Leading Dem: Not possible to go coal, gas-free without nuclear power

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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If environmentalists want to move off coal, they need to embrace nuclear power, says a former Democratic senator.

Former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh says that going “low-carbon” requires scaling up nuclear power, since it’s the only energy source of its kind that can produce massive amounts of power cost-effectively.

Bayh says that there is currently “a perfect storm of forces that are very challenging for nuclear energy” which are forcing the closures of nuclear plants around the country. In the last year, two plants in Wisconsin and Vermont were slated for shutdown due to economic forces, including a sluggish economy and low-priced natural gas.

“We’re at a fork in the road for nuclear power,” Bayh told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an interview. Bayh is a co-chair of the group Nuclear Matters, which advocates for the preservation of existing nuclear plants to protect U.S. energy security.

Bayh said that green energy sources like wind and solar are costly and suffer from reliability issues. But these are the energy sources that receive government subsidies, especially after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, which tarnished nuclear power’s reputation.

“Significant steps have been taken to protect American nuclear plants in the wake of those natural disasters or in case of attack,” Bayh said, adding that Germany’s power crisis illustrates the dangers of going away from nuclear power.

Years ago, Germany embarked on a quest to get 80 percent of its power from green energy by 2050. The plan was to subsidize energy sources like wind and solar through higher taxes, while moving away off of coal, gas and oil. But a big problem came for Germany when they began to shutter nuclear plants in the wake of the Fukushima plant disaster in 2011.

Not only has it been difficult to move off of fossil fuels without seeing huge electricity price spikes, but the shuttering of nuclear plants has made the situation worse, says Bayh. Power prices in Germany are about three times as high as they are in the U.S. and households were forced to pay $26 billion in “green taxes” to green energy producers.

High power prices have forced Germany to turn back to coal power since the are no longer allowing nuclear plants to be built. The country’s about-face towards coal has actually caused their carbon dioxide emissions to increase, a trend that will likely continue as more coal plants come online — defying the government’s fight against global warming.

“If you care about global warming, that’s the last thing you ought to want,” Bayh told TheDCNF, arguing that the U.S. can avoid such a calamity.

Nuclear power generated 19 percent of U.S. electricity in 2012, more than all green energy sources put together. The U.S. nuclear fleet’s 65 power plants in 2012 average about 33 years in age and must be permitted by the federal government every 40 years.

The Obama administration recently gave the green light to a $6.5 billion loan nuclear power plant in Georgia. These are the only nuclear reactors to win federal approval since 1978 and the plant is expected to come fully online by 2018.

“The president sees nuclear energy as part of the portfolio of low-carbon energy,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told reporters last month.

Even though the White House is ostensibly for nuclear power, environmental groups have heavily opposed it, citing nuclear waste and safety issues.

“There are cleaner, cheaper, and faster ways to generate electricity that won’t saddle our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and generations to come with toxic, highly volatile nuclear waste,” said Radha Adhar, a Sierra Club lobbyist.

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