EIA Sees Nuclear Capacity Drop By 2050

The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects a sharp drop in the role of nuclear power in the nation's energy mix by 2050, owing to the capacity represented by plant retirements vastly outnumbering the gains expected through new reactors being built and upgrades to existing plants.

EIA graphThe EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2017 sees a drop of about nine percentage points from 20 percent of the nation's energy generation capacity to about 11 percent by 2050. While several plants are expected to undergo upgrades, increasing capacity by 4.7 gigawatts in the next 23 years, the report anticipates only 4.4 GW of capacity from brand new plants, all of which are represented by the expansion projects at Plant Vogtle in Georgia and V.C. Summer in South Carolina.

The report does not anticipate any other new plant projects and even the four reactors currently being built are in jeopardy of being abandoned before construction is completed, owing to the March 29 bankruptcy filing of proprietary construction project leader Westinghouse Electric Company.

There are already more reactors lined up for closure than there are reactors under construction and more retirements can be expected by 2050, given the age of the U.S. reactor fleet. Currently, close to 90 percent of the fleet is operating under 20-year license extensions. There is the possibility that these plants could be granted an additional 20-year extension before closing down, but there are many unknowns, including the costs required for keeping a plant running safely for that long and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's willingness to grant licenses that extend a plant's life expectancy to 80 years.

Plant closures have already been announced for Pilgrim's Unit 1, Oyster Creek Unit 1 and Diablo Canyon Units 1 and 2. These plants will close in 2019, 2020, 2025 and 2026, respectively. More recent announcements for closures include the Palisades plant in Michigan and Indian Point Units 2 and 3 in New York, which will close in 2018 and 2020, respectively. The report expects a total of 29.9 GW of capacity to be closed down between next year and 2050, exceeding the 9.1 GW of capacity that are to be added, assuming the two expansion projects continue as planned.

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