One thing you can always count on from the nuclear power industry: when it comes to greed, the industry has no shame whatsoever; no matter how much taxpayer and ratepayer support nuclear power receives, the industry will always ask for more.
Kind of like my four year old, who sometimes would rather not get a cookie at all if her demand for two cookies instead of one isn’t met.
In its Clean Power Plan proposal to reduce carbon emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bent over backwards to bail out the nuclear industry from its own mistakes and problems–the ones caused by its own uneconomic nuclear reactors. The ones that can’t compete not only with natural gas, but with renewables that are even less carbon-intensive than nuclear.
Indeed, because nuclear reactors are so large, and so expensive, they are an anti-climate weapon. The continued operation of uneconomic reactors as well as any construction of new reactors just crowds out development of clean energy sources. Why should a utility build wind farms and solar plants, and help homeowners put solar on their rooftops, if they can get federal government agencies like EPA, and state governments as well, to establish policies that soak taxpayers and ratepayers to keep reactors running or build new ones–whether they’d be profitable on their own or not?
But even that’s not enough for the nuclear industry, and so it’s complaining. Not so loudly so that the general public hears, but certainly loud enough for the EPA to hear.
On Friday, Greenwire published an article on the industry’s laments: EPA rule not such a boon for nuclear after all — utilities.
“While EPA appropriately recognized the critical role of existing nuclear plants in enabling the U.S. to meet carbon reduction goals, the nuclear crediting mechanism needs to be improved to achieve EPA’s intended objective,” said Paul Adams, a spokesman for Exelon Corp., which operates the largest nuclear fleet in the nation. He called on EPA to finalize a rule that will “treat zero-carbon resources the same and ensure states do not double-count these resources.”
Translation: Exelon thinks nuclear power–despite its higher carbon emissions than renewables, despite its higher cost than renewables, and despite all the other environmental destruction it causes from uranium mining to meltdowns–should be treated like renewables, which under the EPA plan do get slightly better treatment than nuclear. However, the EPA drastically underestimates the levels of renewables that not only can be installed by its 2030 timeframe, but will be installed by then. In some cases, renewables capacity already exceeds EPA’s 2030 projections.
Of course, Exelon doesn’t think nuclear should be treated like all renewables–just the cleanest ones. The EPA leaves large hydropower out of its proposal entirely. Nuclear should be treated the same way.
The backdrop to all this is, of course, that the nation’s largest nuclear utilities–Exelon, Entergy, Duke Energy and the like–are desperately trying to avoid, or at least postpone, the end of their industry.
Too many of their reactors can’t compete with the alternatives, and as renewables in particular continue to grow, the cost gap continues to widen. Moreover, most reactors in the U.S. are old and reaching the end of their original lifetimes.
20-year license extensions have been granted by the NRC to most of these reactors, but whether the reactors can actually operate another twenty years is a legitimate question. Even with those extensions, the writing is on the wall: by mid-century only a handful of existing reactors are projected to still be operating.
The article puts it like this: “The Energy Department is reviewing scenarios that put the nuclear retirement rate as high as one-third in the years to come. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that a much more modest 6 percent of the nation’s nuclear fleet is at risk….”
Well, of course there are scenarios that put the nuclear retirement rate at one-third “in the years to come.” That’s a rather vague time period. Reactors are going to retire, and that trend is going to accelerate “in the years to come.” That’s not just a scenario, it’s an inevitability.
But rather than revamp themselves to address that inevitability, the industry’s first thought is always: bailout. More subsidies of one type or another, for whatever reason the industry finds convenient at a particular time and place. And watch for increasing industry efforts to get NRC approval for a second 20-year license extension period.
As the states move to address the EPA’s rule, once it is finalized, the industry will be trying every argument it can to buttress nuclear support at the state level. It will warn of dramatic carbon emission increases if reactors close; it will claim reactors are essential for reliability, and for that old canard, baseload power; it will trot out claims about jobs–even though there are more solar jobs than nuclear these days, and per megawatt of power produced renewables provide far more jobs than nuclear; it will threaten host communities with loss of their tax base without lifting a finger to ameliorate that situation; it will talk about “diversity,” as if it were assembling a Board of Directors rather than a modern electrical system and as if the 21st century renewable-powered grid weren’t already more diverse than what currently exists.
A quick aside: Here’s an article, with a video, in which the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Amory Lovins demolishes the myth of “baseload power.”
Over the longer term, the industry’s decline is indeed inevitable. But in the near term, it will make any and every argument it can dredge up–including all of those listed above, and it will make them all with a straight face. And unless clean energy advocates are prepared and active, it could–in the short term at least–carry the day.
Don’t forget. Counter the nuclear industry: Tell the EPA to remove nuclear support from its Clean Power Plan proposal. And please share that action page with your e-mail lists, on your social networks, and everywhere you can think of. It will take far more people acting than have so far to win this critical battle.
August 11, 2014
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