Yes, Friends of the Earth, Nuclear Power Has a Very Promising Future

Damon Moglen of the activist group Friends of the Earth penned an editorial in the San Diego Union-Tribune Friday celebrating the bankruptcy of nuclear power provider Westinghouse. Moglen argued, “We have a technical and ethical imperative to massively increase our use of GHG-free [greenhouse gas-free] energy to combat climate change.” Perhaps Moglen is unaware that nuclear power produces more emissions-free power than wind and solar power combined. Either way, the future of nuclear power is much more promising than that of wind and solar.

Activist groups that oppose all forms of energy except and wind and solar power, like Friends of the Earth, claim the premature closure of nuclear power plants like the Diablo Canyon power plant in California is a result of nuclear power being unable to economically compete with wind and solar power. That is a ridiculous argument. Even the left-of-center Brookings Institution documents that nuclear power is much more affordable than wind and solar power. According to a Brookings Institution study, titled “Why the Best Path to a Low-Carbon Future Is Not Wind or Solar Power,” nuclear power is only modestly more expensive than coal and natural gas power, yet wind power increases electricity costs by 50% and solar power costs three times as much as coal and natural gas power.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Moglen argues, without supporting documentation and in contradiction of the facts, that “Renewable energy sources can and will get the job done cheaper and faster than nuclear power.” Not so. Wind and solar power replace nuclear power only when activists like Friends of the Earth induce policymakers to intervene and prop up wind and solar at the expense of other power sources.

The electric grid requires a constant balance between the amount of power added to the grid and the amount of power delivered to consumers. The more wind and solar that are added to the grid, the more difficult it is to keep the grid balanced. Incredibly, Moglen attempts to use this reality as an argument against nuclear power. “The intransigent nature of nuclear power, which must operate full blast, 24 hours a day, is impeding the increased uptake of solar and wind power,” writes Moglen. Any person in the electric industry will tell you that baseload power capable of operating 24 hours per day is much more valuable than unpredictable power that fluctuates frequently and unexpectedly.

Friends of the Earth’s anti-nuclear activism contradicts the group’s assertion that it is fighting for a greener environment. A full-spectrum environmental analysis shows wind and solar power impose their own unique harms on the environment. Wind power, for example, puts tremendous strain on land conservation goals, requiring hundreds of square miles of wind turbines to replace a single conventional power plant. Wind turbines also kill more than a million birds and bats – many of them protected and endangered species – in the United States each year while producing very little power.

The end result of Friends of the Earth’s activism is the premature retirement of emissions-free power generation from nuclear power plants. To the limited extent wind and solar fill the void, it is done at a greater cost, and with more negative environmental impact, than nuclear power. It is no wonder that prominent climate scientists leading the push for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Tom Wigley, and Ken Caldeira, argue against the premature closing of nuclear power plants like the one at Diablo Canyon. In their own words, “nuclear power paves the only viable path forward on climate change.”

Sorry, Friends of the Earth, but as compared to wind and solar power, we need more nuclear power, not less.

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