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Nuclear power in more trouble than oil

Utilities shutting down plants earlier than expected

If you think folks in the oil and gas business have it tough, talk to someone in the nuclear power industry where 20 percent of the reactors operating today may shut down early.

The last time the United States opened a new nuclear reactor was 30 years ago, when state commissions set the price for electricity and a generator could rely on steady, reliable profits for the lifetime of the plant. But since then, states have deregulated electricity markets and have forced generators to compete to sell the cheapest electricity by the 15 minute interval.

That’s a problem a nuclear power plant, which requires a huge investment to build and a huge amount of cash to decommission. The electricity may be marginally cheap, but what experts call the levelized cost of electricity that includes all the expenses is actually quite high.

That’s why the Nuclear Energy Institute reports that 15 to 20 of the nation’s 99 commercial reactors are at risk of premature closure in the coming years. If they have to compete solely on the spot-market price for electricity, keeping them going doesn’t make economic sense.

“Even with excellent safety and industry performance—and ever-increasing recognition and support for nuclear energy’s clean air benefits—the nuclear energy industry faces strong head winds,” said Donald Brandt, NEI’s chairman. “The dominant challenge today is economic.”

Nuclear power supporters are touting the industry’s ability to generate consistent power without releasing greenhouse gases. They think that service is more valuable than the dirty power produced by coal or the intermittent power generated by wind and solar projects.

One way nuclear power could achieve that extra credit is through implementation of the Clean Power Plan, which requires states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electric power generation. Needless to say, no one in nuclear energy questions the reality of climate change because they stand to benefit from fighting it … if they can bring the costs down and compete with wind and solar.

Read full article at The Houston Chronicle