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NY Times Article by Former Editor of Nuclear Intelligence Weekly Argues We Should Be Focusing on Solar and Wind, Not Super-Expensive Nuclear Power (Let Alone “Small Modular Reactors” – SMRs – Which Are Speculative Technologically and Extremely Expensive)

Youngkin, for some reason, loves SMRs

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Glenn Youngkin isn’t a stupid person, presumably – although sometimes one has to wonder, given all the inexplicably stupid things he says and does! And yet the number of things Youngkin apparently doesn’t understand is large – on a wide variety of topics.

Why is this the case? Part of it is presumably ignorance of specific topics, given his lack of prior experience in any form of government, public policy, etc., as well an apparently serious case of Dunning-Kruger (or maybe just arrogance? laziness? other?). But part of it, presumably, is “motivated reasoning,” in which “Individuals tend to favor evidence that coincides with their current beliefs and reject new information that contradicts them, despite contrary evidence.” Of course, Youngkin could also be biased due to his own personal interests – political, financial/economic, whatever. Perhaps that helps explain how someone who, at the Carlyle Group, sounded like a relatively pragmatic “moderate” even praising diversity, ESG, “lowering carbon footprint,” etc. – suddenly morphed into a Trump-loving, MAGA-cultist, right-wing ideologue?

Oh, and in addition to lurching hard right, Youngkin’s also appears to have become unenthusiastic about, or even hostile towards, clean energy and climate action. We’ve seen it since the earliest days of Youngkin’s administration, in his appointment of Trump’s coal-industry-lobbyist EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler (and in Youngkin’s/Wheeler’s godawful “Virginia Energy Plan”), as one of his top energy advisors; in his blather about an “all-of-the-above” energy policy approach, including fossil fuels like natural gas; in his opposition to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, etc.

Then we’ve got Youngkin’s enthusiasm for super-expensive “small modular nuclear reactors” (SMRs), while showing far less enthusiasm for FAR-less-expensive and already proven clean energy technologies like solar, wind, and of course energy efficiency. Regarding SMRs, an analysis last July in RenewEconomy explained that: “Very few of the proposed SMRs have been demonstrated and none are commercially available”; “cost estimates for the reactor have risen from US$55/megawatt electric (MWe) in 2016 to $89/MWe in 2023”; “two French-design evolutionary power reactor (EPR) builds have been far over budget and schedule”; “commercial-scale SMRs are likely decades away, if they are at all viable”; etc.

Unfortunately, Virginia legislators appear not to have fully absorbed that analysis, as they went ahead and passed legislation “that would allow the state’s two biggest electric utility companies to request ratepayer funds to cover costs of early development for small modular nuclear reactors.” That was a big mistake, for all the reasons noted in the RenewEconomy piece. Now, a new NY Times article, entitled “The Fantasy of Reviving Nuclear Energy,”  yet again demolishes the delusion that SMRs (or really any new nuclear power plants) will ever be as inexpensive, easy to build, or even FEASIBLE to build, as existing clean energy sources – solar, wind, etc. And no, this piece was not written by someone who’s reflexively anti-nuclear-power (I’m not either, by the way), but by Stephanie Cooke, a former editor of Nuclear Intelligence Weekly – also a former reporter for ” Nucleonics WeekNuclearFuel and Inside N.R.C.” In short, Cooke knows what she’s talking about (unlike Glenn Youngkin and many others pushing for SMRs) and isn’t coming at this from some sort of reflexive or left-wing anti-nuclear position. A few key points by Cooke in her NY Times article include:

  • Solar and wind power together began outperforming nuclear power globally in 2021, and that trend continues as nuclear staggers along. Solar alone added more than 400 gigawatts of capacity worldwide last year, two-thirds more than the previous year. That’s more than the roughly 375 gigawatts of combined capacity of the world’s 415 nuclear reactors, which remained relatively unchanged last year.”
  • “…pledging to triple nuclear capacity by 2050 is a little like promising to win the lottery…the cost of building 200 gigawatts of new [nuclear power] capacity [in the US] would be…at least $4 trillion, or $6 trillion if you count the additional cost of replacing existing reactors as they age out.”
  • For much less money and in less time, the world could reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the use of renewables like solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal power and by transmitting, storing and using electricity more efficiently.”
  • “The U.S. government is already poised to spend billions of dollars building small modular and advanced reactors and keeping aging large ones running. But two such small reactor projects based on conventional technologies have already failed.”
  • There is already enough potential generation capacity in the United States seeking access to the grid to come close to achieving President Biden’s 2035 goal of a zero-carbon electricity sector, and 95 percent of it is solar, battery storage and wind. But these projects face a hugely constrained transmission system, regulatory and financial roadblocks and entrenched utility interests” (which need to be overcome).

The bottom line is that SMRs are highly expensive and unproven/technologically speculative, while existing clean energy sources – solar, wind, energy efficiency, etc. – are cheap, abundant, and growing by leaps and bounds. Which one would YOU rather invest in, let alone have Virginia ratepayers’ money invested in? Seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, yeah…except not, apparently, to Glenn Youngkin and other SMR fans. Ugh.

 

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