HOUSTON, May 8 (Xinhua) -- The future of U.S. nuclear power fleet depends mostly on natural gas prices, potential carbon policies, and nuclear power plant operating costs, U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said Tuesday.
According to EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2018, existing U.S. nuclear power generating plants operate under increasingly competitive market conditions brought by relatively low natural gas prices, increasing electricity generation from renewable energy sources, and limited growth in electric power demand.
According to the report, 60 nuclear power plants are operating in the United States with a combined electricity generating capacity of 99 gigawatts (GW). Nine plants with a combined 11 GW of capacity have announced plans to retire by 2025. EIA expects additional unplanned retirements will reduce total U.S. nuclear generating capacity to 79 GW by 2050.
EIA believed that natural gas prices play an important role in nuclear power operations. About half of the existing nuclear fleet operates in deregulated wholesale electricity (i.e., merchant) markets, where natural gas-fired generators can and sometimes do set the marginal price for electricity. For this reason, changes in natural gas prices affect electric power markets.
EIA also found that operating costs have a major role in recent retirement decisions. At least five currently operating nuclear plants have requested state-level price support to continue operating because of the high cost.
However, potential policies that would subject fossil fuel-fired power plants, such as those fueled by coal, natural gas, and petroleum, to fees based on their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would result in higher wholesale electricity prices, and in turn, would allow nuclear power plants - which do not generate CO2 emissions - to become more economically competitive.