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The Downfall Of U.S. Nuclear Power

A new, shocking report by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP), Harvard University, and the University of California San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy discovered that the U.S. nuclear power industry could be on the verge of a collapse — a reality that many have yet to realize.

Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), “US nuclear power: The vanishing low-carbon wedge” examined 99 nuclear power reactors in 30 states, operated by 30 different power companies. As of 2017, there are two new reactors under construction, but 34 reactors have been permanently shut down as many plants reach the end of their lifespan.



We’re asleep at the wheel on a very dangerous highway,” said Ahmed Abdulla, co-author and fellow at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego. “We really need to open our eyes and study the situation.”

For more than three decades, approximately 20 percent of U.S. power generation has come from light water nuclear reactors (LWRs). These plants are now aging, and the cost to service or upgrade them along with fierce competition from Trump’s economic order to prop up failing coal and heavily indebted shale oil/gas companies make nuclear power less competitive in today’s power markets.

In return, the American shale boom could trigger a significant number of US nuclear power plant closures in the years ahead, the researchers warned. The country is now at a critical crossroad that it must abandon nuclear power altogether or embrace the next generation of miniature, more cost-effective reactors.

The researchers noted that small modular reactors might play a significant role in US energy markets in the next few decades. This new design would effectively swap out the current aging, LWRs that the Atomic Energy Commission allowed to rapidly expand across the country in the 1960s and after. The researchers described several scenarios where new nuclear power plants could be used to back up wind and solar, produce heat for industrial processes, or serve military bases.

Given the current market structure and policy dynamics, the researchers were not convinced that nuclear power would be competitive in the future power market.

While efforts continue to advance batteries for storing electricity from solar and wind, utilities have made an impressive push into natural gas. As of 2018, fossil fuel now produces nearly 32 percent of US power.

Given the impending collapse of the nuclear industry, the researchers questioned whether renewable energy would be enough to offset losses from retiring nuclear power plants.

“The reality is you cannot actually replace 20 percent of the need with wind and solar, unless you want to wallpaper every square inch of many states,” said Christian Back, vice-president of nuclear technologies and materials at General Atomics. “It’s not efficient enough.” Related: Russia Joins The Global Trade War

Back said with the right political support, nuclear reactors operating today could be retrofitted to increase safety and lifespan, while smaller, more cost-effective ones could be strategically placed on the grid.

“This is a situation like Nasa when you’re putting someone on the moon where the government needs to recognize the long-term benefit and investment that’s required and help support that,” Back added. “This is where political will matters.”

Researchers also suggested that many civilians overlook nuclear energy and do not realize the urgency of the situation.

In the article’s conclusion, the researchers warn, “It should be a source of profound concern for all who care about climate change that, for entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy, over the next few decades.”

Is the Era of Nuclear Power Coming to an End?

By Zerohedge.com

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  • Bill Simpson on July 12 2018 said:
    Wasting natural gas to generate electricity is about the dumbest thing humans could do, other than building nuclear weapons and putting them on missiles.
    Once natural gas begins to run out, civilization will collapse and billions of people then alive will starve to death because natural gas makes most of the fertilizer we use to grow food worldwide. Without it, food production will be severely cut. There won't be enough food to go around.
    And without gas millions of people would freeze during the winter in cold climates. Without gas, thousands of industrial plants would instantly shut down, creating massive shortages of hundreds of industrial products and critical chemicals used in thousands of essential products.
    Pity the people alive whenever it does begin to get scarce. Wasting it to generate electricity, when other options exist, is stupid and irresponsible. But that is nothing new to this government and our shortsighted business elite. That will be dead when the collapse arrives.
  • Randy Verret on July 12 2018 said:
    Good to see some qualified scientists are pointing out the LOW "energy density" associated with renewables. Folks need to start thinking about their choices & consequences when all these coal plants & nuclear plants are taken off-line in the coming years. Right now, that would be more than 50% of our electric generating capacity. Without a lot more natural gas or distributed nuclear generation, VERY LITTLE chance, even with advanced battery storage, that renewables will pick up the "slack." ANOTHER key reminder that the conversation in energy needs to change & focus on what is REAL as far as alternatives rather than the continuing "Greenwash" that provides no viable solution with the "100% renewables" mantra...
  • Dan on July 13 2018 said:
    Safe,reliable natural gas. It looks like all the fallout from a nuke plant hit the East Coast the most. Coal soot falls from the sky and kills the nutrients in the soil needed for healthy food. Natural Gas is just natural and safe. We should be 80% natural gas for electric generation.
  • Douglas Houck on July 13 2018 said:
    Time to face facts. Commercial nuclear energy in the US is essentially dead and nothing is going to bring it back.

    This is simply another, "Won't somebody save commercial nuclear power production by giving us money" article.

    There appears to be no problem with renewables ablility to replace the 20% electrical generation capacity, the authors statements not withstanding.

    "A comprehensive study by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shows that the U.S. can generate most of its electricity from renewable energy by 2050."

    or this recent one from the Carnegie Institue of Science.

    Geophysical constraints on the reliability of solar and wind power in the United States

    Abstract
    We analyze 36 years of global, hourly weather data (1980–2015) to quantify the covariability of solar and wind resources as a function of time and location, over multi-decadal time scales and up to continental length scales. Assuming minimal excess generation, lossless transmission, and no other generation sources, the analysis indicates that wind-heavy or solar-heavy U.S.-scale power generation portfolios could in principle provide ?80% of recent total annual U.S. electricity demand. However, to reliably meet 100% of total annual electricity demand, seasonal cycles and unpredictable weather events require several weeks’ worth of energy storage and/or the installation of much more capacity of solar and wind power than is routinely necessary to meet peak demand. To obtain ?80% reliability, solar-heavy wind/solar generation mixes require sufficient energy storage to overcome the daily solar cycle, whereas wind-heavy wind/solar generation mixes require continental-scale transmission to exploit the geographic diversity of wind. Policy and planning aimed at providing a reliable electricity supply must therefore rigorously consider constraints associated with the geophysical variability of the solar and wind resource—even over continental scales.

    Time to move forward.
  • Paxus Calta on July 16 2018 said:
    There is no proof that SMR or any small reactors will be cost competitive. There are no examples worldwide of inexpensive, or even market rate small reactors. For about 50 years the thinking had been the opposite. Reactor builders worldwide tried to build larger and larger reactors to achieve economies of scale and the only small reactors were on incredible cost plus projects like nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, where the military had basically unlimited budgets.

    An increasing number of countries are going to larger and larger fractions of renewable energy in their mix. Firming software, energy efficiency technology, smart metering, variable rates, cogeneration and improving battery storage are all helping.

    Nuclear power is dying because it is hopelessly over priced and terrifically difficult to build. It should be dying and we should learn from the tremendous history of post mistakes and stop inventing in it.

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