Natural Gas Affecting Plans For Nuclear Power Plants

May 2012, Vol. 239 No. 5

The Wall Street Journal reports a cheaper, less risky alternative is dealing a harsh blow to the U.S. nuclear industry. The nuclear industry seemed to be staging a comeback several years ago with 15 power companies proposing as many as 29 new reactors. Today, only two projects are moving off the drawing board, the Journal noted.

"It's killed off new coal and now it's killing off new nuclear," said David Crane, chief executive of NRG Energy, a power-generation company based in Princeton, NJ. "Gas has come along at just the right time to upset everything." Across the country, utilities are turning to natural gas to generate electricity, with 258 plants expected to be built from 2011 through 2015, federal statistics indicate.

Not only are gas-fired plants faster to build than reactors, they are much less expensive. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says it costs about $978 per kilowatt of capacity to build and fuel a big gas-fired power plant, compared with $5,339 per kilowatt for a nuclear plant.

"Right now, things are pointing to gas," said David Christian, CEO of mid-Atlantic energy producer Dominion. He said the natural gas share of the electricity market, now about 25%, could rise to 30-40% in the future.