The Environmental Protection Agency of the USA has just proposed new targets for limited power sector emissions. President Obama spoke of the need to prevent climate change and ensure a decent standard of air quality for his nation’s children.
The proposed rules in the Clean Power plan, which will be open to consultation for a year, would cover greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-fired electric generating units. The EPA is proposing the guidelines for states to follow, including a carbon intensity target per MWh generated.
States running on a higher proportion of nuclear energy or renewables have significantly lower carbon intensity targets for their power sectors thanks to the low-carbon generation already provided. States further to the left of the above chart with lower targets are the top producers of renewable energy: Idaho, Washington, Oregon, South Dakota and Maine are the top five, with California in seventh place and New York the eleventh highest. Vermont, which doesn’t get a target from the EPA as it has no fossil fuel generation at all, would stretch our chart’s axis at 50% nuclear capacity!
California closed half of its nuclear generation in 2012, shuttering San Onofre nuclear plant, which once powered 1.4 million homes with clean power. This surely resulted in a higher target for its troubled power sector.
During cold temperatures at the end of 2013, nuclear kept the lights on reliably across the USA. We already have the technology to supply clean, reliable power and protect the quality of our air. Current nuclear equipment can supply that, but when the world is looking for scalable, reliable low-carbon generation we cannot afford to miss the chance to bring about a new paradigm of safer, smarter fourth-generation reactors, like the Molten Salt Reactor.
Choosing 2005 as a base year makes the targets easier, as that was when CO2 emissions from the US power sector were peaking. Obama’s actions are in the right direction, but they are nowhere near the level of ambition needed to avert dangerous levels of climate change. The USA has lost its lead in advanced nuclear technology – it should prioritise returning to the top table of nuclear research and development. The country where the Pressurized Water Reactor and the Molten Salt Reactor were invented should be leading the way with better nuclear technologies, not half-measures.