The White House released on Tuesday the long-awaited Third National Climate Assessment, Climate Change Impacts in the United States (“Assessment”), required by Congress. It contains some stunning findings and does not mince words. In the words of John Holdren, the White House Science Advisor, this is the “loudest alarm bell to date” on the need for climate action change.
The Assessment is the result of a prodigious and significant scientific exercise. It is the product of the 60-person Federal Advisory Committee of distinguished scientists and other experts who oversaw the development of the Assessment, and an intense peer and public review process. The bottom line is that climate change is here now, and time is running out to do something about it.
As can be predicted, the Assessment has received some push-back from the Cato Institute and others. But regardless of whether one can nit-pick the 800-page report, one thing is for certain—we can do something about climate change here in America right now. We can make sure our existing nuclear generation fleet remains intact and healthy.
Nuclear power is the zero-carbon workhorse of our electricity generation fleet. Every time we lose a healthy nuclear plant, we are shooting ourselves in the foot on carbon emissions. Climate scientists are telling us how critical it is to maintain our nuclear power capabilities in the face of the challenges that the National Climate Assessment talks about. This important point should not be lost on those who call themselves environmentalists or “Greens.” We simply will lose the battle to climate change if we surrender on nuclear power.
Germany is an object lesson. For purely political reasons, Germany suddenly announced the closure of its nuclear power plants. The result: carbon emissions from Germany are booming and Germany has gone from an electricity exporter to an electricity importer virtually overnight. The irony: neighboring France has a healthy and safe nuclear power sector and Germany will import power from it.
The release of the Climate Assessment coincided with the Monday roundtable event in Philadelphia of Nuclear Matters. Nuclear Matters is a bipartisan effort co-chaired by former Senators Evan Bayh and Judd Gregg whose mission is to foster discussion and inform the public about the clear benefits that nuclear energy provides to America; raise awareness of the economic challenges to nuclear energy that threaten those benefits; and to work with stakeholders to explore possible policy solutions that properly value nuclear energy as a reliable, affordable, and carbon-free electricity resource that is essential to America’s energy future.
I contributed an op-ed article to The Philadelphia Inquirer that points out those benefits, with a particular focus on how they impact the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Click here to read my op-ed.
A prime issue for nuclear power is the “free rider” problem. Nuclear power provides the clear, simultaneously delivered benefits of: (1) extraordinary high reliability both with respect to the plants themselves and to the grid; (2) zero-carbon emissions power; and (3) being an economic engine of direct and indirect employment. However, distortions in the marketplace fail to place any market value on those critical, irreplaceable, and unique features of nuclear power. I have discussed these points in more detail in my op-ed, and in an article I wrote for Forbes.com, which can be accessed here.
So if the National Climate Assessment offers sobering prospects, the potential of the U.S. and world nuclear power fleet provide off-the-shelf promise and good news, and even an antidote. Our challenge is to make sure that we make the right policy decisions so we don’t poison the antidote.