Report: Nuclear Plant Closures Will Hurt The Environment

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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A new study confirms what a growing number of environmentalists have come to accept: nuclear energy is tantamount to reducing the amount of carbon emissions entering the atmosphere.

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, an environmental nonprofit group, released a report on Wednesday that finds the U.S. renewable industry won’t be able to keep pace with the amount of carbon emissions to be added into the atmosphere after a series of nuclear plants close down across the country. Federal policy changes regarding nuclear power will likely not happen in the immediate future, which makes action by state governments and corporations all the more crucial, the environmental group noted. The report also offered several policy proposals to address the issue.

Nuclear energy plays a big role in the U.S. energy sector. Currently, 99 nuclear plants are in operation and provide 20 percent of the country’s electricity, with over half of it being carbon-free power.

However, the nuclear industry has faced strong headwinds in recent years. Natural gas — with the help of hydraulic fracturing — has skyrocketed in production, emerging as a cheap and efficient source of power. Natural gas’ rise has been to the detriment of nuclear-generated power. Nuclear plants across the country have either already closed or plan to cease operations in a few years’ time. FirstEnergy, for example, announced plans to close down several of its nuclear plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania, citing lack of revenue. The Ohio-based energy company has lobbied the federal government for a bailout to save their plants. Major economic and environmental damage would occur should their plants close, a study found.

Natural gas will mostly replace the void of dead nuclear reactors, pushing carbon emissions in the wrong direction, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions’ report determined.

“The nut we really want to crack is how renewables and nuclear can work together for each other’s mutual benefit. We need to have 80 percent reductions by 2050. We’re not going to get there if renewables and nuclear are fighting each other,” said Doug Vine, a senior energy fellow for the organization, in a Wednesday statement to Axios. Vine believes nuclear is an integral part of the renewable energy sector.

The report highlights the divide between environmentalists on nuclear. Accidents such as the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters, and questions about what to do with nuclear waste after a plant is decommissioned, has long turned environmentalists against nuclear. However, a growing number of them are embracing it as an excellent source of renewable energy that produces low levels of emissions.

In a TEDx speech, “Why I Changed My Mind About Nuclear,” Michael Shellenberger explained how after realizing the limitations of wind and solar, he saw the light on nuclear energy’s capabilities. Shellenberger, president and founder of Environmental Progress, is running for governor in California on a pro-nuclear, clean-energy platform and has not hesitated to attack fellow progressives on the issue.

Shellenberger has clashed heavily with billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer, who has worked across the country to stymie nuclear and other power sources he deems unworthy.

“It’s hard to say which is more outrageous: that billionaire renewable energy investor Tom Steyer is trying to replace Arizona’s largest source of clean energy with a mix of natural gas and solar, or that he’s doing it in the name of climate change. Whatever the case, anyone who is concerned about air pollution, global warming, or simply maintaining cheap and reliable electricity for Arizona should denounce Steyer’s initiative and demand he withdraw it from the ballot,” he said in an April 18 statement. The comments were in reference to Steyer’s work to close the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona.

State legislators have begun to adopt measures to save the nuclear industry. In New Jersey, state lawmakers passed a massive subsidies bill on April 13 to keep three of the state’s plants in operation. New York’s electric-grid operator has considered a proposal that would put a price on Carbon emissions within its system — a measure that would give a leg up to nuclear plants in the state.

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