Nuclear power role in fighting climate emergency is crucial

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The climate emergency has finally forced the acceptance of some obvious truths in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. That is the best way to look at the rapid coalescing in the state and federal governments around the call to keep the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant open past its scheduled 2025 closing.

When the possibility was first raised in recent years, it was often pitched as a stopgap measure to keep the lights on in California while efforts accelerated to increase supplies of renewable energy and make it more reliable. Without the 8 percent of state electricity that Diablo Canyon supplies, the rolling blackouts seen in 2020 — and narrowly avoided this September — threatened to become common.

But as the Biden administration made clear this week when it announced a $1.1 billion grant to help keep the plant on the San Luis Obispo County coast open through 2030, nuclear power is finally being accepted for the crucial role it can play in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that put human civilization and survival at risk. “Nuclear energy will help us meet President Biden’s climate goals,” Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm said Monday. The New York Times reported that Biden as well as California Gov. Gavin Newsom are determined to use nuclear power to help decarbonize the electric grid.

This will no doubt exasperate some environmentalists, who point to the massive disasters at plants in Chernobyl in the then-Soviet Union in 1986 and in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011. They also note the failure of the U.S. government to find a long-term solution to the need to safely store nuclear waste. But ignoring the vast potential of nuclear power to respond to the climate emergency is no longer an option — as should be clear to anyone who believes the emergency is real. Though only one new nuclear reactor has opened in the U.S. since 1996, nuclear plants have continued to be the nation’s largest source of relatively clean power, generating 19 percent of U.S. electricity in 2021. Despite billions of dollars spent to expand solar and wind power in recent years, nuclear power supplies nearly as much as all the other zero-carbon sources of energy in the U.S. combined.

The state and the nation must continue to press for a reduction in emissions — but by any responsible means possible, not just solar panels and wind turbines. If France can safely handle the nuclear waste storage issue, so can the United States. The sooner that the Biden administration begins to address this problem, the sooner it can claim the high ground in pushing for the expansion of nuclear power in the U.S. that the planet so sorely needs.

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