Will climate change goals affect our need for nuclear electric power?

More stringent climate control goals could prompt an increase in the economic value of nuclear electric power plants. Natural gas fired plants produce about 50% of the carbon dioxide produced by coal fired electric plants of the same size. Nuclear plants do not produce carbon dioxide.

The annual average Henry Hub spot price for natural gas in 2008 was $9.23 per million BTU’s, ref. 1. In 2009 the average price dropped to $4.06/million BTU’s. By 2012 the gas price dropped to $2.62/million BTU’s. The future forecast for gas prices is that they will remain at less than $5.00/million BTU’s for at least ten years. The forecast is based on data provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Gas fired power plants are now setting the market pricing for electricity. As a result, it is difficult for nuclear generating plants to operate at a profit.

How long will our glut of natural gas last? In the meantime, are the newly installed gas fired electric plants stifling our efforts to develop advanced nuclear electric power? The U.S. Senate passed a new energy policy bill on April 20, 2016 that calls for increased efforts to demonstrate advanced reactors. Two similar nuclear energy bills were introduced in Congress in mid April, ref. 2. One bill supports the Senate passed bill (S. 2795) and the second bill (H.R. 4979) calls for advanced nuclear technology development. President Obama has threatened to veto these energy related bills.

References

1. Byus, Linda C. “Reactors are no longer sold to new owners”, Nuclear News, p.24, May 2016.
2. “The Senate Passed Its First Major Energy Policy Bill”, Nuclear News, p. 17, May 2016.