New Report Outlines Ways to Sustain U.S. Nuclear Energy

Beaver Valley Power Station 

Zero-Carbon Nuclear Combined with Wind, Solar Better for U.S. Climate Goals

WASHINGTON – The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) today released a new report outlining state and federal policies to help maintain existing nuclear power generation. With a trend of early plant retirements threatening nuclear capacity, the C2ES report provides a roadmap for policymakers to preserve the emissions benefits of zero-carbon nuclear energy and avoid increased fossil fuel-fired generation.

“We can’t afford to set aside any practical solution as our communities suffer the rising costs of climate change,” said C2ES President Bob Perciasepe. “Zero-carbon nuclear power, renewables, and other non-emitting energy sources must all play their part in reducing carbon pollution. Every nuclear site that prematurely closes makes the job that much tougher.”

U.S. utilities plan to retire 12 reactors at nine nuclear plants ahead of their operating license expiration, and some reports estimate that more than half are operating at a loss. To date, nuclear generation has largely been replaced by fossil fuel-fired electricity, resulting in a net increase in carbon emissions.

The report, Solutions for Maintaining the Existing Fleet, examines the market forces contributing to the early retirements and identifies practical, timely options to maintain existing nuclear generation. It concludes that a long-term strategy for decarbonizing the U.S. economy must also provide stronger support for advanced nuclear technology, alongside increased renewables. The report also calls for a broad-based clean energy coalition to maintain existing nuclear reactors and promote new renewables and other necessary technologies to transform the energy sector.

Key Policy Solutions

Nuclear plants generate around 20 percent of U.S. electricity and more than 50 percent of the country’s zero-carbon power, avoiding the annual emission of at least 400 MMtCO2e. The report lays out policy solutions that offer the greatest promise to support the existing fleet and lay the groundwork for advanced nuclear reactors, including:

  • State-Level Zero-Emission Credits (ZEC): Targeted state policies such as ZECs are the best option right now as they enable states to quickly direct support to distressed facilities. ZEC policies have withstood initial legal challenges in New York and Illinois, offering added confidence in their utility.
  • State Electricity Portfolio Standards: Expanding state electricity portfolio standards to include existing nuclear, as proposed in Arizona, is a balanced, inclusive policy approach that allows nuclear and renewables to work together on even footing to one another’s benefit.
  • License Renewals: Second license renewals by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which would allow reactors to operate for 80 years, would permit much of the existing U.S. nuclear fleet to continue to operate well beyond 2050, allowing new zero-carbon technologies including advanced reactors, fossil fuel with carbon capture, and renewables to enter service and avoid backsliding in emission reductions.
  • Carbon Price: A price on carbon could preserve existing nuclear, but it may not be sufficient if the prices are too low. Carbon prices in California and Northeast markets did not prevent early nuclear retirements in those regions, most likely because they were too low.
  • Carbon Price in Power Markets: A meaningful price on carbon implemented in power markets, would help level the playing field and provide addi­tional revenue to non-emitting technologies like nuclear power and renewables. However, likely legal challenges could significantly delay implementation.
  • Purchase Power Agreements: Increasing the use of such agreements for nuclear power with government agencies, cities, and businesses should be pursued.