The premature closure of nuclear power plants is taking valuable carbon-free power sources out of play, resulting in higher carbon dioxide emissions, environmental leftist and global warming activist David Roberts warns in a newly published article at Vox.
Roberts makes it clear that he is no fan of the nuclear power industry. He criticizes the industry’s efforts to obtain government subsidies and argues there are many obstacles to building new nuclear power plants. Regardless, Roberts observes, efforts to shut down existing nuclear power plants will cause environment and climate harm.
“You do not have to like nuclear power, or ever want to build another nuclear power plant, to believe that existing sources of carbon-free power should be kept running as long as practicably possible. You only have to like carbon-free power or dislike climate change,” Roberts asserts.
Roberts points out that natural gas and coal power typically replace the electricity formerly supplied by nuclear power plants. “Today, variable sources like wind and solar are not a one-to-one replacement for firm capacity like nuclear,” he notes.
“For practical purposes, the choice is not existing nuclear versus renewables; it’s existing nuclear versus natural gas,” writes Roberts. “And as a fossil fuel, natural gas creates more greenhouse gases — an easy choice for climate hawks.”
“And only when the very last fossil fuel power plant is closed will it make sense for climate hawks to debate the wisdom of replacing existing nuclear with renewables,” Roberts adds.
Roberts notes that his friends on the environmental left have broken into “tribal camps” regarding nuclear power, with tribal loyalties often trumping facts and logic.
“Part of the problem is that the question of what to do with existing nuclear plants gets tangled up in all sorts of peripheral arguments, many of which involve strong tribal loyalties,” Roberts observes.
“The tribal intensity on both sides often makes productive discussion difficult,” he explains.
Regardless of tribal loyalties, nuclear power plant closures make combating climate change more difficult, Roberts notes.
“When an operating nuclear plant shuts down, a big chunk of carbon-free energy is lost,” writes Roberts. “A big chunk. There’s just no way to spin that as a good thing. The five nuclear plants shut down between 2013 and 2016 alone produced as much electricity as all U.S. solar power put together. Carbon-wise, that means the next doubling of US solar will mostly be spent trying to make up for nuclear losses.”
“Why aren’t climate hawks freaking out about this?” Roberts concludes.