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Going Nuclear: Duke’s Push for New Nukes in Ohio

Duke Energy’s announcement that it plans to build a 1,600-megawatt nuclear power plant in Ohio shouldn’t come as a big surprise. After all, Duke CEO Jim Rogers said last month that he’s “betting on nuclear” as a low-emissions power source, especially given all the uncertainty over the cost and timing of developing “clean coal” plants.

Still betting on nuclear (AP)

But the Ohio announcement does raise some questions. As Rod Adams notes, why did Mr. Rogers not use the Stephen Colbert soapbox this week to talk up nuclear power? Instead, he spent his time on the popular show admitting that today’s clean coal “isn’t clean enough” and true clean coal plants are “10 to 15 years away.”

Second, is there a second-mover advantage in the nuclear revival? A handful of utilities other than Duke look poised to grab federal loan guarantees to help build the first new nuclear plants in thirty years—the “first wave.” Duke isn’t included in that Energy Department funding plan.

One school of thought says that the “second wave” of nuclear construction could offer some advantages—such as being able to learn from all the difficulties the first wave of utilities face in permitting, licensing, and construction. But Duke already has picked the reactor it plans to use—one from France’s Areva—and is expected to request its construction and operating license as early as next year. That wouldn’t leave it much room to tweak its plans even if it does learn from other nuclear projects.

Finally, why Ohio? In a way, it’s ideal for nuclear power—the state is heavily reliant on coal-fired plants that, as Mr. Rogers points out, will gradually be retired, meaning the state will need a new source of power.

But state law also mandates that new generation projects have to be necessary, and the “least costly” option, the WSJ reports. Showing that nuclear power is a cheaper option than energy efficiency or other generation technologies might be a challenge. High construction costs and capital costs outweigh many of the advantages of cheap fuel and long operating lives for nuclear plants.

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