Alex Chadwick, BURN Host

From the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, a take on the ongoing schism among Greens on the nuclear question. The piece looks at the migration of environmentalists – historically anti-atomic energy – to the pro-nuclear side.

The emergence of the pronuclear Greens represents an important schism in modern environmentalism. For decades, groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace have pushed an antinuclear agenda and contended that the only energy path for the future is the widespread deployment of wind turbines and solar panels. But fear of carbon emissions and climate change has catalyzed a major rethinking. As Brand puts it in a new documentary, Pandora’s Promise, which explores the conversion of antinuclear activists to the pronuclear side: “The question is often asked, ‘Can you be an environmentalist and be pronuclear?’ I would turn that around and say, ‘In light of climate change, can you be an environmentalist and not be pronuclear?’ ”

The writer appears to be pro-nuclear, and this piece makes the argument that climate change is so serious that we must go heavier on nuclear because there are no other better options.

 For nuclear energy to gain significant momentum in the global marketplace, then, it has to get much cheaper. In a September essay published in Foreign Policy, Nordhaus and Shellenberger, with coauthor Jessica Levering, provided a road map for revitalizing the nuclear sector. They called for a “new national commitment” to the development and commercialization of next-generation nuclear technologies, including small modular reactors. The goal, they said, should be reactors that can be built at “a significantly lower cost than current designs,” as well as a new, more nimble regulatory framework that can review and approve the new designs.

While that plan is sensible enough, it’s not clear whether groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace can be persuaded to abandon their antinuclear zealotry. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to see that some influential environmentalists are realizing that we have no choice but to embrace the astonishing power of the atom. We do have to get better at nuclear power, and that will take time. But we’re only at the beginning of the Nuclear Age.

It’s not especially persuasive for the US, given the abundance of very cheap natural gas here. But natural gas is much more expensive in Europe and Japan, and nuclear looks much better there.

But should it, especially in the evolving form of small, modular reactors – termed SMRs? I missed this a couple of weeks ago, but Taxpayers for Common Sense – a Washington, DC, based non-profit – gave its Golden Fleece award to the Department of Energy for its support of SMRs. Hundreds of billions of dollars a year in subsidies.

The group said that the subsidies often go to large, very profitable companies that don’t need help with their R&D. Golden Fleece awards were originally handed out by the late Senator William Proxmire of Wisonsin, who used them to ridicule what he considered wasteful government spending. BURN covered one small start-up looking to develop its own SMR, Nuscale Power, on our first radio special.

My observation: the regulatory oversight of nuclear seems appropriate and necessary. But the same standards are not nearly so applied to other energy sources.

Hello, big oil, coal and gas – I’m talking about you.