Support the Role of Nuclear Power in Decarbonizing Our Economy

500 Women Scientists Philly Pod
4 min readAug 28, 2020

The 500 Women Scientists Philly Pod went to Harrisburg, PA on November 18, 2019, and lobbied for a number of important issues. These one-pagers were given to our representatives outlining our recommendations.

We support the inclusion of Pennsylvania in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) with an eye to the decarbonization of the power sector and in particular, the use of nuclear power as a major source of carbon-free energy.[1] Although discussions of climate change often shy away from conversations on nuclear energy, we must face the reality that in 2018, over 90% of Pennsylvania’s carbon emissions-free energy came from nuclear power.[2] Nuclear energy, therefore, has a place in our transition to 100% renewable energy sources before 2050. Research shows that alternative pathways to reaching zero emissions, such as relying only on solar and wind power, are more expensive and take longer.[3] Nuclear power has proven to be much safer than fossil fuels over time, especially when considering the environmental impacts of burning fossil fuels.[4,5]

The 500 Women Scientists Philly Pod also recognizes the harmful wastes produced by nuclear energy. Currently, there is a dearth of resources devoted to finding reliable, safe, and most importantly, just methods for reusing or disposing of nuclear by-products. Burying stockpiles in a remote mountain is a temporary solution that ignores the people who have, are, or will use the land.[6,7] Time will break through any man-made barrier. Therefore we advocate for increased support and resources towards usage and storage of nuclear waste.[8]

In addition to more secure waste storage, we urge our state to investigate ways to reduce waste through safe, verified methods that productively dispose of the long half-life waste our plants have already created. Fast neutron reactors use a closed fuel cycle and burn through the longer-lived radioactive isotopes that conventional reactors leave behind.[9,10] We also advise that the PA legislature looks into nuclear power sources that produce less harmful by-products such as thorium reactors and retrofitting our seven existing nuclear power plants with this safer alternative to relieve our reliance on enriched uranium.[11,12]

After we successfully transition to 100% carbon-free power generation, we can move to phase out our use of nuclear power, or to adopt safer and lower-waste nuclear technology, if it exists and is cost-competitive.

Cosponsor HB11
Nuclear power should be added to the Pennsylvania Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS) Act and given adequate funding to address spent fuel reuse and give it an advantage over fossil fuels.

Our recommendations:
✳ Cosponsor HB11
✳ Explore fast neutron reactors as a way to use spent fuel with long radioactive half-life.
✳ Explore retrofitting current nuclear power plants to use thorium instead of uranium.

Support carbon pricing policies
For too long we have subsidized fossil fuels. The time has come to put a price on carbon so that other energy sources can thrive.

Our recommendations:
✳ Support carbon pricing policies such as the RGGI and federal level bills.
✳ Consider nuclear power as a zero-emissions baseload power source in the cost-effectiveness of keeping existing nuclear power plants open.13

References

  1. RGGI (2019) The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative an initiative of the New England and Mid-Atlantic states of the US Retrieved from https://www.rggi.org/
  2. NEI (2019) Fact Sheet: Pennsylvania and Nuclear Energy Retrieved from https://www.nei.org/CorporateSite/media/filefolder/resources/fact-sheets/state-fact-sheets/Pennsylvania-State-Fact-Sheet.pdf
  3. Nestor A. Sepulveda, Jesse D. Jenkins, Fernando J. de Sisternes, Richard K. Lester. The Role of Firm Low-Carbon Electricity Resources in Deep Decarbonization of Power Generation. Joule, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.joule.2018.08.006
  4. Kharecha, Pushker, Hansen, James. (2013) Coal and Gas are Far More Harmful than Nuclear Power NASA Science Briefs Retrieved from https://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/briefs/kharecha_02/
  5. World Nuclear Association (2016, September) Uranium and Depleted Uranium Retrieved from https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/uranium-resources/uranium-and-depleted-uranium.aspx#ECSArticleLink9
  6. Brian, Susan Montoya (2019, October 22) Southwest tribes oppose spent nuclear fuel storage plans Retrieved from https://www.krqe.com/news/new-mexico/southwest-tribes-oppose-spent-nuclear-fuel-storage-plans/?fbclid=IwAR226t6uTM0HVaTxb2jWsCmc3NIZyYuIm6WDyenqBszBFNwOjmUd6jAtGIw
  7. von Hippel, Frank (2018, March 26) Dangerous nuclear waste in Pa. and N.J. should be stored more safely| Perspective Retrieved from https://www.inquirer.com/philly/opinion/commentary/nuclear-plants-planning-in-pa-and-nj-perspective-20180326.html
  8. World Nuclear Association (2016, September) Uranium and Depleted Uranium Retrieved from https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/uranium-resources/uranium-and-depleted-uranium.aspx#ECSArticleLink4
  9. World Nuclear Association (2019, September) Fast Neutron Reactors Retrieved from https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/fast-neutron-reactors.aspx
  10. International Atomic Energy Association (2019) Fast Reactors Retrieved from https://www.iaea.org/topics/fast-reactors
  11. Katusa, Marin (2012, February 16) The Thing About Thorium: Why The Better Nuclear Fuel May Not Get A Chance Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/energysource/2012/02/16/the-thing-about-thorium-why-the-better-nuclear-fuel-may-not-get-a-chance/#192462c61d80
  12. World Nuclear Association (2017, February) Thorium Retrieved from https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/thorium.aspx
  13. Conca, James (2016, December 4) Illinois Sees The Light — Retains Nuclear Power Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2016/12/04/illinois-sees-the-light-retains-nuclear-power/#78dab4083e7b

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500 Women Scientists Philly Pod

The Philly Pod of 500 Women Scientists is a grassroots organization founded in February of 2017 with a vision to make science more open and inclusive to all.