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Joint NASEO, NARUC report suggests nuclear options amid coal closures

As the U.S. energy industry moves further from coal as a resource, many options have arisen as replacements, but a new report from the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), backs nuclear repowering.

According to “Coal to Nuclear Repowering: Considerations for State Energy Offices and Public Utility Commissions,” closures of coal power plants are to be the new norm, as their long-term economic viability wanes and new federal and state environmental, economic and climate goals come into force. This, however, presents other opportunities.

“States are exploring opportunities to use the infrastructure and existing workforce located at the sites of retiring or retired coal power plants to potentially site small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs),” the report said.

Working with 31 State Energy Offices and Public Utility Commissions across the country, along with the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy, the report concluded that transitioning some retired coal plants to host SMRs could offer reliable replacements, complete with reduced emissions, workforce and economic development potential, and the possibility to save money by simply repurposing existing infrastructure.

The authors cited a Department of Energy-led study from 2022 that found 80 percent of the 157 retired coal power plants at that time could be conducive to siting advanced reactors. DOE also found that percentage held true for the 237 sites with still operational coal plants.

Repowering, in this case, refers to situating a nuclear plant on the location of a former coal plant.

Despite the potential opportunities, this swap would not come without its share of challenges, though. The report noted that costs would be significant even with the reuse of infrastructure, a first of its kind technology like SMRs and other advanced nuclear options could see overnight capital costs ranging from around $6,000 – $10,000/kw. Significant time investments would also be required, especially with permitting and siting demands factored in.

While the sites would be cleaner producers of energy than coal, spent nuclear fuel would require its own problems for any state to address, although SMRs require less frequent refueling. There is also the issue of public perception. The report pointed out that concerns could arise from a mix of uncertainty or misinformation on safety or the storage of spent nuclear fuel, or even objections to closing the coal plants in the first place. Even that may not be what it once was, though, and education could be the deciding factor.

Baseline support for nuclear in coal communities outweighs opposition by nearly five times and that support did not drop off with different political affiliations, the report said, in turning to another report submitted by the Kentucky Office of Energy Policy.

“Still, the results emphasized the importance of communities being educated on an issue – finding that nuclear support directly correlated with nuclear knowledge,” the report said. “One of the topline messages that resonated with coal communities was the role nuclear energy could play in supporting energy independence and reliability.”

Source: Daily Energy Insider