Greenwire's Northey discusses industry response to market pressures, plant closures

With the nuclear industry facing challenges nationally as reactors shut down due to rising costs and decreasing revenues, how is the industry responding, and what are its latest efforts to stay relevant? On today's The Cutting Edge, Greenwire reporter Hannah Northey discusses the politics and economics of existing nuclear and the industry's efforts to retain market share in an increasingly competitive environment.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. With the nuclear industry facing challenges nationally as reactors shut down due to rising costs and decreasing revenues, what is the industry planning? What are the latest efforts to stay relevant? Greenwire's Hannah Northey joins me with the latest on what the industry is doing.

Hannah, you reported this week on the nuclear industry's latest round of efforts to maintain its competitiveness in a very crowded space. What has the industry been doing to cut costs? How effective are those efforts in staying relevant?

Hannah Northey: So, the nuclear industry's latest effort is to cut a third of its generation costs by 2018, which is actually about $3 billion. And from our reporting, we found out that they could include staff cuts, that those were being looked at, all the way to streamlining redundancies.

And one story that we wrote had Southern -- had an executive from Southern Co. say, "Well, only a third of our staff actually works on the physical reactors, and so, that's something to take a second look at, or the engineer program that Southern implements." But the Nuclear Energy Institute has said that these kind of cost-cutting measures may not be enough to save at-risk plants. It really depends on where they're located and what market they're in.

Monica Trauzzi: And coming up on Monday, you'll be following a big decision in New York on subsidies for nuclear reactors. What are the political dynamics there?

Hannah Northey: So, New York is pretty interesting. I think it's a microcosm of what you're seeing in different parts of the country. You have a Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, who has called on the staff, the state regulators, to implement his clean energy plan, and nuclear is a bridge to renewables. They have come up with a plan, a proposal, that would -- they have called them "subsidies" -- give the subsidies of hundreds of millions of dollars to upstate nuclear reactors while excluding Indian Point, which Cuomo wants to see closed.

So, within that mix, you have a liberal of New York City has come out against the plan as well as environmental groups, and they're warning about major windfall profits for the nuclear industry. So, you definitely see those divisors within the Democratic Party.

Monica Trauzzi: So, you're working on a lot of in-depth reporting. What are some of the key issues that you're going to be taking a look at moving forward in your reporting?

Hannah Northey: Well, it's definitely a transformative time for the nuclear industry, definitely at a crossroads here. And E&E in the coming months, weeks and months, is going to be digging into what are the big questions before the industry, before the clean energy industry as well.

You know, how much nuclear do we have? How quickly are these plants going to close? Is nuclear going to be there when we need it to reduce emissions? How quickly will small, modular and advanced reactors come online, and, really, what are the ramifications for climate change?

Monica Trauzzi: How could this fall's election impact the path that nuclear takes? What have Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton said about the subject?

Hannah Northey: I think there could be ramifications for the industry, but, of course, as my sources say, "the devil's in the details." Both Trump and Clinton have voiced support for nuclear power, but they haven't really come out with substantial policy issues, details. So, one area to look at, of course, is climate change. Trump has said that climate change is a hoax whereas Clinton has doubled down on renewable energy to lower emissions.

So, if the nuclear industry is looking at some of these incentives, like the Clean Power Plan, as a lifeline, what's going to happen? Another area that I've tried for a long time is Yucca Mountain. In the past ... Clinton has said that she is opposed to the project, and yet, in recent interviews, she's really left the door open for a scientific discussion.

During a conversation, an interview, with Congressman Cramer who is also an energy adviser to Trump, he actually said he doesn't know what Trump thinks about the project. So, there's a lot to unpack there from both camps.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. Thank you. Great reporting.

Hannah Northey: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And we'll look for your continued reporting on this subject. Thanks for joining me today.

Hannah Northey: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: The Cutting Edge returns after Labor Day. We will see you then.

[End of Audio]



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