Biden climate adviser says existing nuclear essential for emissions goals

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris introduce key members of their administration in Wilmington
Former EPA chief Gina McCarthy, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for National Climate Adviser, speaks after Biden announced her nomination among another round of nominees and appointees for his administration in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., December 19, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

WASHINGTON, May 18 (Reuters) - White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy said on Tuesday that existing nuclear power plants are going to be needed in the Biden administration's effort to hit goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"In many areas continuation of the existing nuclear, as long as it's environmentally sound and it's permitted, is going to be absolutely essential" because it will provide time to develop renewable energy into a bigger part of the energy mix, McCarthy said at a Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy virtual event.

The White House signaled privately to lawmakers and stakeholders recently that it supports taxpayer subsidies to keep aging nuclear facilities from closing as shutdowns make it harder to meet U.S. climate goals. read more

President Joe Biden wants to set the country on a path to decarbonize the energy grid by 2035 and last month set a goal to cut U.S. emissions by 50%-52% from 2005 levels by 2030. That would be roughly a doubling of a previous goal set by former President Barack Obama.

In addition the administration supports a clean energy standard in the infrastructure plan, a mechanism that could help support existing nuclear power as well as carbon capture and sequestration to be added to fossil fuel plants.

"It's a very stable baseload system," McCarthy said about generation of electricity from nuclear plants, which generally operate all day, unlike wind and solar power which can be intermittent if not backed up by robust batteries.

Nuclear power is virtually free from carbon emissions that cause global warming, but is still rejected by some environmental groups because of concern over the disposal of toxic waste.

The United States has 93 nuclear reactors, more than any other country, but nuclear power capacity peaked in 2012. Some reactors have closed due to high security costs and competition from natural gas plants and renewable power.

A report by the International Energy Agency on Tuesday said almost 90% of global electricity generation should come from renewables by 2050 and most of the rest from nuclear. read more

Reporting by Timothy Gardner Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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Timothy reports on energy and environment policy and is based in Washington, D.C. His coverage ranges from the latest in nuclear power, to environment regulations, to U.S. sanctions and geopolitics. He has been a member of three teams in the past two years that have won Reuters best journalism of the year awards. As a cyclist he is happiest outside. Contact: +1 202-380-8348