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 ()
Sponsored
GMO
Activists campaigning to regulate glyphosate in the European Union. Avaaz / Flickr

Monsanto 'Commands' Civic Group to Turn in All Communications Over Glyphosate

Avaaz, a civic campaigning network that counts roughly 45 million subscribers around the world, has been served with a 168-page subpoena on behalf of agribusiness giant Monsanto.

The document, dated Jan. 26 and sent from New York Supreme Court, "commands" the U.S.-based organization to turn in a decade's worth of internal communications by Friday, Feb. 23.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Radiation area from Horseshoe Mesa uranium mine tailings at Grand Canyon's South Rim. Al_HikesAZ / Flickr

Uranium Mining's Toxic Legacy: Why the U.S. Risks Repeating Mistakes

By Stephanie Malin

Uranium—the raw material for nuclear power and nuclear weapons—is having a moment in the spotlight.

Companies such as Energy Fuels, Inc. have played well-publicized roles in lobbying the Trump administration to reduce federal protection for public lands with uranium deposits. The Defense Department's Nuclear Posture Review calls for new weapons production to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which could spur new domestic uranium mining. And the Interior Department is advocating more domestic uranium production, along with other materials identified as "critical minerals."

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
The Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles. Simisa / Wikimedia Commons

Seychelles Creates Groundbreaking Marine Reserve With Help From Leonardo DiCaprio

The Seychelles has created two vast new marine protected areas in the Indian Ocean after a groundbreaking finance deal brokered by the Nature Conservancy and other stakeholders, including environmentalist and Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio.

In exchange for writing off a portion of its debt, the island nation agreed to protect a total of 81,000-square-miles of ocean—that's about the size of Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less
President Trump and French President Macron review troops during the Bastille Day parade last July.

There Are Better Things in France for Trump to Emulate Than a Military Parade

By Elliott Negin

President Trump was so impressed by the military parade he saw in Paris on Bastille Day last July that he ordered the Pentagon to plan a bigger one for Washington, DC.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Bears Ears National Monument. Gannon McGhee / Flickr

Rare Fossils Discovered on Lands Cut From Bears Ears National Monument

Researchers, led by paleontologist Rob Gay, have discovered what may be one of the world's richest caches of Triassic period fossils at an extensive site within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument. The team's initial excavation led to the extraordinary discovery of several intact remains of crocodile-like animals called phytosaurs. The findings were publicly announced at this week's Western Association of Vertebrate Paleontologists (WAVP) annual conference where researchers warned of a growing threat to their work in the region.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy
GE Renewable Energy

Nation's Largest Wind Farm Coming to Oklahoma

The Wind Catcher Energy Connection project, which includes a massive 800-turbine wind farm under construction in the Oklahoma panhandle, is getting closer to lift-off.

Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO), a subsidiary of major utility American Electric Power, announced this week a settlement with various parties, including Walmart, allowing the $4.5 billion project to move forward.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Marine litter on a remote stretch of coastline in Rekvik, Norway. Bo Eide / Flickr

Plastic Threatens to Swamp the Planet

By Paul Brown

A ubiquitous tide of plastic particles has now swept throughout the world's oceans.

The human rights activist Bianca Jagger described to a conference in London Tuesday how a substance that was invented only in 1907 and seemed to have almost magical properties, because it was practically indestructible, is now threatening an environmental catastrophe.

Keep reading... Show less

Beachgoers Use Endangered Shark Dragged From Water for Selfies

By Zachary Toliver

Sometimes humans forget that animals have feelings, too, and cause them to suffer. Just consider some Florida beachgoers who were filmed taking photos of and selfies with an injured hammerhead shark, who an expert says most likely died after the incident.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

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