Mass Acquisition of Early Site Permits for Coal-to-Nuclear Repowering

Propelling the Transition Towards Cleaner, More Sustainable Energy Sources

Mass Acquisition of Early Site Permits for Coal-to-Nuclear Repowering


This report proposes an approach to assist with repowering existing fossil fuel sites, with higher priority given to those sites en route to retirement. The approach leverages proactive planning and policy formulation, promoting revitalization without exclusively focusing on climate change concerns. In pursuit of clean energy alternatives, nuclear energy emerges as a prominent candidate to replace baseload energy from fossil fuels. As the imperative for low-carbon energy technologies gains momentum, the opportunity to reconfigure carbon-intensive power generation sources necessitates action beyond a “no-action” stance.

The coal-to-nuclear repowering (C2N) approach proposes to replace retiring coal-fired power plants (CPPs) with advanced nuclear reactors, utilizing viable existing infrastructure for power generation and transmission. This initiative aligns technological, social, and economic considerations, presenting a comprehensive response. However, the current barrier hindering implementation of this initiative is regulatory uncertainty.

Presently, legacy regulatory processes create friction rather than incentive for CPP owners considering engaging in C2N repowering projects. A key challenge is the regulatory process to acquire early site permits (ESPs). The current ESP pathway is lengthy and costly, which may discourage developers due to uncertainties and prolonged timelines. This report addresses this challenge and proposes a streamlined approach.

The Breakthrough Institute proposes a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)-led program aimed at alleviating regulatory uncertainty. This program would assess retiring CPP sites nationwide, categorizing and prioritizing them based on local need for power, remediation, viability of existing infrastructure, and demand for workforce transition. Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the DOE can apply for an ESP to conduct site-specific evaluations of a location with potential for a nuclear power plant before the actual construction and operation of the facility begin. This process allows the DOE to assess the suitability of the site and address any potential safety and environmental concerns in advance. The proposed program targets eligible sites with transferable workforces and essential infrastructure, helping to facilitate a seamless transition for C2N projects. In the proposed program, the DOE’s role will be to mass-acquire ESPs for multiple eligible C2N sites and subsequently to transfer those permits to utility companies and developers to recover the costs.

The program presents a strategic solution to catalyze but not to own the repowering of fossil fuel sites through regulatory innovation. By mitigating regulatory uncertainties and leveraging existing resources, the proposed program will propel the transition towards cleaner and sustainable energy sources, addressing the imminent challenges of energy transition and environmental preservation.