Guest post by David Middleton
Scana Corp. announced Monday it will stop construction on a nuclear power plant in South Carolina—one of two in development in the U.S. Project costs ballooned in recent years, and the decision should eventually save electricity customers $7 billion.
But the stoppage and others like it may cost everyone more in the long run. The move has implications that last hundreds of years—the residence time of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—as electricity generated from fossil fuels begin to replace aging or expensive nuclear reactors.
Low natural gas prices are undercutting even the relatively cheap costs of operating many online U.S. nuclear plants, making some of them too expensive to run.
Among those existing reactors, Three-Mile Island is the latest victim of the U.S. shale gas boom, and to some extent, reduced demand and increased renewables. It’s now expected to close in 2019. Four states that have shuttered nuclear facilities in recent years have turned to gas and coal to make up the difference.
More gas and coal, of course, means more emitted carbon dioxide. And that’s exactly what scientists say we need to reduce in order to slow climate change, or at the very least avoid global environmental catastrophe.
But renewable energies like solar and wind aren’t enough to replace fossil fuels, at least not yet. This is where nuclear comes in.
“Without an aggressive build-out of nuclear power, climate goals are still attainable, but at much greater expense,” according to Jeffrey Sachs, the economist and director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which co-leads the Deep Decarbonization effort. “The rest of the options are still feasible, but less attractive,” he said. “We’d make a big mistake if we decide right now we don’t need it.”
Asked how to overcome the unfavorable economics that killed the South Carolina project and is shuttering active plants, Sachs suggested a rethinking of the entire nuclear research, development, and deployment pipeline. Newer technologies—some being pursued in other countries—may dramatically reduce costs, if they prove safe.
A magic wand solving the cost problems would still leave the problem of waste, and give policymakers a choice between nuclear waste—deadly but concentrated poison that lasts thousands of years—and fossil-fuel waste—invisible, diffuse carbon pollution that in sufficient amounts will transform the Earth for thousands of years.
Some climate skeptics may cite this as a Hobson’s choice, but experts warn that it’s not that simple, especially when considering the economic component.
This “climate skeptic” would just call it a HOOT!
A “Hobson’s choice” between the mythical pollution of CO2 and the easily disposed of waste from nuclear power plants… And as an added bonus, they toss in Jefferey Sachs babbling about magic wands…
About the Author: David Middleton has been a geophysicist/geologist in the evil oil & gas industry and a naturalized Texan since 1981. He’s a member of the AAPG, SEG and HGS. He likes oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear power, doesn’t mind wind power and thinks solar power and PEV’s are almost as funny as Larry the Cable Guy. Regarding climate change, he’s generally a luke-warmer, mostly agreeing with Anthony Watts, Roy Spencer, John Christy and Judith Curry.