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Atomic Promise
Smart Green Knows We Need Nuclear

California’s last operating nuclear power plant may be living on borrowed time after a plan was introduced last week to shut it down and replace that zero-emissions baseload power with intermittent renewable sources. The NYT wrote that this bright idea was formulated “to help meet California’s aggressive clean energy goals,” a bizarre justification for shuttering an energy source that produces nearly three-fifths of America’s clean energy.

Clueless greens like Michael Brune, the head of the Sierra Club, have predictably hailed this plan as a “milestone” for environmental activism. Brune evinced his anti-nuclear nutjobbery late last week when he repudiated a WSJ report that the Sierra Club might be rethinking its staunch, decades-long opposition to nuclear power. For him and his ilk, nuclear power remains anathema to the green cause, despite the fact that it’s the global clean energy workhorse—a fact you’d think would merit more than glib, dogmatic denunciation from people who purport to care about climate change more than any other issue.

Thankfully, there are smarter greens out there (though it may feel sometimes like they’re hard to find). Michael Shellenberger is one such, and the cofounder of the forward thinking eco-modernist Breakthrough Institute came out firing this week on the decision to shutter that last remaining California nuclear plant. He writes for the New York Times:

If the proposal is approved by the state’s Public Utilities Commission, California’s carbon dioxide emissions will either increase or decline far less than if Diablo Canyon’s two reactors, which generated about 9 percent of the state’s electricity last year, remained in operation. If this deal goes through, California will become a model of how not to deal with climate change.

While Pacific Gas & Electric asserts Diablo Canyon would be replaced with other forms of clean, low-carbon power, nothing in the proposal would require the company to go that far. Instead, the plan, according to my organization’s calculations, would require the company only to invest in energy efficiency and renewables programs equivalent to about one-fifth of Diablo Canyon’s electricity output. Anything beyond that would be voluntary. […]

Even if by some miracle California did manage to replace 100 percent of Diablo Canyon’s output with renewables, why would a state ostensibly concerned with climate change turn away from its largest single source of clean energy? The answer, as is perhaps obvious, is the ideological insistence on renewables and an irrational fear of nuclear power.

Nuclear power can be used as a good litmus test to check the sanity of anyone that considers themselves an environmentalist. Like renewables, nuclear reactors can produce electricity without generating greenhouse gas emissions or harmful air pollutants. But nuclear isn’t just as good as renewables, it’s better: unlike wind and solar, it can produce consistent, round-the-clock baseload power.

Environmental groups have a long history campaigning against nuclear power, but for a movement that in recent years has adopted climate change as its highest priority issue, modern environmentalism has remained surprisingly hostile to the clean energy source. There are a whole host of exciting new nuclear technologies coming down the pipe, from smaller modular reactors to safer thorium or molten salt reactors, but greens are letting entrenched ideology get in the way of a solution we’re going to absolutely need to play a vital role in a cleaner future energy mix. Fighting green dogma can often feel like banging one’s head against the wall, which is why it’s so encouraging to see smarter environmental advocates like Michael Shellenberger actually acknowledging—and fighting for—nuclear’s eco-merits.

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  • Frank Natoli

    But nuclear isn’t just as good as renewables, it’s better: unlike wind and solar, it can produce consistent, round-the-clock baseload power.
    And hydro is even better, because it has all the good points of nuclear, and none of the bad, no waste, no warming of river or coastal waters, no risk of melt-down however minimal. But it does inconvenience some fish, and for environmental maniacs, that is fatal. Just as they’ve succeeded in decommissioning Diablo Canyon, they’re removing hydro dams in the Pacific Northwest.
    The author proposes a sanity test. I suppose that means the author is not yet convinced by the mass of decades of evidence, which probably means he cannot be convinced, period.

  • rpabate

    Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace and currently with the Canadian “Frontier Center for Public Policy” has just released a paper entitled “The Positive Impact of Human CO2 Emissions on the Survival of Life on Earth”. I have also been reading about how the decline in solar activity may be heralding the coming of a new mini-Ice Age. It will not have been the first time in out Nation’s history that our government call to action resulted in an environmental disaster.

    In the early years of the last century our government exhorted American citizen to move west and plant wheat. Wheat prices were high in Europe because of the collectivization of Soviet agriculture. Americans responded in great numbers and plowed up by the millions of acres the prairie grass that had developed a resistance to the droughts and high winds that periodically visited the high plains. They planted wheat by the millions of acres. When the drought and winds finally arrived, we had the environmental disaster commonly referred to as the Great Dust Bowl. The suffering and dislocation was huge, and it was mostly the poor.

    • Evangelical2

      There are no positive impacts you twit. 2*F increase in global temps would move the Malaria belt from the sub-tropics (below Florida) up to Michigan…

      I am sure America will thank you for the Malaria pandemic.

      And that’s just Malaria, emerging diseases like Ebola, Dingue Fever, H1N1, and etc, all favor sub-tropical climates.

      The last time the Earth received this much CO2 in its atmosphere Aligators and Red Woods lived above the Arctic circle.

      Do you want to have to move to the North Pole to avoid living like an impoverished jungle-rat fearful of the next mosquito sting or that your next meal will infect you with hemorrhagic fever?

      Go fuchk yourself.

      • Jim__L

        Well then, thank God we know how to make DDT. =)

    • Jim__L

      On the other hand, plowing up that much prairie may have destroyed the North American locust population.

      Win some, lose some.

  • ljgude

    I’m not an environmentalist. I’m old enough to be a global cooling, global warming and climate change sceptic. But I am also old enough to put together Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima. I was downwind of Three mile Island which fortunately did not vent nuclear waste but it was a near run thing as I learned years later when what actually happened came out. These events give the lie to the claims of safety for nuclear and if I am not mistaken there is a tendency to not replace nuclear reactors when newer, safer technology becomes available. But human nature and budgetary constraints being what they are they keep them running too long and don’t have strong enough mandatory retirement rules. The FCC grounds all planes of a particular type when they crash too often. Plane crashes can’t be covered up and make headlines, but near disasters and engineering reports raising safety concerns about nuclear power plants don’t. So, truth be told, I don’t really trust nuclear plants because I don’t trust bureaucrats and I would not feel comfortable living near one for that reason. Other than that I agree with the article that they should not be shut down on flimsy ideological grounds.

    • Jim__L

      Three Mile Island: 1979.
      Chernobyl: 1986
      Fukushima: 2011.

      If a plane had that sort of safety record — less than one accident per decade — we wouldn’t ground it.

  • Evangelical2

    Nuclear is rightly recognized as 1 accident away from complete destruction. The Soviet Union imploded because of Chernobyl, and Japan just lost a generation of wealth and employment.

    Yes…let’s keep playing the Nuclear Roulette! you D!cks.

    • Jim__L

      It’s been one accident away from complete destruction for quite a few accidents now… The Soviet Union imploded because *communism doesn’t work*, and Europe is losing wealth and employment right and left to the Green Energy pipe-dream.

      Nuclear is just too useful to pass up, especially if one of your requirements is zero carbon emissions.

    • Josephbleau

      “The Soviet Union imploded because of Chernobyl,” The Soviet Union did not give a sh!t about Chernobyl. It imploded because it was a failed police state. I will note that you have completely convinced me of the truth of your reasoning by your clever tactic of calling me a bad word.

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