Policy & Climate
For nuclear energy to play a critical role in a clean energy future, engaging with complex sociotechnical problems with non-engineering tools is crucial.
Nuclear engineering has the potential to play a vital role in the future of energy as society moves toward zero-carbon energy sources. We are working to understand issues of democracy and public trust as it relates to the development and deployment of nuclear energy systems, and support government policies to reflect principles of equity and environmental justice surrounding nuclear energy technologies.
Nuclear energy produces about 20% of electricity and over 50% of zero-carbon electricity in the United States. Nuclear technology is also critical to medicine and national security. If future generations of nuclear energy systems are to be deployed, a deeper understanding of equity and justice issues, historical and current, surrounding nuclear technology is needed. Community needs and societal preferences need to be understood and incorporated as early as the design phase of nuclear energy research. Historical injustices from nuclear technology development and deployment must be acknowledged and reflected in public policy. New reactors must be deployed in an equitable manner if they are to be part of a just energy transition.
Faculty & Staff
The Fastest Path to Zero Initiative was founded in 2019 by NERS Chair, Todd Allen and Suzy Baker, the Creative Director. Since then, we have formed a cross-campus team of interdisciplinary experts to tackle difficult research questions about how policymakers, researchers, and communities can work together to meet ambitious climate goals in Michigan and across the nation.
We work to build unique research partnerships across the university and with outside partners; connect key research insights with policymakers; administer awards and support grantmaking, and train students for specialized research and engagement roles in the growing clean energy workforce.
We host an annual summit and various workshops that bring together leading climate advocates, philanthropists, labor leaders, elected officials, academics, and media from across the country to discuss the importance of centering climate policies around people and communities beyond just the coast—ensuring that our nation’s path forward on climate change will be effective, inclusive, equitable, and enduring.
Fastest Path currently incubates the Good Energy Collective, an energy policy research organization launched in 2020 to build the progressive case for nuclear energy as an essential part of the broader climate change agenda. GEC develops smart policies at every scale to accelerate the just and equitable deployment of advanced nuclear technologies. The research is rooted in social science and champions a whole-of-government approach, so that communities can go from ideas to development, to thoughtful and effective deployment faster and more efficiently.
This year, the U.S. will set new Nationally Determined Contributions toward mitigating climate change, building on the Paris climate agreement. As promises for greenhouse gas reductions become more ambitious, international forecasts projecting that nuclear may contribute at most 10 percent of the global energy supply by 2050 are not ambitious enough.
Suzanne Baker recently chatted with Svinicki about her new adjunct professor role at NERS.
The NERS alumna served as Chairman and Commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for over a decade.
Svinicki’s role at the top of the NRC spanned three U.S. presidencies.
Community Siting Tools
Lead: Suzanne Baker
Technical Lead: Gabrielle Hoelzle
Our team understands that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for climate change. The fastest path to zero emissions will be unique for every community. That’s why we are creating technology-neutral tools to aid community-centered decision-making. To get to zero, different places will adopt different technology mixes based on their specific social, political, and economic needs. We want to make that process easier and more transparent so that more communities can successfully reach their climate goals as quickly as possible. If it can help get us to zero, it’s on the table.
- ANSL (Advanced Nuclear Site Locator) is a siting tool to be used in the deployment of advanced nuclear technologies. It incorporates social, political, and economic data to connect advanced nuclear companies with communities looking to mitigate climate change by adopting zero-carbon energy systems. Developed in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory through a grant from ARPA-E MEITNER Resource Team.
- PLANET (Public and Local Attitudes about Nuclear Energy Technology) is a tool that uses local estimates of community attitudes about nuclear technologies and facility siting. It aims to bring public views to the center of decision-making about how and where to site nuclear plants. Developed in collaboration with the National Institute for Risk & Resilience at the University of Oklahoma.
Demonstration Reactor Siting Study and Decision Tool
Lead: Suzanne Baker
Technical Lead: Gabrielle Hoelzle
The NRIC sponsored Demonstration Reactor Siting and Capabilities Study is a two-phase joint effort including DOE, DoD, industry, national laboratory, and academic partners to examine demonstration-siting alternatives. The decision-analytic aspects of this effort have been led by Argonne National Laboratory, in collaboration with both Idaho and Oak Ridge National Laboratories, and the Fastest Path to Zero initiative at the University of Michigan. The Fastest Path team is in the process of incorporating the Excel spreadsheet that ANL uses for its decision modeling into the Michigan ANSL tool in order to enhance the decision-making capabilities of the tool.
Deployment Pathways of Small Modular Reactors
Lead: Prof. Todd Allen
In October of 2020, we started a research paper called “Deployment Pathways of Small Modular Reactors in Electric Power and Industrial Markets to Achieve Cost Reductions and Widespread Use” in collaboration with Assistant Professor Michael Craig of the School of Environment and Sustainability.