Nuclear Energy! The Best of Times, the Worst of Times
Programming Partner: EarthX
Nuclear now accounts for more than half of all carbon-free production and roughly a fifth of all electricity. The challenge that lies before us is that we need to reduce carbon emissions while simultaneously meeting the growing demand for electricity; for Maria Korsnick, nuclear energy is the clear solution.
According to Armond Cohen, the Clean Air Task Force is pushing in favor of both preserving existing nuclear plants and building a new fleet of plants. Without nuclear energy, contended Cohen, we face an energy system that is either unreliable—since wind and solar energy are not available around the clock—or dependent on fossil fuel generation. If we fail to maintain the current fleet of nuclear plants, the near-term answer is replacement by natural gas, which, while less polluting than coal, still has 50-80% of the global warming effect of coal and is thus a less-than-ideal solution.
Bradley Williams underscored the contributions of nuclear energy to U.S. national security and prosperity. Many aspects of nuclear technology help ensure the safety of Americans. Nuclear plants are cornerstones of their local economies; each nuclear plant is capable of providing hundreds of employment opportunities.
More than 50 new nuclear plants are under construction worldwide; at least 170 more have entered the advanced planning stage. According to Korsnick and Williams, we are also on the brink of bringing the next generation of advanced nuclear technologies to market. Cutting-edge microreactors will allow remote, hard-to-reach communities to access reliable, carbon-free energy, while advanced reactor designs will allow reactors to better vary their output, empowering them to pair perfectly with more variable sources such as wind and solar.
“If we don’t exploit every possible option, we are going to be emitting fossil fuels for decades and decades, and that’s going to continue to drive the warming we’re seeing today,” Armond Cohen
Key takeaways & next steps:
Cohen emphasized the importance of leveling the playing field so that nuclear energy can compete on par with natural gas.
Most nuclear reactors are licensed for 40 years. In many cases, licenses can be renewed for an additional 40 years.