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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 is 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.


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Young Carla

A Prequel to “A Step-by-Step Guide to Nuclear Innovation Policy.”

Select Projects

MI Hydrogen
Co-directors: Todd Allen and Greg Keoleian
MI Hydrogen, a joint venture by the Office of the Vice President for Research, the College of Engineering and the School for Environment and Sustainability, will foster collaboration among U-M researchers, community groups, and government and industry partners to address knowledge gaps and develop strategies to help society transition toward an energy future that is equitable, affordable, clean and secure. More info.

Midwest Alliance for Clean Hydrogen (MachH2)
U-M Lead: Todd Allen
MachH2 is an alliance committed to growing the Midwest regional hydrogen value chain to deliver a positive climate and community impact. More info.

Community Siting Tools
Lead: Gabrielle Hoelzle
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. Learn more.

  • PEANuT (Perspectives on the Export of Advanced Nuclear Technology) is a global data exploration tool for assessing a country’s overall suitability and readiness to host U.S. advanced nuclear technologies.
  • STAND (Siting Tool for Advanced Nuclear Development) helps advanced nuclear companies identify and examine potentially feasible sites where advanced nuclear facilities might be welcomed by host communities.
  • 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.

Engaging New Mexican communities in developing an equitable and just approach to siting advanced reactor facilities
Lead: Aditi Verma
This DOE NEUP Research and Development Project will engage diverse New Mexican communities to develop an equitable approach for advanced reactor siting. The findings of this project will shed light on how technology developers and the DOE can explore and potentially site advanced reactors – especially at coal plant sites — with the informed consent and engagement of host communities, regions, and states. In addition to community engagement, the research team will develop a nuclear sentiment analysis (NSA) tool that uses open-source data to generate information on sentiment toward the clean energy transition and nuclear energy across the state. Learn more.

Demonstration Reactor Siting Study and Decision Tool 
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: 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.

Integrating socially led co-design into consent-based siting of interim storage facilities
Lead: Kuhika Gupta (University of Oklahoma)
Fastest Path Collaborators: Todd Allen, Aditi Verma, and Denia Djokić
This project explores a qualitatively different approach to engaging with potential host communities (PHCs) about siting interim storage facilities (ISFs). This new approach engages with PHCs to explore the implications of partnering on co-design of a prospective facility with project engineers. The process will be a collaborative engagement between community representatives and project engineers, with both groups learning from each other as they jointly pursue an effective ISF siting process. Learn more.

Engaging Wyoming Communities in an Environmental Justice Approach for Advanced Nuclear Energy Facility Siting
Lead: Rachael Budowle (University of Wyoming)
Fastest Path Collaborators: Denia Djokić, Aditi Verma
TerraPower’s and PacifiCorp’s plan to site a Natrium™ advanced nuclear reactor demonstration project at a retiring coal-fired plant in Wyoming presents a unique, timely, empirical context for applied community-based environmental justice research with communities, developers, and other elite stakeholders. The proposed ethnographic, collaborative, and legal analyses will inform an adaptable, justice-based, community-engaged process for emerging and advanced nuclear energy technology siting. Learn more.

Emerging Energy Markets Analysis Initiative
NERS Lead: Todd Allen
We support Idaho National Laboratory’s Emerging Energy Markets Analysis Initiative (EMA). The EMA team helps people make energy choices that are right for their time, place, and community. These choices are informed by a value map created using a multi-dimensional decision framework. Learn more.


We believe that engaging in research as an undergraduate student is a very important part of the NERS experience, and many of our third- and fourth-year undergraduate students are actively involved and have co-authored papers in scientific journals.