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MERRITT: Reconsider nuclear energy

Jim Merritt / Special to IBJ
January 4, 2014
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MerrittRenewable or reliable?

That is the unavoidable choice when debating energy policy. For Indiana, you can have one, but not the other.

Coal and natural gas, both of which are commonly burned in Indiana to make electricity, are considered reliable “base load” fuels because they can produce electricity on demand. This is critical because electrons move at the speed of light and there is no practical way to store them. That’s why a fuel that can generate electricity 24/7, 365 days a year is indispensable.

This reliability comes at a cost. Coal—and to a much lesser degree natural gas—produces pollutants that must be removed from combustion emissions. This costly process is ultimately borne by ratepayers. That expense, and the rates we all pay for electricity, will only grow as the federal government continues its war on coal.

According to the Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor, complying with new federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations could cost Indiana’s five large investor-owned electric utilities a total of up to $11.5 billion. These new costs will directly influence what Hoosiers pay for coal-based electricity.

Wind and solar, meanwhile, are considered renewable and clean-energy sources because they burn nothing; nature provides their fuel. But they are considered “intermittent” generation sources because they produce electricity only when the wind blows or the sun shines. That’s why renewables require base-load back-up generation—and significant government subsidies and preferences—to be practical.

If that sounds like you sometimes pay twice for the same service, you’re right.

Is there another option?

Though not “renewable,” there is a fuel that is clean, reliable and safe: nuclear. Nuclear energy does not emit greenhouse gas and is always available. Once built, nuclear power plants produce more kilowatts of electricity at a lower cost than coal, wind or solar. A recent study revealed the power output of nuclear at 300 horsepower per acre versus 6.4 horsepower per acre for wind.

Despite its numerous advantages, nuclear energy has been slow to take off because building new generators is time-consuming and costly, and there are some public safety concerns.

While the costs of nuclear accidents have potential to be high and long-lasting, nuclear power is actually the safest energy source and the likelihood of accidents is comparably low.

According to the Nuclear Energy Agency, today’s plants are 1,600 times safer than the decades-old technology used at accident sites such as Three Mile Island and Fukushima Daiichi.

More than 100 nuclear reactors are operating safely in the United States today, and several more are under construction. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, nuclear energy provides nearly 20 percent of the nation’s electricity and is by far the largest contributor of carbon-free electric power generation.

What’s more, scientific research is making gains every day on enhancements to nuclear generation and storage technology.

Of increasing interest is the development of smaller, modular nuclear plants that operate even more safely and can be built economically. The smaller size also makes these reactors ideal for small electric grids, and for locations that cannot support large reactors. Several states, scientists and innovators are investing in this new technology, and the potential benefits are far-reaching.

Is nuclear the answer for Indiana’s future? That remains an open question. But as the federal government makes other base-load energy options more costly, we cannot afford to exclude it from the debate.•

__________

Merritt, a Republican who represents Senate District 31 in Indianapolis, chairs the Senate Utility Committee. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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  • C'mon Now
    John Hill: Nuclear power plants are located near rivers and flowing water. However, by Regulation, they have to release the water cleaner(read: potable) than when they take it in. In addition, PWR-style systems do not radiate any water; therefore, your little fishy friends are getting better water with a nuclear plant than without. Dee: As to point #1: NO nuclear plants release CO2. People breathing releases CO2. Also, NO radiation is released to the air from nuclear plants. You get more radiation from taking a walk in your favorite park, the naturally-occurring radon coming up from the ground. Point # 2 - Wind (1) kills birds of prey, (2) emit magnetic fields, (3)produce approx. 5MW of energy for a populous field of windmills vs. 500+MW for that same area for nuclear. (4)are highly subsidized. The cost per MW is incredibly high (in the $5 range) for wind v. nuclear (less than $1). Point #3 is either a baldfaced lie or regurgitating something you heard somewhere. There is no way that is true. Point #4 - I would suggest you read both pro-and anti-nuclear information and decide for yourself.
  • Response Just say no
    (1) Nuclear energy is the worst of all energy choices because it is highly polluting, unreliable, releases CO2, and releases cancer-causing radiation into the air and water during its daily operations. Unreliable? Nuclear has a 95%+ capacity factor meaning these plants are on line producing power nearly 100% of the time. Solar capacity factor is about 20% and wind about 25%. Releases CO2? Nuclear plants do not burn fossil fuels so how do they release CO2? Release cancer cause radiation into the air and water daily? Check the amount of radiation emmisions of a nuclear plant compared to a fossil plant. (2) Wind and Solar Energy are the answer to truly clean, reliable, cheap energy and energy independence. Neither of these technologies could exist with out government price supports. They are not reliable (20 to 25% capacity factor). (3) Did you know that the U.S. already produces the energy-equivalent of 70 nuclear power plants with Wind and Solar Energy! Maybe when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. But no way they can compete. This success with Wind and Solar Energy proves how obsolete and unnecessary nuclear energy is. (4) For anyone who still doesn't understand how dangerous and dirty nuclear energy can be, please go to the highly recommended site ENENEWS to learn.
  • Response
    "In addition to all the very good reasons given above as to why nuclear is a terrible option for us to consider, is the fact that nuclear plants need lots of water for cooling." All power plants (nuclear, coal, gas) that boil water to produce steam to drive a turbine, use vast amount of water to condensate the steam back to water for re-use in the boiler. There is virtually no difference in the amount of water used by the different technologies. In spite of this, our government continues to heavily subsidize the industry while removing subsidies from solar. What subsidies? Currently there are 2 sites in US building nuclear plants, neither has government subsidies. Vogtle is still trying the work our a loan guarantee with the DOE. the plants will probably be operating before that happens. DOE is providing some funding SMR's, but that about it. Whereas the entire solar wind energy industries would not exist without government support. Same for waste to energy also.
  • Response
    They are currently trying to complete a new coal plant in Miss under the new EPA regulations, the cost will approach $5 billion for a 560MW plant. That approaches the same cost of nuclear plant that puts out nearly twice the power. Obama administration stated, "Yes, you can build a coal plant, but it will bankrupt your company." There is no such thing as "Clean Coal". Also, keep in mind, that every coal plant stores their coal in a pile, nearly all these piles catch fire and smolder continuously for the life of the plant and are uncontroled emissions. Nuclear is the only power source that is required to maintain 100% control of all it's waste products.
  • No Nuclear Power Plants
    We are wasting our time and increasing risks by moving away from coal an embracing building nuclear plants. Need to step back and relook at the statistics we are using to move in that direction. If we try harder we can make good use of coal and continue to use it as a industry for creating jobs in Indiana.
    • Completely at Odds w/ Fracts
      It's astonishing that anyone could characterise nuclear as the worst source when the record shows the complete opposite, and there is almost universal scientific consensus that its impacts are negligible compared to fossil fuels and similar to renewables. Worldwide fossil-fueled power generation causes ~1000 deaths every single day, as well as global warming. All govt. agencies and respected scientific organizations concur that nuclear plants have no impact on public health under normal operation. No member of the public get more than 0.1% of what they get from natural background radiation (despite all the hyped stories of "leaks"). Nuclear's total net CO2 emissions are negligible compared to those of fossil fuels and are similar to renewables (less than solar, actually). Even Fukushima, the only significant release of pollution in non-Soviet nuclear's entire ~50 year history, caused no deaths and is projected to have no measurable public health impact. Even the most pessimistic estimates of Fukushima's total eventual public health impact are less than the DAILY impact of fossil fuels. The US gets ~4% of its electricity from wind and solar (virtually all of that being wind), and ~20% from nuclear. Intermittentcy will eventually limit wind and solars contributions to ~20-25% at most. Nuclear has no such limitation (ask France). Renewables will never supply more than a minority of our overall electricity. As for the rest, nuclear is a vastly better choice than fossil fuels, from a public health and environmental perspective.
    • Nuclear does not release CO2
      Nuclear energy does not produce emissions and radiation is not released in measurable amounts from plants.
    • Correction
      Are you sure you are not mixing wind and nuclear with each other, wind energy is highly polluting, unreliable, releases CO2 and releases cancer causing material. Proof is in the material of construction of a wind turbine. The magnets they use come from a radioactive mineral which contains between half and the same amount of radioactive material as the element you need. And all that bad stuff goes into the soil, just look at China where they produce 97% of the stuff . The community around these plant are either dead or dying with cancer rates having increased
    • Nuclear is the only option!
      We need nuclear. At best wind and solar can only slow fossil fuel use down. You can stand up all you want, but the laws of physics don’t care what any of us think. If you believe otherwise then the only madness is what you see in the bathroom mirror every morning.
    • Should nuclear power still be an option?
      In addition to all the very good reasons given above as to why nuclear is a terrible option for us to consider, is the fact that nuclear plants need lots of water for cooling. Especially in a dry continent like Australia that means locating them next to the sea - which we have seen is a very dangerous solution (and there is only so much seafront available). other countries often locate them next to rivers which provide drinking water for million and many are built actually on known earthquake fault lines. As well as the pollution from the power plants there is also massive pollution from the mines. In spite of repeated assurances from the industry here that every precaution has been taken, we have constant, almost weekly, reports of new leaks of radioactive water, contamination of water basins, and die-offs of native plants and animals, caused by discharges from new and abandoned mine sites. Already huge areas of land and reserves of water are contaminated and unusable for centuries or even thousands of years. In spite of this, our government continues to heavily subsidize the industry while removing subsidies from solar. It seems that those greedy people in powerful positions favour short-term profit over the safety and well-being of mankind. Come on, my fellow humans, stand up and stop this madness now!
      • JUST SAY NO TO NUCLEAR
        (1) Nuclear energy is the worst of all energy choices because it is highly polluting, unreliable, releases CO2, and releases cancer-causing radiation into the air and water during its daily operations. (2) Wind and Solar Energy are the answer to truly clean, reliable, cheap energy and energy independence. (3) Did you know that the U.S. already produces the energy-equivalent of 70 nuclear power plants with Wind and Solar Energy! This success with Wind and Solar Energy proves how obsolete and unnecessary nuclear energy is. (4) For anyone who still doesn't understand how dangerous and dirty nuclear energy can be, please go to the highly recommended site ENENEWS to learn.
        • The future is nuclear
          I share. The electric auto and the electric mobility in general it is a chimera. Renzo Riva

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