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US nuclear power generation has been nearly constant for over a decade [ClearOnMoney]
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US nuclear power generation has been nearly constant for over a decade

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Commentary

US nuclear power generation has been nearly constant for over a decade

29 Dec 2013 by Jim Fickett.

Despite much pessimism concerning the future of nuclear power, nuclear generation has remained nearly constant for over a decade, and there is no evidence that this is about to change.

There has been much talk of cheap gas, subsidized wind farms, and delayed coal regulation spelling the death of nuclear power. In fact, the main competition has been between coal and gas, with gas the clear gainer. Nuclear power generation has been essentially constant for over a decade.

The graph that the DOE EIA supplies is a bit hard to read, with seasonal fluctuations obscuring the long term trends:

A 12-month moving average better shows the fundamentals of the market:

As an aside, note that over the last twelve months or so coal has gained again and gas has lost. It is hard to tell how long this will continue but, for now at least, this adds to the evidence that the artificially overdone gas market is normalizing.

In the medium term, that is, within the lifetime of most existing power plants, the economic fundamentals support continued stability in nuclear generation. An EIA analysis concludes that the total operating expenses of nuclear generation (including operation, maintenence and fuel, but probably not capital costs) have been less than those of fossil-fuel/steam generation every year from 2002 to 2012. So, although cheap gas has made it difficult for nuclear power to do well recently, once the price of gas fully reflects the costs of production it is likely that nuclear power will continue to be economically favored.

Long-term, the biggest challenge to nuclear power is negative public sentiment, resulting in very high permitting and construction costs. However the public will have to be realistic at some point. It will still be a long time before renewables can take a large share of the electricity market, and new construction for coal, too, is becoming much more expensive due to environmental concerns. As old power plants go offline, either electricity will get much more expensive, or some compromises will be made on nuclear and coal. Money usually wins the argument, and I suspect the public will vote for cheap energy over ideals.