Skip to main content

Energy Scalability and Carbon Reduction

Scott Peterson
The following is a guest post from Scott Peterson, NEI's Senior Vice President of Communications.

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
When the Kewaunee nuclear plant south of Green Bay, WI closed in 2013, the state lost roughly 5% of its power supply. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported last month: “More importantly, the state lost an even bigger share of the power generation sources that produce no greenhouse gas emissions.”
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.

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.
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.

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.


SteveK9 said…
It is not politically correct, but you are mistaken. We could (and should) pin our future on nuclear.
trag said…
I agree with SteveK9. It's very egalitarian to say that we need a diverse mixture of energy sources, but it is mistaken in fact. And as the NEI, you should have long ago recognized this fact and be trumpeting it to the public.

Renewables, in practice, do not result in a net reduction in CO2 emissions. Furthermore, everywhere they are used, electricity rates rise disproportionately. The utilities involved typically work to hide the reason, but the need for expensive transmisssion lines from remote areas, continuing fossil fuel burning backup and the capital costs associated with haivng two full sets of generating capacity, can't help but inflate electricity prices for the consumer, regardless of how low spot prices occasionally go.

Wind and solar are a useless, expensive distraction from building something which actually works, lowers CO2 emissions, provides clean reliable electricity and won't break down in less than 30 years.

The only new electricity source the USA needs is nuclear. There is zero value in adding so-called renewables to the mix.
Mitch said…
From a Forbes comment:

Lance Rains 21 hours ago

"Funny. No one was crying “Mix!” when single oil or coal plants powered whole cities for generations. When are people going to grow some gonads and shout that nukes can drive whole cities 100% clean and quiet and no thanks to sharing the honor as a sliver of some PC pie “mix”!

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.


The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.

What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

Why Nuclear Plant Closures Are a Crisis for Small Town USA

Nuclear plants occupy an unusual spot in the towns where they operate: integral but so much in the background that they may seem almost invisible. But when they close, it can be like the earth shifting underfoot., the Gannett newspaper that covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, took a look around at the experience of towns where reactors have closed, because the Indian Point reactors in Buchanan are scheduled to be shut down under an agreement with Gov. Mario Cuomo.

From sea to shining sea, it was dismal. It wasn’t just the plant employees who were hurt. The losses of hundreds of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in payrolls and millions in property taxes depressed whole towns and surrounding areas. For example:

Vernon, Vermont, home to Vermont Yankee for more than 40 years, had to cut its municipal budget in half. The town closed its police department and let the county take over; the youth sports teams lost their volunteer coaches, and Vernon Elementary School lost th…