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Why Nuclear Energy is Common Ground in Clean Energy Policy

Matt Wald
The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Taking action to slow climate change was a contentious idea before the election, and if the voting on November 8 created a consensus on any issue, it wasn’t this one. President-elect Trump has called for withdrawing from the COP-21 agreement made a year ago in Paris, but as COP-22 got underway Marrakesh, Morocco, more than 300 American companies sent a letter to Mr. Trump affirming their “deep commitment” to adhering to the climate accord.

But there is more common ground here than meets the eye. There are reasons why the march toward cleaner energy will continue, advancing some of the goals in Mr. Trump’s campaign platform, including energy independence, an electric system that helps a strong economy, creation or maintenance of good jobs, a sound national infrastructure, and improvement of America’s export potential. And clean air is a goal that everyone shares, regardless of position on whether climate change is caused by human activity: air with less smog, less acid rain and fewer particulates.

And yes, there will be less carbon dioxide, which some will see as a goal and others can view as a benefit of a no-regrets energy policy. Whatever the reason for taking steps that reduce air emissions, the result will be to smooth our relationship with countries that stick with the climate deal.

The companies that signed the letter (including DuPont, the Gap, eBay, and General Mills) argued that “the right action now will create jobs and boost US competitiveness.”

Among the strongest actions that can be taken along those lines is to preserve the existing U.S. reactor fleet, and to build new plants, including designs that will fit in well with an emerging energy world of intermittent renewable energy sources. New reactors can also tackle new jobs beyond electricity, including providing, carbon-free, the heat needed to run refineries, chemical plants and other industries.

Any form of clean energy, including ours, requires appropriate government policy. Wind and solar are flourishing now because they get generous support (for solar, the investors get a 30 percent tax credit, and some states chip in more, and for wind, a 2.3 cent-per-kilowatt-hour production tax credit.) Wind and solar also benefit from state-level mandates, called renewable energy portfolio standards. The Federal subsidies are scheduled to begin a phase-down soon but most of the state help will remain in place.

Nuclear power, new and existing, meets the same zero-emission goal and adds many other advantages, including tremendous economic benefits, plus grid reliability and resiliency. Yet over 10 percent of the reactor fleet has prematurely shut down, or will do so, because none of these benefits are compensated in the electricity market. Preservation of these benefits requires appropriate policies.

And the best power system is a diverse one. IHS found in a recent study that if the grid moved to a less diverse generating mix, “power price impacts would reduce US GDP by nearly $200 billion, lead to roughly one million fewer jobs, and reduce the typical household’s annual disposable income by around $2,100.’’

Strong support for nuclear power addresses priorities that everyone shares. We should not shy away from preserving and expanding these benefits.

Comments

Thomas Wark said…
Matt:

Your column taps into a void in my life, caused by the death of my dear friend Donald Gene Sutherland, a nuclear engineer and dedicated environmentalist with whom I had long and frequent discussions about nuclear power. In what may be a triumph of emotion over reason, I never quite came around to his point of view because Chernobyl-TMI-Fukushima fears trump the scientific arguments for nuclear power.

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