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A giant win for nuclear: Palisades plant might reopen in Michigan

After years of grim forecasts and untimely reactor closures, the home nuclear vitality sector is all of a sudden having fun with a profitable streak.

Final week, Camden, NJ-based Holtec Worldwide introduced that it plans to reopen the Palisades nuclear plant in Michigan, which was prematurely shuttered on Might 20. Holtec needs to make use of among the $6 billion appropriated in final yr’s infrastructure invoice to assist the continued operation of present nuclear reactors. The corporate’s transfer was endorsed by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who launched an announcement saying that she had despatched a letter to the Division of Vitality to assist Holtec’s utility for “a federal grant beneath the Civil Nuclear Credit score Program” to save lots of Palisades and thus shield “600 high-paying jobs on the plant and 1,100 extra jobs all through the neighborhood.”

The pending return of Palisades is the second massive win for the US nuclear sector in as many weeks. On Sept. 1, the California legislature voted to offer funds to guarantee the continued operation of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. That plant supplies practically 10 p.c of the juice in California and it’s coming in significantly useful in the course of the vicious warmth wave that is been baking the Golden State.

The transfer to save lots of Diablo Canyon follows final September’s vote by the Illinois legislature to acceptable some $700 million to subsidize the continued operation of the Byron and Dresden nuclear vegetation in that state. Thus, over the previous 12 months, 4 nuclear vegetation that have been slated for everlasting closure have been rescued from the wrecking ball.

The most affordable and best approach to cut back future emissions is to maintain present nuclear vegetation open and working. Final yr, Reiner Kuhr, an adjunct professor on the College of Massachusetts-Lowell who labored within the electrical energy sector for 45 years, studied the price of mitigating carbon dioxide emissions with varied applied sciences. Kuhr has instructed me that he discovered carbon dioxide mitigation prices vary from “beneath $20 per ton to maintain present nuclear working longer, to over $800 per ton for rooftop photo voltaic. Many of the photo voltaic and wind initiatives being closely promoted are nicely over $200 per ton.” Kuhr decided that if the federal government assumes the social price of carbon is $50 per ton, the one cost-effective choice “is extending the lifetime of present nuclear vegetation.”

I heard had completely different eventualities in current months about how Holtec would possibly leverage the Palisades website, however hadn’t heard that it might search federal cash to maintain the plant working. Holtec President and CEO Kris Singh stated Whitmer has been “instrumental” in supporting the corporate’s efforts. “We look ahead to persevering with to work with the administration, in addition to our federal, state and neighborhood companions to make this hope a actuality,” he stated.

As I reported in these pages on Might 29, the 811-megawatt Palisades plant was shut down after 50 years of operation. In actual fact, it closed on the identical day that the North American Electrical Reliability Company issued a report saying the US electrical grid does not have sufficient technology capability.

Regardless of the warning, New Orleans-based Entergy Company, the plant’s then-owner, went forward with the closure. In June, Entergy offered Palisades to Holtec.

Whereas the deal to save lots of Palisades shouldn’t be executed, the truth that Holtec and Whitmer are in search of to maintain it open signifies there may be sturdy assist for making it occur. That is excellent news for affordability, reliability and resilience.

When nuclear vegetation shut, they’re inevitably changed by pure gas-fired energy vegetation. And since pure fuel costs are hovering, meaning increased charges for customers. Certainly, after the closure of the Indian Level Vitality Heart in New York, electrical energy charges and emissions skyrocketed. In accordance with the impartial market monitor who works for the New York Unbiased System Operator, the company that manages the state’s electrical grid, electrical energy costs “usually elevated on account of the retirement of Indian Level.” Emissions additionally jumped. Energy-sector emissions in New York totaled 28.5 million tons in 2021, a rise of 4.5 million tons in comparison with 2019, previous to the plant’s untimely closure.

The rescue of the Byron and Dresden vegetation is already saving Illinois customers money. In Might, the Chicago Solar-Instances revealed an editorial saying ComEd clients “are going to get an sudden payout of $1 billion, sure, billion, from the state’s nuclear vegetation.” The paper defined that “negotiators anticipated — based mostly on present costs — that clients would pay some $700 million to maintain the nuclear vegetation going. That may have been some huge cash to fork over, nevertheless it was essential to get a deal on transferring the state away from fossil fuels. As a substitute, ratepayers will get a return of $1 billion.” Illinois ratepayers will get credit on their payments of “about $19.71 a month, saving the common household $237 per yr.”

I’ll reiterate that the deal to save lots of Palisades is not closing. That stated, the announcement that Holtec and Whitmer wish to save the plant is massively vital. Additional, it seems to symbolize a giant shift in how Democratic politicians are viewing nuclear vitality. California and Illinois are deep-blue states. Michigan stays a swing state, nevertheless it has gone for Democratic presidential candidates in seven of the final eight elections.

Lastly, saving Palisades can be a giant win for the Biden administration. To be clear, I have been a vocal critic of the vitality and local weather insurance policies being promoted by President Biden and his appointees. Vitality Secretary Jennifer Granholm has repeatedly stumbled in the case of fundamental information in regards to the trade. However she’s additionally the previous governor of Michigan. If she, Whitmer, and the Biden administration save Palisades, and achieve this proper after Diablo, Byron, and Dresden have been saved, it might give them some strong wins that they might use whereas campaigning earlier than the November midterm elections. A win is a win, and Biden wants all of the wins he can get.

No matter your politics, the transfer to rescue Palisades is a most-excellent growth.

Robert Bryce is the host of the “Energy Hungry Podcast,” government producer of the documentary, “Juice: How Electrical energy Explains the World,” and the writer of six books, together with most just lately, “A Query of Energy: Electrical energy and the Wealth of Nations.” Comply with him on Twitter and TikTok @pwrhungry.

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