The Future of Nuclear Power

As the US Nuclear fleet continues to age, and the availability of alternate sources of energy continues to rise, it is not surprising that we are seeing more news of permanent plant closures.  The most recent announcements come from Entergy, stating they will shut down Palisades permanently on October 1st, 2018, and Indian Point in 2021.

For many of these plants announcing closures, the writing has been on the wall.  In 2013, economist Mark Cooper, a Senior Fellow for Economic Analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School published Renaissance In Reverse, an interesting read on the factors that affect the viability of nuclear power economically.  He provided a list of plants that face particularly significant challenges to operation, which is provided below.

  • Palisades (Repair impending, local opposition)
  • Ft. Calhoun (Outage, poor performance)
  • Nine Mile Point (Site size saves it, existing contract)
  • Fitzpatrick (High cost but offset by high market clearing price)
  • Ginna (Single unit with negative margin, existing contract)
  • Oyster Creek (Already set to retire early)
  • Vt. Yankee (Tax and local opposition)
  • Millstone (Tax reasons)
  • Clinton (Selling into tough market)
  • Indian Point (License extension, local opposition)

This list clearly correlates with recent announcements of plant closures, or plants that have already shut down.  Mark listed some of the major local oppositions, but there are lots of challenges facing the aging nuclear fleet.  Whether it is the aging workforce, political challenges, climate change, or aging components and obsolescence, there are many issues the aging fleets need to work through in the coming years.

With the challenges facing the future of existing plants, we need to be focusing not only on designing, but also on building, new nuclear reactors, lest we be left with only natural gas and coal for baseload power.  PBS Newshour recently did a story on the future of nuclear, which was posted to their YouTube page, embedded below.

The focus of this short video was on new nuclear options, such as those being worked on by TerraPower, and  molten salt coolant reactors.  An interesting technology developer not discussed in the video is NuScale, working on Small Modular Reactors (SMR).  PBS will be releasing a NOVA episode called The Nuclear Option, which will go into more detail and will air on January 11, 2017 at 9 pm. I look forward to watching!.

Stay tuned for additional discussion in the Alden Blog on the challenges facing the nuclear industry.

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