For anyone seriously on board with a lower emissions future, nuclear must be a part of the equation. It’s an existing and obvious solution to address both our modern energy needs and environmental wants: more power with fewer emissions.
Despite this reality, extreme environmentalists have advocated against nuclear energy for decades. They worked to limit the development of new facilities and shut down existing ones. This longstanding effort is coming to a head in California as residents and its liberal leaders face the reality of the last nuclear reactor, Diablo Canyon, shutting down.
Diablo Canyon provides 9% of the state’s power and 15% of its “carbon-free” power. It is slated to shut down in 2025, but in a state where rolling brownouts and blackouts have become common, the governor has recently changed course and is working to save the plant.
Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed legislation that would stop the planned closure of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant over the next three years. The proposal offers a $1.4 billion forgivable loan for relicensing the plant, exempts the plant from strict environmental impact reviews, and keeps the plant open through 2030 with a possible extension to 2035.
This is welcome news for California. Nuclear should be a starting point for any discussion about the future of environmentally conscious energy. Nationwide, nuclear currently provides 8.1% of our energy and 19% of our electricity. The technology, which has been around since the 1950s, captures energy released when uranium ore is broken down via a process called nuclear fission (splitting atoms) that produces heat. The heat is then used to boil water, create steam, and spin a turbine that generates electricity. Once operational, nuclear power produces zero emissions, which is why it is often referred to as “zero emission” or clean energy.
In addition to its low to zero emissions profile, it provides a steady source of electricity–referred to as baseload generation–that is key for not only making power reliable but also affordable. There have been more recent, promising advancements in nuclear power technology including the invention of small modular reactors (SMRs) that are less expensive, safer, and more efficient than larger reactors.
In 1973, then President Richard Nixon set a goal of 1000 nuclear power plants to be constructed by 2000. The U.S. capped out at 104 reactors in 2012 in large part to the success of the anti-nuclear movement that was adopted and pushed by extreme environmentalists. Much of the early criticism focused on the dangers of nuclear energy, but after decades of use, it has proven to be the safest form of energy.
The change of approach in California is promising and hopefully indicative of a larger shift where policymakers and political leaders of all stripes realize the beneficial role nuclear energy can provide. The U.S. can continue to reduce all manner of emissions while avoiding the consequences of a constrained energy supply that hit poor communities the hardest. Nuclear, alongside advanced energy technologies like modern coal, oil, and natural gas operations, as well as increasingly efficient renewables, is the most prudent course forward.