The struggling US nuclear industry received a boost from the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan released in early August, which will allow new reactors to count more toward meeting federal emissions limits. However, reductions by existing reactors will not count, reinforcing the uncertain future of units at risk of premature retirement.
Under the final rule, new reactors and power uprates to existing units will help the US cut its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030. President Obama said this makes the plan the "single most important step" ever taken by the US to tackle global climate change. The White House said the plan will help to achieve Obama's near-term target to reduce emissions of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, and lays a "strong foundation" to deliver his long-term target of 26-28% by 2025.
US Nuclear operators face high maintenance and clean-up costs, as well as competition from cheap natural gas-fuelled plants and low-cost wind and solar generation. Moody's Investors Service says some 10% of total nuclear output may retire early because of low energy prices.
Marvin Fertel, president of the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute, told Bloomberg that the industry was disappointed that existing reactors will not be credited for their carbon-reduction value, given that some are at risk of early retirement. States would have been allowed to count 6% of nuclear generation toward clean energy targets under the EPA's draft rule released last year. "The final rule does not incorporate the carbon-abatement value of existing nuclear power plants - the largest source of carbon-free electricity," Fertel said.