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Lawmakers push to save nuclear power

Source: 
The Citizens' Voice

Jan. 13--Pennsylvania's nuclear power industry, including the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station in Salem Twp., faces a challenging future and needs help, according to a bipartisan group of state lawmakers.

The Susquehanna plant, owned by Talen Energy, is among the largest employers in the region, with a workforce of about 900.

Elected officials say they want to make sure those jobs are secure.

A report released late last year by the Bicameral Nuclear Energy Caucus -- a small group of state lawmakers of both major parties, from both houses of the state legislature -- says lawmakers need to help nuclear power producers stay competitive in an energy market flooded with cheap natural gas.

"A severe drop in gas prices has created a perfect storm in the nuclear industry," said state Sen. John Yudichak, co-chair of the energy caucus.

The Marcellus Shale natural gas boom has driven the drop in natural gas prices, said Yudichak, D-14, Plymouth Twp.

Nuclear power is an important part of the state's energy-supply industry, thanks to an increasing focus on carbon-free energy sources, Yudichak said.

One option state lawmakers need to consider is a carbon emissions tax, which would benefit nuclear energy suppliers, he said.

Derek Jones, plant manager at the Susquehanna Station, noted another advantage of nuclear power: It does not depend on sunshine or wind, unlike other alternative forms of energy generation, such as clusters of solar panels or windmills.

"Just think about grid reliability," Jones said. "Nuclear power is ... 100 percent of the time. It makes the grid extremely stable."

Current conditions in the energy market, especially the drop in natural gas prices, make it difficult for nuclear power producers to compete, Jones said. The announcement that Three Mile island -- the nuclear plant near Harrisburg that became known world-wide following an accident in 1979 -- will close this year should serve as an alarm bell, he said.

Jones said he has seen the adverse impact the closure of a nuclear plant can have on a community as well as plant employees.

Jones worked at a nuclear plant in Vermont for many years before it shut down in 2014, he said. Hundreds of workers scattered across the country to find other jobs, while the area surrounding the plant suffered economically after the plant was shuttered, he said.

Protecting the jobs of Susquehanna plant workers is essential, said state Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-116, Butler Twp., whose district includes Salem Twp.

"My primary concern is the jobs of our nuclear employees and that we prevent any surprise closures," Toohil wrote in an email. "Nuclear plants have a lifespan and we do not want any more unexpected and premature closures in Pennsylvania."

Not everyone agrees that lawmakers should help the nuclear industry through measures such as a carbon tax, especially if that is at the expense of other alternative forms of energy.

The American Association of Retired Persons, which advocates for people 50 and older, has opposed nuclear industry subsidies, arguing that such measures would burden senior citizens on fixed incomes.

Those concerns are unfounded, Yudichak said.

As long as all players in the energy-production market are on a level playing field, consumers will only benefit, he said.

"We've had the Marcellus boom," Yudichak said. "By all accounts we have a 100-year supply of gas. As we transition from fossil fuels, nuclear needs to be in the mix."

Contact the writer:

emark@citizensvoice.com

570-821-2117

___

(c)2019 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

Visit The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) at citizensvoice.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Discussions

Robert Magyar's picture
Robert Magyar on Jan 15, 2019 1:43 pm GMT

It's understandable the plant manager at the Susquehanna nuclear plant would state the same old tired and worn out statements how solar and wind are not reliable energy sources. Given solar's production is best during the day while wind's production is generally best at night, when combined in use with natural gas, the three energy generation sources are just as reliable as either nuclear or coal. Throughout the world, the combination of solar, wind, and natural gas along with battery storage are proving to be every bit as reliable as to what the nuclear industry claims. Its also ironic the same Pennsylvania politicians who went all in on their state becoming one of the major reasons for today's natural gas glut now want U.S. taxpayers and PA ratepayers to give even more subsidy to the nuclear industry. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 16, 2019 3:22 am GMT

Robert, solar and wind are the least reliable of all renewable sources, and it should be obvious why. No doubt solar production is best during the day, when panels are on the right side of the Earth. That's about all you can conclude with surety about solar's output, which ranges from ~40% of capacity to nothing, occasionally for days at a time.

Evangelists persist in the bizarre notion that solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biogas, etc.(combined with non-existent renewable storage) might one day be persuaded to work in harmony - to take turns providing humanity with reliable electricity. The simple-minded theory seems to be all it takes to make reliable electricity is every source kicking in a little when it can (if only it were that easy). Natural gas/fracking interests are ecstatic to help them in their fool's errand, because once nuclear plants are shut down they never open again, guaranteeing gas a market for the forseeable future. It's likely why renewables have received 27 times the federal financial incentives that nuclear has received since 2010 - it certainly isn't on renewables' own merits.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jan 20, 2019 6:43 pm GMT

"Throughout the world, the combination of solar, wind, and natural gas along with battery storage are proving to be every bit as reliable as to what the nuclear industry claims."

No, that is a delusion that we in the pro-environment movement need to move beyond.  If cost were no object, then your statement is obviously true.  In most of the world, cost is the most important metric. 

  • Storage (including batteries and even pumped-hydro) is never cost effective except in very rare circumstances (i.e. buying PR value).
  • Outside of the reach of the US frac'ing boom, natural (fossil) gas is also a fairly expensive fuel (compared to coal).
  • Solar and wind work well in places with cheap gas (and a willing dependence on it) and mature transmission, but when combined with coalpower, the total costs more than coalpower alone.

The result is that in most of the developing world, solar and wind deployments are small and just-for-show.  Coal is the work-horse of those nation and continues to be built aggressively.  China and India have demonstrated that nuclear can be nearly as cheap as coal, but without support (and investment) from developed countries (other than Russia), these efforts have moved slowly.

In addition to helping developing nations build their own nuclear plants, we should continue to demonstrate proper operation of our own nuclear fleet, since our way of running them resulting in safe operation, zero emission of air pollutants, and reliable energy for at least 80 years. 

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