Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, until recently a leading figure in the campaign to prosecute climate skeptics under RICO laws, now wants bipartisan support to fix the problems with Obama’s clean energy policies.
To Slow Global Warming, We Need Nuclear Power
By LAMAR ALEXANDER and SHELDON WHITEHOUSEDEC. 21, 2016
If 20 fire marshals came around and told us our houses were about to burn down, we’d buy some fire insurance. So when the leading science academies in 20 developed countries, along with several major American corporations and the national security community, all tell us that burning fossil fuels is causing dangerous changes to the climate, we think it’s time for the United States to get serious about clean energy. It also means supporting safely operating nuclear power plants that produce carbon-free electricity.
Already, 60 percent of our carbon-free electricity comes from the 99 nuclear reactors that dot the nation’s map, from Avila Beach, Calif., to Seabrook, N.H. These reactors provide low-cost, reliable electricity for the United States, which uses nearly 20 percent of the world’s electricity. But over the next decade, at least eight of these reactors are scheduled to shut down. That will push up carbon emissions from the American electricity sector by nearly 3 percent, according to the United States Energy Information Administration.
Unfortunately, some of our federal policies to encourage clean energy, such as the Clean Energy Incentive Program within President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, do not explicitly include or incentivize nuclear power. Likewise, some states have chosen to adopt policies, such as renewable portfolio standards, that do not include or incentivize nuclear power.
Sheldon Whitehouse’s co-author is Lamar Alexander, a centrist Republican senator. Alexander’s Wikipedia entry notes he is one of the most bipartisan Republican members of the Senate.
Senator Whitehouse seems to have been consistent in his support for nuclear power, which is unusual for a green. But his approach to encouraging the development of US nuclear potential, by putting a price on carbon, in my opinion would be an unmitigated disaster.
Under a carbon tax, nuclear industry players would have no incentive to improve their product. Why should nuclear power companies take the risk of attempting to develop cheaper, safer nuclear technology, when they could receive a much safer return on investment by spending that potential research cash on schmoozing politicians, lobbying politicians to crank up carbon taxes on fossil fuel competitors?
Nuclear power has the potential to be cheaper than coal, but realising this potential will require a serious political effort to remove bureaucratic roadblocks – to establish that passive safe systems really are safe, that all the hideously expensive multiply redundant containment and cooling systems required by current generation active safe systems are not required for next generation nuclear designs.
If Senator Whitehouse genuinely wants more nuclear power, he should have a go at dismantling the red tape which makes nuclear power uncompetitive, rather than putting his effort into trying to imprison political opponents, and bankrupt coal companies.