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It Took A Global Energy Crisis For US, European Leaders To Embrace Nuclear Power

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Max Keating Contributor
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  • The European Parliament voted to label nuclear energy as “green” on Wednesday.
  • U.S. federal and state governments have introduced measures to keep aging nuclear plants operational.
  • Both developments come against a backdrop of increasing acceptance of nuclear energy as the global energy crisis pushes decision makers to consider new policies. 

U.S. and European leaders have turned to nuclear power to meet energy demands thanks to the ongoing global energy crisis and a desire to end reliance on Russian oil and gas.

The European Union relabeled nuclear energy and natural gas projects as “green” on Wednesday, allowing investors access to cheap loans for their development, The New York Times reported. The resolution comes on the heels of President Joe Biden announcing a $6 billion fund to keep aging nuclear power plants operational in late April as well as California reversing a decision to close the state’s last nuclear plant shortly thereafter.

“U.S. nuclear reactors are the largest and most reliable source of clean, baseload electricity on our power grid today, generating 19 percent of our electricity, and half of our carbon-free power,” a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Energy told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “They play a critical role in helping us reach our ambitious goals of 50% reduction in our carbon emissions by the end of the decade, and 100% clean electricity by 2035 and a net-zero economy by 2050.”

The European Parliament’s redesignation of nuclear energy and natural gas was on the table before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but gained urgency after Russia cut off fuel to the continent.

“International interest is rapidly growing as more countries see our technology as the solution to climate change,” a spokesperson for NuScale Power, a Portland-based nuclear small modular reactor (SMR) company, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Germany, however, has opposed nuclear energy, calling it “dangerous and wasteful,” and has been phasing out its remaining nuclear plants amidst a massive energy crisis.  The German embassy told the DCNF that “the German government stands by its position and regards nuclear energy as unsustainable.”

In the United States, the nuclear sector has been on the decline for years, with just 92 nuclear reactors remaining operational across 28 states, down from 104 a decade ago, the NYT reported. Just one new nuclear facility has been introduced since 1996, with the Watts Bar Unit 2 facility in Spring City, Tennessee going operational in 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

But in light of the international energy crunch following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. nuclear industry seems to be witnessing a resurgence, the NYT reported.

At the federal level the Biden administration seems committed to increased investment in the zero-carbon technology.

“President Biden is committed to keeping these plants active to reach our clean energy goals,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in an April statement. Still, however, no new nuclear plants have been approved by the administration.

In various states, too, politicians are reversing and rethinking their previous opposition to nuclear energy. California Democrats have changed their tune on the Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP), which was set to be decommissioned in 2025, but now may remain open after calls from prominent politicians in the state, the NYT reported.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has said he is in favor of extending the plant’s operations beyond its scheduled retirement, and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California recently penned an op-ed explaining why she changed her mind and now believes that DCPP should remain open.

These reversals have paved the way for the state’s utility provider, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, to apply for federal funding to keep the plant operational.

“The people of PG&E are proud of the role that Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP) plays in our state. We’re willing to consider all options, consistent with state policy, to ensure continued safe, reliable and clean energy delivery to all Californians. Given the recent amendment to the Department of Energy’s Civil Nuclear Credit (CNC) program guidance, as well as the Governor’s request that we take steps to preserve DCPP as an option to support grid reliability, PG&E expects to apply for CNC funding as it as it would reduce costs for our customers should there be a change in state policy extending operations at the plant,” a spokesperson for the utility told TheDCNF.

Nuclear plants account for 19% of all energy created in the U.S., making the industry the largest domestically that does not produce carbon emissions. Still “a doubling of nuclear generation in this country,” is well within the realm of possibility, nuclear engineer Steven Nesbit told the NYT.

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