Ohio ‘bailout’ plan part of larger debate over nuclear’s future
An Ohio utility’s pursuit of a lifeline for an aging nuclear plant comes at a time when both economics and public opinion are aligning against nuclear power.
On March 31, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio ruled that all FirstEnergy utility customers should guarantee sales for all electricity produced by the Davis-Besse plant along with certain coal generating plants in which FirstEnergy Solutions has an ownership interest.
The public debate around the plans has largely focused on fairness to consumers and competitors, but has occurred with a larger national discussion about nuclear power’s role in a low-carbon future in the background.
Poll numbers released by Gallup last month show that, for the first time, a majority of Americans are opposed to nuclear power. The results follow “a downward trend in public approval of nuclear over the last six or seven years,” said Tim Judson, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service in Takoma Park, Maryland.
Meanwhile, some climate advocates are raising concerns that prematurely retiring nuclear plants will make it harder for the U.S. to reduce carbon emissions.
Climate scientist James Hansen appeared in Illinois last week to promote nuclear power as the state considers a bill to support nuclear plants in the state. And regulators in New York are considering a proposal to require 15 percent of the state’s electricity to come from nuclear.
Polling results released by Gallup last month show 54 percent of Americans opposed to nuclear energy and just 44 percent holding favorable views.
Among those holding negative views, 30 percent of respondents said they “strongly oppose” the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity for the United States.
The data were not broken out by state, said Stephanie Holgado at Gallup. However, the data did include information about political party affiliations.
Most notably, support for nuclear power fell among both Republicans and Democrats, reported Rebecca Rifkin at Gallup. And while Republicans remained more likely to favor nuclear energy, support in that group dropped dramatically, from 68 percent last year to just 53 percent this year.
In Rifkin’s view, increased opposition to nuclear energy did not appear to be linked to fear, particularly in light of the absence of major nuclear disasters since the meltdown of the Fukushima reactor cores in 2011.
Rather, Rifkin suggested, lower gasoline prices last year likely bolstered perceptions of the United States’ energy security, so that environmental protection may have become a higher priority for more Americans.