October 18-22, 2021 is Nuclear Science Week. While our environmental calendar celebrates a dazzling multitude of days and weeks, from National Clean Energy and Fat Bear weeks, to World Forestry and International Tiger days, perhaps none is as important as this week. With the lack of enthusiasm this week, you might ask why.
The answer is simple. We stand no chance at beating climate change without nuclear energy, and there are 3 main reasons this is the case.
First, nuclear energy is clean. The demonization of nuclear energy technology by environmentalists hides the fact that nuclear provides nearly 60% of clean energy in the U.S., more than any other source. Indeed, nuclear power is a carbon-free source of energy, which is crucial as we seek to reduce emissions in the fight against climate change.
Second, nuclear energy is reliable. Wind and solar power necessarily can only generate electricity when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. Nuclear doesn’t face these inherent limitations, instead creating electricity 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, a critical need to power a modern, economically prosperous civilization. So far, nuclear energy is the only source of clean energy that has proven it can provide reliable, round-the-clock energy without carbon emissions. Tackling climate change and moving to a clean energy future will require more of this, not less.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, nuclear energy is safe. In fact, nuclear is the safest form of energy yet developed. Statistically, fewer people have died from nuclear energy than from any other source of energy, clean or dirty. You are more likely to die falling off your roof while installing a solar panel, than from anything involving nuclear energy. The notable safety of nuclear energy is a critical argument in favor of the technology and an important rebuttal against anti-nuclear activists. These activists typically point to Chernobyl and Fukushima, two nuclear reactor meltdowns in the Ukraine and Japan, respectively, as proof of nuclear’s fundamental lack of safety. Yet, they fail to mention that Chernobyl was caused by the breakdown of a dysfunctional and failing communist government and that the Fukushima incident caused no deaths.
Ultimately, there are more than just 3 reasons why nuclear energy is crucial to our future. Yet as the conversation around climate change rings louder around the world, proponents of nuclear power must be that much clearer in their advocacy for the best energy source ever developed. It bears repeating: Nuclear energy is clean, reliable, and safe.
Unfortunately, nuclear advocates have done a miserable job in the last decades. While public opinion has improved considerably over the years, 55% of Americans still oppose building more nuclear plants, compared to 90% and 83% wanting more solar and wind energy, respectively. This hostility has trickled over into public policy. Twice as much nuclear production capacity is scheduled to close down this year, compared to coal. This continues a 20-year trend of nuclear plants being forced to shut down prematurely, with 12 having already been decommissioned and a further 4 scheduled to close in 2021.
The consequences of this approach are both clear and deeply tragic. At home, the Indian Point nuclear plant outside New York City once provided 25% of the city’s energy needs. On April 30 of this year, the last reactor officially closed under pressure from progressive environmental groups, causing an immediate 35% spike in CO2 emissions for the state.
Abroad, the energy crisis we are witnessing across Europe is due in part to the anti-nuclear policies of countries like Germany, Belgium and Italy, who have shut down nuclear reactors across the continent. When renewables failed to meet energy demand in the last few months, the typically reliable baseload of nuclear power was no longer available. The result has been an increasing reliance on fossil fuels, energy shortages, and skyrocketing prices for consumers.
So yes, Nuclear Science Week 2021 is arguably more important than ever. Nuclear energy is clean, reliable, and safe—and this message deserves urgent attention. This is not simply a matter of rooting for a preferred technology, but a realization that the future of the planet and human prosperity are on the line. Let’s learn from the lessons in New York and Europe, let’s trust the facts, and let’s build more nuclear plants.
Christopher Barnard is the National Policy Director at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).