Properly Run Nuclear Plants Reduce Air Pollution: Despite massive bailouts from Ohio and other states to keep noncompetitive nuclear plants such as Davis-Besse in operation, the leader of the nuclear industry’s chief lobbying group on Capitol Hill said Wednesday she has “never been more confident in the future of nuclear energy.”
Maria Korsnick, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s president and chief executive officer, said in her annual state-of-the-industry address that she anticipates a lot more investment in small modular reactors and advanced nuclear technology during the 2020s, and believes more people will embrace nuclear power’s ability to help combat climate change.
She said nuclear has played a key role in keeping homes and hospitals powered during the coronavirus pandemic, and that her industry is more committed than ever to diversifying its hiring practices now in response to civil unrest from protests following the brutal deaths of Minneapolis resident George Floyd and other African-Americans lately.
“I’ve never been more confident in the future of nuclear energy,” Ms. Korsnick said. “Nuclear power isn’t only about generating electricity. When it comes to technology, we’ve often seen how the right technology at the right time can improve our lives in ways we didn’t think were possible.”
Her comments came less than six months after a long and bitter fight ended Jan. 31 over whether the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants in northern Ohio, which at the time were owned by FirstEnergy Solutions, should get state subsidies to stay afloat.
A group called Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, which had hoped to get the state’s voters to overturn subsidies approved by Ohio General Assembly, withdrew a case it had before the Ohio Supreme Court. Days earlier, it did the same with a similar case it had before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
Ohio’s two nuclear plants, now owned by a company called Energy Harbor Corp. that emerged from federal bankruptcy proceedings on Feb. 27, came away with a deal that will provide Davis-Besse and Perry $150 million more in ratepayer money to split for years.
The deal also called for $20 million a year to be set aside for five utility-scale solar fields, all but one in southern Ohio.
The only one to criticize that deal during the NEI’s 90-minute event was Union of Concerned Scientists President Ken Kimmell, a speaker on a green-energy panel that followed Ms. Korsnick’s 30 minutes of remarks.
Cambridge, Mass.-based UCS did some internal soul-searching a few years ago because of the climate crisis, agreeing it needed to focus more on nuclear safety and less on opposing nuclear power in general because it agrees that well-run nuclear plants will help keep climate-altering emissions down.
Nuclear plants don’t emit carbon dioxide or other forms of air pollution during operations, although critics have pointed out there are a lot of emissions released in mining uranium and making it into nuclear fuel, plus emissions released in making tons of concrete and steel for the plants themselves.
Mr. Kimmell said it was one thing for Ohio to provide massive subsidies to keep Davis-Besse and Perry operating.
But legislators were highly counterproductive, from a green energy standpoint, by killing the state’s renewable energy law as part of the bill. Ohio did away with a state mandate which required utilities doing business in the state to invest in green energy or buy credits to offset their lack of investment.
“That type of approach really doesn’t work and makes it hard to make progress,” Mr. Kimmell said of providing subsidies for nuclear while at the same time eliminating requirements to invest heavier in green energy.
Nuclear must be part of the solution to help the world meet energy forecasts predicting a nearly 50 percent rise in electricity use by 2050, Ms. Korsnick said.
The U.S. fleet of nuclear reactors produced a record 809 billion kilowatts of electricity in 2019. It ran at an average 93.4 percent capacity, also a new high for the industry, she said.