Thursday, December 25, 2014

With US Nuclear in Decline, Scientists and Analysts Urge Support for Next-Generation Technologies

Projected CO2 emissions vary with coal and nuclear (Credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2014, Issues in Focus) Click to Enlarge.
The global nuclear industry is in steady decline. Since hitting a peak in 1996 at nearly 18 percent of global energy production, the industry's share has dropped down to less than 11 percent.

Even with countries like China and India looking to boost their low-carbon energy supplies with nuclear, project developers around the world have faced long delays, cost overruns, and strong competition from natural gas and distributed resources, as well as policies designed to phase nuclear out entirely.

America is facing its own imminent decline in nuclear generation.  With a wave of aging plants slated for closure in the coming years and almost no plans to replace them, some worry that the country will reverse the recent decline in emissions, potentially even hurting a long-term global deal to reduce carbon pollution.

Nuclear currently makes up 19 percent of the country's generation.  If enough plants end up retiring all at once, the government warns that emissions could climb by 4 percent per year. (The actual change will also depend on how many coal plants are retired, how much natural gas is consumed, and how quickly renewables ramp.)

Worried about how the deterioration of America's nuclear fleet will impact climate goals, a group of scientists and energy analysts this week urged a rethinking of U.S. nuclear policy.  The separate calls, all made within days of each other, came from a leading Washington-based think tank, 73 conservation scientists and the International Energy Agency (IEA).

"There is a develop and articulate a clear strategy for nuclear power, including a statement of how the federal government will provide long-term support," wrote IEA in its latest review of U.S. energy policy.

A comprehensive federal plan, says IEA, is the only way to keep the industry relevant. Low natural gas and wind prices are challenging the economics of nuclear plants in the U.S., forcing some plant operators to consider retiring older plants ahead of schedule. 

"The domestic nuclear industry is therefore at a critical juncture as a consequence of its declining economic competitiveness, and existing market mechanisms do not favor investment in high capital-intensive nuclear technology," concluded the IEA.

Read more at With US Nuclear in Decline, Scientists and Analysts Urge Support for Next-Generation Technologies

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