One-Fourth of U.S. Nuclear Fleet Is at Risk of Early Closure

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(Bloomberg) -- More than a quarter of U.S. nuclear power plants don’t make enough money to cover their operating costs, raising the threat of more early retirements.

Of the 66 nuclear power plants operating in the U.S., 24 are either scheduled to close or probably won’t make money through 2021, according Nicholas Steckler, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance. These at-risk sites have total generating capacity of 32.5 gigawatts, more than a quarter of the entire fleet, Steckler wrote in a report Tuesday.

It would cost about $1.3 billion a year to plug the revenue gaps for these struggling sites, Steckler and co-author Chris Gadomski said in the report. The study follows a similar analysis in March that showed that half of U.S. coal-fired power plant capacity is on shaky ground.

It’s not all grim for nuclear operators, though. The average U.S. nuclear plant still is expected to make money before taxes, especially on the East Coast. And the industry has had success convincing policy makers in New York, Illinois and New Jersey to take steps toward bailing out struggling plants thanks to their emissions-free generation and concerns about job losses. And the U.S. Energy Department is currently weighing a March request from FirstEnergy Corp.’s competitive power unit for government aid to help keep money-losing nuclear and coal-fired power plants online.

That said, the industry is increasingly challenged by sluggish power demand, cheap natural gas and the rise of renewable energy -- especially in the Midwest where wind power is ascendant.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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