The president of Environmental Progress, a public policy organization advocating for immediate action to address global warming, argues for a dramatic increase in nuclear power production. In an editorial in USA Today, Environmental Progress president Michael Shellenberger says U.S. policymakers can improve the global environment, the American environment, and the American economy by clearing the path for domestic nuclear power production and American exports of nuclear power equipment.
Shellenberger points out global electricity demand is likely to increase 70 percent during the next 25 years. Wind and solar power cannot come close to meeting this demand, yet bringing more conventional energy sources online will worsen global air pollution. Conventional energy sources will also add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which concerns global warming advocates like Shellenberger.
Environmental Progress president Michael Shellenberger. Photo courtesy of the Breakthrough Insitute.
“Given that nuclear is our largest source of clean energy — and the only one proven capable of scaling up rapidly — a new Atoms for Peace effort will do more for clean air and climate change than any number of pollution regulations or United Nations treaties,” writes Shellenberger.
Shellenberger is realistic regarding the limitations of wind and solar power. “The problem isn’t that nuclear plants are uneconomical, it’s that they are punished by discriminatory policies that treat one zero-carbon energy option more favorably than another,” writes Shellenberger.
“In 2013, solar received 281 times more in subsidies per unit of electricity than nuclear, while wind received 17 times more, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration. As a result of this perverse incentive, some nuclear plants that produce power at a costs lower than the wind subsidy could be forced to close,” Shellenberger observes.
“Tax reform should level the playing field. If there is an incentive for pollution-free power, it should go to nuclear plants and coal plants that capture their air pollution, not just wind and solar,” he adds.
Nuclear power makes sense as a U.S. manufacturing and export industry as well as a domestic power source, says Shellenberger.
To meet the expected rapid increase in global electricity demand, “technological advances mean that new nuclear reactor components can increasingly be mass-manufactured in factories and shipped around the world for reassembly on site,” Shellenberger reports.
“What’s at stake is a market worth $500 to $740 billion over the next decade, according to the Commerce Department, and hundreds of thousands of high-skill and high-wage jobs,” notes Shellenberger.
“Trump should work with Congress to significantly increase the financing of U.S. nuclear plants in foreign nations, and personally involve himself in selling projects to allied nations. Such work will directly create jobs in the United States and abroad, and provide one of the most important drivers of economic growth: abundant and inexpensive power,” Shellenberger advises.
If the U.S. government decides to take action to address greenhouse gas emissions, promoting nuclear power at home and abroad makes a lot more economic sense than a policy promoting expensive and unreliable wind and solar power.