Exelon touts reliability of Illinois nuclear plants

The Byron nuclear plant is scheduled to close this September. Photo: Exelon

Amid all the talk of last week’s winter storm and the resultant grid debacle in Texas, Exelon on Monday issued a press release informing customers of just how reliably its Illinois nuclear power plants have been operating this winter.

The release might also be seen as a message to state lawmakers, who have yet to produce any legislation to aid the utility’s financially challenged nuclear facilities—of which two, Byron and Dresden, have been slated for retirement later this year, given the (so-far) absence of such legislation.

EIA: Nine of top 10 electricity generators in 2019 were nuclear plants

Graph: EIA

Of the 10 U.S. power plants that generated the most electricity in 2019, nine were nuclear plants, a recent report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration states.

These 10 facilities produced a combined 230 million megawatt hours of electricity last year, accounting for 5.6 percent of all electricity generation in the United States, according to the report. The report also notes a shift in the makeup of the top plants over the past 10 years, from a mix of nuclear and coal-fired generators in 2010 to nearly all nuclear in 2019.

Coal’s share of U.S. electricity generation dropped from 45 percent in 2010 to 23 percent in 2019, the reports says. Stricter air emission standards and decreased cost competitiveness relative to other generators are given as the key reasons for coal’s decade of decline.

Illinois plants set outage performance marks

Four of six Illinois nuclear power plants—Braidwood, Byron, LaSalle, and Quad Cities—set operational records while conducting spring refueling outages amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Performance records include the shortest refueling outage (18 days) at LaSalle; the shortest refueling outage at Quad Cities (16 days), as well as the completion of the site’s longest continuous run (722 days); and the completion at both Braidwood and Byron of their sixth consecutive continuous cycle of operations, also known as a “breaker-to-breaker” run, according to a May 7 press release from Exelon Generation. Exelon’s average outage duration in Illinois this spring was 17 days, a full two weeks shorter than the national average, the release stated.