A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists is calling for the United States to prop up its failing nuclear power plants in spite of their poor economics, as part of the effort to drive deep greenhouse gas emission cuts and stabilize the global climate.
“We’re in a place right now from a climate perspective where we have to make some hard choices,” said UCS Director of Energy Research and Analysis Steve Clemmer, a co-author of the report. “We need every low-carbon source of power we can get.”
- Concise headlines. Original content. Timely news and views from a select group of opinion leaders. Special extras.
- Everything you need, nothing you don’t.
- The Weekender: The climate news you need.
With the report’s release, the UCS “is joining a growing number of environmental leaders to back existing nuclear power because of climate reasons, despite continued concerns about the technology’s safety and radioactive waste,” Axios reports. “While Clemmer says this isn’t a shift in his group’s position, it is a change to become more vocal,” and one that “could prompt scrutiny across other environmental groups.”
The crux of the UCS’ concern is that more than one-third of U.S. nuclear plants, which supply 20% of the country’s electricity and 53% of its carbon-free power, “are unprofitable and scheduled to close” in the next decade. “On average, it would cost US$814 million annually to bring unprofitable plants back to a breakeven point,” the organization states. But “closing unprofitable and marginal at-risk plants early could result in a 4 to 6% increase in U.S. power sector emissions,” due to their replacement by natural gas or, to a lesser extent, by coal.
The report calls for carbon pricing and a low-carbon electricity standard to keep the nuclear plants from closing early “while supporting the growth of other low carbon technologies.” It also stresses that financial support for the nuclear industry “should be conditioned on consumer protection, safety requirements, and investment in renewables and efficiency.”
But at least one observer is attaching special significance to the source of the analysis.
“This is a group that has very strong skepticism of nuclear in its DNA,” said energy consultant Jeff Navin, a former top official in the U.S. Department of Energy under President Barack Obama. “It’s really going to force additional conversations among some other groups.”
Leave a Reply