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Public Weighs In on Market Conditions Threatening Nuclear Power Plants

Examining the problem for nuclear power shows value in informing the public.

Fortnightly Magazine - July 2016
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As the price of electricity drops, due largely to abundant natural gas from fracking, some vital electricity resources are being lost and others are threatened.

It started with the shocking announcement in 2013 that Dominion planned to shut down the Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin, a well-performing 1,772 megawatt thermal nuclear power plant. The low price of electricity in the plant's market had made the plant non-competitive.

That's a permanent loss. Once a nuclear power plant goes into decommissioning, it can never be restarted. With other nuclear power plants following, the question has to be asked:

Figure 1 - Importance of Nuclear Energy with Learning

What should be done to create market conditions that prevent the loss of the nation's only zero-carbon large-scale baseload electricity source?

A nationwide public opinion survey this spring took a first step in engaging the public on this dilemma. The topic was addressed as part of a survey of a thousand U.S. adults, conducted for the Nuclear Energy Institute, from March 11 to April 11, 2016. Bisconti Research Inc. conducted the survey with Quest Global Research.

The survey is part of a robust thirty-four year program of public opinion research on nuclear energy topics sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute. In the current survey, five hundred respondents were interviewed by landline and cellphone. The other five hundred respondents were surveyed using the Quest Mindshare online panel.

The Problem

The online panel respondents were asked to read detailed information about the electricity market problem and then were asked about their preferred solutions. The information described the potential shutdown of nuclear power plants due to the current low cost of natural gas.

The following statement was given to the respondents:

"Nuclear power plants historically offer low-cost electricity at a stable, predictable price because they use very little fuel. However, when the price of natural gas is very low, as it is now, the market price for electricity is set below the cost of electricity from nuclear power plants.  

Thus, some well-performing nuclear power plants are being shut down and more are at risk of early closure. Shutting down a nuclear power plant prematurely results in the loss of electricity for nearly three-quarters of a million homes and businesses, the loss of hundreds to more than a thousand jobs, and the loss of a zero-carbon clean-air electricity source at a time when we are dedicated to reducing greenhouse gases.  

Sooner or later, new power plants will need to be built to replace the electricity lost by shutting down nuclear power plants. The

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