You know the tune and, hey, even socialists are singing it! Bhaksar Sunkara, editor of the leasing American socialist magazine, Jacobin, has a nice column in the Guardian pointing out the obvious: we need nuclear if we're serious about fighting climate change. I've always been struck by the inverse correlation between how apocalyptic people's feelings about climate change are and their interest in nuclear. The more intensely people feel about the former, the less willing they are to even think about the latter. This makes no sense.
"On 30 April, the Indian Point nuclear power plant 30 miles north of New York City was shut down. For decades the facility provided the overwhelming majority of the city’s carbon-free electricity as well as good union jobs for almost a thousand people. Federal regulators had deemed the plant perfectly safe.
New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, a key figure behind the move, said that the shuttering of Indian Point brought us “a big step closer to achieving our aggressive clean energy goals”. It’s hard to reconcile that optimism with the data that’s recently come out. The first full month without the plant has seen a 46% increase in the average carbon intensity of statewide electric generation compared to when Indian Point was fully operational. New York replaced clean energy from Indian Point with fossil fuel sources like natural gas.
It’s a nightmare we should have seen coming. In Germany, nuclear power formed around a third of the country’s power generation in 2000, when a Green party-spearheaded campaign managed to secure the gradual closure of plants, citing health and safety concerns. Last year, that share fell to 11%, with all remaining stations scheduled to close by next year. A recent paper found that the last two decades of phased nuclear closures led to an increase in CO2 emissions of 36.3 megatons a year - with the increased air pollution potentially killing 1,100 people annually.
Like New York, Germany coupled its transition away from nuclear power with a pledge to spend more aggressively on renewables. Yet the country’s first plant closures meant carbon emissions actually increased, as the production gap was immediately filled through the construction of new coal plants. Similarly, in New York the gap will be filled in part by the construction of three new gas plants. For the Germans, investment in renewables did eventually pay dividends, but it largely replaced the old nuclear plants’ output rather than reducing existing fossil fuel consumption. The carbon intensity of German electricity is higher than the EU average.
However, even a more aggressive investment in renewable energy wouldn’t have solved Germany’s problem. There are just a handful of large economies that have already mostly decarbonized their grids; all of them have a foundation of nuclear or hydroelectricity (or both), and then to greater or lesser degrees add renewables like wind and solar on top."
Read the whole column. The only really serious debate around nuclear should be about costs, which is a complicated issue having to do with construction costs, standardization, regulations and old vs. new technologies. That's a debate worth having. But we won't be able to have it until people realize that ruling out this clean energy source is a deeply unserious approach to the climate change problem.
I include a couple of links below to material on the cost issue should you be interested in looking into it.