Moore: Cheap natural gas should not sink nuclear future

An abundance of cheap natural gas should not preclude construction of new nuclear power plants in the United States, former Greenpeace leader-turned-nuclear advocate Patrick Moore told GenerationHub Dec. 10.

In a telephone interview, Moore said he would advise policymakers they should “not put all your eggs in the gas basket.”

One of the early leaders of Greenpeace, for the last few years Moore has served as co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy (CASEnergy) Coalition, a pro-atomic power group that is funded by the Nuclear Energy Institute. The coalition’s other co-chair is Christine Todd Whitman, an ex-EPA administrator and former Republican governor of New Jersey.

While natural gas generation works well for peaking and intermediate generation, nuclear remains a superior choice for baseload power, Moore said.

“Gas plants don’t last 60 years,” and history has shown that natural gas prices are going to fluctuate significantly over time, Moore said, noting that while gas is inexpensive today, it’s impossible to say what the situation will be like when all the announced natural gas plants come online.

The CASEnergy official said that while natural gas probably accounts for 90% of the cost of running a gas-fueled power plant, enriched uranium fuel represents only 15% of the cost of a nuclear plant.

Moore does think some expansion of natural gas generation could lessen the need for many older, high-emitting coal-fired units. He also thinks that greater reliance on hydroelectric power would be wise given that hydro can produce power in many areas much cheaper than wind turbines.

The nuclear advocate also thinks that reactors can benefit from the government policy to limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal. “It will greatly benefit the nuclear industry” if EPA moves aggressively to limit greenhouse gases from fossil plants, Moore said.

“It will be slow at first, but eventually we’ll see steady approval of new nuclear plants,” he said.

Bureaucracy has thwarted nuclear loan program, Moore says

After decades of seeing no new units being built in the United States, Moore is delighted to see new reactors being constructed in Georgia and South Carolina by subsidiaries of Southern (NYSE: SO) and SCANA (NYSE: SCG).

But neither the new Vogtle nor V.C. Summer units are, as yet anyway, utilizing nuclear loan guarantees from the Department of Energy, Moore noted.

SCANA evidently decided early on that the nuclear loan program was too much of a hassle, Moore said. He added that despite “years of negotiation” Southern’s Georgia Power has yet to finalize its loan program agreement.

“If the bureaucracy would work properly,” then companies might pursue the nuclear loans, Moore said.

The DOE did recently announce funding for a small modular reactor project that would be located at a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) site.

These smaller reactors should have a viable commercial future, Moore said. They are based on the same technology that has powered the U.S. and Russian nuclear submarine fleets for decades.

It also makes no sense for island locations like Hawaii to be forced to ship in tankers of fossil fuel in order to generation electricity, when a miniature reactor could generate the power without all the emissions, Moore said.

Whitman and Moore have been busy lately making the case for nuclear power on economic and environmental grounds. “We’ve focused a bit on the trouble spots,” Moore said.

Moore recently published an opinion piece that ran in California newspapers touting the significance of Edison International’s (NYSE: EIX) San Onofre nuclear plant to the Southern California grid.

Nuclear foes fail to consider that if existing reactors are retired early their output will largely be replaced by fossil fuel generation, said Moore. He cites Entergy (NYSE: ETR) and its Indian Point complex. Indian Point produces more than 30% of the electricity for New York City, he noted.

“Indian Point has never harmed anyone,” whereas there have been “natural gas explosions” over the years and respiratory illnesses from fossil fuel plants, Moore said.

On other issues, Moore said that he has been pleasantly surprised that the U.S. public has kept the tiny risk of a nuclear catastrophe in perspective despite the tone of much media coverage post-Fukushima.

Moore also agreed with the conclusion of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future that spent fuel should be located in “willing” host communities.

Nevada’s Yucca Mountain facility has been snarled in controversy in part because it was chosen through a top-down process, Moore said.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.