Coal Power Plants and Nuclear Power: A Perfect Marriage?

By Herbert Lam | October 18th 2022

One of the toughest challenges in developing and building a nuclear power project is finding the right site. Existing power generation sites are good candidates for new generation technologies. Coal power plants are being forced to retire throughout the world due to government regulations and market pressures. Fortunately, they still have value as they can be converted to nuclear sites that add carbon-free electricity to the grid.  

Coal Power Plants and Nuclear Power- A Perfect Marriage

The key benefits of repurposing a coal-fired power plant for nuclear power include, but are not limited to:  

  • Grid infrastructure cost savings: Electrical interconnection infrastructure built for a coal power plant could be repurposed for a nuclear power plant. Key benefits include being able to place new generation on the grid with minimal new transmission lines or substations being built. In addition, coal plants have historically been located near large load centers and utilizing these sites for nuclear power plants can avoid significant investment that reduces the overall system costs for the grid.  
  • Capital cost savings: Equipment at a coal-fired power plant could, depending on its age and condition, be reused for a new nuclear power plant. Equipment that could be repurposed includes steam turbines, heat sinks (cooling tower, open loop cooling or air-cooled condensers), water treatment plants, site facilities and infrastructure and other miscellaneous mechanical systems. The equipment would, of course, need to be assessed for condition and compatibility (design parameters, sizing, etc.) with the new nuclear power plant.  
  • Economic benefits: Communities around coal-fired power plants have skilled, highly paid workers that can be easily trained to support and service nuclear power plants. Closure of a coal-fired power plant can have severe impacts on local economies that depend on the plants for direct and indirect jobs.  Repurposing a site for nuclear power can ensure the local economies are not only sustained but attract growth through the construction and operation phases.    
  • Known environmental site conditions: For many coal-fired power plant sites, much of the native biota and cultural resources impacts have already been reviewed and understood as a part of the original plant permitting and/or under ongoing monitoring and compliance work. While processes for permitting may still be necessary, the specific outcomes are likely well known, and time frames may be reduced. Additionally, mitigation requirements are much easier to predict, and therefore easier to plan into the overall development effort. Overall, the net impact of reusing a major industrial site from an environmental and social impact perspective results in increased certainty in cost and schedule, and a reduction in regulatory risk. 

The United States government has also recognized the benefit of repurposing coal-fired power plants and has introduced investment tax incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) for new advanced nuclear projects with an additional bonus for plants built in fossil energy communities to improve the business case. 

Converting an existing coal fired power plant to a nuclear site requires a trusted partner who can assess the benefits and risks of the project. A partner who acts like an owner and takes an innovative   cost-effective approach backed by decades of expertise and experience. A partner like Hatch, whose deep understanding of nuclear power plants, coal-fired power plants, and permitting assists clients in making the best choices for their customers and investors.