Natural gas can substitute for nuclear power

A natural gas-powered electricity-generating plant in Middletown, Conn.

Kai Ryssdal: The Fukushima reactors are obviously done, either by damage from the explosions and fire, or the introduction of corrosive seawater as a cooling mechanism. Japan's going to have to find a way to make up that lost electric power capacity, as are other countries looking to re-jigger their energy plans. Which will in the short run mean a boost for fossil fuels -- one in particular.

Marketplace's Eve Troeh reports.

Eve Troeh: If people start really looking for an alternative to nuclear power, the energy contender poised to step in is natural gas.

Geoffrey Styles: Natural gas is best equipped to fill in for the portion of the market that would otherwise have been supplied by new nuclear power plants.

That's energy analyst Geoffrey Styles. He says natural gas is a great plug-and-play alternative. It's relatively cheap, burns cleaner than coal, and -- unlike wind or solar -- you can start pumping power plants with it right away.

Styles: Like nuclear, like coal, natural gas can provide 24/7 power.

Plus it hasn't had a major disaster like a well blowout, a mine collapse or a radiation scare. That's added to its popularity with investors, says Bud Weinstein at Mcguire Energy Institute.

Bud Weinstein: When it comes to energy development, perception is just as important as reality.

But some do see danger in natural gas, especially a drilling method spreading in the U.S -- hydraulic fracturing through shale. Kate Sinding with the Natural Resources Defense Council says fracking towns have big problems.

Kate Sinding: Water contamination, air quality impact.

She says other countries, like China and Poland, now want to start fracking for natural gas. And the industry hasn't dealt with the risk.

Sinding: Any increased production of natural gas has got to come with much more stringent oversight and regulation at every level.

The global natural gas industry is watching to see whether that will happen in the U.S.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

CORRECTION: This transcript has been updated with the correct spelling of Kate Sinding.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.
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Natural Gas extracted and transported via traditional methods may be cleaner than coal, but I doubt the same thing can be said for gas that is cooled, compressed and shipped around the world via tanker ship (LNG), or of gas extracted via hydraulic fracturing. Any discussion about the environmental impacts of natural gas is not honest if it omits those distinctions.

The comment characterizing natural gas as "relatively cheap" is short-sighted. Certainly, if natural gas replaces other forms of energy, demand for gas increases, and the price of gas will go up, just like oil.

The comment that natural gas is safer because there hasn't been a major incident is incorrect. There have been several incidents of natural gas pipeline blowouts in the recent past.

Well, my car uses Gas instead of gasoline, is is not only cheaper (around 50% of gasoline price), but the emissions are as low as 2%. Now that is a responsible and efficient use of natural gas; but using it for boiling water, for creating steam so you can move a turbine.... I mean... really? are you guys that naïve???

Where is ultra-deep geothermal as an option? Shallow geothermal is the more familiar where heat is easily harnessed in the area of the world where the earth’s mantle is close enough to the surface, like Hawaii. However, the former is less restrictive of location and more laborious in digging about the depth of about five miles to begin to recover usable heat approximating that of a nuclear power plant core any place in the world without most of the radioactivity danger and nuclear waste. Will our Secretary of Energy Noblest Dr. Steven Chu talk about this option in his Congressional hearing today (Wednesday, March 16, 2011)? I doubt it, since I never heard of lobbyists for this source of energy, but I certainly heard of nuclear power lobbyists! So, it does not take a rocket scientist (or a nuclear physicist) to figure out the main topic of discussion in these hearings! I guess we all have to start glowing in the dark before the nuclear power lobby gives up its efforts!

I live in Pennsylvania where fracking has started, and natural gas is being extracted from our land and no cost in terms of taxes for the gas companies, who turn around and sell this gas to its customers as pure profit. The biggest problem with this is that this natural gas deposit is considered one of the largest, and unfortunately the citizens of this state will receive no benefit besides the possibility of the creation of a few jobs. Sadly there are many possible environmental problems, which we will become aware of in the future. The gas companies are making nothing but profit from this while leaving the citizens with destroyed landscapes, water that catches on fire, and no revenue for the state despite the fact that they are taking one of the state's "natural resources". We are also facing a political tragedy, since our recently elected governor, who had received much funding from the gas interests, is determined not to raise taxes in "any way", which is problematic given the budget shortfalls of our state. In his recent budget proposal he plans to ameliorate this by cutting several state programs, but the worst and most damaging to the future of Pennsylvania's citizens is the proposal to cut state funding of education in half. The gas companies are looking to exhaust our natural resources as has been done in the past with oil, timber, coal, etc., and with the same cavalier attitude towards any positive impacts on the community at large. I am completely opposed to this alternative and nuclear power. We need to work wholeheartedly on making sustainable alternatives a more viable option if we actually plan on inhabiting this planet and leaving it for future generations.

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