CO2 emissions in the United States rise with the closure of nuclear power plants

John lindsey

Shutting down perfectly good nuclear power plants decades earlier than planned is a bad idea if you care about the environment, especially if you care about carbon emissions. This is because nuclear is the best source of low carbon energy and in fact produces the bulk of our low carbon electricity, over 800 billion kWh – twice as much as all renewables combined. And twice as much as hydropower.

More importantly, the US nuclear fleet avoided 547 million tonnes of CO2 in 2017, like most years. At the same time, hydropower avoided only 203 million metric tons, wind 176 million metric tons, solar 37 million metric tons and everything else less than 15 million.

Since The United States issues Around 1,900 million tonnes of CO2 from fossil fuels that generate electricity, nuclear is the most efficient tool we have to reduce or avoid emissions.

It might not matter to a lot of people, but it is supposed to be the case for the very people who are struggling to shut down nuclear power plants, people who claim to be environmentalists and who recently seem dismayed by the Fourth national climate assessment. This evaluation reiterates that the effects of global warming are already there, that they pose a profound threat to the well-being of Americans and that American emissions are on the rise again.

So shutting down nuclear power plants seems stupid.

Unfortunately, between political pressure and minor cost differences in unregulated electricity markets, nuclear power plants are closed, plants that have received another 20 year life extension NRC (see figure below). Except for two – Crystal River did have some physical issues and one of SONGS’s two reactors should have been running at 70% power, the other was not affected by any technical issues.


The policy is understandable, so wrong. But the costs are strange. Renewables are more expensive than gas and nuclear, but their 2.5 cents / kWh tax credit, along with state mandates and federal construction subsidies, appear justified given climate change fears. .

Nuclear power plants cost only about a cent / kWh more than gas, so a subsidy, much lower than that of renewables, is certainly justified, and was confirmed by reality.

Nuclear power plants that have already closed in recent years include Crystal River, SONGS, Kewaunee, Vermont Yankee, Fort Calhoun, and Oyster Creek. These have been replaced mainly by natural gas and imports to these states, adding around 25 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

american carbon emissions increased in 2018 of more than 60 million tonnes of CO2. The closure of these nuclear power plants, the construction of new gas plants, the increase in manufacturing and construction and the increase in demand for gasoline / diesel / jet fuel are the reasons for this increase. The increase in renewables has not been able to keep up with any of these effects.

But what we are facing is bigger than that. The 12 additional units that have been announced to close are currently avoiding 55.5 million metric tonnes. This is why state policies to recognize the value of nuclear power plants are important – they can make a difference. Policies in New York, Illinois, Connecticut and New Jersey are already saving 60 million metric tonnes per year (see figure below).


A case in point comes from Pacific Gas and Power Company. In a plan developed jointly with antinuclear groups instead of climatologists, PG&E announced its decision to close its two well-functioning, low-carbon, low-cost nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon.

PG&E says that lost nuclear power will be completely replaced by renewables and will become more efficient. But the proposaldetails make do not save this. In fact, he calls for the implementation of renewable energies and an efficiency equal to only about a quarter of the production of Diablo Canyon.

Instead, experts agree, the generation will mainly be replaced by natural gas, and tries to buy power out of state. Some groups are continue to prevent DC shutdown in part because of this misinformation.

Fortunately, the costs will be on the shoulders of the taxpayer, not the taxpayer, so Californians won’t necessarily notice the increased costs. Sadly, this shutdown will wipe out more than all of the state’s wind energy gains, plus the tens of billions of dollars spent on it.

This is because all wind power in California produces only 13 billion kWh per year, far less than Diablo Canyon’s 18 billion kWh per year. Diablo Canyon’s two nuclear reactors would produce 18 billion kWh each year for at least the next 25 years if they are not shut down prematurely. Since wind turbines need to be replaced every 20 years or so, this means that to remain stable, California would need to install more than twice as many wind turbines as today, with no net reduction in emissions.

The only way to reduce emissions sufficiently by the middle of the century is to have a mix of technologies including nuclear and renewable. And replacing internal combustion engines especially with electric vehicles charged with electricity produced from non-fossil fuels such as nuclear and renewable energies.

Nuclear power is already a mature technology and the latest generation designs are even better – they can’t melt. And we know what to do with waste.

The projects of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development which, in order to achieve the desired emission targets, the share of nuclear energy in global electricity production must grow from around 400 GW to over 1,000 GW by 2050, producing around 9,000 billion kWh / year, at a construction cost of around 8,000 billion dollars.

It also assumes that wind and solar reach around 2,000 GW each over the same period, producing a total of 10,000 billion kWh / year at a construction cost of around $ 20 trillion.

The world’s top climate scientists, including Dr James Hansen, Dr Tom Wigley, Dr Ken Caldeira and Dr Kerry Emanuel, have all urged world leaders and environmental activists to end their unscientific and ideological attacks on the nuclear energy and support its expansion.

They also warned that the anti-nuclear stance of environmental leaders is causing unnecessary and serious damage to the environment and to the future of our planet by prolonging carbon emissions. The increase in emissions last year is just a consequence.

Even the Union of Concerned Scientists says we need nuclear power to fight against global warming.

So why wouldn’t a supposed environmentalist listen to real climate scientists?

About Melanie Tweed

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