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Nuclear Value Not Recognized by Some Electricity Markets, NEI Says

Oct. 16, 2013—America’s nuclear power plants have many valuable attributes beyond their ability to produce large amounts of electricity, around the clock, safely and reliably. These attributes—including price stability, clean air electricity generation, zero carbon emissions and others—unfortunately are not recognized or monetized by merchant electricity markets, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s Richard Myers said at last week’s International Uranium Fuel Seminar in San Antonio.

Myers, NEI’s vice president of policy development, planning and supplier programs, noted that adverse economic conditions in merchant electricity markets have caused the announcement of two nuclear plant shutdowns this year. The Kewaunee facility in Wisconsin closed permanently this May, while Vermont Yankee is slated for closure at the end of 2014 (see Nuclear Energy Overview, May 9 and Aug. 27).

“There’s nothing wrong with these plants,” Myers said. “There is something seriously wrong with the markets in which they are operating—which do not value baseload capacity that can be dispatched when needed; which do not provide value for fuel and technology diversity; and which do not recognize the clean air compliance value of a nuclear power plant.”

Several independent assessments, Myers said, have pointed out that merchant markets, not regulated by government, are not producing price signals that would stimulate investment in new baseload generation or support continued operation of current baseload generation.

He added that the industry should make sure policymakers understand the importance of nuclear as part of the nation’s electricity portfolio.

“We must ensure that the shutdowns that have occurred … don’t compromise confidence in nuclear energy,” he said.

Myers also described the industry’s initiative to reduce the cumulative impact of industry and regulatory activities on U.S. nuclear energy facilities, which he said has resulted in activities that have relatively low safety significance and divert funds and management attention away from improvements that would make major safety and reliability improvements. Myers said addressing the substantial expansion in regulatory and industry activities would ensure greater safety and efficiency for nuclear energy facilities.

Ensuring that resources are allocated according to safety significance is a shared responsibility between the industry and the NRC, he added. The industry has already submitted a guidance document that sets out a possible approach to the NRC.

“This is not about spending money,” Myers said. “This is about spending money smarter.”