|Dr. Conca reports that for the nuclear power industry, 2016 was a mixed bag. Currently, there are 450 nuclear power reactors in operation globally, 98 in the United States (WNI Status Report). Sixty new plants are under construction, five in the U.S. World nuclear power generation increased by 1.3% in 2016, reversing a decade-long decline, driven mostly by the Asia Pacific region. China alone increased its nuclear generation by almost 30%, passing Korea to become the world fourth-largest producer of nuclear power. China even released a design for a floating nuclear power plant.|
Although there seems to be a new optimism about nuclear in both the incoming Trump administration and in Congress, dismantling all climate change and clean energy policies might remove a lot of new support for nuclear energy, especially in the U.S. Governor Rick Perry, Trump choice for Energy Secretary, may certainly be good for nuclear, but some of the initial actions of the transition team, like potential witch hunts for scientists doing the wrong science, are disturbing.
However, the immediate worry for the industry continues to be the premature closings of nuclear power plants decades ahead of time. There have been a spate of premature closings of nuclear plants in America resulting from warped market conditions in deregulated energy markets. These so-called merchant plants lose millions of dollars each year because, even at a low cost of five cents or so per kWh, they cannot compete with cheap natural gas and wind energy that is subsidized at 2.3 cents per kWh. Solar is even more heavily subsidized, usually over 10 p kWh, but up to 54 p kWh in some states like Washington.
One-quarter to two-thirds of all U.S. nuclear plant reactors are at-risk of being closed prematurely, according to a new analysis by Environmental Progress. If these are closed and replaced with natural gas as the utilities predict, the additional carbon emissions would be enormous.