US DOE issues guidance for second award cycle of the Civil Nuclear Credit programme

7 March 2023

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has issued guidance for the second award cycle of the Civil Nuclear Credit (CNC) programme for nuclear power plants at risk of closing or have already been shut down. The guidance expands the number of reactors eligible for some of CNC’s $6bn in overall funding made available by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Civil nuclear credits of $1.2bn a year are available in fiscal years 2022 to 2026. Money not allocated will be available for future credits until spent or until September 2031.

While the first award cycle limited eligibility to owners or operators of nuclear power reactors that had announced intentions to retire the plants within the four-year award period, the second cycle is extended to owners or operators of reactors at risk of closure by the end of the four-year award period. These include reactors that ceased operations after 15 November 2021.

US Secretary of Energy Jennifer M Granholm said the CNC programme “made it abundantly clear that preserving the domestic nuclear fleet is critical to reaching America’s clean energy future”. She added: “Expanding the scope of this Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding will allow even more nuclear facilities the opportunity to continue operating as economic drivers in local communities that benefit from cheap, clean, and reliable power.”

In November 2022, DOE announced the conditional selection of the Diablo Canyon NPP in California, to receive the first round of funding from the CNC programme. Units 1&2 of the power plant were scheduled to be decommissioned in 2024 and 2025, but the conditional award of credits, valued at up to $1.1bn, establishes a way to keep Diablo Canyon open, DOE said.

The new conditions for this second round of funding should allow the Palisades NPP in Michigan to apply. It closed in May 2022, some two weeks before the planned date, after then-owner Entergy Corp discovered a coolant system leak. Current owner Holtec International, applied for funds under the first round of funding, but DOE rejected the application despite it being supported by former Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. In a letter to Granholm, he noted that plant provided about 600 highly paid jobs. In February, Holtec, which has said it will take more than $1bn to reopen Palisades, applied for an alternative source of funding, from the DOE's Loan Programs Office.

Nuclear power accounts for half of carbon-free electricity in the USA, according to DOE. However, shifting energy markets and other economic factors have led to the early closures of 13 commercial reactors in the last decade. Closing NPPs can lead to an increase in air pollutants and carbon emissions that result in poorer air quality in surrounding areas and the loss of thousands of clean energy jobs, DOE said.

Image: The Palisades nuclear power plant in Michigan, USA (courtesy of Entergy Nuclear)

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