Industry Taking Nuclear Viability ‘Into Its Hands’

These aren’t the best of times for the nuclear power industry, but some experts don’t think it’s the worst of times, either.

"What we have here is the perfect storm," said Chris Mudrick, senior vice president for Northeast operations at Exelon. Fracking has helped drive down the cost of natural gas. Electricity demand has been flat. And the cost to run nuclear plants has climbed.

But as the operator of 14 nuclear plants—which account for 20,000 megawatts of its 33,000 megawatts of generation—Exelon is bullish on nuclear's future. The key, according to Mudrick: "We have to take matters into our own hands," including cost controls and leading innovation.

"We're not looking at this and asking people to give us a handout. We are really trying to make sure that we understand what we can do differently," Mudrick told a June 27 panel at the 2017 Energy Information Administration conference.

He said Exelon is "the lowest cost operator in the industry," due in part to economies of scale.

"We're around $31 a megawatt-hour right now. We have plans in place to go to $29 a megawatt-hour," Mudrick said, adding, "We can't stop there.

"If we're going to be here in 10 years, we have to reduce that number, that cost. Somewhere around $25 a megawatt-hour is what we're thinking right now. But things can change and we need to be ready for that."

Bradley Williams, senior advisor at the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy, called nuclear "the single largest source of clean electricity," accounting for 60 percent of the nation's non-emitting electricity.

"It's critical for our energy security, our economic prosperity," Williams told the conference, noting that nuclear plants provide well-paying jobs and pay taxes that support local economies.