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NEA: A Discussion on Climate Change

NEA-logo_blue_small2The Nuclear Energy Assembly wrapped up this morning with a panel on nuclear energy and its worth as a low carbon dioxide emitting energy source.

Low in this case means zero. That’s been true from the opening of Shippingport in the 50s and remains true. But it has taken on new significance in recent years.

The panel was called A Discussion on Climate Change. Panelists included  Philip Sharp, President of Resources for the Future, Christine Todd Whitman, Co-chairman of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition and President of the Whitman Strategy Group, Armond Cohen, Executive Director of the Clean Air Task Force and Dan Reicher, Executive Director of Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University.

This is an excellent group, ranging over the topic from their varied perspectives. We’ll provide a few highlights from each speaker, but the exchanges between them are very enlightening as well. You can view the 40 minute session here – if you need something to convince your friends, especially your greenest friends, that there’s a strong argument for nuclear energy, this is it.

These are my transcriptions. I’ve cleaned them up a little bit, but these folks are all polished speakers, so not much.

Sharp (who acted as moderator):

Sometimes you hear people say, well, after Fukushima, it’s all over, Americans don’t support nuclear power. I believe this is absolutely wrong. I believe there is no evidence that Fukushima reactivated the anti-nuclear movement in this country. …

All of these [climate change policy] studies come to the conclusion that we’re going to need over decades a portfolio of policies and we’re going to need a wide portfolio of low carbon fuels if we’re going to have a large impacts this. All of them include nuclear as a fuel that needs to be part of this…

Whitman, who was also the first Environmental Protection Agency administrator during the George W. Bush Administration:

I would like a national energy policy that says we want clean, green, reliable, affordable energy and leave it at that. And let the marketplace figure out the best ways to meet those goals.

We find more and more that people are saying yes, nuclear is too important. It punches way above its weight in what it provides in clean air, in what it provides with reliability and so they become more comfortable with the idea of expanding nuclear, living with nuclear …

Reicher:

In terms of technology, we need to put the pedal to the metal on every zero-carbon energy we have – and fast – if we’re going to address the climate crisis in the time frame most scientists have said.

I’m a major advocate of renewables and have been involved in their development and deployment in the business world and I am confident they will provide an increasing  and significant share of the world’s power supply over the next few decades, but I don’t think quickly enough to address the climate crisis.

Another zero-carbon technology, carbon capture and sequestration, is getting more real by the day. … The good news is that a diverse array of U.S. companies are moving forward with large scale CCS projects and industrial facilities…

So what about nuclear power? … In the case of existing U.S. reactors, climate math demands we carefully consider the fate of our 100 current reactors. … In the case of new U.S. reactors under construction, much rides on bringing them on line at a reasonable price in a reasonable time frame.

[Reicher does not think a carbon tax or cap-and-trade have much of a chance in Congress, but he does think that EPA’s pending rule on electricity generator emissions will survive court challenges and be implemented productively.]

Cohen:

The math of climate is absolutely brutal and I think this is what led folks like myself and other folks in the environmental movement increasingly to be having a conversation about nuclear’s role in a climate solution…

You’ve got to go to zero [carbon emissions] basically over 25 years while you’re increasing demand by two to three times. That’s a big circle to square. … We need to move faster and I would argue we need to move radically faster.

One thing we’ve seen from nuclear is that under the right conditions it can decarbonize power grids very rapidly because it comes in big chunks. France decarbonized its grid in 20 years, or at least decarbonized it by 75 percent, which is the number we’re looking for globally [to contain climate change.]

This just scratches the surface of their comments. There’s much more – a lot more to think about – and well worth your time.

Comments

Jeffrey Barnes said…
>> Sometimes you hear people say, well, after Fukushima, it’s all over, Americans don’t support nuclear power. I believe this is absolutely wrong. I believe there is no evidence that Fukushima reactivated the anti-nuclear movement in this country<<

Mr. Sharp needs a town hall with residents of Kewaunee and Vermont Yankee among many.
Anonymous said…
Neither Kewaunee nor Vermont Yankee was shut down by public safety concerns. Both units were shut because they could not produce electricity cheaply enough to compete in their respective markets. This is not an allegation; this is what Dominion and Entergy, respectively, said when they made the decisions.

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