Nuclear plant shutdowns pose significant U.S. economic challenges, experts say

Nuclear Matters Co-Chair Evan Bayh
Nuclear Matters Co-Chair Evan Bayh | Nuclear Matters

Significant, underlying economic difficulties associated with the premature shutdowns of U.S. nuclear plants could bring the country to a virtual standstill in several critical areas, a finding that requires prompt attention at the federal and state levels, say economists at The Brattle Group.

U.S. nuclear energy provides almost 20 percent of the country’s electricity, while the plants contribute some $60 billion a year to the nation’s gross domestic product, according to Brattle experts in the new report, The Nuclear Industry’s Contribution to the U.S. Economy.

With some prematurely closed and others at risk of being shut down too soon due to economic and policy challenges, the report’s authors warn that if nuclear plant shutdowns continue, then the nation’s electric generation mix, electricity prices, economic output, employment, and federal and state tax revenues all would be negatively impacted.

Such “adverse consequences are a fact not a guess,” said Evan Bayh, co-chairman of Nuclear Matters, which requested The Brattle Group report.

“The longer we delay, the greater the economic challenges we face,” the former U.S. senator from Indiana told Power News Wire. “If you’re on an unsustainable path … and you want to avoid such consequences, then you have to do something or accept the negative outcomes.”

What has to be done, according to the report’s economists, includes determining how these factors should be addressed using comprehensive data from a variety of power sectors, including nuclear.

“The economic and environmental benefits of nuclear energy are often undervalued in national and state energy policy discussions,” said Mark Berkman, co-author of the report and a principal at The Brattle Group. “It is even more critical to consider the significant value of U.S. nuclear plants in a landscape where several factors threaten some nuclear facilities and could diminish the industry’s contribution to our electricity supply, the economy and the environment.”

In fact, the industry accounts for roughly 475,000 full-time direct and secondary U.S. jobs, according to the report, such as in sales, construction, management, production, healthcare, transportation, computer and food prep positions – “all jobs that America wants and needs to create and maintain,” Bayh said.

Continued plant shutdowns “would be a real blow to the cost of living for middle class families when their wages have been stagnant for a decade,” he added.

In addition to its hefty GDP contribution, nuclear energy is part of the answer to one of America’s biggest environmental and economic challenges: climate change due to carbon emissions, Bayh said.

According to the report, the entire nuclear industry contributes to limiting greenhouse gas emissions. For example, energy generated by nuclear plants prevents 573 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, which Berkman says is worth an extra $25 billion annually if valued at the U.S. government’s estimate for the social cost of carbon.

While reducing carbon emissions is one of the country’s top priorities, Bayh said “existing nuclear energy plants receive no value for their ability to generate an astounding amount of carbon-free, reliable energy.”

“Without nuclear power, it would be impossible to achieve our carbon-reduction objectives,” Bayh said.

Report findings also show that nuclear power:
• Helps keep electricity prices low; without it, retail electricity rates could increase by about 6 percent on average. Keeping electricity prices low is the primary means by which nuclear power boosts the economy.
• Provides $10 billion in federal revenues and $2.2 billion in state tax revenues annually.
• Avoids 650,000 tons of nitrogen oxide and more than one million tons of sulfur dioxide emissions annually, together valued at $8.4 billion using the National Academy of Science’s externality estimates.

The authors linked two economic models in order to measure the overall value of the U.S. economy with and without the nuclear industry.

Their findings, said Judd Gregg, co-chairman of Nuclear Matters and former Republican senator from New Hampshire, offer “starkly obvious public policy choices … to ensure existing nuclear energy plants continue to operate.”

Read the report in its entirety online at: