A billion-dollar program was launched on Tuesday aimed at helping struggling nuclear power plants to continue operating amid rising costs, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced.
The $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit Program will provide relief to owners or operators of nuclear power reactors that are expected to shut down due to economic circumstances, thus avoiding premature closure.
Specifically, the program will see owners or operators of nuclear plant owners bid for “credits” in order to help them continue running the nuclear plants, which serve as the nation’s largest source of clean energy.
“This critical investment, made possible by President [Joe] Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will help avoid premature retirements of reactors across the country due to financial hardship, preserve thousands of good-paying clean energy jobs to sustain local economies, and protect our supply of carbon-free electricity generation,” the DOE said on Tuesday.
Applicants can apply for the first round of funding until May 19, the DOE said, and the awarded credits will last for four years, beginning from the date they are first granted. Applicants can reapply for credits through to September 2031, so long as the funds are still available, DOE said.
To qualify, plant owners or operators have to show the reactors are projected to retire for economic reasons and emissions would increase.
The department would also determine, along with input from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, that the nuclear plants are able to operate safely.
Officials will also conduct audits over the four-year period that the credits are granted and will be able to take back credits if a reactor either ceases to operate or if it does not operate at an average annual loss in the absence of credits.
The first round of funding will prioritize reactors that have already publically announced their intention to cease operations, and a second round will focus on more economically at-risk facilities.
Biden’s Civil Nuclear Credit Program is being funded through the President’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan, which became law in November.
There are 55 commercial nuclear power plants with 93 nuclear reactors in 28 states across the United States and they generate more than half (52 percent) of the nation’s carbon-free electricity, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).
The Biden administration believes nuclear reactors are a vital source to achieving its net-zero emissions goal by 2050, yet 12 reactors have closed since 2013 amid competition from renewable energy and other economic factors, leading to an increase in carbon emissions in those regions.
The DOE said its new program will “equitably address these challenges while supporting the President’s clean energy goals to ensure that communities across the country continue to see the benefits of sustainable energy infrastructure.”
“U.S. nuclear power plants contribute more than half of our carbon-free electricity, and President Biden is committed to keeping these plants active to reach our clean energy goals,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. “We’re using every tool available to get this country powered by clean energy by 2035, and that includes prioritizing our existing nuclear fleet to allow for continued emissions-free electricity generation and economic stability for the communities leading this important work.”