The UCS Wants to Preserve Existing Nuclear Plants — You Know that Means the Climate Situation Must Be Dire

The Union of Concerned Scientists just released a report, The Nuclear Power DilemmaAs Ken Kimmell, UCS’s President, said in a blog about the report, it:

calls for proactive policy to preserve nuclear power from existing plants that are operating safely but are at risk of premature closures for economic reasons or to ensure that lost nuclear capacity is replaced with carbon-free sources.

Anti-nuke greens should chill for a moment before committing harakiri.  The report does not call for the development of new nuclear capacity.  It makes clear that, if there is a path to replacing nuclear power with renewable energy, that would be fine.

UCS’s concern is a really practical one.  A significant percentage of existing nuclear capacity is at risk of closure and, as matters currently stand, that capacity is not going to be replaced by 100% renewable energy.  It’s going to be replaced by fossil fuels.

UCS’s preferred policy approach would be either to tax carbon or to promulgate a low carbon electricity standard.  Both options would improve the economics of existing nuclear plants, but would of course also stimulate development of additional renewable energy sources.

And here’s the really sticky part.  If there are no federal remedies, what should states do?  They can create or strengthen similar policies at the state level, but what happens in the short run if individual nuclear plants threaten to shut down.  Here’s UCS’s tempered recommendation, which probably won’t satisfy either proponents or opponents of nuclear power:

The UCS report does not argue for subsidies for any specific plants. That case will have to be made in state-specific forums. Should states decide to support nuclear power plant subsidies, our report calls for them to be temporary and subject to periodic reassessment. And companies seeking subsidies must open their books and allow the public and regulators to make sure that the subsidies are needed and cost-effective, and that the same level of carbon free power cannot be provided during the relevant time period with less costly options.

Full disclosure – UCS is a client of Foley Hoag (and we have done work for some nuclear plants), so take this for what it’s worth.  To me, it’s a balanced perspective and a generally reasonable approach – something seen all too rarely in these dismal times.

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