Obama Energy Official: Nuclear Plants Essential To Our Carbon Reduction Goals – Forbes
Did President Obama just finally come out as pro-nuke?
I’m not referring to the President’s State of the Union Address last month. In that speech, the President made no mention of how nuclear energy production actually fits into what he called his Administration’s “all of the above” clean energy policy. Nor did he mention how protecting the health of America’s existing nuclear power fleet is critical to the realization of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. In fact, as many nuke industry chiefs will tell you, he’s been mostly mum about the industry for years.
Then, last week, a top Administration energy official swept in to clear up the matter. Yes, the Administration supports nuclear power—and it thinks that the growing list of nuclear power plants being shut down or slated for shutdown is a serious climate-change threat.
On global warming, at least, Obama has always been eager to make his views clear. For example, here is an excerpt from his State of the Union speech last month:
But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.
Enter Peter Lyons, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) assistant secretary for nuclear energy. Lyons, a former Nuclear Regulatory Commission member and science advisor to former Senator Pete Domenici, spoke up about the Administration’s views on nuclear power at the Platts 10th Annual Nuclear Energy Conference in Washington, D.C. last week.
And he did not hold back. He said he was gravely concerned that the loss of existing healthy nuclear plants will cost us dearly in terms of increased carbon emissions.
Lyons said that the DOE studied a scenario where 30 percent of the county’s 100 reactors would be shut down. He said the DOE regards many of the nuclear plant closures currently on the calendar as premature. If those closures were to go ahead as per that scenario, there would be no way to meet our goal of cutting emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
Lyons says a major problem is that the market presently has no mechanism to sensibly recognize the value of carbon-free power generation, particularly nuclear power. “When well-run, clean [nuclear] energy sources are forced out of the marketplace due to a combination of reduced demand, low natural gas prices and market structure,” Lyons was quoted as saying by the Greenwire energy-news service, “our markets are providing the wrong signals.”
Others have been ringing this alarm for a while. Last November, four of the world’s top climate scientists expressed their alarm in an open letter to environmental organizations. Their message: Stop opposing nuclear power if you are serious about arresting climate change. Last October, a coalition of global investors called on the largest carbon emitters to assess risks under climate action and “business as usual” scenarios. And recent surveys show that citizens of all political stripes are demanding action. But Lyons’ speech was the clearest endorsement yet of nuclear energy from the Obama Administration.
What’s it mean for the nuke industry and for our zero emissions energy future?
Nuclear power accounts for 20 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. and for 64 percent of all zero-carbon emission sources. But many nuke power plants are seeing their profits squeezed these days. There’s very little growth in the demand for electricity, thanks to energy efficiency, demand response, and a hobbled economy. Low gas prices have further reduced energy prices—and the profitability of the existing nuclear fleet.
Nuclear plants aren’t subsidized like other non-carbon-emitting energy plants are. Solar and wind are doubly subsidized. They receive direct taxpayer dollars—about $12.1 billion in the last round of the renewal of the Production Tax Credit. And in about 30 states and the District of Columbia, Renewable Portfolio Standard laws mandate that consumers buy a certain amount of the wind and solar power.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has recently been closing viable plants like Wisconsin’s Kewaunee, which in 2008 had won a license extension to 2033, and Vermont Yankee, which in 2011 had its operating license extended for 20 years. Replacing these two plants, even with new, highly efficient plants that burn natural gas, will lead to millions of tons of new carbon emissions.
Morningstar’s Utilities Observer identified a half-dozen other nuclear plants in danger of closure. They include Entergy’s Indian Point plant, which powers Manhattan; the Fitzpatrick and Pilgrim plants in Plymouth, Mass.; Exelon’s Ginna plant, near Rochester, N.Y., and its Three Mile Island plant in Middletown, Pa.; and FirstEnergy’s Davis Besse Plant, near Toledo, Ohio.
The results of a wholesale shutdown of nuclear plants in Germany show that Lyons’ concerns are warranted. After a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan led to the catastrophic failure of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March 2011, Germany rushed to shutter its nuclear fleet. According to the International Energy Agency, German nuclear reactors had been producing 30 to 35 terawatt-hours per year—about one-quarter of the country’s total power. (Not so far off from the United States’ total nuclear fleet contribution of about 19 percent.) Naturally, the only energy source capable of making up for that loss of German generating power has been fossil fuel.
Robert Wilson, a mathematical ecologist at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, analyzed the impact. In an article titled, “Germany’s Nuclear Folly,” Wilson concluded that, depending on whether Germany turned to natural gas or coal to fill the hole left by the loss of the nuclear plants, the move has resulted in a whopping 15 million to 30 million additional tons of carbon dioxide pouring into the atmosphere each year, respectively.
Write a Reply or Comment:
Sign up now to get up to 50% discount on Patio decor !!!