Nuclear energy becomes pivotal in climate debate

Oct 25, 2009 By H. JOSEF HEBERT , Associated Press Writer

(AP) -- Nuclear energy, once vilified by environmentalists and facing a dim future, has become a pivotal bargaining chip as Senate Democrats hunt for Republican votes to pass climate legislation.

The industry's long-standing campaign to rebrand itself as green is gaining footing as part of the effort to curtail greenhouse gases.

Nuclear power still faces daunting challenges, including the fate of highly radioactive reactor waste. Reactors remain a tempting target for terrorists, requiring ever vigilant security measures.

But 104 power reactors in 31 states provide one-fifth of the nation's electricity. They also are producing 70 percent of essentially carbon-free power and are devoid of emissions.

It's something the nuclear industry has hammered away at in advertising and in lobbying on Capitol Hill for nearly a decade. Only recently, however, has the message begun to resonate among both industry supporters and skeptics.

"If you want to address climate change and produce electricity, nuclear has got to be a significant part of the equation," Marvin Fertel, president of Institute, the industry trade group, said in an interview.

Not unexpected from a top industry lobbyist. But the same is heard from Republicans and Democrats in Congress, from a growing number of environmentalists and from the White House, where nuclear power otherwise has received tepid support.

The Senate this week will kick off three committee hearings on legislation to cap greenhouse gases from m and large industrial facilities. The goal is to cut them about 80 percent by 2050.

The House has already passed a bill. Its chances in the Senate could hinge in part on whether demands by a few GOP senators, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, that the legislation provide help to build new reactors.

"Nuclear power is pivotal to both a low carbon economy and to generate a bipartisan coalition to pass a carbon cap," says Jason Grumet, executive director of the National Commission on Energy Policy, a bipartisan group of experts created in seven years ago to advise government officials on energy matters.

He says all economic models on climate legislation "assume significant increases in nuclear power" - an expansion binge unseen since the 1970s, before the Three Mile Island nuclear accident brought new reactor orders to a halt.

A study by the industry-supported Electric Power Research Institute says 45 new reactors are needed by 2030. The Energy Information Administration puts the number at 70. An analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency assumes 180 new reactors by 2050 for an 80 percent decline in .

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has applications for 30 new reactors. Only a few probably would be built over the next decade, the earliest in 2016 - and then only with the government guaranteeing the private financing.

Democratic sponsors of the climate bill are far short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. They hope a compromises could bring along uncommitted centrist Democrats and some Republicans. Along with talk of opening more waters to oil drilling, support for nuclear energy is seen as the carrot that might attract Republicans.

The prospects of such a compromise appeared to brighten recently when Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., the climate bill's principle sponsor, and Graham collaborated on a new bid to build consensus.

"Nuclear power needs to be a core component of electricity generation if we are to meet our emission reduction targets," they wrote. They called for ending "cumbersome regulations that have stalled" new reactors, measures to help utilities secure financing and expanded research to resolve the waste problem.

They outlined a framework that other Republicans might follow. GOP senators such as McCain, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Conn., have shown an interest in climate legislation - if nuclear energy plays a greater part.

To many environmentalists, it remains a choice of dealing with one overriding environmental problem, while accepting another, to some degree.

"You can't dismiss nuclear power's potential as a climate solution," says Susan Vancko of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Yet, she says, with reactors costing upward to $10 billion apiece, "this is one of the most expensive options out there" to cut greenhouse gases.

Vancko cautions against providing "almost unlimited loan guarantees" for reactors that could go bust.

A group of 14 environmental and anti-nuclear groups expressed concern in a recent letter to senators that easing licensing requirements and rushing to build new plants "would fatally undermine public confidence in the safety of U.S. reactors."

Atop the nuclear industry's wish list - 26 items covering two single-line typewritten pages - is an expansion of loan guarantees for new reactors. But it also mentions eliminating some speed bumps in the road to reactor licensing, new efforts to deal with reactor waste and an array of other items.

Some are in the Senate bill; others are likely to be added.

The goals of those calling for aggressive action on climate change have become intertwined with those pushing for more nuclear energy.

"I don't think it gets you there alone," industry official Fertel says about nuclear's role in combating global warming. "But you can't get there without it."

On the Net:

NRC: http://www.nrc.gov

Nuclear Energy Institute: http://www.nei.org

Energy Information Administration: http://www.eia.doe.gov/

EPA: http://www.epa.gov

National Commission on Energy Policy: http://tinyurl.com/yzvh62d

Union of Concerned Scientists: http://tinyurl.com/nn6jlp

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: Tourists evacuated amid Iceland volcano concerns

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Sustainable nuclear energy moves a step closer

Dec 11, 2006

In future a new generation of nuclear reactors will create energy, while producing virtually no long-lasting nuclear waste, according to research conducted by Wilfred van Rooijen, who will receive his Delft University of ...

British debate use of nuclear power

Jan 17, 2006

A disagreement has arisen among British scientists concerning the use of additional nuclear power plants to combat global warming.

Britain looks at new nuclear plants

May 24, 2007

The British government says it will run out of power in the near future unless it increases its number of nuclear power plants in the country.

Recommended for you

Water crisis threatens thirsty Sao Paulo

19 minutes ago

Sao Paulo is thirsty. A severe drought is hitting Brazil's largest city and thriving economic capital with no end in sight, threatening the municipal water supply to millions of people.

Climate change: meteorologists preparing for the worst

5 hours ago

Intense aerial turbulence, ice storms and scorching heatwaves, huge ocean waves—the world's climate experts forecast apocalyptic weather over the coming decades at a conference in Montreal that ended Thursday.

Sunlight, not microbes, key to CO2 in Arctic

6 hours ago

The vast reservoir of carbon stored in Arctic permafrost is gradually being converted to carbon dioxide (CO2) after entering the freshwater system in a process thought to be controlled largely by microbial ...

User comments : 13

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

wiserd
4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 25, 2009
Amen. Solar panels still use heavy metals and waste isn't contained. With nuclear, all waste is contained. We need nuclear reprocessing like France and Japan have (reduces waste as well). This is probably my #1 voting issue since it's one of the few things that actually requires government intervention. I hope we get more funding for polywell fusion research, but until that's a reality I'm all for fission. It really is the best energy source for the next 50 years.
NeilFarbstein
1.8 / 5 (9) Oct 25, 2009
Don't give money to nuclear power. It might be worse
than the greenhouse effect in ruining our landscape and everything else. Especially after terrorists crashed planes into the world trade center buildings and the pentagon. Its a real possiblitly that they might hit nuclear power plants with jets. The results might be as bad as Chernobyl. Solar is the way to go.
jonnyboy
2.3 / 5 (6) Oct 25, 2009
Neil, just go away, you are as uninteresting as you are uninformed.
bhiestand
4 / 5 (4) Oct 25, 2009
I have to agree with you, wiserd. Solar is great for some applications, but we'll need more local base load power for some time, and nuclear seems to be the best medium-term solution for that.

I've heard that for half the cost of the Iraq war we could have built enough nuclear plants to power the whole country... no idea if that's true, but I wouldn't be surprised.
zevkirsh
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 25, 2009
we all know nuclear will happen bigtime. it's that or coal. america's lagging competitiveness in the nuclear field is sad, but we can catch up to france and europe. i know a bigtime fusion researcher at columbia university who believes in fusion and solar and wind, but he discussed the serious IMMEDiATE necessity for ramping up nuclear energy for the next 30 years. he is right.
rwinners
Oct 26, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
JRDarby
1 / 5 (1) Oct 26, 2009
Don't give money to nuclear power. It might be worse
than the greenhouse effect in ruining our landscape and everything else. Especially after terrorists crashed planes into the world trade center buildings and the pentagon. Its a real possiblitly that they might hit nuclear power plants with jets. The results might be as bad as Chernobyl. Solar is the way to go.


I registered just to reply to you.

I really hope your reply is in jest. I can almost see that it would be since you mentioned 9/11 and Chernobyl. But in case you weren't joking, let me tell you that all nuclear plants are designed to withstand direct hits from planes flying into them (and have been designed thusly for a long time, even before 9/11). Furthermore, you REALLY need to do some research on the Chernobyl disaster and its causes: if you knew anything about it you wouldn't even have mentioned it. Solar may be wonderful, but there's no reason to knock on nuclear in what you wrote.
holoman
2 / 5 (2) Oct 26, 2009
Nuclear energy is a black hole. NO NUKES !

1. material depletion every 7 to 10 years refueling
2. waster remediation - no place to store
3. plant down 6 months to 2 years for refueling
and maintence, i.e., no energy and no return on
investment.
4. ores are on the fast track to depletion.
5. terrorist are licking their chops !
JRDarby
2.5 / 5 (2) Oct 26, 2009
Nuclear energy is a black hole. NO NUKES !

1. material depletion every 7 to 10 years refueling
2. waster remediation - no place to store
3. plant down 6 months to 2 years for refueling
and maintence, i.e., no energy and no return on
investment.
4. ores are on the fast track to depletion.
5. terrorist are licking their chops !


1. Reprocessing.
2. Facilities exist on every site for storing waste at least temporarily. The US plan for Yucca Mountain repository would have been sufficient to store other waste. Furthermore many fourth-gen plants can indefinitely recycle or store waste on site.
3. Energy sold during operation can offset costs out of operation. Furthermore, evaluation of the environmental benefits of nuclear power over the dollar cost could invalidate this point.
4. There is enough U238 in the ocean to last a billion years; thorium is also abundant in the Earth's crust.
5. Laughable. Research plant security. Also impossible to make most current plants explode.
holoman
4 / 5 (1) Oct 26, 2009
1. reprocessing - Breeders are notorius radioactive emitters, don't want to live within a thousand miles of one.

2. Yucca has lost its funding and no other state will except ratioactive material for storage.

3. Sorry, but the reality of the facts outweigh your argument.

4. I don't know where you get you numbers but the
mining efforts would make oil spill at Valdese pale
in comparison. Mining companies are not good stewarts of the environment, fact.

5. Past 9/11 event (jet into WT, DOD) refutes your
assumption and scenarios are possible.

This best energy plan for the world moving forward
is still renewable energy.
JRDarby
1 / 5 (1) Oct 26, 2009
1. Everything is a radioactive emitter, including the computer monitor you're staring at and the trees around you, and sufficient shielding--easily attainable, by the way--will contain all post-harmful levels of radiation.

2. Yucca Mountain has not been defunded, though its status is currently unclear. Regardless, as I said some fourth-gen reactors can contain and/or recycle waste on site indefinitely.

3. No, the burden of proof is on an intuitively outrageous statement like your own. Occam's Razor would also suggest that these plants wouldn't even continue to exist if they weren't profitable in the first place: prove that they aren't net-profitable.

4. I agree that mining companies can be horrible environmentalists; but you have to get the ore to make renewable energy structures and manufacturing plants somewhere too. But again, extraction from the ocean is also possible.

5. Do some research on security measures at nuclear plants. They must pass rigorous five-point tests.
Arkaleus
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 27, 2009
Forcing a "renewable-only" energy future is a non-starter. It's irrational to expect people to accept a energy policy that fails to meet their needs or increases their costs of living.

It's also irrational to expect a system incapable of meeting global energy demand to displace other forms of energy production that cost less and do more.

Of course, you can force whatever madness you want by law, but don't expect the world to go along with your delusion.
jerryd
not rated yet Oct 31, 2009

Facts are nukes at $8k/kw like oil $3k/kw and coal $4k/kw plus fuels are far too costly and only good if you want all your power to come from utilities.

Facts are RE is mostly very simple machines, wind, solar CSP, CHP, river/tidal kinetic hydro all make fuel free power at under $3k/kwhr.

As for whether they are steady is not a problem unless they are all in one place as spread out, they average out. Solar happens at the peak power time so far more valuable than nuke and kinetic hydro of which we have enough US, European resources to completely replace coal and nuke and it's steady/baseline power at under $2k/kw. I want to see nuke beat that.

And these can be installed far faster too. Nuke, coal and oil are so subsidized that their price would have to double to pay there full cost.

By far best is home size units that don't have land, transmission/line, overhead of stockholder costs makes home/building units 2-3x's as cost effective.
jerryd
not rated yet Oct 31, 2009
Continuing, Home size units are especially more cost effective because utilities double the generation price of electricity so home, building owner save.make 2x's as much.

Nukes, coal and oil are mostly corporate welfare and once RE is in real mass production, will be far cheaper with no rise in fuel prices like nuke, coal, oil will have, going up with a bullet.

If the direct, indirect subsidies are in nuke, coal and oil and RE, RE is far cheaper. It's only these subsidies and big business lobbying, paying off congress that they are not already replaced.