It’s been awhile since I’ve debunked a report so I thought I’d break my hiatus by starting on a new one. This one is from the Council on Foreign Relations titled Nuclear Energy: Balancing Benefits and Risks.
To start off this post, readers should note that our CEO (Skip Bowman) and CNO (Marv Fertel) were on an “Advisory Committee” for this report noted on page 37. By reading the paper one would of course think that NEI endorsed the report. Quite the opposite. The two raised serious objections to their conclusions but apparently had no weight. However, as the long disclaimer at the front of the report notes, the advisory committee “are not asked to sign off on the report or otherwise endorse it.” Instead, these advisors are a “sounding board” to provide comments on the report after it is drafted.
While Mr. Ferguson addresses the challenges to a greater role for nuclear energy, he doesn’t recognize the efforts being made today to overcome those challenges. In any event, to address climate change, we must meet these challenges and expand the role of nuclear energy. You simply can’t dismiss the one electricity source that already accounts for more than 70 percent of all GHG-free electric generation. Unfortunately, CFR missed an opportunity to take a leadership role in issues like an international regulatory regime for nuclear energy, used nuclear fuel management and non-proliferation issues.
Here are my thoughts on the report.
The CFR claims it is “A Nonpartisan Resource for Information and Analysis,” but after reading the report it appears this is not the case. While the report cites several objective groups such as the Energy Information Administration and the International Energy Agency, it uses the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research for many of their ideas.
The IEER may sound like an objective group; however, they have a serious slant against nuclear energy. When going through their website, the bulk of their material is on nuclear proliferation and how nuclear energy cannot contribute to reducing climate change. The council’s report was produced in partnership with Washington and Lee University and written by the Council’s Fellow for Science and Technology Charles D. Ferguson. It is presented as “the factual and analytical background to inform this debate.”
Not really. Let’s get into the report (p. 8):
To try to jump-start the nuclear industry, which was already receiving more subsidies than any other no- and low-carbon energy sources, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 provided billions of additional dollars’ worth of incentives to nuclear and smaller amounts of incentives to other no- and lowcarbon energy sources. (See the Appendix for an analysis of this act.)When I go to the Appendix all I see is an analysis on the incentives for nuclear from EPACT 2005. I don’t see any source for this claim that nuclear “was already receiving more subsidies than any other no- and low-carbon energy sources” prior to EPACT 2005. Pretty big statement to make without backing it up.
Here’s an analysis I did last year on historical energy incentives. If the reader looks at the first table in the post they will see that Hydro has received slightly more incentives than nuclear over the past 50 something years making his statement bunk. The bottom line is that renewables have outpaced nuclear energy in subsidies over the past 20 years, yet nuclear energy’s return on that investment is significantly greater than all renewable sources combined!
To reduce the deleterious effects of climate change, the United States will need to increase use of all low- and no-carbon emission energy sources as well as promote greater use of energy efficiency. But given the current U.S. energy sources and patterns of use, nuclear energy alone does not provide a solution for at least the next few decades for significantly reducing the U.S. contribution to global warming.Who says nuclear power is THE solution to climate change? We (NEI and the industry) know nuclear power is not THE only answer and have always said that nuclear power has to be an option in a balanced portfolio for electricity generation if the U.S. and the world want to reduce emissions.
How much nuclear energy would be needed to maintain global carbon dioxide emissions at the year 2000 level? Reaching this goal might head off many of the damaging consequences of climate change. The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) has recently estimated that this scenario would require between 1,900 and 3,300 gigawatts of nuclear capacity depending on differing projections of alternative energy usage and adoption of energy efficiencies.This is my problem with IEER. I can understand doing an analysis like this to see how much is required from nuclear if nuclear plants were the only thing built. But it’s like asking me to slam dunk a 20 foot hoop. They set this unrealistic growth scenario for nuclear, and because it can’t meet that feat, nuclear power is not all it’s cracked up to be. Has IEER or the CFR report bothered looking at what actually can be done by nuclear and other “no and low carbon energy sources” to reduce emissions? Not really.
That is what bugs me about these types of reports. They criticize, criticize, criticize but don’t ever bother looking at the alternatives and how much is required on their part as well. Instead of saying what can’t be done, why don’t they find out what can be done?
When discussing what can be done to reduce emissions the common source I always use are the Princeton wedges. And low and behold that’s where the CFR turns to next (p. 13):
In contrast to the IEER study, Stephen W. Pacala and Robert Socolow of Princeton University have proposed a more realistic, but still ambitious, plan for stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions. They have identified 14 energy technology wedges. (They used the term “wedge” because of the wedge or triangular shape of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions plotted over time.) Each wedge technology, if fully employed, would reduce carbon emissions by a million tons per year by 2050.Of course, the CFR report paints the picture that other alternatives in reducing emissions would not be significant challenges. But what about the alternatives? Here are my quotes from the Princeton post on how much other alternatives would needed for a wedge:
The nuclear wedge would include 700 gigawatts or about 700 large commercial reactors in addition to the current nuclear-generated electricity.
Thus, these growth scenarios would pose quite significant challenges.
It would take 50 times the current capacity of wind, 700 times for PV and 100 times for biomass. And only three times the current capacity for nuclear. Hmmm. I wonder which is more realistic. I also wonder how many people know that nuclear avoids about half a wedge in the world right now.The CFR report goes on to discuss the cons of nuclear power in many countries and concludes (p. 15):
In the foreseeable future, nuclear energy is not a major part of the solution to further countering global warming or energy insecurity. Expanding nuclear energy use to make a relatively modest contribution to combating climate change would require constructing nuclear plants at a rate so rapid as to create shortages in building materials, trained personnel, and safety controls. Furthermore, while the nuclear industry is only structured to produce electricity, the existing abundant and cheap fossil fuels provide readily usable energy for electricity, heating, and transportation needs.Considering that nuclear power is one of only two energy sources that provides a substantial amount of GHG free electricity (see below), if nuclear isn’t a major part of the solution to reducing emissions then no other sources are. And if that’s the case, then the world will definitely need some miracle solutions to reduce emissions.
By the way, here is a chart on the historical world nuclear capacity additions. The peak build of nuclear capacity in the world was about 200 GW in the 1980s. If the world begins that build rate in the 2010s then we could have at least another 600 – 800 GW by 2050. And there’s no reason why that build rate can’t be higher. There are more people in the world than ever meaning the world has more resources that can be tapped meaning the world can build even more than what was built in the past.
It’s easy to criticize; it’s hard to be constructive.