Last Sunday evening, tech billionaire and entrepreneur extraordinaire Elon Musk tweeted, “Hopefully, it is now extremely obvious that Europe should restart dormant nuclear power stations and increase power output of existing ones.” His full-throated support for nuclear energy comes at a pivotal moment in global geopolitics, as energy prices continue to skyrocket and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine intensifies. “This is critical to national and international security,” said Musk.
He’s right. We’re witnessing the real-world consequences of Europe’s dreadful energy strategy and nuclear phase-out: record-high energy prices, Putin’s war coffers flush with Western cash, and a global economy tottering on the brink of collapse. As the world simultaneously worries about the threat of climate change, it’s clear that nuclear energy’s benefits aren’t merely environmental, but also geopolitical.
Imagine if all those nuclear plants were still up and running today. The West would be much more self-reliant for its energy needs, carbon emissions and energy prices would be lower, and Russia’s sway over Europe would be significantly weaker.
When a tsunami caused Japan’s Fukushima plant to fail in 2011, Germany decided it was time to close its own nuclear plants. The government immediately shut down eight of its 17 reactors, which together represented 25 percent
of the country’s electricity production, and phased out six more over the next few years. The final three reactors are scheduled to close later this year. Other European nations, such as Switzerland, Belgium, and Spain, are following suit.
Simultaneously, Europe has stubbornly kneecapped
its natural gas industry, cutting
domestic production by nearly half in the last decade. Yet, despite expensive investments in renewable energy production, gas consumption hasn’t followed the same trend; in fact, European gas consumption has steadily increased
. The result? A growing reliance on Russia for the continent’s energy needs. Just 15 years ago
, Europe produced more natural gas than Russia. Today, Russia exports three times
as much gas as the entire continent produces.
Western governments considering heavy sanctions on Russia’s energy sector are essentially considering economic self-harm. There’s no real way to win. Buying fossil fuels from Russia means indirectly funding Putin’s war, but closing the taps would spiral already high energy prices on the continent, hitting the poorest populations hardest. It’s an environmental and national security dilemma that’s made all the more tragic by the fact that it could have been avoided entirely.
Musk’s comments hit home. If the world wants to tackle climate change and reduce reliance on authoritarian governments, why are we closing down nuclear plants? Despite a litany of studies
showing that nuclear is the cleanest
, and most reliable
form of energy, many politicians have fallen for anti-nuclear propaganda from powerful advocacy groups like Greenpeace
and the Sierra Club
Even in the U.S., where nuclear provides around 20 percent of our total energy supply and is by far the largest source of clean energy at 55 percent, states are shutting down nuclear plants. California has phased out all but one of its reactors, while New York shut down the Indian Point Nuclear Plant last year, causing electricity emissions in the state to rise 46 percent
. Of the 55 plants in operation in the U.S., around half
are at risk of early retirement, while 12 reactors have already been closed since 2012.
Imagine if all those nuclear plants were still up and running today. The West would be much more self-reliant for its energy needs, carbon emissions and energy prices would be lower, and Russia’s sway over Europe would be significantly weaker. Of course, pumping more oil and gas would help address many of those issues as well, and should be part of the conversation. But reversing course on nuclear in particular, as Musk
suggests, is long overdue.
Fortunately, it appears the narrative is changing. Germany is reportedly
considering extending the lifetime of its three remaining reactors, given the situation in Ukraine. The Green Party in Belgium, having just gotten their 2025 nuclear exit plan across the legislative finish line, also performed a U-turn
and is now willing to consider a longer lease of life for the country’s remaining nuclear reactors. The Czech Republic has announced
plans to build new nuclear plants, while Poland is gearing up
to build the country’s first plant. And in the U.S., exciting next-generation projects are getting underway in places like Wyoming
Building more nuclear plants and extending the lifetime of existing ones should be a top priority for countries serious about their energy futures. A pro-nuclear agenda would ensure a trifecta of public policy victories: tackling climate change, keeping energy prices low, and protecting national security. Unfortunately, it’s taking a war to make this painfully obvious. Let’s hope we’ve learned our lesson.
Chris Barnard is the National Policy Director for the American Conservation Coalition, a contributor to Young Voices, and a regular political commentator. Previous bylines include USA Today, the Washington Examiner, the Daily Telegraph, National Review and more. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisBarnardDL.