US Department of Energy advances $6 billion nuclear power plant program

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Band Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON, February 11 (Reuters)The US Department of Energy said Friday it is seeking input from utilities, communities and advocates as it develops its new program to boost struggling nuclear power plants with $6 billion in appropriations.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year tasked the DOE with creating the Civilian Nuclear Credit Program to distribute credits to nuclear power plants.

Nuclear power generates electricity with virtually no climate-changing emissions, but the industry has lost 12 reactors since 2013, amid competition from renewables and power plants that burn abundant natural gas. Additionally, security costs skyrocketed after the 2011 tsunami at Japan’s Fukushima power plant.

“We are moving as fast as we can,” said Andrew Griffith, DOE deputy assistant secretary for the nuclear fuel cycle and supply chain, in an interview about the implementation of the credit program. “But we also want to do it right.” The law aims to help reactors in states with competitive electricity markets.

Under this program, US reactor owners or operators can bid on credits to help support their continued operations. Applications must prove that their reactors will shut down for economic reasons and demonstrate that the shutdown will lead to an increase in air pollutants. Credits will be awarded to ministry-certified reactors over four-year periods.

The DOE can appropriate $1.2 billion over the next four years, and the final four-year period ends in 2035. Officials hope the program can start helping one or more factories this year.

The Biden administration has said it believes nuclear reactors will play an important role in decarbonizing the national economy to combat climate change. The industry also provides well-paying union jobs that the administration is keen to preserve.

The United States has spent billions of dollars on a program to permanently store waste from nuclear power plants in Yucca Mountain, Nevada, a decades-long project that was ultimately rejected amid the state’s rollback.

Currently, the waste is stored at power plants across the country in spent fuel pools and in hardened drums. The Biden administration is looking for local communities willing to host nuclear waste storage sites.

Griffith said community feedback on the credit program will help guide decisions. “We’re really looking for broad input, not just from utilities, but also from the communities that host these reactors, because that’s a really important voice.”

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

((timothy.gardner@thomsonreuters.com; +1 202 380-8348 (Twitter @timogard); Reuters Messaging: timothy.gardner.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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