Busting the propaganda that the nuclear industry wants to reduce carbon emissions

Big money, nuclear subsidies, and systemic corruption, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Cassandra JefferyM. V. Ramana | February 12, 2021  ”………..Material interests and policy interests.

The most common argument used by these companies and those who support nuclear subsidies is the need to fight climate change. There are two problems with this argument.

First, it is based on the false idea that nuclear power, if shut down, will necessarily be replaced by fossil fuel plants. A June 2016 decision by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) demonstrates the invalidity of this assumption. PG&E will close the last two nuclear power plants in California (the Diablo Canyon units) by 2024 and 2025, replacing the lost electrical capacity “with a cost-effective, greenhouse gas free portfolio of energy efficiency, renewables and energy storage.” This move to renewables is more cost-effective today than it was in 2016 because of declining costs of renewables and energy storage. As Matthew McKinzie of the Natural Resources Defense Council argued at that time, the decision “shows that given sufficient time to prepare, retiring nuclear capacity can transition smoothly to a mix of energy efficiency measures; clean, renewable resources; and energy storage without any role for fossil fuels – an outcome that can be optimal for the environment, the market, and the reliability of the electric grid.” At a larger scale, Germany has shown that it is possible to retire nuclear plants and reduce emissions at the same time.

The second problem is the assumption that corporations owning nuclear plants are primarily interested in rapidly reducing emissions. Many utilities have large fossil fuel investments— investments that suggest a shutdown won’t be happening anytime soon. This suggestion seems especially true with natural gas plants. Although utilities often describe natural gas as clean (for example, Exelon describes its fleet as powered by “clean burning natural gas”), the climate implications of continued natural gas use are substantial. Exelon, the company with the most nuclear plants in the country, also owns and operates, along with its subsidiaries, 11 oil-fired power plants, five dual-fuel (natural gas and oil-powered) power stations, and 10 natural gas-based power plants throughout North America. In addition to its four nuclear power plants, Dominion owns 17 power plants fueled by natural gas and 14 power plants fueled by coal or oil. The company’s estimate of carbon dioxide emissions from its power plants is around 40 million metric tons in 2018, roughly the same level as in 2012. Likewise, PSEG owns just two nuclear power plants, but the company owns or has a stake in 10 fossil fuel generating plants with one more natural gas powered plant under construction.

With such large stakes in fossil fuel-based power plants, it is clear that these utilities are not about to switch immediately to renewables—or even to nuclear power—and give up on years and years of future profits that they and their shareholders are hoping for. In all of the states that offered nuclear subsidies, and elsewhere, the utilities have tried to hold back the deployment of renewables in more or less obvious ways. US utilities are not alone. Studies show that electric utilities around the world have “hindered the transition of the global electricity sector towards renewables, which has to date mostly relied on non-utility actors (such as independent power producers) for expanding the use of renewables.”

Rather than adapting to the necessity of building up renewables, these utilities resort to tactics that have been used in the past to justify nuclear power plant construction. As former Nuclear Regulatory Commission member Peter Bradford listed at the beginning of the so-called nuclear renaissance, these include “subsidy, tax breaks, licensing shortcuts, guaranteed purchases with risks borne by customers, political muscle, ballyhoo, and pointing to other countries (once the Soviet Union, now China) to indicate that the US is ‘falling behind.’”…. https://thebulletin.org/2021/02/big-money-nuclear-subsidies-and-systemic-corruption/

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