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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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U.S. Pushes to Triple Nuclear Energy Production by 2050

  • Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer plans to reopen the Palisades Nuclear Generating Station, making it the first decommissioned nuclear power plant to be brought back online in the U.S.
  • The reopening of the plant would provide economic benefits to Michigan, including the creation of high-paying jobs and a boost to the regional economy.
  • The Biden administration has pledged to triple nuclear energy production by 2050 as part of its efforts to address climate change.
Nuclear Power

This Monday Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that she intends to reopen a nuclear power plant to meet the state’s decarbonization goals. If she is successful in her campaign, it would mark the first time in United States history that a nuclear power plant has been brought back online after being decommissioned – but it more than likely won’t be the last. 

The owner of the Palisades Nuclear Generating Station, which currently sits dormant on the shores of Lake Michigan, received a conditional loan guarantee for a whopping $1.52 billion from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office to help fund the plant’s revival. If Holtec, the company that owns the plant, meets all of the closing conditions, the Palisades plant would be just the second or third plant in the entire world to be re-commissioned. And they plan to do it by just 2025. 

Reopening the plant would not only be a trailblazing boon for low-carbon energy production in the United States, it also stands to offer a huge economic boost to Michiganders, who lost more than 600 high-paying jobs, many unionized, when the plant shuttered in May 2022. Whitmer says that if the plant is restarted, it could bring in $363 million in much-needed regional economic impact.

Although the United States has the top-producing nuclear energy fleet in the world, the country’s nuclear power sector has been in decline for years. The average age of a nuclear reactor in the United States is about 42 years old. Around one dozen nuclear power reactors have closed in the United States since 2013, and according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 22 commercial nuclear power reactors (out of 93 total reactors) at 18 sites are in various stages of decommissioning. Meanwhile just one new power plant – Georgia’s plant Vogtle – has been added to the national fleet in the last several decades. And at present, zero new reactors are under construction in the United States.

The United States will have to see a radical repositioning and revitalization of the nuclear power sector if it is to meet its own global pledges, which includes a commitment to triple nuclear power production by 2050. At last year’s COP28 global climate conference, the United States was one of more than 20 countries that cooperated to launch the Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy

Building new power plants is extremely cost-prohibitive, however. And Plant Vogtle has shown just how expensive and exhausting building up a new nuclear fleet could be. First approved in 2009, it has only just reached completion, with its fourth reactor finally coming online on April 29, 2024, when it officially became the most expensive infrastructure project of any kind in U.S. history, at a whopping $35 billion. “The project has been such a bloated disaster that many pundits think it could be make-or-break for the wholesale future of the United States nuclear sector,” Oilprice reported in April. 

So instead of investing hundreds of billions of dollars into building out a new nuclear fleet from the ground up, why not bring a fully formed industry back from the grave? Or better yet, if the country is to have any hope of meeting that lofty triple nuclear energy pledge, why not both? Many of the defunct nuclear power plants in the United States are too far gone to restart, but even rebuilding a new reactor on the same site would be a huge advantage for efficiency and cost-effectiveness. “So you don’t have to go through the whole rigamarole again, you can just use the existing footprint to be able to increase generation capacity,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm was recently quoted by Fast Company. 

Building new reactors as an expansion of existing plants can be another cost-effective alternative, which many companies are already taking advantage of. Granholm says that about 30 such power plant sites across the country have already been licensed or permitted for the construction of more reactors.

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com 

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