We’ve heard about “nuclear options” since Harry was still Senator Reid. America now faces two major nuclear options: one involves political power, the other power to run an energy-dependent economy. In the political arena, President Biden and his allies are already going nuclear.
Biden may nominate “the most diverse Cabinet in history” – by race, sex and sexual preference. But there will be no diversity in thought or speech. Every nominee is a True Believer in “climate chaos” and our supposed ability to control Earth’s climate by “transitioning” America to “clean, renewable” energy:
Gina McCarthy as National Climate Advisor, John Kerry as Presidential Climate Envoy, Michael Regan to run EPA, Jennifer Granholm at Energy, Pete Buttigieg for Transportation, Debra Haaland to head Interior, and many more, even at Defense and USAID. Climate will drive energy and economic policy, while Big Media and Big Tech promote the Biden agenda and censor and silence climate chaos skeptics, Republicans and other conservative voices in the USA and beyond. So much for democracy and unity.
They’ll likely resurrect sue-and-settle lawsuits, whereby environmentalist groups sue government agencies to impose rules that the litigators and regulators both want but can’t get through the rulemaking process. The parties find friendly courts, and the government agency agrees to settle the cases on previously agreed terms. The Paris treaty will give the climate litigation industry countless opportunities.
Their goal is to hyper-regulate and lock up as many fossil fuels as possible right away, then ban internal-combustion vehicle sales by 2035 and eradicate US oil, natural gas and coal use by 2050. That’s 80% of the energy that powers America’s industries, jobs, homes, hospitals and living standards. Gone.
Covid lockdowns will become a test run of our submissiveness to their demands – and of their ability to dictate how much and what kind of energy, houses, cars, jobs, food and freedoms we “are permitted” to have. Families hammered by the lockdowns will be pounded harder and longer.
Congress is also preparing to go full nuclear. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is readying her own juggernaut, while Senator Chuck Schumer has vowed he’s “not busting [his] chops to become majority leader to do very little or nothing.” Eliminating the filibuster could be the harbinger of a Green New Deal that many Democrats view “as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.”
They also insist the rest of the world will “follow our example.” In the real world China, India and other countries are building thousands of coal and gas-fired power plants and putting millions of non-electric cars on their roads. Those countries want electricity, jobs, mobility and modern living standards. They are not bound by Paris emission limits or timetables, and don’t intend to be bound. They know fossil fuels are the key to better lives, while wind and solar would perpetuate poverty, misery and frequent blackouts.
Perhaps most amazing of all, they’ve talked themselves into believing we can quickly, easily, affordably and ecologically replace US (and global) fossil fuels with wind, solar, battery and biofuel power. They have no concept of how monumental that task would be. Just for the United States, we would have to replace 7.5 billion megawatt-hours per year in electricity and electricity-equivalent coal, oil and natural gas in today’s vehicles, factories, heating, cooking and numerous other uses. This doesn’t even include petrochemical feed stocks for paints, plastics, pharmaceuticals, synthetic fibers and other products.
We’d be trading affordable 24/7/365 reliability for expensive, subsidized, weather-dependent energy. They talk as though it would require an easily manageable, barely noticeable number of wind turbines, solar panels, backup batteries, transmission lines, and corn and soybean farms. Do the math – and factor in the need to install many turbines, panels and biofuel farms in suboptimal areas. We’re looking at industrial energy facilities, mining and factories at scales never before seen in human history. US and global impacts on scenery, habitats, wildlife, and air and water quality would be devastating.
Thankfully there is a second nuclear option. If Team Biden-Harris is determined to eliminate fossil fuels, it could do more to promote nuclear power. So could Africa – and Europe, Asia and the rest of the world. Nuclear technologies are advancing rapidly, and modern nuclear power plant designs are vastly superior to (and less expensive than) any built previously.
Generation 3 and 4 plants have built-in passive safety features that prevent core meltdown. Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) can be as small as 100 MW. One can power a town, more can be added as power needs grow, and several can be coupled together to power a large metropolis. Pebble Bed Modular Reactors use uranium in the form of pellets the size of sugar grains, each one specially coated and then bonded into graphite balls the size of cricket or lacrosse balls. Other technologies are also in the works.
In the past, the US built huge one-of-a-kind plants, like the Palo Verde plant outside Phoenix, AZ: three 1,270-MW reactors generating 32 million MW-hours annually. They typically took years to build, after a decade of reviews, changes, permitting and litigation. Today we could use a “fleet approach” to construct the same proven, safe designs over and over, often by same experienced, specialized crews.
Multiple advanced reactor designs by American companies are already in various stages of development. Holtec International is trying to wrap up research and development on a modern “next generation” SMR-160 that could be built in Lacey Township, NJ, where the 636-MW boiling water Oyster Creek nuclear plant used to operate. It would power about 160,000 homes and uses no pumps or valves; all its key components, including cooling water, are sealed inside containment facilities.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved NuScale Power’s design for a light-water reactor, and Oklo Power’s for one of the first nuclear plants that doesn’t use water as a coolant. (It’s gas-cooled.) Oklo, NuGen and other companies are also building 1.5 to 20-MW “microreactors” that could be employed in outer space and remote off-the-grid communities, mining operations, industrial facilities and military bases. The US Department of Energy recently awarded a grant for a demonstration program for non-light water reactors that could soon be operational. Molten salt and thorium reactors are also coming.
They’re important prospects – whether driven by “the climate crisis” or other reasons. And while some continue to say nuclear power is “a threat to health and safety,” Team Biden-Harris, Congress, real environmentalists and thoughtful citizens must all acknowledge a central reality. It’s relatively easy to lock up and shut down fossil fuels, for no valid reason. Replacing them is costly and difficult.
Old nuclear certainly has its perception and safety issues, though very few people died from even the most widely publicized accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima. Modern nuclear power plants will be far better, safer, more cost-effective and reliable sources of abundant, affordable (CO2-free) electricity.
Moreover, pseudo-renewable energy brings its own problems: millions of turbines far taller than the Washington Monument; billions of panels sprawling across tens or hundreds of square miles; thousands of 1200-pound battery modules in warehouses, waiting to ignite monstrous fires; Chinese and Third World mines, replete with land destruction, pollution and human rights violations. There is no free lunch.
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and author of books and articles on energy, environment, climate and human rights issues.