Skip to main content

Climate Central: Nuclear Yes? Nuclear No? So Confusing!

Climate Central notices that nuclear energy technology is not standing still. The writer, Bobby McGill, makes it clear that nuclear “isn’t likely to grow much in the United States” and that the “the EIA [Energy Information Agency] has forecast flat nuclear power (through 2040).*” So that’s that –or is it?

The $60 million the Department of Energy is dedicating to nuclear research will go to more than 40 different projects at universities across the U.S. focusing on nuclear energy modeling, nuclear security and safety and new reactor concepts and fuels.

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, speaking Monday at the Energy Information Administration’s annual energy conference in Washington, said he is bullish on nuclear power as a clean energy source. However, the high costs of developing nuclear energy have to come down, he said.

Fair enough, I guess. Other accounts of Moniz’s keynote suggest he talked mostly about the U.S.Strategic Petroleum Reserve and the need to release barrels from it judicially. But if he made a few vagrant comments about nuclear, too, that’s good.

But what about these DOE projects?

MIT atmospheric scientist and nuclear power supporter Kerry Emanuel said the Department of Energy’s research grants seem small, but the climate will benefit if they aid in developing a new nuclear power program with new-generation reactors that could burn toxic waste from obsolete nuclear plants as fuel.

“What this country needs is a renaissance of fission-based power,” Emanuel said. “I really hope that we start paying attention to the climate problem and we get on board with nuclear as one of a suite of technical solutions that will help us deal with the risk.”

One definitely is left to think that nuclear energy is just short of sinking into the mire, though McGill does allow Emanuel to get a little closer to the actual state of play. It is sort of fun to imagine the nuclear doubtful looking at the current situation and thinking, Well, nuclear is dead – isn’t it? – climate change – might be something to have a potent emission free energy source – but nuclear? –maybe?

We’ll take the maybe if that’s what it is. It may be halfway to no, but it’s also halfway to yes, and that’s the direction in which “maybe” is trending. DOE certainly thinks so.

---

How much does DOE think so? Here are comments made by Moniz in April before handing out DOE scholarships for students going into nuclear engineering:

“The awards announced today will directly help support the future of the nuclear energy research workforce, as we continue to grow the U.S. clean energy economy,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “By helping promote cutting-edge nuclear science and engineering, the Department is helping to advance American leadership in the safe, secure and efficient use of nuclear energy here and around the world.

Doesn’t seem very conflicted, does he?

---

We’ll look more closely at the technologies DOE is engaged with in a future post. Climate Central does not get too much into it, boggled as it is that anyone is doing anything about nuclear energy.

---

*EIA does a forecast every year to survey the energy scene as it stands currently and projects that forward. It changes every year to reflect policy and industry changes, so looking at one year’s forecast and saying, “Well, that’s it, that’s the future” is beyond what EIA intends and, when used as an argument for or against something as it is by Climate Central against nuclear, is not really – fully – a fair rendering of the report. It’s less Nostradamus than it is a Polaroid.

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…