Australian news, and some related international items

More and more American nuclear reactors are biting the dust

More Premature Nuclear Unit Retirements Loom, Power Magazine, 02/01/2018 | Sonal Patel  Two more U.S. nuclear power plants are facing early retirement, joining a string of generators whose fate was determined by market conditions, political pressure, or financial stresses assailing the sector. Several others may be poised to join them.

The 647-MW Duane Arnold nuclear plant in Palo, Iowa, will likely close in 2025 after a current contract with the facility’s primary customer expires, said NextEra Energy Resources’ chief financial officer, John Ketchum, in a fourth-quarter earnings call on January 26.

“Without a contract extension, we will likely close the facility at the end of 2025 despite being licensed to operate until 2034,” Ketchum said. “As a result, during the fourth quarter, Duane Arnold’s book value and asset retirement obligation were reviewed, and an after-tax impairment of $258 million was recorded that reflects our belief it is unlikely the project will operate after 2025.” Ketchum added, however, that NextEra will continue to pursue a contract extension.

On the same day, the Toledo Blade reported that FirstEnergy Corp.’s Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Oak Harbor, Ohio, is headed for premature closure, citing James Pearson, the company’s chief financial officer. Pearson told the newspaper that no date has been set for the closure of Davis-Besse. He also reportedly said that the outlook for the company’s Perry plant in Ohio and twin-reactor Beaver Valley nuclear plant in Pennsylvania is “bleak.”   FirstEnergy is intent on exiting its competitive business, but though the company may want to sell the plants, they are “probably impossible to sell in today’s market,” he reportedly said.

A Critical Condition  The plants join a series of generators recently stricken by financial pressure primarily by competition from cheap natural gas, expanding renewable capacity, and lethargic power demand growth.

Throughout the short history of the U.S. nuclear power sector, 31 reactors licensed to operate have been permanently shut down—11 between 1960 and 1980; four in the 1980s; and nine in the 1990s. The recent streak began in 2010—12 years after the nation’s last reactor, Millstone 1 in Waterford, Connecticut, had been shut down in 1998—as Exelon announced it would shutter its Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey by 2019 owing to economic conditions and changing environmental regulations. In February 2013, Duke Energy (then Progress Energy) retired its Crystal River reactor in Florida, unable to repair damage to the containment structure. A string of casualties then ensued, as Kewaunee in Wisconsin was closed in May 2013; two units at San Onofre in California were formally shuttered in June 2013; Vermont Yankee in Vermont was shut down in December 2014; and Fort Calhoun in Nebraska closed its doors in October 2016. Other units slated for near-term shutdown include Pilgrim in Massachusetts and Palisades in Michigan. (For more, see, “THE BIG PICTURE: Nuclear Retirements.”)

Early retirement has also been proposed for Clinton and Quad Cities in Illinois and for Nine Mile Point, Fitzpatrick, and Ginna in New York—but their fate appears dependent on the outcome of legal challenges to “bailout” programs to keep those plants operating for economic reasons. The states’ measures are being legally challenged by several independent power producers—including Dynegy, Eastern Generation, NRG Energy, and Calpine Corp.—and, prominently, competitive power producer trade group the Electric Power Supply Association. The consortium has long argued that the state rules interfere with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) jurisdiction over wholesale electric rates and unlawfully interfere with interstate commerce………..

Earlier in January, California regulators approved Pacific Gas & Electric’s application to retire the Diablo Canyon plant by 2025, following a protracted battle over the generating station that pitted local economic interests against environmentalists and other opponents of nuclear power. In New York, political pressure combined with economic misgivings, also prompted plans to shut down Indian Point by 2021.

A Swath of Other Reactors May Be Troubled  According to a September 2017 report from the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), several more nuclear plants are likely to retire early, stymied by an “ongoing industry wide, systemic economic and financial challenge to operating nuclear plants particularly in the deregulated markets.”

A revenue gap analysis conducted by the national laboratory for 79 of 99 operational reactors that are in a region where public wholesale electricity market prices are available suggests that 63 units would have lost money in 2016. Of those 63, 36 are merchant generators, 19 are regulated, and eight are public power generators.

INL suggests that among plants at high risk of early retirement are Davis-Besse, Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, and Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island in Minnesota.

A number of studies separately suggest similar findings. ……..

February 3, 2018 - Posted by | General News

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