We can't let nuclear die

We can't let nuclear die
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While nuclear power is known to scientists and experts as a safe, reliable source of energy, its reputation has been unfairly dragged through the mud for decades, by unfounded fear, conspiracy theories and endless government red tape. With President BidenJoe BidenObama: Ensuring democracy 'continues to work effectively' keeps me 'up at night' New Jersey landlords prohibited from asking potential tenants about criminal records Overnight Defense: Pentagon pulling some air defense assets from Middle East | Dems introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for discrimination | White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE’s target of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50 percent by 2030, as well as worldwide commitments to tackling climate change, the paradox worsens.

The hard truth is that we cannot reduce global emissions enough to stop climate change without nuclear power, yet here in the United States, we’re letting nuclear slowly die out.

At the beginning of 2021, experts predicted that more nuclear power plants would be shuttered than coal-fired plants by the year’s end. Not only does it attract the unfair ire of many environmental activists, but nuclear is also burdened by an incredible number of superfluous regulations that both prevent the deployment of more plants and cripple our existing nuclear power production.


Take for example the Indian Point nuclear plant right outside New York City, which provides a quarter of the city’s energy needs. On April 30, the last reactor will officially close — continuing a two-decade trend of nuclear reactors shutting down prematurely, with 12 already decommissioned and a further four scheduled to close this year. 

Closing these reactors is an indication of shortsighted policy. Nuclear power provides over half of all clean energy in the United States, yet half of that fleet is set to retire by 2030, according to the Rhodium Group. Ironically, 2030 is also the deadline for Biden’s 50 percent emissions reductions target, compared to 2005 levels.  

In New York alone, nuclear provides 30 percent of the state’s electricity. Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoNew York City moving thousands of people from hotels back to shelters Bank of America: All vaccinated workers to return to office after Labor Day US Open allowing 100 percent spectator capacity at matches MORE has announced a very ambitious target of 70 percent renewables by 2030, and 100 percent clean electricity by 2040. With the intermittency and relative inefficiency of renewable energy — the sun and wind don’t always shine or blow — a baseload source of clean energy will be crucial to meeting these goals. Only nuclear can realistically provide that.

New York isn’t alone in this clean energy contradiction. Illinois, for instance, will see the closure of two nuclear power plants this fall. These two plants provide power to more than 4 million homes but have such dramatic revenue shortages that they will be unable to operate. Elected officials from both parties have criticized the move, but the fact remains that the government itself is standing in the way of a more prosperous American nuclear industry. 

These two examples are not only tragic for the local communities that will lose thousands of jobs and megawatts of clean energy, but they’re indicative of a policy failure that will have serious implications for the United States’ ability to fight climate change. It’s imperative that we get the government out of its own way on nuclear power. Studies show that nuclear regulations introduced in the 1970s increased the quantity of piping by 50 percent, steel by 41 percent, electrical cable by 36 percent, and concrete per megawatt by 27 percent, causing construction costs to balloon 200 percent. Moreover, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's permitting process review is prohibitively long and expensive. It takes an average nuclear plant 80 months to get permitted, before being subject to $60 million in regulatory costs every single year. 


Part of an all-of-the-above energy approach is allowing all energy sources to compete on an even playing field. Renewable sources such as wind and solar are important, but if we’re handicapping a power source as important as nuclear, we’re doomed to fail. Currently, our energy landscape is tilted very heavily in favor of traditional fossil fuels, and very heavily against nuclear. In order to redress this travesty, both for the sake of the planet and for the Americans nuclear can provide with abundant, cheap energy, we must radically reform our regulatory process, fast-track nuclear permitting, and support early-stage innovation in next-generation technologies that are even safer than their older counterparts. Then, and only then, nuclear plants won’t be forced to shut prematurely over government-imposed cost and red tape barriers. 

It may be too late for Indian Point, but there is still time to improve the economic and regulatory environment for nuclear energy in the United States. If we’re serious about climate change, we’ll get serious about nuclear power. 

Christopher Barnard is the National Policy Director at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).