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Jon LeSage

Jon LeSage

Jon LeSage is a California-based journalist covering clean vehicles, alternative energy, and economic and regulatory trends shaping the automotive, transportation, and mobility sectors.

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Nuclear Power Could Win Big In U.S. Elections

The world’s largest nuclear power market is ready to gain more government backing for the energy — no matter who wins in November.

For nearly a half century, the Democratic Party’s election year party platform has excluded nuclear energy, but that’s not the case this year. The newly-released party platform says It favors a “technology-neutral” approach that includes all zero-carbon technologies, including hydroelectric power, geothermal, existing and advanced nuclear, and carbon capture and storage. 

It's the first time since the 1972 election year that the party has had any positive statements to make about nuclear power, which did include early testing of fusion nearly a half century ago. That year, the Democratic party said it supported “greater research and development” into “unconventional energy sources” including solar, geothermal, and “a variety of nuclear power possibilities to design clean breeder fission and fusion techniques.”

Since then, the Democratic Party has either ignored or opposed nuclear energy. Environmental groups have been opposed to nuclear power for years, and have had much influence on campaigns and elected officials.

A clear example of it comes from 2005, when about 300 environmental groups –

including Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and Public Citizen – signed a statement  which said “we flatly reject the argument that increased investment in nuclear capacity is an acceptable or necessary solution….[N]uclear power should not be a part of any solution to address global warming.”

The Sierra Club, the largest US environmental lobby, says it remains “unequivocally opposed to nuclear energy.”

That’s been changing significantly with nuclear technology advancements bringing more support. It also comes about as many governments are pushing for “carbon neutral” energy and transportation. Nuclear power is being taken more seriously, along with carbon capture and storage, ‘green’ hydrogen, and natural gas. Related: What The UAE-Israel Deal Really Means For The Middle East

Presidential candidate Joe Biden's campaign website also includes nuclear power support as something it would like to bring to Washington. The threat of climate change would make that administration more open to energy alternatives.

“To address the climate emergency threatening our communities, economy, and national security, we must look at all low- and zero-carbon technologies. That’s why Biden will support a research agenda through ARPA-C to look at issues, ranging from cost to safety to waste disposal systems, that remain an ongoing challenge with nuclear power today,” reads a statement on the campaign’s website.

Biden has been championing starting a new agency, Advanced Research Projects Agency for Climate Change (ARPA-C). Like predecessor ARPA-E that funded advanced technology in renewable energy, electric vehicles, and other technologies, and DARPA that supported advanced military vehicle applications, ARPA-C would back test projects working toward lowering cost, driving efficiency, and reducing emissions.

The change in policy statements is good news for the American nuclear-energy sector and for those concerned about climate change. Nuclear power advocates have been pushing for more government backing to fund test projects and development. 

But its already been in the works in Washington. During the past two years, bipartisan support on Capitol Hill has led to new laws, including the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act and the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act. The policies were designed to help stimulate the development and deployment of new nuclear fuels, materials, and advanced reactors. Nuclear power could see new reactors open during a phase of its history in the US when some had been closed and support for the energy had declined. Related: Oil Prices Rise As U.S. Dollar Index Drops To 2-Year Low

The next nuclear power plant to open will likely be powered by fission, but nuclear fusion has been gaining billions of dollars in support of its development. Nuclear fusion has many impressive backers including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Norwegian oil and gas company Equinor.

Renewable energy is getting more attention on the Democratic Party’s agenda, but building the case for supporting nuclear fusion is gaining more traction in the party and other sectors, including academic research centers and transportation planners and policymakers. 

One argument being made is that nuclear power plants operate at much higher capacity than renewable energy sources or fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. Another point made by backers is that nuclear fusion offers a consistent, steady energy source — versus wind and solar facing intermittent weather conditions. 

Providing an emissions-free ample energy source is making for a more appealing argument as carbon emissions rules start to take hold in Europe, Asia, and North America.

By Jon LeSage for Oilprice.com

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  • P Carlson on September 02 2020 said:
    I have a really hard time believing that a democratic administration would make meaningful progress in nuclear energy. They can say all they want but there is very little evidence that they are currently supporting nuclear energy technology in a meaningful way. They view it as a waste of money, detracting from wind and solar initiatives.
  • James Hopf on September 02 2020 said:
    It's closer to the truth to say that nuclear will NOT get any meaningful support regardless of who wins the election. We have a pro-fossil party and a pro-renewables party, both of which give lip service to nuclear, and neither of which give it genuine support.

    The R&D bills and efforts supported by the Republicans are small ball and will not make a significant difference. Nuclear needs fair policy and regulatory playing fields, as opposed to new technology. The GOP is opposed to meaningful climate legislation, or anything else that would give nuclear proper credit for its lack of pollution and CO2 emissions, i.e., any policy that would give nuclear a tangible financial advantage over fossil generation. Indeed, under the GOP, the FERC has actually put in place policies that actively undermine state policies that support nuclear and renewables sources. As a result, nuclear plants (in places like Illinois) may close.

    The climate policies being put forward by the Democrats still tremendously favor renewables over nuclear, to the point where nuclear may not get much support at all. While they're talking about some technology-neutral policies, like a power-sector Clean Energy Standard, they would not only extend but further add to the large subsidies and outright mandates for renewables. So, the playing field will not be remotely level or fair, as renewables will be given a large advantage over both new and existing nuclear. The effects of any tech-neutral policies may be swamped by the impacts of the strong policy input in favor of renewables only. As was the case with cap-and-trade policies in California and Europe, the price of clean energy credits under the proposed Clean Electricity Standard may fall to very low levels, due to the presence of the renewables subsidy policies.
  • John Galt on September 04 2020 said:
    Democrats favor anything which is overpriced, creates more problems than it solves, and requires expansive government intervention to compel behavior that rational people would never take on their own.
  • MICHAEL PETTENGILL on September 06 2020 said:
    Magical thinking. Only big government central planners can build nuclear power as a sustainable economic system by hiking taxes or forcing rate hikes as if taxes by another name.

    Every US nuclear power plant was built by a government agency or by a government agency approving "taxing" electric users to pay the costs of building the nuclear power plant. The only part of the US that did not implement PURPA and create dividing line between power plant ownership and power sales to customer by regulated utility rates are the Southeast States, where the only new nuclear power plants have been started since 1979 with central planners promising payments in rates.

    Where PURPA has been implemented, power producers can at best contract utility level rates for a decade. Thus power plants must be paid off in a decade. Nuclear power plants can never be paid off in a decade.

    The Nuscale plans depend on massive government subsidies, plus the one exception under PURPA, customer owned utilities building their own power plants, if the State requires utilities to sell off power plants.

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