President Biden‘s green revolution seeks to save the planet from climate change by ending the use of fossil fuels, but such high-minded hankering means little at ground level if it can’t keep the lights on.
The realization is dawning that renewable energy will fall short without a boost from an unpopular source: nuclear power. It’s simply a matter of common sense that Americans should once again, in a manner of slang, dig the atom.
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has cruelly exposed the vulnerabilities of the global fossil-fuel supply chain as the curtailment of Russian energy resources has thrust Europe into energy poverty. The disruption has been a boon to the Biden renewable energy dream, though. The president has flooded the industry with nearly $400 billion with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
Despite these favorable factors, wind, solar, hydroelectric and biomass combined to generate only about 22% of U.S. electricity in 2022, according to the Energy Information Administration. If the 60% generated by natural gas and coal is to be replaced with clean alternatives, then nuclear power will need to crank up as well. That’s why Biden-led sanctions on companies that undergird Russia’s war machine pointedly exempt Rosatom, Russia’s state-own nuclear corporation, which supplies 20% of the low-enriched uranium that fuels U.S. nuclear reactors.
It’s a supply that America cannot afford to lose because, disturbingly, U.S. uranium production has almost disappeared. Domestic extraction of the mineral, which peaked at 43.7 million pounds in 1980, slid precipitously in subsequent years as government incentives expired and profitability suffered. By 2019, 88% of the uranium consumed by U.S. commercial reactors was imported. More than half originated in Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
If Mr. Biden is to have even a gambler’s chance of keeping the lights on without the use of fossil fuels, the one Wyoming uranium mine and the one Utah uranium mill currently operating won’t cut it.
To boost the odds, the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 1 advanced the Securing America’s Critical Minerals Supply Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Larry Bucshon, Indiana Republican, that “strengthens America’s critical mineral supply by requiring the Department of Energy to identify resources that are vulnerable to supply disruptions.”
In the Senate, Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, in February joined Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, to introduce the North American Transatlantic Resource Security Partnership Act. The bill would “identify threats to U.S. supply, transmission, distribution, or use of energy in the U.S. and the impact of those threats on the economy and consumers.
Environmentalists who regard all things nuclear with horror should know that even unhinged utopian Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York conceded while visiting Japan that the earthquake-caused shutdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant has led to rising fossil-fuel emissions.
Mr. Biden should also acknowledge nuclear power’s potential in the green scheme and encourage Americans to dig the atom again.