Nuclear Energy Is The Energy Source Of The Future–So Why Is It Dying Now?

A posting by Michael Shellenberger, “Clean Energy is on the Decline — Here’s Why, and What We Can Do About It”  discusses the demise of nuclear power plants. He notes that while low natural gas prices have undercut the economics of nuclear plants, the real problem they face is the bias against nukes. He notes than many State regulations refuse to class nukes as “renewable” energy thus not getting subsidized as do solar and wind energy. These same state regulations require a mix of solar and wind generated energy be part of the mix sold by utilities but specifically do not include nuclear power as part of the required mix. Why he asks does nuclear, an energy source that emits no carbon dioxide (CO2), get excluded. And further, nukes are base-load plants. Meaning when put on-line they produce power whether the sun shines or the wind blows.  And an added benefit, nukes produce enormous amounts of power while occupying very little space.

Shellenberger says:

“Consider that in the U.S., utilities have either closed or announced premature closures of seven plants in three years. At least eight more are at risk of early closure in the next two years. In 2011, Germany announced it would close all of its nuclear plants. Swedish utility Vattenfall announced late last year that it would be forced to close several reactors prematurely.”

The irony of this, for example in Germany, is that the nukes are being replaced by brown coal fueled power plants. Brown coal is probably the biggest emitter of CO2 per KWh of any normal power source.

“Everywhere the underlying reason is the same: anti-nuclear forces, in tandem with rent-seeking economic interests, have captured government policies. On one extreme lies Germany, which decided to speed up the closure of its nuclear plants following Fukushima. In Sweden the government imposed a special tax on nuclear. In the U.S., solar and wind receive 140 and 17 times higher levels of subsidy than nuclear. And states across the nation have enacted Renewable Portfolio Standards, RPS, that mandate rising wind and solar, and that exclude nuclear.”

The following chart illustrates how these subsidies warp the market place and impose real penalties by way of high prices on the consumers of the electricity:




“To be sure, nuclear has also been hurt in the U.S. by low natural gas prices. But if nuclear were subsidized at the same levels as solar and wind, or allowed to contribute to state RPS, nuclear would continue to be highly economical. Proof is that wind and solar have boomed over the last five years when natural gas prices have been very low. Furthermore, when wind and solar subsidies are withdrawn, whether in the U.S. or Europe, installation of wind and solar declines dramatically”.

“Governments discriminate against nuclear energy because it is deeply unpopular. Globally, the opinion research firm Ipsos found that nuclear’s approval rating is just 28 percent – just three percent higher than coal, the least popular fuel – while solar and wind are supported by 85 and 78 percent of the public. And for the first time in twenty years, only a minority of Americans told Gallup they support nuclear as part of the electricity mix – just 44 percent in 2016, compared to 61 percent in 2000”.

“Why is nuclear so unpopular? There’s no question the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns contributed to nuclear’s problems. But nuclear was on the decline long before then. Nuclear went from 18 per- cent of global electricity in 1996 to 12 percent in 2011. And nuclear declined 10 percent in absolute terms between 2006 and 2014.”

“Against the hype about solar and wind’s rapid growth, the decline of zero-carbon energy shows that they do not make up for loss of nuclear. Zero-carbon power as a percentage of global electricity declined from 36 to 31 percent between 1993 and 2014.

All of this is bad news for anyone who cares about reducing pollution, whether to slow climate change or simply clean the air.”

Nuclear power is most likely to be the energy source that will replace fossil fuels. Money being spent on wind and solar would be better used to solve issue of disposal of spent fuel from the nuclear reactors. The underground storage at Yucca Flats in Nevada appears to this layman to be already the answer to spent fuel handling. But Harry Reid has been leading those who want to keep that from becoming a reality. Thorium as a fuel for a modified, safe reactor system is also a good place for the Feds to spend money.

The effort to replace fossil fuel use with renewables is a fools journey.




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