National leaders around the world are announcing big plans to return to nuclear energy now that the cost of natural gas, coal, and petroleum are spiking, and weather-dependent renewables are failing to deliver.
“The number one objective is to have innovative small-scale nuclear reactors in France by 2030 along with better waste management,” said French President Emmanuel Macron.
Macron had previously promised to reduce nuclear from 75 to 50 percent of its power, noted Financial Times. “But the mood has now changed,” the paper writes today. “Macron said on Tuesday he would begin investing in new nuclear projects ‘very quickly.’”
“Nuclear is coming [back] to the fulcrum of the energy debate in France and much faster than I ever thought it would,” said a partner at Lavoisier Conseil, an energy-focused management consultancy.
Meanwhile, the British government is in talks with Westinghouse over whether to build a new nuclear plant in Wales, one which could provide power for over six million homes, and has pushed China out of having a stake in a different nuclear plant, Sizewell. Last year, former Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Zion Lights, led a successful push to build Sizewell.
What explains the change? Rising energy prices and growing popular and political support for nuclear. Public support for nuclear energy rose 17 percentage points in France. “I do not want our country to lose its energy sovereignty under the pretext of an absurd energy transition copied from Germany,” said a conservative French presidential candidate seeking to defeat Macron.
Finland has joined France, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic in lobbying the European Union to categorize nuclear power as sustainable. According to the Finnish Broadcasting Company, Finland’s pro-nuclear lobbying marks a U-turn within the Green Party, which is part of the current government.
“Traditionally the party has been fiercely anti-nuclear,” notes Pekka Vänttinen of Euractiv, “and has resigned from previous governments over the issue. Its views have become more pragmatic, and the Greens now claim to have a technology-neutral attitude when it comes to fighting climate change.”
The heavy reliance on weather-dependent renewables in the US and Europe made electricity supplies more vulnerable to natural gas shortages. Growing dependence on renewables have meant dependence on natural gas and its inevitable price spikes. Many nations are now returning to the dirtiest forms of electricity production, diesel and coal.
The shift to nuclear is worldwide. Yesterday, Japan’s new prime minister, Fumio Kishida, defended his pro-nuclear policies in Parliament. Kishida came to power on a pro-nuclear platform. He defeated a former vaccine minister who had criticized nuclear energy. “It’s crucial that we re-start nuclear power plants,” Kishida said.
In South Korea, a growing majority of the public supports a return to nuclear energy, creating an opening for pro-nuclear presidential candidates.
“Mounting opposition to the government’s nuclear phase-out policy has prompted presidential contenders from the opposition bloc to promise to restore the use of nuclear energy,” reports The Korea Times, “highlighting the fact that it is the cheapest and cleanest alternative to fossil fuels in Korea, which relies entirely on imports to meet its petroleum needs.”
Opposition leader Choe Jae-hyeong became a presidential contender after he discovered that the current national government had manipulated evidence suggesting nuclear energy was less cost-effective than it really is, in order to close a nuclear plant. “The controversy over the shutdown and the audit eventually led Choe to resign from his post,” noted Korea Times, “and enter politics to vie for the presidency.”
The Diablo You Know
All of these events have come as a shock even to pro-nuclear people. In 2015, pro-nuclear environmentalists Mark Lynas and George Monbiot called on the British government to cancel plans to build nuclear plants, claiming they were too expensive. One year later, I co-hosted a meeting in London of a handful of pro-nuclear activists from across Europe. The overwhelming consensus was that we should focus on lobbying EU politicians in Brussels, not try to build a grassroots movement, least of all in Germany.
Happily, a small group of us ignored the consensus and built a global grassroots pro-nuclear movement, instead. Last month, over 300 people from 12 nations around the world, from South Korea to Italy, held a “Stand Up for Nuclear” protest in Brussels. And one of the largest pro-nuclear cells in Europe is in Germany.
We continue to face an uphill climb. In July, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Spain urged the European Commission to deny nuclear plants EU financing. But the scientific reports to the EU commission all recommend allowing financing, and the grassroots pro-nuclear movement in Europe continues to grow by leaps and bounds.
In Belgium I recorded a Facebook Live video with a charismatic pro-nuclear Member of the European Parliament, Assita Kanko, who rightly fears that Europe will become overly dependent on imported natural gas if Belgium, Germany, and France continue to shut down nuclear plants.
Afterwards, I attended the Stand Up for Nuclear rally in front of the Central Train Station. It was inspiring to see how much our movement has grown. We still have a lot of work to do, but the pro-nuclear movement is making progress, including winning an important victory to keep nuclear plants in Illinois operating.
A few weeks earlier, I accompanied an Australian TV crew from SkyNews as we took a boat ride to view the Diablo Canyon power plant in California, which Governor Gavin Newsom was to close in 2025, and replace with fossil fuels and solar panels, even though he recently issued emergency orders to burn diesel so that 2.5 million people would not suffer from blackouts.
Over 125,000 people watched the video I shot of my visit (above). In the video below I visually debunked the claims that Diablo has been bad for sea life. We were surrounded by spectacular humpback whales.
Newsom’s appointees, who he controls on a tight leash, exempted natural gas plants from the exact same requirements Newsom imposed on Diablo, even though the gas plants actually pollute, while Diablo doesn’t.
Five years ago, when I pointed out in The New York Times that closing Diablo would increase pollution, I was widely denounced, including by many supposedly pro-nuclear people, because I wouldn’t go along with the false claim that we “need” weather-dependent renewables, in addition to nuclear energy.
Now, even some of the groups who advocated Diablo’s closure, like Union of Concerned Scientists, admit that closing Diablo will indeed increase pollution.
Courage is Contagious
Pro-nuclear forces are now mobilizing in Germany, which is set to shut down its last six reactors by the end of next year, and Netherlands, which is considering building new reactors. Former Senior Analyst for Environmental Progress, Mark Nelson, is organizing major pro-nuclear protests in Amsterdam on November 6 and in Berlin on November 13.
Many within the nuclear industry and even the pro-nuclear movement are promoting small nuclear reactors because public opinion polling shows that liberals and progressives are more comfortable with such technologies. The problem is that the technology only exists as an idea, not in the real world. And small reactors are invariably more expensive than large ones because they produce less electricity without significantly lower costs.
There is no technical fix to the stigma that has hung over nuclear energy since its creators, including Robert Oppenheimer, condemned it, out of guilt for having created the bomb, and the political Left in the Western World turned against it. Public opinion must be won back the hard way, through building a pro-nuclear movement, testifying before governments, and publishing cutting-edge analyses, which have been the focus of Environmental Progress for nearly six years.
The victories the pro-nuclear movement is achieving are proof of our original vision. All of the main problems facing nuclear power result from the public’s ignorance, which stems from the decades-long war against it. This is the message I have carried to France, South Korea, Japan, Germany, Britain, and other nations around the world since 2016, when I founded Environmental Progress. And this is the subject of my next book, The War on Nuclear: Why It Hurts Us All (Carus 2022).
The good news is that courage is contagious. Amidst America’s toxic cancel culture, former New York Times columnist turned Substack superstar, Bari Weiss, has been hosting a vital conversation about the need for courage. Nowhere has courage been more necessary than in the fight for nuclear energy. What’s been behind the failure of nuclear energy since the sixties has been the unwillingness of its supporters to stand up for it. Happily, that is rapidly changing.