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Ameren decision to scrap plans for new Missouri unit shows hurdles for nuclear


Ameren's decision Friday to cancel plans for a new nuclear plant in Missouri underscores the challenges nuclear generation continues to face, particularly in the Midwest.

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Construction costs, anemic or nonexistent load growth and the declining cost of alternative generation technologies are among factors cited by the St. Louis-based company for terminating a seven-year effort to secure regulatory approval for a second unit at its 1,190-MW Callaway County nuclear plant.

"While we continue to believe nuclear power must be an important clean energy source for our company and country, this decision was driven by recent changes in vendor support for licensing efforts at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, our assessment of long-term capacity needs, declining costs of alternative generation technologies, and the regulatory framework in Missouri, among other things," Ameren Missouri President Michael Moehn said Monday.

Ameren, parent company of Ameren Missouri and Ameren Illinois, remains "committed to investing in cleaner energy sources, including the possibility of state-of-the art nuclear, and to continue diversifying our generation portfolio" as detailed in the company's current integrated resource plan, Moehn said.

By 2034, Ameren intends to reduce its heavy reliance on coal by retiring a third of its roughly 5,400-MW baseload coal fleet while adding 500 MW of renewables, mainly wind energy, and some natural gas generation.

Coal comprises 76% of Ameren's generation mix followed by nuclear at 21%, with natural gas, oil and renewables rounding out the remaining 3%.

The Beyond Nuclear group noted that Ameren lobbyists also failed to persuade Missouri legislators to overturn the state's 40-year-old ban on construction work in progress, which the company had hoped would help justify the cost of a new nuclear unit.

Ameren also was passed over by the US Department of Energy for hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for research and development into small modular nuclear reactors, the group said.

Nuclear's woes do not stop at the Missouri state line, however.

Two years ago, Dominion permanently shut the 556-MW Kewaunee nuclear plant in neighboring Wisconsin, blaming falling power prices, in part.

In September, Chicago-based Exelon, the nation's largest nuclear generator, expects to disclose whether it will shutter one or more of its money-losing merchant nuclear plants in Illinois.

Last week, Exelon President and CEO Christopher Crane hinted that 1,819-MW Quad Cities and 2,346-MW Byron are the most likely candidates for closing. Both are in PJM Interconnection. The 1,065-MW Clinton nuclear plant, in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator region, also is losing money, Crane said, but its fate probably will be decided later, not until the General Assembly decides to vote in November on a low-carbon portfolio standard bill Exelon said would provide economic support for the nukes.

Paul Elsberg, an Exelon spokesman, said Monday that some media outlets have mistakenly reported that Quad Cities will be shut.

"We've not been definitive about it," he said. "Some of the coverage went too far in saying it's Quad Cities that's going to close. We have definitely not gone so far as to single out one or the other [plant]."

Exelon, which abandoned plans a few years ago to build a nuclear plant in Texas, "does not see an opportunity to build a new nuclear plant, given the merchant markets in which we operate," Elsberg said. "We don't see the demand in our competitive markets to justify new nuclear construction."

In Michigan, DTE Energy has a NRC license to construct the proposed 1,560-MW Fermi-3 nuclear plant at the site of its 1,150-MW Fermi-2 nuclear facility.

"We have no plans to build at this point," DTE spokesman Guy Cerullo said Monday. "The license gives us the option for the future."

Unofficial estimates on Fermi-3's price tag have ranged as high as $9 billion.

--Bob Matyi,
--Edited by Jason Lindquist,