Nuclear power advocates challenge state’s Climate Action Council plan

ALBANY — A group of advocates, including a former NASA director, want the state’s Climate Action Council to include nuclear power initiatives in its blueprint for a carbon-free environment.

State leaders passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which calls for New York to have 100% emissions-free electricity by 2040.

The draft plan aims to dramatically reduce emissions over the next two decades by building the state’s infrastructure for wind and solar power plants as well as harnessing low-carbon fuels such as green hydrogen and bioenergy. Council members estimate that the transition will cost a “small slice” of New York’s economy and can yield up to $120 billion in net benefits.

Climate scientist and former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute, James Hansen, welcomed the legislation but criticized the state’s initial scoping plan this week, arguing that it “disregards our way to decarbonization.” the most reliable and the most proven – nuclear energy”.

“Nuclear power has the smallest land footprint and the lowest lifecycle carbon emissions of any energy source,” he said. “It can generate electricity 24 hours a day or as needed. It is also one of the safest forms of energy on the planet.

Hansen is part of a growing group of advocates, including scientists, labor representatives and community leaders, pushing the climate council to incorporate measures that expand the use of nuclear energy into its plan.

When asked if the council plans to include initiatives that use nuclear energy to achieve its carbon-free goals, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) said the council has adopted recommendations including an analysis considering the costs, health, safety, community impact and environmental concerns of nuclear power generation.

At an Empire State Plaza briefing Thursday by Nuclear New York, industry leaders touted nuclear as a bargain that doesn’t take as much time or large-scale resources to build while providing environmental, economic and health benefits.

Speakers emphasized the need to use all clean energy resources now, as climate change demands it immediately.

Hansen said nuclear power currently provides much of the state’s carbon-free electricity and that extending reactor life can limit greenhouse gas emissions in a cost-effective way. The scientist pointed to strategies deployed in California and Germany that incorporated systems comprised primarily of solar and wind power, which in his view are limited.

He said both of these forms of energy help with early decarbonization by replacing fossil fuels without requiring heavy transmission and storage upgrades, but can lead to higher electricity rates and grid instability because this are low-density renewable energies.

In the same breath, he offered other European countries and Canada as good examples.

“France, which decarbonized its network with nuclear years ago, has announced its support for a new generation of reactors,” he said.

A DEC spokesperson said the state has already achieved “significant cost reductions” for solar, onshore and offshore wind technologies, citing “distributed solar incentives have reduced by 85% over the past decade, a 20-40% year-over-year cost reduction on a large scale”. onshore renewables and 40% cheaper offshore wind prices compared to 2018 estimates.”

“The state has also pioneered new contracting mechanisms that help limit impacts on ratepayers when market revenues provide more support for renewables outside of state contracts,” the spokesperson added.

A 2021 Life Cycle Assessment of Power Generation Options study by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe confirmed that nuclear energy can provide low-carbon electricity over the long term. term, although it faces “perceived barriers” of public acceptance, high upfront costs and disposal of radioactive waste.

Herschel Spectre, an engineer and president of Micro-Utilities, said worries about nuclear waste were absurd. He noted that this waste has sat in pools across the country for decades and he has yet to hear of anyone being harmed by it, adding that new disposal methods are burying waste in the hundreds. meters underground, where he predicts that the public will not be exposed to radiation. From this.

And in defending the safety of nuclear energy, Hansen referred to a study he conducted 10 years ago which concluded that nuclear energy had “saved 1.8 million lives by replacing fuels polluting fossils,” a number he says could be multiplied many times over by mid-century.

John J. Murphy, a leader of the Clean Energy Jobs Coalition, and Mike Bradshaw argued that instead of giving massive subsidies to renewable sources, New York should favor clean energy facilities that create and sustain the largest number of highly qualified and well paid jobs. .

The DEC spokesman said a study by one of the council’s working groups showed that employment in solar and wind energy is expected to more than triple over the next two decades to peak in 2040 with up to to 67,000 jobs. The department’s data also indicated that nuclear employment would remain stable at around 5,000 jobs over the same period.

Murphy, however, said a small modular reactor creates 400% more jobs than a similarly sized solar farm.

“If we don’t change course, we are on the path of job displacement, not job creation, and the answer is in plain sight,” he said.

This is part of a series of Times Union articles this year focusing on climate change and its impacts.

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