Quantcast
Popular

Amory Lovins: Nukes Not the Answer

New analysis from Amory B. Lovins debunks the notion that highly unprofitable, economically distressed nuclear plants should be further subsi­dized to meet financial, security, reliability and climate goals. The analysis, which will appear shortly in The Electricity Journal, shows that closing costly-to-run nuclear plants and reinvesting their saved operating costs in energy efficiency provides cheaper elec­tricity, increases grid reliability and security, reduces more carbon, and preserves (not distorts) market integrity—all without subsidies.


Lovins's analysis contrasts sharply with Secretary of Energy Rick Perry's asser­tions that nation­al security requires favoring coal and nuclear plants. Lovins shows that all 14 "magical proper­ties" claimed to merit paying more for such plants (or even mandating them) are imaginary, including "large-scale" generation, dispatchability, loadshape value, having "fuel on hand," price deflation, volatile fuel prices, jobs and supporting America's nuclear weapons capability. Lovins espe­cially debunks national-security and grid-reliability claims by showing that coal and nuclear plants actually have unique and serious vulnerabilities (as his authoritative Pentagon analysis Brittle Power: Energy Strategy for National Security first explained in 1981).

But the most striking finding of his article, Do coal and nuclear generation deserve above-market prices?, is that prolonging the operation of uneco­nomic nuclear plants does not help protect the climate. This has been the main rationale, most recently in Illinois, for new multi-billion-dollar long-term nuclear subsidies to continue operating nuclear plants that failed in free-market auctions.

"I believe the claimed climate benefits of subsidizing nuclear plants are illusory, because of climate opportunity costs: avoiding and properly reinvesting nuclear operating costs could save even more carbon," said Lovins. He goes on to explain: "Buying a carbon abatement that does not save the most carbon per dollar results in emitting more carbon than necessary."

The costliest 25 percent of the U.S. nuclear fleet averages 6.2 cents per kWh just to run and keep in repair, making it uncompetitive with efficiency, most renewables and gas power. Yet utilities pay an average of just 2–3 cents per kWh to buy more-efficient use for their customers. Thus closing such uneconomic nuclear plants and buying the equivalent efficiency instead (as state regula­tors could require) would deliver 2–3 kWh of efficiency for each nuclear kWh no longer genera­ted. One of those saved kWh would replace the energy generated by the nuclear plant, while the other 1–2 saved kWh could displace power generated by burning coal or natural gas.

Reinvesting those nuclear plants' avoided operating costs into efficiency can significantly cut carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, closing distressed nuclear plants can indirectly save more CO2 than closing an average-cost coal plant, as long as the nuclear plants' larger operating costs are reinvested in efficiency that displaces more fossil-fueled electricity. Keeping old reactors running because they emit no carbon overlooks how best to deploy their money.

Proponents of nuclear subsidies argue they are justified because the market fails to value their low-carbon energy. In fact, these subsidies are creating grave market failures.

"Around-market subsidies ... distort pool-wide prices, crowd out competitors, discourage new entrants, destroy competitive price discovery, reduce transparency, reward undue influence, introduce bias, pick winners, and invite corruption," said Lovins.

A price on carbon, on the other hand, is an effective way to reward low-carbon energy and retain market competition, especially between nuclear and renewables—the real target of nuclear subsidies, as renew­ables often beat both nuclear and gas generation.

Moreover, large power stations like nuclear and coal, often called "baseload" plants, are not necessary for a reliable and resilient grid, as Sec. Perry has claimed. On the contrary, they're actually becoming a liability to operating an efficient, affordable, resilient and flexible grid, because they're so big and inflexible. This has been clearly stated by former FERC Chair­man Jon Wellinghoff, National Grid CEO Steve Holliday and General Electric, confirmed by de­tailed analyses by the Department of Energy and U.S. grid operators nationwide, and demon­strat­ed by Eur­o­pean utilities. PG&E's multi-stakeholder plan to phase out its well-running Diablo Canyon nuclear plant and replace it with cheaper efficiency, re­new­ables and other carbon-free resources confirms this modern way to improve the grid while saving both carbon and money.

"Modern renewables and demand-side resources are rapidly diversifying U.S. electricity from vulnerability towards resilience. Retaining obsolete and less resilient technologies for the sake of diversification would advance this goal in name but contradict it in prac­tical effect," Lovins stated.

Distributed generators largely or wholly bypass grid failure—the source of nearly all U.S. power outages. Interconnected microgrids that exchange power with the larger grid but can isolate themselves and keep running throughout a grid malfunction are espe­cially resilient. That's the Pentagon's strategy for resiliently powering America's military bases.

Despite the overwhelming evidence and several studies from his own Department and its Labor­a­tories, Sec. Perry has ordered a staff study, expected shortly, to confirm his desire to keep costly coal and nuclear plants running, "but finding credible support won't be easy," commented Lovins, because virtually all authoritative reviews found the opposite. Lovins does agree with Sec. Perry that energy subsidies should be phased out—but all, not just some.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Popular
The battlefield of Verdun is part of France's Zone Rouge, cordoned off since the end of WWI. Oeuvre personnelle / Wikimedia Commons

This World War I Battlefield Is a Haunting Reminder of the Environmental Costs of War

World War I ended 100 years ago on Sunday, but 42,000 acres in northeast France serve as a living memorial to the human and environmental costs of war.

The battle of Verdun was the longest continuous conflict in the Great War, and it so devastated the land it took place on that, after the war, the government cordoned it off-limits to human habitation. What was once farmland became the Zone Rouge, or Red Zone, as National Geographic reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Westend61 / Getty Images

EcoWatch Gratitude Photo Contest: Submit Now!

EcoWatch is pleased to announce its first photo contest! Show us what in nature you are most thankful for this Thanksgiving. Whether you have a love for oceans, animals, or parks, we want to see your best photos that capture what you love about this planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Waves from the Atlantic Ocean crash against a scenic beach on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This sandy peninsula is a popular summer vacation destination and is also known for its many Great White sharks. Velvetfish / iStock / Getty Images

Cape Cod’s Gray Seal and White Shark Problem Is Anything but Black-and-White

By Jason Bittel

On a sunny Saturday in mid-September, 26-year-old Arthur Medici was boogie-boarding in the waves off Wellfleet, Massachusetts, when a great white shark bit his leg. Despite the efforts of a friend who pulled him ashore and the paramedics who rushed him to the hospital, Medici died from his injuries. It's about as tragic a story as you can imagine: a young life cut short due to a freak run-in with a wild animal.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy
Max Pixel

Koch Industries Lobbies Against Electric Vehicle Tax Credit

By Dana Drugmand

Koch Industries is calling for the elimination of tax credits for electric vehicles (EVs), all while claiming that it does not oppose plug-in cars and inviting the elimination of oil and gas subsidies that the petroleum conglomerate and its industry peers receive.

Outgoing Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller introduced a bill in September that would lift the sales cap on electric vehicles eligible for a federal tax credit, and replace the cap with a deadline that would dictate when the credit would start being phased out.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Pexels

10 Things You Always Wanted to Know About Neonics

By Daniel Raichel

As massive numbers of bees and other pollinators keep dying across the globe, study after study continues to connect these deaths to neonicotinoid pesticides (A.K.A. "neonics"). With the science piling up, and other countries starting to take critical pollinator-saving action, here's a quick primer on all things neonics:

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Judita Juknele / EyeEm / Getty Images

Lyme Disease Expected to Surge

By Marlene Cimons

German physician Alfred Buchwald had no clue that the chronic skin inflammation he described in 1883 was the first recorded case of a serious tick-carrying disease, one that would take hold in a small Connecticut town almost a century later and go on to afflict people across the U.S.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Animals
Black rhino. Gerry Zambonini / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

China Restores Rhino and Tiger Parts Ban After International Fury

Great news from China! Following intense international backlash, the Chinese government said Monday that it has postponed a regulation that would have allowed the use of tiger bone and rhino horn for medicine, research and other purposes.

In October, China alarmed animal rights activists around the world when it weakened a 25-year-old ban on the trading of the animal parts. Conservationists said it would be akin to signing a "death warrant" for endangered tiger and rhino populations.

Keep reading... Show less
Oceans
The federal government must consider endangered species like sea otters before issue fracking permits off California's southern coast. Danita Delimon / Gallo Images / Getty Images

Judge: Wildlife Must Be Considered Before Permitting Fracking Off SoCal Coast

In what environmentalists are calling a major victory, a California judge ruled Friday that the Trump administration cannot approve any new fracking off the state's southern coast until a full review is done assessing the controversial technique's impact on endangered species and coastal resources, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!