The US is losing the nuclear race to Russia and China

While nuclear power plants in the US are retiring as they face stiff cost competition from cheap and abundant natural gas, America has also been struggling to keep its leadership on the global nuclear power market.

The United States must protect its longstanding leadership on nuclear energy globally, Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) wrote in an op-ed to CNBC.

The US lawmakers believe that reviving nuclear energy in the US and developing new and advanced reactors will raise the share of clean energy generation in America on the one hand, and reestablish US leadership on the global market, on the other.

“If the US does not reassert global leadership in this sector, others will. Russia and China today account for more than 60 percent of new nuclear plants under construction worldwide,” Senators Crapo and Whitehouse said.

“Given the mounting challenges of climate change and geopolitical and national security threats, we cannot afford to allow rival nations to define the nuclear energy landscape,” the Senators wrote.

In the US, nuclear power plants come under pressure from competition from low natural gas prices, growing renewable power generation, and limited growth in overall electricity demand, the EIA said in May last year, noting that the future of nuclear power will depend on natural gas prices and potential carbon policies.

Last year, nuclear electricity generation accounted for 19.3 percent of all US utility-scale power generation, preceded by natural gas with 35.1 percent and coal with 27.4 percent, and followed by renewables including hydropower with 17.1 percent, EIA data shows.  

Despite the fact that several nuclear power plants have closed since 2010, last year’s US nuclear electricity generation beat the previous record from 2010, as some plants commissioned uprates to boost generation capacity while facilities overall reduced the time for maintenance or refueling, the EIA said in March 2019.

However, the 2018 record in nuclear electricity generation is unlikely to be beaten in the coming decades, because only two reactors are expected to come online in the near future, Georgia’s Vogtle Units 3 and 4 in 2021 and 2022, respectively. The new capacity from those two reactors will not be able to offset the closings of 12 reactors by 2025 based on the currently announced retirements, the EIA said.

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