By Daniel Shea and Kristy Hartman
Nuclear power in the United States is at a crossroads.
The nation’s nuclear facilities are facing an unprecedented array of challenges as nuclear power looks to compete in a rapidly changing energy market.
Although nuclear plants are operating safer and more efficiently than at any point in the past several decades, plants are closing across the country, drawing the attention of utilities, regulators, federal officials and state policymakers.
Since 2013, six nuclear reactors have permanently closed in California, Florida, Nebraska, Vermont and Wisconsin. Operators have announced that eight additional reactors in Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New York and New Jersey could close by 2019, while two reactors at a plant in California will be shut down by 2025.
The U.S. has 99 operating nuclear reactors in 30 states. They provide about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity and approximately 60 percent of its carbon-free generation.
Competition from other energy sources and little growth in electricity demand, however, have caused a number of nuclear plants to struggle in wholesale electricity markets.
State legislatures play a critical role in determining the future of U.S. nuclear power. At least 21 states are considering measures to support the continued use of nuclear generation in recent legislative sessions. In the final months of 2016, Illinois and New York took action to prevent the premature closure of several nuclear plants, but across the country, challenges remain.
To raise awareness and foster dialogue, NCSL has published a comprehensive report, “State Options to Keep Nuclear in the Mix,” which provides background on the state of U.S. nuclear facilities and discusses policies, trends and market conditions that have led to the current environment.
The report also provides an overview of nuclear-related state action and policy options for legislators who are interested in preserving nuclear assets in their state.
These range from offering tax incentives to the creation of statewide nuclear mandates and clean energy subsidy payments. These policy options come in a variety of forms, many of which have already been proposed and discussed in various states.
This report is intended to continue the conversation on the role of state policymakers, utility regulators, federal officials and the nuclear industry in providing affordable, reliable and clean energy across the U.S.
Daniel Shea is a policy associate and Kristy Hartman is a program manager in NCSL’s Energy program.