Quarter of U.S. nuclear fleet at risk of closure; Lawmakers pass pro-Yucca Mountain bill

Our pick of the latest nuclear power news you need to know.

Over a quarter of US nuclear fleet not covering costs: BNEF

More than a quarter of U.S. nuclear power plants do not earn enough revenue to cover operating costs, according to a report published by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) on May 15.

The at-risk nuclear sites represent a total generation capacity of 32.5 GW, BNEF analysts Nicholas Steckler and Chris Gadomski, said in their report. The total revenue gap for these projects is estimated at around $1.3 billion per year, the analysts said.

     Forecast margins for US nuclear plants

                                (Click image to enlarge)

Source: BNEF, May 2018.

Nuclear operators face continuing pressure from low wholesale electricity prices, driven by low gas prices and rising renewable energy capacity.

Last month, the U.S. state of New Jersey passed bills which provide nuclear power generators with price support and sets a target of 50% renewable energy by 2030.

New Jersey's nuclear subsidies follow on from similar support mechanisms introduced in the states of New York and Illinois.

Nuclear operators have already announced plans to close 11 GW of nuclear power capacity by 2025, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The EIA predicts additional unplanned retirements will reduce total U.S. nuclear generating capacity from 99 GW in 2017 to 79 GW by 2050, in its latest reference case scenario.

Closure outlooks depend largely on the cost of gas-fired generation, although lower nuclear operating costs produce a more favorable outlook, particularly when combined with a higher gas price outlook, EIA notes.

       Forecast US nuclear power capacity

                              (Click image to enlarge)

Source: EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2018

US lawmakers pass bill which expedites Yucca Mountain repository

The U.S. House of Representatives passed May 10 the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2018 (HR3053), a bill which would expedite the licensing of a permanent deep waste repository at Yucca Mountain and support consolidated interim storage projects (CISFs).

The bill, which must be agreed by the Senate, includes provisions which could help resolve key issues for the Yucca Mountain project, including land withdrawal and infrastructure challenges.

The legislation would increase the statutory limit for used fuel to be placed in the repository from 70,000 metric tons to 110,000 metric tons and clarify Department of Energy's (DOE's) authority to advance privately-owned CISFs.

The bill would also prevent the DOE from collecting any nuclear waste fund fees until the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issues a final determination on the Yucca Mountain construction application.

The House of Representatives and the Senate are yet to agree on long-term waste legislation. The Senate has drawn up legislation of its own which could be introduced later this year.

“The industry recognizes that the House and Senate have differing views on how to reform the used fuel program. We encourage the two bodies to continue to advance their respective proposals and reach a compromise by the end of the year,” Maria Korsnick, President and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said in a statement.

World's first SMR reactors set to start up in 2025-2030: IAEA

The world's first small modular reactors (SMRs) are expected to start up between 2025 and 2030, Hadid Subki, Scientific Secretary of the IAEA's new Working Group on Small, Medium Sized or Modular Nuclear Reactors, said at a meeting in Vienna, Austria.

The IAEA’s new working group held its first meeting with 34 experts from 14 Member States and 2 international organizations in Vienna on April 23-26.

The working group is providing guidance to the eye IAEA on the challenges of technology readiness for near term deployment of SMRs. Working group members recommended a further meeting be held in 2018 to develop a first draft of generic SMR user requirements for countries which are not developing the technology, IAEA said in a statement.

"This [working group] initiative is the natural evolution of a decade-long effort on SMRs,” Marco Ricotti, Chairman of the working group, said.

The working group aims to develop synergies with other IAEA programmes and support research projects on advanced passive safety system reliability and emergency planning zone (EPZ) sizing criteria.

Globally, there are around 50 SMR concepts at various stages of development, according to the IAEA.

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