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« Industry super urges Australia to consider the nuclear power option | Main | Uranium producers await US presidential decision »

If Nuclear Energy Is Replaced By Natural Gas, Say Goodbye To Climate Goals

When Three Mile Island officially shuts down in September, it will mark the end of a noteworthy history — the one where a partial meltdown of the reactor’s core occurred in 1979, which then set in motion a long debate over nuclear energy’s future.

Now, though, it is about more than Three Mile Island. It is about the fate of nuclear energy in a carbon-conscious world. In other words, the global appetite for energy will grow while the demands to produce cleaner electricity will get more intense. With that, nuclear energy can produce low-to-no carbon power around the clock. But will that happen, given the politics as well as the financial cost of a build out?

As for Three Mile Island, it has another 15 years left on its operating license. But it cannot compete with the low-cost of natural gas. The parent company, Exelon Corp., has asked the state of Pennsylvania to give it credit for producing clean energy so that it can remain open. While New York, New Jersey and Illinois have passed similar measures allowing their nuclear plants to live on, Pennsylvania’s proposed $500 million lifeline has run out of gas.

“Although we see strong support … throughout Pennsylvania to reduce carbon emissions and maintain the environmental and economic benefits provided by nuclear energy, we don’t see a path forward for policy changes …,” said Kathleen Barron, senior vice president for Exelon. Decommissioning the plant's one remaining facility will cost $1 billion and take 60 years.

The abundance of shale gas has resulted in sustained low natural gas and wholesale energy prices. At the same time, market designs that favor wind and solar power are also nudging nuclear off the field. But what nuclear energy does offer is carbon-free electricity that has a 90% capacity factor, which is more efficient than any other type of electric generation.


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