March 19, 2024

‘No Nukes’ No Longer the Case?

After years of near-hysterical neglect, nuclear power may yet again figure into an all-of-the-above energy mix.

Ever since physicists John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton discovered the power of splitting atoms 92 years ago, there’s been a promise of cheap electricity. At one point, we thought plugging in would be so cheap we wouldn’t have to meter it.

It’s a topic this author last visited a couple of years ago, and the promise explained therein remains far away. But people are waking up to the fact that carbon-free renewable sources like wind and solar aren’t all they were cracked up to be due to their lack of reliability — meaning a large backup baseload investment is also required. On top of that, there is a cost for the additional infrastructure required to bring the power to market since massive wind farms and solar farms aren’t typically located near large population centers. (You know, “not in my backyard.”)

Nuclear power is also carbon-free electricity, but instead of embracing it as a welcome ally in reducing CO2 in the atmosphere, environmentalists fight it tooth and nail. One case in point is the planned closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear facility in California, which was given an eight-year reprieve by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2022 after a series of blackouts wracked the state. A trio of environmental groups is now demanding the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission close the plant this year despite the fact that Diablo Canyon still supplies 10% of the state’s electricity.

Their long-standing opposition, along with that of other environmental groups like the Sierra Club, has decimated the domestic nuclear industry, which was advancing through the 1970s as more nuclear plants came online. All that progress was set back decades by the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979, which put a virtual halt on plant construction as frightened federal officials, egged on by the Astroturf of ginned-up public outcry (such as the movie “The China Syndrome,” which ironically came out days before the Three Mile Island incident), regulated new nuclear plants to death.

Even the culture is stacked against nukes. Ever wonder why the dimwitted Homer Simpson works in a “nucular” plant and not in government? The latter might be more his speed.

As Rick Moran of PJ Media observes: “Reason and logic are not compatible with advocating against nuclear power. Spreading misinformation and fear-mongering is far preferable to truth-telling.”

Yet even with the headwinds they’ve endured over the last few decades, proponents of nuclear power still believe it is primed for a comeback as an alternative to fossil fuels. Writing at National Review, Jon Hartley concluded: “Climate-policy-makers insist on the urgency of reducing GHG emissions to net zero by 2050. There will be a better chance of achieving that goal if the time-consuming regulation surrounding the construction of new nuclear reactors is reduced to a level compatible with a realistic assessment of their risks rather than paranoia. Given the subsidies required to promote the alternative ‘renewables only’ approach, the fiscal outlook and economic well-being of nations, especially the poor, depend on it.”

Others, however, point out the inherent issues of an industry trying to return from its hiatus. While energy expert Robert Bryce is a significant proponent of nuclear energy, he notes there are two large flies in the ointment. One is the significant difference in global investment, as spending on “renewables” is 10 times the spending on nuclear energy. The other — which is more important for our domestic situation — is the demise of uranium mining in the U.S. Just like the instance of being dependent on China for much of the raw materials and rare earth components we need for our wind turbines and solar panels, we would depend on a handful of nations for our uranium, at least until we resurrect our domestic supply.

Had we not wasted decades on the folly of pursuing unreliable and intermittent “green” sources of energy and instead focused on improving the safety and security of our nuclear industry, we might be in better shape regarding the EV industry and other goals of the “electrify everything” crowd. Heck, we could have built the plants in some of the locations coal-burning power plants formerly inhabited, taking advantage of existing infrastructure. It’s not necessarily that their overall goal is a bad thing, but relying on spotty and insufficient sources of power isn’t the way to make that progress.

Millions of Americans still count on nuclear power to provide their electricity, even as plants go offline due to age. Those who preach about an “all of the above” approach to our energy needs should look at a long-overdue reallocation of resources to an old and reliable standby.

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