Will Turning All Coal-Fired Power Plants to Nuclear Plants Attain the Net-Zero Emission Target for the US?

published: 2022-09-30 9:30 | editor: | category: News

A recent study of the US Department of Energy (DOE) pointed out that transforming 80% of the country’s coal-fired power plants to nuclear plants would help attaining its 2050 target of net-zero emissions.

The study was implemented by the Argonne National Laboratory, the Idaho National Laboratory, and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and was also sponsored by the Office of Nuclear Energy under DOE. As pointed out by the study, 80% of the 157 decommissioned coal-fired power plants and the 237 operating coal-fired power plants in the country can be transformed into advanced reactors below the GW grade.

The report also evaluated coal-fired power plants that are currently operating and awaiting decommissioning. Among the 125 decommissioned coal-fired power plants that were evaluated, there is a potential capacity of 64.8GWe, while the 190 operating coal-fired power plants have a potential capacity as high as 198.5GWe. The report pointed out that the cost of capital for nuclear establishment may thus be lowered by 15-35% compared to greenfield projects that are not restricted by previous engineering.

Since nuclear power plants are usually operating under a full-load capacity 24/7, where the capacity factor is close to 1 that is higher than any forms of energy, the capacity of nuclear plants that replace coal-fired power plants can also be smaller. The research team is currently studying how to replace coal with 924MW of nuclear power, and discovered that regional economic activities are also likely to yield an extra US$275 million, as well as introduce 650 new permanent job opportunities accordingly.

The DOE commented that the repeated usage of electrical equipment of coal-fired power plants such as power transmission lines and switching stations, as well as infrastructures such as cooling pools, cooling towers, roads, and office buildings, may conserve several millions of US dollars. In addition, the study also found that replacing large coal-fired power plants with nuclear plants would lower regional emission by 86%, which equals a reduction of more than 500K vehicles.

As reported by Reuters, the statistics of DOE indicates that US power companies plan to eliminate more than 14,500MW of coal-fired power plants in 2022 and transform the capacity into natural gas, though some people believe that spending several millions of dollars to transition from one fossil fuel to another is completely meaningless.

With that being said, nuclear power also comes with disadvantages, as various reactor meltdowns and radiological incidents in the past were notorious enough. Simultaneously, reactors must be established near rivers or the sea since they need to cool down, and there lies a high level of risks when storms, droughts, earthquakes, or tsunamis strike. What makes nuclear power different from fossil-fuel power plants, however, is that it can be regarded as a net-zero emission energy with a more reliable operation procedure compared to coal-fired and natural gas, and that it is not an intermittent renewable energy.

 (Cover photo source: pixabay)

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