Old Nuclear powerplant retirements would not be notable if there was a faster pace of nuclear construction

1. This year, utilities have announced the retirement of four reactors, bringing the number remaining in the United States to 100. Three had expensive mechanical problems but one, Kewaunee in Wisconsin, was running well, and its owner, Dominion, had secured permission to run it an additional 20 years. But it was losing money, because of the low wholesale price of electricity.

More old Coal and natural gas plants are shut but more coal and natural gas is being built

Since 2010 41 percent of powerplant retirements were coal and 33 percent were natural gas. Ten percent were nuclear. Old power plants lead conditional existences; they may not survive new environmental rules or other circumstances that require expensive retrofits.

The difference is that gas plants continue to be built, and so do a few coal plants. There was a gap of 30 years in new nuclear plant construction, which ended this year, but only four plants, two twin-reactor installations, have broken ground. A fifth, left for dead in the 1980s, is being revived. While utilities in the last few years have announced plans for more than a dozen new reactors, beyond the five now under construction only another four or so seem possible in the next few years.

2. Cameco’s Cigar Lake project has a uranium mining licence from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) that clears the way for the start of production at the northern Saskatchewan site.

Cigar Lake is the world’s second largest high-grade uranium deposit, with grades that are 100 times the world average. The orebody is being frozen prior to mining to improve ground conditions, prevent water inflow and improve radiation protection, and the ore will be removed by a jet boring system, using using water under high pressure to carve out cavities in the orebody and then collecting the resulting ore slurry through pipes. The ore will then be taken to underground grinding and thickening circuits and then pumped to surface as slurry, which will be loaded into special containers for the 70 kilometre journey by road to McClean Lake.

3. US power market conditions have seen four uprate projects cancelled and a reactor completion slowed to a crawl. They amount to 1587 MWe that now look unlikely to be online at the end of the decade. In total the retirements amount to 3576 MWe of capacity, reducing the US total to 103,500 MWe generated from 100 reactors. The announcements by TVA and Exelon amount to 1587 MWe that will now likely not be serving the US market at the end of this decade. New-build projects in the US, however, stand to add about 4500 MWe from four new AP1000 units across the Vogtle and Summer sites. Half of these are already officially under construction, having poured first concrete.

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