Shaken financially by low natural gas prices and subsidized renewables, the nuclear industry has launched a new initiative to reduce nuclear power plant operating costs to make them more economically viable.

Industry group the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) said on Dec. 8 it is coordinating a multifaceted effort in tandem with member utilities, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) on the initiative.

Called “Delivering the Nuclear Promise: Advancing Safety, Reliability and Economic Performance,” the three-year-long initiative involves expert scrutiny of engineering, work management, and corrective actions programs.

“Chief nuclear officers from across the industry are aligned in their commitment to implement the strategic plan and its goals, with governance by utility chief executive officers,” the NEI said. The teams will be assisted by working groups from industry, in coordination with EPRI, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations and NEI.

“We want to encourage bold ideas, not just tweak current processes,” said Maria Korsnick, NEI’s chief operating officer. “We are operating in markets with a glut of natural gas at historically low prices, concurrent with low growth in electricity demand nationally.”

During a press briefing, NEI officials lamented the permanent, premature closures of reactors in Vermont and Wisconsin. Entergy recently announced it would shutter its James A. FitzPatrick plant in New York as well as its Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts.

According to the NEI, total electric generating costs at U.S. nuclear plants have increased 28%—to an industry average $36.27/MWh—over the past 12 years.

Part of the effort will be committed to “gaining full recognition in electricity pricing for the value of nuclear energy in electricity markets and as a uniquely reliable source for meeting environmental requirements, such as the Clean Power Plan,” Korsnick said.

Korsnick added that the groups are seeking to “redesign fundamental plant processes” to significantly improve operational efficiencies and effectiveness. “This is an initiative to reduce our operating costs, without question, but advancing safety and reliability are foundational aspects of this plan.”

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)