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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