"US nuclear power plants contribute more than half of our carbon-free electricity, and President Biden is committed to keeping these plants active to reach our clean energy goals," Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm says.

It's the largest federal investment in saving financially distressed nuclear reactors.
It's the largest federal investment in saving financially distressed nuclear reactors. (AP Archive)

The Biden administration is launching a $6 billion effort to rescue nuclear power plants at risk of closing, citing the need to continue nuclear energy as a carbon-free source of power that helps to combat the climate crisis.

A certification and bidding process opened on Tuesday for a civil nuclear credit programme that is intended to bail out financially distressed owners or operators of nuclear power reactors, the US Department of Energy (DoE) told The Associated Press exclusively, shortly before the official announcement. 

It's the largest federal investment in saving financially distressed nuclear reactors.

"US nuclear power plants contribute more than half of our carbon-free electricity, and President Biden is committed to keeping these plants active to reach our clean energy goals," Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. 

"We're using every tool available to get this country powered by clean energy by 2035, and that includes prioritising our existing nuclear fleet to allow for continued emissions-free electricity generation and economic stability for the communities leading this important work."

Owners or operators of nuclear power reactors that are expected to shut down for economic reasons can apply for funding to avoid closing prematurely. The first round of awards will prioritise reactors that have already announced plans to close.

The second round will be opened up to more economically at-risk facilities. 

The programme was funded through President Joe Biden's $1 trillion infrastructure deal, which he signed into law in November.

READ MORE: EU proposes to label some gas, nuclear investments 'green'

Shut power plants 

A strong majority of states — about two-thirds — say nuclear, in one fashion or another, will help take the place of fossil fuels. 

A dozen US commercial nuclear power reactors have closed in the past decade before their licenses expired, largely due to competition from cheaper natural gas, massive operating losses due to low electricity prices and escalating costs, or the cost of major repairs.

This has led to a rise in emissions in those regions, poorer air quality and the loss of thousands of high-paying jobs, dealing an economic blow to local communities, according to the DoE. 

A quarter or more of the fleet is at risk, the DoE added. The owners of seven currently operating reactors have already announced plans to retire them through 2025.

Most US nuclear plants were built between 1970 and 1990 and it's costing more to operate an aging fleet. The only nuclear plant under construction in the United States is in Georgia.

Costs have ballooned and another delay was announced in February.

READ MORE: UK unveils new nuclear reactors to boost energy independence

Source: AP