Nuclear power’s benefits for climate change should outweigh our fears

On July 14, Senate Democrats introduced their plan to push $3.5 trillion in federal spending through the reconciliation process, in order to add climate change provisions long-sought by progressives to the highly contested infrastructure bill. These provisions restrict fossil fuels in the economy and commit the United States to dramatically increase clean energy use.

Reducing our carbon footprint is unquestionably good. After all, a cleaner and safer planet is certainly great. No one disagrees with that. However, we can—and should—disagree on the means.

‘Green’ energy production methods are considerably more expensive to maintain and, generally, not as effective as the energy infrastructure we currently have in place. But there is a method of clean energy that is cost-effective, carbon-free, and rarely used—nuclear energy.

Nuclear power plants are extremely effective at actually producing energy. They produce roughly twice as much power as coal and natural gas facilities and almost quadruple that of wind and solar. Moreover, nuclear power is incredibly clean. The Nuclear Energy Institute reported that nuclear power allowed us to avoid 476 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere in 2019. This is equivalent to preventing the pollution from over 100 million cars annually. It’s more efficient than all other forms of clean energy combined.

The physical waste produced by nuclear power plants is minimal, and its disposal is heavily regulated, both within the industry and by the government. Since 1970, there have been no harmful radioactive leaks from power plant byproducts. Nuclear energy is incredibly clean, and the average nuclear power facility requires just one square mile. Theoretically, several could be placed within relatively close proximity of each other.

Wind and solar farms, on the other hand, occupy more than 1,000 times as much space as fossil fuel facilities. Ironically, even the batteries that power electric cars aren’t exactly sustainable; the mining process to source the lithium required does considerable damage to local environments. We cannot rely solely upon these technologies to deliver us a cleaner future.

Serious climate policy must incentivize nuclear energy production. The policies advanced by environmental activists in American politics do not simply advocate for alternative policies to nuclear power; they advocate for its dismantling. They just aren’t serious.

Politicians are willing to invest billions of dollars in less effective methods of clean energy production in a quixotic attempt at achieving their policy goals. They will sacrifice one of the most crucial sectors of the American economy so they can tell their constituents come election season that they fought to end climate change. But they don’t use the most powerful tool against climate change. It’s a grift.

Nuclear power is clean, safe, effective, and economically viable. It outperforms all other current forms of clean energy production. Without it, the United States will continue to drift away from energy independence and fall behind on the global stage.

The reality is that it will be virtually impossible to achieve net-zero emissions, let alone reduce them in an effective and timely way, without nuclear power. The best policies are ones that work. Call your senators and urge them to include funding for nuclear power in any legislation pertaining to alternative energy production.

We need to unleash the power of the atom and make it work on behalf of the American people.

Sam Mangold-Lenett is an alumnus of the National Journalism Center and a Young Voices contributor. Sam is a student at the Northern Kentucky Salmon P. Chase College of Law. He worked with the American Conservation Coalition (ACC) on this piece.