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Michael Swartz / September 6, 2019

Dems Pan Nuclear Power, Tout Wind, Solar

While wind and solar don’t live up to the hype, nuclear is very under appreciated.

On Wednesday night, CNN took the extraordinary step of devoting seven hours of airtime to a town hall meeting on a single issue. Yet it wasn’t an issue foremost on Americans’ minds — like healthcare, immigration, or even the coarsening of national dialogue. Nope, they spent all that time talking to Democrat presidential candidates about “the climate crisis.” Clearly, the struggling cable news network is still upset about President Donald Trump pulling out of the Paris climate scam.

But even though the Democrat candidates seem to be in lockstep regarding the need to radically regulate the economy by way of some variant of their Green New Deal, one fissure among them is whether to reduce our carbon-based fuel dependency by increasing our use of nuclear power — a carbon-free source that already provides about one-fifth of our electricity despite a dearth of new nuclear facilities coming online in recent years. According to the industry advocacy group NEI, nuclear power produces 55 percent of America’s carbon-free power, blowing away the wind and solar alternatives producing much of the rest.

The debate comes at an important time for both the wind and solar communities, which have traditionally depended on government subsidies and carve-outs to artificially boost their market share. Unfortunately, these sources just aren’t as clean and green as their proponents would have us believe. Solar panels are chock full of highly toxic cadmium and other heavy metals that can leach out over time and present a threat to water supplies, while the decommissioning of wind turbines that have reached the end of their 20-year lifespan presents the problem of what to do with their massive 15-ton fiberglass rotor blades. They’re currently causing havoc for at least one landfill. (One suggestion: stand them in the ground as border fencing.)

Still, Democrats believe that solar and wind are the way to go despite their flaws — flaws that include a deep dependence on the government subsidies we’ve criticized over the years. As for nuclear, Democrat opinions range from wary to downright hostile. At Wednesday night’s town hall, top-tier contender Elizabeth Warren vowed to prevent the building of new nuclear plants and shut down those remaining in operation by 2035.

(Irony alert: Democrats laud the Paris climate agreement, but France currently derives 75% of its electricity from nuclear power — albeit with government policy set to reduce that to 50% by 2035.)

“Any realistic path to weaning us off of carbon-based sources of energy would have to involve increasing nuclear generation,” argues The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein. “Phasing it out makes that goal significantly harder. Suddenly, instead of having to replace the remaining 63.5% of our energy sources, Warren would have to come up with a way to replace 83% of our energy sources. Essentially, renewables would have to more than double just to make up for the lost nuclear power.”

Even farther to the left is Bernie Sanders: “We know that the toxic waste byproducts of nuclear plants are not worth the risks of the technology’s benefit, especially in light of lessons learned from the Fukushima meltdown and the Chernobyl disaster,” as Miranda Green notes at The Hill.

“To get to our goal of 100 percent sustainable energy,” says Sanders, “we will not rely on any false solutions like nuclear, geoengineering, carbon capture and sequestration, or trash incinerators.”

Green also points out the problem of nuclear waste, which makes advocacy for nuclear power a non-starter in the early primary state of Nevada, which is home to the shuttered Yucca Mountain nuclear disposal facility. Despite its flaws, though, even the most radical environmentalists grudgingly admit that nuclear power is a better option for them than opening new natural gas power-generation plants. “If the current situation continues, more nuclear power plants will likely close and be replaced primarily by natural gas, causing emissions to rise,” wrote the leftist Union of Concerned Scientists in a 2018 report. Their answer, however, as echoed by the Democrat presidential field? More taxes and regulations on ratepayers and utilities.

The question that should be asked of all these presidential hopefuls, though, is just what their plans would do to our nation’s economy. Fossil fuels have been an economic boon, given that they’re reliable, plentiful, and inexpensive, and given that the U.S. is now the top oil and natural gas producer in the world. Why mess with success?

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