Nuclear Power At Risk?

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There is widespread agreement across the political spectrum that increasing the amount of low-carbon energy on the grid is an important priority for the future of the U.S. and the rest of the world. PACE has argued that nuclear power is an indispensable part of the solution for meeting future power demand. Many climate activists agree. That is why it is concerning to hear that nuclear capacity in the U.S. could actually be decreasing rather than growing.

Environmental Progress, a green advocacy group, announced just last week that at least a quarter and as many as two-thirds of all U.S. nuclear plant reactors are at-risk of being prematurely shuttered. Even with critical action being taken in New York and Illinois, as much as 65 gigawatts of nuclear generating capacity are at risk of closure before 2030,

“If half are closed and replaced with natural gas,” the group writes, “the additional carbon emissions would be the equivalent of adding roughly 50 million cars to the road.”

According to the assessment by Environmental Progress, 35 gigawatts of nuclear power is considered in “triple risk” because those plants exist today in deregulated markets and are up for relicensing prior to 2030.

That level of uncertainty regarding nuclear power is unfortunate for customers on a number of levels. Nuclear power today represents about a fifth of the nation’s generating capacity, providing low-cost electricity that is nearly uninterrupted throughout the course of the year. The almost complete dependability and low fuel cost of nuclear power combine to make it a useful hedge against commodities whose price fluctuates over time. In other words, losing nuclear capacity doesn’t just means losing electrons. It means losing some measure of control and certainty over the future.

This past December, PACE used this line of reasoning to encourage the Georgia Public Service Commission to continue its support of Plant Vogtle in east Georgia. In an environment that is seeing nuclear plants put at risk, Vogtle represents at least a meaningful blip on the radar for anyone searching for an American nuclear renaissance. In the end, we believe Georgia regulators did the right thing by securing the future of Vogtle. Let’s hope U.S. policy makers take note and ensure that nuclear power continues to be a backbone of American power into the future.