NEI Nuclear Notes has visited this topic before, but it warrants looking at it again. The discussion on how best to reduce the growth of greenhouse gases (GHG) has dominated the environmental agenda in the first months of the 110th Congress. Wednesday, March 21, the first full day of Spring, promises to bring climate change to the forefront of the day's news.
Former Vice President Al Gore, who testifies Wednesday on Capitol Hill, focused on ways to mitigate climate change in “An Inconvenient Truth.” In the film, Gore discussed a 2004 study entitled “Princeton University’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative,” by professors Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala. The analysis is based on the concept of stabilization “wedges,” or measures that could be used to limit and ultimately reduce GHG emissions.
These measures include efficient vehicles, an increase in nuclear power to displace coal-fired plants, greater efficiency at coal-fired power plants, an increase in wind and solar power to displace coal-fired plants and carbon sequestration. If all 15 wedges were achieved worldwide over the next 50 years, carbon dioxide emissions would be stabilized, according to the study.
Vice President Gore addresses most of these wedges in his documentary—except the essential role of nuclear energy—which he conveniently ignores despite its emphasis in the Princeton study.
Domestically, 103 commercial reactors generate nearly 75 percent of the electricity that comes from sources that do not emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Hydropower and renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal produce the balance.
Socolow and Pacala call for an additional 700 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear power worldwide over the next 50 years. In the United States, companies or consortia have announced their intention to file licenses for up to 32 new reactors to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Those who argue that increases in renewable sources of energy (wind, solar, biomass), energy efficiency and conservation are all that is needed to mitigate GHGs should note that:
- The United States will require 45 percent more electricity—some 300,000 megawatts—of new electricity supply by 2030, according to the federal government’s Energy Information Administration. Moreover, the vast majority of new electric generation added to the grid over the past 15 years has been mid-sized or small power plants. The industry is entering a period where large power generating plants like advanced nuclear and coal stations must be built.
- A wedge from nuclear entailing the building of 700 new 1,000 megawatt nuclear plants over the next 50 years is an achievable goal. The vast majority of the 435 reactors operating worldwide were built in the past 30 years, and new plant designs and state-of-the-art construction technologies that include modular building would allow this goal to be met over the next half-century.
- A wedge from renewable electricity replacing coal-based power would require a 50-fold expansion of wind by 2054, a 100-fold increase in geothermal energy or a 700-fold expansion of photovoltaic.
- A 50-fold expansion of wind requires building 2,000,000 wind turbines (each with a one-megawatt capacity). The land demands for this undertaking are considerable: A wedge of wind requires approximately 74 million acres—about the area of the state of Wyoming or Germany. An entire wedge of photovoltaic electricity production would require the area of New Jersey.
Moreover, studies or climate change policies from the Pew Center for Global Climate Change, Progressive Policy Institute, Earth Institute at Columbia University, an independent task force at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology point to an essential role for nuclear energy in meeting our future energy needs in a manner that protects the environment. There simply is no way to meet the fast-growing 24/7 electricity needs of our growing population and economy as well as our air quality goals without a robust nuclear energy program.
Former Vice President Gore testifies before Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on climate change today at 9:30 a.m. U.S. EDT. Testimony will be aired on C-Span. Though committee rules say that anyone who testifies is required to submit a written copy of their testimony 48 hours prior to appearing, the former Vice President has yet to submit his.
UPDATE: More thoughts from Pat Cleary at NAM and The Atomic Show.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Amy Ridenour is also asking for answers from Gore on nuclear energy.