Up & Atom


The Nine Mile Point nuclear power station in Oswego, New York began producing hydrogen in March 2023 as part of a demonstration project sponsored by the US Department of Energy. Although Nine Mile Point produced hydrogen solely for internal use, the project validates that reliable and emission-free nuclear energy can be used to produce clean-burning hydrogen.

Hydrogen’s Role in Decarbonization

As discussed recently in a Power & Pipes blog post, hydrogen, which releases only energy and water when combusted, has become a sought-after alternative energy source as industrial sectors strive to reduce carbon emissions. As recently discussed in another blog post, the Department of Energy has offered funding opportunities to improve the ability to economically produce the large volumes of hydrogen needed to facilitate commercial use.

One current Department of Energy program, applications for which were due earlier this month, could establish 10 regional clean hydrogen hubs with $8 billion in available funding. Advanced nuclear technology is an eligible clean energy source.

Although some contend that the electricity needed for hydrogen production could instead be used in conjunction with greater electrification, hydrogen has unique advantages. For instance, some heavy industries are not compatible with electrification. Further, hydrogen provides a better form of energy storage than batteries for the transportation sector; its energy density permits longer-distance travel with less volume and weight than conventional batteries, which is not only advantageous for cars and trucks, but also potentially for air and marine transportation. Additionally, hydrogen’s abundance avoids the potential supply chain issues associated with battery production.

However, for hydrogen to facilitate carbon emission reduction, the electricity used to make hydrogen must also be emission free. Nuclear energy is well-suited to provide that clean, reliable energy source.

Nuclear’s Advantage in Hydrogen Production Among Clean Energy Resources

The Department of Energy recognizes nuclear energy as the most reliable form of clean energy—three to four times as reliable as wind or solar, the other potential clean sources of electricity. Nuclear energy’s reliable nature means that when load dips, such as during the late evening or early morning, its energy can be repurposed towards hydrogen production.

The relatively small footprint of nuclear plants offers another advantage, especially considering recent advancements in the development of small modular reactors (SMRs). Earlier this year, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission certified the first SMR, a 50 MW self-contained power module. Several of these modules can be located together, generating large amounts of electricity to support both electrification and hydrogen production, and on less than 1% of the land area necessary for an equivalent amount of energy from wind or solar. This advantage in land usage allows for closer siting of nuclear energy to load centers, especially if deployed at existing fossil fuel generation sites that already have much of the infrastructure necessary to transmit large amounts of electricity, as we discussed last year.

In the same month that Nine Mile Point began producing hydrogen, Virginia gave SMRs a small but needed boost. One recently enacted state law establishes a nuclear innovation hub while a second creates a Nuclear Education Grant Fund to award competitive grants to expand nuclear education and training. Although a more ambitious proposal to promote deployment of an SMR within 10 years did not pass, a future legislation session may revisit the prospect.


Recent advancements in nuclear technology, a strong push for decarbonization, and a growing realization that multiple energy sources are necessary to achieve aggressive decarbonization goals are creating an opportunity for nuclear energy to partner with hydrogen production. Although both have unique regulatory challenges, both also come with tremendous opportunities to reshape energy production and usage.

Morgan Lewis regularly counsels clients on legal matters related to nuclear energy and hydrogen production.