The New York Times, in an April editorial, wrote that “given new regulations on power-plant emissions of mercury and other pollutants, and the urgent need to reduce global warming emissions, the future clearly lies with renewable energy.” (The Times also supports the use of nuclear energy in a low-carbon energy portfolio.)
A new report by IHS CERA on the value of diversity of sources in the electric sector demonstrates why we cannot pin the future of America’s energy on any single fuel or technology. As with many things in life, diversity is vital and all no- or low-carbon power sources are essential as we move into a carbon-constrained energy future.
The U.S. Department of Energy projects that U.S. electricity demand will rise 28 percent by 2040. That means our nation will need hundreds of new power plants to provide electricity for our homes and continued economic growth. Maintaining nuclear energy's current 19 percent share of electric generation would require building one reactor every year starting in 2016, or 20 to 25 new reactors by 2040, based on DOE forecasts.
A study published by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions earlier this year pointed out that the existing nuclear energy facilities is an overlooked, yet critical element in the transition to a low-carbon future. Without 100 reactors in 31 states, U.S. carbon emissions would be 289 million to 439 million metric tons higher in 2014, and 4 billion to 6 billion metric tons higher over the period of 2012 to 2025.
The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP), a collaborative initiative by Columbia University Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs and others to understand and show how individual countries can transition to a low-carbon economy, recently released a study that calls for a profound transformation of energy systems by mid-century through steep declines in carbon intensity in all sectors of the economy—a transition called “deep decarbonization.” Nuclear energy is an important pathway toward global reduction of greenhouse gases.
The nuclear imperative has come full circle since the first commercial reactor was built in Shippingport, PA in 1957—a response to the tainted air quality in the Pittsburgh region. Today, reactors in the Northeast are a key factor in a nine-state compact to reduce carbon in the electric sector and will be essential to meet national standards being developed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
|Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant|
The closure of the reactor has had "a definite impact on emissions from the state's electricity sector," said Paul Meier, an energy computer modeling expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Wisconsin Energy Institute.Maintaining operation of existing reactors and completing five reactors under construction in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee are an important complement to other low-carbon electricity sources, and a critical economic driver in the mostly rural communities where the facilities operate. The sheer scale of electricity production—and therefore emissions prevention—from nuclear energy sets it apart from other low-carbon choices. In Illinois, nuclear power plants displace 20 times more carbon emissions than wind, according to the Illinois Clean Energy Coalition.
The carbon dioxide emissions reductions the state achieved from building wind farms over the past eight years have largely been offset by the fossil fuels used to replace the power generated by Kewaunee, he estimates.
Similarly, research and commercial demonstration of the next generation of reactors, including smaller factory-built designs, must continue for the future application of nuclear energy technology here and abroad. “We are developing a new type of new reactor that can run entirely on used nuclear fuel. It consumes the fuel and reduces its radioactive lifetime while producing an enormous amount of electricity,” says Leslie Dewan, chief scientist at Cambridge, MA-based Transatomic Power.