Biden administration unveils $6 billion program to keep nuclear power plants from closing
Energize Weekly, April 27, 2022
The federal government has launched a $6 billion program to support the operation and prevent the closure of any of the nation’s nuclear reactors – seen by the Biden administration as a key component in helping the nation meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals.
At the end of 2021, the United States had 93 operating commercial nuclear reactors at 55 nuclear power plants in 28 states. The average age of these nuclear reactors is about 40 years old.
Since 2013, the pressure of shifting energy markets and mounting costs has led to the early closure of 13 reactors, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
“These closures have led to an increase in carbon emissions, poorer air quality, and the loss of thousands of high-paying jobs,” the DOE said. Nuclear power plants provide about 20 percent of the country’s electricity, but 52 percent of its clean power.
Twenty-two commercial nuclear units are shut down at 16 sites and are in various stage of decommissioning, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“U.S. nuclear power plants contribute more than half of our carbon-free electricity, and President Biden is committed to keeping these plants active to reach our clean energy goals,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said in a statement.
“We’re using every tool available to get this country powered by clean energy by 2035, and that includes prioritizing our existing nuclear fleet to allow for continued emissions-free electricity generation and economic stability for the communities leading this important work,” Granholm said.
The first commercial nuclear power plant began generating electricity in 1958. Nine Mile Point Unit 1 in New York, which began operation in 1969, is the oldest of the plants currently producing electricity.
The last nuclear power plant to enter service is the Watts Bar Unit 2, which came online in 2016 and is operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
U.S. nuclear electricity generation peaked in 2012, when there were 104 operating reactors with 102,000 MW of capacity. At the end of 2021, there were 93 operating reactors with a combined generation capacity of about 95,492 MW, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Most of the commercial reactors are east of the Mississippi River. Illinois has more reactors than any other state, 11 reactors at six plants. In 2021, the state approved $694 million in subsidies to prop up the plants.
Among the elements required for the DOE credit program are estimates of the increase in air pollution that would be created if the reactor ceased operations and the impact on jobs.
Details on the sources of produced uranium and the location of where the uranium is manufactured into fuel assemblies are also required.
The funds for the program come from the $62 billion awarded to the DOE as part of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill signed into law in November 2021.
“We have taken the reliability and resiliency of our nuclear fleet for granted and it is about time we acted to preserve these vital assets,” Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said. “This program will keep our reactors operating, preserving American jobs, reducing emissions, and bolstering our energy security. “