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Is a Nuclear Revival 15 Years Off? Energy Secretary Moniz Thinks So

Nuclear energy may have cramps right now but the time will come when it rises again. That’s according to US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, who said that within 15 years, the power source will have a resurgence because it is a carbon free and that such clean power is what the world now desires.

“The idea is, we are supposed to be adding zero-carbon sources not subtracting or simply replacing by building to just kind of tread water,” says Secretary Moniz, before a summit on improving nuclear economics last week. To that end, he rattled off the same speaking points that the nuclear industry does — that the power source provides 63 percent of all carbon-free electricity in the United States and that it is necessary to meet the country’s own carbon goals: 32 percent cuts by 2030.

Critics, of course, say that if nuclear energy is not cost effective — either to build or to operate — then it has no business in a free market economy. Consider Exelon, which has said it may need to retire some units in Illinois before their licenses are up:

“If Exelon’s management chooses to shut down the economically uncompetitive Clinton and Quad Cities 1 & 2 nuclear units, then it will go from having 11 nuclear units in Illinois to 8 nuclear units in Illinois.  Still, will be the largest concentration of nuclear plants in the nation,” says Howard Lerner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago, in an email exchange with this writer.

“Hard to argue that going from 11 nuclear units down to 8 nuclear units (around 9,000 MW) in North/Central Illinois would somehow leave the state at risk of nuclear not be sufficiently included in the fuel mix,” he continues. “There will still be much more nuclear MW than coal MW or gas MW or wind power MW in the PJM area in Illinois.  This will still be the largest concentration of nuclear plants in the country.  What the fuel diversity issue here?” 

Given the age of the average electric generators in this country — about 35 years — Moniz pegs 15 years as the “date certain” for the nuclear revival. That’s because most electric generators have an age span of about 50-60 years. Economics and environmental circumstances will factor in, as will the experience from those wading further into the nuclear waters: China, to name a key figure.

It has 20 nuclear plants today and 28 more under construction — 40 percent of all projected new nuclear units, says the World Nuclear Association.

In the United States, a few small nuclear units that compete in open markets have retired early. But the nuclear industry is now banking on Southern Co., Scana Corp. and the Tennessee Valley Authority, which are actively developing nuclear plants.

Southern Co. and its partners are building two new units where two other nuclear reactors now reside. The total price tag is estimated at $14 billion. Southern expects its first unit to be operational by 2020 and Scana is on a similar timetable.  Meantime, TVA’s Watts Bar II is expected to become operational this year and to generate 1,500 megawatts.

Fifteen years may be the “fast track” for a nuclear come back. But once some of the fourth-generation advanced nuclear technologies start getting commercialized and put to use in China, and elsewhere, a come back could occur here.

9 thoughts on “Is a Nuclear Revival 15 Years Off? Energy Secretary Moniz Thinks So

  1. Nuclear power stations are mansions without toilets.
    This industry has yet figured out what to do with their extremely hazardous waste….other than leave it for the next 3000 generations.
    It’s time to STOP the nuke con job!

  2. Erica, the industry seems to okay for the time being with burying its nuclear waste on site. My guess is that its bigger battle is to get the capital to get plants built and it will save that one for later date.

  3. Secretary Moniz is out of contact with reality, regarding the the rate that the climate is changing, as are billions of other people on planet Earth. If he was in contact with that reality he would know that 15-years is way too long and that by then industrial civilization will likely collapse leading to the spewing of radiation from hundreds of existing NPP around the world that were designed under the assumption that they would run their full life production cycle and that skilled nuclear workers, plentiful supplies of replacement parts and ample supplies of external power would be available to keep the spent nuclear fuel cool until it can be moved to storage casks. – Dreams, that nuclear power will be our savior are just that, dreams.

  4. The carbon-free pitch is simply a misleading ‘greening’ pitch. It relies upon ignoring many aspects of nuclear power production such as plenty of carbon was emitted during the enrichment of the uranium fuel and massive quantities were emitted during the production of the steel and concrete that are required in the creation of any NPP, including the new advanced designs.

  5. The most charitable way to describe the notion that nuclear plants are “non-competitive” is that it is overly simplistic. Nuclear’s struggles are due to both a policy and regulatory playing field that are heavily stacked against it. On a level playing field, it would do fine. At a minimum, all existing plants would (easily) stay open.

    Nuclear is expensive because it is not allowed to pollute. They must go to extremes to prevent even a small chance of pollution. And yet, it is treated, by policy and market, like a dirty energy source. It doesn’t receive the large subsidies and (even more importantly) mandates for use that renewables get. Instead, it is placed in direct competition with fossil sources that are allowed to release massive amounts of pollution, continuously, directly into the environment.

    The answer is obvious. Treat nuclear like renewables. The real truth is that keeping existing nuclear plants open is the least expensive means of emissions reduction you will ever find. The amount of financial support (subsidy) needed to keep existing nukes open is far lower than the subsidies renewables get.

    Lerner’s arguments are weak. Just because Illinois would still have a lot of nuclear doesn’t change the fact that we would be closing non-emitting generation sources with fossil (gas) sources, which is clearly indefensible at a time when we are supposed to be concerned about global warming.

  6. The nuclear industry is the ONLY industry that has “put in a toilet”. It is the only industry that is required to demonstrate that its waste stream will remain contained for as long as it remains hazardous, and impeccable standard that no other waste stream comes close to meeting. And yet, NRC has concluded that Yucca Mountain will meet that impeccable, unprecedented, standard.

    That nuclear waste is unique in terms of long-term hazard is a myth. Nuclear waste decays away exponentially, while many other waste streams (including those from coal and solar) contain hazardous elements that *never* decay away. Those other waste streams are also generated in thousands to millions of times the volume, are in a much harder to contain physical/chemical form, and are disposed of with infinitely less care. As a result, many if not most of mankind’s other waste streams will pose a far larger long-term hazard.

    It is other energy sources and industries that have an intractable, unsolved waste problem. Those wastes, that are generated in enormous volumes, are carelessly shallow-buried or released, en masse, directly into the environment. Some “solution”. And yet, people say that it’s the nuclear industry that has an unsolved waste problem. Can’t make this stuff up.

  7. It’s Vernon who is (selectively) ignoring things.

    Yes, all energy sources has some net CO2 emissions (from construction, etc.). It’s a matter of how much.

    According to the IPCC (the official world global warming body), nuclear’s overall net CO2 emissions (including all parts of the process, such as plant construction) are negligible compared to fossil fuels, and are several times lower than those associated with most renewable sources, including biomass, hydro, geothermal and solar. Nuclear is tied with wind as the lowest emitting source of all.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life-cycle_greenhouse-gas_emissions_of_energy_sources

    With respect to construction, solar and wind actually require ~20 times as much raw material (e.g., steel and concrete) as nuclear, per kW-hr generated. They also take ~100 times as much land area (that must be developed/industrialized).

  8. All you have to do is scroll thru the headlines at ENENEWS to learn why nuclear power should no longer be an option.

    Here is one of the latest headlines from ENENEWS

    “Nuclear Expert: Largest amount of Fukushima radiation fell on US West Coast and Pacific — “Why don’t we hear complaints from US?”… Officials are criminals and trying to cover it up — Public must be aware even more radiation is coming… “People need to realize impact of contamination on them”

    P.S. – The pro-nukers hate ENENEWS which means you will love it.

  9. Well if the nuclear industry is depending on Scana, Southern Co and TVA for it’s future, we can write it’s obituary already. The new reactors under construction in SC and GA are already years late and billions over budget and they just started in 2013. TVA is 40 years late and several hundred percent over budget. All of these reactors depend on circumstances in which the utilities need not worry about costs because they can bill customers endlessly for their mistakes, even if the reactors are not completed. Most utilities dont have such blank checks from rate payers and tax payers.

    The idea that reactors last 50 and 60 years is fanciful. We dont have any operating which have. The problem of embrittlement is sky rocketing operating costs for older reactors and leading to their closure. It is one thing for a captured regulator like the NRC to say it is fine to continue reactors operating this long. Physics and economics clearly have other ideas.

    As for subsidies, nuclear has far more than renewables, leaving aside completely that nuclear is totally uninsurable and has a giant government subsidy for accidents in the form of the Price Anderson act. See

    https://funologist.org/2012/11/27/what-a-really-poor-investment-looks-like/

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