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A Smart Green Idea
Making the Green Case for Nuclear Power

The modern environmental movement harbors a deep and old resentment of nuclear power, dating all the way back to its inception in the 1960s, but this grudge is looking downright hypocritical these days, now that climate change is by far the biggest green cause. That’s because nuclear power is one of the world’s only sources of zero-emissions baseload power—it releases no greenhouse gases, and unlike wind or solar, it can be consistently counted on to supply the grid, regardless of weather conditions or time of day. Nuclear power has never gotten the credit it deserves for being the global green power workhorse, but as older reactors reach the end of their life cycles, we could soon start to understand just how much work these plants have been doing to mitigate emissions. Lamar Alexander and Sheldon Whitehouse write for the New York Times:

Already, 60 percent of our carbon-free electricity comes from the 99 nuclear reactors that dot the nation’s map, from Avila Beach, Calif., to Seabrook, N.H. These reactors provide low-cost, reliable electricity for the United States, which uses nearly 20 percent of the world’s electricity. But over the next decade, at least eight of these reactors are scheduled to shut down. That will push up carbon emissions from the American electricity sector by nearly 3 percent, according to the United States Energy Information Administration.

In California, the closing of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in 2012 contributed to a 24 percent increase in carbon emissions from the electricity sector, according to data from the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board. Carbon emissions from the electricity sector in New England rose 5 percent in 2015, the first year-to-year increase since 2010, largely because of the closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in December 2014, according to ISO New England, the region’s grid operator.

In roughly two decades, the United States could lose about half its reactors. That’s because, by 2038, 50 reactors will be at least 60 years old, and will face having to close, representing nearly half of the nuclear generating capacity in the United States. Without them, or enough new reactors to replace them, it will be much harder to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about nuclear power’s future, though. A whole host of exciting new technologies are currently under development, including thorium-fueled reactors, and reactors that use molten salt as a medium, rather than water. These new nuclear advancements promise to make the energy source safer, smaller (and potentially modular), and less productive of nuclear waste. They represent some of the most exciting energy pipe dreams we’re currently aware of, and they could hold the key to supplying humanity with the electricity it needs without wreaking havoc on the climate or environment.

Donald Trump recently made headlines by calling for an expansion of U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities, but there’s another type of nuclear—namely nuclear power—that is in desperate need of a renaissance. Private backers like Bill Gates have been investing heavily in the next generation of nuclear reactors, but continued and even expanded government support for these technologies, and for this energy source more generally, will be vital to the cause of creating the sustainable energy mix of the future.

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  • Blackbeard

    Greens will never bend on nuclear power, it’s a core tenet of their pseudo-religion. That’s one way you can tell that they don’t really believe their global warming alarmism. If they really believed that the world was soon to become uninhabitable, as Obama said in Paris, then any solution, even nuclear power, would be on the table. Instead they insist we need to shut down the nuclear plants we already have, never mind building new ones.

    And, as if that wasn’t evidence enough, they also want to remove all our dams, the second biggest source of carbon-free energy.

    • Frank Natoli

      they also want to remove all our dams
      Correction. Not “want”. “Are”. See below.

      • Blackbeard


    • LarryD

      Useful fools of the KGB.

      Molten Salt Reactors (MSR), with the physics proven back in the 1970s by Oak Ridge, can “burn” either thorium or uranium (the salt composition differs, is all) and are walk-way safe. They can also me deployed in smaller sizes, and manufactured in mass runs instead of one-offs. All of which will make them cheaper. Also the critical carbon dioxide turbine is now in commercial production, which improves cost and safety for MSR and light-water designs.

      The bottom line is, we can deploy arrays of MSR in existing nuclear facilities to replace the aging plants, using the “spent” nuclear fuel (SNF) (thus dealing with that issue), and when the SNF is used up, MSR can be fueled by the depleted uranium we have huge stocks of.

      • Blackbeard

        Agreed, and in modern industrial countries, like China, these developments are going forward. But here we are ruled by a backward Luddite theocracy determined to return us to the technology of the Middle Ages.

      • JollyGreenChemist

        Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Molten salt reactors (MSRs) run at atmospheric pressure, unlike the current crop of pressurized water reactors (PWRs), which gives numerous safety benefits. And 100% of the thorium fuel is fissionable.

    • rpabate

      That the greens do not support nuclear power reveals the real reason for their alarmism about climate change. Climate change is an excuse for the redistribution of wealth from the developed world to the undeveloped world, it is a way to achieve their goal of negative growth, a way to stop and radically reverse the growth of the human population, the way to destroy the capitalist free market system to be replaced with a centrally planned socialist one. Anyone who has read the literature on climate change will come across quotes from the leading climate change activists that state all of the above. Their problem is that most folks don’t read, and the folks who do are too small a minority to really make a difference.

  • Frank Natoli

    The year both “The Deer Hunter” and “The China Syndrome” were up for best picture Oscars, Hanoi Jane was interviewed on TV, separately about both films, and I watched both interviews. Regarding “The Deer Hunter”, Hanoi Jane bitterly protested that the Russian roulette scenes were frauds because the VC never forced American POWs to do that. I see. Regarding “The China Syndrome” [and for those not aware, it is a fictitious case of a near nuclear reactor meltdown, covered up, exposed by the brilliant crusading Hanoi Jane], Hanoi Jane was asked whether she was aware that PHYSICISTS had noted that the events in her film violated the laws of nature. Hanoi Jane’s immediate reply was “I was not making a documentary”.
    This, you see, is the Democrat mind-set. Millions of people left the theater, having seen “The China Syndrome”, determined to prevent such events occurring their backyard by the simple expedient of banning nuclear power AND THEY SUCCEEDED.
    Stupid people elect stupid politicians who enact stupid laws. Please note the preponderance of Democrats.

  • Joey Junger

    If we have progress in this field, and even “modular” developments, and this isn’t buttressed by some sane sea change legislation regarding our immigration/refugee policy, all we’re doing is setting ourselves up for a massive dirty bomb/meltdown catastrophe via Allah uh Akbars.

    I guess changing consumption habits is off the table for both the left and the right, though the left is more hypocritical than the right when it comes to the contradictions inherent in demanding convenience but decrying the means to achieve that end. “Don’t you dare put a pipeline on Indian land, but if I don’t get my box set of ‘Portlandia’ drone-delivered in the next seventy-two hours I’m going to leave some negative feedback on Amazon.”

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