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50 US coal power plants have closed in the last 2 years and the Sierra Club counted another 51 announcements of coal plant closures in the works.  In total, 289 have closed since 2010, comprising 40 percent of the US's coal power capacity, while an additional 241 plants remain open.  "We're seeing a rush to the exit door from the coal industry and utilities, because the economics don't work out," the Sierra Club's Jonathan Levenshus told AFP.  Coal has become more expensive to extract, transport and utilize than natural gas.  

Should we expect nuclear power plants to follow the same path, closing in rapid succession? Since 2013, natural gas and renewables have replaced most of the generating capacity of the six nuclear plants that have closed in the US.  Iowa’s only nuclear plant is coming to its end.  Despite its reputation as a well-run and reliable plant, NextEra Energy Duane Arnold Energy Center joins a growing list of single-unit nuclear plants across the nation embarking on the long decommissioning process.  California will close Diablo Canyon by 2045 and nuclear plants in New York, New Jersey and Illinois will rely on bailouts to avoid closures.  Economics are not the only challenge coal and nuclear face.  Climate policies mandating emissions reductions are also having an impact on the future of nuclear power.  Public opinion is another challenge for both coal and nuclear power.  Despite the fact that accidents are rare, the general public has long felt a significant dread about nuclear power plants.  Research suggests that engineering efforts to make the technology safer and communicating with the public will not persuade people to choose nuclear power.  The team at Carnegie Mellon University and University of California San Diego's School of Global Policy and Strategy hope to quantify just how much nuclear power the American public might be willing to accept when and if the fear associated with it is reduced or eliminated. 

Will changing public opinion and creating subsidies be enough to save nuclear plants and projects in different phases of construction?  How are utilities adjusting to the rapid changes in coal and nuclear energy?  

Nevelyn Black's picture

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 12, 2019 6:12 am GMT

Nevelyn, because wind and solar bailouts are required for those technologies to remain viable, maybe we'll instead see them rushing to the exits.

Wind and solar "bailouts"...really? Really. The zero-emission credits (ZECs)  being afforded nuclear plants cost a fraction of the renewable-energy credits (RECs) being heaped upon wind and solar, to the delight of the natural gas industry. Study after study confirms ZECs save customers money - a lot of money - and even more importantly, they prevent a lot of emissions.

Report: Losing FirstEnergy’s Nuclear Fleet Would Wipe Out Two Decades of Solar and Wind Progress

Seems renewables ideologues feel threatened by renewed interest in nuclear, and they should. "Nuclear power paves the only viable path forward on climate change" - at least, that's what the experts tell us. At this critical juncture, shouldn't we be setting aside irrational fear of things we don't understand, and listening to the experts?

"Sorry We Weren't More Effective."

Good riddance


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 12, 2019 7:52 pm GMT

I do think it's necessary to be careful not to conflate coal and nuclear in one bin-- they are their own behemoths with their own unique economics, technology, benefits, & challenges. The attempted '90 day onsite fuel' move that DOE tried to pull at the end of 2017 was one of those attempts to create bedfellows from the coal and nuclear industries, but doing so is not really representative of the fuels

Rich Dzikowski's picture
Rich Dzikowski on May 13, 2019 11:08 pm GMT

This can be called creative destruction according to Joseph Schumpeter or disruptive innovation according to Clayton M. Christensen.                                                       

During the early industrialisation there were water canals in England with which goods were transported. These were replaced by railways.

Charles Botsford, PE's picture
Charles Botsford, PE on May 14, 2019 12:00 am GMT

Great post. While coal and nuclear are, of course, greatly different generation sources, they share many attributes, two of which are: (1) terrible economics in the current and seemingly future economic climate, (2) not great wide public acceptance, dread even, as you say.

Coal...well, not much more to say. Ash, maybe. It's on a very quick downward slide, all economics. Nuclear is also on a downward slide, a matter of attrition. The only project proponent of a US nuclear plant (Vogtle) says they don't see building another until 2040, if then. You can mention, as you have, all the other issues nuclear faces -- decommissioning costs (mostly a what to do with the waste issue), public dread, etc., but it's really all about the economics. Low cost natural gas appears to be with us for a very long time, which means the bailouts are a terrible deal for ratepayers.   


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 14, 2019 4:17 pm GMT

Charles, data from zero-emission credits enacted by New York and Illinois contradict your claim they're "a terrible idea for ratepayers":

"By retaining nuclear generation [in New York and Illinois], more electricity was being provided by low-cost sources than would have been the case if the reactors closed. The reason is that the replacements for the nuclear plants would have been more costly fossil generators. In a relatively small electricity grid such as New York’s, this effect was dramatic. Brattle estimated that the ZECs would cost $482 million per year. However, if the plants closed, consumers would avoid paying the $482 million, but their total electricity bill would rise by $1.7 billion per year as more expensive fossil units were put into service."

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 15, 2019 10:48 pm GMT

Bob, in good humor I'd love to turn the tables on you on this!

You've pointed out in the past when people's sources are coming from organizations with a vested interest in a given conclusion, and I can't help but notice your source here comes from the Nuclear Energy Institute who would arguably have such an interest in this conclusion. I'm curious if you can provide a non-nuclear focused resource for these conclusions. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 16, 2019 8:36 pm GMT

Matt, NEI's report is based on three documents. The first was prepared by energy consultants The Brattle Group for New York State IBEW Utility Labor Council, Rochester Building and Construction Trades Council, and Central and Northern New York Building and Construction Trades Council:

New York’s Upstate Nuclear Power Plants’ Contribution to the State Economy

Based on Brattle's report, the New York Public Service Commission submitted to state legislators (and Governor Cuomo) the following proposal for preserving nuclear's zero-emission attributes at three upstate plants:


After reviewing NYPSC's proposal, Brattle submitted comments on NYPSC's proposal to add important context to the economic benefits of the proposed ZEC:

Preliminary Comment on New York Department of Public Service “Staff’s Responsive Proposal for Preserving Zero-Emissions Attributes”


"Electricity price effects must be considered when evaluating Staff’s proposed ZEC program. We found previously that electricity costs for New York consumers would average $1.7 billion per year higher without the upstate nuclear plants. The electricity cost savings that come from preserving these nuclear plants exceed the cap on ZEC costs, which is $482 million per year for the first two years. Thus Staff’s proposed program to preserve the upstate nuclear plants would actually save consumers money on power costs. The ZEC cost cap is below the estimated electricity cost savings that comes from preserving the upstate nuclear plants, and actual ZEC costs are expected to be below the cap in future years.
• In addition to the electricity cost savings for New York consumers, preserving the upstate nuclear plants would prevent the release of about 15 million tons of CO2 per year into the atmosphere."

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