However, there are clear ecological and supply chain hurdles that suggest we need to reposition nuclear power at the forefront in our relentless fight against climate change.
This year in particular has been a clear example of the pressure that prolonged drought and intense heat can put on our water supply and river systems.
In Nevada, the Hoover Dam is operating at a 25% reduced hydroelectric capacity due to low water levels in the Colorado River. If water levels continue to decline over the next several years, to less than 950 feet, the Hoover Dam will stop producing electricity, rendering an American engineering marvel obsolete in an area of growing population with demand for electricity which increases every year.
Wind power and solar power, while relying on different elements to function, are similar in the types of environmental and supply issues they face. Both require 40 to 50 times more space than coal and 90 to 100 times more space than natural gas. As Americans, we all own the public lands of our country, and we need to seriously consider whether a future of millions of acres of solar and wind farms is worth the impact on wildlife and wildlife habitat.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that up to 500,000 migratory birds are killed by wind turbines each year, and if wind power capacity is increased six-fold under a mandate from the Department of Energy, that number is expected to increase to as high as ‘to 1.4 million birds per year. . In terms of the effect on wildlife habitat, every time a new solar or wind farm is built, it inevitably results in new roads, infrastructure, and barbed wire fences, which reduce any productive land available to wildlife. As the relentless spread of civilization continues and more and more land is developed every day, we must find a balance between meeting the energy needs of society and preserving our wild spaces.
There also seems to be a paradox between people’s support for the development of wind and solar power and their opposition to mining the rare earth metals that compose them. Laws are constantly being proposed to restrict mining of millions of acres of federal land, while existing proposals appear to be mired in endless lawsuits and delayed permits. This presents a dilemma where the United States is forced to import $ 32 billion worth of raw minerals each year to manufacture not only solar panels and wind turbines, but also a whole range of commercial products that impact everyone. aspects of our life.
In addition, due to the rapid increase in electric power consumption, especially in the past year, the intermittent availability of wind and solar alone cannot keep up with this energy growth. This is why natural gas has prospered and developed quietly as more and more solar and wind farms are built, as they are heavily dependent on back-up production from natural gas to reach their production capacity. nominal energy.
Any gains from wind and carbon-free solar are thus offset by their dependence on natural gas when the demand for energy exceeds the available resources of the sun or wind.
While it is true that nuclear power also requires the extraction of precious metals, namely uranium to power reactors, it is the only true source of carbon-free electricity that does not depend on the weather or the weather. geography. Currently, nuclear power produces about 20% of our country’s electricity and 55% of all clean energy. It also protects grid reliability through long-term storage of fuel and voltage regulation of transmission lines, an important asset both for the increasing number of days when extreme heat creates increased demand for fuel. electricity and to keep prices low and stable for consumers.
Nuclear power offers the United States a tremendous opportunity to become the world leader in clean energy. As coal-fired plants continue to be phased out across the country, we can significantly increase our nuclear capacity by turning these coal-fired plants into nuclear facilities. Wyoming, the nation’s leading coal exporter, this year approved its first advanced nuclear power plant conversion, which will have the dual benefit of upgrading the existing coal-fired plant infrastructure while retaining skilled workers and economic dynamism. community.
With the right incentives for research and investment, the United States is uniquely positioned to develop nuclear power and enter a new frontier of innovation to tackle the global problem and increasingly most serious of climate change.
Antoni Grgurovic of Hastings, Minnesota is an outdoor enthusiast concerned with our nation’s land and water and is a member of Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the Sportsmen’s Alliance. His sources for this column included American Rivers, Arizona Republic, Atomic Insights, Duluth News Tribune, Humanium, International Atomic Energy Agency, Leiden University, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Pew Research, US Department of Labor, US Energy Information Administration, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Yale University. He wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.