More greenhouse gases if nuclear power plants are shuttered warns the IER

The Donald Cook Nuclear Power Plant is Still Under Construction. Lake Michigan at Bridgman

The Donald Cook Nuclear Power Plant under construction. Lake Michigan at Bridgman, 08/1973. Image by the U.S. National Archives.

California will produce an extra 4 million tonnes of greenhouse gases if nuclear power plants in the state retire warns the Institute for Energy Research in a recent report.

In June Southern California Edison announced that it would permanently retire units 2 and 3 of the San Onofre Nuclear Plant near San Diego due to high maintenance costs.

"If these nuclear units were replaced by a mix of 71 percent gas-fired generating technology and 29 percent renewable technology, as was added from June 2012 to April 2013 in California, an extra 4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide would be emitted per year, equivalent to 8 percent of California’s 2010 emissions from its electric power sector," writes IER in a report.

"If gas filled the entire void, the additional carbon dioxide emissions would be about 6 million metric tons, equivalent to the annual emissions from about 1.5 million cars."

Consumers will also be feeling price pain with an expected rise in natural gas prices, the power substitute that more and more utilities are turning to. The IER warns that nuclear power still costs less than the alternatives.

"Nuclear production costs for existing plants in 2012 averaged 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour, about one-third the cost of a new natural-gas fired plant and about one-fourth the cost of a new onshore wind unit."

Authors note that nuclear energy makes up 19% of America's electricity generation. With planned retirements the US will have 99 operating units by the end of next year. A total of 38 units are on a possible retirement list since the cost of renewables and natural gas keeps falling.

Creative Commons image from the The U.S. National Archives