In the energy industry, nuclear power is a hot button issue. There are many reasons why nuclear energy is worth investing in, including more reliable and cleaner electricity, and yet numerous nuclear plants across the country are closing. The fact is there are a variety of factors leading to this trend, including pressures from competing energy sources, low growth in electricity demand and continued issues of public perception. These factors are challenging to the future of nuclear power in the United States, but they are not impossible to overcome. Here is a closer look at some of the reasons nuclear plants are closing, and why we still need nuclear to achieve our goals as a country.
Competing Energy Sources
There has been a significant push for renewable energy infrastructure in the last 10 years. Wind and solar power, and even natural gas, are seen as exciting new technologies that will provide the next wave of energy production. Given the market’s excitement over green energy, it makes sense that development projects in this area are quick to receive funding.
But while both wind and solar power offer clean energy, they are notoriously inconsistent in terms of power generation. There are many regions in the country where wind and solar energy simply are not able to create enough power to meet demand. They need a baseload power source to even out the energy generation to make sure communities are able to keep the lights on. That’s where nuclear comes in. Nuclear power plants can provide the consistent and reliable energy output that communities depend on.
A number of nuclear power plants are closing simply because their facilities have aged out of usefulness. While one new reactor recently came online and another four will come online during the next few years, the majority of the nation’s nuclear assets have already begun operating on a 20-year license extension. Fifty-two of these license extensions—representing over half the current fleet—will expire by 2040. If construction of new facilities and retrofitting of old facilities does not keep pace with the rate of license expirations, there will inevitably be an imbalance.
Poor Public Perception
Nuclear has long struggled with poor public perception in the wake of high-profile nuclear incidents such as the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan. In response to this incident, all nuclear facilities operate under a high level of scrutiny, both politically and publicly. To help prevent such accidents from occurring in the future, the NRC mandated safety and operational changes to the nation’s nuclear reactors. Yet there is an ongoing struggle to show communities the value of having a nuclear plant in their region, and to assure residents of their safety. It’s an ongoing battle, but strict health and safety programs will help build confidence in the technology and shape the energy profile of the country for years to come.
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