“Nuclear generating capacity will account for the largest share of total [power generating] capacity retirements” in 2021. That means a lot of carbon-free power generation goes offline in 2021, at a time when people want more carbon-free power.
“At 5.1 GW, nuclear capacity retirements represent half of all total expected retirements in 2021 and 5% of the current operating U.S. nuclear generating capacity. The Exelon Corporation is scheduled to retire two of its Illinois nuclear plants, Dresden and Byron. Each of these plants has two reactors, and their total combined capacity is 4.1 GW. The Unit 3 (1.0 GW) reactor at Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York state is scheduled to retire in April. If all five reactors close as scheduled, 2021 will set a record for the most annual nuclear capacity retirements ever.” (Content and image – EIA)
This energy dilemma goes beyond power generation. One aspect of the issue relates to emissions aside of the actual power generation. (See our blog – Scope 3 emissions.
“The energy to mine and refine the uranium that fuels nuclear power and manufacture the concrete and metal to build nuclear power plants is usually supplied by fossil fuels, resulting in CO2 emissions; however, nuclear plants do not emit any CO2 or air pollution as they operate. And despite their fossil fuel consumption, their carbon footprints are almost as low as those of renewable energy.” That from Columbia University’s Earth Institute.
So, it is about the total carbon created to make the electricity and the facility. The Earth Institute again: “One study calculated that a kilowatt hour of nuclear-generated electricity has a carbon footprint of 4 grams of CO2 equivalent, compared to 4 grams for wind and 6 grams for solar energy — versus 109 grams for coal, even with carbon capture and storage.”
Nuclear energy has precluded the creation of 60 gigatons of carbon dioxide in the past 50 years, says the International Energy Agency.
Why is nuclear under stress? The Union of Concerned Scientists says, “Cheap natural gas and renewable energy, diminished demand, rising operational costs, and safety and performance problems are all threatening the profitability of nuclear power plants—and increasing the likelihood that reactors might close. If natural gas or coal replaces them, emissions will rise—and our ability to fight climate change will become that much weaker.”
Feature image of the Byron Station, Exelon