Last week, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.) introduced a climate change bill that includes a strong nuclear title, something missing from the initial draft of the Kerry-Boxer bill. Take-away phrase: mini-Manhattan projects, which they use to refer to research initiatives such as nuclear reprocessing methods.
And Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) proposed an extensive addition to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that beefs up the nuclear provisions of the act considerably.
And Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) bolstered Udall’s effort by introducing a self-described complementary bill to Udall’s that promotes research and development into small nuclear reactors (that is, those with 350 mW or less of capacity). Bingaman and Udall are co-sponsors of each other’s bills, with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) as co-sponsor on both bills.
This is important because Bingaman and Murkowski are chairman and ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, which will take up both the Udall and Bingaman bills. That’s a lot of important – and bipartisan – support right out of the gate. (That’s true of Webb-Alexander as well, though that’s a much more expansive bill.)
You would think someone in the news business might notice all the Ds among those sponsors and scratch their heads with interest.
The Obama administration and leading Democrats, in an effort to win greater support for climate change legislation, are eyeing federal tax incentives and loan guarantees to fund a new crop of nuclear power plants across the United States that could eventually help drive down carbon emissions.
This comes from the Washington Post’s Anthony Faiola, and we should note that this appeared on A-1 above the fold in the printed edition. That means it’ll be very widely seen, at least in passing, on Capitol Hill.
Faiola’s hook is the increasing support for nuclear energy among environmentalists – something we’ve written about here several times in the last couple of months – but there’s a lot of interesting tidbits throughout.
So far at least, the start of what many are calling "a new nuclear age" is unfolding with only muted opposition -- nothing like the protests and plant invasions that helped define the green movement in the United States and Europe during the 1960s and 1970s.
An Environmental Protection Agency analysis of the Waxman-Markey bill passed by the House, for instance, shows nuclear energy generation more than doubling in the United States by 2050 if the legislation is made law.
"Our base is as opposed to nuclear as ever," said David Hamilton, director of the Global Warming and Energy Program for the Sierra Club in Washington. "You have to recognize that nuclear is only one small part of this [a solution to global warming]."
Wha – ? Oops! Well, although we’re not sure Faiola gives Hamilton his full due, he uses this bit to show environmental activists becoming more “pragmatic” about nuclear energy. For example:
"Because of global warming, most of the big groups have become less active on their nuclear campaign, and almost all of us are taking another look at our internal policies," said Mike Childs, head of climate change issues for Friends of the Earth in Britain.
And if legislators want to keep their green profiles up while supporting nuclear energy, words like this can only help. (We’ve also had some harsh words for FOE in the past, so this development is very welcome.)
Consider the current legislative efforts and the Washington Post article as a snapshot of this particular moment in the climate change debate. We now have to pull it out of the Polaroid camera and wave it around in the air and see if it develops correctly. We think nuclear energy now has all the traction it needs to find its place at the energy table, so we may want to remember these past couple of weeks as the period when it all came together. And just in time for Thanksgiving.
Polaroid is the name given to a synthetic plastic that polarizes light (useful in sunglasses). The Polaroid Corp. (and others) exploited the principle to create a line of cameras that produced instant – well, almost instant – photographs. These sold as early as 1948, but are really familiar as the equivalent of 8-track tapes in the 1970s –technologies that became genuine icons of their era, but yielded fairly rapidly to superior successors – cassette tapes and truly instant photography (also from Polaroid.)
But if you have an album of brownish pink photos, it’s hard not to feel affection for Polaroid.