This op-ed by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) first appeared in Roll Call on Dec. 3, 2021.
Louisianians are facing rising energy prices at the same time as falling temperatures this winter. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is pursuing policies that would further cripple the U.S. energy industry and the economy that depends on it, like flirting with shuttering the Line 5 pipeline.
Our chief executive wants to shackle America with climate commitments that could make life unnecessarily hard for Americans struggling to pay energy bills under record inflation. At the same time, China, led by Xi Jinping — who, along with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, didn’t even bother to attend the recent Glasgow climate summit — continues to churn out carbon emissions that surpass those of the entire developed world, and Beijing’s authoritarian regime is gunning to outpace our economy.
How can America pursue wise climate policies without hamstringing our economy in the face of a predatory China? If someone asked the president or some of my colleagues in Congress what they think the solution to climate change is, many of them would respond, “Renewable energy.” It seems curious and inconsistent, then, that so many of them shun nuclear energy when it’s a safe, carbon-free option that yields enormous amounts of electricity. Wisdom and data suggest that America needs an all-of-the-above approach to energy, one that includes renewables, fossil fuels and nuclear energy.
Nuclear energy is so clean that all the waste America’s commercial nuclear industry ever produced can fit into a single football field to a depth of fewer than 10 yards. It’s also incredibly efficient. It takes more than 3 million solar panels or more than 430 wind turbines — and the acres of land needed to host them — to produce the same amount of power as the average nuclear plant.
Some may think nuclear energy’s advantages aren’t worth the risk. But Homer Simpson doesn’t run America’s power plants, and the industry has continuously evolved to make plants safer and more efficient.
Small modular reactors, for example, are part of a promising new generation of advanced reactors that can automatically avoid overheating. These nuclear fission devices, which can be manufactured in a plant and brought to a site for installation, have a smaller physical footprint, and they produce less nuclear waste because they get more output from nuclear fuel. Some of these reactors are only about twice the length of the average school bus, while a traditional nuclear plant is roughly the size of Central Park.
The innovation doesn’t stop with small modular reactors. MIT researchers are planning to build a reactor that would generate energy the same way the sun does — through nuclear fusion. Compared with traditional fission plants, the waste produced during nuclear fusion is less radioactive, and the raw ingredients that fuel fusion are more abundant than uranium.
Fossil fuels, of course, are still a key part of America’s success. America’s economy is the largest in the world, and it can’t run without oil and gas. Eighty percent of America’s energy is from fossil fuels. Those resources support millions of U.S. jobs, and those jobs help make energy affordable for all Americans.
Nuclear power adds to our country’s legacy of affordable, sustainable energy. Anyone who wants to grow America’s economy and safeguard the environment shouldn’t overlook the power of the atom. If nuclear energy doesn’t play a leading role in the U.S. energy portfolio, we will find it hard to maintain our place as a global leader because China’s polluting authoritarian regime is positioning itself to take over the global economy.
Without safe, efficient fuel options like nuclear energy to power America through the 21st century, the world could quickly become a darker, dirtier place. People on both ends of the political spectrum should be able to see this threat and agree that nuclear energy must be part of any serious solution.
Sen. John Kennedy is a Republican representing the state of Louisiana. He is the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.