Why Nuclear Power Is (Quietly) Making a Big Comeback All Around the World

Belgium is one of several European countries attempting to extend licenses that are scheduled to expire in order to keep nuclear facilities functioning. Meanwhile, France has proposed building up to 14 additional nuclear power facilities in the following years. Why is nuclear power quietly making a big comeback all around the world?

Why Nuclear Power Is Quietly Making a Big Comeback All Around the World

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, California Governor Gavin Newsom is leading a last-ditch push to pass legislation that would provide a lifeline to Diablo Canyon, a 2,250 megawatt nuclear facility that generates about 8% of the state’s energy.

The Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) conceded in 2016 to decommission Diablo when its operational licenses run out in 2024 and 2025 as a result of pressure from politicians and environmentalists. Legislators in California changed their minds, nevertheless, in light of the current state of energy policy.

On the very last day of the legislative session, lawmakers enacted legislation extending the plant’s life by five years.

This is a major shift for Newsom, who has long suggested that the Diablo Canyon facility be decommissioned.

“I just don’t see that this plant is going to survive beyond 2024, 2025. I just don’t see that,” Newsom said while running for governor in 2016. “And there is a compelling argument as to why it shouldn’t.”

Nuclear Is in Again

California is far from alone in reconsidering nuclear power.

Belgium is one of several European countries attempting to extend licenses that are scheduled to expire in order to keep nuclear facilities functioning. Meanwhile, France has proposed building up to 14 additional nuclear power facilities in the following years. Japan, which shut down its nuclear reactors after the Fukushima disaster in 2011, now seeks to restart up to nine reactors. Meanwhile, Morning Brew reports that the United Kingdom, Poland, and the Czech Republic are all laying out plans for new nuclear reactors.

It is easy to understand why nuclear energy is now popular once more. Natural gas costs have soared globally. Natural gas prices in the United States just reached a 14-year high, but that is nothing in comparison to those in Europe, where they recently reached an all-time high and are the same as $600/barrel of oil.

This has caused shockwaves throughout Europe, where companies are reporting price increases that are five times higher year over year.

There is now little doubt that Europe is experiencing a severe energy crisis, in large part due to the countries’ “green” energy policies, which shifted domestic production away from fossil fuel and nuclear power production and placed a greater reliance on natural gas imports from Russia, that have been impeded by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Russian geopolitics.

8% of California’s Electricity Gone?

Although the circumstances in California are different from those in Europe, there is a very good reason the state is reconsidering its choice to shut down its sole big power plant: its weakened energy grid.

Last week, California’s grid operators issued a warning about blackouts and urged residents to “set thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, avoid using large appliances and charging electric vehicles, and turn off unnecessary lights.”


This is not a new phenomenon in California, which has a long history of blackouts despite having one of the lowest per capita energy usage rates in the country (largely due to its mild climate).

The explanation for this is straightforward. California is viewed as a roaring success in green energy, and in certain aspects, it is. Earlier this year, on a sunny May day, California generated enough renewable energy to cover 103 percent of demand, establishing a new record.

The issue is that some of these energy sources are only available intermittently. On most days, renewable energy production falls far short of consumer demand, which is why natural gas—which, as previously said, is becoming increasingly expensive—continues to generate about half of California’s electricity.

The underlying issue, however, is one of energy supply.

California’s energy grid is already overburdened, so abandoning nuclear power abruptly is a prescription for disaster. Diablo Canyon produces more than 8% of all California electricity and accounts for 17% of carbon-free production, as even progressive California lawmakers admit.

If you think California’s blackout situation is awful now—and it most definitely is—try shedding 18,000 GWhr of electricity every year and watch what happens… when the state’s ban on gas-powered automobiles comes into effect, the economy will have added a million more electric vehicles, all of which need to be charged with electricity.

The Lesson

The United States’ anti-nuclear movement was born in the Golden State, as noted by NPR, so the twist over Diablo Canyon is significant. Nuclear power has long been a source of opposition among environmentalists, “primarily from fears about nuclear waste and potential accidents as well as its association with nuclear weapons.”

These worries are not entirely unfounded, as Fukushima demonstrates. There are nuclear accidents (albeit rarely). Radioactive waste is produced by nuclear power plants. Nuclear energy has definite trade-offs.

However, environmentalists commit mistakes when they believe tradeoffs are only present with nuclear energy and fossil fuels. All energy production involves trade-offs, but those who support so-called “green energy” have a bad habit of ignoring these trade-offs.

Your neighbor with the “green means go” sign in his yard might point out that your F-150 uses a gallon of gas every 25 miles of driving, but he probably does not notice that the battery that powers his Tesla was made with tens of thousands of pounds of CO2 emissions. (And do not even mention where the battery’s cobalt comes from to him.)

Your aunt may be happy to brag about the new solar panels she installed on her roof, but she probably is not aware that solar energy actually has a higher carbon footprint than nuclear power, even at utility scale, or that tons of toxic waste are produced by solar panels.

Your niece may discuss the significance of moving toward a “zero emission” economy while she is a student at Columbia. She may not even be aware of the economic and environmental costs of getting there, which include excavating (read below) 34 million metric tons of copper, 50 million tons of zinc, 40 million tons of lead, 5 billion tons of iron, and 160 million tons of aluminum (give or take).

It is obvious that every energy production process involves trade-offs. Many people might think that politicians have a special ability to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of energy tradeoffs, but economics and our own experience show that this is untrue.

Did it make sense for European governments to abandon nuclear power plants, one of the cleanest energy sources available, and significant fossil fuels from Russia, a nation hostile to freedom and historically predisposed toward authoritarianism, in the face of what many environmentalists believe to be a climate apocalypse?

In a similar vein, was it wise for California to abandon nuclear power in its effort to achieve a “100% zero-emission” economy?

These questions have a clear negative response. The fact that politicians lack specialized knowledge when it comes to selecting trade-offs that make the most sense may help to explain why an energy-rich world is suddenly experiencing an unprecedented energy crisis.

Therefore, even though we should be thankful that so many politicians, environmentalists, and nations are now acknowledging the advantages of nuclear power, we also need to consider why we gave them such a wide range of authority in the first place.

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