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Can California Survive Climate Change Without the Help of Nuclear Power?

California’s Environmental Protection Agency is required to prepare what are called “periodic science reports on the potential impacts of climate change on the California economy.” This is carried out by the Climate Change Center within the California Energy Commission. The overarching findings contained in the most recent report, ‘Our Changing Climate 2012,’ are seemingly stark:

  • “Temperatures in California will rise significantly during this century . . . by 2050, California is projected to warm by approximately 2.7 degrees F above [year] 2000 averages, a threefold increase in the rate of warming over the last century.”
  • “Springtime warming – a critical influence on snowmelt – will be particularly pronounced.”
  • “Summer temperatures will rise more than winter temperatures . . . Heat waves will be more frequent, hotter, and longer.”
  • “Wildfire risk in California will increase as a result of climate change.”
The report (to watch the press conference announcing the findings, click here) also delves into energy use in the state the result of a dramatically warmer climate. No surprise: the report posits longer and appreciably hotter summers will “notably” increase annual household electricity consumption for air conditioning. “Increases in average temperature and higher frequency of extreme heat events combined with new residential development across the state will drive up the demand for cooling in summertime,” the report says.
More than 20 percent of California’s electricity generation today comes from hydro, and of that generation, more than 150 hydro plants – 75 percent of the hydro fleet – are located in high elevation (above 1,000 feet). These sites will be vulnerable to the effects of dryer, warmer conditions, creating diminished snowpack, the report says.
It’s impossible to read the climate change impact report and not conclude that if the projections come to pass, even greater stresses will be placed on California’s baseload generation in the years ahead. In fact, the report concludes the state will need to build more baseload capacity in response to changing conditions. “In the near term, higher temperatures in the next decade could increase demand by up to 1 Gigawatt during hot summer months – a substantial amount that would require the construction of one large new power plant in California or the purchase of costly peak power from external sources.”
Hard to imagine any new coal plants getting sited in California, and there’s a moratorium on building new nuclear. Meanwhile, anti-nuclear groups like Friends of the Earth have swarmed into the state this year and noisily advocated for the permanent shuttering of San Onofre, one of the state’s two nuclear power plant sites, and home to 2,200 megawatts of electricity generation. 

Researchers and environmental scientists in no small numbers believe these forecasted climate conditions are already set in motion, without much hope for reversal, at least not in the next couple of decades. They believe it’s getting hotter and hotter in the Golden state, and that energy consumption will have to rise. Meanwhile, California has mandatory greenhouse gas reduction targets to be met, the first arriving in less than 10 years’ time.
Here at NEI, we take pains to point out that we are not climate scientists, and therefore can't and won't pass judgement on projections like these. If policymakers in California are using this document as a guide for future actions, we can only ask this: can the state and its economy possibly move forward without a clean, reliable and emission-free source of baseload electricity like nuclear energy?


Kit P said…
Am I the only one who is tired of dire predictions about the future?

Let me check how things have changed in 40 years. Polio has been eradicated. My generation had one or two polio survivors in the classroom. We can now protect our children from a host of terrible childhood diseases.

Civilization survived above ground weapons testing without any noticeable effect on human reproduction. Of course I now know those predictions were made by crackpots, some of which are still around.

We can again swim in Lake Erie. Poor air quality is a rare thing in the US these days. I do remember the steel mill cities along Lake Michigan. Clearly, the 20% of power generated from nukes made a difference in places that had poor air quality. I also remember smoggy California. I was stationed on a ship in Long Beach. I was surprised one day to find myself in sunny California when the weather blew the smog out and visibility was more than 5 miles.

When I went to work at Rancho Seco, I lived above the valley smog line. While I might have to work in pollution, my family did not have to live in it.

I do not find the CEC a very credible government body especially on environmental issues. Anyone not sure of this claim on needs to read an EIS for a new nuke approved by the NRC and compare it to a CEC approved EIS for a large solar facility.

I have read the California energy plan. While they talk about renewable energy, they depend on natural gas. With regard to AGW, it is a very ineffective plan. I think they have an effective plan to drive energy intensive business out of California.

What we should remember in the nuke industry is that AGW is a global issue. The focus on building new nukes should be in areas of the world that have exceeded air quality standards and burn coal without modern pollution controls.

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