DOE releases community guide on coal-to-nuclear conversion

04 April 2024

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has released an information guide for communities considering replacing their retired or retiring coal power plants with nuclear power plants. The guide is based on a technical study that found transitioning from a coal plant to nuclear would bring local benefits including employment opportunities, increased revenues and economic activity.

The community guide features a rendering of TerraPower's Natrium project (Image: DOE)

Nearly 30% of the USA's coal plants are projected to retire by 2035, but pivoting away from carbon-emitting sources for electricity generation means economic uncertainty for the communities where those plants are situated, Coal-to-nuclear transitions: An information guide notes. But advanced small modular reactors are particularly well suited to replace coal plants, it says.

The report is based on an in-depth technical study prepared for the DOE, and builds on a 2022 DOE report highlighting the opportunities and challenges as coal communities consider converting to nuclear.

A nuclear power plant replacing a coal power plant would employ more people and create additional long-term jobs and increase total income in host communities, as well as increasing revenue for host communities, power plant operators, and local suppliers. In addition the study found that, with planning and support for training, most workers at an existing coal plant should be able to transition to work at a replacement nuclear plant.

The information guide "offers communities a high-level look at the economic impacts, workforce transition considerations, and policy and funding information relevant to a coal-to-nuclear transition", DOE said. It also provides utilities with a brief overview of considerations such as power requirements, project scope and timeline, and infrastructure reuse.

"As we work to transition to a net-zero economy, it's absolutely essential that we provide resources to energy communities and coal workers who have helped our nation's energy system for decades," said Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Kathryn Huff.

The DOE's 2022 report identified 157 retired and 237 operating coal plants sites as potential candidates for a coal-to-nuclear - or C2N - transition, finding 80% of those potential sites to be suitable for hosting advanced nuclear power plants.

Advanced reactor developer TerraPower has already selected a location near a retiring coal plant for its first Natrium advanced reactor. It recently submitted an application to build the demonstration project at Kemmerer, Wyoming to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and plans to begin non-nuclear construction work later this year. Utility PacifiCorp, which operates the retiring Naughton coal plant at Kemmerer, last year added two further Natrium units to its future plans.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News