Leading US Nuclear Exec Reports Demise of Nuclear Renaissance (Before Fukushima Daiichi Accident)

John Rowe, the highly regarded CEO of Exelon, the largest nuclear operator in the US, presented a lecture on March 8th effectively declaring the end of the nuclear renaissance fad prominent in the U.S. over the last decade. Rowe says that the radically transformed natural gas outlook for the U.S. has also destroyed the economic prospects for new clean coal facilities, wind and solar. Further he anticipates that when combined with tougher rules around conventional air pollutants, particularly acid gases, toxic metals, and particulates, a large amount of unscrubbed coal generation will shut down in the foreseeable future.

Rowe’s analysis focuses on the implications of much cheaper and less volatile natural gas supplies. As technology for natural gas utilization, such as fuel cells, continues to progress, the¬†transformational¬†potential of the gas sector for the North American economy appears to be even more significant. Now is the wrong time for electric utilities to roll the dice on big capital projects.


  1. Very informative. Thanks for the that.

    There’s 2 questions I would ask. What is the difference between a ‘nuclear uprate’ and a refurbishment? I assume the scope of the work, and the price.
    And where are the refurbishments from coal to gas generation again (I did receive an e-mail that suggested one was done at Hearn in the distant past)?

    • Uprating refers to squeezing more power from a generator. Refurbishment refers to replacing worn out parts. Repowering is often used to describe converting a plant from burning one fuel to another. The Hearn is an example of a power plant that historically used coal, oil and gas.

  2. I’m not sold yet on shale gas – it’s probably a fad as well.

    Shale has serious environmental problems, a high decline rate, and requires a high natural gas price to be economically viable.

    The EIA has predicted that 45% of the gas produced by 2035 will come from shale wells and total production won’t be much higher than it is today. If shale can’t be scaled up, North America will be in very serious trouble.

    I’m hoping for a coal renaissance – perhaps after politicians get over the THEORY of anthropogenic climate change.

  3. On the topic on converting coal to gas, my understanding was it isn’t done – I’d have to search for the study but the finding was where a conversion was claimed, in the US, it was actually a tear down and new build.
    If I read the graphs appended to the Rowe speech correctly, they also show a coal-to-gas conversion as more expensive than a gas build, both per MWh and per gram of emissions reduced.
    So it was a minor point, but shouldn’t we be honest that if gas is the choice, it’s a tear down of the coal unit and rebuild, on the same site, of CCGT.
    And that being the case, we then need to price in under-utilization of a new generating plant, or the price of generating too much supply (EIA stats show CCGT operating at over 40% capacity factors. My understanding is if the plant will be under 20%, OCGT would usually be the choice. I’d be delighted to be wrong.

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