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Climate adjustment: Any sane Green New Deal should include nuclear power

2019-09-10

At a CNN town hall on climate change last week, the Democratic candidates for president said it over and over again: The United States must lead the world in curbing greenhouse gas emissions by weaning itself off fossil fuels that pump megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

They’re very right that an aggressive transition to cleaner forms of energy is imperative to protect coastal cities like New York from sea-level rise, to prevent extreme weather, to stop the destruction of delicate ecosystems and more.

They’re very wrong to omit nuclear power, one of the most consistent and reliable forms of energy — and an essentially zero-emissions generation method — from their transformation plans.

The Paris climate agreement requires carbon emissions of 2.6% per year, each and every year, between now and 2025. That’s a pipe dream unless we use every tool in the toolbox.

Here in New York, steep targets in a new state law tackling climate change will be all but impossible to achieve, and blackouts will likely become more frequent, if reactors like Indian Point, which now provides a quarter of the metro region’s electricity, simultaneously go offline.

That’s because as we transition away from fossil fuels, the unfathomable amounts of energy New Yorkers now use to heat their homes, drive their cars and the like will all have to come from the electrical grid. Wind, solar and geothermal power are getting better all the time, but they’re nowhere close to being able to pick up the slack.

Nuclear energy is imperfect. Waste storage is a persistent challenge. Accidents have happened, though nothing in America, thankfully, on the order of the fever dreams of the 1970s and 80s. Plants in operation in the United States today are rigorously inspected, and safe.

Fission offers an ever-ready and abundant supply of energy, and a path to a carbon-free future. We turn away from it at our peril.