Promising Market and Federal Solutions for Existing Nuclear Power

Since late 2012, six of the 104 nuclear reactors in the United States have retired. An additional 13 reactor retirements by 2025 have been announced. These early retirements impact the United States’ ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet its near- and long-term climate goals. A recent Carnegie Mellon University study found that, without a significant recommitment to nuclear power and change to the policy environment, the United States will continue to shutter nuclear power plants, a critical wedge of reliable and zero-emission electricity, over the next few decades. Policy actions by a few states have averted some planned reactor closures. This brief first reviews lessons learned from these state actions. Then it explores electricity market options and federal programs that could adequately reward nuclear power’s environmental benefits. Preserving the existing U.S. nuclear reactor fleet for as long as practical is a critical element in the transition to a low-carbon future.

Key Takeaways

  • States like Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York have averted plant closures with bipartisan comprehensive policies that advance both nuclear and renewable power.
  • The Dynamic Forward Clean Energy Market in the Independent System Operator of New England is a promising new idea.
  • With a carbon adder proposal moving forward in the New York Independent System Operator—as with its zero emission credit (ZEC) program—New York could once again set the standard for sound environmental policy in power markets across the United States.
  • The concept of allowing essential generation (required for system reliability) to set wholesale power market prices is compelling.
  • A federal ZEC reverse auction has the potential to avert a greater number of premature nuclear plant closures more efficiently than independent state actions.