DOE finds that 80% of US coal plants could be converted to nuclear

According to a new DOE report, hundreds of coal plant sites could be suitable for conversion from coal to nuclear energy in an economically-viable way. In fact, as much as 80% of qualifying retired and operating coal plants appear to have the capacity to undergo what the report calls the “Coal-to-Nuclear” (C2N) transition. (Note: we have previously reported on efforts to develop standardized and efficient  processes for this conversion to happen quickly.)

Amy Roma, an attorney with Logan Hovells writes:

“The 127-page DOE report concludes that hundreds of United States coal power plant sites could be converted to nuclear power plant sites, adding new jobs, increasing economic benefit, and significantly improving environmental conditions. As part of the study contained in the report, the research team examined over 400 retired and operating coal plants based on a set of ten screening parameters, including population density, distance from seismic fault lines, flooding potential, and nearby wetlands, to determine if the sites could safely host a nuclear power plant. After screening, the research team identified 157 retired coal plants and 237 operating plants as potential candidates for a coal-to-nuclear transition. The report determined that 80% of those potential sites, with over 250 GW of generating capacity, are suitable for hosting advanced nuclear power plants, and that while these nuclear power plants vary in size and type, they could be deployed to match the size of the site being converted.  See DOE Report at pp. 2, 22, 71.”

According to the DOE’s Investigating Benefits and Challenges of Converting Retiring Coal Plants into Nuclear Plants report, a coal-to-nuclear transition could increase nuke capacity in the U.S. to more than 350 GW.

Power Magazine reports that, depending on the technology used, nuclear overnight costs of capital could decrease by 15% to 35% when compared to a greenfield construction project, through the reuse of infrastructure from the coal facility.

In a case study replacing a large 1200 MW coal plant with NuScale’s 924 MWe of nuclear capacity, the study teams found regional economic activity could increase by as much as $275 million and add 650 new, permanent jobs to the region analyzed. Nuclear can have a lower capacity size because it runs at a higher capacity factors than coal power plants.

In general, DOE says the occupations that would see the largest gains from a coal-to-nuclear transition include nuclear engineers, security guards, and nuclear technicians. Nuke plants could also benefit from preserving the existing experienced workforce in communities around retiring coal plants sites.

Read more at Reuters: About 80% of U.S. coal plant sites suitable to host nuclear reactors -U.S. DOE report, published September 13, 2022. Power Magazine, “DOE study finds hundreds of U.S. coal plants could convert to nuclear,” by Kevin Clark, published September 14, 2022. And Hogan Lovell‘s Engage, with analysis by Amy Roma, entitled “New DOE Report shows former coal plants can support new nuclear plants and a just energy transition,” published September 20, 2022.