It is what will address global warming most effectively as dams will most address our local flooding and water storage issues, and it appears wise leadership is beginning to act on that knowledge, in both cases.
By Duncan Currie
From the January/February 2008 Issue
Thanks to worries about climate change and energy security, politicians across the spectrum are warming to nuclear power, says DUNCAN CURRIE.
President Bush is often met with cynicism when he cites nuclear energy as a way to curb greenhouse gas emissions. But what about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat, who says nuclear power “has to be on the table” in any discussion of climate change policy? Or Senator Hillary Clinton, who says it “has to be part of our energy solution”?
While questions about the safety of nuclear power persist, the big change is that nuclear is now seen as a way to reduce the threat of global warming and the threat that countries with an animus toward the United States will exploit their oil reserves for political advantage. A new study by the National Petroleum Council, titled “Hard Truths,” points out that nuclear currently represents only about 6 percent of the total energy mix globally. That won’t change over the next 20 years “unless nuclear generation is promoted for policy objectives such as limiting carbon dioxide emissions or enhancing energy security.” It seems that those policy objectives are becoming more and more enticing.
At a hearing of the House Committee on Science and Technology last February, Pelosi assured Republican lawmakers that she would not be an “active opponent” of nuclear energy. “I have a different view on nuclear than I did 20 years ago,” she said. “The technology has changed and I bring a more open mind to that subject now.” Similarly, during a February campaign stop in South Carolina, Mrs. Clinton denied any “preconceived opposition” to nuclear power. “It doesn’t put greenhouse gas emissions into the air,” she said.
More and more Democrats and ardent environmentalists are now rethinking the nuclear option. They have been joined in Europe by politicians anxious to meet their emissions targets under the Kyoto Protocol and wary of their vulnerability to energy blackmail by unpredictable or hostile governments in nations like Russia and Iran. “It is impossible to fulfill the Kyoto objectives without using nuclear energy,” Michael Glos, the German economics minister, said in early 2007.
This year, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) expects to field a raft of building applications for new nuclear plants. China, India, and other Asian countries are already moving ahead with blueprints for more reactors. In late November, China’s top nuclear company signed an $11.9 billion agreement with the French nuclear firm Areva. As The New York Times reported, this marked “the largest deal in the industry’s history.” The paper quoted John B. Ritch, director general of the World Nuclear Association, saying, “A nuclear renaissance is now gearing up everywhere in the world.”
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), commercial nuclear power currently provides nearly 20 percent of America’s electricity, with just over 100 operating reactors in 31 states. In 2006, the states most dependent on nuclear power for their electricity needs included Vermont (75 percent), New Jersey (53 percent), and South Carolina (52 percent). Nuclear also accounted for the largest portion of electricity generation in Illinois, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New York.
One of the most prominent supporters of nuclear energy is a Prius driving Republican who also supports a cap-and-trade regime for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and who left the Bush administration partly because she felt it was insufficiently green. Christine Todd Whitman, governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001, spent a turbulent two and a half years as director of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Bush’s opponents cast her 2003 departure as further evidence of the president’s baleful record on global warming. In 2006, Whitman became co-chair of an industry-backed pro-nuclear group known as the Clean and Safe Energy (“CASEnergy”) coalition.