Nuclear power and the growing call for energy independence
Updated: Jul 6
Turn on the news and you might hear a phrase that’s quickly becoming a part of our environmental lexicon: "energy independence."
With war raging in Europe, a country’s ability to meet its own energy needs has become just as dire as our ability to slash carbon emissions in half by 2030.
"The best sanction we could put into place against Putin is to cut off the gas supply," says Ian Horvath, CEO and founder of Serva Energy. "It's going to be hard for Germany to send their support to the Ukrainians come wintertime with Putin in charge of their heating."
With 30% of Germany's natural gas coming from Russia, many see the current geopolitical crisis as just another incentive to get off fossil fuels — but concerns are growing about our ability to do so. Germany, on the brink of a serious economic crisis, has decided to continue its phaseout of nuclear power — a source of 13% of the country’s energy in 2021.
"We’re in a crisis moment, but this is fixable — this is an opportunity to start taking nuclear seriously," said Horvath. "If Germany were to work aggressively on restoring safe, efficient nuclear operations, things might look very different come winter." Meanwhile in California...
Photo of Diablo Canyon power plant by Tracey Adams - https://www.flickr.com/photos/bikracer/2542010478/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=87029660
Over 5,000 miles and one ocean away lies the central California coast and its Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, providing close to 10% of the state's energy — the equivalent of powering the homes of 3 million residents.
The plant, which is due to close in 2025, is now at the center of renewed discussions about nuclear power and whether nuclear plants at risk of expiring are worth saving, especially given rising energy costs, increased demand for electricity and California's steep climate commitments.
"Diablo Canyon has come to signify broader questions about the state’s energy future, and whether it’s ready to leave nuclear power behind," writes Gabrielle Canon of The Guardian.
Half of America's clean energy comes from nuclear power. Despite this fact, nuclear power plants across the country continue to close. The unexpected quest to save Diablo Canyon, once a controversial site of anti-nuclear protest, signals a major shift among Californians who are taking a hard look at how the state will meet its clean energy goals with renewables alone.
“Pretty much everyone is pro-solar and pro-wind — it’s just something you want to believe in,” says Horvath. “But when you look at the data, it’s clear you need both — renewables and nuclear — in order to make the grid more reliable, especially when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.”
In a 2016 TED Talk, climate policy expert Michael Shellenberger explores how our fear of nuclear power might just be one of the greatest threats to our climate — keeping us from our shared goals of energy independence and a clean-energy future.
Horvath couldn't agree more: "Today, right now," he says, "the best clean energy source we have is nuclear."