Longtime readers know that I work in this sector, so the announcement today that Washington will be assisting in financing the construction of two new commercial nuclear power plants is just about the only good news I personally have ever heard coming out of the current administration.
It is good news for America, although not for the reasons Obama and his energy secretary espoused.
Mr. Obama said, “Make no mistake: whether it is nuclear energy, or solar or wind energy, if we fail to invest in these technologies today, we’ll be importing them tomorrow.”
But these reactors were designed by Westinghouse, a subsidiary of Toshiba, and many major components will be fabricated abroad. And nuclear power is of limited use in offsetting oil imports.
In a conference call with reporters, the energy secretary, Steven Chu, compared the reactors to coal plants, not oil, saying how much they would reduce carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide output.
We cannot import enough electricity to fill the gap that losing the existing reactor fleet – only a scant 104 commercial nuclear plants are operating. The problem is that the fleet is aging. Many are nearing the end of their original 40 (thanks, Bob, for pointing out the error) year design life. Only 20 year life extensions will keep them online for the next two decades.
When those extensions run out, the US will lose some 806.2 billion KW-hours of generation. Just like that there will be an enormous hole in the baseload generation of this country. If we do not start building these plants now, we will be in real trouble very, very quickly.
Frankly, Chu’s argument is one the nuclear industry has pointed out for decades. But we will have to build a lot of new reactors to replace the amount of coal generation. Wind and solar are a joke, trust me. They are not at all reliable and would not even be where they are today without massive tax subsidies. Without the baseload and load-following spinning reserve provided by nuclear and coal energy, there would be angry mobs chasing politicians who keep subsidizing wind and solar instead of promoting reliable energy sources.
Now if Washington will just get off its dead butt and restarts nuclear fuel reprocessing, we’ll be gearing up for a realistic energy future.