A nuclear energy tipping point? Experts weigh in.
December 2, 2021
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm hinted at her support for nuclear power this week in an interview with Reuters, suggesting that California officials could reconsider closing the state’s last nuclear power plant — whose current licenses will expire by 2025. Granholm’s remarks come as nuclear power is gaining momentum in Europe, while also creating divisions among policymakers.
Mary Nichols is a senior visiting fellow at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability and a former chair of the California Air and Resources Board. Under her leadership, CARB enacted the first comprehensive cap on industrial greenhouse gas emissions by any major regulatory agency in the world. Nichols says California is on track to meet its energy needs through “an array of renewable technologies” and that reversing plans to close the state’s last nuclear plant would not be simple.
“It was the owner, PG&E, that initiated the shutdown process. The plant was already uneconomical to operate and has not improved. All regulatory agency, unions and neighboring communities signed off on the plan. The process took years, and reversing it would not be a simple action.
“The plant sits in a location that blocks grid modernization and interferes with plans to develop clean, renewable resources including offshore wind. Like coal interests, the nuclear industry and its front groups will not stop searching for openings to expand its share of the energy portfolio. But California is on track to meet its current and future needs through an array of renewable technologies.”
Mark Lynas is a visiting fellow at the Cornell Alliance for Science and author of “Nuclear 2.0: Why a Green Future Needs Nuclear Power.” Lynas says we’re reaching a stage where anti-nuclear attitudes are in “full retreat” and that nuclear shutdowns will be both reassessed and reversed.
"For too long, public opinion and scientific knowledge on nuclear power have been out of step. Scientists know that nuclear generates little waste, is one of the safest energy technologies ever invented, and can make a major contribution to decarbonizing societies in response to the climate emergency.
“I believe we are approaching a tipping point, where anti-nuclear attitudes are in full retreat, and where premature nuclear shutdowns will be reassessed and reversed in the U.S. and elsewhere.
“There is abundant evidence that where nuclear plants are retired early they are replaced by fossil fuels. Nuclear can also help balance the grid with the scaling up of intermittent renewables, making these technologies partners in the new zero-carbon energy economy.”