May 21, 2019

Risks are stacking up against the U.S. nuclear industry

The nuclear power plant on Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island, which is scheduled to close on Sept. 30, 2019. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Due to atrophy at home and competition abroad, the U.S. nuclear industry is increasingly at risk of losing power plants, workforce talent and global business.

Why it matters: The civilian and military nuclear sectors depend on one another, and both are strategic assets vital to national security. Nuclear energy also eases the path to decarbonizing the U.S. electric grid.

Context: Prospective employment in the civilian nuclear power sector is a core incentive to academic training and military careers in nuclear energy. This supply chain of expertise is at least as essential as the material inputs.

Where it stands: The U.S. has lost 6 nuclear energy plants since 2013, while 9 more are planned to close in the next decade.

  • Nuclear power faces stiff competition from cheaper fuels like natural gas, solar and wind, while its reliability, resilience and zero-carbon footprint go undervalued.
  • Meanwhile, foreign state-owned nuclear companies can outcompete U.S. firms. Russia and China are building more than 60% of the world’s new nuclear plants, with significant state support.

What’s happening: Some states are incorporating nuclear energy into their clean energy portfolio standards to prevent plant closures. Congress recently passed 2 bills to encourage advanced nuclear technologies and a third was introduced in March.

Yes, but: Stronger legislation could help the industry by incentivizing more innovation and easing the permitting processes.

  • A carbon fee of $15 per ton that increases 5% a year (in real-dollar terms) could support the current fleet and even encourage new plant construction by 2050, according to the Energy Information Agency. A $25 baseline would yield even greater benefits.
  • Small modular reactors and “generation IV” technologies promise to reduce waste, shorten construction times and decrease proliferation and safety risks. These innovations could lower costs but would likely require government investment.

The bottom line: If more of America’s nuclear power plants shutter over the coming decade, the U.S. could see further erosion of both its international influence and the industrial-scientific base critical to future innovation.

The authors are with the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center, where Randolph Bell is director, Jennifer T. Gordon is deputy director and Robert F. Ichord Jr. is a senior fellow.

Go deeper: Read the Atlantic Council report on the U.S. nuclear industry's strategic challenges.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 1,014,673 — Total deaths: 52,973 — Total recoveries: 210,335Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 244,678 — Total deaths: 5,911 — Total recoveries: 9,058Map.
  3. 2020 updates: The Democratic National Committee said its July convention will be postponed until August because of the coronavirus. A federal judge declined to delay Wisconsin's April 7 primary election.
  4. Jobs latest: Coronavirus unemployment numbers are like a natural disaster hitting every state.
  5. Public health latest: Anthony Fauci called for a nationwide stay-at-home order. FDA allows blood donations from gay men after 3-month waiting period, citing "urgent need."
  6. Business latest: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said oil companies are eligible for aid from new lending programs the Federal Reserve is setting up, but not direct loans from his department.
  7. U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt: Navy removes captain of aircraft carrier who sounded alarm about coronavirus.
  8. 1 future thing: In developing countries, consequences of COVID-19 could be deeper and far more difficult to recover from.
  9. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

CNN: Fauci advises all states issue stay-at-home orders

Dr. Anthony Fauci listens to President Trump speak during a briefing on April 1. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci recommended on Thursday that all states across the U.S. implement stay-at-home orders, at a CNN town hall.

Why it matters: The recommendation stands in contrast to President Trump's calls for "flexibility." Nearly 4o states have issued stay-at-home orders to promote social distancing as a way to combat the novel coronavirus — but the orders vary in strictness and duration.

Go deeperArrow42 mins ago - Health

World coronavirus updates: Confirmed cases top 1 million

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

Novel coronavirus infections have surpassed the 1 million mark after "near exponential growth" that's reached "almost every country," World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday.

The big picture: Policy responses to the global coronavirus crisis have been every-country-for-itself and — in the case of the U.S. and China — tinged with geopolitics. But, the scientific work underway to understand the virus and develop a vaccine has been globalized on an unprecedented scale.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Health