It’s time to get serious about nuclear energy

On April 21st, the National Regulatory Commission (NRC) posted a request for information from the nuclear industry and advocates for feedback regarding a baseline to regulate molten salt reactors due by June 8th, a total of about 6 weeks. No joke! This is from an agency that takes 10 years to approve a single nuclear power plant license.

My case in point; according to the NRC wed site the process of coming up with Advanced Reactor Design Criteria (ARDC) for non-light-water-cooled reactors the NRC has been working with the Department of Energy on this since 2013. Well, here we are three years later and the NRC is now at the point where public input will help them develop Advanced Reactor Design Criteria (ARDC) for tomorrow’s reactors. Until the NRC completes this regulatory requirement, no advance nuclear reactors can be built in the US. This includes a research/development unit in a non-military research lab which also needs a license. Catch-22!

Dr. Alvin Weinberg (last week’s article) was probably one of the earliest environmentalists that promoted nuclear energy as the clean alternative to fossil fuels. However the US just came out of a world war where oil was the indispensable product, in all its forms, 7 billion barrels consumed by the Allies campaigns around the world. Without it, WWII could never have been won. Now, how do you convince the US Government to replace fossil fuel with nuclear fuel? Well, you don’t.

The oil and gas industries became so powerful during WWII they were able to hold back many alternatives to replace them, especially nuclear. Then in 1979, nuclear took a stumble at Three Mile Island and the promising new nuclear industry took a noise dive. To this day it has never been able to fully recover. The redundant safety requirement placed on the nuclear industry became so expensive that it made it impossible to build new. With fracking and horizontal drilling, natural gas has become so cheap that even existing nuclear power plants have become to expensive to operate. Cheapest is always cheaper than cheap.

Now we are at a crossroad with the new and the old nuclear reactors. Nuclear plants account for 63 percent of America’s emissions-free electricity, which is nearly 20 percent of the total electricity from all sources. The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar Unit 2, a 1,150-megawatt behemoth has gone critical (start your engine) last week and it is one of 5 new nuclear power reactors being built in the US over the last 40 years.

However, these are not a net gain in the nuclear energy fleet. These five plants together will add about 6,000 megawatts of new capacity, boosting the U.S. total of clean energy by about 6 percent. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is also reviewing applications for five more Gen3+ LWR plants (these are not based on the advanced MSR designs).

The 99 currently active nuclear reactors all started out with a 40 year license and many have already added another 20 year extension to the original license. These nuclear reactors will eventually need to be replaced but the question is when. When a license comes up for renewal the anti-nuclear folks (they are also anti-fossil) are the first on the scene to oppose the license extension request. Technically, the nuclear reactors still have many decades of usable processing power left in them.

Three of those reactors; Diablo Canyon in California, Clinton Plant in Illinois and Indian Point in New York are planned for premature shutter within months. There have already been 4 other nuclear power plants prematurely shuttered over the last couple of years with cheaper natural gas fuel as a replacement power source to generate lost electricity.

All future shuttered plants will also replace the lost electricity with natural gas sources and not with solar and wind because it is cheaper. This phenomena has cause many environmentalist to finally speak out in favor of nuclear energy to save the planet from continued use of fossil fuels.

Michael Shellenberger from Environmental Progress stated that “13 nuclear plants are at high-risk of closure within the next 24 months, and half of all U.S. plants are at risk of premature closure by 2030.” Those nuclear power plants will not be replace with advanced reactor designs because they won’t be ready for the US commercial markets in time.

I signed this open letter to President Obama –

“We are writing as scientists, conservationists and concerned citizens to urge you to do all in your power to prevent the premature closure of America’s nuclear power plants. We applaud the policies you have enacted to put the United States on track to reduce carbon emissions, including the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Unfortunately, early retirements of nuclear plants threaten to undermine your legacy of progress on climate and environmental issues…”

“…While we strongly support legislation to accelerate the development of advanced reactors, we also need to protect the nuclear plants we already have for fear that we go backwards on air pollution, carbon emissions, reliability and affordability. We hope you will take action before it’s too late.”

I will also send this letter to presumptive President Trump.

Remember this if you remember anything: “the energy industry is the industry that powers every other industry”


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