The Uncertain Future of Nuclear Power in the Southeast: Implications of an Aging Fleet for Electricity Sector Planning and Emissions
Author(s): David Hoppock and Sarah Adair
Published: January 2017
Nuclear power provides about one-quarter of the electricity in the Southeast and the majority of the region’s non-fossil generation. Beginning around 2030, nuclear plants in the Southeast, as in the rest of the country, will start to reach the end of their initial operating license extensions to 60 years, at which point they must receive an additional license extension or retire. How many nuclear units will seek and receive a second license extension is unknown. Replacing existing nuclear capacity with new nuclear capacity requires approximately 10 to 15 years. If a high percentage of nuclear units in the Southeast do retire at 60 years, it is unlikely that the units can simultaneously be replaced with new units given the long lead times and limited applications for new nuclear plants at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Given these circumstances, southeastern states may want to start planning for the potential loss of their largest carbon-free generation source now. This policy brief explores how the potential loss of existing nuclear power plants in the Southeast interacts with region’s other electricity sector challenges—among them, increasing natural gas dependence, demand uncertainty, and emerging technology—and it proposes steps states can take to address these challenges.