Do the Benefits of Nuclear Power Outweigh the Dangers?

nuclear_power_plantObama’s Clean Power Plan may actually be undermined if nuclear power plants are shut down. This news comes from a report by to Third Way, a non-partisan think tank located in Washington, DC.

The goal of the the administration’s plan is to cut 32% of fossil fuel emissions by 2035, but the report concludes that without the benefits of nuclear power plants, it will be nearly impossible to accomplish. Now, after much deliberation, the EPA has decided that the dangers created by these plants prohibits them from qualifying as clean energy producers.

The report was compiled with assistance from researchers at MIT, and based off three different scenarios. Each scenario examined the results of shutting down a certain number of nuclear plants. In the first, all the reactors are allowed to run until 2035. In the second, half of the reactors would be shut down. In the third, all nuclear plants would be shut down, other than those currently under construction. The middle scenario, which is considered likely to occur, would mean that emissions goals are not met.

The MIT model unfortunately demonstrates that, at this point in time, the energy generated by nuclear power will be replaced by natural gas instead of renewables.

Jesse Jenkins, who was a consultant for the report, explains that renewables would need to generate 31% of US energy by 2030, 4.5 times more than the current contribution.

However, Stephen Lacey of GreenTechMedia points out that because natural gas and renewables are so cheap, it is becoming less profitable to run a nuclear power plant. In addition, the models only included renewable energy installations mandated by the government. He argues that since it is impossible to know what the renewables market will look like 20 years from now, the report may not paint the whole picture.

So, do the benefits of nuclear power outweigh the dangers? Which is a higher priority: zero-carbon electricity or reducing the number of nuclear plants worldwide?

 

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  • Charles Scheer

    In response to the last question, how is that even being asked in a serious way?!!! Reducing the number of nuclear plants vs. battling climate change. The fact that the question was even posed undermines the entire effort to mitigate climate change and shows why the effort is unlikely to succeed in any measurable way. Instead of using all of the low carbon tools in the toolkit, environmental groups continue to focus more on ideology (anti-nuclear obsession) than on the climate change which they constantly say is humanity’s and the planet’s biggest danger. From what you read in left-leaning press, nuclear energy seems like the biggest danger and climate change is a distant second. As a result, the climate change battle is fought with one hand tied behind our respective backs and results in an energy policy of 80% natural gas plus some renewables. Better than coal for sure, but wholly insufficient to do anything about climate change. In effect, as far as climate change is concerned, a waste of everyone’s time and money.

    • Annika

      Well, that’s my point. Some people are really, really, really anti-nuclear which is why this is such a complicated topic. I agree that overall, climate change is a bigger risk. Nuclear induces such a fear response in some people, though, and that needs to be considered during the debate. You can’t fight fear with logic; this is the miscommunication at the heart of most political problems.

      • Charles Scheer

        I agree. Unfortunately, in my opinion, while this debate is occurring, the effects of climate change are becoming more and more permanent and self-fulfilling such that no efforts will really make any difference. The debate itself is making the issue irrelevant. It’s time to end the debate and simply not cater to extremists. Include nuclear as some percentage of zero carbon policy, maybe 25% or 33% or whatever and let’s move on. Just doing that one thing will automatically make the climate change issue easier to solve. The UAE just done it in less than 10 years. They’re going from zero nuclear in December 2009 (development agreement signed that month) to today with 4 reactors on time and on budget to all be operating by 2020. Will be 25% of their entire energy requirements. So it is clearly feasible and doable within a reasonable time frame. And that leaves 75% space for renewables if one wishes.

        • Annika Tostengard

          Yeah, I really hope that the EPA reconsiders that decision and we end up seeing something like what you describe. It is really frustrating how the debate continues while technology evolves and global temperatures rise, and that the arguments don’t seem to change much in response to either. Definitely time to move on.