U.S. Nuclear Power Plant Closures [Slideshow]

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, nuclear power has accounted for about 20% of electricity generated in the U.S. each year since 1990. In fact, the U.S. nuclear fleet out produced France—the country with the next highest nuclear generation—by more than two to one in 2012. Russia was a distant third, generating less than a quarter of the U.S. total.

But times of late have been tough for U.S. nuclear generators. Natural gas prices are at historic lows, leading to cheap gas-fueled generation. Even with climate concerns and a worldwide movement to reduce CO2 emissions, the market is not rewarding nuclear power’s zero-carbon generation. In competitive markets, nuclear power is not competitive.

Since October 2012, U.S. nuclear plant owners have closed or announced closure of 14 reactor units at 11 plant sites. Many of the units had already gone through the lengthy process of obtaining 20-year license extensions, which would have allowed them to operate until the 2030s in some cases.

The following slideshow offers a look at the facilities and information about the plants.

The 556-MW Kewaunee plant was the first in a string of nuclear plant closure announcements when Dominion released word on Oct. 22, 2012, that it would retire the unit. Located in its namesake Wisconsin county, the plant began commercial operation on June 16, 1974. It was shut down for the last time on May 7, 2013, for economic reasons. Courtesy: Dominion Energy The 860-MW Crystal River nuclear unit entered commercial operation Mar. 13, 1977. It was taken offline Sept. 26, 2009, for a scheduled maintenance and refueling outage, but was never restarted because engineers discovered delamination (or separation of concrete) within the containment building. After considering repair options, Duke Energy announced on Feb. 5, 2013, that the unit—located in Citrus County, Fla.—would be permanently retired. Courtesy: Progress Energy San Onofre Units 2 and 3 were shutdown in January 2012 when leaks were discovered in both units' recently replaced steam generators. After considerable evaluation, Southern California Edison announced on June 7, 2013, that the 2,150-MW facility would be retired. The plant is located in San Diego County, Calif. Unit 2 began commercial operation Aug. 8, 1983, while Unit 3 followed on April 1, 1984. Courtesy: Southern California Edison The 620-MW Vermont Yankee plant near Vernon, Vt., began commercial operations Nov. 30, 1972. Its closure—for economic reasons—was announced on Aug. 27, 2013, and it was permanently shutdown on Dec. 29, 2014. Courtesy: Entergy Nuclear The 476-MW Fort Calhoun unit, located in Washington County, Neb., was the smallest operating nuclear plant in the U.S. when the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) announced on June 16, 2016, that it would shutter the plant by Dec. 31, 2016, for economic reasons. The reactor began commercial operation Aug. 9, 1973. Courtesy: OPPD Another casualty of economics, Entergy announced on Nov. 2, 2015, that it would close the 838-MW FitzPatrick plant at the end of its current fuel cycle, expected by January 2017. The Oswego, N.Y.–station began commercial operation July 28, 1975. Courtesy: Entergy Nuclear The 1,069-MW Clinton station, located in DeWitt County, Ill., began commercial operations Sept. 15, 1987. On June 2, 2016, Exelon announced that it would retire the unit on June 1, 2017, due to economic reasons. Courtesy: Exelon Nuclear The 688-MW Pilgrim plant began commercial operation Dec. 1, 1972. On Oct. 13, 2015, Entergy announced it would close the plant—located in Plymouth, Mass.—by June 2019 for economic reasons. Courtesy: Entergy Nuclear <strong>Illinois</strong>. The so-called <a href="http://www.powermag.com/exelon-gets-its-christmas-wish-illinois-legislation-will-save-nuclear-plants/"><u>Future Energy Jobs Act</u></a>, passed on the final day of the Illinois General Assembly's 2016 legislative session in Springfield after two years of protracted and contentious negotiations, was signed into law by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on December 7. The measure, designed to help Exelon Corp. keep its <a href="http://www.powermag.com/exelon-makes-good-on-threat-quad-cities-and-clinton-nuclear-plants-to-close/">financially struggling Clinton and Quad Cities plants</a> open, will take effect on June 1 of this year. Exelon aggressively lobbied for the bill, saying it was crucial to prevent the premature shutdown of the plants for economic reasons. <strong>New Jersey.</strong> On March 6, three Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey introduced SB 3061 in the state Senate, a bill that directs the state's Board of Public Utilities to study ZECs of about $500 million per year for the state’s nuclear power plants, and requires the board to report back to the governor and legislature with its findings.
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In a comment on the New Jersey bill submitted on March 20, industry group <a href="https://www.epsa.org/forms/uploadFiles/41D2200000002.filename.NJ_EPSA_ZEC_Study_Testimony_FINAL.pdf"><u>EPSA commended the bill's sponsors</u></a> for "not rushing to judgment as ZECs are highly controversial." Public Service Enterprise Group—the state's largest electricity provider—"only started claiming that its nuclear plants may not be recovering their cost of capital to justify future investments and could be cash flow negative by 2020," it noted.
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"This is apparently based on a comparison with illiquid forward power prices that <em>may or may not </em>accurately measure future revenues from these plants," it added (EPSA's emphasis). "For starters, if revenues below cost of capital and need to fund future investments are the standards to trigger consumer subsidies, many <em>non-nuclear </em>power plants (including those of EPSA members) would also qualify for out-of-market subsidies. Where would subsidies end?"
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The national trade association for independent power producers and marketers also pointedly noted that ZECs are being pushed by utility holding companies that "own both market-based generation and cost-based retail distribution utilities to finance new corporate strategies to boost earnings by exiting competitive generation to focus on more assured earnings from their retail rate-regulated utilities."
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<em>The Oyster Creek unit is the oldest operating reactor in the U.S., having begun commercial operations Dec. 23, 1969. Exelon announced the retirement of the 625-MW plant on Dec. 8, 2010. The Ocean County, N.J.–facility is expected to be permanently closed in 2019. Courtesy: Exelon Nuclear</em> Located in San Luis Obispo County, Calif., opponents of the 2,240-MW Diablo Canyon facility have long pointed to seismic concerns as a reason that the plant should be closed. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) announced on June 21, 2016, that it would not seek license extensions for the units, which entered commercial operations May 7, 1985, and March 13, 1986, respectively, and would instead focus on increasing renewable generation. As such, Unit 1 will retire when its current license expires on Nov. 2, 2024, with Unit 2 following on Aug. 26, 2025. Courtesy: PG&E
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New Jersey. On March 6, three Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey introduced SB 3061 in the state Senate, a bill that directs the state's Board of Public Utilities to study ZECs of about $500 million per year for the state’s nuclear power plants, and requires the board to report back to the governor and legislature with its findings.

In a comment on the New Jersey bill submitted on March 20, industry group EPSA commended the bill's sponsors for "not rushing to judgment as ZECs are highly controversial." Public Service Enterprise Group—the state's largest electricity provider—"only started claiming that its nuclear plants may not be recovering their cost of capital to justify future investments and could be cash flow negative by 2020," it noted.

"This is apparently based on a comparison with illiquid forward power prices that may or may not accurately measure future revenues from these plants," it added (EPSA's emphasis). "For starters, if revenues below cost of capital and need to fund future investments are the standards to trigger consumer subsidies, many non-nuclear power plants (including those of EPSA members) would also qualify for out-of-market subsidies. Where would subsidies end?"

The national trade association for independent power producers and marketers also pointedly noted that ZECs are being pushed by utility holding companies that "own both market-based generation and cost-based retail distribution utilities to finance new corporate strategies to boost earnings by exiting competitive generation to focus on more assured earnings from their retail rate-regulated utilities."

The Oyster Creek unit is the oldest operating reactor in the U.S., having begun commercial operations Dec. 23, 1969. Exelon announced the retirement of the 625-MW plant on Dec. 8, 2010. The Ocean County, N.J.–facility is expected to be permanently closed in 2019. Courtesy: Exelon Nuclear

It’s not all gloomy for the U.S. nuclear fleet, however. Five units are in various states of construction. Watts Bar Unit 2 is nearing commercial operation after a long and storied construction that spanned decades. V.C. Summer Units 2 and 3 in South Carolina and Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4 in Georgia are also expected to join the U.S. fleet by the end of 2020, but even with these additions the total nuclear capacity in the U.S. will decline.

For more on nuclear plant closures, see the following:

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)