Largest U.S. Nuclear Power Plant Operator Seeks Carbon Credits to Keep Plants Running

Three Mile Island, one of Exelon’s more famous plants. Image by George D. Lepp

Three Mile Island – one of Exelon’s more well-known nuclear power plants.
Image by George D. Lepp

In a strategic move to obtain carbon credit payments intended for clean energy sources, a major U.S. nuclear power plant operator is asking public officials in Illinois to allow it sell carbon credits to alleviate its financial woes.

Exelon Corp., which operates more nuclear power plants than any other company in the U.S., competes today in its sale of electricity with relatively cheap natural gas. The company saysit may have to close three of its plants in Illinois if the state does not change its rules so that Exelon can sell carbon credits to electricity suppliers in the state.

That would enable Exelon to indirectly secure ratepayers funds intended to promote the production of truly clean and renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and small hydro.

By contrast, nuclear power plants cause carbon emissions during the mining, milling, enrichment, and fabrication of uranium fuel, and they produce highly toxic and carcinogenic radioactive waste in their spent fuel.

They also present unique risks of potentially catastrophic core-meltdown accidents from a variety of causes, including equipment malfunctions, operator errors, terrorist sabotage and attack, or natural disasters, such as earthquakes or tsunami’s. Some of these low-probability, high-consequence events have already occurred on a number of occasions throughout the world.

In a further contrast to truly clean and sustainable power sources like solar and wind, U.S. nuclear power plants use fuel made with uranium-235, a finite fuel that exists in limited quantities. As high-grade ores are depleted, the costs of mining and milling lower grade supplies increases.


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