Aug 31, 2022 - Podcasts

Nuclear power is having a moment

Climate concerns and the global energy crisis are pressuring countries to seriously consider nuclear power for the first time since the 1970s. California, Germany and Japan are considering walking back closures, and even reopening nuclear plants.

  • Plus, climate change is affecting monsoons and hurricanes.
  • And, why Americans are holiday shopping earlier this year.

Guests: Axios' Matt Phillips, Kelly Tyko, and Andrew Freedman.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Robin Linn, Alex Sugiura, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

We’ve made it to Wednesday and it’s the last day of August.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: climate change is affecting monsoons and hurricanes. Plus, why Americans are holiday shopping way early this year.

But first, nuclear power is having a moment, that’s today’s One Big Thing.

Climate concerns in the global energy crisis are pressuring countries to develop better power sources, leading many to seriously consider nuclear power for the first time since the 1970s. California, Germany and Japan are all considering walking back closures and even reopening some nuclear plants. Is nuclear power making an unexpected comeback? Here with some answers is Axios markets correspondent, Matt Phillips. Hi Matt.


NIALA: Matt, nuclear power has sort of a bad rap. Why is that?

MATT: Well, going back to the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in ‘79 or the Chernobyl situation in 1986, I mean, there have been this history of really scary accidents. But we're in this weird moment now where we're being forced to reconsider nuclear power, largely because of a war, some of which it's taking place actually in and around really important sensitive of nuclear power plants, Like the Zaporizhzhia plant in Ukraine, which is Europe's largest nuclear production site.

NIALA: And so how is the global energy crisis because of the war in Ukraine affecting all of these discussions about nuclear power.

MATT: Russia is a massive supplier of energy, commodities. Foremost among them is natural gas where it's the world's biggest exporter, and Europe is exceedingly reliant on Russian natural gas, especially Germany. And natural gas has exploded higher in Europe. It's more than 10 times higher than where it was last year. You know, that's a thousand percent increase and the energy markets there have essentially stopped working. And so it's a crisis and everything's on the table and that includes nuclear.

NIALA: What has been the political pressure from different governments as they consider exploring nuclear power or keeping things open that they plan to close.

MATT: It's very delicate, for instance, in Germany, the ruling party is in coalition with the green party, which has been dedicated to closing nuclear power plants for most of its existence. But the political realities are such that they will not be able to stay in power, if they can't literally keep the lights on and keep people from being cold this winter.

NIALA: And would you say the same thing is true here in the US, in terms of planned phase outs of nuclear reactors that now could be reversed?

MATT: Yes. I mean, they're in discussions. There was the last operating nuclear plant in California, which was slated to be phased out starting in 2024. That's now under reconsideration with some legislation that was recently taken up in Sacramento. The calculus, the moral and environmental calculus, changes a lot when people are faced with prices that are incredibly difficult for households to bear. But uh, governments in states in the U.S. are getting some help and a little bit of a nudge from the Biden administration because the inflation reduction act that big piece of legislation that just passed includes some enticements and incentives, um, extending tax credits to, to existing nuclear plants for the first time. So it's clear the government wants, if not new nuclear plants, then to keep the ones we have going, because it is a source of low carbon power that really helps us as we try to deal with the other crisis, which is the climate crisis.

NIALA: Matt Phillips is an Axios markets correspondent. Thanks Matt.

MATT: Thank you

Climate change is affecting monsoons and hurricanes

NIALA: Pakistan is pleading for international aid after weeks of unprecedented monsoon rains and floods that have killed more than a thousand people and affected tens of millions more. Meanwhile, forecasters are monitoring the development of possible tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico this week after an unexpectedly quiet start to the Atlantic hurricane season. I asked Axios’ climate reporter Andrew Freedman how climate change is affecting hurricanes and monsoons worldwide.

ANDREW FREEDMAN: So Pakistan is absolutely reeling after an unusually lengthy and prolific monsoon season. They have had about 400% of average rainfall or more in at least two provinces. In Sindh province as well as Balochistan and the Indus river has come way out of its banks. It's very difficult on satellite imagery to discern dry land from water logged land. The climate change links really is pretty simple physics. Warmer air holds more water. For every one degree sea increase in global average temperature, you get a 7% increase in moisture. So we know from studies that there's a higher possibility that the heavy monsoon seasons will be even heavier, that they'll be more flooding rains. And that's really what we're seeing right now. In the Atlantic, we're not really seeing such a climate signal. We may see tropical storm Danielle form a little bit later this week, uh, probably recurve out to sea— may affect Bermuda. But we haven't seen the uptick in activity yet that we still expect to see, towards the middle of September into October when you, uh, typically have a pretty active hurricane season expected.

NIALA: In a moment: holiday shopping starts even earlier than normal, in reaction to inflation.

Why Americans are holiday shopping earlier this year

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Alright so Starbucks has just launched the Pumpkin Spice Latte which usually means holiday shopping season is right around the corner. But this year, holiday shopping is starting much earlier – as budget conscious consumers are feeling the sting of inflation. Yesterday, Walmart unveiled its annual top toy list – nearly a month earlier than last year.

And Axios reporter Kelly Tyko says we can expect the toy wars to start even before Halloween.

Hi Kelly, thanks for joining us.

KELLY TYKO: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: So Kelly, Walmart released this anticipated holiday toy list while some kids haven't even started school yet. Why so early?

KELLY: Well, what Walmart is thinking is parents are going to be looking to save money this year and they're gonna want to spread out their purchases. They might not want to, you know, buy everything in October or November. So this will give them a head start on what they say kids are interested in, and these toy lists end up being pretty accurate and what sells out and what kids put on their list.

A lot of them are classic toys. You'll see Barbies, you'll see hot wheels. Those toys are on the list almost every single year. And there are also trending toys as well. There's cocoa melon, there's paw patrol. This is a, a good indicator of what might sell out.

NIALA: Kelly, so how are prices and inflation factoring into all of this?

KELLY: Well, the big thing about inflation is we're feeling the price increases in all sorts of categories, whether it's travel, whether it's food. So toy prices were down according to our recent survey. So it's possible that prices, right, won't be higher, but we're paying more for everything else. So that's why parents and families are going to be more cost conscious this year and looking for savings, looking for the opportunity, for a discount.

NIALA: So is early shopping a smart strategy for shoppers or is this just a smart strategy for retailers?

KELLY: It can be a smart strategy for shoppers, if you know what you're shopping for, if you know what you wanna get, you have a budget. There's so much clearance in stores. There's excess inventory. If you're looking to buy clothes, there are so many clearance racks at Macy's, Target, Walmart, Kohl's, you name it.

NIALA: What happens if people change their minds about holiday toys or gifts that they're buying between now and December?

KELLY: Well, that's a great question because that is where you run the risk. If you shop early, yes, you can get the items checked off on your list early, but extended holiday return periods usually start in October or November. If you're buying something September 1st, that's when your return period starts. So I'm a big advocate, save your receipt, always.

NIALA: Kelly Tyko is a senior breaking news reporter here at Axios. Thanks, Kelly.

KELLY: Thanks

NIALA: That’s all we’ve got for you today! Remember you can text me at (202) 918-4893 with story ideas and feedback.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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