Event Recap: Coal-to-Nuclear: Transitioning to a Cleaner Energy Future

On November 19, Nuclear Matters and Third Way convened a panel of experts to discuss how advanced nuclear generation technologies can help power our transition away from fossil fuels. We extend our thanks to our esteemed panelists, Dr. Bhima Sastri, Jon Cox, Jeff Navin and Wendell Hibdon, and to Third Way’s Lindsey Walter for moderating the conversation. We also had a chance to hear from Sean Lawrie of ScottMadden, who presented new research the firm co-authored with NEI on how the shift from coal to nuclear power can support former fossil fuel workers on the transition to our zero-carbon future. In case you couldn’t join us, here are our top takeaways:

Technology and Infrastructure

  • We need nuclear power in the mix alongside renewables to enable a zero-carbon energy future because it is available 24/7/365, has a small land footprint and offers a new life to existing coal infrastructure in service to achieving our climate goals.
  • One way to make the switch from fossil fuels to carbon-free energy sources is to retrofit retiring coal plants into small-scale modular reactors, which can utilize the same infrastructure — including generation facilities and distribution networks.
  • New technologies such as sodium-cooled reactors will help make advanced nuclear reactors more cost-effective than existing models, as TerraPower and Rocky Mountain Power’s Natrium reactor demonstrates. Sodium-based cooling systems will enable plants to run without high-pressure water systems, further improving their efficiency.

Labor Transition

  • Nuclear energy is poised to support a just transition for workers in retiring coal plants as the nation transforms its energy system, and unions have the capability to assist their workers through both job re-training and refining existing skills. Up to 75% of jobs in new nuclear plants require capabilities which directly transfer from equivalent coal plant jobs.
  • Coal-to-nuclear transitions present a unique opportunity to localize the benefits of carbon-free energy generation within coal-driven communities. While new wind and solar resources also provide an economic stimulus, they often do not offer job opportunities to the workers who depend on existing coal plants. Nuclear is well-positioned to make decarbonization a more equitable process.


  • Government support is key to help bring advanced reactor designs into service at competitive costs. As the industry becomes more efficient thanks to R&D support, new nuclear generation will become cheaper and easier to build and maintain, which will lower the cost of future nuclear energy generation.
  • Incentives like the nuclear power production tax credit (PTC) and the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) will help nuclear energy reach its full potential as a critical player in our future energy mix.

For our advocates who did not have the opportunity to attend, you can watch the event recording below and access the research presentation here. Be sure to subscribe to emails to hear about future events and stay in-the-know about the latest nuclear energy innovations.