Politics & Policy

Democrats Ignore Inconvenient Math on Nuclear Power

(Ginasanders/Dreamstime)
The party’s platform ignores the reality that wind and solar aren’t enough.

The Democratic National Convention, in Philadelphia, doesn’t start until July 25, but a look at the party’s draft platform reveals one fact: Democrats remain hopelessly unserious when it comes to greenhouse gases and climate change.

To be sure, the platform contains plenty of phrases that aim to inspire voters, including references to income inequality, “greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior on Wall Street,” and the need to protect civil rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, LGBT rights, and so on.

While the Democrats are right to favor voting and civil rights for everyone, including women, transgendered people, and homosexuals, they are intolerant of any heterodoxy on the issue of nuclear energy and its pivotal role in the effort to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

The draft platform includes 24 mentions of the word “nuclear,” but that word is never followed by “energy” or “power.” Instead, it’s followed by words like “annihilation,” “weapon,” and “warhead.” It’s as though the Democrats have pledged to ignore America’s single largest and most reliable source of low-carbon electricity.

Alas, this isn’t new. In the party’s 2012 platform, the phrase “nuclear energy” appears just one time, and that mention occurs in reference to nuclear proliferation. The 2008 platform mentions “nuclear power” only once, and again, refers to nuclear weaponry. This years-long conflation of nuclear energy with nuclear weapons comes straight out of the green Left’s anti-nuclear playbook.

In the draft platform, the Democrats claim that “America must be running entirely on clean energy by mid-century.” The phrase “clean energy” — which is enviro-speak for wind and solar energy (and only wind and solar) — appears 18 times and is regularly followed by words like “jobs,” “economy,” “superpower,” and “leadership.”

What makes the Democrats’ see-no-nuclear-energy, speak-no-nuclear-energy stance so astounding is that the party’s leaders continually claim that anyone who dares differ from the orthodoxy about catastrophic climate change is a “denier.” Furthermore, high-profile climate activists insist that we should “do the math.”

Okay. Let’s do some math.

In 2015, America’s nuclear plants produced 839 terawatt-hours of electricity. (That’s nearly twice as much energy as was produced last year by France’s reactors.) America’s fleet of nuclear reactors is now producing about four times as much low-carbon electricity as all domestic wind projects (193 terawatt-hours last year), 21 times as much as all U.S. solar (39 terawatt-hours), and three times as much as all U.S. hydropower facilities (253 terawatt-hours).

Big Green groups continually claim that we don’t need nuclear because wind and solar are getting cheaper. That might be so, but how soon could wind and solar replace nuclear? Over the past five years, domestic wind-energy capacity has been growing by about 7 gigawatts per year. Each gigawatt of capacity produces about 2.6 terawatt-hours per year. Therefore, at current rates of growth, it will take about 46 years for wind energy to replace the electricity we are now getting from nuclear.

Solar energy is growing, too. Over the past five years, domestic solar capacity has been growing at a rate of about 5 gigawatts per year. In 2015, each gigawatt of solar capacity produced about 1.5 terawatt-hours of electricity. Thus, at solar’s current rate of growth, it will take more than 100 years for solar to replace the electricity we are now getting from existing nuclear plants.

Simple math shows that nuclear is essential to meeting the goals set by the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

The platform says “climate change poses a real and urgent threat to our economy.” But even if we doubled the rate of growth for wind and solar — and came up with a perfect method of electricity storage (which of course, doesn’t exist) — those renewables aren’t going to replace nuclear energy any time soon. So much for dealing with that “real and urgent threat.”

Simple math shows that nuclear is essential to meeting the goals set by the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by about 730 million tons by 2030 when compared with 2005 levels. America’s fleet of reactors are helping the U.S. avoid about 600 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions by per year. Last year, a centrist think tank, Third Way, published a report that concluded that “widespread retirement of America’s nuclear power plants would make it extremely difficult if not impossible” for the U.S. to meet the emissions reductions targeted by the Clean Power Plan.

If the Democrats don’t want to do the math, they should consider this July 8 statement from the New York Independent System Operator on the importance of keeping the Empire State’s nuclear reactors in operation: “Retaining all existing nuclear generators is critical to the State’s carbon emission reduction requirements as well as maintaining electric system reliability.”

The punch line is obvious: Rather than provide leadership on energy — and policies that could actually yield significant cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions — it’s apparent that the Democratic party prefers shopworn claims about wind and solar to the inconvenient math that proves we need nuclear energy.

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