Key Online References (2019)

The below is a reverse chronological list of articles for 2019. For the articles for 2018 click here. For articles for 2016-2017 click here. For articles up through 2015 click here. For a list of related books and blogs that deserve your attention, click here.

If solar panels and wind turbines keep getting cheaper, why bother building anything else? Because as we add more solar panels and wind farms, their productivity declines. And while the cost of individual solar panels is low, when there are enough of them, they impose real costs on the rest of the system. A new study from a team of researchers at MIT examines these trends and explains why this creates an important role for both existing and new nuclear power plants in an affordable decarbonized energy system.

MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, Deep Decarbonization of the U.S. Electricity Sector: Is There a Role for Nuclear Power? by K.D. Tapia-Ahumada, J. Reilly, M. Yuan and K. Strzepek, September 22, 2019.

Summary: This study shows that the U.S. electricity sector can meet projected electricity demand while reducing CO2 emissions by 90% from 2005 levels. If nuclear generation costs remain at current levels as estimated by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and renewable costs fall substantially, so that levelized cost of energy (LCOE) costs are well below natural gas generation costs, the authors project a considerable expansion, especially of wind, even without a CO2 price. Given the low LCOE, one might expect a complete phase-out of carbon fuel-based electricity without a carbon price. However, the study finds that it takes a substantial carbon price to achieve deep decarbonization. Moreover, modest advances in lowering the cost of nuclear by about 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour create a substantial role for nuclear, and reduce the needed carbon price by two-thirds. Continued focus on lowering the cost of baseload generation from low-carbon sources such as nuclear would make achieving deep reductions in carbon emissions much less costly. Report 338 [Download]

CNN Business Perspective, Nuclear could be the clean energy source the world needs by Katie Tubs, September 16, 2019.

The challenge to meet the world’s energy needs is massive. Demand for electricity continues to grow, with nearly one billion people today still in the dark. Access to affordable, reliable, clean energy has sweeping ramifications for economic opportunity, education, clean and reliable health care, safe homes, communication — things Americans can happily take for granted. There is a clean option that could meet this challenge: Nuclear energy. While nuclear energy has met battled persistent PR problems in the past, things seem to be changing — and rightly so. In fact, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in partnership with Idaho National Lab and the University of Wisconsin, have gone so far as to say nuclear energy is “essential” to expand energy access and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Wall Street Journal, No Nukes Is Bad News For Climate by Robert Hargraves, September 12, 2019.

Despite nuclear energy being the most viable clean-energy source, only two democratic presidential candidates said they would consider nuclear in a mix with other clean energy sources. As Hargraves claims, it seems like Sen. Cory Booker and Andrew Yang are the only candidates that are seriously focused on saving the climate. Not only did some just ignore nuclear energy in last week’s CNN “Climate Crisis Town Hall” telethon, some strongly argues against it. With this non-support for nuclear energy, unfortunately, most 2020 democratic candidates seem incompetent or misinformed in creating a pragmatic plan towards dealing with climate change.

Forbes, Why the World Needs More Nuclear Power by Robert Rapier, July 11, 2019.

Expanding the technology is the fastest way to slash greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonize the economy. New nuclear power plants are hugely expensive to build in the United States today. This is why so few are being built. But they don’t need to be so costly. The key to recovering our lost ability to build affordable nuclear plants is standardization and repetition. The first product off any assembly line is expensive — it cost more than $150 million to develop the first iPhone — but costs plunge as they are built in quantity and production kinks are worked out. These economic problems are solvable. China and South Korea can build reactors at one-sixth the current cost in the United States. With the political will, China could replace coal without sacrificing economic growth, reducing world carbon emissions by more than 10 percent. In the longer term, dozens of American start-ups are developing “fourth generation” reactors that can be mass-produced, potentially generating electricity at lower cost than fossil fuels. If American activists, politicians and regulators allow it, these reactors could be exported to the world in the 2030s and ’40s, slaking poorer countries’ growing thirst for energy while creating well-paying American jobs. Currently, fourth-generation nuclear power receives rare bipartisan agreement in Congress, making it a particularly appealing American policy to address climate change. Congress recently passed the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act by big margins. Both parties love innovation, entrepreneurship, exports and jobs.

BloombergNEF, Liebreich: We Need To Talk About Nuclear Power by Michael Liebreich, July 3, 2019.

It is no secret that we are in the midst of a global climate-crisis and the electricity sector currently plays the role as the biggest pollutant. Producing 42% of the carbon emissions annually, the electricity center needs to be the focus of conversation when reducing emissions. Last October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report saying that if the world was to head towards a 2° Celsius increase, we would need to decrease carbon emissions by 20% by 2030, and 45% by 2030 in order to meet a goal of a 1.5° increase. After 20 years of innovation and about $3 trillion dollars in investments, solar and wind only produce 7% of the world’s energy combined. In order to achieve major carbon emission reduction in the energy sector, the world can not rely on solar and wind. In 2018, all 6,100 wind turbine in Denmark produced 13.9TWh worth of energy, while the EON’s Isar-2 nuclear power plant in Bavaria generated 11.5TWh. Because nuclear power is incredibly more efficient than wind and solar, “no plan can be considered credible if it does not deal explicitly with nuclear power.”

InsideSource, Candidates should heed Obama, Climate on Nuclear Power by Paul Steidler, June 27, 2019.

President Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, labor unions, and a growing number of climate change advocates worldwide, including progressive heads of state, strongly support nuclear power. Today’s Democratic candidates for president, though, do not. Joe Biden, in his 10,000-word June 4 climate proposal does not even address the role of current nuclear power plants. He says, though, he will work to “identify the future of nuclear energy” and offers support for small modular reactors that are under development. Bernie Sanders, who strongly criticized Hillary Clinton’s support for nuclear power in 2016, remains viscerally anti-nuclear even though he says on his campaign website, “Climate change is the single greatest threat facing our planet.” Sanders was a driving force in closing Vermont’s only nuclear plant, much to the consternation of the Boston Globe editorial page, which admonished him for the consequences, saying, “Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions have gone up more than the nation’s as a whole, putting the lie to its green self-image.” Elizabeth Warren has been releasing her climate plan piecemeal and it remains to be seen where she stands. Governor John Hickenlooper’s 2,000-word climate position says, “Climate change is the defining challenge of our time.” He does not comment on nuclear power other than saying that he will promote scholarships and loan forgiveness for nuclear engineers. Fortunately, both Cory Booker and Andrew Yang both support nuclear power, although Yang has a preference for thorium-based nuclear energy.

The Times, Lamb: We Can’t Afford to Nuke Plants Close, by Jared Stonesifer, May 3, 2019.

U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb brought together three other congressmen-all of whom sit on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology-to voice his concerns over the decline of nuclear generation. He highlights how closing down nuclear power plants is a threat to national security, our economy, and our environment. “The decline on the commercial side (of nuclear generation) severely affects the U.S. Navy and our national security,” Rep. Lamb urged that, “the situation today is not good.” Not only will many lose their jobs, but there is no possible way to meet our emissions goals without the carbonless production of nuclear energy. He, also, explained that these power plants are not “at risk” of closing, they are scheduled to close. And without proper legislation to support the industry, power plants such as Three Mile Island and Bear Valley will be shut down. Rep. Bill Foster said his stated passed this such legislation years ago with a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature. Furthermore, there is still hope. However, state and federal government bodies need to act now. We can not afford to close down nuclear power plants when they provide half of all low-pollution electric power in America.

New York Times, Nuclear Power Can Save the World, by Joshua S. Goldstein, Staffan A. Qvist and Steven Pinker, April 6, 2019.

Expanding the technology is the fastest way to slash greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonize the economy. New nuclear power plants are hugely expensive to build in the United States today. This is why so few are being built. But they don’t need to be so costly. The key to recovering our lost ability to build affordable nuclear plants is standardization and repetition. The first product off any assembly line is expensive — it cost more than $150 million to develop the first iPhone — but costs plunge as they are built in quantity and production kinks are worked out. These economic problems are solvable. China and South Korea can build reactors at one-sixth the current cost in the United States. With the political will, China could replace coal without sacrificing economic growth, reducing world carbon emissions by more than 10 percent. In the longer term, dozens of American start-ups are developing “fourth generation” reactors that can be mass-produced, potentially generating electricity at lower cost than fossil fuels. If American activists, politicians and regulators allow it, these reactors could be exported to the world in the 2030s and ’40s, slaking poorer countries’ growing thirst for energy while creating well-paying American jobs. Currently, fourth-generation nuclear power receives rare bipartisan agreement in Congress, making it a particularly appealing American policy to address climate change. Congress recently passed the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act by big margins. Both parties love innovation, entrepreneurship, exports and jobs.

Harvard Business school, Op-Ed: Why Private Investors Must Fund ‘New Nuclear’ Power Right Now, by Joe Lassiter, April 4, 2019.

Many environmentalists have changed their minds about nuclear energy over the past decade. While the share of energy produced by solar and wind has grown rapidly, nuclear remains America’s largest source of clean, zero-emissions electricity. Anyone seriously interested in preventing dangerous levels of global warming should be advocating nuclear power.

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Wall Street Journal: Opinion, If governors are serious about global warming, they’ll preserve this vital source of clean energy., by James Hansen and Michael Shellenberger, April 4, 2019.

Many environmentalists have changed their minds about nuclear energy over the past decade. While the share of energy produced by solar and wind has grown rapidly, nuclear remains America’s largest source of clean, zero-emissions electricity. Anyone seriously interested in preventing dangerous levels of global warming should be advocating nuclear power.

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The Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA), bipartisan draft legislation which aims to accelerate the development of advanced nuclear technologies and re-establish US leadership in nuclear energy has been re-introduced to the US Senate on 27 March by a group of 15 senators led by Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. It was previously introduced to the Senate in September 2018 and was one of several bipartisan bills supporting advanced nuclear innovation to be considered by the 115th US Congress, which ended on 2 January. One of those bills – the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, which modernizes US nuclear regulation and supports the establishment of a licensing framework for next-generation advanced reactors – became law on 14 January. “Yesterday, a bipartisan group of leaders in the US Senate introduced the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, which establishes an ambitious plan to accelerate the development of advanced nuclear reactor technologies,” Bill Gates, the technologist, business leader, and philanthropist, tweeted, with a link to Murkowski’s announcement. “I can’t overstate how important this is,” he said.

The Hill, Climate hedgehogs and foxes, by By Armond Cohen and Steve Brick, Opinion Contributors, February 21, 2019.

The Democratic take-back of House of Representatives and the recent introduction of the “Green New Deal” Congressional resolution have reinvigorated discussion of action on climate change. The Green New Deal resolution calls for meeting 100 percent of U.S. power demand through “clean, renewable, and zero-carbon electricity” – a recognition that it will take all of the technologies in the toolkit, including nuclear and carbon-scrubbed fossil, to fully decarbonize the power sector. Despite pressure from those seeking an end to fossil use within 10 years and power the electric grid solely with wind and solar, coupled with batteries and other forms of energy storage, the Green New Deal resolution does not exclude any zero-carbon technologies. As the Senate sponsor, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), said in announcing the introduction of the resolution: “While the resolution does not mention any specific technology, it talks about any technology that can dramatically reduce greenhouse gases. . . .We are open to whatever works.” That is the wise approach. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, many leading environmental organizations and the last Obama White House report, argue for the broadest possible set of approaches — the use of wind and solar energy, as well as increased use of nuclear energy, scrubbing carbon out of fossil fuels, and, in some cases, the expanded use of hydropower and biomass energy.

Cory Booker just announced he was joining the Democratic presidential primary race. The New Jersey senator stands out from the crowd in his full-throated endorsement of nuclear power. Booker supports nuclear primarily for reasons of environmental justice. His argument: When nuclear plants close, they’ve been replaced primarily by fossil fuels power plants that pollute the air and trigger asthma attacks among people living in the primarily low-income communities and communities of color that surround such facilities. Those illnesses, he said, is the number one reason kids end up going to the hospital or staying home sick from school. During his first Senate term, Booker has voted to support nuclear research and innovation and argued the country will need the controversial technology to stem carbon emissions. “For me this is not a time to hesitate, to dilly dally, to equivocate pathways before us — if we boldly march down them we can accomplish something great,” he said. “It can’t be done with wind and solar alone. We have to be a country that steps up and says it has to be renewable, new advanced nuclear energy.” In backing nuclear, Booker is promoting a key component of his home state’s energy mix. Thirty-six percent of New Jersey’s electricity comes from nuclear power — one of the higher percentages in the country. Almost all the rest comes from natural gas.

The Washington Post, Bill Gates comes to Washington — selling the promise of nuclear energy, by Steven Mufson, January 25, 2019.

Bill Gates thinks he has a key part of the answer for combating climate change: a return to nuclear power. The Microsoft co-founder is making the rounds on Capitol Hill to persuade Congress to spend billions of dollars over the next decade for pilot projects to test new designs for nuclear power reactors. Gates, who founded TerraPower in 2006, is telling lawmakers that he personally would invest $1 billion and raise $1 billion more in private capital to go along with federal funds for a pilot of his company’s never-before-used technology, according to congressional staffers. “Nuclear is ideal for dealing with climate change, because it is the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that’s available 24 hours a day,” Gates said in his year-end public letter. “The problems with today’s reactors, such as the risk of accidents, can be solved through innovation.”

Wind and solar have come a long way since the early days. These sources now produce about 9 percent of the electricity in the United States, and their costs have declined dramatically in recent years. We can celebrate that progress without turning it into a narrow mandate. We recently reviewed 40 studies of decarbonization pathways, and the results could not have been clearer. Without exception, every study that sought to identify the most affordable clean electricity system without artificially constraining available technology options reached the same conclusion: It was much cheaper to include so-called firm low-carbon technologies such as nuclear, carbon capture, or reliable but often overlooked renewables like geothermal or hydro dams with large reservoirs, than it would be to build a clean energy system without them. Firm electricity generation resources are available on demand, for any length of time, any season of the year. That makes them a critical complement to weather-dependent wind and solar, as well as resources like batteries or strategies like demand flexibility (which permits consumers to reduce their electricity use in periods when supplies are strained) that are best suited to fast bursts of use. In other words, firm technologies complete the clean energy team. Wind and solar add value to the grid and can even be star players. But they aren’t cut out to win the decarbonization game all on their own.

Today, more than 80% of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuels, which are used to generate electricity, to heat buildings and to power car and airplane engines. Worse for the planet, the consumption of fossil fuels is growing quickly as poorer countries climb out of poverty and increase their energy use. Improving energy efficiency can reduce some of the burden, but it’s not nearly enough to offset growing demand. Any serious effort to decarbonize the world economy will require, then, a great deal more clean energy, on the order of 100 trillion kilowatt-hours per year, by our calculations—roughly equivalent to today’s entire annual fossil-fuel usage. A key variable is speed. To reach the target within three decades, the world would have to add about 3.3 trillion more kilowatt-hours of clean energy every year. Solar and wind power alone can’t scale up fast enough to generate the vast amounts of electricity that will be needed by midcentury, especially as we convert car engines and the like from fossil fuels to carbon-free energy sources. Even Germany’s concerted recent effort to add renewables—the most ambitious national effort so far—was nowhere near fast enough. A global increase in renewables at a rate matching Germany’s peak success would add about 0.7 trillion kilowatt-hours of clean electricity every year. That’s just over a fifth of the necessary 3.3 trillion annual target.