Now is the Time to Get Serious About Nuclear Energy
While no other “carbon free” method of producing electricity comes even close to nuclear energy, climate change alarmists refuse to even consider the option.
If you do an objective benefit-cost analysis of nuclear energy compared to the so-called “green energies” of solar and wind you learn that green energies have serious time and space limitations. For example, you learn that with solar and wind there is a disconnect between when they’re produced and when they’re consumed. Nighttime and cloudy days happen, and the wind does not always blow, but the need for electricity goes on.
The only solution to those limitations is reliance on batteries. Batteries, of course, have their own problems. It takes at least an hour and usually eight hours to charge an electric vehicle’s batteries. It takes only five minutes to fill your gas tank.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, “Solar Power’s Land Grab Hits a Snag: Environmentalists.” Samantha Gross of the Brookings Institution writes, “An energy system based on renewables is still an industrial-scale system, with large generation and transmission projects that people don’t necessarily want in their neighborhoods.” Mojave solar farms essentially displace the animals that were living there. Indian tribes have also protested against the projects. Several of the largest projects in the planning stages are in jeopardy of cancellation. In contrast, for access, oil and natural gas require only a 12-inch hole in the ground.
There is also a locational disconnect between the producers and users of solar and wind energy. For oil and gas, the most efficient logistical solutions are pipelines.
Democrats hate pipelines. On his first day in office, with no justification given, Joe Biden stopped cold the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline and, along with that, its thousands of high-paying jobs. We’re left with a half-completed pipeline along with rising gasoline and natural gas prices.
Wind and solar have become popular not because of any actual advantages but because leftists think and act like teenagers. They’re ruled by emotions. They fall madly in love for the flimsiest of reasons. For teenagers that lunacy doesn't last long. For environmentalists and their Democrat enablers, that emotional attachment can and often does last for decades. As Milton Friedman famously observed, “There’s nothing as permanent as a temporary government program.”
Still another policy disaster Democrats have foisted on us is ethanol. It is the most land greedy of the “green energy’ alternatives. Ethanol is a witches’ brew of politics, taxpayer confiscation, mileage reduction, and small-engine destruction.
We’re creating giant land footprints in a futile attempt to reduce our “carbon footprints.” Land footprints are real problems in the here and now. Carbon footprints are unproven, hypothetical problems in the distant future.
We now devote fully one-fourth of our corn-growing farmland to the production of ethanol. If we returned that land to growing food and fodder we would significantly reduce prices and the benefits would be felt far and wide.
An important ingredient of economic efficiency is that “resources flow to their highest valued uses.” Employing farmland to produce energy rather than food is a gross violation of that principle. Using valuable farmland for energy production is asinine.
Coercion is also a necessary part of the ethanol fiasco. In California, it's illegal to use ethanol-free gasoline on public roads. You can buy ethanol-free gasoline for your lawnmower at only a few locations and at prices even higher than California’s already highest prices in the country.
Federal mandates require virtually all gasoline to include 10 percent ethanol. There is pressure to increase that to 15 percent. Even the 10 percent gasoline reduces mileage because ethanol produces only 70 percent of the energy produced by gasoline.
Ethanol takes more energy to produce than it produces. It’s done for political, not logical or economic reasons, and we are less prosperous because of it.
California is obsessed with so-called “zero-emissions” transportation, i.e., electric vehicles. The state passed numerous laws, regulations, and subsidies in pursuit of that objective. But EVs are not currently free of carbon emissions. Fossil fuels (coal and natural gas) generate most of the electricity needed to charge their batteries. If nuclear energy generated that same electricity we could honestly say that EVs generate “zero-emissions.”
Even Elon Musk admits that there is not enough electricity generating capacity to allow widespread conversion to EVs. The only way there could be enough capacity is by resorting to nuclear power.
The last remaining nuclear plant in California is at Diablo Canyon and has been operating since 1985. It is the single largest power station in the state, generating ten percent of California’s electricity. Because of the state’s hostility toward nuclear power, it is scheduled to close in 2025. No one knows what will replace that generating capacity. It certainly will not be wind and solar. Cutting electricity generation by a tenth when the state already has barely enough electricity is criminal recklessness.
Until the past few years, blackouts and brownouts were almost unheard of. What’s changed? The answer is easy to find.
According to Robert Bruce, progressive politicians and their enabling voters have created a disastrous combination of “soaring electricity prices and ever-worsening reliability.” What’s bizarre is that it has all been deliberate. The left is obsessed with weaning humanity off its reliance on fossil fuels. Californians are now the proud possessors of the highest income-tax rates, highest sales-tax rates, highest gasoline prices, and highest housing costs in the country.
California already has laws on the books that mandate reducing “greenhouse emissions” 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050. It is irresponsible to mandate an end to fossil fuel use when there is no viable substitute in place, at least not one they’re willing to entertain. If nuclear energy is off the table, blackouts will become a way of life. California will become a ghost state. Only leftists will be happy.
Michael Shellenberger, author of best-selling Apocalypse Never, recently tweeted that “the problems of nuclear power are not technological but political.” He added, “I’ve realized just how much of the problem comes down to energy density.” Nuclear energy is the energy densest of all the currently feasible alternatives.
If we altered our attitudes about nuclear energy, it would be a game-changer. We could reduce our carbon footprint to 1980 levels. We could stop killing birds with our windmills and solar energy sites. We could return all our fertile farmland to food production. And we could eliminate the labyrinth of costly subsidies and coercive regulations, most of which do far more harm than good. We could say goodbye to blackouts and electricity rationing and hello to energy abundance.
Ron Ross Ph.D. is a former economics professor and author of The Unbeatable Market. He currently works as a wealth manager and resides in Arcata, California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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