For environmentalists and climate activists who are serious about realistic energy options to reduce pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear power is a compelling option.
A feisty Twitter exchange between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), brought the issue to the fore.
Sanders, a sponsor of the Green New Deal, tweeted that those who do not believe in climate change need to realize that there are “more and more climate disasters every day” and called it an “existential threat.”
“We must come together and take on the existential threat of climate change,” he said.
Crenshaw responded, asking Sanders why he opposes nuclear energy and carbon capture. “Answer: because this isn’t about solutions, it’s about control,” Crenshaw said.
Crenshaw has good reason to be skeptical. With minimal impact on global temperatures, the Green New Deal is about control. It will cost trillions of dollars and fundamentally redefine Americans’ way of life.
There are alternatives to the Green New Deal. Regardless of whether you agree with Sanders or Crenshaw, over 60 years of experience has shown that nuclear energy has many environmental benefits.
It’s energy dense, meaning it generates a lot of electricity on a very small footprint of land. It also produces virtually no air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions and most Americans wouldn’t notice a modern uranium mine if they drove past one.
Like all energy resources and technologies, nuclear power has trade-offs. Unfortunately, movies like “The China Syndrome” of Sanders’ youth inform many Americans’ perceptions of nuclear power’s challenges rather than the far more mundane and manageable reality.
Because most of the nuclear industry in the United States is privately owned, there has been unrivaled innovation of nuclear reactor technologies and fuels.
But policy problems need to be addressed if this innovation is to meet the energy needs of customers in America and around the world.
Compared to other industries, nuclear energy is ladened with excruciatingly complex rules and regulations. While Congress and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are working to reduce nuclear reactor design regulations, nuclear waste management and reactor exports remain burdensome, conflicting, or outright dead ends for the nuclear industry.
Department of Energy programs meant to help actually hurt. When the government plays market investor, it sends a powerful message to private investors that some technologies and companies are good investments while others are overly risky. This can punish first-movers and innovators while rewarding politically connected incumbents.
Instead, it should be the demand of customers for clean energy that propels innovation. Private industry, not Department of Energy bureaucrats, best meet customers’ needs.
In some states, it’s all for naught. California, for example, has specifically designed policies, clean electricity mandates, and subsidies to discourage or ban nuclear power as a source of clean and safe electricity.
There are a variety of things Congress and the Biden administration can do to address these barriers to a competitive nuclear industry in the United States.
While not comprehensive, The Heritage Foundation’s report highlights over 40 recommendations that protect taxpayers, focus government on challenges it uniquely can address, and remove barriers to an innovative, competitive nuclear industry at home and abroad. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
Regardless of whether you are a climate activist seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or a proponent of the free market in the energy sector, both sides can agree on implementing effective nuclear energy policies.
This commentary first appeared in the Daily Signal. It is reprinted here with permission.