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Nuclear energy: opportunities and challenges

Nuclear energy facilities produce 64 percent of America’s carbon-free electricity. When they have economic difficulties, we risk losing clean energy.

​​America's all-of-the-above energy strategy requires nuclear power.

Our nation is moving toward an "all of the above" energy strategy that requires a mix of different types of electricity generation - nuclear, natural gas, hydro, wind and solar - to ensure the reliability and security of the energy supply. Nuclear energy is a critical part of the mix, especially as the nation seeks to address climate change and reduce carbon emissions.

Today's nuclear power facilities produce 64 percent of America's clean, carbon-free electricity. Nuclear energy is many times more productive than other clean energy sources and far exceeds the reliability record of any other source, too. If the nation is to reach its carbon reduction goals, it needs the reliable, 24/7 power that nuclear energy provides.

Nuclear power facilities are also outsize contributors to regional economies. They're economic engines that provide tax revenues, permanent high-paying jobs, and significant support for local charitable organizations and other community businesses.

They're vital national assets. So when they have economic difficulties, it should concern us all.

Nuclear energy facilities are facing a perfect storm of challenges.

Natural gas production has expanded rapidly. As a result, natural gas prices have dropped more than 50 percent, lowering the price of electricity for all other power generators. At the same time, nuclear fuel, capital expenses and operating costs have increased 33 percent from 2008 to 2012. Some nuclear plants are now unprofitable.

Transmission constraints prevent certain plants from transporting electricity to markets that need the power. This too hurts their income.

Finally, government policies and electricity markets do not value all low or zero-carbon electricity sources equally. Wind power, for example, enjoys serious subsidies, while carbon-free nuclear power receives no economic credit at all. Energy markets should provide a level playing field for all clean energy sources. The current market inequity puts nuclear power plants at a disadvantage - which is not in our national interest.

We are at a critical juncture, and it's time to make some decisions.

Nuclear plants are clean energy powerhouses. They can and should be run reliably for decades to come, if necessary fixes to markets and national policy are made. But the combination of economic and policy challenges has created potentially fatal headwinds for some money-losing nuclear energy plants. In fact, both the Kewaunee nuclear plant in Wisconsin and Vermont Yankee plant recently closed for this very reason. At the same time, The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates global energy demand will increase by 56 percent through 2040.

America needs all of its clean energy providers.

 

 

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