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Published April 13, 2023
In a collaborative project with nuclear energy and regulatory experts across the U.S., University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources’ (SER) research staff and faculty members co-wrote a report that outlines potential markets and evaluates state-level legal, regulatory, economic and technology implications for nuclear microreactor applications in U.S. markets.
The report, titled “Microreactor Applications in U.S. Markets, Evaluation of State-Level Legal, Regulatory, Economic and Technology Implications,” was published through the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science and Technical Information (OSTI).
The initial focus is on the Alaska and Wyoming energy markets serving location-specific energy needs for electricity and heat. A state-by-state evaluation of current carbon-related policies and nuclear policies was conducted to assess broader market applicability in states undergoing energy transformations.
The paper was written, in part, by Eugene Holubnyak, SER’s Hydrogen Energy Research Center (H2ERC) director; Selena Gerace, an associate research scientist in both the Center for Energy Regulation and Policy Analysis and the Center for Economic Geology Research; and Tara Righetti, the Occidental Chair in Energy and Environmental Policies and a UW College of Law professor.
The paper uses specific areas of expertise from the contributing researchers to explore the economics, regulatory framework and social perceptions of the entities that would use nuclear microreactor technologies.
For an initial examination, the UW team chose four different markets that have the potential to employ microreactors as a source of low-carbon energy in the state, including hydrogen; digital economies such as data centers and cryptocurrency mining facilities; trona industries; and direct air capture resources.
“This paper is an important first step in examining the potential uses for microreactors,” Holubnyak says. “The markets that we chose to look at for this initial paper have needs that the industrial application of microreactors would satisfy, especially in Wyoming, such as the requirement to have a reliable, remote energy source on location.”
Following the preliminary background on the existing markets and economics of the industries with practical applications in Wyoming, Gerace conducted a carbon policy-sensitivity analysis with representatives of each of those industries to gauge the motivation and goals for implementing low-carbon technologies.
“Acknowledging that there is major momentum for industries to decarbonize, we wanted to ascertain what specific motivations were driving companies and to what extent,” Gerace says. “From our initial situational assessment, we hope to craft future research questions that could determine whether or not microreactors could fill those needs.”
The work is conducted as part of the Emerging Energy Markets Analysis (EMA) initiative that is led by Idaho National Laboratory and includes the University of Alaska, Energy Policy Institute at Boise State University (BSU), University of Michigan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and UW. EMA’s objective is to identify sustainable, regionally acceptable and high-value energy solutions that are secure and equitable.
Righetti, who also serves as the co-director of UW’s Nuclear Energy Research Center (NERC) and is an original member of EMA, helped shape the paper and believes it will lay the groundwork for future research and to realize pathways toward commercial opportunities for microreactors.
“EMA provides critical program development support to early-stage research, which will pave the way to bigger projects and opportunities,” Righetti says. “This collaborative effort is a great example of research that can open doors to bigger external research opportunities. Some of this work will be continued through projects supported by both NERC and through H2ERC at the University of Wyoming and, hopefully, through our other partner entities as well.”
Co-authors of the paper include Steven Aumeier and David Shropshire, both from Idaho National Laboratory; Kathleen Araújo and Cassandra Koerner, both from the Energy Policy Institute at BSU; Christi Bell, Gretchen Fauske and Richelle Johnson, from the University of Alaska-Anchorage; and John Parsons, from the MIT Sloan School of Management.
The final report can be found on the OSTI webpage at www.doi.org/10.2172/1964093.