Saturday, May 21, 2016

Nuclear Shutdowns Could Ramp Up U.S. Carbon Emissions

The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California.  Click to Enlarge.
As many as 20 nuclear plants in the United States could shut down over the next decade, and their closure could dramatically increase emissions of greenhouse gases. That was the alarming conclusion of a Department of Energy conference on the future of nuclear power Thurday in Washington, D.C.

"We are supposed to be adding zero carbon sources, not subtracting (them),” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in his remarks at the meeting.

The average age of the U.S. nuclear fleet is 35 years, and many of those plants are nearing the end of their operating licenses.  Many will renew their licenses, but some will close due to economic reasons and environmental concerns.  Replacing those plants with natural gas plants will add millions of tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Replacing nuclear with wind and solar power, of course, does not add to carbon dioxide emissions.  But history shows that the constant supply of electricity from nuclear plants tends to be replaced by new natural gas generation—indeed, the low price of natural gas is a major factor driving the closing of older nuclear plants.

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, additional emissions resulting from the closure of four nuclear plants in the last few years, along with the three that are scheduled to be shut down, will total 25 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, assuming they are replaced by new, modern natural gas plants.  Another five plants are likely to shut down in the next two years, resulting in another 19 million tons.

Read more at Nuclear Shutdowns Could Ramp Up U.S. Carbon Emissions

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