Less Nuclear Energy Equals More Greenhouse Gas Emissions


San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, California

In February 2012, Southern California Edison closed down two nuclear reactors at its San Onofre plant. The plant was responsible for generating 8 percent of California’s electricity. Initially, it was only a temporary shutdown to give the company time to fix cracks in the steam generator system. However, the overly complicated repair and licensing process led them to retire the reactors for good.

The state turned to fossil fuels as the easiest solution to make up for the energy gap.  In the following year, carbon-dioxide emissions in the region climbed 9.2 million tons — having roughly the same effect as if an additional 2 million cars were suddenly driving on the region’s roads.

As is the case in many countries around the globe, nuclear energy plant operators in the United States are facing increased pressure to close. In addition to its impact on energy prices, such a move would also have a devastating impact on the present and future of the environment, according to a recent story from Vox.com.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently released its Annual Energy Outlook 2014, which found that continued pressure to close down U.S. reactors could lead to a 4 percent increase in the greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change.

There is already a real-world example that shows how shutting down a nuclear energy would negatively impact both the environment and energy costs. After Japan took all of its reactors offline in the wake of the 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi, the country saw both a 6 percent climb in carbon dioxide emissions and a 42 percent jump in power generation costs in 2012. The emissions increase was Japan’s largest in 20 years.

The pressure to shut down nuclear reactors comes at a time when the U.S. nuclear energy industry is already facing challenges from other sources. One, cheap shale gas from fracking and output from wind turbines mean nuclear energy has more competition. Two, the aging U.S. nuclear reactor fleet needs repairs and maintenance, with the high costs sometimes leading plant operators to simply shut down the reactors instead — as happened with San Onofre. And, three, there’s the fact that only five new U.S. reactors are currently scheduled to be built.

A reduction in dependence on nuclear energy paired with an increased reliance on fossil fuels would make it incredibly difficult for the United States to meet its current goal of reducing emissions by 17 percent by 2020, according to a recent analysis from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES). According to the C2ES study, Climate Solutions: The Role of Nuclear Power, removing nuclear energy from the U.S. energy equation would increase emissions by 289-439 million metric tons in 2014, and 4-6 billion metric tons from 2012 to 2025.

Read the full Vox.com story.