On March 16, 1979, a new film, China Syndrome, premiered in the U.S. to great fanfare. Twelve days later, a generation of Americans would forever know the name of the nuclear plant outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, called Three Mile Island. Normally, the confluence of a movie release and an accident at a nuclear power plant wouldn’t mean much.
Unfortunately for the nuclear power industry, the China Syndrome depicted the fictional safety cover ups at one of its facilities outside of Los Angeles and exponentially heightened the public’s concern about the safety of the industry in light of Three Mile Island. Seven years later, the catastrophic events at Chernobyl in Ukraine virtually eliminated the discussion about the construction of the next generation of American nuclear facilities.
It would take almost 20 years after Chernobyl before the reality of nuclear power as an emission-free baseload option would register with U.S. policymakers with the inclusion of Nuclear loan guarantees in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This inclusion was made at the behest of lawmakers such as the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who realized that to meet carbon reductions, an emission-free baseload source of electricity must be included in the mix. Even with the continued proliferation of renewables in the U.S. and around the world, nuclear power must play an integral role in meeting carbon emission targets to keep electricity affordable and reliable.
In recent years, Energy Fairness has discussed reactionary, but misguided, policy initiatives taken by policymakers that have long-term implications. For example, Germany decided to phase out its nuclear fleet after the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. Because of that decision, Germany has invested more than $580 billion in renewable energy development and has now achieved a 38% penetration of green energy. However, this fateful decision has led to a situation where its electricity prices are now the highest in Europe.
In contrast, France last November pumped the brakes on its plan to push more renewables into its portfolio. With a 71% nuclear penetration, France, the Western World’s nuclear success story, had planned to decrease its reliance on nuclear to 50% by 2025. However, President Macron postponed this effort to at least 2035 realizing the effect it would have on France’s rank as having the lowest electricity rates in Europe – not to mention the equally important effect it could have on reliability. At the announcement of this decision, the French President said “reculer pour mieux sauter” – “to take a step back, to better leap forward.”
Macron’s decision to ease France’s phase-out of its nuclear generation illustrates the understanding other European countries have about the realities of meeting emissions targets with just renewables. According to a recent ranking by the Nordic edition of the Business Insider, two Scandinavian countries – Sweden and Finland – come in at the #2 and #3 positions respectively as not only the most progressive, but the environmentally friendly countries in the world. What else do they share in common? These two progressive giants understand the necessity of nuclear power when it comes to meeting carbon emission reduction targets.
In their recent book, A Bright Future, Swedish Engineer Staffan Qvist and American International Relations professor, Joshua Goldstein, state that Sweden is the country the rest of the world should follow in meeting emission reduction goals. This progressive giant has eight nuclear plants that provide 40% of the country’s electricity needs, while baseload hydropower, biomass and wind provide the rest.
Sweden’s Scandinavian neighbor to the East, Finland, has equally embraced nuclear to meet emission reduction targets. The Fins have also embraced the reality of having a permanent waste repository for spent nuclear fuel by constructing the first site of its kind in the world.
Whether it’s discussing the necessity of Plant Vogtle back home in Georgia or shining a light on the reliability issues faced with the closure of nuclear facilities, Energy Fairness has consistently discussed the importance of nuclear as a crucial baseload resource for affordability and reliability. Given its embrace by Sweden, Finland and France, it’s also clear that nuclear power will keep playing a leading role in combating the shared challenge of climate change.