Wanted: A Return to Common Sense

Steven F. Hayward16 Jun, 2024 4 Min Read
Don't built a bigger battery, build a bigger plant.

About two weeks ago President Biden’s Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm made an announcement that did not receive much notice given the enormous underlying concession and major potential policy shift it contained. Granholm said matter-of-factly that if the United States is going to meet it ambitious Net-Zero emissions by 2050 target, “we have to at least triple our current nuclear capacity in this country. That means we’ve got to add 200 more gigawatts by 2050.” Granholm then doubled down with the suggestion that we might need to consider restarting nuclear plants that have been shut down in recent years.

This declaration, which Granholm has repeated at subsequent appearances since she first said this on June 7, represents a decisive break with longstanding environmental orthodoxy in at least two ways. First, it implicitly acknowledges that wind, solar, grid-scale batteries, and other “renewables” will be insufficient to supply America’s electricity needs, despite the massive subsidies and relentless cheerleading for these inherently limited sources of power.

Oh, shut up.

Second, opposition to nuclear power has been a central principle of the environmental movement going back to the 1970s, and while a few environmentalists have quietly and grudgingly dropped their opposition to nuclear power, it still remains taboo for many leading environmentalists and environmental organizations, especially overseas. Killing nuclear power has been the foremost political objective of the various Green Parties around the world, who make anti-nuclearism the main condition for joining the incoherent coalition governments that fractious parliamentary electoral systems keep throwing up.

Secretary Granholm’s about-face on nuclear power is likely the result of a heretic inside the Biden administration doing serious mathematical calculations about future electricity needs for the U.S. After several years of flat demand, the rapid rise of energy-hungry AI data centers along with the huge electricity demand from an expanding fleet of electric cars and trucks will require a substantial expansion of electricity production over the next 25 years. Renewable sources aren’t going to cut it. The growing demand for reliable baseload power could be met cheaply with new natural gas plants (and keeping existing coal plants), but that would require abandoning the sacred Net-Zero emissions goal.

Granholm’s remarkable pronouncement may represent a turning point against the magical thinking behind the “Green New Deal” and Net-Zero if—and this is the key point—the Biden administration follows through with a serious program of regulatory reform to enable a new generation of nuclear power to be built more cheaply and quickly. Don’t hold your breath for this to occur. Our antediluvial environmentalists are foursquare against any meaningful regulatory reform for anything, and the Biden administration offers no evidence that it is prepared to have a “Sister Souljah moment” with its environmentalist constituency.

One notable aspect of this story is that the public reconsideration of nuclear power in the U.S. is occurring without American voters—so far—delivering a harsh verdict against Net-Zero madness at the ballot box, as European voters have recently done. The elections for the relatively impotent European Parliament on June 9 decimated Green Parties across Europe, most especially in Germany. Germany’s Green Party, founded in the 1980s to oppose nuclear weapons and nuclear power alike, has always been the political ballast for the green movement in European politics. Green Parties throughout Europe -- Ireland, most noticeably, where the tiny Green Party keeps the establishments parties in power -- join the fractious coalition governments the unstable proportional representation of parliamentary systems routinely delivers with a primary demand that nuclear power be abandoned.

This author toured Germany to review their energy policy as a guest of the German government in 2008, and was told by every authority on the itinerary that Germany could not possibly meet its emissions reduction targets unless it kept its small fleet of nuclear power plants. But former chancellor Angela Merkel, the East German-raised architect of Germany's ongoing  "immigration" crisis, yielded to Green Party demands and closed down Germany’s nuclear power anyway. The last three German plants were shut down last year, even as the Ukraine War elevated Germany’s energy costs and squeezed supplies of natural gas. To keep the lights on, Germany has had to return to using lignite coal—the dirtiest kind of coal—in an epic failure of deeds not matching up to ideals.

With the thumping of the Green Parties, especially among younger voters, European governments will have more latitude to shove Green Party anti-nuke demands to the sidelines. Even before the electoral rout, several European countries such as Belgium had backed away from previous plans to shutter their nuclear fleet, while several European countries are  looking at building new nuclear plants while scaling back plans for further renewable buildout. France has six new plants in the works, and is considering adding eight more. Will Germany follow its European neighbors in reversing course on nuclear shutdowns? If not, the country will end up buying electricity from its nuclear neighbors a decade from now.


The aftermath of the European election presents the same central question that faces the United States. While the high cost of the Net-Zero madness was a key driver of the election result, it wasn’t the only one. Uncontrolled immigration and doubts about the U.S.-NATO strategy for the Russia-Ukraine War were also prominent on the minds of voters. The latter didn’t receive much notice in the American media, but the risks of a widening European war were prominently on display in the campaign’s closing weeks, as France mulled sending troops to Ukraine, and the U.S. started picking targets inside Russia for Ukraine to strike.

The common thread of all three issues is the obvious lack of competence of our current crop of ruling governments on both sides of the Atlantic. That this is not primarily an ideological problem can be seen by the fact that Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Britain’s Rishi Sunak — a leftist and a (sort of) rightist — are both facing landslide defeats because of their incompetent rule. Parties that embrace energy realism and deliver abundant and affordable energy along with serious immigration control and a foreign policy that puts national interests first will rule for the next generation. It may require a few more electoral repudiations before our leading parties figure this out.

Steven F. Hayward is a resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, and lecturer at Berkeley Law. His most recent book is "M. Stanton Evans: Conservative Wit, Apostle of Freedom." He writes daily at Powerlineblog.com.


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9 comments on “Wanted: A Return to Common Sense”

  1. Maybe Gates could (partially) redeem himself by donating his loot to Parkinsons research.

  2. My son is involved in designing a new research reactor here in Missouri. He says we really have no firms in the US capable of building research reactors. They've had to look overseas for contractors. For power reactors its just as bleak.

  3. Nuclear is an interesting subject, but like some other commenters thus far, I have my doubts about whether the Biden people at all have their hearts in it. Secretary Granholm, I recall, was, on one occasion in the not particularly distant past, unable to answer a simple question along the lines of how much energy the U. S. uses in one year, or maybe it was in one day. Either way, basic stuff that should be top-of-mind, I would think, for the Secretary of Energy. As Mr. Hayward points out, it must have needed some heretic in the salt mines to at last run the numbers on the nuclear subject.

  4. Bill Gates was on Face the Nation this morning to talk about his plans for nuclear power. Neither he nor hostess Margaret Brennan uttered the term "baseload". Not much actual information was presented. Gates has been involved in this for a decade or two, whether it's real or not I cannot say, new technology much safer plants, if you care to believe it.
    Also looked like Gates is suffering a mild Parkinson's.

  5. What about fuel ( called I think highly enriched something uranium) which Russia now controls. We apparently gave up our uranium enrichment capacity. I would prefer we used natural gas and worked on cleaning up burning of fossil fuels.

  6. I note This from the ScandAsia site:
    The Swedish parliament officially abandoned its 100% renewable energy target to meet net-zero by 2045 this week. Instead, the country is now looking to build more nuclear reactors.

    “We need more electricity production. We need clean electricity and we need a stable energy system,” Finance Minister Elisabeth Svantesson said in parliament.

    Observers said the decision implicitly acknowledges the low quality of unstable wind and solar. It shows a general collapse of confidence in the renewable energy agenda pioneered in the Nordic countries.
    I'm hoping this common sense becomes contagious.

  7. We have the know-how. We build nuke power plants for the US Navy. We have about 80 in service right now and probably another 80 in mothballs. Building 200 Navy-styled nuke plants and placing them where we need them sounds like something we can do. However, I doubt that Ms Granholm is serious. This sounds like Election Spin and after November she'll not speak of it again.

  8. It surely looks like the Biden administration is trying to "get in front of" the pushback they will receive on "Net Zero" this election season by lying about their consideration of nuclear power. How do we know they're lying about nuclear?

    The end goal here is energy rationing, and adding nuclear to the energy mix defeats their goal. They want energy to be much more scarce, hideously more expensive, and under their total control. If that were not their intention, what would they be doing different?

    "Net Zero" = energy rationing.

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