Best alternative to coal? Still nuclear

Published on Thursday, 21 May 2015 19:37 - Written by

If the Obama administration has declared war on coal, it’s done so while unilaterally disarming itself of its most potent weapon — nuclear energy. The science journal PLOS ONE issued a study this week that says if we truly want to phase out coal, we could do so by expanding nuclear power capacity.

“There is an ongoing debate about the deployment rates and composition of alternative energy plans that could feasibly displace fossil fuels globally by mid-century, as required to avoid the more extreme impacts of climate change,” the study says. “…Our modeling estimates that the global share of fossil-fuel-derived electricity could be replaced within 25 to 34 years. This would allow the world to meet the most stringent greenhouse-gas mitigation targets.”

There’s simply no way other renewable energy sources can be expanded that much, that quickly, the study notes.

“Why consider a large-scale nuclear scenario?” the study asks. “The operation of a nuclear reactor does not emit greenhouse gases or other forms of particulate air pollution, and it is one of few base-load alternatives to fossil energy sources currently available that has been proven by historical experience to be able to be significantly expanded and scaled up.”

That’s important because proposed new EPA regulations could shut down many coal-fired power plants throughout the country, including here in Texas.

This is a better way to reach the same goals. History proves this.

“In the early 1960s, Sweden began a massive project to build nuclear power plants,” reports Ross Pomeroy of RealClearScience.com. “By 1986, half of the country’s power came from nuclear, CO2 emissions per capita fell 75 percent from the peak in 1970, and energy costs were among the lowest in the world.”

Also, “Beginning in 1973, France embarked on an ambitious path to free itself from foreign oil and generate almost all of its power from nuclear energy,” he said. “Today, nuclear produces 75 percent of the country’s electricity at the 7th cheapest rate in the European Union.”

That could happen here. And the nuclear energy producers are ready to step up.

“With high-profile advocates like former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christie Whitman on board, the industry is embarking on a very public campaign arguing nuclear must be part of any national energy plan,” Tribune Media Services reported last month. “To accomplish that, it wants to examine amending power and licensing regulations to encourage nuclear and speed up construction.”

The nuclear power industry got some good news in March, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he was stepping down. He’s spent a lot of political capital in the last few decades preventing the opening of Yucca Mountain, the nation’s only permanent nuclear waste repository.

Every study says Yucca Mountain is the best and safest storage facility imaginable for nuclear waste. The federal government already has spent more than $15 billion on the site over the last three decades.

Without Reid in power, it has a chance of opening. And that could help environmentalists realize their goal: If we want to replace coal, we have to look to nuclear power.