It’s a rare day when I get the chance to cheer for something the Biden administration does, but I will do so today without reservation. One of the best things to come out of last year’s infrastructure bill was a plan to ensure the viability of American nuclear power plants that have run into economic trouble over the past decade or more. Yesterday, the White House announced the availability of $6 billion in relief for plants that have announced early closure dates driven by economic concerns. A second round of funding will then be made available for plants that have not yet announced an early closure date but anticipate doing so in the near future. Of course, there is still more to be done to improve our nuclear energy position, but this is a very good start. (Associated Press)
The Biden administration is launching a $6 billion effort to rescue nuclear power plants at risk of closing, citing the need to continue nuclear energy as a carbon-free source of power that helps to combat climate change.
A certification and bidding process opened Tuesday for a civil nuclear credit program that is intended to bail out financially distressed owners or operators of nuclear power reactors, the U.S. Department of Energy told The Associated Press exclusively, shortly before the official announcement. It’s the largest federal investment in saving financially distressed nuclear reactors.
Owners or operators of nuclear power reactors that are expected to shut down for economic reasons can apply for funding to avoid closing prematurely. The first round of awards will prioritize reactors that have already announced plans to close.
This program will not affect nuclear plants that are scheduled to close because they have reached or exceeded their projected lifespan. For most of those older plants that were built using earlier design models, their continued operation could lead to increased safety concerns or prohibitively expensive refurbishment requirements. But for those that may still have decades of viable operating time remaining, these relief payments could be a game-changer.
There are additional steps that can be taken, however, and I sincerely hope that the Biden administration is looking into them in a serious fashion. First of all, the regulatory procedure governing the approval and licensing of new nuclear power plants is ridiculously laborious and expensive. This fact has led many of our major utility companies to completely abandon previously planned construction because they would never make back the money they lost during the approval process. We’ve gotten a lot better at designing safe, reliable nuclear power facilities over the years and much of the current burden could be removed without creating additional safety concerns.
Also, the new generation of small modular reactors (SMRs) are easier and cheaper to put in place and begin operations. They can also be constructed on a much smaller footprint than conventional fission reactors and could be set up in more areas. These SMRs can and should be used to replace aging reactors that are being taken offline.
Nuclear power absolutely needs to be part of our overall energy strategy moving forward. It’s among the most reliable energy sources we currently possess and there hasn’t been an incident where any radiation has leaked out of a plant in the United States in more than 40 years. And for those worried about climate concerns, nuclear reactors release zero carbon into the atmosphere. Further, modern designs of these plants have become much more efficient in reducing the amount of nuclear waste produced in the form of spent fuel rods. If you want less coal, oil, and gas to be burned in the future, nuclear power should be your golden ticket.