The new democratic majority in the House of Representatives is pressing for action on a “Green New Deal” (GND) that would significantly cut carbon emissions and support clean technologies. At least in its initial iteration, its centerpiece is reaching 100 percent carbon-free electric generation in 12 years – but only using wind, solar and other renewable sources.
This GND idea is a significant opportunity to tackle multiple aspects of the climate challenge, but it can’t be effective and attract the scale of political and public support that it needs if it is unrealistic.
Nuclear power doesn’t make the GND list, even though it provides 56 percent of the emission-free electricity in the U.S., roughly triple the amount generated by hydropower and wind, and almost 19 times the amount produced by solar power.
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who first suggested a GND a decade ago, this week offered his vision for a zero-carbon electric grid powered by solar panels, windmills and batteries.
But, as the world moves toward a clean energy future, no one technology will be adequate to respond to the growing electricity demand in developing nations and the global need to decarbonize the transportation, manufacturing and agriculture sectors, which together account for almost 60 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. California is starting to come to this realization. A report this week noted that the state’s ambitious zero-carbon goal will be difficult to reach, and it raised questions about the costs and risks of an all-renewables approach.
The top global emitter of carbon, and the world’s leading manufacturer of solar panels, China, is not making the bet that renewables alone can cut greenhouse gases. Instead, they are deploying significant new nuclear power at home and scaling their nuclear industry and fusing it with their geopolitical strategy to become the dominant source of global reactor supply in this century. The U.S. is facing significant geopolitical competition from China on multiple fronts including this one. A prudent GND would recognize that the U.S. has to remain a robust domestic nuclear energy producer and exporter if it is to repel a race to the bottom on global nuclear non-proliferation, safety and security standards.
Our view, as set out in our recent Four Pillars policy paper, is that any response to the climate change challenge must be comprehensive and include all clean energy and carbon remediation technologies –including non-carbon-emitting, safe and secure nuclear power. A single path approach will not adequately address the problem.
The United States has been a leader in responding to every significant global challenge for decades. It can and must rise to meet the serious challenges posed by climate change. A key element of that response must be a recognition that current and future nuclear energy sources and technologies have a vital role to play in supporting decarbonization. Nuclear power also has additional significant and important roles in strengthening U.S. geopolitical competitiveness, sustaining America’s leadership on technological innovation, and improving global security and governance. These are significant and vital functions at the core of American strength and values. They should be reflected at the core of any GND.
Kenneth Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security