The environmental battle has always been a game of political ping pong. Republicans take office and open up the energy sector. Democrats take office and restrict it. Back and forth, election after election. The battle has always been painted as “socialist hippies” versus “greedy capitalist pigs” and even though the subject is much more nuanced, our media knows nothing of nuance these days.
The fact is that some companies will take advantage of weak pollution regulation. The fact is that solar and wind energy are ridiculously expensive and ineffective and harmful to the environment. There seems to be some ground in between to be found but our politicians won’t let us find it because actually solving a problem would mean no one can run on that problem anymore.
The truth is that the best compromise for meeting our energy and environmental needs is nuclear energy. It is clean, efficient, and extraordinarily safe in its most modern iterations. France has learned the value of nuclear energy and leads the way in clean energy production. It seems unthinkable that America is still arguing about solar panels when we have access to an energy source that could meet the demands of both those dirty hippies and capitalist pigs.
Unfortunately, the Democrat party has traditionally taken up a position against nuclear, most likely because wind and solar lobbies pour a lot of money into the party; and because media tends to glamorize wind and solar, making it difficult to sell alternative clean energy sources like nuclear to the general public. Public disasters like the failure at the Fukushima power plant in Japan after a devastating earthquake dried up private funding sources for nuclear over fears related to the incident.
However, in an unusual break from the party line, one of Biden’s climate advisors has gone public in saying that nuclear energy should be an important leg of Biden’s green energy plan.
White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy was attending a virtual event at the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy when she told attendees that in order to meet the lofty climate goals of the current administration, more support for nuclear power would be necessary.
“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.
The United States currently has the most power plants in the world, but no new plants have been constructed since 2012, even as the population and energy needs increase. In 2005, President George Bush signed the “Nuclear Power 2010” initiative which was meant to ease regulations enough to make the construction of new plants more viable. Unfortunately a lot of fear still surrounds nuclear energy and construction hopes were never met.
Nuclear power has zero carbon emission and a low environmental footprint. A nuclear reactor takes up 13 acres per megawatt. To put into perspective just how incredible that is – a wind farm takes up 77 acres per megawatt and a solar farm takes up 44 acres per megawatt. A hydroelectric plant takes up a whopping 315 acres of land per megawatt.
The benefits of nuclear energy are becoming more clear every day. It creates a rare point of cooperation among groups who are typically opposed to one another’s solutions. If even Joe Biden’s climate expert is touting nuclear, maybe we need to start thinking more seriously about clearing the way for nuclear and leaving behind environmentally damaging projects like wind and solar farms.
*I spoke about this at length on my podcast, which is available wherever you find your podcasts.