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Listening in on Al Gore's Testimony

I've been listening to Al Gore's testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee this morning, and he predictably left expanded use of nuclear energy out of his list of options to restrain carbon emissions. As Mitch Singer noted this morning, that's no surprise.

I couldn't help but chuckle a little bit when Gore mentioned Amory Lovins in glowing terms. As my colleague David Bradish has written in the past, while Lovins might have some interesting things to say about conservation, his research in the area of nuclear energy is fatally flawed. Click here for our complete archive on Lovins.

More later, I'm sure.

UPDATE: Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) just mentioned the elephant in the room, namely that electricity demand will be increasing by about 40% in the coming years and that nuclear energy can play a role in providing that energy while helping to keep the air clean. He also mentioned the continued political impasse over Yucca Mountain and the billions of dollars that are piling up in the nuclear waste fund. Waiting on Gore's response.

GORE's RESPONSE: The former Vice President repeated an answer that he's given before: That while he's not an absolutist about nuclear energy and believes that it can play a role, he doesn't believe that it can play any larger a role than it does now because of the cost.

He also said that because nuclear power plants are so large and take so long to build, that utilities will be discouraged from investing in them. But as we've noted here at NEI Nuclear Notes before, nuclear plants in Asia have been built in 42-48 months -- about the same amount of time it will take to build advanced coal-fired plants like ultra-super critical or IGCC plants.

Further, NEI estimates say that the capital cost of nuclear power plants is expected to be competitive with advanced coal-fired power plants. If you factor in capital costs from new nuclear power plants, productions costs and most importantly, the cost of carbon controls on fossil-fueled power plants -- something that Gore vigorously endorsed in his oral testimony -- the cost of electricity from nuclear energy is very competitive when compared to coal and more affordable than electricity from renewables. For more, see our recent Wall Street Presentation.

ANOTHER NUCLEAR QUESTION: This time from Rep. Bob Ingliss (R-S.C.) who relayed the contents of a conversation with Jim Rogers of Duke Energy. It boils down to this: South Carolina, like a lot of other states, needs to build new sources of baseload electricity generation. Rogers has a choice to make: Either build a coal-fired power plant that will spew all sorts of emissions in addition to carbon; or build a nuclear power plant that will help keep the air clean and produce no CO2. The congressman's question: In light of the environmental benefits, shouldn't government do something to support Duke's decision to invest in a nuclear plant that would accrue so many other environmental benefits?

Gore's answer is straight out of the anti-nuke playbook: We need to pass laws to support individuals who want to sell electricity back into the grid -- the old distributed generation canard that N. Nadir debunked just last week over at Daily Kos. Now Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) is challenging Gore on the issue that Mitch Singer raised yesterday -- that his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, omitted any mention of nuclear energy as part ofthe solution.

Again, Gore insists that he's not reflexively anti-nuclear and once again repeats the distributed energy canard. One point that Ingliss made that Gore neglected to address: South Carolina gets 55% of its electricity from nuclear energy, while California gets 55% of its electricity from natural gas. As we've mentioned before, there are both economic and national security implications for following that kind of course.

For more play-by-play, visit Planet Gore.


Alex Brown said…
The statement that nuclear energy is too expensive to use on a wide scale is very funny comming from a man like Al Gore who would have us spend money on many other things that are even MORE expensive to develop for the amount of CO2 avoided. I know for a fact that wind and solar power cost more to use than nuclear power, so if economics are the concern than Gore should support nuclear, not wind and solar.

If you want to make an argument against increasing the proportion of nuclear power you should use the argument that nuclear power cannot follow loads and therefore cannot account for more than a certain percent of total generation. However that percent can easily reach 50% of total energy production. IT is true, nuclear is not the ONLY solution, buts its role in our power system can be greatly expanded. MANY areas use coal for baseload power generation, some even use natural gas, anywhere a non-nuclear wource is used for baseload it can be replaced with no additional infrastuctural improvements.

In all honesty I think Al Gore is not as opposed to nuclear power as he seems. Many enviromentalists still loathe nuclear power, and Al Gore cannot support nuclear power too much without alienating many of his followers.
Anonymous said…
As a Democrat and a Gore supporter let me state that he did not do a very good job on the nuclear issue, particularly with the distributed energy canard. It will not work on a significant scale.

I don't have very much good to say about Republicans, but I was glad that they repeated brought the issue of nuclear energy to the discussion. They forced Gore to discuss it. On the other hand, Gore certainly left himself some wiggle room on the subject.

As for Mr. Lovins, the reference was most unfortunate. As far as I can tell, Mr. Lovins has been correct on zero subjects. Mr. Lovins is not incredibly "smart," since predicition is the essence of science and his predictions are most notable for being wrong. I do realize that Mr. Gore is busy but if he's going to refer to Mr. Lovins maybe he should look into Mr. Lovins record of success at predicting events.

Mr. Gore himself did a better job at prediction in the 1990's than Mr. Lovins has done at any point in his career.

I think Mr. Gore knows more than he is saying. He certainly could and should educate himself on the costs of recent nuclear power plants and ask himself whether and why Japan builds plants in under 5 years and whether those plants produce more significant energy than, say, distributed solar systems.

In Mr. Gore's defense, he did say several times that the much exaggerated "problems" with nuclear energy have solutions. He also did something that I should note in this forum by stating that the cancellation of nuclear power plants historically was not involved with TMI or Chernobyl but with the business climate of the times.

don kosloff said…
The Washingto Post article about Gore's testimony omitted an important fact. Normally, individuals who testify before the Senate as Gore did provide a written version of their intended testimony at least 48 hours before they testify. Gore requested an exception to this practice and the Senate allowed him to provide his testimony only 24 hours before he testified. However, he refused to abide by that agreement and, if he provided his written statement at all, it was only a short time before the testimony. There is, of course, no valid reason for this breach of protocol and it appears to have been intended to prevent Senators from asking better questions.
Anonymous said…
Al Gore has never claimed to be more a lay person with regard to environmental or nuclear issues. He is just the messenger and does not always get it right (but at least we don't have to listen to something like "The trouble with nucular is the radio activity" that would come from W were he a Democrat).
Paul Primavera said…
Senator Inhofe proposed to Al Gore that he take his own personal energy ethics pledge. Needless to say, Al Gore refused. I expected nothing less.

Read on:

PWP said…
The scientific community cannot determine:
- if global warming is a natural event or if caused by humans.
- How high (or low) the percieved problem will get.
Anonymous said…
That's rich. An ethics lesson from Senator Inofe.

Given that Senator Inofe thinks climate change is a fraud, why would he care? He certainly is going to make no such pledge himself, or is he?

As I get it, Senator Inofe seems to feel burning unlimited coal is perfectly OK.

Paul Primavera said…
Hi, Anonymous!

An ethics lesson from Senator Inhofe is no richer than a climate warming lesson from Al Gore. After all, they are both politicians.


Ruth Sponsler said…
I have just been in a debate with some "climate change skeptics" in which I've told them that the concern of the financial and insurance community about climate change is one of the things that is driving events like the cancellation of numerous coal plant orders by TXU...and TXU's subsequent order of two 1700MW APWRs from Mitsubishi.

I'm aware that some nuclear supporters are "climate change skeptics." However, if these people argue *too hard* against restrictions on CO2 emissions, they may just get what they asked for ---- lots of new coal-fired power plants! It's a slippery slope. If CO2 is OK...then, why not coal particulates??
Paul Primavera said…
Ruth again is correct.

But let's stick to the science of the matter and not the theatrics and posturing of either Al Gore OR Senator Inhofe.

Those who believe climate warming is occurring due to green house gas emissions are just as reluctant to be challenged by skeptics as those who do NOT believe that climate warming is occurring due to green house gas emissions.

Al Gore is on one side and Senator Inhofe on the other, and NEITHER are scientists, but rather professional politicians suckling (or wanting to suckle) at the teat of the public treasury (regardless of whether or not climate warming is real).

OK, enough out of me.
Anonymous said…
TXU didn't substitute the APWRs

TXU had the APWRs in the pipe long before they decided to cancel the coal plants. They are going to have to add more plants to their plans in response to the coal cancelations if Texas doesn't want rolling blackouts.

Matthew B
Anonymous said…
"Normally, individuals who testify before the Senate as Gore did provide a written version of their intended testimony at least 48 hours before they testify."

This 'rule' is violated all the time on the Hill. I've attended very few hearings where every witness' written testimony had been handed in in advance.
Anonymous said…
I was asked to be a witness once for a legislative committee and was told if I had any prepared remarks that I was going to read at the meeting and/or wished to be made part of the record, I should submit them to the committee staff 48 hours in advance of my appearance. I did so. Naturally, not all testimony can be submitted in advance, since the questioning by the committee members can be somewhat ad lib and ebb and flow and meander depending on the various viewpoints and opinions of the committee members. This particular committee wanted statements ahead of time so they could study beforehand what positions a witness might hold and what background the witness was speaking from.

It may be that for the case of Mr. Gore, since he was a former member of that body and everyone knew where he stood, they did not insist on a prior submission.

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