As more costly nuclear power plants face closure, industry’s rebound only gets tougher
The latest marketing pitch aimed at reviving a clearly overpriced nuke business is to claim that nuclear power is America’s best new friend in the battle against climate change. Close those polluting coal power plants, nuclear proponents say. Build more nukes instead and enjoy round-the-clock electricity — carbon free.
It’s a smart message. Except for one thing: It doesn’t work. Nukes, as they are now designed and financed, cannot compete with cheap natural gas alternatives.
Some attempts to build nuclear plants have been abandoned — as Duke Energy Florida customers saw with the proposed Levy County nuclear plant north of Tampa Bay. Other plants — Southern Co.’s Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia or the V.C. Summer plant in South Carolina — are behind schedule and billions over budget.
Consider five examples of why the U.S. nuclear power business is losing ground:
1. The V.C. Summer project so far has cost $1.5 billion more than originally estimated. As Duke Energy Florida ratepayers can empathize, South Carolina law allows utilities to charge customers more for cost overruns.
2. Exelon, a major Chicago-based power provider, said this month it plans to shut two money-losing nuclear plants in Illinois after failing to win a bailout in the state’s legislature.
3. Marvin Fertel, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s trade association, warned last month that another 15 to 20 nuclear plants are at risk of a premature shutdown in the next decade due to bad economics.
“Over the last several years, companies have shut down — or announced plans to shut down — eight nuclear reactors … about 6,300 megawatts of capacity … 6,000 direct jobs and at least that many indirect jobs … almost 10 percent of the Clean Power Plan’s 2030 carbon reduction goal,” Fertel told an audience at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Nuclear Summit on May 19.
4. In California, the Diablo Canyon plant near San Luis Obispo is the only nuke facility left in the state. Pacific Gas & Electric may seek permission to extend its operating license past 2024. But opponents want the plant to follow the fate of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, shuttered in early 2012.
5. In May, CEO Tim Burke of the Omaha Public Power District urged his board to close its Fort Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station in Nebraska by year end. It is too expensive to operate, he said.
At this rate, there soon won’t be many U.S. nuclear plants left to worry about. Only 99 nuclear reactors are currently in use.