It’s so obvious that it shouldn’t bear repeating, but it does: If you’re worried about climate change, one early, easy remedy is to preserve nuclear power plants that are already running. If you are facing limits on carbon emissions, don’t shut down perfectly serviceable merchant nuclear plants, just because cheap natural gas has left them, for now, a few bucks out of the money in the competitive electricity markets.
Last Thursday the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, a group made up of officials from 42 states and the District of Columbia, plus 116 metropolitan areas, released its 465-page “Menu of Options” for complying with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan (Section 111 (d) of the Clean Air Act).
We could quibble with some details, like describing nuclear technology as “mature.” It is highly developed, but it has evolved markedly in the last 20 years, and that will continue. Don’t discount the idea of new designs and fresh reactor concepts that will change the energy world in the 2020s or 2030s.
We could also argue with the report’s characterization of nuclear power as not renewable; when circumstances favor it, the world will build plants that make more fuel than they consume, and can go back to pull energy resources out of spent fuel.
But the menu makes two very clear points. First, drawing on a finding of the EPA, it concludes, “preserving the availability of existing units that might otherwise be retired is a cost-effective way to reduce GHG emissions.” (In fact, taking a reactor out of the mix now is a bit like trying to pilot a ship through a storm, deciding that it will be necessary to bail, and instead of pumping water out of the bilge, pumping it in.)
|Nuclear energy. Down in the weeds, but in a sweet spot.|
The handbook also compares “levelized costs,” (see below) that is, costs that take into account fuel, construction expense, and the lifetime of the asset. These, too, are expressed in a range. For the central estimate, new nuclear is, in fact, pricey, but not nearly as expensive as the two forms of solar – photovoltaic cells, or thermal systems, which use the sun’s heat to boil water.
|Priced more competitively than you might think.|