The United States will end the decade with 104 nuclear power plants, after four are closed1, and the four under construction are completed: Two, in Georgia, and two in South Carolina2.
These 104 plants will continue to produce about 20% of U.S. electricity … for a few more years, and then the decline begins.
Existing plants need to receive a 20-year renewal to their original 40-year operating license. Approximately 87 of the 100 existing plants have received their 20-year license renewals, and it has been widely assumed the remaining units will also receive renewals, though a few are now in question due to environmental agitation.
Importantly, all existing nuclear power plants will have to obtain a second 20-year renewal when the initial 20-year renewal expires.
The first of the units with expiring licenses will need to obtain their second 20-year renewal in the mid-2030s, about twenty years from now.
While obtaining the first 20-year renewal was sensible, a second 20-year renewal may be problematic. At the end of a second 20-year renewal these nuclear power plants will be 80 years old, and it’s logical to believe that these plants will be wearing out. Nothing lasts forever, and everything from embrittlement of the reactor containment vessel to aging piping, valves and control systems could be cause for concern.
There is every reason to believe that most of these plants will not receive a second 20-year license renewal.
Without a second 20-year renewal, existing nuclear power plants will have to begin shutting down in the mid-2030s.
Unless new nuclear power plants are built, the amount of electricity supplied from nuclear power plants in the United States will begin to rapidly decline.
The cost of new nuclear plants has grown to a staggering $6,000 / KW.
With low natural gas prices, and the possibility that new ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants can be built at less than half the cost of nuclear power plants, the economics mitigate against building new nuclear plants in the United States.
With Yucca Mountain storage seemingly going nowhere, and with the public emotionally opposed to nuclear power, it would seem that nuclear will be in terminal decline in the United States.
There’s a very strong possibility that nuclear will supply less than 5% of our electricity by 2100.
Even small modular nuclear power plants cost $6,000 / KW, so they may also be too expensive when compared with alternatives.
Meanwhile the situation elsewhere in the world is different.
A total of 64,000 MW of nuclear power plants are being built elsewhere in the world, which translates into approximately 64 new nuclear power plants if their average size is 1,000 MW.
China is the largest builder of new nuclear power plants, with approximately 28 under construction.
Russia has about 4 plants under construction.
Interestingly, Russia’s Rosatom, is building 15 plants in other countries, including Turkey, Vietnam, Belarus, and a few others.
India is building 4 or 5 units.
S. Korea is building 5 units.
It’s highly probable that nuclear power in The United States will begin its long-term decline in about 20 years.
- Plants being closed:
- Crystal River Nuclear Plant
- Kewaunee Power Station
- San Onofre Nuclear power Station
- Vermont Yankee
- This does not include the unfinished TVA plant that may yet be finished.
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