Any discussion involving nuclear power often becomes saturated with pornographic images of Chernobyl, the dirge-like musings of J. Robert Oppenheimer, or the ignorant prattle of environmentalists bemoaning the dearth of windmills. Good faith conversations—let alone arguments—are in short supply particularly when the topics are as politically charged as renewable energy and carbon emissions. Though I loathe hypocrisy, I would be remiss if I didn’t leave the reader with the sensational and pornographic images of the Pemex conflagration in the Gulf of Mexico which prompted this post. On Joe Rogan’s Instagram, he appended Revelation 21:8. The New York Times made references to the biblical as well as Middle Earth. All the news and social media platforms teemed with images of the spiraling hellfire, the consequences of misbegotten offshore drilling for fossil fuels.
Let’s be clear: the FUCKING ocean was on FIRE! A whirlpool of flames jetted out of a body of water and we homo sapiens threw ocean… on the ocean… to put out the ocean.
Yet, such will continue to be our fate should anti-nuclear environmentalists prevail.
In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that nuclear power produced less carbon pollution than solar farms, geothermal, and hydropower sources. Indeed, the report recommended bolstering low greenhouse gas technologies—including nuclear energy—if we ever hoped of seeing substantial decreases in carbon emissions. There were some objections to a complete acceptance of nuclear energy many of which were underscored in the 2018 IPCC report. The gravest concerns were nuclear weapons proliferation, irradiation of the humans living nearby nuclear facilities, and nuclear waste management.
In the American context, nuclear weapons proliferation would be a spurious proposition at best when one considers how highly regulated nuclear materials are in the United States—via the Nuclear Regulatory Commission—and the omnipresence of the National Security Agency and Homeland Security. Radiation exposure from nuclear reactors and its effects on human health are overblown. Michael Shellenberger’s TED Talk in 2017 goes through the United Nations report regarding human health near Chernobyl; the report found no evidence of increased cancer rates, infertility, or infant mortality, among other things. And this is Chernobyl we’re talking about, the most calamitous nuclear disaster in human history. Fukushima has similarly stultifying results whereby no radiation related deaths were noted. Finally, nuclear waste management. The World Nuclear Association claims that approximately 90% “of all of the waste types produced by nuclear technologies” have a safe and satisfactory method of disposal that avoids radiation exposure and despoliation of nature.
As of 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) records 56 nuclear power plants in 28 states which supply approximately 20% of the America’s energy demands. By contrast, the same number of power plants in France supplies 70% of their energy demands. Let’s put aside the fact that the United States is 1,683% larger than France (9,833,517 km2 v. 551,500 km2) making energy transmission a total nightmare in a country like the United States. It’s more important to note that renewable energies like wind and solar receive enormous subsidies from the federal government compared to nuclear energy; as of 2019, five states—Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio—provide “compensation or other assistance for in-state nuclear generating plants.”
According to Georgia Power’s website, Vogtle 3 and 4, under construction in Waynesboro, Georgia, “will be the first new nuclear units built in the United States in the last three decades.” It is estimated to come online sometime in late 2021 or early 2022. Unfortunately, the EIA projects that the current rate of reactor retirement and decommissioning means the United States will produce fewer megawatts of electricity from nuclear in 2050 than was produced in 2020. By the end of 2025, five more nuclear reactors are scheduled to retire. Climate change is inevitable. However, should we hope to successfully adapt to and survive it, and avoid spiraling hellfire, we need more nuclear.