President Barack Obama made climate change an issue he wants to focus on in his second term. This may lead somewhere or nowhere, depending on the variables, but so it goes.
In crafting a policy(which hasn’t yet emerged), the President turned to his advisors on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) for comment.
What is PCAST?
President Obama established the current PCAST in 2010 as an advisory group of leading scientists and engineers who directly advise the President and the Executive Office of the President; one of the members serves as the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology (the Science Advisor). PCAST’s charter is to advise the President on matters involving science, technology, and innovation policy, including, but not limited to, policy that affects science, technology, and innovation, as well as scientific and technical information that is needed to inform public policy relating to the economy, energy, environment, public health, national and homeland security, and other topics.
So it seems the right crowd to address climate change in energy policy. They offered six key recommendations. I’ll let you find the other five at the above link, or more directly, here.
Over the past four years, emissions reductions have come primarily from declining oil consumption and a switch from coal to natural gas in the electricity sector. Further reductions in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions over the next decade will result from a continued shift from coal to natural gas and renewables in the electricity sector.
Which sounds disappointing, doesn’t it? Nuclear energy has been around so long that it’s possible to forget that its presence forestalls building fossil fuel plants. Building new reactors would do more of that.
Nuclear power requires special attention, as the Federal Government’s role is different than for all other technologies. Nuclear power currently supplies 19 percent of U.S. electricity. Achieving low-carbon goals without a substantial contribution from nuclear power is possible, but extremely difficult.
Nuclear power involves large capital investments recovered over long time periods. Even if current market conditions driven primarily by low natural gas prices persist for a decade or more, it is important to eliminate obstacles now that would impede renewed commitments to nuclear energy as energy economics shift over time.
Today, a critical issue is progress in nuclear waste management, and we recommend implementation of the recommendations put forward by the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on America’s Nuclear Future.
Indeed, nuclear waste disposal needs to be addressed independent of whether nuclear power deployment continues. The recent DOE strategy document generally endorses the BRC and proposes a timeline for some key steps towards a functioning waste management system. Implementation is key.
We also support adequate research funding for new and potentially cheaper nuclear technologies.
“The Federal Government’s role is different than for all other technologies.” This is the bolded portion in the original and I have no idea what it means. I reckon it refers to the government taking charge of used fuel disposal, since this is brought up later in the section, but it’s ambiguous at best.
But that’s not the point. The point is “Achieving low-carbon goals without a substantial contribution from nuclear power is possible, but extremely difficult.” That sounds like something we’d say here – and have. Validation never hurts, though. And it puts nuclear energy in the mix, where it belongs.
(I do feel a bit guilty ignoring the rest of this largely non-nuclear-focused document. At only nine pages, it’s worth a read – I suspect it will be the basis of a lot of discussions and, who knows, maybe some congressional action in the next few months.)
PCAST is stating what has become common wisdom about cutting down greenhouse gas emissions. I’d say the council is reasonably neutral on nuclear energy usage while NEI, for example, isn’t neutral, yet this view is consistent.
It is even consistent among those with no real affection for nuclear energy. Take this bit, for example, from the dependably anti-nuclear Guardian in England:
If you believe strongly enough that we should phase out nuclear then with sufficiently strong political commitment around the world, this could be done consistently with tackling climate change. However, as a practical matter, we are far from being on course to limit carbon emissions to levels consistent with a 2C target. Ruling out one of the major low-carbon technology options currently available is bound to add to the difficulty and the risk of what is already looking like a very tough challenge. Balancing the problems of nuclear power against its contribution to climate mitigation (and other energy policy objectives) is an inescapable dilemma.
Making lemonade from lemons, I guess.