Nov 8, 2018

Environmental group: Keep open nuclear power plants

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

A high-profile, science-based environmental nonprofit is calling for financially struggling nuclear power plants to remain open, citing their benefits to tackling climate change.

Why it matters: In a new report, the Union of Concerned Scientists is joining a growing number of environmental leaders to back existing nuclear power because of climate reasons, despite continued concerns about the technology’s safety and radioactive waste. The increased support could help keep open some power plants.

“We’re in a place right now from a climate perspective we have to make some hard choices. We need every low-carbon source of power we can get.”
— Steve Clemmer, co-author and director of energy research and analysis at UCS

The big picture: Nuclear power provides 20% of America’s electricity, but 53% of our carbon-free electricity. A seminal United Nations report released last month said nuclear power was a key part of sufficiently addressing climate change. Cheap natural gas and subsidized renewable energy over the last decade have financially squeezed many U.S. nuclear power plants.

The details: The UCS report finds that more than one-third of America’s nuclear plants will or could be shuttered within the next decade, before their government licenses require, and that they would be replaced by natural gas or coal.

The intrigue: Environmental groups are increasingly debating to what degree they should vocally support keeping existing reactors that are operating safely but are financially struggling.

  • UCS, while never officially taking an anti-nuclear power stance, has been one of the most vocal critics of the industry about safety.
  • While Clemmer says this isn’t a shift in his group’s position, it is a change to become more vocal. It could prompt scrutiny across other environmental groups.

"This is a group that has very strong skepticism of nuclear in its DNA," said Jeff Navin, former top official in President Obama’s Energy Department and now a consultant on energy issues. "It’s really going to force additional conversations among some other groups."

What’s next: The UCS report recommends a national price on carbon dioxide emissions or a standard mandating low-carbon electricity, but Congress is unlikely to substantively consider either any time soon.

  • A trio of states — Illinois, New York and New Jersey — have adopted policies that temporarily subsidize financially struggling nuclear power plants alongside incentives for renewables. UCS calls for any additional policies, which Ohio and Pennsylvania may consider, to include provisions that ensure safety and need for the support.

Go deeper: The left’s nuclear problem

Editor's note: This piece was corrected to show nuclear provided 53% of U.S. carbon-free electricity in 2017 (not roughly 60%, which was the 2016 figure).

Go deeper

Biden says he's starting VP search this month

Joe Biden. Photo: Scott Olson / Staff

Joe Biden said he's spoken to Sen. Bernie Sanders and former President Barack Obama about selecting a running mate — and that he wants to build "a bench of younger, really qualified people" who can lead the nation over the course of the next four presidential cycles.

Driving the news: Biden spoke about the state of the 2020 race during a virtual fundraiser on Friday night that was opened to pooled coverage.

Trump ousting intelligence community inspector general

Michael Atkinson, inspector general of the intelligence community. Photo: Bill Clark / Getty Images

President Trump notified key lawmakers on Friday that he’s firing Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community's inspector general, who first alerted Congress last September of an "urgent" complaint from an official involving Trump's correspondence with the Ukrainian president.

Why it matters: The move, to take effect in 30 days, comes amid a broader initiative to purge the administration of officials seen as disloyal to the president.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Axios Visuals

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 1,097,909 — Total deaths: 59,131 — Total recoveries: 226,106Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 277,828 — Total deaths: 7,406 — Total recoveries: 9,772Map.
  3. Public health latest: The CDC is recommending Americans wear face coverings in public to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The federal government will cover the costs of COVID-19 treatment for the uninsured, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.
  4. 2020 latest: "I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting," President Trump said of the 2020 election, as more states hold primary elections by mail. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday that every county in the state opted to expand mail-in voting for the state's June 2 primary.
  5. Business updates: America's small business bailout is off to a bad start. The DOT is urging airlines to refund passengers due to canceled or rescheduled flights, but won't take action against airlines that provide vouchers or credits.
  6. Oil latest: The amount of gas American drivers are consuming dropped to levels not seen in more than 25 years, government data shows. Trump is calling on the Energy Department to find more places to store oil.
  7. Tech updates: Twitter will allow ads containing references to the coronavirus under certain use cases.
  8. U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt: Senators call for independent investigation into firing of Navy captain.
  9. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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