Struggling to defend its market share from lower-cost electricity produced from natural gas and renewables, the US nuclear industry is tentatively exploring a new revenue source: hydrogen production. The US Department of Energy is encouraging that potential repurposing by providing more than $84 million for improving electrolyzers that split water and for installation demonstrations at two commercial nuclear power plants.
The growth of low-cost wind and solar power and an abundance of cheap shale gas have made higher-cost nuclear power often unprofitable (see Physics Today, December 2018, page 26). “It doesn’t make sense to downwardly dispatch a perfectly running nuclear plant,” said Michael Green, general manager of nuclear policy at Pinnacle West Capital, the holding company for the utility Arizona Public Service. A hybrid plant producing hydrogen and electricity would provide an outlet for the nuclear power that is now sold at a loss.

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