Status of Nuclear Energy

America’s three newest commercial reactors bring 3,384 megawatts of capacity to the energy grid: Two new nuclear plants are under construction in Georgia and scheduled to go into operation between 2021 and 2022. The third reactor, at Watts Bar in Tennessee, was placed in service in 2016 after an 18-year construction hiatus.

The grid, however, is losing approximately 15,400 megawatts of clean energy from the shutdown or scheduled shutdown of 17 reactors, the latest being Indian Point 2 and 3 in New York, and FirstEnergy’s Davis-Bessie and Perry in Ohio, and Beaver Valley 1 and 2 in Pennsylvania. The result will be a total U.S. nuclear power capacity decline of more than 12,000 megawatts between 2013 and 2025. (For reference, Columbia Generating Station’s capacity is 1,207 gross megawatts.)

In its 2016 Seventh Northwest Power Plan and as part of its longterm resource strategy, the Northwest Power & Conservation Council encouraged the region to expand resource alternatives, including exploration of new or advanced clean generating technologies such as advanced nuclear energy.


Diablo Canyon

In June 2016, Pacific Gas & Electric announced plans to close the 2,240-megawatt, dual-unit Diablo Canyon Power Plant in 2025. PG&E’s decision is based on the unique characteristics of California’s energy environment.


Within a high-priced energy market, PG&E faced, among other pressures, over-generation brought on by a combination of growing distributed generation, increasing energy efficiency, a shrinking retail load as city and county governments opt to purchase more affordable energy elsewhere under the state’s community choice aggregation policy, and state law requiring utilities to procure at least 50 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. If relicensed, these factors would drive Diablo to regularly operate at only 40-50 percent power within a negative pricing environment. These challenges were unsurmountable for PG&E without a state zero-carbon portfolio standard that recognizes the plant’s 24 percent contribution to the state’s carbon-free electricity (as opposed to a renewable-only standard that excludes clean nuclear technology).


How Columbia is different

Columbia is already part of a consortium of local public power utilities within a state that enjoys one of the nation’s lowest-priced energy systems. Unlike Diablo’s investor owned business model, Columbia’s power is provided at the cost of production to the Bonneville Power Administration. Washington’s renewable portfolio standard is also, by comparison, only 15 percent renewables by 2020, and aimed principally at diversifying, not de-carbonizing, our state’s already abundantly clean energy supply. As such, eligible renewables here integrate, rather than compete with, clean hydro and nuclear. All will be critical for meeting our state’s clean power goals.

​​C-Bullet.jpg The world needs energy.

We generate 20 trillion kilowatt-hours a year and still many people do not have any electricity. By all estimates, energy demand around the world is increasing and will continue to do so.

New nuclear energy plants are coming on line to help meet that demand, led by China with 22 plants under construction. In all, more than 160 power reactors with a total net capacity of some 185,000 megawatts are planned and over 300 more are proposed. They will join the 440 operating nuclear plants worldwide.

China and India have made a significant commitment to nuclear energy; the United Arab Emirates are building their first reactors; France already receives 70 percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants; and the province of Ontario, Canada, receives 60 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.

New Nuclear Reactor Construction Around the World (by 2020): 64, including:

China – 22
Russia – 8
India – 6
USA – 5
Korea – 4
Finland; Pakistan; Brazil; France; others. 

Source: IAEA