Nuclear crowd hoping to see tweaks in EPA Clean Power Plan

While the federal government is proposing a plan to reduce power sector carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2030, speakers at a panel discussion by the organization Nuclear Matters said Oct. 24 that the Clean Power Plan doesn’t do much for nuclear energy, according to GenerationHub.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rolled out its CO2 proposal in June, seeking to have states cut power sector CO2 30 percent by 2030. But the formulas used to calculate state-by-state reductions don’t fully reward nuclear power, speakers said during the program at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Speakers expressed optimism that after all the comments are filed with EPA by Dec. 1, the federal government will indeed tweak the rule proposal to better recognize nuclear power.

Nuclear Matters is an industry advocacy group associated with Exelon.

The current Assistant Energy Secretary for Nuclear Power Peter Lyons, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), said while five nuclear units are under construction in the United States, others have retired in the past two years.

The current EPA proposal treats the states of Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, where nuclear reactors are being constructed, as if the nuclear units are already in operation, industry officials have said.

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) expects to file comments on the EPA rule proposal by the end of the comment deadline.

In addition to Lyons, other speakers at the forum that was moderated by The Hill included Former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Ex-EPA chief Carol Browner, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry President Gene Barr, and North America’s Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey.

Most of the speakers have officially joined the Nuclear Matters group and talk about the climate and economic benefits of nuclear power.

Nuclear clearly faces some difficult economic hurdles, Lyons said. Licensing and building a new nuclear plant takes a long time and a massive capital expenditure. Retired Exelon executive John Rowe used to say that developing a new merchant nuclear plant would require a natural gas price of at least $25 and a carbon price of at least $8. “We have neither,” Lyons said.

“If current profit is the only motivation, you will continue to see a focus on natural gas,” Lyons said. That won’t result in much baseload fuel diversity, he said.

Nevertheless, nuclear has some staying power. Noting that Pennsylvania has benefited economically from the shale boom, Barr said that nuclear is so efficient that people almost forget about it.

From a labor union front, McGarvey said nuclear plants provide a large number of middle-class jobs and tax revenue for communities. The union official said the nuclear industry ranks alongside of prisons when it comes to security.

Abraham said despite the Fukushima meltdown tragedy in Japan, more than 70 new nuclear reactors are under development worldwide. The accident hasn’t stymied the industry internationally, he added.

Browner said her view of nuclear power has changed over the years. She now believes it would be irresponsible to allow premature retirements of a major source of carbon-free power generation.

That’s because nuclear energy is the largest source of carbon-free generation, she said. Browner added that her revised position on nuclear has surprised some of her fellow environmentalists.

Browner said her revised view on nuclear power is connected with how seriously she takes the issue of climate change.

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Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 22 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants.

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