With the lower prices of oil and gas over the last year, coal and nuclear power plants are struggling to deliver cheap electricity for the grid. Several Utilities have already shut down perfectly good nuclear power generating plants to cut cost and replaced them with even cheaper natural gas turbines. However what is going to happen when the ‘oil boom’ becomes our next ‘oil bust’? All that cheap electricity that was generated by the closed nuclear power plants, as well as the closed coal burning power plants, can not be brought back online easily, if at all.
At least a few congressmen are starting to see the reality of early nuclear plant closures and are making others in Congress take notice. “I’m here today to talk about the day the United States is without nuclear power – a day we don’t want to see in our country’s future. That may seem like a distant and unlikely scenario to some. In fact, it’s a real threat to our economy and way of life. According to a 2013 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, up to 25 of our 99 nuclear reactors could close by 2020.” – Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy & Water Development.
So why does nuclear power struggle in the commercial market place? Logically, if there is a form of energy that is one to two million times more energy dense than any other energy source, that it would easily surpass all other forms of energy usage. But lately, logic seems to have gone by the wayside. And indeed there are people like me that think ultimately nuclear power will be the dominate form of energy producing electricity for the world population.
When you look at the long term energy requirements of the world, nuclear will matter. The blending of nuclear energy and the biosphere has the least climate impact on the biodiversity within most of the ecosystems that have already been altered by other energy sources, like fossil and renewable. The design criteria of the advanced next generation nuclear reactors are based on the elimination of the three major concerns of the first generations of nuclear power plants; possible meltdown with radiation leak, potential proliferation of bomb making materials, and generation of radioactive waste (unused fuel). The modular Gen4 designs also brings the price down to a reasonable range for private industry to invest in.
I ask again, does nuclear really matter? Someone thinks so because there are 69 nuclear power plants under construction around the world at this time and hundreds more in the queue. My God, even the US has 5 power plants under construction with one finally coming online in 2015 after 26 years of a on again/off again development cycle and the other four scheduled later this decade. China and India have the most aggressive schedules for new nuclear energy because they are both developing economies that have used coal excessively and created some bad atmospheric conditions in that part of the world that effects everyone on this little old rock floating in space. The culture of fear has finally diminished a bit after the Fukushima accident because a lot has been learned about preventable accidents in the future of the existing nuclear power plant fleet (440 units).
Let me leave you with this final thought: Increasing the standard of living in the world is the better approach to reduce poverty and its evil stepchildren, war and terrorism. So expanding nuclear and other forms of energy, is a way to decrease tensions, as long as everyone benefits.