A climatologist says: where is the nuclear energy?

Nine Mile Point Nuclear Generating Station in Oswego is one of three nuclear power plants in New York State. Photo courtesy of Constellation Energy Corp.

James Hansen Criticizes State’s Climate Plan, Calls for Expansion of Nuclear Power Generation

By Cayte Bosler

The state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act calls for a rapid transition to carbon-free electricity by 2040, but the strategic plan needs a nuclear component, a leading climate scientist says.

“I am shocked by this document,” James Hansen said this month at a news conference in Albany. “It looks like it’s a prescription for making New York the Germany of the United States. It’s almost a carbon copy of Germany’s disastrous energy plan.”

As a NASA scientist in the 1980s, Hansen testified to Congress that the planet was warming and that it was due to a buildup of carbon dioxide and other man-made gases in the atmosphere. His climate study, identifying a “greenhouse effect”, had already been presented in 1981 in the New York Times in an article which showed that scientists had discovered a trend of rising temperatures from year to year with the human activity. The dangers to wildlife and human communities from greater storms and flooding and rising sea levels, described then by Hansen, have occurred.

James Hansen
James Hansen, photo courtesy of Milan Ilnyckyj.

Now Hansen is urging New York leaders to listen to the science, which he says points to a clear need for nuclear power as part of the solution to the climate crisis.

Germany dismantled the majority of its nuclear power plants due to strong public opposition following the Chernobyl and Fukushima meltdowns. Following the decommissioning of its nuclear fleet, Germany has become one of the largest carbon emitters in the European Union, just behind Poland. The move away from nuclear has also made the country dependent on Russia for most of its gas. Across Europe, some countries are heavily dependent on nuclear energy, such as France, while Denmark remains nuclear-free. The overall composition of a country’s energy portfolio depends on a complex mix of political, economic and environmental factors.

The success of New York’s plans depends on the state’s ability to decarbonize the grid. The “scoping plan” for achieving this, open for public comment until June 10, buries any mention of nuclear power and the stated benefits appear only in the appendix.

Instead, it is accelerating renewable energy – and that comes with the extensive conversion of offshore farms, forests and coastal habitats. The plan includes massive investments in battery storage, which leads to its own manufacturing emissions and environmental degradation due to the mining of critical minerals needed for production.

Nuclear advocates: Renewables are not enough

Debate surrounding nuclear power’s role in meeting U.S. energy needs has resurfaced in recent weeks as the ongoing Ukrainian-Russian conflict drives up domestic gas prices.

Worldwide, 440 nuclear reactors supply more than 10% of the world’s electricity. In the United States, nuclear power plants have produced about 20% of the electricity over the past 20 years. Natural gas is the largest source of electricity generation in the country.

The recent report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends nuclear expansion. In concert, President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan includes support for the development of nuclear energy innovations to address efficiency and safety concerns. The National Academy of Sciences, an authority on scientific research, has released recent findings on the benefits of nuclear energy.

According to the report, “Achieving deep decarbonization of the energy system will require a portfolio of all available technologies and strategies that we can muster. Anyone who cares about climate change should be deeply concerned that, for entirely foreseeable and solvable reasons, the United States appears to be on the verge of virtually losing nuclear power, and thus a share of reliable and low-carbon, over the next few years. several decades.”

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Get out of nuclear

New York leaders, however, chose not to include nuclear technology investments in their portfolio. A Department of Conservation spokesperson said the draft guidance plan was developed based on recommendations from various advisory committees and working groups, including the Power Generation Advisory Committee.

This panel analyzed the potential of nuclear power based on cost, health, safety, community impact and environmental concerns, according to the DEC spokesperson.

In New York, three nuclear power plants, the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Generating Station in Oswego, RE Ginna Nuclear Power in Ontario and the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Generating Station in Oswego, provide about a quarter of New York’s carbon-free electricity, according to United States. Energy Information Association. That number dropped more than 30% after the Indian Point Energy Center in Westchester County closed last year.

Those who supported the closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant cited damage to the biodiversity of the Hudson River, as well as a detective of safety concerns. Amplifying latent fears, oil slid to the surface of the river after a fire in 2015, sparking fresh calls to shut it down. These campaigns were ultimately successful and the factory closed in stages until April 2021.

The shutdown fiercely divided clean energy advocates – some who were neither for nor against nuclear power wholesale, but saw Indian Point as presenting specific risks that differed from the use of nuclear power elsewhere. . A member of the state’s Power Generation Advisory Panel, Kit Kennedy of the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote about his support for closing the Indian Point nuclear power plant here.

Indian Point supplied nearly 12% of the state’s carbon-free electricity. That’s more than all the wind turbines and solar panels in New York City combined, according to calculations by the Climate Coalition. Opponents of Indian Point champion large-scale renewable energy projects and “energy efficiency” policies as a path to replacing this energy source, but before these projects are completed, the state must burn gas natural as a substitute. Analysis from Nuclear New York (which lobbied to keep Indian Point open) shows that carbon-free generation at Indian Point has been “replaced primarily by methane gas generation at Cricket Valley (online as of March 2020 ) and CPV, the largest and 3rd largest fossil”. factories in New York State, respectively.

This means more fossil fuel burning is being produced in the New York metro area, according to the Climate Coalition. Additional coalition documents conclude that shutting down the Indian Point reactors equates to the annual production of around 8 million tonnes of “avoidable” carbon emissions.

Respond to security concerns

All energy sources require raw materials and land and resource uses that have advantages and disadvantages. Energy experts and engineers carry out “cost-benefit analyses” and “life cycle analyses” to compare the consequences. All inputs considered, in terms of public health, nuclear is cited among the safest options according to Our World in Data, almost on par with solar and wind. The risk of accidents from nuclear power plants is low and declining according to the World Nuclear Association and as Jordan Wilkerson writes for Harvard University, “the problems associated with nuclear power do not justify its immediate rejection as a as a source of potential energy for the world”.

death rates related to energy production
Graphic courtesy of ourworldindata.org

Hansen explains in a video how safety issues that live on the public’s mind, like Fukushima, can now be solved through technical innovations. The bipartisan Nuclear Energy Leadership Act introduced in 2019 is designed to advance nuclear reactor concepts from research to commercialization by bringing together private capital. The 2019 Nuclear Waste Administration Act, introduced by a bipartisan group of senators, will create a new entity to focus on nuclear waste management. With proper funding and support, Hansen said he believes the major problems of nuclear power can be solved.

He appears in a recent documentary “The New Fire” which explores approaches to nuclear innovation. Research and development could bring more efficient technologies for waste management where the half-life of radiation can be measured in decades, not millennia, he said.

For Hansen and like-minded climatologists, sidelining nuclear power is a recipe for missing climate goals.

“We need a credible climate plan that doesn’t discriminate against viable carbon-free sources,” said Keith Schue, fellow at New York Energy and Climate Advocates. In his own commentary for the Times Union, he said, “The public has good reason to be concerned about the situation in New York. [climate plan] Is directed.” He argues that renewables are definitely part of the equation, but that there is no viable solution for “clean” energy without nuclear power.

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