Nuclear power’s decline in New England could cause blackouts

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Competition from natural gas and environmental opposition are causing New England’s nuclear power plants to shutdown, leaving its power grid dangerously overworked, according to an article published in Forbes Monday.

Cheap natural gas created by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has made it uneconomical to build new, or operate some existing, nuclear reactors in New England, making it difficult to produce electricity to power the region as environmentalist opposition has prevented natural gas infrastructure from being built rapidly enough to meet demand.

“Fierce opposition to building new pipelines from the shale gas-rich areas of western New York and Pennsylvania comes from concerns over fracking technologies, pipeline leaks and climate change,” James Conca, a geochemist and Forbes columnist, wrote Monday. “Even new transmission lines to carry hydropower from Quebec can’t find support in the people of New England. So if you close nuclear plants for ideological reasons, close coal plants because of climate change, choose natural gas over all else but prevent associated pipelines and infrastructure from being built, then you’re probably going to have a reality check sometime soon.”

While a renaissance in new nuclear power plant construction has been said to be imminent for some time, projects have been delayed or scrapped as a result of an abundance of low-cost natural gas and regulatory issues. It took an incredible 43 years to get approval to build America’s newest nuclear reactor due to scandals, red tape and environmental concerns.

“As all energy experts know, renewables will never replace any of nuclear’s clean power lost by the closing of nuclear plants,” Conca continued. “Renewables are having enough trouble replacing significant amounts of coal or keeping pace with demand, and require taxpayer subsidies to get built. So natural gas is the obvious choice for new electricity generation in all regions of the country.”

Within the past four years, five American nuclear reactors have been shutdown and many other reactors are risking premature retirement. The FitzPatrick nuclear plant in New York is scheduled to shut down in 2016 due to profitability concerns. Other plants such Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Massachusetts and Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey are also scheduled to shut down due to financial concerns stemming from natural gas competition. Two other reactors, the Vermont Yankee reactor and Wisconsin’s reactor, have already been closed due to competition from cheap natural gas.

Of the 59 new nuclear reactors under construction worldwide, only four of them are being built in the U.S., just enough to compensate for shutting down older reactors. America gets 20 percent of its electricity from its 99 operating nuclear reactors across 61 power plants, according to the Energy Information Administration. The average plant employs between 400 and 700 highly skilled workers, has a payroll of about $40 million and contributes $470 million to the local economy, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Unlike solar and wind, nuclear power receives no federal tax credits or state green energy mandates. Nuclear power does receive subsidies, but it gets 81.5 times less than solar power per unit of energy generated.

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