SAN FRANCISCO—The United States will find it increasingly difficult to meet its clean-air goals without the continued operation of nuclear power plants, Clinton Administration and energy experts said here during the nuclear energy industry's annual meeting.
Dr. Ernest J. Moniz, under secretary of Energy, said the President's Climate Change Technology Initiative and the Energy Department's recently released Comprehensive National Energy Strategy call for continuing the nation's reliance on nuclear power as the largest source of emission-free electricity.
Broad discussions on nuclear power and its environmental benefits "are overdue," said Moniz, formerly head of the physics department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Nuclear power plant optimization as part of the President's Climate Change Technology Initiative is a key administration response to heading off emissions."
The White House plan is "intended to address the issues facing the long-term operation of existing nuclear power plants," including support for renewing nuclear plant operating licenses beyond the initial 40-year period and research and development initiatives to continue this decade's improvement in nuclear power plant efficiency.
Moniz said nuclear power plays a vital role in the nation's energy strategy, and that its role in achieving each of the five main goals of the plan "indeed may be part of the main message in the Comprehensive National Energy Strategy. What I really want to stress is the need for a re-energized discussion of nuclear energy is reflected by nuclear energy's appearance throughout the energy strategy."
Former Senator Bennett Johnston of Louisiana said there is a "sea change" in public attitudes and in the Clinton Administration toward nuclear energy, brought on principally by the need for non-emitting technologies to generate electricity.
More than 100 nuclear power plants generate about 20 percent of the nation's electricity without producing greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, or other harmful air pollutants. Many of these facilities produce electricity for residential consumers and industry in highly populated areas that, without this clean source of electricity, would not comply with Clean Air Act emissions targets.
"While we are increasing electricity demand, the Clean Air Act—aside from the question of global warming—will require reductions in various pollutants," Johnston said. "On top of the Clean Air Act, the Kyoto protocol will require an 18 percent reduction in carbon equivalent emissions. You can't get from here to there without nuclear energy."
There are good reasons why wind and solar energy are not yet significant contributors to the electricity system, said Johnston, former chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "If there are technologies out there that can work, let's pursue them. There is a strong place in remote locations for photovoltaics. There is a strong place for wind energy in some places. I heard President Jimmy Carter say we're going to be 20 percent solar by the year 2000. Well, it's almost the year 2000. Let's pursue those things that work. But let's not have this triumph of hope over experience."
Johnston said most nuclear power plants are located in areas that have high levels of emissions from other industrial facilities. Shutting down non-emitting nuclear power plants in those areas would have extensive ramifications on compliance with Clean Air Act restrictions.
"Because many nuclear plants are located in regions most affected by the Clean Air Act, removing nuclear energy from the electricity generation portfolio in a region like the Mid-Atlantic or the New England states would create severe implications" for our clean air programs, Johnston added.
Johnston's clean-air compliance message was echoed later in the day by Christian H. Poindexter, the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. Poindexter, whose company in April became the first utility in history to file for renewal of its 40-year operating licenses at its Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant, said that replacing BGE's nuclear generation with fossil-fuel plants "would make it impossible for us to meet the (government's) air-quality requirements."
Recognizing the intrinsic value of nuclear energy as an emission free source of electricity is one of the eight components of the industry's Strategic Direction for Nuclear Energy in the 21st Century, a comprehensive industry plan issued at Nuclear Energy Assembly.