Issues & Insights

Will America’s Return To Nuclear Power Kill The Dems’ Green New Deal? Let’s Hope So

The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown doomed nuclear power in the U.S. With new technologies, it's coming back. Source: Ingmar Runge, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

While the media focus on the chaos in American cities and the COVID-19 shutdowns, you might have missed this good news on the energy front: The federal government just approved a new, smaller, safer nuclear power plant design, putting nuclear back on the nation’s menu of energy choices.

It might not seem like much, but until this decade, the last nuclear power plant built in the U.S. was 1977. Today, there are an estimated 96 nuclear power plants producing 20% of all our electricity and half of our non-carbon-based power.

If that sounds impressive, consider this: As recently as the 1990s, we had 116 nuclear plants. Utilities, tired of the non-stop trouble of justifying a perpetual source of clean, CO2-free energy to radical green groups and burdened by enormous regulatory costs, have been decommissioning older plants.

But late last week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a new plan for what’s called a “small modular reactor,” or SMR, designed by Portland-based NuScale Power.

Small, yes, but cheaper and safer, too. And it may be an avatar for an avalanche of new nuclear technologies in the works, including thorium and molten-salt reactors that use spent fuel, which will further cut costs and decrease reliance on fossil fuels.

Some of these are well beyond the drafting board stage.

Canada’s Terrestrial Energy has plans to produce 190 megawatts of electricity at a plant in Ontario by 2030. And the price of its energy will be competitive with natural gas, the company says.

TerraPower, with Bill Gates as a founding investor, has designed a sodium-cooled plant that can use spent fuel, depleted uranium, or even unprocessed uranium.

As for NuScale’s SMR, current plans call for Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, a western energy cooperative, to build the SMRs at the Energy Department’s Idaho National Laboratory, a massive 890-square-mile lab and test site.

The first workable model is scheduled to be switched on in 2029. Eleven more reactors would be put into service the following year. Each reactor, according to NuScale Power, can produce roughly 60 megawatts of energy, enough to supply 50,000 homes.

These smaller reactors include self-cooling systems and automatic shutdown features that, along with their reduced size, make the new plants far safer than first-generation nuclear power, and less costly to run. They’re virtually meltdown-proof.

Why focus on nuclear technology?

It’s not cheaper than coal or natural gas or even some renewable sources. At least, not upfront.

But these up-and-coming technologies have the potential to make our energy supply more secure and end blackouts and brownouts, such as those now taking place in California, which has moved to a radical and plainly foolish reliance on unreliable renewable energy.

And over time, new tweaks in the technology will cut costs, especially if the federal government takes its foot off the regulation pedal. Until now, that has been a major impediment, and cost, for nuclear power.

But these new nuclear models do one other very important thing: they make the Democrats’ outrageously costly and non-science based Green New Deal totally unnecessary.

The Green New Deal (GND) proposal put forth in Congress would require utilities to supply “100% of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emissions energy sources.”

What’s left out is that the full cost of such a scheme would be enormous almost beyond reckoning.

The American Action Forum, a respected center-right think tank, estimates costs of as much as $51 trillion to $93 trillion over the next 10 years if the GND is passed. In plainer numbers, that’s about $600,000 per American household.

Liberal economist Noah Smith, a finance professor and columnist for Bloomberg, likewise estimates a $6.6 trillion a year cost for the GND. That’s roughly three times what the U.S. government currently takes in from taxes.

To call the GND economically insane might be an understatement. And yet, an entire American political party and some 600 environmental groups think it’s a great idea. Call it Enviro-Socialism.

The GND does not foresee a nuclear future. We do. Small, technologically advanced nuclear power plants would replace the inefficient, costly, unreliable and wasteful renewable energy schemes at the core of the New Green Deal.

— Written by the I&I Editorial Board

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21 comments

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  • Nuclear is the cleanest, safest most environmentally friendly source of electrical energy we know of. Time to put the hysteria aside and allow the building of new, reliable electrical energy sources. I don’t want to wait for the wind to blow to be able to cook my dinner.

    • I would have agreed if not for the new generation of natural gas plants. Extremely clean and completely safe, the shale revolution has made them the go to energy source. That being said, their competitiveness relies on nat gas being exceedingly cheap – essentially free. I would love to see our renewable fad on solar and wind fade and have this new and improved nuclear technology take its place.

      • Clean as far as pollution goes, yes. However, natural gas is still a hydrocarbon and the combustion product is still CO2.

  • From the California perspective, SMR will not require long runs of very high voltage transmission wires running through difficult terrain, which are a major source of wildfires.

  • Its about time we started hearing some good news on the nuclear energy front……. I would bet this couldve happened 20 years ago easily if government didnt have its regulatory foot on the nuclear industry. knowing how subs and supercarriers rely on nuclear power, the tech had to be there to reduce the size (and keep the efficiency) of nuclear reactors decades ago. I’m glad to see this available finally for civilian use, and not even for the environment, to me that is a secondary benefit (we all know the environmentalists will whine whether we make significant gains to protect the environment or not) but this reduces the cost of nearly everything by adding a new (well not that new, but new in the sense of being used on such a scale as to be competitive with the oil industry, thus driving down costs for everything) fuel to the market.

    This reduction in reactor size could also lead to further reductions leading to private home use, large vehicle use (such as semi’s, delivery trucks, and utility and service vehicles) . I’m very excited to see the dawn of this new age approaching.

    • There is a major difference between the military reactors and civilian power reactors – the military uses fully enriched Uranium instead of the partial enrichment of the civilian reactors. That alone impacts the size and power density of the reactors.

  • Members of the Thorium Energy Alliance has been trying to get molten salt reactors, which operate at atmospheric pressure and have a simple effective fail-safe mechanism, built for ten years but are still mired in the DC bureaucratic morass. Check out ThorCon which is working with Indonesia to build their reactors over there.

  • The key to this is standardization of design. Up to now, all nuke plants were pretty much one offs. Each design had to be approved from scratch. No mass production of parts was possible and no common training of staff as well. If say, there were only three designs,small medium and larger, then parts could be produced at an economical scale, one time only design review and common training for staff on a larger scale. If none of this is done, the whole thing will be doomed for cost reasons in the end.

    • Companies have been developing “standardized” designs for pre-approval since the 1980’s. That new reactors haven’t been built has more to do with the license approval process and the societal environment than the technology.

  • Thank you for highlighting the contribution that nuclear power has played in providing the USA with reliable, clean energy. I would also recommend an article on hydroelectric, and the positive impacts it could have on pursuing a clean energy future.

  • The Green New Deal (GND) proposal put forth in Congress would require utilities to supply “100% of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emissions energy sources.”

    I’m confused. You seem to imply that nuclear power can be all of those things. Wouldn’t nuclear power then be included in the GND, rather than contrary to it?

    • @Skarphace – That is the moment when you realise that the people behind the eco-movement have a different agenda than what they say. The naïve masses of easily influenced youths may help them achieve it.

      Socialists need the people to be financially dependent. Take your money through high energy bills and only deliver that energy when they feel you’re worthy of it.

      • @Bram: Bill Gates is behind GND and he is behind nuclear power. Therefore, the premise of your argument falls flat.

  • I think that it is worth mentioning that the greens never tell us about the astronomically huge amount of waste coming down the line from solar and wind.

    Forget the enormous costs of building transmission lines, solar and wind turbine farms, consider the huge amount of expensive recycling that has to be done when the panels and turbines reach end of life. What is potentially worse, are the mega tons of batteries that will have to be employed to smooth over the unreliability that is part of the problem generating electricity from sun and wind. Battery recycling requires a lot of energy.

  • A complex design made by humans precedes its manufacturing, construction, and operation. In technical matters the design is performed by engineers and people trained in the hard sciences. Thus if, “… the last nuclear power plant built in the U.S. was 1977.”, demographics reveals that these talented people now lie in graves. America has no veteran experts who developed two which successfully operate. The profession no longer exists. There are no veteran “small modular reactor experts; it is a future concept not a reality. The real world talent now exists off shore, in China and other nations..

    The pogrom on this profession by regulators and litigators was successful and there has never been an advanced technology, abandoned for three generations, which was peacefully revived. What parent would permit a bright teen to enter such a profession which guaranteed unemployment during a turbulent career, controlled by the technical acumen of AOC?

    Yes, we have a robust body in Navy nukes but none could receive a license from the NRC. No sub is designed for seismic conditions. No Naval nuclear system is designed to be economical. Within the last six months 190,000 Americans have been killed by a technology no one knew about last Christmas, yet not one citizen has died in the four generations of our now defunct nuclear power industry. Yet many rail about its danger and prospered from the fear.

    Americans must face reality, this dog is dead. It rotted a long time ago. Quo Vadis?

  • One aspect of getting a reactor built not mentioned in the article is the new directive for getting Environmental Impact Statements completed and approved in 2 years. Now if Trump will realign the licensing process to only allow 1 series of legal challenges at the beginning of the project instead of challenges at every step of the way the construction timeframe (and thus cost) of the plants will dramatically decrease.

  • Anything offered by the Liberal Democrats is a total Scam Al Gore was one of the biggist scam artists with his Global Warming/Climate Change and he writes stupid poem only a idiot would want t o read or hear

  • Over half (5,884) of the world’s coal power plants (10,210) are in China and India whose populations of mostly poor peoples is roughly 2.7 billion. Together they are in the process of building 634 new ones. They are putting their money and backs into their most abundant, affordable, and available source of energy – coal.

    China, besides having huge numbers of coal fired power plants, are making a big push for zero emission nuclear for their continuous uninterruptable power needs.

    China is one of the world’s largest producers of nuclear power. The country ranks third in the world both in total nuclear power capacity installed and electricity generated, accounting for around one tenth of global nuclear power generated.

    China: two new reactors came online in 2019. As of March 2019, China has 46 nuclear reactors in operation with a capacity of 42.8 GW and 11 under construction with a capacity of 10.8 GW. Additional reactors are planned for an additional 36 GW.

    Scorecard:
    • China growing their zero-emission arsenal from 46 to 57 nuclear power plants
    • California decreasing its zero-emission arsenal from 2 to 0 nuclear power plants

    • Although there is no universal definition of engineer, China produces eight engineers for one American engineer. The US produces seven lawyers for one Chinese lawyer.

      As noted above, America has lost the ability to engineer a new nuke. We are fully capable of litigating a new license however.

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