Christine Todd Whitman: "Nuclear Needs to Remain Central"

Yesterday we saw another very solid well reasoned and powerful op-ed from former administrator of the EPA, Christine Todd Whitman.

And we applaud the argument that it isn’t “nuclear vs. renewables” but that nuclear energy provides a crucial compliment to renewable energy sources as an always on backstop or “baseload” source of energy. As she put it well:

Renewable power suffers from problems of intermittency; it is very difficult to predict how much the wind will blow or how strong the sun will shine. The American electricity grid — built to connect massive, centralized, “always on” power plants to consumers — is unable to handle the unpredictability that a substantial increase in renewable power would bring. Natural gas, too, faces economic hurdles — it has a history of rapid and extreme price fluctuations that have made utilities reluctant to rely on it.

Until these problems are solved, our electricity system requires a stable, cheap source of energy to provide “always on” baseload power. The only candidates for such power in today’s energy mix are nuclear or coal power plants. We are learning that mining and burning coal provides too much danger to human health to base our electricity system on it: a new study in the American Economic Review has found that the air pollution emitted by coal-fired electricity generation is greater than the value it adds to economy. Nuclear power, on the other hand, can provide emissions-free baseload power at a low cost.

Today, a total of 104 nuclear reactors are operational around the country. They provide about 20 percent of the country’s total electricity. No other electricity source can combine the benefits of knowing that it will always be on with its affordability and its lack of emissions….This cheap, always available, zero-carbon power is an important backstop to the growth of new technologies. It can help smooth the price fluctuations that natural gas is vulnerable to and it provides the “always on” capacity that renewable power cannot.

Read the whole article here.