Skip to main content

Message Sent and Received on Nuclear Value

It’s one thing for nuclear advocates to say that nuclear energy should be correctly valued as a carbon dioxide-free energy source. This means not just any new plants that will happen along, but, as important, those now in service. If the Environmental Protection Agency does not get this right in its upcoming rules covering emissions from electricity generators, it potentially could harm its goal.
If a nuclear facility is lost, then so is all that emission free energy and it puts their host states at a disadvantage at hitting their emission reduction targets. The relatively low cost of natural gas can seem appealing from one angle but not quite so attractive when it is filling in for a nuclear facility and not a coal plant. The emissions profile changes for the worse in the former case. 
Among energy mavens, this has become glaringly apparent. Here’s American Nuclear Society President Michaele Brady Raap:
The EPA proposal is laudable in many respects, but it needs significant adjustment before it is enacted. Simply put, the rule fails to fully take into account the role nuclear energy plays in delivering large amounts of reliable, economically competitive electricity with no carbon emissions during reactor operations. In fact, the rule as it is currently structured almost entirely discounts more than 90 percent of the clean energy contributions from our existing nuclear energy facilities.
She’s right – and it’s an interesting article – and by writing for Roll Call, she’s reaching the right audience. It heartening that outlets like ANS and NEI are getting the message out. But it will only work if the nuclear-faithful can make the case to – hmmm, well, the more-or-less nuclear-neutral will have to do.
But that’s the interesting thing. The message is breaking through:
State lawmakers expressed concern Wednesday that proposed federal regulations to cut carbon emissions from power plants will hurt Virginia’s economic competiveness.
The Senate and House held a joint committee meeting Wednesday to hear from state officials, energy companies and environmentalists on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.
When I read this, my mind went to coal, since Virginia, while not what you’d call coal country, still has plenty of it. But no, here’s the next paragraph:
Lawmakers said the EPA’s current target levels for emission cuts penalize Virginia for its robust nuclear energy production. The zero-emission nuclear energy production accounts for 40 percent of the electric energy produced in Virginia.
That would be via Surrey and North Anna.
Legislators said the federal agency’s Virginia target rate of carbon emissions per megawatt hour of energy production is unfair in light of the higher target rates the federal agency has set for neighboring states that are more dependent on coal-fired gas plants.
That would be coal country – Kentucky and West Virginia. And Virginia’s lawmakers have a point. What’s the point of limiting emissions if it provides no particular relief or has no real value? Honestly, the goal here is not to let states like Virginia off the hooh, and the article explains that Gov. Terry McAuliffe doesn’t mind if Virginia has to lower emissions more. That seems judicious enough – but McAuliffe does complain that the proposed rule doesn’t give nuclear energy its just due. If more state legislators and executives start raising a fuss, good. It’s a fair point and it’s valuable that the message spread beyond energy wonks.
---
A brief bit:
A group of seven Harvard student activists filed a lawsuit on Wednesday alleging that the University is violating its original charter through continued investment in fossil fuels and asked a court to force Harvard to “immediately withdraw” its holdings in the industry.
You can read the rest to see what this is all about. It feels more symbolic than substantive to me, but who knows? I do know that efforts to completely banish what we do not like is not the best impulse in most cases. It basically ends debate and declares the losing side as good as dead. Coal is far from dead, no matter what its Harvard critics might prefer. (The divestiture issue when I was in college was South African Krugerrands, so it’s a well-worn approach. I don’t remember lawsuits about it, though.) Even when we agree with a goal, this approach is uncomfortably definitive in a stubbornly undefinitive world.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

Why Nuclear Plant Closures Are a Crisis for Small Town USA

Nuclear plants occupy an unusual spot in the towns where they operate: integral but so much in the background that they may seem almost invisible. But when they close, it can be like the earth shifting underfoot.

Lohud.com, the Gannett newspaper that covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, took a look around at the experience of towns where reactors have closed, because the Indian Point reactors in Buchanan are scheduled to be shut down under an agreement with Gov. Mario Cuomo.


From sea to shining sea, it was dismal. It wasn’t just the plant employees who were hurt. The losses of hundreds of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in payrolls and millions in property taxes depressed whole towns and surrounding areas. For example:

Vernon, Vermont, home to Vermont Yankee for more than 40 years, had to cut its municipal budget in half. The town closed its police department and let the county take over; the youth sports teams lost their volunteer coaches, and Vernon Elementary School lost th…