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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