Nuclear Power Challenges in Texas and Abroad

There has always been the pressing question of where to store nuclear waste in the U.S. The EIA shows that this year’s nuclear power outages were much lower than last summer, averaging about 1.2 GW of electrical generation between June and July of this summer.  And even though the infamous Three Mile Island plant has been retired, outages have been down 67% this year.

The EIA has also shown that nuclear energy output has been rising consistently throughout the United States even though they are not very economically viable in the current energy economy–with renewable energy and other plants shutting down regularly due to expensive operating costs. Perhaps nuclear energy is now more relevant than ever as well given the recent attempts from Congress to address nuclear waste problems. 

Caroline Reiser in the aforementioned article on nuclear waste believes that the best option for curbing nuclear waste and fighting climate change is to further push nuclear power plants out of circulation. She believes that talks about re-processing and finding nuclear waste storage solutions is a waste of time that could be better spent on more realistic options. After all, as The World Nuclear Industry shows that nuclear energy is far too expensive to maintain. It may produce 19% of all U.S. electricity, but a more robust push for renewables would be more productive, as they are consistently outpacing nuclear energy generation. 

Oyster Creek and Three Mile Island Shutdown

More nuclear power plant shutdowns like Oyster Creek and Three Mile Island will mean increased carbon emissions as the nuclear option is far cleaner than coal and natural gas. But as The Atlantic states, pursuing nuclear energy as a “silver bullet” for climate change is not a good use of resources. A massive nuclear power overhaul may be more viable than a Green New Deal if looked at from only the electrical industry, but it would far too costly to realistically carry out.

Yet scaling the prevalence of nuclear power down for renewables and natural gas will dirty the air. Take the Comanche Peak nuclear plant in North Texas. Phasing that plant out would not only dirty the air around the plant and the 3 million people it serves, but also cause a dearth of electrical generation.

It seems there has to be a careful approach to just how quickly any plants are phased out. More than likely regulators and lawmakers will call for plants to be retrofitted and made more efficient. Natural gas plants are much more efficient and environmentally friendly now, maybe nuclear plants can be modified to be less costly while renewables continue their rise to the top.

 Is the New Green Deal Right for Texas?

Because there has not been a comprehensive approach to dealing with climate change and its long-term ramifications for the environment, activists recently proposed what they dubbed as the Green New Deal as solution for our uphill battle with increased emissions.

As Vox describes the GND, “It refers, in the loosest sense, to a massive program of investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure, meant to transform not just the energy sector, but the entire economy.”

With Texas leading the way in wind energy and continually pushing for more renewables, the Lonestar State seems to be the perfect litmus test for the viability of the GND. Naturally, there are political polarizations and opinions that measure just how realistic a Green New Deal is. 

Green New Deal Naysayers

As Jason Isaac of The Cleburne Times Review says though, the GND could mean an extra $12,000 added to the average Texan’s electricity bill. He says that “getting renewables from 8% to 100% of our electric generation nationwide isn’t a problem of politics, but of scale and physics.” Simply put, Isaac says that America does not have enough land (realistically) to accommodate the 5 million acres of wind turbines, solar panels, and battery storage that it would take to get the U.S. 100% renewable. Additionally, a higher percentage of electric vehicle owners will also drive electricity demand up, meaning prices will rise as well.

Mark Whittington of the Washington Examiner believes that those who campaign for the widely unrealistic Green New Deal will lose their credibility in the political race. He suggests avoiding the full-scale liquidation of the fossil fuel industry and instead backing net-zero plants like the one in La Porte, Texas


Green New Deal ‘Yay’sayers

There are more optimistic champions of the GND though. Amal Ahmed of the Texas Observer thinks that the GND can flourish in Texas because of the state’s recent success and large scale adoption of renewables.

Ahmed reminds readers that Texas originally had the modest (but at the time ambitious) goal of producing 10,000 megawatts of energy that would make it to the grid. Let’s just say that in 2018, Texas produced over 75,000 megawatt hours of power. That’s quite impressive and an example of how the seemingly impossible can turn plausible with the right minds and manpower behind the job. 

While keeping the mind that vast amounts of political and economical support that a successfully enacted GND will need, the climate can only benefit from the spotlight, even if the outcome is much less impressive than proponents of the GND would like to achieve. 

Overall, if the Green New Deal is ever approved by Congress, Texas will be the most likely candidate for leading the green revolution. If not, the state will keep investing in renewable energy regardless, and by extension, relieve some of the burden of climate change. 

 Fracking News in Texas

With presidential nominee Julian Castro advocating for fracking to be phased out by 2035, as well as overwhelming polls around the country in favor of a fracking ban, “hydraulic fracturing” might be ousted sooner than later. 

But the energy sector might be too far reliant on fracking that any humanitarian concerns won’t guarantee any wide scale shutdown. It just might not be practical at this current phase, even if it is the driving force behind higher methane levels and higher earthquake incidence across the country, as well as health dangers for residents.

Banning fracking is not a black-and-white argument though. From a humanitarian point of view, it’s definitely troublesome. Just ask the residents of Denton, Texas, which was the first Texas city place to ban the practice, albeit unsuccessfully. But from an economic standpoint, fracking contributed heavily to the shale boom in Texas. 

In fact, fracking made it possible for the United States (and Texas) to be such a dominant force in oil production. It has also reportedly decreased greenhouse emissions, but many sources like Skeptical Science, believe that lowered CO2 rates are a result of decreased coal production. But of course, with increased fracking comes a decreased reliance on coal for energy production, so fracking probably has a role to play in that. 

For Texas in particular though, fracking is causing a lot of concern because of wastewater pollutants that residents and state policy makers are afraid might seep into nearby rivers and lakes. Texans are invoking the EPA to hopefully safeguard drinking water from the potential harms of fracking byproducts. 

Methane is on the Rise

Vox says in their article, “Fracking May be a Bigger Climate Problem Than we Thought” that a lot of rising methane was tied to “biogenic” causes, which means animal and plant wastes. This corroborated by measuring the varying weight of isotopes. Or, in other words, fracking emitted heavier methane isotopes. Or so that was the consensus for a time. 

But the overall methane picture has been complicated by Robert Howarth, who traced shale oil production as a root of increased methane levels. And as the Vox article states, this can mean that America is one of the biggest reasons why methane is so high: “Since 89 percent of the shale gas production comes from the US (Canada produced the rest), that’s a whole lot of accelerated global warming tracing right back to America’s front door. “

But there’s more than one side to the “fracking = increased global warming debate”.  The EIA shows that energy-related carbon emissions went down, but that could be correlated to less coal production.

Regardless, fracking created a lot of jobs and helped solidify the country as an oil empire. Our relationship with the practice will certainly continue to be a complex one, to say the very least.

Environmental Emissions Bright Spots for Methane and Carbon Dioxide  


According to the folks at Vox and data from Co2 Earth, our planet has hit an average PPM of about 410. The recommended benchmark for CO2 amount (measured by PPM) is 350. So, we are well past concerning levels for our climate.

But there seems to be a bright spot on the horizon. Moving past some of the more basic policies for curbing carbon emissions, like putting a cap on carbon, there are more involved methods that could radically reduce emissions.

Some of these methods include Carbon Dioxide Capture and Sequestration, which means that engineers take carbon from the air (the capture) and pump it into underground formations for storage (the sequestration). But as Vox states, CCS probably won’t be readily adopted because there’s not a lot of economic incentive for organizations to do so.

A way incentivize this is to use Carbon Capture for the purpose of commoditizing and eventually selling CO2 for plastics, carbonated beverages, polymers and other synthetics. 

This won’t stop rising CO2 emissions in their tracks, but can certainly help. 

Another bright spot is that methane rates have been decreasing

Methane Rates Are Dropping

As The Hill states in the aforementioned article, “methane emissions in the United States have dropped 15 percent since 1990 even as natural gas production increased more than 50 percent over that same period.” And because natural gas and methane emissions go together like ham and rye, it’s very encouraging to see such a drop.

How are they doing this though? In a similar way to the carbon capture and direct capture methods for CO2, companies are harnessing technology to capture emitted methane. The companies are transporting methane via pipeline to other organizations who then use the methane as fuel. This commoditization of what was once inevitably vented into the air has been an immense bright spot for our climate’s health.

According to The Hill as well, carbon rates have been reduced as a result of the biggest coal plants being shuttered. Or as Scientific American puts it so well, “Coal plant closures have been a feature of U.S. power markets for the better part of a decade, as stagnant demand, low natural gas prices and increasing competition from renewables have battered the coal fleet.”

So, as methane rates are continued to be locked down and controlled and renewables continue to replace coal, there are definite bright spots to glean despite the immense amount of work still to be done to keep our planet safe.