EPA took nuclear out of the Clean Power Plan

Thousands joined the nuclear-free, carbon-free contingent at last September's People's Climate March in New York City. The unexpectedly large turnout--followed by tens of thousands of comments and petitions to the EPA, helped open the agency's eyes to first understand our position and then realize it made a lot of sense.

Thousands joined the nuclear-free, carbon-free contingent at last September’s People’s Climate March in New York City. The unexpectedly large turnout–followed by tens of thousands of comments and petitions to the EPA–helped open the agency’s eyes to first understand our position and then realize it made a lot of sense.

Yesterday, an amazing thing happened. Yes, President Obama released the first real climate action policy in the U.S. ever. But that’s not all. The incredible thing—the one that will be most important in the years to come—is … they got it basically right.

Including on nuclear power. President Obama just made it the policy of the United States that nuclear power is not a viable climate solution. And not just that, but renewable energy can replace nuclear power just like it can replace fossil fuels.

This is a game-changer, both for reducing carbon emissions in the US, and for discrediting the deceptive Nuclear Matters bailout campaign. What is more, going into December’s global climate treaty negotiations in Paris, the U.S. government just declared that we are moving forward, and we are going to do it with renewables, not nuclear.

The upshot is that the EPA appears to have done a total 180 on nuclear in the Clean Power Plan (CPP), and their rationales reflect the concerns raised by the public in the streets of New York City, in tens of thousands of comments, letters, and petitions (THANK YOU!!), and by NIRS and other clean energy groups in conversations and a key meeting with EPA officials who, some might say unexpectedly but we’ll say with our real appreciation, listened and ultimately agreed with our position. After all, with all due modesty, it was a pretty reasoned and well thought-out approach to the climate issue.

Here is a quick synopsis of what the rule actually does with respect to nuclear power:

1. Not only are nuclear reactors under construction not counted on in setting emissions goals, but neither are existing nuclear plants. By the same token, relicensing nuclear reactors won’t count either.
2. Just as significantly, EPA recognized that there is no need to “preserve” nuclear reactors that are “at risk” of closure, because they can be replaced with renewables just as fossil fuels can.
3. EPA will only allow actual, new/increased nuclear generation to count toward complying with the emissions goals. That means, states can only count new reactors that actually operate before 2030 (the five in construction or any others) and power uprates of existing reactors toward meeting their emissions goals.
4. That means there is no incentive under the CPP to keep uneconomical reactors operating and no incentive to complete building new reactors. States can meet their goal with new nuclear (but not with existing nuclear), but they are given no justification for preferring nuclear over renewables. In fact, there are several statements in the rule that indicate just the opposite.
5. And only those new/additional amounts of nuclear can qualify to sell emissions offset credits in cap-and-trade programs. Existing reactors cannot qualify as emissions offsets for fossil fuel generation, because they do not actually reduce carbon emissions.
6. The CPP does not prevent states from creating subsidies for nuclear, but there is absolutely no incentive for them to do so.

The impacts of the EPA’s decision are already being felt far and wide. The industry is … upset, to put it mildly. Pro-nuclear commentators don’t seem to know how to react: absurdly try to claim victory despite the plain language of the regulation, like Forbes columnist James Conca; or go on the attack against the Obama administration as a bastion of anti-nuclear activism, as did Breakthrough Institute founder and propaganda film spokesman Michael Shellenberger.

In contrast, another Forbes columnist provided a much more objective report on the changes to nuclear in the Clean Power Plan, noting in particular that it “does not include aid to existing nuclear power plants at risk of closing because they can’t compete with cheaper natural gas and renewables.”

Readers of GreenWorld expect us to offer a critical perspective on these issues. For over a year now, we have detailed concerns about the draft version of the Clean Power Plan that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put out last summer:

• Promotion of nuclear power as a climate solution.
• Underselling the demonstrated potential of renewables.
• Continued overreliance on fossil fuels, especially natural gas.

President Obama's Clean Power Plan relies heavily on renewables and energy efficiency--the cornerstones of a sustainable energy plan, and takes on not only the coal industry--as expected--but the nuclear and gas industries as well.

President Obama’s Clean Power Plan relies heavily on renewables and energy efficiency–the cornerstones of a sustainable energy system–and takes on not only the coal industry, as expected, but the nuclear and gas industries as well.

We have reported most on how the rule deals with nuclear power and the nuclear industry’s initial embrace of it, both because that is where our greatest expertise is, and it was the part most overlooked in the Clean Power Plan. But the draft rule’s promotion of natural gas was a very real problem: it could have blocked renewables just as much or more than nuclear and it terribly underestimated the climate change impacts as well as the environmental impacts of fracking. The final rule addresses a number of those problems, as well. For instance, new natural gas plants will not count toward reducing carbon emissions, recognizing the global warming impact of methane releases and forcing states to rely on renewables and energy efficiency to meet most of their emissions reduction goals. The natural gas industry is just as upset as the nuclear industry.

And that is the other truly remarkable thing about the Obama administration’s decision: essentially to take on the nuclear, coal, and natural gas industries head-on, rather than try to play favorites among them and pit powerful corporations against each other. Maybe the President recognized that, in the end, the whole energy system needs to change, so we might as well get on with it. Or maybe he realized that the fossil fuel and nuclear industries are all just different heads of the same hydra, and those corporations were going to resist change no matter what.

Either way, the fight is on, and we have a real Clean Power Plan to fight for. We are sure as the dust settles, there will be things that need to be fixed to strengthen the CPP. When the German government first adopted its Energiewende plan to reduce emissions and phase out nuclear, the plan wasn’t strong enough. The politicians weren’t committed enough to really close nuclear plants. The energy companies all resisted it, even putting new coal plants on order just to try and derail the government’s plans.

But over a decade or more, the idea set in. Renewable energy became popular and affordable, created hundreds of thousands of jobs and new industries, and people got used to owning their own solar panels and making their own energy. And then, after the horror of Fukushima struck, even conservative leadership in the government realized that they just had to go for it.

To be sure, Germany still doesn’t have it totally right, and it won’t be an unqualified success until we actually get to a nuclear-free, carbon-free, sustainable energy world. Our counterparts in Germany still have to fight to keep the Energiewende on track. And the Clean Power Plan is not an anti-nuclear policy. It’s not even anti-fossil fuels, really. But it is a nuclear-free Clean Power Plan that promotes sustainable, renewable energy as the best solution to the climate crisis. And that is a good place to start.

Tim Judson

August 4, 2015

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2015/08/04/epa-took-nuclear-power-out-of-the-clean-power-plan/

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10 thoughts on “EPA took nuclear out of the Clean Power Plan

  1. Michael Mariotte Post author

    I don’t normally comment on GreenWorld posts when they’re published (of course, since I write most of them that would be a bit superfluous anyway), but in this case I want to add something.

    This is truly an astonishing moment in our climate and energy history. I did not see this coming, and I don’t think any of us did. We had hoped, of course, and we made our case well, but I certainly never believed we would win across the board. We now have a real opportunity to effectively combat climate change and save this planet while accelerating the ongoing phase-out of nuclear power. Because we sure can’t save the planet relying on nuclear power.

    But, as Tim points out, the stakes have become suddenly much higher. We knew the coal industry would be unhappy with the rule. We hoped the nuclear industry would be unhappy. We never dreamed the natural gas fracking industry would be unhappy too. Those are some pretty powerful interest groups and if they put aside their own narrow interests and work together to try to squelch this rule, they could well succeed. We have a battle on our hands now.

    We haven’t often called for unapologetic–really, enthusiastic–support for any Obama Administration initiative. For this one, to keep this rule in place and ensure that it takes effect, we will be calling for that. There will be efforts in Congress–in fact, they’ve already started–to kill the entire plan. We are all going to have to rise up and support the Clean Power Plan against their attacks as strongly as we possibly can.

    48 hours ago, I couldn’t imagine I’d be writing that last sentence. I am delighted I just did. I hope we will be writing later on that we beat back every effort to stop the Clean Power Plan as well. And I hope every GreenWorld reader will join in its necessary defense.

    Michael Mariotte

      1. nukemann2013

        I agree this is an outrageous error on the part of the EPA and shows they are not serious about reducing carbon emissions. Nuclear energy is responsible for 2/3 of the ultra low carbon electric generation in the USA and any loss of this generation will result in increase carbon emissions even with increased use of other renewable energy.

      2. Michael Mariotte Post author

        That argument makes no sense. If nuclear is replaced with renewables, there will be a net reduction in carbon emissions since with the nuclear fuel chain counted, nuclear is responsible for higher emissions than renewables per kilowatt/hour generated. As the Energy Information Administration analysis found, the only effect of including nuclear in their scenarios was a reduced deployment of solar–because nuclear is so expensive there would be fewer resources available to invest in solar. There was no change at all in the amount of carbon reductions compared to scenarios based on renewables.

        It is to the EPA’s credit that they understood the implications of that analysis and changed the final rule to discourage nuclear power: it simply is not part of the climate solution.

      3. Peter Sipp

        This comment is for ::: the U & PU comment::: All the nuclear wastes and the tons & tons of irradiated metals the atomic “industry” has created will be a burden for a looooong time. You will get your wish.

  2. Peter Sipp

    Fortunately reality continues to prevail. There is going to be lots of kicking and wailing by those who are now being phased out. Even so, just as sure as gravity of the Sun is holding all the planets in orbit… the CPP will make a livable planet possible.

  3. Nick

    This continues to show that the Greenpeace-style activism is not in touch with reality. Unfortunately for them, hopes and dreams don’t generate electricity. Nor, is solar, nor wind, practical on a large enough scale to power the US.

    There is a few things you need to be aware of. The first, is that Solar and Wind (the two most common types of renewable energy) are NOT baseline load providers. That is to say, a stable, reliable form of generation. It can produce the same level of power not matter the time of day, the weather, the season. Wind, and Solar, do not do this. If it’s too Windy, wind power plants must be idled to avoid damaging them. If it’s night time, Solar does nothing. If it snows and the solar panels are covered in snow, this also renders them useless.

    Hydro is a good option- for areas where it is practical. Like the Pacific NW. Areas like drought stricken southern california, Texas, and similar areas, are not.

    This leaves us with steam power generation. This includes, Oil, Coal, Natural Gas, and Nuclear. Even the so-called “clean coal” is still far dirtier than Natural gas or Nuclear. Natural gas is a pretty good option. It’s fairly clean burning, abundant, and cheap, and can be mostly provided by US produced Natural gas. Oil is almost on the same level as Coal is. But Natural gas is still a polluting form of energy generation.

    This leaves as the most practical solution, Nuclear. The biggest problem with nuclear is the cost of building new reactors. Once they are built and operating, they last a very long time, while emitting no Carbon Dioxide, NOX, or other pollutants. They also fulfill the requirement of being a reliable source of baseline power, and is the only form of clean energy to be able to completely replace fossil fuel-fired power plants.

    And with the safety benefits of new GenIII+ and GenIV plants on the horizon, (Such as the GE-Hitachi ESBWR), the Westinghouse AP1000, and a few other designs (Toshiba has some interesting designs as well). this really should be the way people are looking.

    But, unfortunately again, people are emotional and will point to unrealistic examples such as Chernobyl. Which, anyone who had done even the most minimal research, would have realized is a silly comparison, due to the serious drawbacks of the RBMK design utilized at that facility. (Fun fact, there are still several RBMK style reactors operating in Russia today)

    The truth of the matter is that modern nuclear designs are extremely safe, and while expensive, offer a real, viable alternative to fossil fuel generation that solar and wind can never match.

    1. Michael Mariotte Post author

      You obviously have never read a single word–or at least have never understood a single word–written in GreenWorld. The points you make have been refuted in these pages many, many times. Moreover, they read like a 10-year old talking points memo from the Nuclear Energy Institute: where they are not simply wrong or misinformed to begin with, they are outdated and have been overtaken by the rapid advance of clean energy technology. I wasn’t going to bother to post this letter at all–we get many like it from nuclear proponents who think regurgitating talking points as obsolete as nuclear power itself will somehow sway someone; but thought I would to use as an example of the kind of idiocy that continues to be out there. And a note to future commenters: please actually read GreenWorld and comment on what is actually written if you want your comment published.


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