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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
Backers of the Green New Deal say climate change is the world’s most urgent threat, but supporters of that cause are not embracing the largest source of carbon-free power in America: nuclear energy.
Why it matters: Several nuclear power plants have closed or are scheduled to shut down prematurely due to economic challenges. These plants are being largely replaced by natural gas or coal, increasing emissions at a time when climate activists say the world needs to rapidly reduce emissions.
Where it stands: The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led activist group, says the GND calls for America to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions within 11 years, a feat many technical experts say is highly implausible in the best-case scenario, let alone one where existing carbon-free sources shut down early.
“We have proven solutions to 100% renewable energy like wind and solar--we want to be prioritizing development of them. That said, we don’t want to shut down nuclear power plants and replace them with coal-fired power plants.”— Stephen O’Hanlon, founder, Sunrise Movement, at GND rally this week
Reality check: Carbon emissions went up in Vermont when a nuclear plant shut down there in 2014, and coal and gas plants are likely to replace a Pennsylvania nuclear plant that last week announced its closure. Nuclear power provides 20% of America’s electricity, more than half of the carbon-free kind.
By the numbers: Losing all of America’s economically struggling nuclear plants — roughly half of the existing ones today — would remove so much carbon-free power from the electricity grid, it would take the next 11 years of renewables growth to make up for it. That's according to an analysis by the think tank Third Way.
The backdrop: The resistance among climate activists to nuclear power, particularly keeping open existing plants, is at odds with some more established environmental groups, who have increasingly backed these plants in the name of climate change.
The intrigue: I asked O’Hanlon if his group would ever consider holding a rally to keep upon a safely operating but economically struggling nuclear plant. He said they would need to consider that on a “case by case” basis but didn’t elaborate.
One level deeper: When asked in a followup email, O’Hanlon declined to describe his main reasons for opposing nuclear. But, the fear of an accident and what to do with the radioactive waste are big ones among the public.
At the GND rally in Washington this week, I asked random rallygoers whether they think nuclear power should be part of the proposal.
The big picture: The responses were mixed and more nuanced than one might initially think of in such a crowd. The comments reflect a level of divergence on a controversial energy that’s been mostly shut out of grassroots climate activism in recent years.
What they're saying:
After years of anticipation, Europe is finally taking a big share of American exports of LNG as it seeks to lessen its reliance on Russian gas.
Why it matters: It gives Europe leverage with Russia, which has cut off gas supplies in the past, and also bolsters President Trump's goal of positioning America as a global energy superpower.
What they're saying: I caught up Wednesday with European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič, who is in charge of the EU's Energy Union. He toured an LNG export facility in Louisiana with Trump on Tuesday.
"We are at the stage when these facilities become commercially very important. We have demand. We have infrastructure in place. The U.S. now has the export capacity."— Maroš Šefčovič
Between the lines: Per Jason Bordoff, founding director of Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy, "The price premium disappeared in Asia (partly as a result of the recent oversupply), which leaves U.S. LNG going to Europe, the market of last resort."
Solar flop: Elon Musk's bid to build solar panels resembling roof shingles is apparently falling flat. (Reuters exclusive)
Fire faults: Equipment of utility PG&E caused California's deadliest fire, investigators said Wednesday. (Axios)
Pipeline protests: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo rejected late Wednesday a controversial natural gas pipeline. (NYT)
Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. Photo: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Axios Expert Voices contributor Sarah E. Hunt writes ... DOE's 2020 budget request reveals new initiatives for advanced energy storage technologies, which are critical to integrating more clean energy into every portion of the power grid.
Why it matters: In the DOE's assessment, deployment of these technologies has been slowed by a "scarcity of technical information on [their] economic performance."
Details: According to the budget justification documents provided to Congress by the DOE, this budget would support the following efforts...
Watch to watch: The DOE is requesting $5 million to build the launchpad, an expenditure it will partially offset with a $2.5 million reduction in research spending elsewhere.
Go deeper: Read the full post.
Hunt is the co-founder and CEO of Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy.