Red Tape and Green Energy: Why Nuclear Power Is Struggling to Survive
This spring, a Bloomberg Energy report found that nearly a quarter of America's remaining 99 nuclear reactors are at risk of closing prematurely.
The question, at least for nuclear, is what qualifies as renewable.
Nuclear remains one of the most scalable carbon-free forms of electricity generation. Despite this, state laws in
After years of aggressive government policies to promote wind and solar, they are beginning to take off. Record amounts of solar generation were installed in 2017 and wind installation has made healthy gains in 2018. Analysts predict that this surge will continue, especially as buyers come to appreciate that they can lock in long-term pricing without having to worry about fluctuations in fuel markets.
"Wind power's low cost makes it one of the most competitive energy sources in many parts of the country. And low costs continue to fall due to technological innovation and increased American manufacturing," said the
Proponents of nuclear power say that the comparison is inaccurate and doesn't reflect the differences between nuclear and wind.
"Existing policy doesn't take into account that wind is not a direct substitute for nuclear, since wind isn't a storable resource and can only be called on when it's available. For wind to compete straight up with nuclear on equal terms regarding zero-carbon emissions and baseload capabilities, wind generators will require battery storage," says
"Moreover, the lifespan of the respective plants must also be taken into account. A nuclear plant has a lifespan of 60-80 years, whereas a wind power facility has a lifespan of about 25-30 years, meaning it will require at least two wind facility constructions to cover the 60-80 years."
One of the problems nuclear faces is that current plants were designed to use the generators for baseload power. Increasingly, nuclear energy proponents have discussed turning this on end, using nuclear power to fill in when wind and solar are inadequate.
Maintaining nuclear plants will come at a price, however. America has built few new reactors since the 1970s, meaning that companies lack the expertise needed to design and construct them. According to the Bloomberg report, keeping even just the 25 plants most at risk of closure afloat would cost
At the same time, for wind and solar to continue to build on their present growth, the industries must find ways to deal with the intermittency problem. Right now, the primary focus has been on battery technology, in the hopes that a generation and storage combination would be sufficient. Since the technology is under development, the costs of a large scale battery program are still largely unknown.
"If sufficient battery storage is included, then this raises questions about the lifespan of a wind facility, since we don't yet know the lifespan of a battery storage facility at that scale. This equal-term comparison, changes the economics altogether," says Gattie. "The point here being that decisions to shut down nuclear plants are being made based on short-term marginal profits in current market structures that don't properly value nuclear."
The Trump administration has discussed a bailout for the coal and nuclear industries, but so far, no finalized plan has been released.
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