Peter Bradford: Instead of having political leaders and regulators make pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey-type guesstimates of how much nuclear power we’ll need, how long we’ll need it, and how much we should pay for it, we should adjust our power markets to procure the needed low-carbon electricity. Beyond that, we can regulate emission results where necessary. We should minimize mandating the continued use of existing power plants. Instead, our power markets can prioritize low-carbon technology, just as they have proven themselves capable of doing with reliability and demand response. In the many large states where power is sold through competitive markets and nuclear reactors must compete with other types of generators (and with energy efficiency and storage combinations), some reactors can no longer make a profit. Although they made higher profits than their regulated brethren in the years when market prices were high, those profits have long since been paid as dividends, reinvested, or paid as property taxes to fortunate host communities. Without the threat of climate change, there would be scant reason to prop these reactors up any longer. But does climate change really justify the support now being demanded by the nuclear industry – successfully in New York and Illinois and fervently in Ohio – with more states soon to come? Actually, no. The fate of a few endangered reactors in a handful of states means almost nothing in terms of solving the problem of global climate change. The entire 99-member US reactor fleet represents something like 1% of the low-carbon energy necessary to stabilize the climate by midcentury if it replaces the average US mix of coal-and gas-fired power. Replacing a dozen uneconomic reactors mostly with natural gas during the early years of a transition to a low-carbon economy is a long way from the apocalyptic carbon debacle that the nuclear industry laments. And to the extent that the reactors are replaced by efficiency and renewables, the climate impact is nil. Polar bears on shrinking Arctic ice floes and Pacific islanders with vanishing homes must regard these fervid and time-consuming US state debates with exasperation.
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 12th January 2017 read more »