On the Nuclear option

Where does a state government turn when they have a strong mandate to remove fossil fuels from electricity generation, heating, cooling, and transportation? Suppose they proposed a cross-border hydropower purchase from Quebec? Suppose they planned to roll out land-based wind, and land-based solar? Suppose they promised to procure a massive amount of offshore wind power? Suppose natural gas is too dirty and unpopular. Suppose oil and coal plants are being decommissioned. Suppose they’ve pursued a project to pursue electrical storage in a big way.

The government plans to eliminate fossil fuels from heating, cooling, and transport by massively electrifying everything, building out a network of charging stations.

Then suppose things start to go wrong. An initial wind project is rejected because of objections to residents that it’s too close to shore and can be seen. After years, a procurement for offshore wind is begun. That project, too, sees opposition, from people on islands, from environmentalists concerned about marine impacts, from fishermen. Finally, a national executive unfriendly to any kind of wind power puts the project under repeated review, delaying it for years, and making the date its first electricity is generated later than planned.

Some land-based turbines are built. But, again, “neighbors” object to them, even when they are entirely on private property. One town actually loses a court case, and the court requires the town to deconstruct and remove two turbines it has erected on public land.

A hydropower project is expanded in Quebec. More dams are planned to feed the states growing needs for electricity. Environmentalists object to the hundreds of square miles of trees lost to flooding due to the reservoirs behind the dams. Indigenous people object because land that was historical hunting and other grounds will be rendered forever changed. Residents of neighboring states where transmission lines are being erected to bring Quebec power cut across old expansive forests.

Rooftop solar is encouraged, but then, local towns, pressured by real estate agents and nervous neighbors, enact bylaws that restrict how such solar can be built and prohibit ground mounted solutions. Nevertheless 80,000 roofs get solar, but this is a negligible portion of what the state needs from solar power.

Utility solar projects are proposed, with some success, on open lands. But in some cases, as for wind, even on private properties, neighbors object to the sights. Some projects felling trees to make room for the projects, trees that grew back after farms were abandoned. The projects are criticized for loss of trees, installed “industrial power plants” in residential and agricultural neighborhoods. Provision of solar power is also delayed. So-called environmentalists side with the neighbors opposing the projects.

What’s left?

Small modular nuclear reactors.

Now, I don’t like nuclear power. I think it is expensive and inflexible (*). It does not play well, in its present form, with variable generation sources like wind and solar (**). But it is emission free, even looking at the life cycle and counting cement and steel and other components used to construct it. And, contrary to popular notions, it is safe, excepting perhaps the long term question of where radioactive wastes from generation are buried and how.

Despite needing big transmission lines to carry power from generation sites, nuclear power can, using the SMR concept, be tucked away in places where practically no one will see them, even if the SMR concept works best if the generators are close to where the electricity is being consumed

Do you think “environmentalists” will object? You bet they will.

But I say that if this is what’s needed to decarbonize and bring daily emissions to practically near zero,

it’s what needs to be done.

And, frankly, such “environmentalists” can only blame themselves if this is how things go. I’d rather see SMRs than big nuclear plants, even if the NuScale designs still need to be fully developed. That’ll take time.

Think this is all speculation? Nope.

“If the construction of offshore wind is not achieved at the scale suggested here in this 2050 roadmap, the construction of new nuclear in the northeast region may be required to meet the 2050 target,” [Dr Theoharides] said.

Dr Kathleen Theoharides is the Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs. This was partly in response to the announcement today that BOEM is delaying a final ruling on Vineyard Wind until 2021.

All I know is we really need to move quickly on this. And whatever way it’s done, fossil fuels are dead. And I am an environmentalist and have been since 1971. But it’s late, very late, and so ecomodernism is necessary.

The above two figures are from:

Matthews, H.D., Tokarska, K.B., Nicholls, Z.R.J. et al., "Opportunities and challenges in using remaining carbon budgets to guide climate policy", Nature Geoscience, 13, 769-779 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-020-00663-3

The above two figures are from:

Thomas F. Stocker, "The Closing Door of Climate Targets", Science 339, 280 (2013); DOI: 10.1126/science.1232468

(*) NuScale SMRs might be more flexible.

(**) NuScale SMRs might cooperate with renewable generation better.

About ecoquant

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This entry was posted in alternatives to the Green New Deal, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Solar Energy Society, an uncaring American public, atmosphere, Ørsted, Benji Backer, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, bridge to somewhere, Cape Wind, carbon dioxide, CleanTechnica, climate change, climate disruption, climate economics, climate mitigation, climate nightmares, climate policy, climate science, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, ecomodernism, ecopragmatism, electricity, electricity markets, energy utilities, environment, Ernest Moniz, Falmouth, fossil fuel divestment, global warming, greenhouse gases, investment in wind and solar energy, New England, nuclear power, NuScale, ocean warming, On being Carbon Dioxide, photovoltaics, solar energy, stranded assets, technology, the green century, Tokarska and Zickfield, wind power, zero carbon. Bookmark the permalink.

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