Saturday, November 19, 2016

Nuclear Closures Magnify U.S. Climate Challenge for Trump

The closed-down Vermont Yankee nuclear plant is transferring nuclear fuel to concrete-encased dry casks, shown in the foreground. The plant's dismantling, decontamination and site restoration is expected to take until 2030. The radioactive fuel could remain on site for decades. (Credit: Entergy Corp) Click to Enlarge.
A multipart series by E&E News examines industry warnings that as much as 15 percent of the 99 U.S. nuclear reactors may be shut down in a decade or less, unable to compete with cheaper natural gas-fired generation.

The loss of this much around-the-clock, carbon-free nuclear energy would significantly undermine U.S. efforts to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, the chief climate policy goal of the outgoing Obama administration, according to E&E News reporting and analysis.

Further scrambling the outcome of a national plan to slash carbon emissions and stave off the worst outcomes of climate change is Donald Trump.  The president-elect has pledged to kill U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan, which sets state-by-state targets for cutting emissions and faces legal challenges.  During his campaign, the New York real estate mogul repeated the conservative mantra that global warming is a hoax, and he promised to revive coal-burning power generation.

The effect on the climate worsens if nuclear power's search for market-based, regulatory and political lifelines runs into a U.S. policy under a Trump White House that shifts the emphasis, again, to burning more coal and gas.
Since 2013, the closings of Vermont Yankee, the Kewaunee nuclear plant in Wisconsin, and California's two San Onofre reactors have led to increased power production from gas generators. When gas generation replaces coal, the dirtiest form of producing electricity, greenhouse gas emissions fall.  But when gas displaces carbon-free nuclear, the United States loses ground on climate goals.

Four large new nuclear reactors are scheduled to open at the end of this decade, in Georgia and South Carolina, states where public utility commissions support the projects.  But a second wave of retirements could happen after 2030, when nuclear plant operators must make multimillion-dollar decisions on whether to seek renewed 20-year operating licenses for their aging plants from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"If you don't have a change in the market structure, you're going to see the reactors fall like flies," said John Deutch, former undersecretary of Energy and chairman of an Energy Department advisory group on nuclear power's future.

"This is a huge problem, a huge issue for us.  Basically, the idea is we are supposed to be adding zero-carbon sources, not subtracting or simply replacing," Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told an energy conference this spring.  "That's kind of the picture that we all know that we face today without some action."
"Here in New England, we've seen our emissions start to tick upward for the first time in a long time," said John Parsons, executive director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy — the consequence of a gas-for-nuclear transition after Vermont Yankee's closing.

"That's a really dangerous thing," Parsons added.  "Each nuclear power plant is a huge investment in zero-carbon energy, so when you lose one, you're losing a lot.  We've been putting a lot of effort into reducing emissions.  That cancels out all the work we've been doing."

Read more at Nuclear Closures Magnify U.S. Climate Challenge for Trump

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