The U.S. Department of Energy on Thursday issued guidance for the second award cycle of the Civil Nuclear Credit Program for owners or operators of nuclear reactors at risk of closing or that have already been shut.
The guidance expands the number of reactors eligible for a piece of the program’s $6 billion in overall funding made available by the bipartisan infrastructure law. Civil nuclear credits of $1.2 billion a year are available in fiscal years 2022 to 2026. Money not allocated will be available for future credits until spent or until Sept. 30, 2031.
The first award cycle limited eligibility to owners or operators of nuclear power reactors that had announced plans to retire within the four-year award period. The second award cycle is open to owners or operators of nuclear reactors that are at risk of shutting by the end of the four-year award period, including reactors that closed after Nov. 15, 2021, DOE said.
Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said expanding the scope of federal funding “will allow even more nuclear facilities the opportunity to continue operating as economic drivers in local communities that benefit from cheap, clean and reliable power.”
The Biden administration touts nuclear power as a path to meeting its goal of achieving 100% clean electricity by 2035, saying it’s a reliable and consistent energy resource. But critics cite safety and cost concerns.
Nuclear power accounts for half of carbon-free electricity in the U.S., according to DOE. But shifting energy markets and other economic factors have led to the early closures of 13 commercial nuclear power reactors in the U.S. in the last decade, the agency said.
Closing nuclear power plants can lead to an increase in air pollutants and carbon emissions that result in poorer air quality in surrounding areas and the loss of thousands of clean energy jobs, DOE said.
On Nov. 21, DOE announced the conditional selection of Pacifc Gas & Electric’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant near Avila Beach, California, to receive the first round of funding from the CNC Program. Units 1 and 2 of the power plant were scheduled to be decommissioned in 2024 and 2025, respectively, but the conditional award of credits, valued at up to $1.1 billion, establishes a way to keep Diablo Canyon open, DOE said.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced Thursday it will allow PG&E to continue operating Diablo Canyon while the agency considers its license renewal application. NRC staff determined that an exemption is authorized by law, will not present undue risk to the public health and safety and is consistent with the common defense and security.
The staff also determined Diablo Canyon’s continued operation is in the public interest because of serious challenges to the reliability of California’s electricity grid.
Applications for the second CNC award cycle must be submitted no later than May 31. All awards are conditional based on terms to be negotiated and finalized by DOE.