We can’t give up on nuclear plants: Kirk and Whitman

USA Today
By Ronald Kirk and Christine Todd Whitman
June 14, 2016

We’ll increase pollution and blow our climate­-change goals if we keep closing reactors.

Illinois is the latest example of a state losing nuclear energy facilities — a major component of our clean energy mix — when we most need zero­carbon electricity to cut pollution and meet our climate change goals.

The premature closure of the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power plants means that Illinois, like California before it, is about to face increased carbon emissions and harmful air pollution. Illinois’ Clean Power Plan obligation for reducing carbon emissions by 2030, already 30 million metric tons of carbon, will now increase by an additional 20 million metric tons.

These reasons should be enough for us to continue a long­-term investment in nuclear energy.

It might be too late for Illinois, but it is not too late for states such as New York, Connecticut, Ohio and others that are considering closures as a result of market forces that have made nuclear plants less competitive.

Yet 10 reactors in the U.S. are already fully decommissioned or have announced they will close in the next few years. And up to 20 more are at risk of closure in the next decade, primarily due to difficulty competing in unregulated wholesale energy markets. If we lose 30 facilities in the next 10 years, that would mean a major step back in the two biggest efforts to reduce carbon emissions in the past year: It would result in the loss of a quarter of the carbon reduction gains achieved by the Clean Power Plan, and about 45% of America’s carbon reduction commitments made at the climate conference in Paris.

These losses are also critically bad news for our health and for our efforts to reduce air pollution. Consider that when the San Onofre nuclear plant in Southern California closed in 2013, carbon dioxide emissions jumped by nearly 11 million tons in 2012 due to the switch to natural gas-­fueled power plants.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz recently expressed concern over the shuttering of nuclear facilities as the United States balances increased energy needs with carbon reduction goals. “We are supposed to be adding zero­-carbon sources, not subtracting,” he said.

The facts are clear: Nuclear energy is the only large­scale, carbon­free electricity source. That means it provides clean energy 24/7 and in all kinds of weather. It annually prevents hundreds of millions of tons of carbon from entering our atmosphere. Nuclear energy nationwide produces more than 60% of all carbon­-free electricity, so overall carbon emissions from the electricity sector would be 27% higher.

The truth of the matter is, our country will be unable to meet its clean­air goals without maintaining the existing nuclear energy production. However, states have not done enough to maintain plants confronted with market inequities — as evidenced by recently announced closures in Illinois and planned closures of the FitzPatrick facility in New York and the Pilgrim facility in Massachusetts.

Undeniably, renewables play a significant role in the future of America’s clean energy economy. However, with electricity demand forecasted to grow 22%by 2040, nuclear energy must continue to be a significant part of our clean-electricity portfolio. In addition, studies show that when nuclear energy facilities close prematurely, they are more often replaced by emitting natural gasfueled power plants, not other clean energy sources.

The federal government, states and electricity market organizations should be working to develop an electricity mix that is clean, diverse, sustainable, efficient and affordable. As our nation puts forth policies to mitigate climate change and stop air pollution, we must continue to support and encourage all forms of zero­-carbon energy, not just renewables.

Now, we can only hope that others will take this threat with the seriousness required and accept nuclear energy as an important part of the clean energy effort.

Ronald Kirk served as U.S. trade representative and mayor of Dallas. Christine Todd Whitman was administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and governor of New Jersey. They are co­chairs of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition , which promotes nuclear energy.

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  1. Nancy - August 5th, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Ms. Whitman,

    A war-like campaign to reduce energy demand could lower the need for any new power plants, including nuclear, if Americans only understood what was at stake. I have read that nearly half of all energy produced is wasted. The amount of energy wasted in businesses and residences is enormous, from 24/7 ‘on’ features running a DVR, cable boxes, unused refrigerators and lighting. The general public is not being educated about saving energy.

    Our civilization faces severe consequences if we do not take action immediately to stop climate change. I believe our children and grandchildren face the threat of civil unrest and political upheaval once the seas rise and threaten our great cities. Doesn’t it make sense to inform the population of this threat and then embark on a war-like campaign to educate about energy efficiency? Save money, save your children’s future, save the planet. A win-win-win campaign.

    I am opposed to nuclear. We must use our god-given brains to develop sufficient energy and storage from the sun and wind at our disposal courtesy of Mother Nature. We have no time to waste…let’s not spend it building nuclear power plants. Let’s put Americans to work building a new, clean, green energy system in our country!

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