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Nuclear power advocates say they offer 'green' climate solution

By Tom Jackson • May 6, 2019 at 3:00 PM

Environmental groups have lined up to oppose a state bill designed to bail out two nuclear power plants in Ohio and keep them operating.

But that opposition has sparked a backlash by critics who wonder why “green” groups who complain about global warming want to pursue a policy that will add carbon into the atmosphere.        

House Bill 6 tries to save 1,300 jobs at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant near Oak Harbor and the Perry plant east of Cleveland by imposing a $2.50 month surcharge on customers’ electrical bills, generating $300 million a year, with about half going to the two plants and the rest supporting other green energy producers.

Supporters of the bill (such as Ohio Speaker Larry Householder) note that the fee is $1.89 less than the current “green energy” subsidy on electrical bills. The bill is being discussed in the Ohio House’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

State Rep. Jamie Callender, R-Concord Township, the measure’s main author, notes nuclear power generates about 14 percent of Ohio’s electricity and green sources such as wind and solar only account for 3 percent, despite years of subsidies.

If the two nuclear plants are shut down, it will take years to replace them with sources of energy that don’t add carbon to the atmosphere and feed global warming, he argues.                

The Perry nuclear power plant is in Callender’s district, so arguably he’s not an objective energy analyst.

But Steffen Henne, head of research at the Center for Industrial Progress, said Callender is making a valid point.

“Ohio's power generation is dominated by natural gas (34 percent) and coal (47 percent) right now. Taking out 14-15 percent of zero carbon dioxide generation immediately would definitely lead to higher carbon dioxide emissions compared to keeping these power plants alive, even if the absolute emissions might decline over time,” Henne wrote in response to questions submitted by the Register.

For more of Henne’s perspective, see more of the questions and answers, available online at sanduskyregister.com. 

“Drawdown,” a book published in 2017, purports to rank the top 100 proposed solutions for stopping climate change, in order of efficacy.

An associated website, drawdown.org, ranks nuclear power at No. 20, but also complains about it: “At Project Drawdown, we consider nuclear a regrets solution. It has potential to avoid emissions, but there are many reasons for concern: deadly meltdowns, tritium releases, abandoned uranium mines, mine-tailings pollution, radioactive waste, illicit plutonium trafficking, and thefts of missile material, among them.”

The environmental leaders in Ohio who attacked House Bill 6 include Trish Demeter, vice president of energy policy for the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund.

“Wind and solar are the most viable and least risky clean energy sources today and in the future, yet Ohio legislators want to invest in the technologies of yesterday,” Demeter said.

The Register asked Demeter about the criticism that shutting down the nuclear power plants would add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

“We think it’s an oversimplified way to think about it,” she said.

The state could reduce carbon emissions in a big way by investing in energy efficiency, she said.

Demeter said she also believes climate change has been brought up as an excuse to keep nuclear power plants open. She said if lawmakers want to have a wider discussion about how to deal with climate change, she would welcome that.

“Let’s talk about what it will really take,” Demeter said. “I’d love to have that discussion.”

Henne, the energy researcher, said the only countries that have made serious progress in producing “green” energy have used nuclear power.

“There are really only two major countries that have created affordable, abundant power with low carbon dioxide emissions, France and Sweden, and both have done it by using nuclear technology. You can use wind and solar to some extent and at a high cost, as Denmark has done, but this is not really scalable,” Henne wrote.

“Denmark now has the highest electricity prices in Europe together with Germany, in large part because of their focus on wind, and they are dependent on the constant imports and exports of power to stabilize their power grid,” he wrote.

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