In a recent New York Times column titled On Climate Change, Even States in Forefront Are Falling Short, Eduarto Porter begins by lauding California’s claimed position as a leader in environmental consciousness. He points to recent political statements by the state’s elected officials indicating they plan to stubbornly resist any Trump Administration efforts to interfere with their actions to create more challenging goals for emissions reductions.
Porter then pointedly describes the disconnect between claims made by politicians and reality.
And yet for all the pluck of the Golden State’s politicians, California is far from providing the leadership needed in the battle against climate change. Distracted by the competing objective of shuttering nuclear plants that still produce over a fifth of its zero-carbon power, the state risks failing the main environmental challenge of our time.
California’s effort to close its remaining nuclear plant at Diablo Canyon is merely the last remaining act of a lengthy process to increase the state’s natural gas market sales. The effort has allowed for some fuel conservation assistance from wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and energy efficiency, but mainly it has been focused on pushing uranium out as an energy supply option.
By preventing or destroying the infrastructure needed to convert zero emission, cheap uranium fuel into electricity, people fighting nuclear power plants have ensured that the electric power grid is a reliable and growing customer for natural gas producers as well as a large market for solar installers and wind turbine manufacturers.
The visible and vocal front of the antinuclear movement has consisted mainly of politicians and groups that wrap themselves in Green clothing, but dedicated research efforts have exposed numerous conflicts of interest. Most of the largest Green groups and their political partners have received either financial support or have direct financial interests in competing sources of energy, including wind and solar but most importantly natural gas.
Porter points to important work that calculates what California’s emissions would be if the well-funded and effectively organized effort to force nuclear out of the market had not succeeded.
Consider this bit of counterfactual history. Environmental Progress, an advocacy group that aggressively supports the deployment of nuclear energy to combat climate change, estimated what California’s power sector would look like had the opposition from antinuclear forces — including Governor Brown — not undone the state’s deployment of nuclear energy, starting in the 1970s.
As Porter notes, experience has shown that the predictions of catastrophe that motivated many people to oppose nuclear have turned out to be false. Even with an occasional, highly publicized, accident, nuclear fission has turned out to be the safest form of large scale power generation.
As James Hansen and Pushker A. Kharecha documented in a peer-reviewed article titled Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power nuclear energy has saved millions of lives already.
It’s time that Californians became true leaders in the effort to preserve and improve our shared environment. Citizens should demand that their decision makers engage with the public in thoughtful discussions about energy supply options.
Those discussions should include an understanding of the documented safety of nuclear energy, the obvious benefits in terms of reducing air pollution and CO2 emissions and the conflicts of interest that have been at least part of the motivation for fighting against both new nuclear energy projects and continued operation of already complete and reliable facilities.