MINERAL, VIRGINIA – The administration of US President Joe Biden is cautiously embracing nuclear power, despite lingering security concerns, to help meet its goal of a net zero carbon economy for America by 2050.
The 94 nuclear reactors across the United States – most of all countries – will be “absolutely essential” for the country to meet Biden’s climate projections, according to his climate advisor, Gina McCarthy.
“Now, I don’t expect these elders [nuclear reactors] be there for a long time. But I expect them to be safe, and I expect them to continue in a way that will allow us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with a truly base load capacity. stable, ”McCarthy recently said during a webinar hosted by the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy.
“We will not be able to meet our climate goals if nuclear power plants shut down. We must find ways to keep them operating,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told a credit subcommittee earlier last month. bedroom.
“I totally agree,” said Dan Stoddard, senior vice president and nuclear director for Dominion Energy. “If we are to achieve our zero carbon or net zero goals, nuclear must be part of the solution. So it’s very gratifying to see people at the federal level – important people in important positions – recognize that, as well. “
Besides its reliability and independence from any other fuel source, nuclear power generation is relatively compact, with a footprint of just over 5 hectares per megawatt.
It would take 3 million solar panels or more than 400 wind turbines to provide the same power as a 1 gigawatt reactor, according to the US Department of Energy.
“Solar is good. Wind is good. [Battery] storage is good. But they’re not the full technological answer to the question, ”Stoddard said. “Nuclear is going to be, for the foreseeable future, an important part of the equation if we are to have a carbon-free electricity supply.
20% of American electricity
Despite the high initial costs of building and commissioning a nuclear reactor – which easily run into billions of dollars – the efficiency of separating uranium atoms has generated 20% of the electricity currently produced. in the USA.
Dominion Energy operates seven reactors in two nuclear power plants in Virginia – one in South Carolina and one in Connecticut – together producing about 6,500 megawatts of power.
Together, its two nuclear power plants in Virginia, in rural Louisa and Surry counties, provide electricity to nearly 900,000 homes, or about a third of the state’s total electricity production and 90% of the state’s total electricity production. Virginia carbon-free electricity.
“There is not sufficient recognition of nuclear as being carbonless,” Stoddard said in an interview with VOA at the North Anna facility. “I think part of it is for us as an industry to better communicate this fact. We have a great story to tell in nuclear.”
For decades, however, environmental groups have told a chilling tale of nuclear power, with chapters on the accidents at Three Mile Island in the United States, Chernobyl in Ukraine, and Fukushima in Japan. They also expressed their concerns about where and how to store and protect spent radioactive fuel For thousands of years.
Greenpeace, once at the forefront of this issue, is no longer actively campaigning against nuclear power in the United States. But in response to a question from VOA about the group’s contemporary position, he sent a statement.
“The climate crisis demands quick, fair and affordable solutions. Nuclear power is not. Nuclear power is both expensive and dangerous, and just because nuclear pollution is invisible doesn’t mean it is clean, ”according to Greenpeace USA Climate Campaign Director Anusha Narayanan. “We have the renewable energy technology necessary to meet the demands of the climate crisis. Instead of investing money in new nuclear power plants, the Biden administration should focus on phasing out fossil fuels and invest in the transition to a renewable energy economy. “
The nuclear industry calls this outdated thinking.
“These plants, some of which are nearing 50 years of operation, have never operated more safely or more reliably in their history,” Stoddard replied. “The US nuclear industry has an incredible track record of safe and reliable operation.
Although nuclear power plants remain the country’s primary source of emission-free electricity generation, they were not designed to last forever and very little new is being built in the United States. Downgrading too many of them could shatter Biden’s clean energy goals.
The White House recently sent signals to lawmakers and industry stakeholders that it supports subsidies to prevent these old nuclear units from shutting down.
The Department of Energy “has historically not subsidized factories, but this is a time to consider to ensure that we keep the current fleet active,” Granholm said in testimony to Congress.