If a cap and a price are imposed on carbon dioxide emissions, [nuclear] plants could be among the biggest economic winners in the vast economic shifts that would be created by greenhouse gas regulations.
That’s from the New York Times, borrowing a story from Climate Wire, which while noting the nuclear plants achieve the goal of carbon emission reduction rather well, runs though the tough sledding it faces.
For example, President Obama is overly ambiguous in his support:
"The president needs to show his cards on nuclear energy," said energy consultant Joseph Stanislaw, a Duke University professor. "He cannot keep this industry, which must make investments with a 50-year or longer horizon, in limbo for much longer."
We’re not absolutely sure this is the right way to put it – Congress weighs in, too, and we’ve seen an EPA report that basically shows that carbon emission reduction goals are unattainable without nuclear energy. The nibbling around the edges is happening from both ends.
There are also issues with plant costs, loan guarantees, used fuel storage, and proliferation concerns. We’ve talked about these issues enough that you can bat them away if cornered at a party, but issues they remain. Occasionally, the article stumbles a bit in order to keep things comprehensible:
A Lazard Ltd. study last year reported low and high price ranges for major electric power options. The high price for nuclear power came in at 12.6 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to 13.5 cents for coal with carbon dioxide capture. The high price for wind energy was 15 cents, but that was reduced to 9 cents when the federal tax subsidy for renewable energy was factored in. A continuation of federal loan guarantees could bring nuclear power down to about 8 cents, the study said.
You’ll probably spot right away the problems here: 1. Carbon capture isn’t mature enough to really assign it a cost and some elements – the sequestration – hasn’t proved itself at all. 2. Wind is not a viable baseload energy source. (See David’s post below for more on this; no slight on wind energy, it’s just a question of how it can be used.) Nuclear energy’s combination of elements (so to speak) is what makes it attractive. (And really, the article does find ways to make this clear.)
A shift in the policy debate to climate change mitigation has helped the industry make its case. The availability of nuclear power reduces U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 680 million tons a year, says Paul Genoa, policy director for the Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents the industry. "It's a big number -- roughly equivalent to all the CO2 emissions from our passenger [vehicle] fleet," Genoa says.
Oh, and there’s that, too. There’s nothing in the article you haven’t seen before, but it does lay out all the elements in such a clear way it’s well worth reading the whole thing.
North Carolina’s Shearon Harris plant. We certainly understand the desire to show that nature lives contentedly nearby plants – many plant workers take an intense interest in the surrounding flora and fauna - but this utterly dominant cooling tower doesn’t really get the message across as well as it might.