Saturday, January 08, 2022

Wall Street Journal: Is Nuclear Power Part of the Climate Solution?

By Gernot Wagner, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 7, 2022 - As the world’s climate continues to warm, more than 50 nations have pledged to achieve “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions by midcentury. That means producing radically lower levels of these gases in the decades ahead while removing from the atmosphere the equivalent of what we do produce. Coal-burning power plants are on their way out, and clean energy sources like solar and wind are growing rapidly. In the U.S., energy generation from renewable sources, including hydropower and geothermal power, surpassed coal in 2020 and is now second only to gas.

The notable exception in this low-carbon energy boom is nuclear power, which has been stalled for decades. Most reactors now operating were built in the 1970s, and many in the U.S. and Europe are being closed. Worldwide, 450 reactors generate 10% of the total electricity consumed today, down from more than 15% in 2005, thanks to a rapid global build-out of power capacity that has largely left nuclear behind. Nuclear power in the West will start to collapse like coal generation unless aging reactors are replaced with new plants.

Despite longstanding concerns over its safety, nuclear power can play an important role in a low-carbon world. A recent study sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Clean Air Task Force concluded that to meet its net-zero pledge by 2045, the state of California will need power that is not only “clean” but “firm”—that is, “electricity sources that don’t depend on the weather.” The same is true around the world, and nuclear offers a relatively stable source of power. 

... All of the nuclear waste produced in the U.S. since the 1950s adds up to about 85,000 tons of material. Compare that with the tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide that would have been produced had that electricity come from fossil fuels instead. (If you subscribe, read it all.)

Rod's Comment: It is so encouraging to see the tide turn and some realism creep into the discussion of climate change. For decades climate policy has been counterproductive or merely symbolic.  Climate policy has been set by social justice warriors intent on wealth redistribution or well-intentioned climate warrior romantics. There are signs that that is changing.  There is much to be done before we can turn the corner on effectively combating climate change, but by recognizing that nuclear energy has a role in combating climate change implies a  recognition that we cannot solve the problem of climate change by relying on wind, solar, and living an austere lifestyle.  For more of my post on the topic of climate change, follow this link

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