Nuclear is Key For Cutting Emissions

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To win on climate, we’ll need access to clean energy that can run 24/7. At the moment, nuclear energy is the only power source that can do that. Unfortunately, as we’ve noted many times, nuclear facilities have been closing at a startling pace in the U.S., with the Vogtle project in Georgia being the only new plant under construction. 

The news hasn’t gotten any better in recent months. In April, Indian Point Nuclear Plant closed, wiping out 80% of the New York Metro Region’s carbon-free power. That energy will be replaced by natural gas, not renewables. Although natural gas is a highly flexible, affordable, and reliable fuel source, it makes little sense to replace an emission-free nuclear plant with gas, especially in light of Governor Cuomo’s Climate Protection and Community Protection Act, which commits New York state to eliminating fossil fuels for power generation by 2040.

Next on the chopping block are Exelon’s Byron and Dresden nuclear stations in Illinois. Exelon warned earlier this year that the plants might be forced to close without economic assistance from the state. However, in June, the plants failed to clear grid operator PJM’s capacity auction, sealing their fate. As a result, both plants will close in the fall of this year. While there isn’t a clear plan for filling the power void left by these closures, most likely it will be accomplished by using sources that produce CO2. 

We’ve also written many times about the looming closure of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant in California. Like the Illinois plants, there isn’t a plan for making up the lost power once Diablo Canyon closes. That’s a major problem. California’s power grid is already extremely fragile, having faced blackouts last summer. Closing another baseload source of power generation will only further destabilize the grid and create more blackouts. Like other states, California will likely look to natural gas to fill the gaps in supply, which is a setback for the state’s aggressive carbon goals. 

What can we do to reverse this trend? Fortunately, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle seem to understand how vital this energy resource is. The bipartisan $1 trillion Senate infrastructure bill, which recently passed the Senate (69-30), includes new funding for the nuclear energy industry. It sets aside $6 billion for the Department of Energy to spend on nuclear facilities under threat of closure and another $6 billion in funding for microreactors, small modular reactors, and advanced nuclear reactors. Unfortunately, the bill comes too little, too late to save the Illinois plants, but the new funding may save other nuclear plants that are on the chopping block. 

As we’ve seen time and time again, closing nuclear plants results in higher emissions. If we are to meet our climate goals, we must reverse this trend. Thankfully, it seems lawmakers are finally getting the message. Nuclear energy is absolutely critical to our clean energy future.