• Energy Department wants to influence nuclear debate: Moniz
  • Exelon says it will close two struggling plants in Illinois

The U.S. government sees nuclear power as critical to meeting climate change goals and is looking at ways in which regulators may be able to compensate plants more to keep them running, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said.

While the federal government is limited in what it can do to save nuclear reactors struggling to stay in business, it’s working on a study that’ll offer regulators ways they can ensure nuclear generators are paid for their “full valuation of services,” Moniz said Thursday in an interview in San Francisco. The Energy Department also recently held a meeting with nuclear operators and federal, state and local officials to discuss how to help cash-strapped plants.

“We are pointing out how critical it is,” Moniz said of the need to keep reactors online.

Moniz’s comments come on the same day that Exelon Corp., the nation’s biggest operator of nuclear generators, said it plans to shut two nuclear plants in Illinois after the state failed to pass legislation that would help stem financial losses. The plants join at least four others that have, since 2013, succumbed to a shale boom that has made natural gas cheaper to burn in the U.S.

Related: The Nuclear Plant Casualties of the Shale Boom Are Mounting

Based on some projections, another 10 nuclear plants may close, Moniz said on the sidelines of the Clean Energy Ministerial in San Francisco, where representatives from more than 20 countries were gathered to discuss what’s needed to meet the Paris climate accord reached last year.

The early retirement of nuclear plants, which represent the biggest source of emissions-free electricity in the U.S., poses a challenge for the Obama administration, which has called for aggressive emissions reductions as part of its Clean Power Plan.

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