Getting Warmer

The year 2015 has gone down as the hottest year on record, thanks to the closing of nuclear power plants.

by Bob N. Leach

If you believe that climate change is caused by man, then the shutting down of nuclear power plants in the recent past may have validated that assumption.

The year 2015 has gone down as the hottest year on record. A large number of nuclear plants worldwide were temporarily or permanently removed from service in 2014. These closures resulted in an additional 100 to 200 tons of carbon emissions in 2015.

The huge increase in greenhouse gas emissions due to the loss of so many nuclear plants at the same time, as a factor in a significant increase in global temperature, should not be ignored. If an increase in global warming is the goal, it would be hard to come up with a better plan than forcing the shutdown of more nuclear power plants.

In the battle against climate change, nuclear power is the United States’ most important energy source, accounting for nearly 60 percent of the zero-carbon electricity produced in the United States.

But it’s starting to look as if nuclear power is losing out to inexpensive natural gas and subsidized wind and solar energy, with the early planned shutdown of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California, Pilgrim Nuclear Generating Station in Massachusetts, and the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in New York as the latest evidence.

Since 2012, utilities have shut down or announced plans to close 13 nuclear plants, which will result in the addition of about 39 million tons of carbon emissions per year. As many as 20 other nuclear plants are considered at high risk of being shuttered. If that happens, add 60 million tons of carbon emissions per year to that figure.

Among those plants considered vulnerable are the Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant and Millstone Power Station reactors, the largest sources of emission-free energy in New England.

* * *

DESPITE TALK of increasing the role of adding energy from renewable sources and conserving the energy from sources we have, most nuclear-generated capacity will be replaced with power from natural gas plants.

Gas plants are a major source of carbon emissions, accounting for one-third of the emissions from electricity production. As the use of gas grows, any gains from the increased use of solar and wind power is lost, and we wind up back at square one.

A case in point: When the twin-unit San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in southern California was prematurely retired in 2012 and its generating capacity largely replaced with electricity from gas plants, carbon emissions rose by 9 million tons a year.

Not only is the Obama administration surprisingly irresolute on putting the brakes on the use of natural gas in power production, but it is also missing a golden opportunity to advocate a reform that would help the environment and aid consumers: having states adopt clean-energy standards that include nuclear power, instead of following current standards, which credit only energy sources like solar and wind.

* * *

THINK ABOUT IT: If you really want to encourage carbon reduction, you would encourage a renewable portfolio standard that reflects higher standards for zero-carbon energy sources. Make use of all emission-free sources of electricity, without limits on technology choices.

A clean-energy standard is attractive because it enables states to reach their carbon-reduction goals not only through the use of renewables and efficiency but also by preserving existing reactors and building new nuclear plants.

In these new conditions, conventional large nuclear reactors would be augmented by small modular reactors and advanced nuclear technologies. But to preserve existing reactors will take prompt action now.

Clean-energy standards would reward the efficient use of energy technologies and cut greenhouse emissions without harming industry. The need for a new generation of nuclear technologies capable of competing with fossil fuels has never been greater, and it is time to remove the barriers that have blocked the development of nuclear power in the U.S.

Certainly, a responsible president should support such reasonable goals.

If you enjoy these hot summers and winters without snow, just keep shutting down the remaining nuclear power plants.

This story was originally published at The Commons.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you are interested in getting your voice heard, sign this petition to keep the nuclear power plants running in the U.S. Petition signing ends on July 8, so please help get the word out.


Bob N. Leach is a retired radiation protection manager and certified senior reactor operator. He spent 45 years in the nuclear industry, many of them at Vermont Yankee. He is also a longtime member of ANS.

6 thoughts on “Getting Warmer

  1. li

    Strange?
    Nobody reads; nobody reacts to inappropriate, inaccurate statements, establishing a real talk.
    That’s the beauty of democracy over dictatorship: one can vocalize an opinion loud and clear because everybody is deaf.
    Good luck with that and hope to a great future.

  2. Mike Woosley

    I believe the figure in the second paragraph is missing some zeros and the author should check it (“100 to 200 tons”) — the author himself later cites the closure of a single nuclear plant increasing emissions by 9 MILLION tons.

    – Mike

    “A large number of nuclear plants worldwide were temporarily or permanently removed from service in 2014. These closures resulted in an additional 100 to 200 tons of carbon emissions in 2015.”

  3. li

    Who cares?
    What nuclear power is good for?
    Nuclear is obsolete, and irreversible polluting.
    Nuclear people are the most conservative of all. They use same 70 years old technology, and they look to polish it a little bit until they get retired…I see no progress, just words.
    They created the “Gen IV” initiative, not to do faster development, but to eliminate all others innovative ideas from funding – So US nuclear extinction is the right outcome is what they paid for.
    Communication with public was so bad, as nobody trusts a nuclear engineer, because history showed as what they said was next day disproved by facts – see recent accidents as TEPCO, WIPP_LANL, and the associated talks, both costed in Billion range, both have human factor greed and incompetence embedded in technology, years before accident, so there was few to none really responsible persons, just the burden for taxpayers was real.
    Over the stagnation in nuclear brains, come the paranoia of nonproliferation, where some in national labs are making big money doing nothing and not letting others to do something, Nuclear Partnership, which meant let’s build crappy reactors for others instead of good reactors for ourselves, and all international community got that joke.
    So, that’s the real consequence of prior actions.
    Global warming due to CO2 has the beauty of a logarithmic scale and is responsible for 5.6 w/m2 from 1336 W/m2 received from sun, CH4 is 20 times more effective…but the beauty is that now if we double the CO2 from >400 ppm to 0.1% not to much will happen and it will take planet from 11 to 30 years to respond, but if now as an absurd assumption will cut all emissions to 0 (zero) it will take planet more than 50 years to respond, so we have to take wallet out and pay for these externalities, losses to weather, that this year are over 2.5% of US GDP, in US only, while the growth rate is o.5%, so US economy become sub-critical under weather change poisoning…good luck with that…nobody relay cares about those exotic parrots talking about nuclear power, what power? just bombs and nuclear waste allover, waste is the great legacy of the nuclear power. I hope some of you had fun.

  4. Nicholas Thompson

    Most of the piece is good, but the beginning needs some correcting. The tagline and first sentence are:

    “The year 2015 has gone down as the hottest year on record, thanks to the closing of nuclear power plants.”
    “If you believe that climate change is caused by man, then the shutting down of nuclear power plants in the recent past may have validated that assumption.”

    Both of these are not really correct – 2015 being the hottest year on record was not caused by the closure of nuclear plants, it was primarily caused by the CO2 already in the atmosphere. Sure, closing nuclear plants made things worse, but it’s disengenious to say that closing nuclear power plants made 2015 the hottest year on record, as the statements suggest.

    In all likelihood, even if 60 reactors came online this year, this year might still be the hottest year on record, again, primarily due to the CO2 already in the atmosphere.

    Another correction, the next sentence states, “The year 2015 has gone down as the hottest year on record. A large number of nuclear plants worldwide were temporarily or permanently removed from service in 2014. These closures resulted in an additional 100 to 200 tons of carbon emissions in 2015.”

    For just Vermont Yankee alone, that number should be closer to an additional 2.6 million US tons of CO2 added due to VY closing.

  5. David C. Williams

    The premature nuclear shutdowns noted near the beginning of this article resulted in additional 100 to 200 MILLION tons of carbon emissions in 2015, not 100 to 200 tons as stated. Even the true amount wouldn’t be a large contribution to the many billions of tons emitted from other sources, but the basic point of this article is well taken: if we are to do something meaningful about global warming, we need a lot more nuclear, not less.

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