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If nuclear is not in the future US energy mix, what will replace it? via Utility Dive

By Herman K. Trabish

The U.S. had only two nuclear plants being built; now one is out and the other is uncertain

The decision to not go forward with the V.C. Summer nuclear plant because of cost overruns and construction delays shows the 1960s dream of “too cheap to meter” nuclear-generated electricity is more like a financial nightmare today.

Policy specialists say significant new nuclear generation is unlikely for a decade or more. Many also agree existing nuclear plants should not be replaced by natural gas plants. They split, though, on crucial questions about nuclear power’s future, such as whether existing plants should get subsidies like zero emission credits or be replaced, when they should be replaced, and what they should be replaced with.

report from Mark Cooper, senior research fellow at the Vermont Law School Energy and Environment Institute, was part of the proceeding that led to the decision by SCANA Corp and Santee Cooper in South Carolina to stop work on the Summer facility.

“Summer was 100% excess capacity for those utilities,” he told Utility Dive in an interview. “If they need new generation, the best approach is buying the smallest increments at the lowest price, and that’s efficiency, wind, and solar. The capital cost of renewables is between 12% and 25% of what Summer was costing.”

The Summer decision bolstered the economic argument against nuclear. Newer to the debate is the controversial question of nuclear’s role in the climate fight.

The MIT Energy Institute’s Jesse Jenkins, co-author of a recent review of research on deep decarbonization in the power sector, said nuclear is too important a source of emissions-free electricity to abandon.

“Using renewables to replace nuclear represents an opportunity cost because we are not using those emissions-free MWh to replace fossil fuels,” he argued. “We have very little time to waste and, at best, replacing nuclear with renewables is running in place.”

Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (CEERT) Executive Director V. John White said neither national policy nor ideology should determine nuclear’s future. “It is a regional question.”

But the aging U.S. nuclear fleet is an increasing safety risk and “it is not prudent to keep reactors in service just because we aren’t sure how to replace them,” White said. “It is a plant by plant decision and a matter of economics, public safety and available resources.”

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