Last December’s Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could have the unintended consequence of saving the United States’ ailing nuclear power industry.
According to a report from the New York Times, state and federal officials are looking at nuclear power plants as the country’s best source of "clean" energy with moves being made to subsidise plants that are struggling in a market flooded with low-cost natural gas.
US energy secretary Ernest Moniz told the newspaper on Tuesday that "maintaining the nuclear fleet is really important for meeting our near-term and midterm goals".
This could result in a reversal of fortunes for the nation’s nuclear industry. In recent years, particularly since the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima plant in Japan, the US has seemed likely to move away from the controversial energy source.
At a recent department symposium, Moniz argued that "we’re supposed to be adding zero-carbon sources, not subtracting".
Despite concerns regarding the disposal of radioactive waste and the myriad potential (and historically proven) other dangers, Moniz feels that "nothing else comes close" to protecting nuclear power’s place as America’s largest source of clean energy.
Christopher M. Crane, chief executive at massive nuclear operator Exelon, said that the market "can’t preserve zero-carbon emitting nuclear plants that are facing the lowest wholesale energy prices in 15 years" without bailouts.
Moniz and Crane have been joined in the pro-nuclear sentiment by not only other policy makers and executives but a growing number of environmentalists.
Michael Shellenberger, the president of Environmental Progress, told the New York Times that such plants are more environmentally friendly than renewables because of the vast quantities of power they can produce.
"Those of us who have changed our minds on it have changed most often on the climate stuff but from the whole life-cycle analysis, it’s just better".
However, activists in New York are hitting out at plans in their state.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed an energy plan that would see New York generate half its energy from renewable sources by 2030.
To do so would require utilities to buy power from nuclear plants. He is also concerned that upstate plants are struggling to stay open and that their output would be replaced by fossil fuels if their reactors are turned off.
Activists countered at a Public Service Commission on Cuomo’s plan last week that relying on nuclear power only undermines New York’s green energy industry.
Peter Swords of the Nuclear Free World Committee said:
"We have this fast growing green energy industry here. A lot more jobs are created in retrofitting in solar and renewables per million dollars than in nuclear energy".