Hard Times Quantified for Nuclear Power
By Russell Ray, Chief Editor
In many respects, these conditions
mimic the circumstances that followed
the nuclear mishap at Three-Mile Island
in 1979, as the cost of construction
skyrocketed and several projects were
cancelled in the months and years
following the accident.
A large number of nuclear power plants
in the U.S., which are issued 40-year
operating licenses, are more than 40 years
old. As a result, a whopping 90 percent of
U.S. nuclear plants have applied for a 20-
year renewal or are being operated under
a recently renewed license.
“The capital investment needed to
extend the life of nuclear plants beyond
60 years is currently unknown and could
vary significantly across the nuclear power
fleet,” EIA stated in its report. “Other
areas of uncertainty include… the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission’s willingness to
grant those license renewals for plants to
operate beyond 60 years.”
Meanwhile, the Chapter 11 bankruptcy
of Westinghouse has created a high level
of uncertainty surrounding the future
of several U.S. projects, including Duke
Energy’s Lee nuclear station in South
Carolina, Southern Company’s Vogtle
nuclear plant in Georgia, and SCANA’s
V.C. Summer nuclear plant in South
Carolina. All three of those projects are
using Westinghouse AP1000 reactors.
Our position is this: In a battle against
climate change, laws and policies must
acknowledge nuclear power as the
most important source of carbon-free
electricity. State standards for renewable
power should be changed to zero-carbon standards that recognize nuclear
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As U.S. nuclear power plants struggle to make a profit and the fate of several new projects hang in the balance, a new report released last month added clarity to the hard reality
facing the future of nuclear power in the U.S.
In a market plagued by financial woes and doubt
created by the bankruptcy of Westinghouse Electric,
the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) last
month quantified the potential downfall by projecting
25-percent of the nation’s nuclear capacity, which
excludes plants now slated for retirement, will be retired by 2050. That
means nuclear power’s share of U.S. generation would fall from 20
percent in 2016 to just 11 percent in 2050.
During this period, the U.S. is expected to take nearly 30,000 megawatts
(MW) of nuclear capacity off line, but will add just 9,000 MW of nuclear
capacity from uprates and new projects.
This eye-opening forecast for nuclear power in the U.S. should be
disturbing to all who want an energy plan that prioritizes clean energy.
That’s because nuclear power accounts for 57 percent of the nation’s zero-carbon electricity, according to the EIA.
Yet, the business of nuclear power in the U.S. is collapsing for a number of reasons:
• The power generation market cannot support the nation’s available nuclear capacity
• Skyrocketing costs and delays for new projects in Georgia and South Carolina
• The recent bankruptcy of Westinghouse, the developer of both of those projects
and one of the most storied companies in nuclear power
• Low power prices caused by a glut of cheap gas-fired capacity
• Onerous safety requirements following the meltdowns at Fukushima