Study: Where have all the nuclear plants gone?
“The nuclear fleet has been a uniquely low-cost, stable and efficient source of power. Since the first facility opened in 1958, nuclear facilities have, on average, more than doubled their efficiency,” Rorke writes. “It’s a more efficient fuel source than any other on the system today and 60 percent more efficient than extracting energy from coal or natural gas… At nearly 20 percent of the electricity supply, nuclear power accounts for three-fifths of all carbon-free energy sources.”
A confluence of factors — including a dramatically slowed growth trajectory for electricity demand, regional transmission challenges, a market correction following a decade of escalating nuclear costs and, most notably, a trend of low and stable natural gas prices – have combined to create the current situation. But caution is advisable, given the scope of some policy prescriptions intended to stave off the industry’s recent decline.
“Appeals for a policy response to save the fleet demand a sober assessment of the data: is the full fleet at risk? Are systemwide interventions necessary?” Rorke concludes. “This analysis demonstrates that some portions of the nuclear fleet are more vulnerable than others. Transmission congestion and large capital expenditures have been the two factors that tip the scales in favor of retirements. With better geography or lower costs, the facilities that have announced or completed their retirements may still be operational. The nuclear fleet seems broadly vulnerable in this limited analysis, but more analysis is needed.”