7 Things People Got Wrong with our Recent ‘Nuclear Power Dilemma’ Report

, director of energy research, Clean Energy | November 16, 2018, 1:29 pm EDT
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On November 8, UCS released The Nuclear Power Dilemma: Declining Profits, Plant Closures, and the Threat of Rising Carbon Emissions, which found that more than one-third of existing nuclear plants, representing 22 percent of total US nuclear capacity, is uneconomic or slated to close over the next decade. Without new policies, we found that if these and other marginally economic nuclear plants are closed before their operating licenses expire, the electricity would be replaced primarily with natural gas. If this occurs, cumulative carbon emissions from the US power sector could rise by as much as 6 percent at a time when we need to achieve deep cuts in emissions to limit the worst impacts of climate change.

Unfortunately, some of the media coverage and statements by the nuclear industry and other groups have mischaracterized our report and our past work. Here are seven points to correct the record:

1. The report does not promote new nuclear power plant construction.

Our analysis is focused on the economic viability of existing nuclear power plants in the United States through 2035. The cost of keeping existing plants operating is considerably less than building new ones. While new nuclear plants could be built under a national carbon price or low-carbon electricity standard, our modeling shows they are too expensive compared to new wind and solar projects, energy efficiency programs, and natural gas plants with carbon capture and storage.

The only new nuclear reactors included in our analysis are the two currently under construction at the Vogtle plant in Georgia. Their cost has ballooned to more than $27 billion, which is double the estimate approved by regulators in 2008, and the project is more than five years behind schedule. This 2012 UCS analysis shows that building the two new Vogtle reactors would be more expensive than other alternatives. And the Vogtle reactors’ cost has escalated significantly over the past six years, while the cost for wind and solar has fallen dramatically.

This isn’t the first time UCS has shined a spotlight on the high costs of building new nuclear reactors. This 2016 UCS power sector deep decarbonization study found that nearly all nuclear and coal plants in the United States would be replaced by low-carbon technologies by 2050 under every scenario, except our “optimistic nuclear case.”  A blog I wrote in 2013 explains why calls by some climate scientists to build new nuclear plants are misguided.

2. The report does not advocate for subsidies for any specific nuclear plants.

The report emphasizes that a price on carbon or a low-carbon electricity standard (LCES) would be the best options for internalizing the costs of climate change in the price of burning fossil fuels and providing a level playing field for all low-carbon technologies. As explained by UCS President Ken Kimmell in his recent blog, “the report does not argue for subsidies to any specific plants. That case will have to be made in state-specific forums. Should states decide to support nuclear power plant subsidies, our report calls for them to be temporary and subject to periodic reassessment. Companies seeking subsidies must open their books and allow the public and regulators to make sure that the subsidies are needed and cost-effective, and that the same level of carbon free power cannot be provided during the relevant time period with less costly options.” Any subsidies also must be part of a broader strategy to reduce carbon emissions that increases investments in renewables and efficiency.

Finally, our report makes clear that UCS would never support financial assistance that is also tied to subsidizing fossil-based energy sources, such as Trump administration proposals to bail out coal and nuclear plants based on spurious grid-reliability and national-security grounds.

3. Existing nuclear plants must also meet strong safety standards to be eligible for support.

Since the 1970s, UCS has been a leading nuclear safety watchdog. The new UCS report recommends that nuclear reactors must meet or exceed the highest safety standards under Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) Reactor Oversight Process to be eligible for any policy or financial support. If the NRC weakens these standards, as proposed by the nuclear industry, UCS could no longer support this recommendation. At the same time, UCS will continue to push for better enforcement of existing regulations, the expedited transfer of nuclear waste from overcrowded cooling pools to safer dry cask storage, strengthened reactor security requirements, and higher safety standards for new plants. We also consider the NRC safety standards to be a floor, not a ceiling. States could encourage plant owners to make other safety improvements that go beyond current NRC standards.

4. Not every currently operating nuclear plant should stay open.

The report highlights examples where it might make sense to shut down existing nuclear plants that are saddled with major, reoccurring safety issues such as the Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts that Entergy is closing next year and the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio that FirstEnergy is threatening to close in 2020 if it doesn’t receive subsidies. Other examples include Indian Point, due to its proximity to New York City, and Diablo Canyon, which is located near earthquake fault lines in California.

It also might make sense to shut down plants with high operating costs or ones that need to make major new capital investments to continue operating safely. Examples cited in the report include Crystal River in Florida and San Onofre in California, which were retired in 2013 following failed steam generator replacements. Fort Calhoun in Nebraska shut down in 2016 primarily for economic reasons following several years of extended outages and flood damage. Chris Crane, CEO of Exelon, agrees that some high-cost plants should probably close: I will be the first one to tell you that some of the nuclear plants are small, uneconomic and they won’t make it and they probably should not make it,” he said. “Let’s not save every one.”

5. Not every nuclear plant that retires early will be replaced with fossil fuels.

The report acknowledges that with sufficient planning and strong climate and clean energy policies, some existing nuclear plants can be replaced with renewables, energy efficiency, or other low- carbon technologies. For example, California passed legislation in September that commits the state to replace Diablo Canyon with zero-carbon energy sources by 2025. And states experiencing rapid wind and solar power deployment such as Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas could potentially replace their nuclear plants with low-carbon energy sources over a reasonable period of time. However, a significant portion of the electricity in most of those states is still generated by coal and natural gas. Replacing those fuels with renewables and efficiency would result in much greater emissions reductions than replacing nuclear plants, another low-carbon source of electricity.

6. UCS has long recognized the role of existing nuclear plants in reducing carbon

UCS has long supported keeping existing nuclear reactors that meet high safety standards operating to combat climate change. In 2004, the director of our energy program at the time, Alan Nogee, stated: “We cannot phase out current nuclear generation quickly, especially without [a] significant increase in carbon emissions.” Five years later, we released our “Climate 2030 Blueprint,” which assumed the fleet of more than 100 US reactors would continue to operate through 2030 and beyond. You will find in the report’s executive summary: “Hydropower and nuclear power continue to play important roles, generating slightly more carbon-free electricity in 2030 than they do today.”

US Electricity Generation under the UCS Climate 2030 Blueprint

Two years ago we posted a  “Nuclear Power and Global Warming” page on our website, highlighting the need for all low-carbon technologies, including nuclear power, to limit the worst consequences of climate change. The web page also warns that replacing existing nuclear power plants with natural gas plants would increase carbon emissions.

In 2016, UCS was involved in negotiations in Illinois to keep two uneconomic nuclear plants running, while strengthening the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. We posted the following blogs on the topic: “A Huge Success in Illinois: Future Energy Jobs Bill Signed Into Law,” “The Future Energy Jobs Bill: Promise, Pitfalls, and Opportunities for Clean Energy in Illinois,” and “New Analysis Shows Fixing Illinois Clean Energy Policies Is Essential to Any ‘Next Generation Energy Plan.’”

7. UCS has long supported a low carbon electricity standard (LCES), but not at the expense of renewable electricity standards (RES).

Since at least 2011, UCS has engaged in constructive dialogues and provided support for LCES proposals. See here, here, here, and here. More recently, UCS advocated for the 100 percent zero-emission electricity standard in California that was signed into law in September.

While an LCES could be effective at preserving existing nuclear generation and increasing the deployment of renewable energy and other low-carbon technologies, our position has remained consistent (including in our new report) in that we do not recommend replacing state RESs with broader LCESs. Renewable standards have been effective at reducing emissions, driving down the cost of wind and solar, and creating jobs and other economic benefits for states and in rural communities. They have also been affordable for consumers. Including existing nuclear power plants in state renewable standards could significantly undermine the development of new renewables and all the benefits that go along with them.

We recommend including existing nuclear in a separate tier of an LCES, as New York state has done, to limit costs to ratepayers and avoid market-power issues due to limited competition among a small number of large plants and owners. New York also has combined an LCES with a zero-emission credit program to provide financial support only to existing nuclear plants that need it, adjusting support as market conditions change. New technologies would be eligible to compete in the existing tier to help ensure that the most cost-effective, low-carbon energy sources replace any retiring nuclear plants. Illinois and New Jersey also strengthened their renewable standards while providing separate financial support for distressed nuclear plants.

And finally, despite reporting to the contrary, UCS has not changed its position on nuclear power. Has UCS advocated vigorously for policies to increase the deployment of renewable energy to address climate change? Absolutely. Have we been a longstanding watchdog for nuclear power safety? You bet. Do we now believe the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is an effective watchdog or that nuclear power safety concerns are overblown? Emphatically no.

But UCS has long recognized that the current nuclear fleet is a significant source of low-carbon power and that nuclear plants should not retire precipitously without carbon-free replacements. As cited above, my former colleague Alan Nogee tweeted a slide from 2004 showing that UCS grappled with just this point more than a decade ago:

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  • J Kim

    These caveats amounts to very nearly not saying anything, which is just multiplying ignorance instead of spreading understanding. Scientists should be informing the public about what is more dangerous and what is less dangerous among the threats out there.

    There is overwhelming hard scientific evidence of the damage done by fossil fuels – both to the environment and directly to human beings. Even leaving aside global warming, the World Health Organization estimates that 7 million people suffer early deaths in a single year from air pollution. That is equivalent to over a thousand Chernobyls every year, just from ordinary operation – but it is not considered a crisis, and many people even consider nuclear power *more* dangerous than fossil fuels.

    It is the responsibility of scientists to accurately portray the difference of risks between fossil fuels compared to other power sources. The public is constantly being fed misinformation about risk by advocacy groups, and scientists must take a stand and inform, rather than engage in double-speak to not say anything.

  • Wallace

    I find myself fairly well in alignment with the UCS position on nuclear. Keep the safest reactors in operation for now.

    Forget about building any further reactors unless someone can produce a new reactor that produces electricity at wind/solar prices. And that reactor should be built with private, not taxpayer or ratepayer money. The risk of non-completion or failure to financially compete should be totally born my the investors.

    That said, I do want to point out one problem with your analysis. In your chart “Blueprint Case for Electricity Generation” you show a drop in electricity use due to efficiency. While it is the case that current demand is likely to drop as we become more efficient we have a new demand for electricity coming at us.

    We are beginning to see the serious uptake of battery powered vehicles and we should see an accelerating transition away from ICEVs as battery prices fall. We probably have sufficient capacity to charge the EVs that will come online over the next ten years or so but it’s likely to be mainly late night CCNG. Gas plants that would otherwise be idled when the wind is providing.

    We need, IMO, a significant price on carbon so that wind and solar installation speeds up to at least 3x what it is now. The increased cost in burning fossil fuels would drive wind and solar faster, increase EV purchases and also allow existing reactors to stay in operation until they encounter an expensive repair need or are no longer needed.

    • TimS

      In “wind/solar prices”: batteries, integration costs, coal/gas-fired backup plants are never included.
      “Batteries not included in renewable fantasy plans”
      cfact … org/2018/11/17/batteries-not-included-in-renewable-fantasy-plans/
      “‘Renewable investment boom tipped to slow’ because the bankers suddenly discovered you need a massively expanded transmission network. If only this was forseeable …”
      smh … com … au/business/banking-and-finance/greater-uncertainty-renewable-investment-boom-tipped-to-slow-20181010-p508te.html

      • Wallace

        Wind and solar prices are what they are. There are additional costs on any grid beyond the cost of the input electricity sources. All inputs, including nuclear, need backup. Nuclear needs spinning backup. Since wind and solar often perform for hours, uninterrupted, the backup source does not need to be ‘spinning’.

        Once nuclear penetration reaches the minimum demand it either needs storage or has to curtail, just like wind and solar. The big difference is that the cost of curtailing nuclear is much higher than curtailing wind and solar.

        Back when we were building nuclear we built a lot of pumped-hydro storage in order to time-shift nuclear generation. We’ll be able to use those PuHS facilities for wind and solar.

        Nuclear, however, has a unique cost. No other form of generation can suffer a nuclear meltdown creating massive costs.

      • TimS

        Wind and solar have low capacity factor, they need much more backup from fossil plants.
        And the result is clear: wind and solar have failed miserably at reducing emissions, at cost of trillions of dollars and huge ecological impacts/environmental damages, and caused the electricity prices to skyrocket everywhere, e.g. Germany, Denmark, South Australia, California, Minnesota, etc., while carbon-free nuclear is an indubitable success, e.g. France, Sweden, Ontario.
        “In Sweden, nuclear power has demonstrated its ability to rapidly decarbonize the electricity system” – Nov 20, 2018
        sfen … org/le-blog-des-energies/in-sweden-nuclear-power-has-demonstrated-its-ability-to-rapidly-decarbonize-the
        “How to decarbonize? Look to Sweden”
        tandfonline … com/doi/full/10.1080/00963402.2016.1145908
        “German CO2 Emissions Higher Now Than In 2009” – Oct 30, 2018
        notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress … com/2018/10/30/german-co2-emissions-higher-now-than-in-2009/
        “Emissions in Germany have not decreased for the last 9 years & emissions from transportation have not fallen since 1990…. Germany inched ahead of Denmark for the highest electricity prices for household customers”
        sandiegouniontribune … com/business/energy-green/sd-fi-california-germany-20181111-story.html
        “Minnesota is blowing billions on wind power … the result is HIGHER electricity rates and dubious CO2 reductions”
        youtu … be/0vaIYttrL88

      • Wallace

        Tim, I’ve seen your posts on many sites over several years and I know that you put nuclear advocacy ahead of honesty. I’m not going to get into the junk you link because, frankly, it’s junk. What I’m going to do is to offer some information that others might find useful.

        Capacity factors for US onshore wind farms brough online starting in 2013 are averaging in the mid 40% range. Utility solar in the US is averaging around 30% thanks to single-axis tracking. Since the wind tends to blow more when the Sun is not shining the hours during which we can power our grids directly with wind and solar, without storage or overbuilding, it almost certainly over 50% but less than 70%. We now know that by moving to higher hub heights (100 to 140 meters) we can enjoy wind CFs from 60% to 70%. Along with tracked solar we may be able to supply all hours with wind and solar, no storage, as much as 80% of the time if not more.

        Then, there is essentially no hour in which the Sun does not shine nor the wind blow. It’s just that the solar/wind input is not high enough to fully supply demand. That problem can largely be offset by overbuilding wind and solar. (The US currently overbuilds coal and natural gas capacity by about 2x.)

        I ran a model using 2017 CAISO (California grids) hourly demand, solar and wind data. By overbuilding wind and solar by 3x California could have supplied every hour of every day in the year with only wind and solar except for three days. No storage. No fossil fuel.

        Overbuilding 3x would mean increasing the cost of two cent wind and solar to six cents. But it would also mean a very large amount of electricity that could be sold to other users whose demand was more flexible.

        If every car and light truck in CA was battery powered that extra generation would have charged them daily, except for the three low solar/wind input days. Selling surplus electricity to vehicle charging would bring the price down from six cents to around four cents. There would still be a large amount of electricity that could be sold for things like water pumping and desalination, bringing the cost back closer to two cents per kWh.

        The three undersupplied days. There was some wind and solar, just not enough. Some storage or backup generation would be needed. Perhaps using vehicle to grid would be sufficient. Add in existing pump-up hydro. Use paid off CCNG plants fueled with methane from sewage, feedlots, and landfills.

        Wind and solar are almost certainly going to dominate the world’s energy sources. They are simply too widely available and low enough priced that expensive technologies like nuclear will be abandoned.

      • TimS

        “…Wind and solar are almost certainly going to dominate the world’s energy sources…”
        Interesting that wind and solar are available for free since the ancient times: sails, windmills, Archimedes’ heat ray, solar cookers(1869); but even so they were replaced by fossil fuels.
        Wind and solar aren’t alternative to fossil fuels even in small-scale, worse yet in large-scale; intermittent renewables are just a ‘decorative facade’ for the coal/oil/gas/fracking industries in order to displace carbon-free nuclear energy.

        “…overbuilding wind and solar…” it’s economically and environmentally/ecologically costly.
        “…I ran a model … with only wind and solar … No storage. No fossil fuel…”
        Try to run a small place(>10,000 inhabitants) with only solar and wind without any drop of fossil fuels and no external big money support and let’s see if it is technically/economically feasible. Notice: there is ~1000GW of installed-capacity of wind/solar globally, but there is no small city/island successfully 100% powered by “wind/solar+storage”, El Hierro island is a clear fiasco, other islands have less than 500 inhabitants and/or are supported by external big money with vested interests.

        In the face of Climate Change, what should matter is emission reduction and in this requisite, wind and solar are a grotesque fiasco: almost a terawatt(1000 gigawatts) of installed-capacity globally with almost nothing to show in terms of emission reduction, in most cases, natural gas(methane: worse than CO2) has replaced coal and reduced CO2 emissions while intermittent renewables have taken the credits providing “greenwashing” for the gas/fracking industry.
        “Wind and Solar Power Advance, but Carbon Refuses to Retreat”
        nytimes … com/2017/11/07/business/climate-carbon-renewables.html

  • nedford

    The problem with this discussion, with the idea of supporting nuclear power, and with the entire discussion of subsidies is that it lacks the input of the disruptive nature of plunging renewables prices. Wind is now able to produce power for one tenth of the best cost of a new nuclear plant, and an infinite amount of wind can be added for no subsidy, which is less money than needed to keep aging nuclear plants operating.

    This wasn’t true a year ago. Solar at utility scale can be built anywhere in the U.S. for a quarter or less of the cost of a new nuclear plant, and solar prices keep falling. New wind and solar are substantially cheaper than operating existing coal, natural gas and nuclear plants.

    For the last five years we have installed new wind and solar, when the effect of efficiency is considered, about five times faster than nuclear plants have retired. Increases in output have kept total nuclear generation going, but that can’t last. The point is we can add new solar and wind faster and cheaper than the old plants will retire – we are at present and if the rate of retirement picks up we will still be building clean energy faster – the real challenge is to triple the rate of new wind and solar in the next several years for climate goals, and that leaves the entire nuclear issue where it belongs – in the last century.

    Aging nuclear plants don’t need a tidy little tip to stay functional. They operate at very low cost until they need a major retrofit, at which point the money is obscene – the billions that FirstEnergy is seeking is not just outside your well-obscured “parameters”, it is what all these plants are going to need – most of them not so soon.

    The effect of your report is irrelevant to the intended purpose, and has the unintended purpose of dividing the clean energy community in a way which really isn’t helpful at this time. I have a lot of respect for UCS over the years, but not this time.

    • Steve Clemmer

      Thanks for your comments Ned. As you know, UCS is as bullish on renewable energy as anyone. Our analysis does assume continued cost reductions for wind and solar. In our modeling, we use NREL’s mid-case renewable energy cost and performance projections from their Annual Technology Baseline (ATB) 2017 report (see more details in Appendix F of the full report).

      In our reference case, which assumes no new policies and low natural gas prices, US non-hydro renewable generation nearly doubles to 19.4% of total US electricity generation by 2025. But most of this increase in renewables, along with an increase in natural gas generation, goes to replace generation from retiring coal plants like it has over the past decade. However, after the federal tax credits for renewables expire in the early 2020s, wind and solar grow much more slowly while natural gas generation ramps up even faster. Therefore, if we retire more nuclear generation during the next decade at the same time we’re retiring coal plants and electrifying other sectors of the economy, most of the lost nuclear generation is replaced with natural gas (as we show in our early nuclear retirement scenarios).

      We also did a sensitivity case using NREL’s low-case renewable energy cost projections from their ATB 2017 report that results in slightly more wind and solar deployment over the next 15 years to replace some of the generation from early nuclear retirements. But the vast majority of the replacement generation still comes from natural gas in our reference and early nuclear retirements cases that assume no new policies (see pp. 84-86 of the full report).

      You’re right that we need to significantly increase the rate of new wind, solar, and energy efficiency to meet our climate targets and replace coal and natural gas generation, which represented 62% of US electricity generation in 2017. But how are we going to do this without new state and federal policies that either recognize the low carbon attributes of these technologies or address the climate externality costs of burning natural gas and coal? Our analysis shows that a national carbon price or a low carbon electricity standard could be effective at achieving this. Under these policies, US non-hydro renewable generation would more than triple from 10 percent of US electricity generation in 2017 to 36-41% by 2035.

      But even if we achieve these gains, increase energy efficiency, and preserve most of the existing US nuclear generation, our analysis shows that the US is still not on track for decarbonizing the US power sector by 2050. More stringent policies than the ones we modeled would be needed to get there. If we retire more nuclear generation in the next 15 years it makes the job even harder.

      As discussed in my blog, we agree new nuclear plants are considerably more expensive than new wind, solar and energy efficiency. Our analysis clearly shows this. However, it is much less expensive to keep most uneconomic existing nuclear plants operating longer. Our analysis shows it would cost ~$814 million per year on average over the next five years—equivalent to ~$19/ton of CO2 avoided or $7.7/MWh on average, to bring the uneconomic nuclear plants to the breakeven point (i.e. revenues = costs).

  • CogWheeler

    Fort Calhoun, in NE, was closed because public rate-payers chose to save $.014/KWh. It was in the slides the utility displayed, leading to the decision. At the time, new natural gas was planned in ’22 or ’23. Those plans fell to the side, and now the utility is half coal, and proud of its half-wind.

    Fort Calhoun’s immediate population effectively said “no” to a $14 per ton carbon price, assuming a ~1 ton per MWh emissions rate. Many of us are imputing CO2 prices, for sequestration, for PV-battery, pumped hydro, etc. How many shots have we got left, to pay $14-30/ton? Paying several hundred million, at reactor sites such as Pilgrim, to fix pumps, to safely maintain these stations are the “cheap” tons, of CO2 avoidance. PV-Battery and carbon capture can reach toward $1,000.

    Whether urgency over GHGs, or the belief policy will only score so much money in this fight, UCS’s involvement is a welcome addition.

  • Phil Ord

    Okay. I see how it is. Why say anything at all then? You must realize that by adding to the chilling effect around nuclear, you are pretty much as culpable as the fossil fuel industry in damaging our climate. The fact that you downplay nuclear’s future in clean energy, ignoring the plethora of evidence that nuclear is literally the safest and cleanest, is unconscionable and downright immoral. This millennial is livid that UCS, which people consider a “scientific” organization, is too stubborn to face the music and evidence, at the expense of my generation. Sorry, but to just putting out a statement saying we need to keep open nuclear plants isn’t gonna cut it. That is plain laziness, and reeks of you guys just trying to maintain an ounce of credibility whatsoever.

    There will be hell to pay if the American nuclear fleet collapses under your watch, during a climate emergency. The NRC is one of the most strict regulatory agencies of the federal government, and for you to add to the ridiculous safety demands expected, you are essentially standing in our way. If you don’t want to be cursed by future generations, the following needs to happen.

    One, the UCS must unequivocally support all existing nuclear plants from being shuttered without replacement. Two, the UCS must not only keep plants open, but promote the building of new ones, slashing red tape. Three, the UCS must actively advocate for new next-generation nuclear reactors that are safer and cheaper, if you claim to be so scared of existing plants.

    Stop this insanity, you guys know better as scientists to look at the evidence. The evidence has been crystal clear since the dawn of nuclear power. It is the best way humans have to lift everyone out of energy poverty while polluting the very least. Get out of the way and help nuclear fix our burning world. Go nuclear or go extinct.

  • TimS

    Double Standards
    “…UCS will continue to push for better enforcement of existing regulations, the expedited transfer of nuclear waste…”
    Natural gas extraction(fracking), coal ashes, rare-earth metals in renewables, produce much more radioactive wastes that are dumped directly into the environment with almost no regulation, as well arsenides and other chemical carcinogens present in solar panels and windmills that never lose their toxicity with time.

  • TimS

    UCS(Union of Confused Scaremonger) have only served to favor the fossil fuels(backup for intermittent renewables) which air pollution respects no border and kills millions of people every year.
    death/TWh: coal 161.00, oil 36.00, solar 0.44, wind 0.15, hydro 0.10, nuclear 0.04
    “Even the worst nuclear accidents result in far fewer deaths than the normal operation of fossil fuel power plants.”
    wind/solar = 20% wind/solar + 80% coal/oil/gas/fracking
    By providing “greenwashing” (decorative facade) for coal/oil/gas/fracking industries in order to displace carbon-free nuclear energy, intermittent renewables are as deadly and dirty as fossil fuels.

  • Rod Adams

    Nuclear plants are only too expensive if one assumes that nuclear engineers, designers and project managers are too dumb to learn from experience. There’s no doubt that Vogtle and Summer have been challenging, but there is also no doubt that the experience in building new nuclear plants in the US is minimal to non-existent. For many reasons, we waited nearly 40 years between the first bandwagon market for new nuclear plants and starting the Vogtle and Summer projects.
    Westinghouse’s AP1000 design, despite all of its refinements and projected benefits, was incomplete because they had never been able to assemble the resources needed to complete the design and build a first of a kind unit.
    A confluence of factors led the company to accept contracts to build 8 units, 4 in China and 4 in the US, before it had completed detailed design and before its suppliers had been able to complete and test a number of uniquely challenging key components (including SQUIB valves and canned rotor coolant pumps that were largest ever built by a factor of about 25.)
    Now, in 2018, there are 4 AP1000 plants running in China, with the first of those in actual commercial service. IOW, at least one version of the plant is now finally complete and developing operating experience.

    In addition to fact that there are now a number of proven options for new nuclear power plants that are complete and beyond FOAK learning, there are numerous refined nuclear plant designs that might turn out to be far less expensive to build and operate – but their proponents still need to prove their assumptions through FOAK construction.

    New nuclear plants are a definite opportunity. As I read the UCS report, they will not oppose, and might even support cost effective new nuclear.

    As a nuclear technologist, I’m confident that we are fully capable of producing very safe nuclear that can compete with fossil fuel and beat wind and solar on any moderately level playing field.

    Rod Adams

    • january37

      Do your projections have a provision for the HLRW (high-level radioactive waste) and spent fuel already created? Would these new plants produce radioactive waste that will last 100,000 years, or a million?

      • Greg Barton

        Store the spent fuel onsite, in a long term repository, or reprocess it. It’s not a problem.

      • Greg Barton
      • jimhopf

        Nuclear waste management, to the highest standards ever applied to any waste stream, is already paid for and is included in the price. It only costs a fraction of a cent per kw-hr.

        It is other energy sources (fossil fuels as well as sources like solar) that do not contain their wastes and therefore do not have the cost of responsible waste management factored into their costs.

        A million years?? How will solar and coal pay for their waste streams which remain toxic forever? The truth is that nuclear waste will require no monitoring after the repository is sealed. Not more than any other waste stream. It’s also true that the very long term risks/impacts from nuclear’s waste stream will be far smaller than those associated with other energy source’s waste streams

    • Steve Clemmer

      Thanks for your comment. UCS will be addressing the issue of new reactors in a forthcoming report so stay tuned for more details.

  • Rod Adams

    Brief proofreading comment:

    Above post includes following quote “New York also has combined an LCES with a zero-energy credit program..” It should be “New York also has combined an LCES with a zero-EMISSIONS energy credit program”.

    It wouldn’t make sense to provide a credit for systems that produce “zero-energy.”

    • Steve Clemmer

      Good catch. That was a typo.

  • Ian Prado A

    I wish the fifth point further explained how “some existing nuclear plants can be replaced with renewables, energy efficiency, or other low- carbon technologies”. I appreciate the concrete example of California’s legislation to replace Diablo Canyon with renewables, but I fail to see how Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas rapidly deploying wind and solar addresses the need for baseload electricity from an area dependent on a decommissioned nuclear power plant.

    For an organization prides themselves on being a “watchdog for nuclear power safety”, I wished you mentioned the enormous safety advantages of the fourth generation reactor designs, and hence their enormous economic potential.

    • january37

      My understanding: The SmartGrid no longer needs huge base-load plants. Also, when the “new generation” of nukes is touted, I never hear that the problem of nuclear waste for the next 100,000 or a million years has been dealt with.

      • Greg Barton

        Where is this “smart grid” of which you speak?

    • jimhopf

      Nuclear is almost always replaced by fossil fuels. That happened in CA (with San Onofre) and has happened everywhere else.

      Also, even if nuclear were replaced by renewables, it still represents an indefensible choice of fossil fuels over nuclear, since that renewable generation could have been used to replace fossil generation instead.

      CA is a case in point. They’ve made massive investments in renewable generation, and it’s all gone into replacing nuclear, while the amount of on-state fossil power generation has stayed roughly constant.

      That new renewable generation should be used to replace fossil fuels, not nuclear, should not be controversial. Not in any society that claims to care about global warming. Thus, closing any nuclear plants while fossil generation remains prevalent is indefensible.

    • Steve Clemmer

      As described in UCS 2013 Ramping up Renewables report, there are many ways to integrate renewable energy sources into the electricity system and combine them with other technologies and approaches to replace so-called “baseload” nuclear and coal plants. https://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/smart-energy-solutions/increase-renewables/ramping-up-renewable-energy-sources.html#.W_LOA5Xrspx. This includes energy storage, more transmission capacity, managing customer demand, geographic dispersion of wind and solar projects, better forecasting of wind and solar output, improved scheduling by grid operators, making power plants more flexible, and using smart grid technologies.

      Recent reports from the Brattle Group and the Analysis Group show that “baseload” is an outdated term and is not necessary for maintaining reliability: http://files.brattle.com/system/publications/pdfs/000/005/456/original/advancing_past_baseload_to_a_flexible_grid.pdf?1498482432

  • Jim Carleton

    FWIW, the Diablo Canyon plant is already slated to close, as it is nearing its original maximum safe lifetime. and the licenses to operate are nearing their expiration date. Unit 1 will close in 2024 and Unit 2 in 2025. Currently, this plant produces about 9% of California’s total energy supply.

    • Rod Adams

      FWIW, Diablo Canyon isn’t even close to its maximum safe lifetime. Its original license period of 40 years wasn’t established based on safety or even on an estimate of useful life. It was established based on the logical notion of not licensing a facility indefinitely without the opportunity to review its condition and prospects for additional safe operation. 40 years made sense to drafters of the Atomic Energy Act because that was the license period in effect for hydroelectric facilities, which were also licensed by the federal government.
      Approximately 3/4 of all operating nuclear plants in the US have already successfully been reviewed for license renewal for additional 20 year periods. Two have recently applied for their second 20 year extension. Well operated and maintained nuclear plants can continue to operate safely for an indefinite period of time, but there will be a continuing need to review and inspect them to keep them humming along.

      • january37

        Highly recommended:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_power_accidents_by_country. The United states has a table entry after the United Kingdom. (Tables in Alphabetical Order by county name.)

      • jimhopf

        Outside the old Soviet Union, that entire list of events caused fewer deaths than pollution from fossil power generation causes every – single – day.

        And that’s not counting global warming……

      • Steve Clemmer

        It’s true that most existing nuclear reactors in the US have licenses to operate for 60-years. However, to date, not a single reactor in the U.S. has operated that long, and there may be other reasons to close a plant before then. As discussed on p. 51 of the full report, PG&E decided to retire the plant because it would be more expensive to refurbish, relicense and operate the plant than to invest in other low carbon energy sources, its location near earthquake fault lines, its large size and lack of operating flexibility, and the projected loss of customer load due to community choice aggregation providers.

      • Rod Adams

        @Steve Clemmer

        You’re correct, no commercial nuclear plant in the world has operated for 60 years. The only ones that COULD have operated that long based on their completion dates were the first of a kind plants like Shippingport (US) completed in 1957 – 61 years ago, and Calder Hall (UK) completed in 1956 – 62 years ago.

        Oyster Creek, which was the oldest operating plant in the US until it was shut down in October, had been operating since its commissioning in December 1969, just a dozen years after the FOAK plants began operating. There was no mechanical or material reason for Oyster Creek to close, it was closed as part of a political agreement with state of NJ to allow it to operate 10 years past its original license without being forced to install cooling towers.

        I also take issue with the way you describe PG&E’s agreement with a narrowly selected group of “stakeholders” to halt its efforts to relicense Diablo Canyon and shut it down as soon as it could be fully depreciated at the end of its initial operating license.

        PG&E didn’t say that continuing to operate Diablo Canyon would be more expensive than its chosen alternative. It said that under the conditions that it foresaw, closing the plant would be the most effective way to achieve CA’s SB 350 policy goals. Those goals include a non-nuclear Renewable Portfolio Standard of 50% by 2030. Even though DCNPP’s output would qualify for a later established Clean Energy Standard of 100% by 2050, its production would be counted against the 50% RPS.

        Meeting that standard would have required PG&E to artificially reduce the plant’s capacity factor by lowering its output to make room for wind and solar output whenever the weather and time of day were favorable. Reducing nuclear plant output reduces the production of clean electricity available for sale without reducing any costs associated with maintaining the plant or providing the incredible level of required security forces.

        What isn’t actually written in any documents readily available to the public is the fact that PG&E, as a regulated power provider, will be allowed to charge rates high enough to provide it with a generous rate of return on the capital invested in qualifying renewable energy and the transmission infrastructure required to move RE from the remote areas where it is generated. It will also be able to benefit from rapid depreciation schedules associated with RE.

        Since DCNPP would be fully depreciated PG&E would no longer benefit from further depreciation and would only be allowed to receive a rate of return on any new capital investments required to keep the plant operable. Fully depreciated assets don’t generate any revenue from rate of return allowances because from an accounting point of view there is no longer any capital invested.

  • solodoctor

    Thanks for the clarifications.

    I checked to see when was the last time that anything was posted on UCS efforts ‘to push’ the NRC to enhance its safety regs. I came up with something written by David Wright in 2015. If the NRC regs are ‘a floor’ rather than ‘a ceiling’ why hasn’t UCS continued to try to get the NRC to do more? Is it because the so called Triple Disaster at Fukushima happened more than 7 years ago?

    I remain unconvinced by and disappointed about UCS’s position on this issue.

    • january37

      Moi Aussi!!

    • jimhopf

      Fukushima showed us that even worst-case meltdowns of several large reactors cause few if any deaths. That, in a world where fossil power generation causes~1000 deaths every single day, in addition to global warming.

      The rational response would have been to *reduce* regulations, as the consequences of meltdowns were shown to be much smaller than previously thought (those previous assumptions, tens of thousands of deaths, etc.., being the basis of current regulations).

      Excessive nuclear regulations are responsible for much of the fossil generation being used today. Thus, they are responsible for millions of deaths along with much of the global warming problem.

    • Steve Clemmer

      UCS has certainly sought to raise the safety bar when we felt it necessary. Here are four examples from Dave Lochbaum, former director of UCS Nuclear Safety Project and co-author of this report:

      1) UCS submitted this petition for rulemaking to the NRC in 2016 seeking to have the agency develop regulations governing reactors in extended shut downs: https://adamswebsearch2.nrc.gov/webSearch2/main.jsp?AccessionNumber=ML16258A486

      2) In 2017, UCS participated in a Commission briefing on subsequent license renewal, pointing out deficiencies in the current license renewal rule that needed to ensure safety during extended operation: https://adamswebsearch2.nrc.gov/webSearch2/main.jsp?AccessionNumber=ML17116A208

      3) In late 2015, UCS submitted comments on changes proposed by the NRC to its regulations governing the decommissioning of reactors: https://adamswebsearch2.nrc.gov/webSearch2/main.jsp?AccessionNumber=ML16013A124

      4) After 9/11, UCS teamed up with the Mothers For Peace to submit this petition for rulemaking to the NRC seeking two security upgrades — to have owners assess vulnerabilities of their plants to suicide aircraft impacts like they evaluated plants for fire vulnerabilities and also to eliminate the gap between safety evaluation and security evaluations. That petition led to security regulations adopted by the NRC in 2008: https://adamswebsearch2.nrc.gov/webSearch2/main.jsp?AccessionNumber=ML031681105

  • Joffan

    OK guys. You’ve clarified that your previous “reconsideration” was just a stunt.

    Now tell us about a time when you supported a nuclear plant. Any plant. Go on. The world is waiting for some proof of your sincerity.

    • Steve Clemmer

      As mentioned above, we supported the Illinois legislation in 2016 that prevented the abrupt closure of the Clinton and Quad Cities plants and will allow them to operate for at least 10 more years. Dave Lochbaum, former director of UCS Nuclear Safety Project and a co-author of this report, also sent me a letter he sent to the NRC on January 10, 2000, that supported the restart of the DC Cook plant, which shut down in September 1997. UCS supported the restart because of the extensive work by the plant and NRC staffs to fix the safety problems and because of key changes the NRC made to its reactor oversight process (ROP) to protect the public and ensure safety performance didn’t decline after restart. We have several other examples like this.

      For further proof UCS is not anti-nuclear, see this example where we supported a plant owner: https://allthingsnuclear.org/dlochbaum/exelons-full-fixes, and this example where we supported the NRC: https://allthingsnuclear.org/dlochbaum/thanks-to-nrc.

      Over the past 40+ years working on this issue, UCS has not opposed the construction of new nuclear reactors or the relicensing of existing reactors. UCS did not call for reactors to be shut down after 9/11 or after Fukushima. UCS did advocate for measures to make the reactors adequately secure and safe. That same policy UCS has followed for decades went into this report.

      • Joffan

        As mentioned above, you blocked that Illinois nuclear support until it had a large enough bribe for renewable energy included. Your discussions of that process do not highlight the nuclear support as a positive thing; it’s excused and weighedagainst other aspects of the bill.

        I recognize the value of Dave Lochbaum’s contributions to the public discussion. This has almost never been the public face of UCS; the discussions on nuclear, as here, always make it a generation option that is expected to apologize for its existence.

        If you don’t recognize the abusive and suppressive nature of your attitude, I’m not sure how to make it any clearer.

      • Steve Clemmer

        A “bribe” for renewable energy? Give me a break! I think you have this backwards. The 2016 IL legislation mostly fixed the state’s existing 25% by 2025 renewable standard—a policy that UCS helped pass in 2007—to unleash billions of dollars of new investment and create thousands of new jobs in Illinois (as shown in analyses by UCS and others). UCS had been advocating for fixing and increasing this policy for years.

        What do you call the ~$235 million per year that a profitable company like Exelon is receiving from ratepayers to keep the Clinton and Quad Cities plants open for at least 10 more years? UCS and other groups rightly questioned both the level and duration of these subsidies to limit impacts to ratepayers and avoid windfall profits. In fact, our new report shows that these subsidies may have much more than Exelon needed to keep these facilities operating.

        Looking out for ratepayers and advocating for nuclear plants to be safer and more secure for over 40+ years–while calling for strong policies to achieve deep cuts in carbon emissions in the most cost-effective way possible–is far from “abusive” or “suppressive.”

      • Joffan

        It’s ironic how you keep protesting what I say and then demonstrating how correct my assessment of your attitude is in the same comment.

        Would you, in fact, have supported the bill without the renewable component? For example, suppose that renewable subsidy program had been passed the previous year, and then the nuclear power support bill, excluding any mention of renewables, had come up?

        If the answer is “no”, do you still believe that you actually supported nuclear power here?

        Incidentally, do you adjust support for renewables based on how profitable the operating company is?

        Here’s a suspect way of assert a non-fact: “our new report shows that these subsidies may have much more than Exelon needed to keep these facilities operating.” You have shown that this may be more than bare survival subsidy? Presumably then you have equally shown it may not be more than that? Or maybe it’s less even than bare survival? I guess the climate is not very important to you if you want to play that kind of brinkmanship game.

      • Steve Clemmer

        It depends on whether a state meets the conditions laid out in our report, but in general, we would not support subsidies exclusively for nuclear plants. Why? Because if you believe there’s a public policy rationale for valuing the low-carbon attributes of nuclear, why shouldn’t that policy extend to all low carbon technologies and be part of a broader strategy to reduce carbon emissions? That’s why we recommend policies like a price on carbon or a broader low carbon electricity standard as the best approaches for providing a level playing for all low carbon technologies and achieving greater carbon reductions.

        The policies adopted in Illinois, New York and New Jersey don’t apply these competitive mechanisms to nuclear, which is why they are a less preferred approach. The nuclear subsidies are given to one company and 2-3 facilities in each state for a mature technology that has been around for decades and already recovered most of its capital investment from ratepayers. That’s why we believe any financial support should be limited and adjusted over time to ensure that companies don’t make windfall profits at the expense of ratepayers.

        In contrast, under a renewable electricity standard (RES), multiple technologies, projects, and companies compete to provide a growing share of renewable energy at the lowest cost. In other words, the cost adjustment mechanism is already built into the policy and is a key reason why the cost of wind and solar has fallen by more than two-thirds over the past decade.

        FirstEnergy’s “zero-emissions nuclear” proposal in Ohio is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t provide subsidies exclusively for uneconomic nuclear plants. FirstEnergy doesn’t care about reducing CO2 emissions. If they did, why are they also seeking subsidies for their uneconomic coal plants and why did they spend years at the Ohio legislature trying to gut the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards? In addition, their Davis-Besse plant has one of the worst safety records in the country and is currently not meeting the NRC’s highest safety standards.This is why we’re opposed to FirstEnergy’s proposal, as explained in a separate blog.

      • Joffan

        So if every other non-carbon generation has subsidies but a bill to also subsidize nuclear comes along, it would be opposed by UCS. Got it.

        You are special pleading that a nuclear subsidy has to be the “best possible” arrangement before you will speak up in favor, which doesn’t apply to other subsidies. You blithely ignore the other support that wind and solar in particular enjoy, getting preferential grid access and massive construction subsidies along with enduring operational subsidies, and I notice that you don’t oppose those subsidies due to their failure to support nuclear.

        Your baked-in opposition to nuclear makes you find any excuse to draw back from sustaining this generation source. It really doesn’t matter whether or not First Energy “cares about reducing CO2 emissions”, like it doesn’t matter that that wasn’t France’s priority when they built their nuclear fleet – if it works, support it. Their coal proposal is separate – oppose it.

      • Steve Clemmer

        Wrong again on two fronts. First, FirstEnergy is specifically asking the Trump Administration to give them subsidies for both their coal and nuclear plants based on bogus and debunked claims that these plants are needed for reliability and national security. PJM analysis has shown that these and other plants are NOT needed for reliability.

        Second, I’m not ignoring subsidies and policy support for renewables that have been tremendously successful in reducing emissions, driving down costs, and new creating jobs across the U.S. It is you that is ignoring the significant subsidies that nuclear power has already received that provides justification for limited and adjusted support going forward. Here’s an excerpt from p. 42 of the full report that explains this:

        “Financial support for existing nuclear plants should be limited to the amount needed to preserve the
        carbon emissions benefits of distressed plants because most plants have already received significant subsidies, while also making large profits when natural gas and wholesale electricity prices were high. Nuclear and fossil fuels have received far more subsidies than renewables over the past 70 years (Goggin 2017b). Many of the subsidies for nuclear and fossil fuels are permanent, while subsidies for renewables are temporary and scheduled to phase out in the next few years. A 2011 UCS analysis found that subsidies for existing nuclear plants have cost taxpayers more than the market price of power they helped generate, and these plants continue to receive subsidies ranging from 1 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (Koplow 2011). Existing plants in several states also received large subsidies from consumers in the form of “transition assistance” when the electricity sector was restructured in the late 1990s and early 2000s.”

        Time to move on. Happy Thanksgiving.

      • Joffan

        Now, at “time to move on”, you play the past subsidies nonsense card? Wow. Like that is valid; nuclear has never received operational subsidies of the scale and duration seen for renewables. Next you’ll be trying to pretend the Price-Anderson Act is a subsidy or other ridiculous anti-nuclear garbage.

        Your references:
        “Goggin 2017b”: From the American Wind Energy Association blog, in an article titled:
        “Low natural gas prices, not wind energy, primarily responsible for coal’s troubles”
        – you extract the very suspect “fact” of huge past nuclear subsidies, accounting not at all for the wide gulf in energy production.
        “Koplow 2011”: a UCS report continuing your tradition of anti-nuclear propaganda,
        “Nuclear Power: Still Not Viable without Subsidies”
        – rolls all sorts of non-subsidies and accounting variations into the fiction of a continuing subsidy for nuclear. As predicted: including the non-subsidy that is Price-Anderson.

        Anyway, great, you’ve clarified that the dogmatic UCS campaign against nuclear power will continue. No-one needs to be fooled by the recent insincere attempt to hide your hypocrisy on the climate.

        Happy Thanksgiving.

      • J Kim

        Steve Clemmer – I agree with Joffan that the UCS has many negative statements about nuclear power, and is doing nothing to dispel the extremely prevalent unscientific fear-mongering of anti-nuclear positions. You claim that the UCS did not oppose new reactors and you didn’t call for closures – but by only speaking of dangers and problems, and doing nothing to oppose misinformation on nuclear power – the UCS is being actively anti-nuclear.