Price Carbon To Save Nukes
In response to guest columnist John Interval’s Nov. 24 column regarding natural gas, I admire his desire to see his industry succeed. But his argument to let nuclear plants die lacks any good factual support — especially in a world where climate change and man’s impact on it have relevance. Pennsylvanians should look carefully at all options for electricity generation and decide for themselves what makes sense. This is not only about short term gain, but about long-term innovation to support reducing the carbon footprint and humans’ impact on climate change. Natural gas development, in the same manner as coal development many years ago, is on a high and pushing to make the best of this market while it can, irrespective of its climate impact. Pennsylvanians should not be fooled (like they were scarred during the coal-mining years), as much of this gas will be exported from the region domestically and internationally in the coming years. This energy source has a carbon footprint about 50 percent that of coal and contributes significantly to global warming. Escaping methane during the fracking process might be the worst contributor to global warming and is a major concern. We don’t fully know the extent of any damage that could be caused by removing so much of this natural gas from underneath Pennsylvanians’ feet, but ask Oklahoman’s if they are OK with the hydraulic fracturing- induced earthquakes they feel routinely after a few decades of extraction. Oklahoma has no nuclear reactors, whereas Pennsylvania has nine operating nuclear reactors. What could happen 20 years from now if we routinely encounter earthquakes in Pennsylvania? Nuclear energy provides 33 percent of the state’s energy, with no carbon footprint or CO2 emissions. Pennsylvania’s nuclear energy facilities prevent the emission of tens of thousands of tons of air-pollutants annually. Each reactor employs between 400 and 700 highly skilled workers, with $40 million payrolls, and contributes $470 million to local economies and more than $45 million in state and local taxes. Pennsylvania has more nuclear suppliers than any other state, offering $1.8 billion in materials, services and fuel. Taking this clean energy away from Pennsylvanians and replacing it with natural gas with its carbon footprint makes no sense. It will take many, many years to address this environmental loss with renewables (which I support). Just this month, the Union of Concerned Scientists put out a fact-based executive summary report relative to the nuclear power dilemma and analysis of the impact of carbon reduction policies relative to retiring nuclear reactors early. New York, New Jersey and Illinois at least understand the dilemma and offer nuclear energy credits (what many call bailouts) in support of nuclear energy. The UCS flipped the script and proposed policies that make more sense — by valuing low-carbon energy and proposing carbon pricing. Those energy sources that emit more carbon pollutants into the air should pay more to access the electric grid than those that don’t. This policy would support renewables and nuclear, and discourage coal and natural gas, as we work towards a cleaner environment. I encourage readers to read this report. (https://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear-power/cost-nuclear-power/retirements#.XAAE7uJReUk). Regarding innovation and the future, nuclear is working on the next generation of nuclear power called small modular reactors. Companies like Nuscale Power in Oregon and Holtec International in New Jersey are leading the charge. There are breakthroughs in spent fuel reprocessing and recycling. Interval is correct in that development of new conventional nuclear power plants is not likely to continue in the United States due to start-up costs creating major investment hardship. Major funding continues for development of these small modular reactors and of alternate energy sources such as fusion energy. The Pennsylvania Legislature should look at this now a some private Pennsylvania companies are doing. Large nuclear power plants in the United States will run their course in due time, and likely be replaced by small modular reactors, fusion energy or other renewables. Nuclear energy is not a short-term strategy. Neither is shutting down the current nuclear fleet, relative to climate change, for the sake of short-term lower-priced natural gas. There is no long-term strategy for natural gas, since it clearly contributes to global warming and has a finite reserve, and is transportable for energy use from the source, thus exported for private companies’ short- term gains. State legislators and energy policy-makers, God willing, will sort this all out logically and nuclear energy, as part of a clean-energy package with renewables, will provide electric power to Pennsylvanians in their own backyards and neighborhoods for many years.