Jun 28, 2017

What's really killing nuclear power

Matt Rourke, File / AP

The issue

President Trump and his top advisers are saying they will revive the nuclear power industry, which is struggling to keep current reactors open or open new ones. They blame federal regulations for the sector's problems. "This industry has been strangled all too often by government regulation," Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Tuesday at a White House briefing for the administration's Energy Week.

The facts

Federal regulations are not hurting nuclear power. The biggest cause of nuclear power's struggles is cheap natural gas flooding electricity markets (same goes for coal, by the way). Renewable power, whose use is mandated under some state laws, is also pushing out nuclear power in certain markets. In fact, federal regulations would be the biggest thing the Trump administration could do to help nuclear power. An EPA rule cutting carbon emissions from power plants, which Administrator Scott Pruitt is working to repeal, could have helped make carbon-free but expensive nuclear power plants more competitive with cheap natural gas plants. A more explicit market signal, like a tax on carbon emissions, would help nuclear power more than any other government policy.

Why it matters

Top Trump officials have given a lot of positive rhetoric to nuclear power, but so far it's all talk and no action. The administration is very unlikely to pull any of the biggest policy levers it could to help nuclear power: regulations or a carbon tax. Trump's budget proposal also slashes funding for the Energy Department's nuclear office, and although Congress is unlikely to pass that budget, it nonetheless signals federal priorities. Congress is also debating legislation that would allow four financially struggling nuclear reactors under construction in Georgia and South Carolina (the only new ones in some 30 years) to receive tax credits. Spokespeople for the administration didn't return requests for comments about whether it supports that measure or not.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

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  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 665,164 — Total deaths: 30,852 — Total recoveries: 140,225.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 124,665 — Total deaths: 2,191 — Total recoveries: 1,095.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump announces new travel advisories for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but rules out quarantine enforcement. Per the CDC, residents of those states must now "refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days," with the exception of critical infrastructure industry workers.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters who backed Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have returned to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Coronavirus updates: Global death toll tops 30,000

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

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 30,000 people around the world — with Italy reporting over 10,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. surpassed 2,000 on Saturday. The United States leads the world in confirmed coronavirus infections — more than 124,000 by early Sunday. The number of those recovered from the virus in the U.S. passed the 1,000-mark on Saturday evening.

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Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

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The big pig picture: President Trump has called the antiviral drug "promising," but the results of six clinical trials on this investigational medicine are still being conducted, so its effectiveness the treatment of the novel coronavirus has yet to be proved. The World Health Organization is involved in the tests.

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