A recent study from the Institute of Energy and Environment showed that one of the driving factors behind nuclear’s recent decline is an abundance of cheap, domestic natural gas. Despite an agenda from the administration to curb carbon emissions, some believe nuclear power may continue to fall out of favor in the face of gas while a plethora of alternative energy sources hits the market and the globe continues to invest in renewable energy.
“The shale industry in the U.S. and what’s happening in terms of production and development…has taken the world by surprise,” said Margaret Hill, co-chair of the environmental practice at law firm Blank Rome. “I don’t think anybody foresaw what was going to happen.”
“The economics and the environment are driving development and the use of shale oil and gas to provide power,” she said. Furthermore, “the economics of nuclear plants are very difficult to maintain, and very costly to do so,” she said.
With that said, the nuclear sector is not backing down. Since 2007 five new power plants have begun construction and fourteen more are in “exploratory phases.” Those within the nuclear energy industry have admitted the challenges posed by cheap natural gas, but expect an opportunity to exploit soon as surging demand may drive up gas prices. When that happens, nuclear plants will be happy to fill in the gap. In the meantime, the sector has real economic value as data from the Nuclear Energy Institute shows.
..there are still about 100 active nuclear plants in the U.S. that employ more than 100,000 workers, according to NEI data. Those plants generate “substantial domestic economic value in electricity sales and revenue—$40 billion to $50 billion each year,” NEI said.