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  • Jungwon Shin

How Retiring Nuclear Power Plants May Undercut U.S. Climate Goals

During past decade, hydraulic fracturing has cut down natural gas prices, decreasing the number of coal plants in the United States. This resulted in a 14 percent drop of carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 to 2016. However, this very change is now driving nuclear rectors out of business, which will backfire with severe climate change. Given that nuclear power plants are preparing early retirement due to financial reasons, several states are considering to subsidize their existing nuclear reactors. Pennsylvania is among them: Exelon expressed its determination to close its last nuclear reactor in Three Mile Island by 2019 without support from the government. Cheap natural gas is driving Pennsylvania's nine reactors out of business, which is responsible of producing one-third of the state's power. John Raymond Hanger, a former Pennsylvania environmental secretary and an outside adviser to Exelon, emphasized the seriousness of the problem by stating that had Three Mile Island close, Pennsylvania would lose more zero-carbon power than all other state's renewable energy combined. Since 2013, five nuclear power plants - Florida, Wisconsin, California, Vermont, and Nebraska - have retired early and six more plants are planning to retire due to unprofitability. Had all of the United States' nuclear plants without much profit go into early retirement and been replaced by natural gas plants, domestic carbon dioxide emissions would increase 4.9 percent. While several green groups and some policymakers support the idea of subsidizing nuclear power plants, coal and gas companies and other opponents insist that it will work against consumers, increasing electricity prices.

It is difficult to decide if subsidizing nuclear power plants would be worth the economic burden. Needless to say, supporting nuclear reactors will decrease carbon dioxide emission. However, it is also true that such will negatively affect the competitive market. Thus, this matter will require further discussion considering all stakeholders.

APPA UN NGO intern

Cornell University Information Science major

Jungwon Shin

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