You know the nuclear power industry is getting desperate when it solicits its CEOs to start piling on ghost-written op-eds in publications chosen for their reach to key audiences. And you know the industry is really desperate when it brings out big guns like a couple of paid-for former U.S. Senators to support nuclear power in The Hill newspaper, which, as its name implies, is aimed at current legislators. And you know the industry is super desperate when it pulls out none other than Rudy Giuliani, who continues stuffing his wallet with nuclear-powered green.
And when it rolls out all three on the same day? That’s when you know that the nuclear industry knows what not enough clean energy activists have yet understood: the nuclear power industry is in real trouble; it’s sensing its near-imminent demise; and like the dinosaur snarling and wagging its tail on its way to extinction, it’s in a dire, and ultimately likely to be unsuccessful, scramble for its very existence.
Yesterday, March 31, the nuclear industry’s march to oblivion was on full display. Two of the op-eds it placed were remarkably similar, so much so that they probably came from the same pen. And their points are so easy to knock down that one wonders if the Nuclear Energy Institute’s public relations A-Team already has jumped ship. Seriously, if these are the best arguments the industry can offer, they’re in bigger trouble than even I thought.
First up is Mike Renchek, the CEO of Areva, who is trying to convince Providence Journal readers that “nuclear energy is crucial to New England.” The crux of his argument seems to be that nuclear reactors kept providing power during the “polar vortex” this winter. Well, so did solar and wind plants, and energy efficiency worked pretty well too we hear. What didn’t work so well was natural gas, which went up in price and down in supply. But gas, although it is typically much cheaper than nuclear and in New England especially has been undercutting the region’s reactors in price, isn’t exactly an ideal provider of electricity, especially in the nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system we’re working to build. Gas is, at this exact moment in time, a genuine competitor to nuclear, but nuclear’s real future problem isn’t gas, it’s renewables and efficiency. And Renchek’s reactors can’t compete with those anymore either and will be even less able to do so as this decade rolls on.
Former Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire are the figureheads of a new industry-sponsored group called Nuclear Matters, which was created to try to prevent the shutdown of more existing reactors. Creation of such a group is itself a sign of the industry’s desperation–who knew a technology that is so self-evidently advantageous (at least in the minds of the industry itself, if for no one else) would need a new organization not to promote industry growth but to try to postpone its inevitable stumble into oblivion?
Also citing the winter’s extreme cold (even focusing on the same date at Renchek, January 7), Bayh and Gregg write (hah! sure they wrote it…) “Existing nuclear energy plants are the backbone of our nation’s energy portfolio, powering tens of millions of homes and businesses across the country. Nuclear energy is mission-critical in providing a diverse energy mix, which ensures that the lights stay on without an over-reliance on any one fuel source.”
Actually, at less than 20% of our electricity supply and falling, nuclear reactors are hardly the “backbone” of our energy supply. And “Nuclear energy is mission-critical…”; what the hell does that even mean? Maybe that kind of meaningless jargon plays on Capitol Hill, we doubt it does anywhere else.
Their piece also argues: “Another overlooked fact is that production costs for nuclear energy are among the lowest of all “round-the-clock” generating sources, at 2.4 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2012, according to Ventyx Velocity Suite. By comparison, coal production cost was 3.27 cents per kilowatt-hour, and natural gas was 3.4 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2012. The low and stable cost of nuclear energy helps reduce the price of electricity for consumers.”
If nuclear actually reduced the cost of electricity to consumers, existing reactors wouldn’t be closing. In fact, it’s the very inability of even paid-for reactors to provide competitive power that is at the heart of the industry’s problems. That’s why they want to rig the system to ensure that ratepayers will have to pay more for electricity just because it comes from nuclear power–that’s the entire point of both this and Renchek’s op-eds. And note which electricity sources aren’t included in the comparison, presumably because Bayh and Gregg don’t understand the nature of renewables and the ability of grids to switch back and forth from solar to wind and vice versa depending on which is more effectively generating power at any given time (hint: solar works best during the day, wind usually works best at night). Rapidly-occurring advances in electricity storage, leading to lower and lower costs, mean that even renewables’ inherent intermittency will become less and less of an issue.
But do take a look at these op-eds one after the other: their similarity is astonishing. If these were both handed in for the same college essay requirement, they’d be accused of cheating.
Finally, Rudy Giuliani jumps in arguing that–wait for it–the cold weather this year proves the need for nuclear power and especially the reactors he is paid to lobby on behalf of, Indian Point. Wow, clearly an original thinker. Like the others, he writes about the need for a “diverse, balanced” energy portfolio–words all three op-eds emphasize. And, just like the others, he talks about the safety of existing reactors. Somehow, all three manage to tout nuclear safety without ever mentioning Chernobyl or Fukushima. In their fantasy world, apparently real nuclear disasters never happened and never will, just as in their world, it makes perfect sense to try to force ratepayers to pay more for electricity because in their world nuclear is just so gosh-darned self-evidently perfect that why wouldn’t everyone want to pay more for it?
The nuclear industry’s sense of desperation is palpable. Activists need to understand what the industry obviously knows: it’s in serious trouble. This is our time to really join together, ramp up our efforts, and kick more of these reactors over the edge; they’re already teetering. They’re dangerous, they can’t provide cost-effective electricity, they don’t have a solution to their radioactive waste and they exist now only because they were built decades ago and the utilities want to milk them for everything they can before they surrender to the inevitable and have to begin spending huge sums of money again–but this time it won’t be to build new reactors, it will be to decommission their dinosaurs.
April 1, 2014
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