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Nuclear Energy | A Necessity In Biden’s Climate Change Effort

Last updated on May 13, 2021

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Everything after the separator is the opinion of this article’s author.

On April 22, 2021, President Biden committed the United States to reduce half its carbon emissions by 2030, which is part of his international and domestic effort to combat climate change. In a two-day summit on the US rejoining the Paris Climate Accords, the US president addressed forty world leaders about their respective climate policies.

Some countries have committed to reducing their carbon emissions while countries that emit the most carbon emissions have yet to make a similar promise. According to the New York Times, “Japan, Canada, Britain and the European Union committed to steeper cuts. But China, India and Russia made no new emissions promises, and even Mr. Biden’s commitment to cut U.S. greenhouse gases 50 percent to 52 percent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade will be extraordinarily difficult to meet, economically and politically.”

The international summit came days after President Biden proposed a 2.25 trillion dollar infrastructure bill that would address climate change. Branded the American Jobs Plan, the measure would be one of the largest federal efforts in decreasing greenhouse emissions. According to CNBC, the plan diverts several billions of dollars to combat climate change.

  • 174 billion dollars in spending to boost the electric vehicle market and shift away from gas-powered cars.
  • $35 billion in research and development for projects on technologies to mitigate climate change and create jobs, such as carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, offshore wind, and electric vehicles.
  • $16 billion to employ those workers to cap oil and gas wells and reclaim old coal mines to curb methane leaks.
  • $10 billion to establish a “Civilian Climate Corps” to employ people to restore land.

Also, according to Bloomberg Green, Biden will plan on diverting federal subsidies to maintain already established nuclear power plants.

When Biden announced he will divert subsidies to nuclear power plants, he received blowback from the economic progressives of his party.

For example, Senator Bernie Sanders has opposed nuclear energy and advocated for the closure of nuclear power plants in his state of Vermont. On Mr. Sanders’s campaign website, one of his energy policies is to “ban nuclear energy” and “stop building new nuclear power plants, and find a real solution to our existing nuclear waste problem.”

In 2018, when Democratic Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York proposed the Green New Deal, Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree from Maine said, “I think on nuclear energy, we all have a general resistance to it.”

Lukas Ross, program manager at Friends of the Earth, a progressive environmental group based in Washington, said, “A bailout for existing reactors is wrong for the climate and wrong for consumers.”

However, what Ross and a handful of Democratic congressmen do not realize is that nuclear energy is absolutely necessary for transitioning to a renewable energy-based economy from a fossil fuel-based economy.

A 2019 report from the International Energy Agency examined the role of nuclear power in advanced economies, and its findings recommended: “several possible government actions that aim to ensure existing nuclear power plants can operate as long as they are safe, support new nuclear construction and encourage new nuclear technologies to be developed.”

The report’s research found that aging nuclear power plants built three to four decades ago drove the overall decline of its share in the global electricity supply. This evidently slowed the transition to a clean energy economy because, despite the dramatic increase in solar and wind power, the overall share of clean energy sources in the total 2018 electricity supply was the same as the share two decades ago because of the decline in nuclear energy. Without nuclear energy, renewable energies cannot make up the necessary majority share of clean energy in the overall energy supply.

Additionally, to meet a trajectory consistent with suitability targets, the IEA says 85% of global electricity needs to come from clean energy sources by 2040 in an effort to decarbonize the global energy supply. Therefore, to achieve this aim, global nuclear power production needs to increase by 80% by 2040.

Furthermore, Faith Birol, the executive director of the IEA, advanced this argument by saying, “Alongside renewables, energy efficiency and other innovative technologies, nuclear can make a significant contribution to achieving sustainable energy goals and enhancing energy security.”

An earlier 2015 report from the IEA and the Nuclear Energy Agency also concluded that the nuclear power generational capacity would have to double by 2050 to meet the international 2°C (3.6°F) warming goal.

Similarly, in 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded nuclear energy would have to more than double to reach the target of 1.5 degrees C.

However, according to the previously mentioned Bloomberg green article, common concerns in Biden subsidizing nuclear energy is that nuclear energy would produce radioactive waste, the environmental effects of uranium mining, and concern about nuclear accidents.

Yet, these concerns are far outweighed by the benefits, especially in regards to widespread nuclear energy implementation.

Daniel B. Harmon, who previously served as the deputy secretary of energy and briefly the acting secretary of energy under President Obama, advocated for nuclear energy in an article titled “We Can’t Solve Climate Change without Nuclear Power.”

Harmon argued that nuclear energy has greater sustainability and efficiency than even fossil fuel plants, “Nuclear plants are not only emissions-free and carbon-free, they are by far the most reliable assets in our power generation mix, operating 93 percent of the time—even during extreme weather events when some fossil fuel plants may be forced to shut down or curtail their operations.”

Not only does nuclear energy have tremendous reliability, Harmon advanced the IEA’s assessment by saying, “Preserving existing reactors may not sound exciting, but it is a critical first step if we take the climate challenge seriously. Consider that for every reactor that prematurely shuts down, our carbon dioxide emissions rise by about 5.8 million metric tons per year.”

Harmon later argued that nuclear energy can be better implemented through a stronger relationship between public and private industries. And the fact of the matter is that going forward, President Biden should follow the advice of Obama’s deputy secretary of energy. While Biden plans to subsidize current nuclear power plants, he must draw plans to increase the number of nuclear power plants across the nation for the sake of lowering the global temperature and number of greenhouse gases.

While there is progressive pushback in his own party for subsiding nuclear power, Biden should do more than he is currently doing to prioritize and advance nuclear energy to ensure clean energy resources make up the majority of the global energy supply. However, even if Biden does successfully implement nuclear energy across the nation, he needs the necessary diplomatic skills and foreign policy to incentivize nations like China, India, and Russia to follow suit. If Biden is successful on the international and domestic front in implementing nuclear energy and lowering the global temperature, then we can alleviate the effects of climate change.

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