, and dismantling of the facilities. The cost of decommissioning can be substantial and can be a financial burden for energy companies.

Competition from renewable energy

The cost of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power has decreased significantly in recent years, making them more cost-competitive with nuclear energy. This has led to a decrease in the share of nuclear energy in the overall energy mix as renewable energy has become a more attractive option for many countries.

Nuclear Energy Could Remain in The Mix For Some Time To Come

In summary, the high costs, safety concerns, waste management, public opposition, proliferation risks, decommissioning, and competition from renewable energy are the most impactful obstacles standing in the way of nuclear energy’s proliferation in the energy mix.

These challenges have led to a decrease in the share of nuclear energy in the overall energy mix in many countries. It remains to be seen if nuclear energy will continue to play a significant role in meeting the world’s energy needs in the future.

Planning an energy project?

Vista Projects is an integrated engineering services firm able to assist with your energy projects. With offices in Calgary, Alberta, and Houston, Texas, we help clients with customized system integration and engineering consulting across all core disciplines. Contact us today!

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