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Why Nuclear Power Is Coming Back (Discreetly) Strongly Around the World

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that California Governor Gavin Newsom was leading an eleventh-hour effort to pass legislation extending a lifeline to Diablo Canyon, a 2.250 megawatt nuclear power plant that supplies about 8% of the energy produced in the state.

Under Under pressure from lawmakers and environmental activists, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) in 2016 agreed to terminate the Diablo Canyon concession when its operating licenses expired, on (2024 and 2025. But in light of recent environmental energy policy, California lawmakers have second thoughts.

On the last day of the legislative session, lawmakers passed a law that will extend the plant’s term by another five years. .

This is a blow to Newsom, who had long ago announced that the Diablo Canyon plant would be closed.

“I just don’t see this plant surviving. after 2024, 2025. I just don’t see it,” Newsom said at the government campaign in 2016. “And there’s a compelling argument for why it won’t survive.”

Nuclear energy is back in fashion

California is not alone in giving nuclear energy a second chance.

Belgium is one of several European countries trying to extend licenses that are about to expire and thus keep the plants in operation nuclear. Meanwhile, France has proposed building up to 14 new nuclear power plants in the coming years. Japan, which closed its nuclear reactors after the Fukushima crisis in 2011, now wants to restart nine reactors. Meanwhile, Morning Brew reports that the UK, Poland and the Czech Republic are all revealing plans to build new nuclear reactors.

Suddenly nuclear power is back, and it’s not hard to see why. Natural gas prices have skyrocketed globally. In the US, natural gas prices have recently peaked in 14 years, but nothing compares to the Europe, where prices reached an all-time high — equivalent to 160 dollars per barrel of oil .

This sent seismic waves across Europe, where companies are reporting annual quintuple in prices.

There is little debate as to whether that Europe is in the midst of a perfect energy crisis, in which the search of nations for “green” energy is not little to blame, which has driven them away from domestic production (in particular fossil fuels and nuclear energy) and led them to rely on imports of Russian natural gas, collapsed with the invasion of Ukraine and Russian geopolitics.

8% of California’s energy gone?

California’s situation is different from Europe, but there is also a clear reason for the state to rethink the decision to close its only major power station.

Last week, California grid operators warned of blackouts and encouraged citizens to “put the thermostats on 34ºC or higher, avoid the use of large appliances and charge electric cars, in addition to turning off unnecessary lights.”

This is nothing new in California, which has a long history of blackouts even with one of the lowest energy consumption per capita in the country (thanks to its mild climate, above all) .

The reason for this is not complicated either. California is hailed as a green energy success story, and sometimes it is. This year, on a mild May day, California produced enough renewable energy for 100% of demand, reaching a new record.

The problem is that some of these power sources are intermittent. On most days, renewable energy production lags far behind consumer demand, which is why half of California’s energy is produced by natural gas — which is getting pretty expensive, as noted above.

But the real problem is the power supply.

California’s power grid is already at its limit, which means that suddenly aborting nuclear power is a recipe for disaster. As even California’s progressive lawmakers admit, the Diablo Canyon power plant generates more than 8% of all California’s electricity, and that’s 14% of your production with zero carbon.

If you think the Californian blackout problem is bad right now — and it most certainly is — try losing abruptly 14.25 GW·hrs of electricity annually to see what happens… Then add a million electric cars to the economy when the state ban on gasoline cars goes into effect.

The Lesson

As NPR stated, the Diablo Canyon turnaround is noteworthy because California is the birthplace of the anti-nuclear movement in the United States. For years environmentalists opposed nuclear energy “mainly out of fears about nuclear waste and possible accidents, as well as its association with nuclear weapons.”

As Fukushima shows, these fears are not are completely unfounded. Nuclear accidents do occur, although they are rare. Nuclear power plants do create radioactive waste. There are obvious burdens on nuclear energy.

Where environmentalists go wrong, however, is in thinking that the burdens are unique to nuclear power and fossil fuels. The fact is that all energy production comes with a charge, and advocates of so-called “green energy” have a nasty habit of neglecting them.

Your neighbor with a The green slogan on the garden sign may point out that his truck uses a lot of gas, but he probably doesn’t know that it took thousands of pounds of CO2 emissions to produce the battery that charges his Tesla. (And don’t even tell him where the battery’s cobalt comes from.)

Your aunt may proudly speak of the solar panels on the roof, but she probably doesn’t know that, on a scale of utility, solar energy has a larger carbon footprint than nuclear energy, nor does solar panels produce literally tons of toxic waste.

Your niece can talk about the importance of becoming a “zero-emissions” economy, but it certainly doesn’t realize the environmental costs (let’s leave out the economic ones) of getting there — which include mining 18 million metric tons of copper, 50 million tons of zinc, 40 million tons of lead, 5 billion tons of iron and 160 millions of tons of aluminum (take it or leave it).

The point is clear: all energy production comes with a cost. Many may believe that only politicians are able to assess the burdens and rewards of energies, but both the economy and our own eyes reveal that this is not true.

In the face of what many environmentalists say is the climate apocalypse, does it make sense for European governments to ditch nuclear power plants — one of the cleanest forms of energy there is — and import fossil fuels from Russia, a country hostile to freedom and historically inclined toward authoritarianism?

Also, did it make sense for California to ditch nuclear energy wanting to become a “50% zero emission” economy?

Of course the answer to these questions is no. The reality is that politicians have no special knowledge when it comes to deciding which balances make the most sense, which may explain why a world of abundant energy is suddenly facing an energy crisis not seen in generations.

So while we can be grateful that so many politicians, environmentalists and countries are finally recognizing the benefits of nuclear energy, we must ask ourselves why we gave them so much power in the first place.

©2022 FEE Foundation for Economic Education. Published with permission. Original in English.
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