Evaluating the Effects of Nuclear Power Plant Closures

Ciani Green
May 17, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Primary energy source breakdown for electricity in the United States in 2017. [5] The small 1% slice at the top is petroleum. (Source: C. Green)

Public Service Electric and Gas (PSEG) has requested a $300 million government subsidy or they will be forced to close their two nuclear power plants within the next two years. The legislation, which would increase New Jersey residents energy bill by about 3 dollars a month, has had trouble passing. Nearly 40% of energy in New Jersey is supplied through nuclear energy yet, previously nuclear energy accounted for about half of New Jersey's and is now being replaced by natural gas sources, making natural gas New Jersey's main energy source. [1] The subsidy would help keep the plants open and keep clean nuclear energy affordable. Proponents of the subsidy argue if plants were to close that nuclear energy will be replaced by energy from coal and natural gas sources, limiting energy diversity in New Jersey and increasing carbon dioxide emissions. They also argue that without the subsidy, at least 1600 jobs would be lost to another state as New Jersey does not produce its own natural gas. [1] Opponents argue that PSEG haven't faced any financial struggles and that PSEG, members of a multibillion dollar industry, would be the only ones benefiting from the subsidy. [2]

Effects of Retiring Nuclear Power Plants on Carbon-Emission Reduction Goals

Recently, many of our country's nuclear plants have been pushed into early retirement driven by lowered natural gas prices. The United States has 99 nuclear reactors that together supply nearly one-fifth of the country's electricity with zero carbon emissions (Fig. 1). When these reactors are forced to retire, other clean energy sources, like renewable energy which produces about 15% of the country's electricity currently, cannot generate and replace the amount of energy produced by reactors. Thus, natural gas, a carbon emitting power source, must replace the nuclear reactors. Additionally, a study by Geoffrey Haratyk found that if power plants at risk of shutting down were to close, carbon dioxide emissions would increase by 4.9 percent which would erase climate gains made from reducing coal.

New Jersey is not the first state to decide about subsidizing their plants to keep the reactors running for additional years to prevent an increase in planet warming greenhouse gases emission. Five nuclear shutdowns have occurred since 2013 and six more are planned. In the neighboring state of Pennsylvania, who also happens to be New Jersey's main supplier of natural gas, nine reactors produce a third of the state's power but recently, [1] cheap natural gas has cut electricity prices in half, driving those plants toward bankruptcy. The former environmental secretary of Pennsylvania Raymond Hanger says that if the last remaining reactor closes, they'd lose more zero carbon power than all of the state's renewable resources put together. [3]

Effects of Retiring Nuclear Power Plants on Local Economies

Nuclear Plants retiring early also has a drastic impact on small towns and their economies. When those plants close, they take with them a main source of employment and income for the town. When a nuclear power plant in Kewaunee, Wisconsin closed in 2013, Kewaunee County lost 15 percent of its employment and 30 percent of its total revenue. Similarly, when the San Onofre reactors closed that cost California 1,500 jobs. Some recent studies showed that Californias carbon dioxide emissions also increased by more than 35 percent following the closure of the plants. When these plants close, towns are left with a smaller overall budget that will effect things like education, home pricing and other employment. As a result, public officials have and will continue to adopt tax increases to help with the loss of millions of dollars in revenue previously produced by the power plants. [4]


New Jersey lawmakers have yet to decide about whether to offer PSEG a government subsidy. This decision proves more difficult than it seems. Given the recent trend of nuclear power plant closures and their damaging results, it seems it is in the best interest overall to provide the subsidy even if PSEG is being greedy and feeding their pocket. PSEG, while not facing financial difficulty at this moment, can still decide to retire their power plant if they don't receive the decision they want. This will possibly leave two small towns in New Jersey economically devastated and will hurt climate goal gains as cheaper natural gas sources will replace nuclear energy which in the long run may be costlier than the subsidy itself.

© Ciani Green. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "State Energy Consumption Estimates, 1960 Through 2015," U.S. Energy Information Administration, DOE/EIA-0214(2015), June 2015.

[2] B. Johnson, "N.J. Democrats Fight as Controversial Bill to Subsidize Nuclear Plants Stalls," nj.com, 5 Jan 18.

[3] B. Plumer, "How Retiring Nuclear Power Plants May Undercut U.S. Climate Goals," New York Times, 13 Jun 17.

[4] "Economic Impacts of The R.E. Ginna Nuclear Power Plant," Nuclear Energy Institute, February 2015.

[5] "Monthly Energy Review, April 2018," U.S. Energy Information Administration, DOE/EIA-0035(2018/4), April 2018, p. 111.