What the United States is doing to save nuclear power plants

The United States has launched a $6 billion aid program for nuclear power plants, aiming to prevent their closures: The plants struggle to compete with renewables and gas, but could play a critical role in the energy transition. All the details

On Tuesday, April 19, the United States launched a $6 billion bailout program for nuclear power plants, many of which are facing financial difficulties and at risk of closure. The money comes from President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, which became law last year.

Context

The program will be managed by the Department of Energy, whose main task is specifically the maintenance and protection of the US nuclear program, both civil and military. And it’s part of the White House’s long-term plan for an energy transition and bringing back “green” infrastructure to the United States: By 2035, America’s electricity mix will have to consist entirely of energy sources that do not emit greenhouse gases. , and the country that will have to reach carbon neutrality (net zero emissions) by 2050.

The issue is not just climate but economics as well, because the Biden administration wants the United States to gain technological leadership in clean energy technologies, such as storage systems (batteries), hydrogen and the next generation of nuclear power.

In fact, in the Infrastructures Act, in addition to 6 billion to modernize existing plants, there is also 2.5 billion to support the development of advanced new generation reactors, such as the one used by TerraPower – a nuclear power startup founded by Bill Gates – a building in Kemerer, Wyoming.

The role of the nucleus in the transformation of energy

Nuclear energy is not always accepted by climate activists due to the environmental risks associated with its use (radioactive waste production). However, it can make an important contribution to the energy transition because it allows you to generate a lot of electricity without emissions and regardless of weather conditions, thus offsetting intermittent wind and solar energy (the two renewable sources we use aim to increase) and ensuring system stability (the alternative is gas Natural, fossil fuels, and large-scale batteries are not available).

“Nuclear power plants contribute more than half of our carbon-neutral electricity, and President Biden pledges to keep these plants running to achieve our clean energy goals,” US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.

Aid for nuclear power plants

The White House’s plan for nuclear power plants mainly consists of a credit program aimed at avoiding the closure of factories in financial difficulty: for example, Diablo Canyon in California (nearly 9 percent of the state’s electricity generation) and Palisades in Michigan.

According to data from the Energy Information Administration, a government agency, nuclear power equals 20 percent of electricity generation in the United States, although its contribution has declined slightly in recent years with many reactors closed. The last reactor to be shut down, in the spring of 2021, was Indian Point 3, in New York. At the national level, twelve people have been closed since 2013. The reason for this trend is economic: nuclear energy, due to its high maintenance costs, made it difficult to compete with low prices for renewables and natural gas (the “shale revolution” made America the main producer of gas in the world) .

However, the United States still has fifty-five nuclear power plants in twenty-eight states, for a total of ninety-three reactors. In 2023, two new reactors are expected to enter service in Georgia: they will be the first since 2016.

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