Richard Greene

A ‘Greene’ future: This underused source could fuel a clean, powerful new day

Mogul weighs in on clean energy

Charlotte entrepreneur Jay Faison describes his crusade to sway Republicans to support clean energy.
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Charlotte entrepreneur Jay Faison describes his crusade to sway Republicans to support clean energy.

If you are concerned about global warming, you should join with our recent presidents in supporting part of the solution as close as our own backyard.

I’ll get to the local part in a minute or two, but first let’s take a look at a recent New York Times opinion piece authored by three authorities boldly entitled, “Nuclear Power Can Save the World.”

Their work helps to understand why Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump have championed the development of nuclear energy that has been virtually abandoned as one of the ways to reduce the use of fossil fuels to power our economy and support our daily lives.

Here’s how the Times describes the distinguished writers: Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist, are the authors of “A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow.” Steven Pinker is a Harvard University professor with expertise in the field.

They cite France and Sweden as having decarbonized their electric grids and now emit less than a tenth of the world average of carbon dioxide. They explain this result was achieved with nuclear power.

A realistic solution to what they say is “humanity’s greatest problem” is available to our country, and they ask why we haven’t expanded our nuclear capacity. Searching for the answer to the question will produce a number of issues, ranging from inflated fear of accidents to where to store the nuclear waste, significant construction and operating costs, and opposition from the entrenched environmental lobby.

The fear factor can be traced to a single near-accident at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island plant in 1979, where no one was injured. Yucca Mountain in Nevada has been long authorized as a solution to the storage challenge, where spent nuclear rods can be safely sequestered forever. Nevertheless, it remains unavailable due to decades-long political opposition.

The billions of dollars required to build new reactors at existing locations around the country can be supplemented by currently available federal subsidies that are, and have been, eagerly supported by the presidential administrations mentioned above.

Then there are the production, operating and delivering costs that result in higher bills to consumers than they are now paying for electricity generated by cheap natural gas. However, if the growing demand for natural gas results in nuclear power being more competitively priced, then we could see a way forward for an increase in nuclear energy that is virtually carbon-free.

One added advantage of such an outcome for the DFW region would be finally meeting the challenge of bringing our area’s air quality to the health levels required by the Clean Air Act.

And that gets us to the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant just 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth. Currently there are two reactors in operation there. It was designed for two more, neither of which have been constructed.

A Houston Chronicle report last month cited a Standard and Poor’s projection of the closing of up to a quarter of the nuclear plants in our country by 2033, which could lead to widespread power outages. Vistra Energy is one of the operators at Comanche Peak. A spokesman there said in an email to the Chronicle that there are no plans to close it prematurely.

That’s good news, and together with the growth of wind and solar energy, there is a path forward, but the role of nuclear power needs to become a priority. That’s important if we are serious about any significant reduction in the use of fossil fuels. Recall that the Department of Energy has reported that even with the growth of renewables, our country will remain dependent for the next 30 years and beyond on natural gas and coal to keep the lights on.

Among all the debate surrounding climate change, common sense would suggest that support for nuclear power would be something almost all parties could embrace.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor, served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and lectures at UT Arlington.
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