The U.S. commercial nuclear fleet will shrink by one more plant, as Entergy Corp. recently announced its plans to close the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Mass. While some environmental and anti-nuclear activists are no doubt popping corks, it’s bad news from a climate perspective.
And it’s part of a trend. Pilgrim is the fifth nuclear power station slated for shuttering over the past two years. Entergy, which announced it would shut down Vermont Yankee in 2013, cites falling revenues and rising operational costs for its decision to close Pilgrim. What’s happening in energy markets that’s tilting the playing field against nuclear power?
For the last few years, nuclear industry leaders have warned that decreasing electricity demand, low natural gas prices, and price regulation are making it uneconomical to keep small nuclear plants (600 megawatts or less) up and running. Specifically, they complain that regulators don’t allow them to reap the full value of the services nuclear energy brings to consumers — reliability, efficiency and grid stability which permits the smoother integration of renewable energy. That makes it difficult to defray operations and maintenance costs, which have risen because of new regulations imposed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after Japan’s Fukushima crisis.
The economic viability of nuclear power plants is also threatened by state energy policies that subsidize renewable energy projects. For example, Entergy cited a Massachusetts proposal that would require utilities to buy hydro-electric power from Canada at above-market prices. The amount of electricity they would be required to buy would amount to about one-third of the state’s electricity demand.
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