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Climate Change US Operating Commercial Nuclear Power Plants (nrc.gov)

Published on June 9th, 2016 | by Sandy Dechert


Illinois Power Plant Closings Reveal Worldwide Nuclear Issues

June 9th, 2016 by  

The many-sided battle over nuclear power continues with a clear break over politics in Illinois. The company and the government are dancing around the issues currently, with the industry essentially taking the position that government (read: the people) should subsidize the waning years of nuclear installations, or else. That state’s legislature adjourned its spring session last week without extending subsidies for nuclear power (the Next Generation Energy Plan advocated by the nuclear industry).

Exelon's Clinton Power Station, Illinois (twitter:Mike Shellenberger)

Exelon’s Clinton Power Station, Illinois (twitter/Mike Shellenberger)

In return, Exelon Corporation—the nation’s largest nuclear power supplier—announced that it would have to close two of the state’s best-performing plants. It has said that the Clinton Power Station will close next June, and the Quad Cities Generating Station will close a year later. Despite their high scores, they have apparently lost $800 million over the past seven years. Exit papers are in preparation.

Joe Dominguez, executive vice president for governmental and regulatory affairs and public policy at Exelon, describes his company’s bottom line:

“We think that the costs of new nuclear right now are not competitive with other zero-carbon technologies, renewables, and storage that we see in the marketplace…. Right now we just don’t have any plans on the board to build any new reactors.”

Renewables broke all world records in 2015, say the United Nations Environment Programme and Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Also, renewables (excluding large hydro) accounted for more than half of new power generation capacity for the first time last year.Including large hydro, renewables’ share of all global electricity generation rose to more than 20%.

The human cost of closing the two Illinois plants includes 4,200 direct and indirect jobs and over $1.2 billion in economic activity annually. An earlier state report that Exelon quotes estimates that wholesale energy costs would rise in the region by $439 million to $645 million annually because of the plant closures. Exelon claims consumers will have to pay about $0.25 monthly to sustain the plants. Critics charge it will hike electric bills by about $3.00. Exelon has its eye on three other American closures, and Entergy is considering two at last report.

Industry-Wide Issues

Although this squabble has plagued Illinois for years, it brings up some nuclear issues that impact on the larger energy scene, both nationally and worldwide. These include not only competition from renewable energy but also unique financial factors, extension of design limits for the plants, decreasing reliability as reactors age, stability of the power grid, inadequate measures for disposal of radioactive waste. For all of these, potential near-term usefulness in slowing climate change—by limiting carbon releases associated with other forms of electric power generation—should be a major consideration.

When the first nuclear power plants came online 60 years ago, nuclear energy seemed like a safe, clean, reliable respite from petroleum fuels and their associated environmental damage. Since its peak in 1996, the nuclear industry has been losing market share. The number of plants has actually decreased in the past decade. With the huge cost drop in renewables, particularly solar and wind, nuclear energy has become a white elephant in some areas. Renewables are so cheap that they can undercut the price of nuclear power.

Current Status of US Nuclear Plants

In the US, as of November 2015, 100 commercial nuclear reactors are currently licensed to operate.

US Operating Commercial Nuclear Power Plants (nrc.gov)They provide about 20% of the nation’s power. Exelon, which owns 15 nuclear plants, serves about 10 million customers. Entergy, the second-largest generator, has approximately 30 gigawatts of electric generating capacity. These two companies account for about one quarter of US nuclear power.

Most US plants have overrun their construction costs substantially and have taken years longer to come online than the industry proposals initially estimated. In fact, Clinton’s final construction cost of $4.25 billion ($8.85 billion today) ran nearly 1,000% over the original budget of $430 million, and the plant was completed seven years behind schedule. The meltdowns at Fukushima in 2011 and subsequent safety retrofits worldwide have also impacted the bottom line.

Overall, says the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, five American plants have been shut down in the past decade. These include Entergy’s 40+ year veteran Vermont Yankee plant. A total of 19 US nuclear reactors on the east, Gulf, and west coastal and Great Lakes areas are decommissioning. (See the full list and map here.) About 25% of US reactors have been reported to have operating expenses that render them cost-ineffective and noncompetitive at current rates for electric generation.

Recently, the Kewaunee and Crystal River reactors have closed. By 2020, Fort Calhoun, Fitzpatrick, Clinton, Quad Cities, Oyster Creek, and Pilgrim will soon be on the chopping block. Within the next decade, the US could lose several more reactors. Diablo Canyon, Indian Point, Ginna, FitzPatrick, Three Mile Island, Davis Besse, and Pilgrim all have pressing issues.

No commercial plants have been built in this country during the past 20 years. Eight have remained “under construction” during this time. These are mostly in the South, which still retains a protective regulatory environment. Only two are already scheduled to come online. In 2015, TVA Bellefonte ceased construction.

And decommissioning involves even greater expenses in the short term than keeping unprofitable plants afloat. Some of this huge expense (including the vital component of all project management, which the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards carries out) involves using more public funds.

Finally, an increasing number of plants have already exceeded their design lifetimes. Many have received operating extensions from US nuclear regulators. This practice raises questions of outdated control systems and heavy capital expenditures to replace worn equipment. At least 35 US reactors are 40 years old or older, with several only short years behind. The decision will have to be made whether to spend the money to refurbish or close these.

Meanwhile, following the hot debate over a repository at Yucca Mountain, the country still has no designated nuclear storage facilities. Spent nuclear fuel continues accumulating onsite at existing plants in “temporary” fuel pools or security-vulnerable short-term waste casks. In some cases, this storage may begin to preclude other uses, including potential improvements or plant extensions, at existing nuclear land. Also, a spent fuel pool fire could reportedly make an area 60 times larger than that of the Chernobyl accident uninhabitable.

International Nuclear Power

The World Nuclear Association reports statistics on nuclear developments worldwide. It has a bullish perspective on refurbishing:

“The technical and economic feasibility of replacing major reactor components, such as steam generators in PWRs, and pressure tubes in CANDU heavy water reactors, has been demonstrated. The possibilities of component replacement and license renewals extending the lifetimes of existing plants are very attractive to utilities, especially in view of the public acceptance difficulties involved in constructing replacement nuclear capacity.”

However, the WNA also enumerates 89 reactors scheduled to close by the end of 2025. Among the planned closures:

Armenia 1 in 2026
Belgium 2  by 2015, 5 more by 2025.
Canada 4 by 2015, 10 by 2025, 5 more by 2040.
Finland 3 by 2040
Germany 9 by 2025
Hungary 2 by 2025, 2 more by 2040
Mexico 2 by 2040
Netherlands 1 by 2025
Pakistan 1 by 2025, 1 more by 2040
Russia 1 by 2015, 23 by 2025, 4 more by 2040
Slovakia 2 by 2025
South Africa 2 by 2025
South Korea 1 by 2025, 1 more by 2040
Spain (7 reactors whose licenses run out before 2025, no decisions yet)
Sweden 2 by 2025, 5 more by 2040
Switzerland 34 by 2025, 2 more by 2040
Ukraine 2 by 2015, 10 more by 2025, 3 more by 2040
United Kingdom 1 by 2015, 6 more by 2025, 2 more by 2040

These numbers do not include the Japanese reactors shut down for safety checks following Fukushima, a third of France’s 58 nuclear reactors, and 7 Spanish reactors whose licenses are expiring without a close/refurbish decision by national regulators. Interestingly, the Philippines is converting a nuclear reactor to natural gas.

Worldwide, more than 60 reactors are under construction in 15 countries. However, other developments may threaten what some perceive as an international “nuclear renaissance”:

  • One Indian reactor has been… under construction for 12 years with no hook-up date in sight;
  • In Taiwan, two reactor units under construction for 15 years were halted this past April due to political opposition;
  • At least 50 of the units listed as “under construction” have encountered construction delays — delays lasting from several months to several years;
  • In China, ground zero for the so-called nuclear renaissance, 21 of the 28 units under construction are experiencing delays lasting between several months and more than two years; and
  • Of the 17 remaining projects, a few have come online but many have yet to reach a targeted start-up date, and may or may not face delays or cancellations in the future.

In conclusion, despite its uncontestable advantage in decarbonization terms, the future of nuclear power still definitely lies in the “partly cloudy” range.

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About the Author

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She’s currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year’s COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an “indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity.”

  • windbourne

    Good article. It shows how the nuke industry is failing, which is that old plants are uneconomical and need to be shut down.
    what is needed is to build new small modular reactors that can go into these sites and continue with CO2 free emissions, AND have safe, low costs energy, from reactor companies like mPower, Trans Atomic and Flibe.

    Sadly, due to politics from far left and right extremists, we will be stalled. Hopefully, with Obama liking nuke energy, AND the likelihood that the GOP will lose control of CONgress, O and the GOP will cut a deal to get these small modular reactors going so that far left extremists can not stop it.

    • Bob_Wallace
      • windbourne

        right. I followed the rules.
        YOU had a personal attack and then removed my postings.

        Bob, I have been on this site for years, but have been off of it for the last 6-9 months due to illness. In the past, I have NEVER been treated this way on ANY SITE. EVER.

        Worse, unlike you, I have been involved with AE since the 70s.
        I designed and built a wind generator back at Northern Illinois University while trying to get them to start a program on AE.

        And while I support AE, it is reckless and impossible to base our nation 100% off things like wind and solar. As such, we need baseload power, which the only responsible vs. is Nukes. For now, that means fission, and down the road, that will be fusion. However, we have to deal with CO2 and NOW.
        But I have reported your actions back to CleanTechnia.
        Hopefully, they will be responsible and honest and deal with this correctly.

  • windbourne

    You HAVE to be kidding me.

    I had a clean posting removed because it supports small modular reactors?


    What is WRONG with moderators?

    Time to talk to the site editor and point out that whomever moderated this is purely political.

  • windbourne

    You HAVE to be kidding me.
    I had a clean posting removed because it supports small modular reactors?
    What is WRONG with moderators?

    Time to talk to the site editor and point out that whomever moderated this is purely political.

  • windbourne

    what is needed is to build new small modular reactors that can go into these sites and continue with making money for these utilties while they take out the old reactors. At the same time, we should be getting gen IV reactors going, such as trans atomic and flibe, so that they can burn up the majority of the nuclear waste that is at these sites. Upon doing that, Yucca mtn will be able to handle this nicely.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Take your nuclear fantasies elsewhere.

      • windbourne

        Take your lack of reality elsewhere.

  • Bob_Wallace

    It was just announced that PG&E will close the two Diablo Canyon reactors by 2025. And that they will have low carbon (renewable) generation in place to cover the loss.

  • Matt

    This looks a lot like this. Sold as too cheap to meter, so give us money to build them. Now to costly to run, so if you don’t give us money now we will turn them all off at once and you will not have power. Wait isn’t that black mail, I thought the US government has a policy to not pay black mail.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Thing is, their power isn’t needed.

      If the grid needed their power then they would pay for it. As it is the grid opens up for bids, other providers bid in lower than these paid off nuclear plants and bid in enough electricity to cover the needs.

      Exelon has tried to argue that their reactors should be subsidized because someday the grid might need their power. The grid took a look and they didn’t see that happening.

      • John_ONeill

        The gas plants are winning auctions for extra capacity payments, based on the very low current gas prices ( often below production cost.) The capacity payments let them hang in there with low base rates. If they can squeeze out the baseload nukes, the market for the natural gas power and capacity will look a lot rosier. Meanwhile the oil majors have bought up most of the fracking minnows – they can afford to take a loss till prices pick up, at which point they’ll have power customers over a barrel.

        • Bob_Wallace

          What you suggest may play out. Cheaper NG forces paid off nuclear plants to close. Then later the price for NG could increase taking the cost of CCNG higher than the reactor’s cost of electricity.

          But what that will do is bring more wind and solar online.

          With onshore wind well under and solar starting to dip below the “bankruptcy price” of those nuclear plants a significant rise in gas prices would spur renewable installation.

  • Matt

    I keep wondering why the Nuke team isn’t pushing like crazy for a large carbon tax. It is the only the only thing that will likely keep them in the game much longer.

    • Ross

      When the coal club is history the nuke team will be left exposed on the field.

      • John_ONeill

        I don’t know that coal will be history any time soon- there are 46 coal power plants in Germany, ready to take up the slack when they shut their last reactor, in six years. ( France has only one dirtburner, and it’s switching to wood. ) James Hansen is pushing for a carbon tax, and more nuclear. ( He went to Germany to try to persuade Angela Merkel not to close all the reactors, but unfortunately he can’t vote there.)

        • Bob_Wallace

          Renewables have more than replaced the German reactors closed to date. There’s no reason to believe that Germany will burn more coal as they continue to close down nuclear.


          Germany continues to close coal plants. 2.7 GW of coal capacity is on the cutting block.


          The 1 GW Datteln plant is finished but will probably never run.

          And the 800 GW Moorburg coal plant opened a year ago but its power is not needed.


          • John_ONeill

            From the Heinrich Böll Foundation paper ( referring to the merit order on the German power market, where fuel prices, when obligate renewables don’t cover demand, go from oil down through gas, hard coal, and lignite to nuclear, the cheapest )
            -‘ Nuclear will disappear by 2023, shifting all of the bars to the left. Lignite will then be the source of power the least affected by renewables unless policies change.’
            Of course, as regards CO2, nuclear is by far the cleanest of these, and lignite easily the dirtiest.

          • Bob_Wallace

            John, Germans decided to close nuclear plants because they did not want the danger of living near a nuclear plant and did not want to add more nuclear waste to the problems they were leaving for future generations.

            You apparently disagree with that decision but it was not yours to make.

            Germany is forging ahead to reduce its carbon footprint. They’ve accepted the fact that closing nuclear reactors will make the job harder but that’s a task they’ve accepted.

          • John_ONeill

            ‘You apparently disagree with that decision but it was not yours to make.’
            I have to live with the consequences. Austria turned down Bruno Kreisky’s plan to build seven reactors, by a margin of half a percent, back in the seventies. Democratic decision, but now they’re trying to stop the UK from building reactors – as supported by all three major parties, and to replace older plants already running – by holding them up in court. If it was a tobacco company using trade rules to stop a government from bringing in anti-tobacco legislation, the left would be up in arms, quite rightly, but here we have an outside entity trying to thwart an elected government’s attempt to cut down CO2 and particulate emissions, just as bad for people as tobacco.

          • Bob_Wallace

            John, we lived through a bad period when our choice for electricity was sometimes “coal or nuclear?”

            It was a choice between bad and bad.

            We no longer live in those times. We can now live is a world without either coal or nuclear.

          • neroden

            The UK is proposing to guarantee for 25 years payments of over double the retail cost of electricity — much higher than the cost of solar, wind, or even solar + batteries — to build Hinckley C.

            I can’t think of a better argument for halting UK nuclear power permanently.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Did the timeline get shortened? The previous agreement for Hinkley Point that was under discussion was a 35 year purchase agreement.

        • heinbloed

          ” France has only one dirtburner, and it’s switching to wood.”

          That’s not correct.

          There are still 5 “dirtburners” in France.
          The 2 owned by the German coal and atom giant RWE are going to be closed and the others are left open.

          Check your sources.


          • John_ONeill

            Sorry, I should have known that – France’s biggest surviving coal plant is near where my sister lives, in Angers. Mind you, it’s only there because the notoriously stubborn Bretons and Vendée folks made such a fuss about building two nuclear plants in their areas, back in the seventies – EdF had to use coal to fill the gap in its network.

          • heinbloed

            Talking shite whenever there is a public ….

            Ask your “sister” where you are and get her to send you a French globe:)



          • John_ONeill

            ‘La Bretagne est une “péninsule électrique” : elle produit moins de 10 % de ses besoins en électricité et est en bout de réseau par rapport aux centrales nucléaires les plus proches (Flamanville, Civaux et Chinon). La centrale de Cordemais constitue une source importante d’approvisionnement électrique, à la suite de l’abandon des projets électronucléaires du Carnet (qui aurait dû être située de l’autre côté de l’estuaire de la Loire, exactement en face de Cordemais) et de Plogoff’.
            So France’s largest coal plant was only built because of the brave protesters who threw rocks at the riot police for months on end, at Plogoff ( on the tip of Brittany ) and Le Carnet ( on the Loire estuary.) Of course, nobody occupied the coal plant site, and it’s still pumping out tens of thousands of tons of CO2 every day it operates. The spent fuel from the two cancelled plants for the last forty years could have fitted in one house.

          • Bob_Wallace

            And the spent fuel from those two cancelled reactors would have been a deadly danger to people for thousands of years.

            Enough, John. Quit advocating for dangerous energy solutions on this site. There are other sites for people, who for some perverted reason, wish to see our grids powered by extremely expensive and very dangerous nuclear energy.

            This site is not the place to practice your dark art.

          • John_ONeill

            ‘This site is not the place to practice your dark art.’
            That’s pretty funny. I didn’t train at Hogworts.

  • eveee

    Indeed. More source material to that effect. As high grade uranium ores become more scarce, nuclear carbon footprints increase

  • ROBwithaB

    Very surprised that the “dirty dozen” of pro-nuclear Disqus accounts isn’t all over the comments on this one…

    • eveee

      Oh please don’t jinx this. LOL. I see that several new solar projects are coming online or in the works in South Africa. Some CSP with storage as I recall. Hopefully the can come on line quickly enough to obviate the state sponsored reactors proposed from Russia. Everything looks cheap when somebody else is paying. 🙂

      • ROBwithaB

        Yup. The sooner we can roll out the solar, the less likely it is that the whole “secret nuclear deal” will go ahead.
        And even though parts of the Northern Cape are very well suited to CSP (hint: they built a big telescope there), the need for that kind of storage is probably overblown. We have a lot of pumped hydro. And there is another 1.5MW project (Tubatse) sitting “on hold” because funding ran out . (Mainly due to huge cost overruns on the two new coal mega-plants currently under construction. And likely to remain “under construction” for perhaps another decade, at current rates of progress.)
        An interesting side effect of the whole fiasco is that a lot of people are installing solar and batteries to avert the prospect of ongoing rolling blackouts (euphemistically referred to as “load-shedding” by Eskom. And because such installations are currently “illegal” in many jurisdictions, they often don’t show up in any official figures. But panels are going up on homes and businesses all around the country and people are self-consuming. So, despite the large proportion of previously disadvantaged people clamouring for a first-world lifestyle, national demand is effectively stagnant.
        Outside of the corrupt mega industries (mines, smelters, chipboard factories etc) that can negotiate supply agreements at below cost, it tends to be the biggest consumers who have the greatest incentive to install PV.
        Shopping malls, agricultural processors etc have electricity as one of their biggest cost centres, and it’s consumed mostly during the day. Big flat roofs provide for near utility-scale pricing. The tipping point has been reached in most parts of the country within the past 18 months. Further increases in the Eskom tariff (and any decreases in panel cost) will only improve the equation. Installers are learning some of the tricks of the trade, and the business model is maturing from part timers and fly-by-nights to professional specialist companies.
        And there is a quiet revolution in storage as well, sometimes completely independent of solar, based on the avoidance of load shedding. For a company that might lose two hours of business each day for three months in a row, it makes sense to try to keep the lights on. Almost every retail complex has a large industrial back-up diesel generator. But there are many businesses for whom a generator is not a practical solution. So they install a few forklift batteries and make up a jury-rigged big UPS to keep all the computers and switchboard up and running.
        And then there are the 1% with the “secure country estate” lifestyle, who think nothing of spending perhaps $20,000 on a battery system just so that they can continue watching TV whilst everyone else sits in the dark.
        The law of unintended consequences….
        In trying to “force” people to buy expensive coal/nuclear power from the monopoly utility, Eskom is incenting a quiet revolution that might have an even bigger effect than the official REIPPP. And the REIPPP is progressing pretty well too, despite political headwinds, because it can deliver within a timeframe of months rather than decades. Without all the new renewables, our economy would already have come to a complete halt.
        So yeah, in amongst the chaos, there’s actually a positive story.

        • eveee

          Sounds like the problems extend well beyond technical issues. With the power company claiming it cant meet demand, and electricity growth stagnant (hows that ?), commercial ventures making their own power and backup to avoid blackouts ( whats the power company good for?) and residential just giving up in disgust ( i know I exaggerated, but it almost sounds that way) one wonders.

          Its sounds like the monopoly power provider is completely functionally useless and out of control. Is this a harbinger of things to come? We see some of this in Spain where rooftop solar is effectively outlawed.

          • neroden

            In Spain, rooftop solar will be legal again as soon as Rajoy is thrown out. And it’s a foregone conclusion that Rajoy will be thrown out — they just can’t quite come to consensus on who’s replacing him.

          • eveee

            I can hardly wait. The situation there is practically intolerable. Italy has come to a standstill, too, but its different there I hear.

  • globi

    Great, well researched article.
    There’s a typo though: Switzerland 34 by 2025, 2 more by 2040
    It should say 3 and not 34.
    Actually, just one reactor (Mühleberg) goes offline in the year 2019 already. The other ones don’t have a decommissioning date as of yet.
    The world’s oldest nuclear power plant Beznau 1 has been offline for over a year now because they found irregularities in the pressure vessel, but they are apparently optimistic that they can restart it. http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS-Vessel-integrity-tests-extend-Beznau-1-outage-0405165.html

  • Adrian

    I drilled down in the EIA Electricity Data explorer, these plants combined have been generating around 24,000 GWh/year recently. The state stepping-up efficiency programs, some demand response, and importing some great-plains wind, should replace that demand at a lower cost than continuing to run the plants. They need to “find” roughly 2.7GW.

    • eveee

      I expected as much. Adding transmission is just about the cheapest way to support a generation loss. At about 2c/kwhr, it makes much sense.

      Unfortunately, it all takes time. The answer there is to expect aging reactors to shut down and respond accordingly.

  • neroden

    In addition to the specific reactors already on your list, there are a number of reactors in the US which really ought to be shut down:
    — Nine Mile Point 1 has a history of radioative leaks, and is the outdated Fukushima design. It ought to be on the chopping block. It’s probably surviving solely due to Nine Mile Point 2.
    — The Ice Condenser designs basically don’t have containment. If anything went wrong they would most likely have zero containment and do the full Chernobyl. This list of five plants, 2 units each, is: DC Cook (AEP), McGuire (Duke), Catawba (Duke), Seqouyah (TVA), and Watts Bar (TVA).

    Most of these are relatively small and accordingly not efficient, as well as being very old designs.

    Cooper’s paper (linked by eveee elsewhere in these comments) is a good list of those reactors most likely to close for economic reasons. It includes Nine Mile Point and Sequoyah, but unfortunately not the other ice condenser designs.

    • nitpicker357

      You keep referring to reactors as have the “Fukushima design”. My understanding is that the Fukushima disaster itself was primarily caused by the tsunami substantially exceeding the design criteria. I thought the backup generators were inundated, and these related problems allowed the Fukushima portion of the Tohoku tsunami disaster. Did the reactor design contribute substantially to the Fukushima disaster? I confess I’m being lazy about looking these up.

      • eveee

        The myth that the generator failure was the only cause of failure at Fukushima Daichi is a hard one to kill.
        There were other generators on high ground that still worked, but they were useless because the switch gear for units 1 to 3 was located at lower levels where the tsunami could damage it.

        “All three of the generators added in the late 1990s, located in the separate hillside buildings, kept working. But they didn’t do any good at reactor Nos. 1 through 4 because the meta-kura that delivered power from the generators to the cooling systems got swamped in the lightly protected turbine buildings.”


        • Larmion

          But again, your article mostly implicates design problems in the non-nuclear part of the power plant (i.e. the switchboard).

          These can easily be fixed in existing reactors. Rehousing the switchboard has happened post-Fukushima in a few European reactors, for example.

          It’s only if there are major design flaws in the reactor vessel that the safety issues are pretty much impossible to correct post-construction.

          • eveee

            True. However, these changes are not free. They are part of the cost of post Fukushima retrofits that cause plant shutdowns. My point was that while basics of the designs cast them in categories, one of the bigger problems is that no two designs are identical. Essentially, they are all custom.

            I wanted to address another of your criticisms of shutting down aging reactors, that solar and wind could not replace generation quick enough.

            First, aging reactors are not shutting down all at once, but gradually over time. True, large ones can be a huge chunk of capacity at once, and might not be anticipated. However, the whole point of this is that it should be expected that aging reactors will be shut down. Coopers paper based on analysis of UBS, Credit Suisse, and others makes it abundantly clear.

            Secondly, the data shows that in the US, coal use is declining. In particular, states like Texas with heavy coal use and large wind farm fleets are seeing precipitous decline in coal usage. It would be expected that solar could do likewise. California has added over 10GW in a short period of time.

            Texas wind power is expanding fast enough to cover nuclear plant closures and a reduction in coal.

            “At the end of last year, Texas accounted for nearly a quarter of the country’s wind power with 17,713 megawatts of power in operation, compared to 74,472 megawatts nationwide.

            Texas easily led the nation in wind power expansion last year.

            The state added 3,615 megawatts of wind power in 2015, out of 8,598 new megawatts nationally, according to an annual report by the American Wind Energy Association.

            And the Texas trend shows no sign of ending. A majority of the wind power capacity now under construction is in the Lone Star State, the report said. More than 5,000 megawatts are being built or are nearing construction in Texas, compared with less than 4,400 in the rest of the country.”



            Rather than try to extend nuclear, we should be realistic, face the numbers, and accept that it will decline. Planning is the key. Rather than wait for reactors to fail of go offline, we should be proactive and plan replacements beforehand.

            “The lesson for policy makers in the economics of old reactors is clear and it reinforces the lesson of the past decade in the economics of building new reactors. Nuclear reactors are simply not competitive. They are not competitive at the beginning of their life cycle, when the build/cancel decision is made, and they are not competitive at the end of their life cycles, when the repair/retire decision is made. They are not competitive because the U.S. has the technical ability and a rich, diverse resource base to meet the need for electricity with lower cost, less risky alternatives.

            “Policy efforts to resist fundamental economics of nuclear reactors will be costly, ineffective and counterproductive.”

          • Larmion

            Nuclear phase-outs that are gradual are indeed easy to replace with RE (though the point remains that short term less FF will be displaced than would have been the case if the reactor stayed open).

            However, many countries are seeing a phase out that is anything but gradual. Some have set arbitrary closing dates for their either the entire fleet or a very large part of it (Germany 2022, Belgium 2025 etc).

            Others are seeing large numbers of plant closures in a short period and in a small area, mostly due to economic conditions like the sudden and likely temporary natural gas glut. This is happening in the US, where some areas are losing a very large part of their nuclear capacity in short succession.

            A well designed nuclear exit would be gradual in time and space, i.e. by closing a fixed percentage of the nuclear plants every four years.

            We don’t disagree fundamentally. Nuclear power is on its way out, and that’s a good thing long term. However, very few countries have a nuclear exit strategy that will not significantly increase short term FF consumption. That’s an outcome we can ill afford given that carbon budgets are already extremely tight.

          • eveee

            We seem to agree. At least Germany has an exit strategy. Thats better than waiting for inevitable unplanned closures.

            Saying that there will be less carbon if NPP stay open seems like another way of being in denial that aging reactors will close. Since aging reactor closings result in a spike in Green House Gases when Fossil Fuel plants are used to replace them, why ignore the fact that unpredictable nuclear power plant closures are the cause?

            It is more rational to expect nuclear power plant closures and plan on replacing them. We have the ability to do so economically and we should do so.

            The answer is to fact the music and accept that aging nuclear reactors must be replaced with renewables. With an average build time less than two years, this is not a technical challenge.

            The arbitrary closing dates set by Germany are a matter of policy and choice. No one can really fault them for lacking a taste for nuclear after Chernobyl. Their forests are still contaminated as are many other parts of Europe.

            It makes no sense to ignore the accidents that are the reason for phase outs in the first place. Responsibility for that rests solely on the failure of nuclear power plants.

            Germanys renewables are more than making up for nuclear phase outs.


            Could more GHG be avoided if nuclear remained? Sure. But that would be ignoring the reason its being phased out in some countries like Germany.

            Some local areas in the US may be seeing NPP shut down suddenly, but not the US as a whole. Even transmission from high wind states like Iowa could help there. In the end, it comes down to planning.

            The problem here has little to do with NPP and everything to do with realistic planning. Failing to acknowledge that aging reactors will need to be shut down is like waiting longer to change your oil and hoping nothing bad happens.
            If nuclear shutdowns are unpredictable and unplanned, that is a problem with nuclear we should face squarely.

            In that case, we should build new renewables as a back up for unplanned nuclear shut downs.

            The US in particular seems to be in denial about reactor closures. The whole fantasy game seems to be endemic with nuclear, not just in closures, but in realistic assessments of long term waste, and even economics of new power plant construction. The US seems to think that it can reverse decades of failed experience with new reactor designs. That effort has already failed. None of the problems facing nuclear are really being solved. Its a waste of time and money and a risk.

          • Bob_Wallace

            The US reactors that are closing are not able to sell their power to the grid. The grid is fully supplied with less expensive generation.

            Exelon tried to get subsidies to keep their reactors operating, using the argument that their power might be needed in a future polar vortex event. (They weren’t needed during the previous event.)

            The last straw for Quad Cities and a couple other reactors is that during the last bidding process no one would purchase their electricity.

            Grids are well supplied. Over supplied in some cases. The most expensive generators are being passed over.

            The only reactors that are being shut down abruptly are ones that have large system failures and need repairs. Grids need to be prepared to deal with unannounced loss of one or more generators. Utilities are not always prepared for sudden loss, San Diego wasn’t.

          • eveee

            Yes. You nailed it. We were lucky when SONGs went out. It was replaced quickly, but there was an initial cost spike as things shifted to NG.

            Cooper makes it abundantly clear that the problem is that there is no need for abundant inflexible power plants like nuclear. With them, its the operation and maintenance and fixed costs that cannot compete. As they grow older, they just get too expensive to repair, maintain, and keep up to date.

            Exelons shut downs have been anticipated for quite some time. Enough time to plan renewable replacements. Outside of sudden shutdowns like Fort Calhoun or SONGS, these things should planned for GHG friendly replacements in an orderly way.

            Fort Calhoun should never have been built so close to a potential flood area.

          • neroden

            The main problem was that the GE BWR designs really made no attempt whatsoever to be failsafe. Seriously, they put the spent fuel pool on an upper floor and required active pumping to keep it wet. They required the control rods to be shoved upwards to stop the reaction. (The earlier Manhattan Project reactors all had control rods drop DOWN by GRAVITY to shut the reaction off.) And so on and so on — everywhere you look, they made “fail dangerous” decisions.

            You can’t correct that sort of fundamentally incorrect design philosophy post-construction. Honestly the GE design should never have been licensed.

            The designs commissioned by Admiral Rickover and his successors for the Navy reactors follow a much saner design philosophy.

    • eveee

      Davis-Bessie has a horrible safety record and several near misses.

  • Larmion

    Small nitpick: that list of scheduled reactor closures contains at least two errors.

    Belgium did not close two reactors in 2015. Doel 1 and 2 received a life extension until 2025. The law that regulates the closure of all reactors by 2025 also can (and will) be changed to allowed a further life extension for the more recent reactors Tihange 3 and Doel 4.

    Borrssele in the Netherlands is not legally required to close by 2025 either (it is due to be dismantled in 2033). That plant will likely close though, mostly because its owner Delta is in dire financial straits.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Can you work up a list of current planned closures and plants actually under construction?

      • Larmion

        I could do it for (western) Europe, but I don’t really info about other markets.

        • neroden

          I keep an eye on the US situation, but I can’t follow Europe at all; I would appreciate it if you assembled a Europe list.

  • Larmion

    I for one can’t feel happy reading this.

    When nuclear power plants close, capacity factors at fossil fueled generators go up for at least several years. Enough RE generators and associated interconnection/storage to replace the nuclear power plant don’t appear overnight, sadly. When forced to choose between nuclear and coal (or even NG), nuclear is the lesser of the two evils in every imaginable environmental or health parameter.

    Perhaps one could imagine a scheme in which a utility that operates a loss making nuclear plant gets a subsidy to keep the plant open for a fixed time period (say 5-10 more years), conditional on that utility building RE generation capacity with the same annual generation as the nuclear power station by the end of the subsidy period.

    That way, all actors benefit:

    – The utility is thrown a lifeline that allows it to transition from old fashioned nuclear to RE.
    – Society benefits from the avoided extra fossil fuel use during the transition period
    – The government saves the money it would otherwise have spent on health related expenditures and climate change related costs during the transition period.

    • Shiggity

      “Enough RE generators and associated interconnection/storage to replace the nuclear power plant don’t appear overnight, sadly.”

      This is where you are wrong. This is why solar PV is the most powerful energy generation source.

      It is *perfectly* scalable. Meaning you can have an installation of one panel or an installation of over a million panels.

      These panels can be split up and installed *in parallel* across the entire nuclear energy footprint.

      A team of 4 skilled solar pv installers + construction equipment can get a 20kw array up in ONE DAY, ONE WORK DAY.

      Now let’s hire several hundred teams at once (still less than the amount you need for new nukes) and install it in parallel. (Rooftops, parking lots, schools, government buildings, any large energy user, etc etc)

      Solar PV just covered the entire peak electrical characteristics of the plant in under *one week*. Connected, generating, producing.

      YES, it happens that fast. Why do you think solar power is growing EXPONENTIALLY?!

      Large wind power cannot do this, large wind requires extremely heavy logistics. Again, solar PV does not.

      Also no one talks about WATER ISSUES. Nuclear power plants need too much damn water to cool. That fresh water is needed else where. (You let me know when salt water can cool thermal plants)

      How much water does solar pv use when it’s going? NONE.

      Saying solar pv cannot scale fast enough IS DEAD WRONG. STOP PERPETUATING FALSE INFORMATION PLEASE I BEG OF YOU.

      • Larmion

        1) All energy sources initially growed exponentially. More mature renewables like wind now grow more or less linearly in most markets and solar will reach that point soon enough. No bad thing mind you, just sign of a maturing market.

        2) Yes, technically solar (and wind) is perfectly scalable. However, growth is governed by economical and political factors more than anything else.

        Look at the growth of RE, even in countries passionately devoted to it like Germany. If you close all nuclear power plants over the coming years, RE growth is not predicted to make up the losses – let alone displace anymore fossil fuels.

        Long term, nuclear is doomed. But we are now in an interesting transition period where RE is not yet growing fast enough to replace BOTH nuclear and coal simultaneously. We will have to choice which phase-out is most urgent. To someone concerned about the environment, that should be coal.

        No more new nuclear, life extensions for safe and profitable plants and a managed decline scenario for troubled plants like those in Illinois. That’s the scenario I advocate, as it would lead to the fastest possible decline in coal use.

        • neroden

          Solar is nowhere NEAR dropping to linear production. Solar will grow exponentially for at least another *decade*, probably two decades.

          Wind is limited by access to good sites, which is what has reduced the growth; it’s getting harder and harder to get permits to build at good sites.

          Solar *isn’t* limited by access to sites. Not even *close*. Solar won’t stop growing exponentially until *world electricity demand is saturated* by solar.

          • John_ONeill

            From Dave Lochbaum, of the Union of Concerned Scientists –
            ‘The recent commendable response to leakage of borated water at Davis-Besse suggests that there’s NOT (my emphasis ) a risk of a nasty surprise lurking in the future..’
            – a conclusion you might well have missed if you just read the headline. Noting also that previous leaks from Davis-Besse did not harm anyone, unlike the natural gas which would undoubtedly replace most of its output, and which regularly kills people. http://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/article/In-brief-Pacific-Gas-Electric-goes-on-trial-8310446.php
            How’s the solar growth rate going in countries like Germany, Spain and Italy, where it’s got all the way up to 5-7% of total production ? Do you think that maybe these places night have compelling reasons for braking the growth of such a fickle energy source ? All these countries already get double or more that amount from nuclear – even Italy, courtesy of imports from France and Slovenia.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Here’s the short version…

            Solar is going up. Nuclear is going down.

            Details available via Google….

          • windbourne

            good postings. I despise the GE BWR designs.
            One thing I love about Trans Atomic and Flibe is that they are passive-safe which is PERFECT.
            In addition, mPower is capable of going for a week without issues. That is another Gen 3+ modular reactor that is safe, but I dislike that it requires using regular uranium as opposed to using nuke waste like TA and Flibe.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I agree that leaving (actually safe) reactors on while we close coal plants is a better option for fighting climate change.

          I find the closing of existing (paid off) reactors for purely economic reasons very interesting. Interesting because it illustrates how unaffordable new reactors would be.

          We have limited capital we can use to get off fossil fuels. We need to be spending that money on solar and wind, not on very expensive nuclear which will take years to bring online.

          Time to quit screwing around with massive plants. Full speed ahead on wind and solar and keep at it until fossil fuels are off our grids.

        • eveee

          Solar and wind have just achieved Grid parity. They can’t go from too expensive to compete and too small, to market saturation overnight, either. Wind and solar are on the cusp of the S curve where adoption becomes rampant and exponential growth, not at saturation.
          And solar and wind are displacing coal and natural gas wherever they are used. Too many of the impediments to solar and wind implementations are institutional policy ones, not market. Rather than risk keeping NG aging reactors alive, it would be better to do solar and wind more rapidly. In Illinois, how much wind and solar could be added there or from Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, and the Dakotas?

          If Exelon can request money to keep aging reactors open, they can request money to expand renewables, too.


      • Steven F

        “Also no one talks about WATER ISSUES. Nuclear power plants need too much damn water to cool. That fresh water is needed else where. (You let me know when salt water can cool thermal plants)”

        Salt water has been used for a very long time to cool power plants. All currently operating nuclear reactors in california are salt water cooled. Almost all Japanese nuclear reactors are salt water cooled. In fact that is why all are located so close to the ocean.

        This is just an error correction to your post. The rest I agree with.

        • windbourne

          depends on the reactors. For example, mPower does not require any cooling water what so ever.
          However, being coastal or on great lakes would enable it to run more efficiently.

      • Matt

        We “the people” could even choose to run a program think the CCC and have it put solar on public buildings. Think schools, libraries, town halls, etc. Could scale the vet training program by 10, and give each grad a 2-4 year spot doing installs. By then they are very skilled and can move into industry. Also lots of family/friend are then seeing the panels up, and pushing their local zoning boards to make it easier. To pull the far right in we let the program cover non-profits also they just pay for panels and can get a 1% loan from program for that.

    • neroden

      Most of these nuclear plants are ticking time bombs. I don’t like to see a relatively new nuclear plant close, but almost all of these reactors have already outlived their design life, often by several decades. The designs are mostly 1950s designs known to be bad. Rather than creating additional Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters, we should shut these down.

      We’re in a golden period to shut them down. Electricity demand is flat or declining thanks to energy efficiency, and simultaneously we have humungous growth in solar and wind power.

      • Adrian

        Pickering and Bruce (and Darlington) have had problems and shutdowns for cracks in cooling pipes. That was quite a while ago (early 90’s?), I’m sure they’ve corrected the root problem by now.

        OTOH, Ontario is selling overnight power at a loss to NY, because they can’t throttle them down far enough.

        • neroden

          Yeah. And we can’t even absorb it very well because we don’t have beefy enough transmission lines to NYC! So we end up with low electric rates upstate but not downstate…

    • eveee

      Capacity factor at Fossil Feul plants would not increase if nuclear closures were planned. Furthermore, unplanned closures and shutdowns that cause excess FF usage are a negative of nuclear power plants. Lets at least accept that obvious reality.

      At least some excess Fossil Fuel usage is caused by the unpredictable closure of nuclear power plants.

      That has nothing to do with whether renewables can be built quickly enough, but rests squarely on the shoulders of nuclear. If we wish to avoid excess FF consumption, we should plan on outage at older nuclear reactors and begin renewable replacements early. Thats a much better solution than unsuccessfully attempting to drag aging nuclear plants onward in a futile, risky, and expensive gesture.

  • JamesWimberley

    “Partly cloudy”? More like “continuous heavy rain on nuclear hopes.”
    In Germany, the coal plants have started to queue for subsidies to stay open, since their low capacity factors mean they can’t break even. We will see more of this. Electricity ratepayers won’t be paying over the odds for no longer expensive wind and solar, but for the broken legacy system they replace.

  • sault

    BTW, I’ve been following the slow-motion disaster at the Vogtle and VC Summer nuclear plant construction sites for years. Let me know if I could write an in-depth article on them for CT.

    • sault

      Hey! 10 likes so far! I say there’s demand for this article. What say you CT?

  • Ivor O’Connor

    Good riddance. Bet “the world’s best thinkers on energy & climate” over at the energy collective are spinning faster than a top.

    • Jenny Sommer

      At least 5 articles last week…

  • sault

    Great article and very comprehensive. Too bad no matter how many times these facts (and many more) are presented to die-hard nuclear supporters, they just dismiss them out of hand. I guess all you can do is lead a horse to water after all…

    • super390

      They’ve been getting somewhat less obnoxious in the last year. I think Hinkley Point C is getting hard to ignore. I mean, it’s built by the French, the guys who were supposed to be good at it. Now the French industry is talked about mostly for its financial problems and delays, though at least they still haven’t had a major accident.

    • windbourne

      You obviously did not really read it and comprehend it.
      Basically, the OLD reactors are being shut down for ECONOMIC reasons.
      That is because these are GEN 2+/Gen 3 reactors that were designed in the 70s or earlier.

      Nuclear power’s issue is not that it is nuclear, but that they are building massively large reactors, rather than building small modular ones of say 150 MWe. With small ones, these would be cheap. WIth the new ones, they would be safe. And these would provide nice base-load systems, which should then be supplemented with AE, combined with storage.

  • dcard88

    But its so cheap!
    Have any renewables projects cost even DOUBLE the original quotes?

    • eveee

      You just don’t see cost over runs like that industry very often. Usually its other extremely large projects. Wind and solar have the advantage of modularity, being a sum of many units. Helps with economics and construction times. They are also considerably simpler.

      • dRanger

        The guaranteed return on investment for all capital spent means the utilities have a financial incentive to make their projects come in late and over-budget. Nukes have certainly been a golden opportunity to play that game. Renewables not so much.

        • super390

          I guess that’s why the nuclear industry acts so much like the military-industrial complex from which it sprang. It’s all cost-plus contracts.

      • windbourne

        which is exactly why we should be killing these massive GEN 3 reactors and instead focusing on the small modular ones that can replace coal, nat gas and burn up the waste fuel that exists at the old nuke sites.

  • eveee

    Great article Sandy. Nice work. Accurate and wide ranging. Here is Cooper’s paper outlining the US reactors in economic trouble to continue operations. All of the reactors shut down in recent times are on the list.

    • Sandy Dechert

      Thanks for your interest, eveee! And more thanks for the great Cooper reference!

      • eveee

        You’re welcome. Always a pleasure to read your articles.

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