California Holds Divergent Opinions on Nuclear Energy and Climate Change | AREVA North America: Next Energy Blog


It is often said that “as California goes, so goes the nation.” Yet many Californians have some preconceptions about how to meet our nation’s energy demand while dramatically cutting emissions, we may be headed to a stalemate in the battle against climate change. In fact, a significant number of residents remain opposed to nuclear energy, which is by far the nation’s largest carbon-free source of electricity.

Two influential leaders the California political landscape, Stanford University Academics and the Los Angeles Times, have made clear the opposing opinions gripping the state.

Stanford University physicist, Burton Richter, spoke recently during the weekly Stanford Energy Seminar on the need for Americans to overcome doubts of nuclear power, covered by an article in the Stanford University News. Richter’s presentation discussed why “it’s time for America to go green by expanding nuclear energy.” Noting that nuclear energy provides a constant source of energy generation without producing CO2 emissions, Richter said that “the main attraction for nuclear power for most of the world has nothing to do with greenhouse gas emissions…it has to do with available resources.” He also pointed out the need for the United States to become the leader in this field, but he noted that the policy necessary for this shift is the real challenge, saying “politics is a lot tougher than physics.”

Exemplifying this politics instead of science mentality an editorial in the Los Angeles Times this week attacked the proposed climate legislation for its inclusion of nuclear energy to meet the nation’s carbon reduction initiatives. Arguing that

“it is simultaneously a gift to polluters and the most significant step ever taken by this nation to solve the world’s most pressing environmental problem…the bill seeks to loosen safety and environmental safeguards to expedite the construction of new nuclear plants, which is both unnecessary and dangerous.”

We were not the only ones to take issue with this contradictory perspective, energy blogger Rod Adams had this response:

“It is logically inconsistent to indicate concern that spewing CO2 into the atmosphere can lead to a climate crisis and then to claim that it is unnecessary to take action to reduce the administrative burden that causes nuclear projects to require far more time and resources during construction than they legitimately should require.

Every time a new large nuclear power plant starts operating, it reduces coal consumption by about 11,000 tons per day and prevents dumping about 40,000 tons of CO2 each day. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, the 104 nuclear plants that are operating in the US today allow us to avoid producing 650 MILLION metric TONS of CO2 each year. Those plants produce electricity at a marginal cost that is 32% CHEAPER than coal and only 40% of the cost of producing power from burning natural gas.

(Power from existing nuclear plants costs 2.03 cents per kilowatt hour versus 2.97 cents for coal and 5.00 cents for natural gas in 2009).

However, building new nuclear power plants in the US today costs about 3 times as much as it would in China – a portion of that is the cost of the delays imposed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Time is money!

The only beneficiaries of the excessive rules are the people who hate the competition from nuclear energy because they have dirtier and more expensive fuels to sell.”

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