NY Times on the left's renewed interest in nuclear power

(Joe Johnston/The Tribune (of San Luis Obispo)

We’ve seen this shift developing for a while now. Progressives are gradually realizing that they can’t possibly meet their own climate change goals (eliminating the use of fossil fuels in a decade) without the use of nuclear power. Even California’s Gov. Newsom, who clearly plans to run for president at some point, announced back in April that shuttering his state’s last nuclear plant might be a mistake.

In May, the Washington Post ran a story about the new pro-nuclear movement in the US which included people who were formerly anti-nuke crusaders. Today, the NY Times has jumped on the bandwagon, publishing its own version of the same story.

Driven by the difficulty of meeting clean energy goals and by surging electricity demands, a growing number of political leaders are taking a fresh look at nuclear power — both extending the life of existing reactors and building new ones.

Even past skeptics, largely Democrats, have come around to the idea — notably in California, where the state’s sole remaining nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon, is scheduled to close in 2025…

Among those backing an extension is Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, who had supported closing the plant. To meet clean energy goals while addressing power demands arising from climate change, “Diablo must keep operating, at least for the time being,” she declared in an essay in The Sacramento Bee under a headline that said, “Why I changed my mind.”

study last year by Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that keeping Diablo Canyon open for 10 years could reduce the California power industry’s carbon emissions by more than 10 percent from 2017 levels and reduce reliance on natural gas. It also could save $2.6 billion in electricity costs and help prevent brownouts.

As I’ve suggested before, I think the what’s driving this, at least in California, is sheer panic on the part of Gov. Newsom. In May, California energy officials warned that the state could see blackouts this summer like the ones we had a couple years ago. Newsom survived a recall last year but Californians will not tolerate having the AC go out during a heat wave. That would be a political death sentence and he’s doing his best to get ahead of it. If the power goes out, Newsom wants to be able to say he’s doing all he can to keep the power flowing, including keeping Diablo Canyon operating longer.

As mentioned, the NY Times isn’t the first outlet to write about this trend. In fact it’s trailing other outlets by several weeks. But the Times is more than just a news outlet. It’s also a major trendsetter that helps determine what stories are in (or out) of bounds for the rest of the media. In this case, the value of this article isn’t that its breaking news but that the Times is now giving a green light to other outlets to write positive pieces about the push for nuclear power.

Naturally, there are still nuclear opponents who are against the move toward extending the lifespan of any nuclear plant and they do get some space in the story.

A leading critic of keeping Diablo Canyon open is Arnie Gundersen, the chief engineer at Fairewinds Energy Education, a nonprofit organization focused on the perils of nuclear power. The organization often points to the radioactive leak from the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan after an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, a disaster that cost public support for reactors…

“We’re falling for the same mistakes that we’ve fallen for over the last 50 years,” he said. “I will shut up and retire if you can show a nuclear plant that was built at cost and on schedule.”

The die hard anti-nuke folks haven’t gone away but they do seem to be losing their hold on progressives. A look at some of the comments suggests as much.

Nuclear power cores have worked effectively on Navy ships for more than fifty years. The discussion here is about similar cores that are the size of a large house. And produce ammonia, a feed stock for hydrogen electric power.

Small scale nuclear power sounds like a good contribution to an electric power mix of solar, wind, hydro, hydrogen, and conservation.

And another one:

Nuclear power is by far the most efficient and cheapest type of energy to wean us off of foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gases. The second largest producer of uranium in the world is a very stable and nearby country — Canada.

Last one:

Unless we start building significant new nuclear energy we will fail to mitigate climate change.

Germany has failed to decarbonize after spending nearly 500 billion euros on renewables. They will be burning coal until 2038. They are reliant on coal and russian gas. In fact their reliance empowered russia to invade Ukraine.

The fastest decarbonization efforts in world history involved nuclear energy(France and Sweden).

More people have died from coal this hour than from non-soviet nuclear energy ever.

The bottom line is anti-nuke campaigning has been central to a lot of green messaging for decades but it looks like some are starting to realize it doesn’t fit with their other priorities. Even with a resurgence of nuclear power it’s unlikely we’ll be carbon neutral in a decade but shuttering nuclear plants while trying to end fossil fuels makes zero sense.