Tomorrow the United Nations climate conference opens in Paris. According to Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist, “We can talk about a carbon-free world, or we can create one.” Continues Mr. Thiel, “The single most important action we can take is thawing a nuclear energy policy that keeps our technology frozen in time.”
- Wind and solar together provide less than 2% of the world’s energy and they aren’t growing anywhere near fast enough to replace fossil fuels.
- China’s coal consumption is growing at 2.6% per year and India’s at 5%. In India there are 300 million people without access to electricity. The Paris plan wants India to be satisfied with a .6 metric ton of oil equivalent per person, when a minimum of at least four tons per person is needed for the development of an advanced nation.
- Safety fears about nuclear power are overblown. The 1979 accident at Three Mile Island caused no significant amount of radiation to be released. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster was caused by a faulty design and operator incompetence. Fewer than 50 people were killed by released radiation compared with 13,000 killed every year by smoke from coal-fired power plants. The 2011 Fukushima disaster resulted in no deaths from radiation.
- A new generation of American nuclear scientists has produced designs for better reactors which have the potential to overcome the biggest obstacle to the success of nuclear power: high cost.
I hear many people say that the U.S. needs to provide leadership in getting the world to stop using fossil fuels. A carbon tax would provide an economic incentive to either move away from fossil fuels or clean them up. But even a revenue neutral carbon tax would face strong political resistance. Climate change activists should consider supporting nuclear energy development as perhaps the most viable alternative to fossil fuels.