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Bumpy Road for Nuclear

The closure of Southern California Edison’s troubled San Onofre 2 and 3 nuclear power reactors may not be the most troubling recent development for that power sector. Two other US reactors have closed this year, leaving exactly 100, but one of the shuttered plants – Dominion’s Kewaunee plant in Wisconsin – had no significant operational problems. The utility actually had permits to run the reactor for another 20 years. But economic conditions, especially low wholesale electricity prices, forced Kewaunee’s closure, the New York Times reports.

That raises significant questions about the future composition of the US power supply. The Nuclear Energy Institute says that only 10 percent of power plant closures since 2010 have been nuclear, compared to 41 percent for coal and 33 percent for natural gas. But the country went 30 years without building a nuclear plant, and the permitting and development time for new nuclear is slow. Economics are also forcing companies such as Exelon to abandon plans to expand existing plants. If these trends continue, the country’s carbon reduction hopes will turn increasingly to renewables – and to the smart grid, where investment will need to continue apace to allow the integration of intermittent resources like solar and wind.

Tamar Wilner is Senior Editor at Environmental Leader PRO.

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