In the wake of the inconsequential COP26, where some governments made sweeping new promises and others (China) made clear their plans to keep ramping up emissions through 2030, this week’s World Nuclear Energy Day is an excellent opportunity to recognize that there are paths forward for making our energy cleaner, and nuclear energy has a big role.
For decades, nuclear power has been an important part of our energy mix. Producing about 20% of America’s annual electricity, nuclear power is carbon-free, cheap, and reliable. Unfortunately, climate activists have long worked to limit nuclear power. Even today, they shut down nuclear power plants, largely on the misguided premise that nuclear power is dangerous (it’s much safer than some other types of energy). Ironically, shutting down nuclear power plants often increases the use of natural gas or coal power in the region, in turn increasing carbon emissions.
Thankfully, governments across the globe, including that of the United States, are slowly realizing how necessary nuclear power is to combat climate change.
Recently, the European Union was hit with an energy crisis, as some renewable energy sources produced less electricity than expected, and many nations found themselves short on energy to respond to rising demand. In response, the United Kingdom, France, and other nations have embraced policies meant to produce more nuclear power.
While France has long been a leader in nuclear energy, relying heavily on this energy source since the 1970s, the U.K. and countries such as Poland and Hungary are rediscovering nuclear power. All these countries are investing in a new generation of more technologically advanced nuclear power called small modular reactors. Small modular reactors take up less space and are less expensive to build, making nuclear power an even better option than it was before.
In the U.S. as well, nuclear power is slowly gaining ground. Nuclear power’s share of our electricity production has been stagnant for the last three decades, but if we want to reduce carbon emissions and increase clean energy, we need to boost nuclear power production.
Some proponents of clean energy still demonize nuclear power, but the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act included funds to maintain current nuclear power plants and invest in the development of new nuclear technologies. President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act also includes a production tax credit for nuclear power, one of the few wise policies in an otherwise irresponsible and disastrous spending bill.
Producing some nuclear-friendly legislation is a start, but if the Biden administration and governments across the world are serious about reducing carbon emissions, they need to embrace nuclear power and seek to expand its use.
Clear proof of nuclear’s ability to reduce emissions is available: While Germany has embraced renewable energy with aggressive climate policies since the early 2000s, France has implemented a nuclear power-heavy policy since the 1970s. The result of these different strategies is that France generates less than one-tenth of Germany’s carbon emissions at nearly half the cost. The U.S. and other nations cannot afford to ignore such a powerful example of nuclear energy’s capabilities.
Biden and his administration have made it a priority for the U.S. to be a world leader in combating climate change. But many of the recently proposed climate policies will raise energy costs for Americans, will make energy less reliable, and will likely fail to reduce carbon emissions meaningfully.
Nuclear power affords policymakers throughout the world a path to a cleaner energy future. Taking advantage of this carbon-free energy source will enable us to start reducing emissions in the near future, and investing in the development and deployment of new technologies, such as small modular reactors, will help the U.S. truly lead the world in combating climate change.
We should celebrate the progress that American innovators, the inventors of nuclear energy, have made and support further innovation in our nuclear energy future.
Charlotte Whelan is a policy analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum and a member of the Steamboat Institute’s Emerging Leaders Council.