Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry, like his predecessor in the Obama administration Ernest Moniz, is using the power of his position to advocate pragmatic environmentalism. Like Moniz, Perry recognizes that nuclear power is essential to affordable, reliable, emissions-free power.
Speaking at the Los Alamos National Laboratory last week, Perry affirmed his commitment to nuclear power. “If you really care about this environment that we live in — and I think the vast majority of the people in the country and the world do — then you need to be a supporter of this amazingly clean, resilient, safe, reliable source of energy,” said Perry.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Perry’s remarks followed a directive he issued for the Department of Energy (DOE) to study and report on the challenges intermittent power impose on the national electric grid. Energy experts warn it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep the grid in balance with more intermittent and unpredictable wind and solar power in the mix. The grid must be kept in constant balance between electricity supply and demand. Too little power on the grid can lead to brownouts, while too much power can damage crucial equipment. The more intermittent, unpredictable power that is added to the grid, the more difficult it is to keep the grid in balance.
Recognizing the high costs and impracticality of wind and solar providing enough emissions-free power to address global warming, Moniz was also a strident advocate of nuclear power.
“I also know we can’t get there [meeting carbon dioxide reduction goals] unless we substantially support and even embolden the nuclear energy sector,” said Moniz early last year. “We’ve got to support the existing fleet.”
Many of the most prominent scientists concerned about global warming agree with Perry and Moniz, forming a mainstream consensus regarding nuclear power’s importance to reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Climate scientists James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira, and Tom Wigley wrote powerfully in favor of nuclear power in the UK Guardian.
“We need affordable, abundant clean energy, but there is no particular reason why we should favour renewable energy over other forms of abundant energy,” the four scientists observed.
“Nuclear power, particularly next-generation nuclear power with a closed fuel cycle (where spent fuel is reprocessed), is uniquely scalable, and environmentally advantageous. Over the past 50 years, nuclear power stations – by offsetting fossil fuel combustion – have avoided the emission of an estimated 60bn tons of carbon dioxide. Nuclear energy can power whole civilizations, and produce waste streams that are trivial compared to the waste produced by fossil fuel combustion. There are technical means to dispose of this small amount of waste safely,” the scientists explained.
“To solve the climate problem, policy must be based on facts and not on prejudice. The climate system cares about greenhouse gas emissions – not about whether energy comes from renewable power or abundant nuclear power. Some have argued that it is feasible to meet all of our energy needs with renewables. The 100% renewable scenarios downplay or ignore the intermittency issue by making unrealistic technical assumptions, and can contain high levels of biomass and hydroelectric power at the expense of true sustainability. Large amounts of nuclear power would make it much easier for solar and wind to close the energy gap,” the scientists added.
An Ecomodernist Manifesto, published in 2015 by the center-left Breakthrough Institute, explains the mainstream consensus in favor of nuclear power.
“Nuclear fission today represents the only present-day zero-carbon technology with the demonstrated ability to meet most, if not all, of the energy demands of a modern economy,” the Manifesto reports.
“In the long run, next-generation solar, advanced nuclear fission, and nuclear fusion represent the most plausible pathways toward the joint goals of climate stabilization and radical decoupling of humans from nature,” the Manifesto explains.
A new environmental consensus is emerging, and Rick Perry is bringing it to the Trump administration.
[This article first appeared at Forbes.com.]