Adopted March 2010
The electricity sector is responsible for roughly one-third of the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions, mostly through the use of coal to generate about half of the country’s electricity. The preponderance of the evidence from climate studies tells us that those emissions must be nearly eliminated by 2050 to avoid the risk of problematic climatic change. Of all the traditional, central power plant electric generation technologies, nuclear power contributes the lowest life-cycle CO2 emissions per kilowatt hour, and virtually no CO2 emissions from plant operation. At present, nuclear power generates about 20 percent of the country’s electricity. Most of the United States’ operating 104 nuclear power plants are scheduled to be decommissioned at the end of their extended licenses in the 2030s, unless their lives are further extended through advanced parts and systems replacements.
To meet future demand for electricity, Fresh Energy supports the following hierarchy of resources:
- Maximization of conservation by consumers; and
- Maximization of efficiency in production, transmission, operations, and end-use.
Once conservation and efficiency have combined to set demand at the appropriate level:
- Maximization of renewable electricity generation including wind, solar, geothermal, and environmentally appropriate bio-energy, wave power and hydropower;
- Application of advanced storage technologies to increase utilization of renewable energy; and
- Utilization of flexible fuels like natural gas and biogas in combustion turbines to follow load and back up renewable production.
Once renewables, storage and gas generation have been maximized to their economic and reasonable technical limits:
Nuclear, consistent with national public resolution of the unresolved issues and challenges noted below, and coal, built or retrofitted to capture greenhouse gases and permanently sequester them.
In Minnesota, by statute, long-term resource plans by electric utilities must seek to maximize currently available efficiency and renewable technologies. The plans, which cover a15-year planning period, must include transmission infrastructure and backup by energy storage and natural gas or biogas generation for the variable renewable resources. At the same time resource plans must monitor the extent to which research, development and demonstration are resolving the following issues in order to make prudent judgments about future use of nuclear power if, within the planning period, energy efficiency and renewable technologies prove unlikely to meet the gap created by phasing out carbon-based power sources.
Based on previous experience, nuclear power’s viability beyond the current fleet of reactors depends, at a minimum, on:
- Development by the nuclear industry and the private financial sector of predictable, transparent, and reliable cost structures and financing methods;
- Shielding taxpayers and utility ratepayers from economic risks involved in development of plants beyond those risks they already bear under current law;
- Success of present federal government and industry research and development in nuclear technologies that are safer, more flexible, and more readily accepted by the public, including design optimization and standardization, redundant fail-safe mechanisms, and modular designs posing lower costs and risks;
- Increased structural and operational security for cooling pools at existing nuclear power plants that provide protection that is at least as robust as the protection for the reactor vessels;
- Effective additional standards and practices for protecting fuel supplies and waste streams from persons who could use the materials for malicious or terroristic purposes or for otherwise developing illegal weapons;
- Siting and operation of uranium mines, uranium enrichment facilities, new nuclear power plants, and interim storage and permanent disposal of waste that respect environmental laws and the rights, cultures, and concerns of indigenous communities, low-income communities, and communities of color and remediation and settlement of existing impacts that have not been resolved;
- Successful siting and construction of permanent high-level radioactive waste disposal sites by the federal government in appropriate geological formations that isolate waste from oxygen, water, or seismic or volcanic activity;
- Implement safe, routine transportation methods for high-level radioactive waste to permanent disposal sites, and ensure future cask design integrates transportation considerations;
- Continued prohibition of high-level radioactive waste reprocessing which, under current technology, provides no advantage for cost, security or waste management.
Under existing federal law, subsidies and loan guarantees are in place that will support up to four new nuclear power plants. The planning, design, financing, approval, construction, and operation of those plants must address and make substantial progress on resolving issues of costs, technology, private financing, security at existing plants, and social justice. At the same time, the nuclear industry and federal government must address and make progress on the remainder of the above concerns raised by the negative legacies of nuclear power related to justice, security, and waste management. Existing subsidies and loan guarantees should not be increased or otherwise changed until they can be assessed for effectiveness in addressing the cost, private capital, technology design, and safety issues.
All of these issues need to be addressed simultaneously and evaluated to determine if new nuclear power can meaningfully contribute to a low-carbon electricity economy. The majority of needed actions must be undertaken by the nuclear industry, the financial sector, and the federal government. Some of the above measures and decisions relating to safety, waste processing, and siting of facilities need to be adopted in conjunction with ongoing research and development, actions necessary to firm up cost projections, and design and construction of demonstration plants under existing federal incentives.