The idea of repowering a coal-fired plant with nuclear power has gained interest in recent years. Nearly a dozen states have publicly expressed interest in doing so, but one of the largest proponents has been the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

DOE has now released an information guide for communities considering coal-to-nuclear conversions. The guide is based on the department’s 2022 study which found more than 300 existing and retired coal power plant sites could make coal-to-nuclear conversions.

That study found new nuclear plants could save up to 35% on construction costs depending on how much of the existing site assets could be repurposed from retired coal power plants. These assets include the existing land, the coal plant’s electrical equipment (transmission connection, switchyard, etc.) and civil infrastructure, such as roads and buildings.

Nearly 30% of the nation’s coal plants are projected to retire by 2035, according to DOE.

The Department’s information guide noted that replacing coal plants with nuclear power would create jobs, as more positions are required for the latter. DOE also said there is overlap in jobs, with many of the jobs at existing nuclear plants sharing identical or similar occupation codes to jobs at coal plants.

For example, industrial mechanics (occupation code 49-9041) have identical occupation codes in both coal and nuclear plants. If a coal power plant is replaced with a nuclear power plant of the same electric output capacity, DOE said the industrial mechanics from the existing workforce could transition to work in the same position at the nuclear plant.

It is expected that some training or reskilling would be needed for jobs with identical and similar occupation codes across the two types of power plants, depending on the position.

The information guide said utilities will need to weigh competing priorities and make decisions on timeline, project scope, technical requirements, infrastructure reuse and costs.

When starting to think about a coal-to-nuclear transition, DOE said a utility could consider the following:

• How much power should the new nuclear plant provide?

• Would the replacement nuclear plant be built on the site of the original coal plant or nearby?

• What existing coal plant infrastructure can be reused for a nuclear plant?

• Can the project support a gap in operations between the two plants?

Read full DOE coal-to nuclear information guide here.

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