The James A. FitzPatrick nuclear power plant on Lake Ontario in upstate New York is an unattractive pair of industrial-scale boxes that house a reactor, a turbine, and a generator to create electricity. Its blunt and inflexible profile may be an apt metaphor for the challenges facing a growing portion of the U.S. civilian nuclear fleet.

The 838-megawatt, single-unit boiling water reactor has produced power for more than 40 years. But a year ago, it seemed that FitzPatrick’s days were numbered. Single-unit nukes like FitzPatrick can be expensive to run because they lack the economies of scale available to larger multi-unit plants.

Operator Entergy said FitzPatrick’s economics also were hurt by a market structure that often favors renewable energy over baseload sources like nuclear and coal.

A January 2017 white paper by the National Conference of State Legislatures says that since 2013, six nuclear reactors in the United States have closed for good. Another 12 are slated to shut down. And operators of several more have warned of possible closures.

And on April 14, Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered a study of the U.S. grid in an effort to determine whether policies that boost renewable energy are speeding the retirement of coal and nuclear plants and threatening power reliability.

Indeed, many operators complain that nuclear energy has long been the source of emission-free generation that clean-energy advocates love to hate. (Read more.)