There are obviously many companies or other organizations around the world which have been developing better nuclear reactors and related infrastructure for decades now. Yet millions of people have been complaining for decades that an excessive fears of a few rare, accidental meltdowns, or misinformation spread by much of the environmental movement, is the biggest barrier to the development of new nuclear reactors.

Yet almost none of those who care enough to complain don't do anything other than complain. That's not only ordinary people who don't have the wherewithal to do anything but complain. So much journalism on the subject and other efforts seem to be focused on publicly criticizing setbacks to the development of new nuclear reactors as opposed to trying to solve the problem(s) any other way.

If it's important for public or political perception of the status of nuclear energy to change, it doesn't appear there are enough resources invested into public information or education campaigns to change public opinion. Almost never are mentioned what need there is for efforts to changing regulatory frameworks or economic barriers to developing nuclear energy.

Who are the actors undertaking those efforts? And why are they so rare?

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Who are the actors trying to advance the development of nuclear energy?

Primarily, the U.S. DOE through the Office of Nuclear Energy, with funding of about ~$1.5 billion per year. ~$1.5 billion is about equal to the combined spending on all spending on renewable energy technology innovation (wind, solar, water, geothermal, ~$700 million), advanced manufacturing ($400 million) and building efficiency innovation ($300 million, buildings are ~75% of grid demand). (This is EERE budget minus transportation and the weatherization program). Note the ~$1.5 nuclear estimate does not include the several billions in basic nuclear physics research including fusion funded through the Office of Science; the Office of Nuclear Energy is focused primarily on near-term demonstration of advanced reactor technologies.

To a smaller degree, other countries including Canada, the U.K, Russia, and China are also funding advanced reactor demonstrations.

Why don't most people trying to advance the development of nuclear energy care about effectiveness?

For the most part, those involved in the industry do. I think it is easy to misinterpret the voice of the industry with the din of nuclear bros turned keyboard warriors complaining how their one true hero was unfairly brought low by overly-risk averse regulation and unscrupulous environmentalists.

The reality is that advanced nuclear receives broad public support, and has for some time now . Safety regulations are becoming streamlined. Regardless, the nuclear-island and safety are a small component of overall plant costs, typically <20%, with most of the cost in the non-nuclear components of the cooling system necessary for any large rankine-style generator. See the EIRP report and the CATF report on advanced nuclear costs. The most optimistic projections are that new advanced reactors will costs $40-60/MWh in a decade or more. Compare that to current bulk power purchases at $15-30/MWh for wind and solar+batteries which are on 20-40% learning curves.

New reactors will likely never be cheap enough to compete directly with the combination of renewables, short-duration storage, and transmission on cost except in regions with particular climatic or geographic constraints. So that means they must compete in the firm generation market (supplemental power at peak times when renewables aren't producing) against a numerous array of other technologies, including efficiency, many with much lower projected cost floors. TerraPraxis is trying to get around the cost barrier by repurposing old coal plants that already have the non-nuclear island components built. They are relying on price drops of SMRs to make this feasible and are probably at least 5-15 years out from an initial demonstration project.

And why are they so rare?

Most of the people who are primarily concerned with decarbonizing the grid have looked at the economics of nuclear power and decided to pursue other grid technologies that they think are more promising. Those that have stayed with nuclear are particularly attached to it because they've spent their careers in the industry and don't want to see it die, think it is an important option to pursue for the sake of having options, or have some dogmatic reason why they prefer it as a technology.

Thinking more broadly, of all sectors that need to decarbonize, the electric power sector is the one that has been the fastest to decarbonize and has the most optimistic outlook. At the margin the most important innovation is happening in agriculture, industry, transportation, and carbon capture. Strategic thinkers see that and move to work on problems in those sectors.

Spitballing here based on some of my (brief) experiences in this space. I'm a former nuclear engineering student from Canada who was involved at a low level with NAYGN (North American Young Generation in Nuclear), ANS (American Nuclear Society) and Stand Up for Nuclear for ~2 years.

I think the TLDR answer to your question is: we have far too few people.

Nuclear engineering is an extremely niche field and in the US there are maybe 30 universities that offer it and only a fraction at the undergraduate level, giving us an extremely small talent pool to tap from to begin with. In Canada, this is more like 3-5 and even at McMaster (my school) it's pretty niche and a sub-specialization as opposed to a full-on major. On the ANS Young Members Slack for instance, there are ~300 people total, including young professionals AND students. That's it. I've even heard that the pipeline of nuclear advocates (e.g. the WISE Internship program for nuclear engineering students) is pretty sparse with young people and some programs receive 0 applicants.

A lot of the smart, technically inclined people from our generation are of course drawn to the whole CS/Software/Data/IT cluster due to the job market, pay and probably autonomy as the nuclear field is pretty tightly regulated with long payoff timelines and isn't really the kind of field where you could build a startup in 1-2 years of all-nighters or whatever and then raise millions of dollars the way it is with tech startups so we're missing the entrepreneurial crowd too. 

On the advocacy side, I think we're lacking even further because something like nuclear engineering which is highly technical and somewhat arcane sounding probably attracts people who actually like technical work and TBH things like MSRs/Fast Reactors/Fusion Reactors are probably some of THE most techno-solution-y sounding technologies out there and sound extremely appealing as long as one doesn't understand the (unfortunate) economics behind them.


I myself left the field (might go back for grad school?) mostly for career capital reasons as I believe data science (esp. operational) and, if worst comes to worst, software engineering are more versatile options that have less niche job markets. I'm potentially open to going back on the policy or advocacy side and think doing community building in this space is probably a good way to have an impact on climate change, but from a personal perspective, I'm not sure climate change is THE problem to work on anymore and maybe I'll end up working on nuclear security instead. Who knows.