The US needs this badly, but only 2 more reactors are expected to come online any time soon (2022) because of this stall in funding. Instead, more nuclear power is set to retire than total solar capacity in the US and double that is at risk of closing [46][29]. Those who seek lower carbon emissions but are also seeking to close nuclear plants which supply over half of the United States’ carbon free electricity are operating with a huge conflict of interest [46]. The recent closing of Nebraska’s Fort Calhoun reactor was fought by Nebraska Public Power District CEO Pat Pope who said “having nuclear power plants in the United States close is a terrible policy failure” [47].

Through studies by the OECD, NEA, and NASA [30], they found over a 30-year period that Nuclear energy has contributed to the least amount of both immediate deaths and latent deaths of any major energy source by a large margin. When you include the long-term effects of climate change, into the equation, Nuclear energy is a safer option by orders of magnitude.

The Chernobyl Accident is one of the most well-known energy accidents of the 20th century and has left an indelible cultural and social mark on the western world. The intense media scrutiny and subsequent representations, most recently in the HBO series consistently remind people of the accident. 


This isn’t just a German problem, the massive roll outs of renewables in California have led California’s electricity price to have risen 7 times faster than the rest of the US from 2011-2018 [18].

What’s more, the higher price customers are paying for their energy in Germany hasn’t led to superior clean energy generation. Due to the need for the natural gas peaker plants to supplement the wind power, in 2016 German electricity was actually 10 times dirtier than French energy which is primarily generating from Nuclear power [19] (See Figure 4 [55]).

Both California and Germany would have been able to fully decarbonize their electric sector by now if they were to have invested in nuclear rather than renewables [55]. Instead they both hover around only half of that (CA > 50% and GER 43 % [56]).  Sweden and France are the premier examples of countries that have high levels of clean energy and they haven’t had to sacrifice on affordability.

Both France and Sweden generate around 90% and 95% of their electricity from clean sources and both rely heavily on nuclear [17][20] - France at 72% and Sweden at 42% [20]. Hydro also generates 10% of total power in France and 41% in Sweden [17][20]. This clean energy infrastructure has not broken the bank for citizens either, both countries still have a modest electricity price of .20 per KWh in Sweden and almost half the German rate in France, just .17 Euros per Kilowatt/hour [16]. Recently, Sweden has been advancing an ambitious wind program that is putting their carbon neutrality goals in jeopardy and the hosting of the Olympic games due to a lack of electrical capacity [21].

Nationally syndicated journalist and Time “Hero of the Environment”, Michael Shellenberger has been detailing the glaring issues with renewables for years. In a September articles he quantifies the gross deficit Germany is running with its renewables program: “In Germany, the world leader in renewables, just 35 wind turbines were installed this year. The country needs to install 1400 per year [22] to meet its climate change targets” [23].

For the same cost as their failing renewables project Germany could have “completely de-carbonized its electricity sector had it spent $32 billion on new nuclear plants rather than on renewables like solar and wind” according to Shellenberger’s research [7].


1) The Grid Problem

Our energy infrastructure is aging and not very effective for today’s standards. The current grid is designed for few generating locations that produce reliable and consistent power not hundreds of thousands of individual windmills or panels that need to be incorporated. The default strategy with renewables has been to just plug them straight onto our outdated grid. This is extremely pricey and difficult because of the need for transmission lines and inevitable energy losses. California and Germany have both had too much power from their solar and wind farms on the sunniest and windiest days, necessitating a shut-down of transmission lines and imposing a huge opportunity cost [6].

Almost a quarter of the total German electricity price went towards paying for “regulated grid fees” because the renewables were putting such a strain on their infrastructure [7]. A new “smart” grid that is able to track demand for electricity and effectively allocate power from regionally diverse generating stations would be ideal and technically possible it would require a lot of demand restrictions on consumers [76]. In our energy hungry nation with massive increases in demand forecasted, this achilles heel of renewables, intermittency always seems to get in the way. [8]. 

2) Intermittency

The sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow. This unfortunate fact of nature has caused serious headaches for engineers all around the country. Due to the inherent intermittency, renewables have traditionally required some form of supplementary power. This inconsistency is known as a “low capacity factor” which is the amount of energy a system actually produces over a year versus the theoretical limit it could produce. The capacity factor for wind (34%) and solar (25%) means if you want to have the same output as a nominally rated 1000 MW Nuclear plant (capacity factor of 92.5%) you would have to build roughly 2900-3500 MW of nominally rated solar and wind [25].

 The Levelized Cost of Energy which takes into account the variance in economic life, tax credits, capacity factors, and region is a good way to find out the real world, long term price per MWh of energy sources. In Fig. 2 [48], prepared by the Energy Information Authority, Nuclear outperforms wind and solar even with the renewable tax subsidies.

​​We are in the midst of an environmental and climate change crisis. As our earth steadily warms, we need to recognize the catalyst for this: carbon emitting energy sources. The common solution proposed is electrification of everything from transportation to heating. This is only a solution to our emissions problem if our electricity is clean and cheap. The department of energy is projecting US electricity demand to increase between 20 and 38 percent over the next 30 years due to this electrification transformation [71] Without an abundance of cheap electricity, the incentive for people to put up the capital for an electric car will be far less when they know that power is going to be expensive. The carbon tax, a potent weapon in curbing emissions, can only work effectively when the alternative (clean energy) is relatively cheaper. Marginal price differences can be the difference between a large corporation making the decision to use cleaner forms of energy or continue burning fossil fuels.

 Electricity can be generated through many different forms (geothermal, solar, wind, natural gas, coal, nuclear etc.) but in the US this usually comes in 2 contexts: Traditional Utility-scale power from power plants (nuclear reactors, huge solar farms, wind farms) and the more recent phenomenon of utilizing the scalability of renewables like solar and wind to generate non-utility scale power at home (solar panels on the roof, a small wind turbine). The extreme difference in these areas is often overlooked by people pursuing sustainable energy policy. Utility scale electricity should be at relatively cheap for consumers as they usually have very little agency to decide how and where they get their power. In electricity there is an inherent monopoly and to allow prices to run rampant is regressive, and unconducive to sustainability goals that require electrification.

Tackling both the utility and non-utility introduction will be necessary in order to actualize the 45% reduction in carbon emissions the IPCC report calls for by 2030 [70]. 

​Many national politicians today such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have plans that call for reaching 100 percent renewable energy for electricity by no later than 2030. Both have also called for the shutdown of all nuclear reactors by that same time period [1][2]. Figure 1 shows the US electricity mix for 2018 where renewables make up only 17% of our total generation [3]. From 2007-2017 the US invested > 2.5 trillion dollars into renewables resulting only meager US energy share of 7.6%. In the same time frame, only 172 billion dollars was invested in nuclear energy according to the Energy Information Administration [4]. 

“Moreover, the expected output from low-carbon power investments fell 10% in 2017 and did not keep pace with demand growth.”- EIA [4]
To propose that we are going to increase our output of wind and solar from about 7.6% to over 80% in 10 years (hydro has limited future growth potential [5]), is simply deception.
The problems faced by Germany, California and Norway in scaling up renewables in relation to the success of Sweden and France in their nuclear programs should serve as a cautionary tale of how difficult it is to rely solely on intermittent sources of energy. 




3) Environmentally Friendly?

In order to generate the same power as a 1000 MW nuclear plant, a solar and wind facilities must use 360 to 75 times as much land respectively [24], cutting through natural animal habitats and killing thousands of large predatory birds [52]. There have been innovative solutions proposed to deter birds from coming close to turbines, but “none have proven to work” according to Garry George, renewable energy coordinator at Audubon California [53]. Solar panels and batteries are quite carbon intensive, requiring many critical metals to make and require far more materials throughput than Wind and Nuclear (See Figures 5 [26] and 6 [54]).


Apart from the lifecycle carbon emissions, solar panels have their own toxic waste problem too. Often times at the end of their life cycle, solar panels are simply discarded into landfills with no proper disposal or recycling method. This leaves the toxic lead and cadmium within subject to the elements and a high risk of the panel breaking polluting drinking water and the soil. A 2017 study found that Solar panels create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than do nuclear power plants [27]. In the nuclear realm, the waste produced at nuclear power plants is contained and properly sequestered for long term storage. No other energy source traps all of the harmful waste and isolates it away from having a negative effect on the population.

Wind and solar power can have a dramatic impact in reducing carbon emissions for those who can undertake personal installation and safe disposal, but on the large scale utility side of things, having a 100% renewable powered grid without nuclear is just not feasible in the time period we have. For all the renewable power we’d built up to 2015, it only made up less than half of the clean energy that we had gotten rid of from decommissioning nuclear plants. The other half was consequently filled with fossil fuels. [63]

Misconceptions of Nuclear

Unfortunately, the public’s perception of nuclear power is often dictated by a lack of understanding, usually shaped by the media coverage of the prominent nuclear disasters. The media spotlight on these three isolated incidents generates the nightmare fuel of nuclear meltdowns, radioactivity, and nuclear waste which have casted a pseudoscientific skepticism around nuclear fission energy.

The prospects of nuclear energy can be scary, but the reactors of today are far safer than those in the 1970s during the Chernobyl melt-down [28]. Just after the world was reinvesting in nuclear post-Chernobyl, another massive stall in funding came with the Fukushima accident. This has left us today with a fleet of aging nuclear reactors decades old. It is convenient to say that nuclear isn’t worth it anymore because we need an overhaul of the sector but in dealing with climate change there is no easy fix as the problems presented about renewables show. Nuclear just happens to be the most efficient way of reaching our emissions goals. Renowned NASA Climate Scientist James Hansen compiled instances of big energy transformations (Figure 7 [62]) and the amount of carbon free electricity they produced and while rather anecdotal, Nuclear plants have a history of creating massive country-wide change in their deployment. 

To circumvent the low capacity factors of renewables many renewable dense countries utilize a natural gas “peaker” plant nearby whose output can be ramped up or down quite easily to supplement the varying the renewables’ production. These fossil fuel plants will inevitably have to be operating 60% of the time or more due to the low capacity factor of the renewables. This is often why you see fossil fuel companies pushing solar and wind over other forms of clean energy because they know that their existence creates a future niche market for their product [9].

If we were to rely on solar and wind without using the natural gas peakers, we would need to be able to store the energy when production runs a surplus and be able to transmit it to consumers during energy deficits. This would require absolutely ridiculous storage capabilities that are just not technically feasible right now.

Calculations by Forbes’ Mark Nelson and Madison Czerwinski put the storage problem in context.  “Tesla’s much-hyped 100 MW lithium battery storage center in Australia can only provide enough backup power for 7500 homes for four hours. [10]  It would take 696 storage centers the size of Tesla’s in Australia to provide just four hours of backup power for the Australian grid — and cost $50 billion [11]”

There are options to try and normalize wind and solar energy production by drawing from geographically diverse locations but the transaction costs of this would be enormous and require even more land to be used as production centers.

The problem with wind and solar isn’t technical advancement, its physics. The Shockley-Quiesser limit is the theoretical limit of efficiency for Solar panels in converting photons to electrons. This limit is 33.7% efficiency [12] and our current solar panels run over 26%. A similar limit for wind power, the Betz limit, is 60% efficiency of capturing the kinetic energy in air and our current turbine work at over 40% [13][14]. No number of subsidies can change the physics.  

These problems with intermittency are manifested in renewable intensive countries through price hikes and disappointing marginal emissions abatement.

2) Electricity Prices & Emissions increase

Denmark and Germany have some of the highest percentages of electricity generated by renewables in the world, > 50% and 43% respectively [15][57]. They also have the two highest electricity costs in the European Union (See Fig. 3 [57]) because of renewable energy subsidies for renewable electricity costing German households .31 Euros per Kilowatt/hour and Danish households .30 Euros per Kilowatt/hour on average [16].

In a 2006 World Health Organizational [31] review of the accident where hundreds of scientific experts came together to analyze the human damage caused by Chernobyl. Due to factors that cannot be controlled for such as tobacco and alcohol use, and other carcinogenic exposure among the survivors, there is no way to determine an exact number of cancer deaths caused by their exposure. There have been so many different numbers thrown out and all have been contested. Even the WHO figure of 4000 has been criticized as too high based on the disproven Linear No-Threshold prediction model and updated information on low-dose exposure dangers [36]. It bears noting that through “reviews by the WHO Expert Group revealed no evidence of increased cancer risks, apart from thyroid cancer, that can clearly be attributed to radiation from Chernobyl.” This was primarily due to radioactive iodine deposited on cow pastures that contaminated the milk drank by residents. Thyroid cancer actually happens to be the most treatable type of cancer with a 99% survival rate [32]. The only thing that can be determined with any level of scientific certainty is the amount of radiation that people were exposed to. We are all exposed to ionizing radiation just by living on the earth known as Background radiation from a variety of sources. It was determined that only “those liquidators who worked around the stricken reactor in the first two years after the accident (240,000), the evacuees (116,000), some of whom received doses well in excess of 100 mSv, and the residents of the highly contaminated SCZs (270,000), received doses significantly above typical natural background levels”. A whole-body CT scan doles out similar radiation levels as the residents of the surrounding area were exposed to (see figure 8)[31].

While Chernobyl represents a horrific negligence, we tend to think of it as more destructive than it actually was and fail to put it in context.  The worst human caused disaster in history, the collapse of the Banqiao Dam in China in 1970 killed 170,000 – 230,000 people [33].  More people have died installing solar panels than from nuclear accidents [34].  7 million people die every year from carbon air pollution [35].

The science bears that Nuclear is the safest option, however because of the sensationalized media and the natural skepticism of things of very complex things, nuclear lacks the appropriate rapport.

The good news is that an accident with the same characteristics as Chernobyl could never happen again. The reactors in the USSR at that time were not required to have a containment building around the reactor, allowing the radiation to spew out. Because the Fukushima plant had a containment building only one person was killed because of the meltdown, where hundreds more died as a result of the hysterical mandated evacuation. Dr. Phillip Thomas a professor of risk management at University of Bristol described this evacuation as a “mistake” and that “we should have recommended that nobody was evacuated” [37].

All reactors today must have a containment structure per International Atomic Energy Agency standards [38]. In the US, a Probabilistic Risk Assessment must be done on nuclear reactors, so they meet a specific standard. There is sufficient debate among experts as to the reliability of these risk assessments by the NRC but the most at risk plant, Three Mile Island, has a probability of a meltdown type event once every 2,227 years while Quad Cities in Illinois’ probability of a similar accident is once every 833,000 years [39].

Regardless of the probability of another nuclear accident the success nuclear has already had speaks for itself. NASA’s Goddard Institute calculated that from 1971 to 2009 1.84 million deaths were prevented by world nuclear power production [40]. The same paper stated that “on the basis of global projection data that take into account the effects of the Fukushima accident, we find that nuclear power could additionally prevent an average of 420,000-7.04 million deaths and 80-240 GtCO2-eq emissions due to fossil fuels by midcentury, depending on which fuel it replaces”.

These numbers will probably not convince someone who is scared of nuclear radiation of the safety or merits of nuclear power, but for policy setters who must objectively look at the broader scientific and economic picture, nuclear power is dependable, relatively safe, and the best shot we have at fulfilling our energy demand with cheap, clean energy.

There is no doubt that our nuclear energy complex could use an upgrade and that the reactors in use today aren’t perfect, but unfortunately our federal government has been pumping billions of dollars into renewable energy subsidies through the Production Tax Credit, which just expired last year, siphoning money away from research and development into promising nuclear technologies [41]. There has been a promised federal nuclear waste containment facility since the 1990s and regardless of whether or not Yucca Mountain is chosen as the final site, congress must do its job to facilitate nuclear waste disposal [51].

Nuclear Proliferation

Because we are such an interconnected world with satellites and the IAEA watchdogs everywhere it actually very hard to be granted access to the nuclear energy market. India was excluded from the international market for 34 years and was only granted access in 2009 [58]. The ability to go nuclear is often referred to as nuclear latency, the ability to make weapons grade uranium or plutonium if wanted. Texas A&M Political Scientists Matthew Fuhrmann and Benjamin Tkach recently concluded there is negative correlation between nuclear latency and military conflict [59]. “Nuclear latency appears to provide states with deterrence-related benefits that are distinct from actively pursuing nuclear bombs” they found. The ability, not the intention or the action, to produce a nuclear bomb through civil nuclear program actually acts to deter conflict with other countries. While it would still be an international concern if countries were to use their nuclear power programs to acquire a nuclear arsenal, for the first time since 1400s, the preeminent strategy since WW2 of nuclear deterrence has ushered in an unprecedented level of peace as deaths have declined [60]. If more nuclear reactors make the world less safe, the numbers have not shown that. As previously stated, nuclear power has saved 1.84 million lives by abating Fossil Fuel emissions [40]. Fossil Fuels are the real enemy, killing more people every year than wars, murders, and traffic accidents combined [60] while nuclear reactors are the only way to expend current weapons grade uranium and plutonium safely [61] If we want a nuclear weapons free world, we will need more nuclear reactors.

The Fission (or Fusion) Future

Molten Salt Reactors (MSR), is a next generation reactor design that operates at high temperatures and has a safety valve that allows for safe drainage, even without an operator. These safety measures make the possibility of a melt-down impossible because the fuel is already at molten levels [42].  MSRs can also run on a thorium fuel cycle, an element 3 times as abundant as uranium and generates less radioactive waste [43]. MSRs can also use our current stockpiled nuclear waste as fuel, utilizing their fissile nature for energy production [50]. Just on the world’s known uranium reserves we can run nuclear power for another 94.5 years with our current output [49]. Additionally, there are significant stockpiles of uranium in addition to our nuclear waste which can be recycled to extend our use of uranium [49]. Another nuclear innovation is the Traveling Wave Reactor (funded and championed by Bill Gates) which can run without being refueled for over a decade and also do not have the same risks as current nuclear plants [44].

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Nuclear fusion energy and the absolutely civilization changing potential it holds. Scientists seem to be eternally stuck “10 years away” from really figuring out fusion, the more powerful sibling of our current nuclear fission technology. When China is investing in it, you can probably bet there is going to be some sort of breakthrough in the near future [69].

 If we don’t keep up with China and Russia, who are set to build 75% of all new nuclear by 2025, we will be stuck trying to achieve a pipe dream of 100% renewable power at the detriment of the American public [45]. We must take advantage of the great intrigue from developing nations in nuclear power and succeed in filling their demand with American companies rather than Chinese or Russian.

Non-Utility power

While nuclear reactors will most likely become smaller in the future, you probably aren’t going to be able to install a personal one in your backyard any time soon. However, solar and wind power are increasingly economical and can be an important tool in reducing emission if households with the capability to install them choose to do so [74].

The EIA estimates that 40% of total solar capacity in the US is nonutility and in renewables heavy Germany that number is still 50% [72][73].  It will almost certainly never be as efficient to install a small solar system on your roof as it would be for a solar company to create a solar farm in a highly insolated area of desert. But the challenges of having that solar farm be the supplier of energy for the whole consumer base has been the basis of this policy. 50% of German solar is privately owned small scale, so they have clearly figured it out right? 

Yes and no. The German model of “feed-in tariffs” requires all German consumers to pay a set tax on their power consumption. This tax then goes to subsidize those who chose to install solar panels on their roof (see figure 9 [74]). The German government promises to pay an above-market price for the energy that these individuals produce if they choose to sell it, or they just find more energy independence [64][65].

This model has been pretty effective in getting more and more homeowners to opt for solar power. Unfortunately, many businesses are exempt, and the price hikes are disproportionately allocated to those who haven’t invested in renewables. Those people who can’t invest in renewables? Typically, lower income people who rent their home or live in apartment complexes.

On NPR’s Planet Money podcast reporters talk to Sunday and Dolores, a couple living in a Dusseldorf apartment forced to pay “like a fifth of their household income, more than a quarter of their rent” [65] for electricity. The government has a special task force to help these individuals who have been hurt by the feed-in tariff system, but it doesn’t involve reducing their costs, only their consumption. Sunday and Dolores have employed what many Americans would consider austere habits to reduce their electricity bill such as short showers, less TV, turning off power strips and are hyper aware of their electricity use.

Being energy conscious is no doubt a good thing, but we need to catalyze electrification and there is no better way to piss off Americans who are already dragging their feet than to force them to pay for their neighbors’ solar panels.

The feed-in tariff has actually already been partially implemented in California where the home-owner possibilities for solar power are abundant, but the technicalities were deemed unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court [66]. It is still to be determined how the feed-in tariff in California and other states will operate going forward but a national deployment of this feed in tariff would ultimately cause the northeast to bear much of the cost for the west’s renewables.

Our current hodge-podge of federal and state energy incentives are led by the Federal Production Tax Credit which pays producers a fixed rate for any energy they produce and Investment Tax Credit which offers tax credit of 26% in 2020 of the investment in solar technology for both residential and commercial purposes [67][68]. The ITC will consistently phase down over the next few years to 0% for residential projects in 2022 [68]. We need to make it easier for Americans to invest in clean energy and our future, not harder.

So, What’s The Plan?

Energy policy is complicated, interwoven and hard to predict how technical innovations might change the economic viability of certain technologies. After speaking to Chris Janicek about my passion for energy and a carbon free grid I know that regardless of the vested interests Chris will ultimately follow the science to ensure that we reach grid carbon neutrality as soon as possible. Doing this means that

we cannot be prematurely closing down a major source of clean base-load power in Nuclear energy
We must extend the ITC to include residential solar and residential wind for anyone within eligible wind speeds zones and bump up the rate to 25%
We must extend the PTC to include nuclear power but retroactively reduce the PTC when renewables use a peaker plant or force transmission line shutdowns (like Germany’s grid charge).
Finance new advanced nuclear technology and subsidize loans for Nuclear projects














































































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