NEI panel finds no quick and easy solutions on climate change

Atomic power, renewable energy and carbon capture and storage (CCS) must all be part of the low-carbon energy portfolio if the United States is to address climate change, panelists told a Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) conference May 14 in Washington, D.C.

“We need to put the pedal to the metal” on every form of low-carbon energy, Stanford University Law Professor Dan Reicher told the 62nd annual Nuclear Energy Assembly and Supplier Expo. Reicher who directs Stanford’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, said that both nuclear power and carbon capture must be part of the portfolio.

Reicher praised NRG Energy (NYSE:NRG) for its efforts to add CCS to an existing coal-fired power plant. He also cited promising research into developing carbon capture for natural gas-fueled power plants.

Clean Air Task Force Executive Director Armond Cohen suspects, however, that commercial development of CCS for power generation is 10 -to- 15 years away. Likewise, the biggest problem with developing new nuclear reactors is “these things take too bloody long to build.”

When they are built, however, new nuclear plants have the potential to de-carbonize the grid more rapidly than some other forms of power generation, Cohen said.

Reicher said the construction track record by Southern (NYSE:SO) and SCANA (NYSE:SCG) in developing new nuclear units in Georgia and South Carolina will influence any future U.S. nuclear development.

Reicher gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Power Plan a “decent chance” of surviving legal challenges. But EPA needs to make changes to the final version of the rule so that all forms of low-carbon generation are put on an equal footing, he added.

The panel was moderated by former Indiana congressman and Resources for the Future (RFF) President Philip Sharp. Sharp, a Democrat, pointed to the Obama administration’s CO2 agreement with China. While not a sweeping agreement, it does contradict the long-held theory among some in Congress that large international carbon emitters won’t do anything to control greenhouse gases, Sharp said.

Sharp also said that the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan has not really revived the domestic anti-nuclear movement in the United States.

The panel also included former New Jersey governor and former U.S. EPA administrator turned nuclear advocate Christine Todd Whitman. Whitman, who now chairs the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy) has been able to garner public support for nuclear energy from entities ranging from Chambers of Commerce to even some environmentalists.

CASEnergy doesn’t just talk “to the believers,” Whitman said.

Whitman, a Republican, said she doubts the environmental community will ever “embrace nuclear” in large numbers. But “they are not fighting it” much either, she added.  


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