Obama's climate plan 'misses opportunity' of existing reactors, says NEI

05 August 2015

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) has welcomed the positive changes on new nuclear power plants contained in the final Clean Power Plan rule issued this week by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but said it is a "missed opportunity" on existing reactors.

US President Barack Obama and EPA administrator Gina McCarthy unveiled the document on 3 August.

The final rule regulates greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. NEI said this rulemaking "significantly changes how the electric power sector operates well into the future" and affects all sources of electricity, including nuclear energy facilities.

According to the final rule, new nuclear reactors and power uprates to existing units will help the USA cut its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030. Obama said this target makes the plan the "single most important step" the country has ever taken to tackle global climate change.

The White House said the plan will help to achieve Obama's near-term target to reduce emissions in the range of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, and lays a "strong foundation" to deliver against his long-term target of between 26% and 28% by 2025.

The release of the final rule also "continues momentum" towards international climate talks in Paris in December, the White House said, building on announcements to date of post-2020 targets by countries representing 70% of global energy based carbon emissions.


NEI president and CEO Marvin Fertel said he was pleased that the EPA recognizes in the final rule that nuclear plants under construction should not be part of the goal-setting calculation, but should count toward compliance when they are operating. He is also encouraged that power uprates that increase nuclear plants' carbon-free output should count toward compliance.

But NEI is disappointed that the "best system of emission reduction" in the final plan does not incorporate the carbon-abatement value of existing nuclear power plants.

"This is surprising since EPA clearly recognized in the proposed rule that some of these plants are at risk of premature shutdown," Fertel said. EPA notes correctly, he added, that existing nuclear generation helps make existing CO2 emissions lower than they would otherwise be, but will not further lower them below current levels. What the final rule fails to recognize, he said, is that emissions will be significantly higher if existing nuclear power plants shut down prematurely.

Nuclear power produces 63% of America's carbon-free electricity and should be recognized in policies and in regulations as an essential element of a lower-carbon energy portfolio, Fertel said. In 2014 alone, nuclear energy avoided the emission of 595 million tonnes of CO2.

"Clearly, it must be part of any credible program to reduce carbon emissions," he said.

NEI wants new nuclear capacity to include nuclear plants relicensed to operate beyond 60 years, and any nuclear plants that have not received licence extensions to operate beyond their original 40-year term as of the beginning of the 2012 baseline year.

"The final rule appears to give no credit for licence extensions," Fertel said, adding that nuclear power plant operation beyond 40 years, and certainly beyond 60 years, "cannot be treated as a foregone conclusion".

Licence renewal is a major investment decision, he said. Although the cost of renewal varies for each type of reactor design and location, preliminary cost estimates are comparable to the cost of building a new combined cycle natural gas unit - in the range of $500 million to $1.5 billion.

NEI noted that Fertel's comments were preliminary and that he will more closely evaluate the final Clean Power Plan rule in the days ahead.

State plans

Obama stressed that the final rule sets the first-ever national standards to limit carbon pollution and tailored goals for states to cut emissions.

"We already set limits that protect public health by reducing soot and other toxic emissions, but until now, existing power plants, the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States, could release as much carbon pollution as they wanted," he said. "Over the next few years each state will have the chance to put together its own plan for reducing emissions. We are giving states the time and flexibility they need to reduce pollution in a way that suits them."

In a statement, the White House said that all low-carbon electricity generation technologies - among which it included renewables, energy efficiency, natural gas, nuclear and carbon capture and storage - can play a role in state plans.

These are due in September 2016, but states that need more time can make an initial submission and request extensions of up to two years for final plan submission. The compliance averaging period begins in 2022 instead of 2020, and emission reductions are phased in on a gradual 'glide path' to 2030. These provisions to give states and companies more time to prepare for compliance are paired with a new Clean Energy Incentive Program to drive deployment of renewable energy and low-income energy efficiency before 2022.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News