What’s really killing America’s nuclear plants
The premature shutdown of America’s nuclear power plants is nothing short of a national catastrophe, writes Jarret Adams.
The agreement to close prematurely the Indian Point Energy Center north of New York City felt like a gut punch. The latest in a string of closure announcements, Indian Point hurts so deeply because of its high-profile and proximity to the world’s leading financial centre.
As many as two-thirds of America’s 99 reactors could shut down by 2030. Today we are building four. The only way to change this trajectory in the near term is to convince more Americans that nuclear energy makes sense. But we are not doing enough to earn more supporters and remain too focused on finding technical solutions.
Nuclear energy produces – by a wide margin – the largest portion of America’s carbon-free power. It is the nation’s safest and most reliable source of electricity. The reality is that every time a nuclear plant shuts down the power that replaces it is less reliable, produces more emissions, and costs more.
But too few people know this or care. That is what is really driving nuclear energy out of business. The nuclear energy industry has not invested enough in telling people why they should value this important technology.
The same thing is happening in other countries with established nuclear fleets. If the US nuclear sector falls apart, others will follow.
Led by brilliant, hard-working engineers, the industry would rather find an engineering solution to a challenge than one involving squishy stuff like marketing and public relations.
When opponents claim nuclear plants are not safe enough, the industry develops a doohickey to make them even safer, even though nuclear energy is already America’s safest source. This, of course, increases their costs.
When critics say that nuclear power is too expensive (and most vocal critics belong to organisations pursuing legal and regulatory actions to make it more so), the industry has pursued ambitious initiatives to cut costs.
Cutting costs and developing safer new technologies are important, but they are not enough to save the plants at risk.
If people care about the climate effects of closing plants, they should consider this: the five nuclear reactors that closed since 2013 annually produced about the same amount of carbon-free power as all US solar power in 2015 combined.
Six years after the incident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility in Japan and faced with declining public support, the US nuclear sector is cutting spending on public outreach.