Thursday, March 07, 2013

Nuclear Energy As Another Joe or Jane

A couple of major editorials take a look at President Obama’s energy-related nominations to his cabinet: Ernest Moniz for Energy Secretary and Gina McCarthy for EPA Administrator. These are not specific to energy generation or even to the nominees, really, zeroing in on climate change mostly, but it never hurts to see if nuclear energy gets a shout out – or just shouted at.

nytLogoHere’s the Times’ view. It opines that Congress is unlikely to move on climate change legislation and continues:

This means that his second-term agenda on climate change will run through Ms. McCarthy’s and Mr. Moniz’s agencies, and will depend almost entirely on executive actions that do not require Congressional approval. Here are three strategies that could make a big dent in carbon emissions. 

Just three? You’ve got to start somewhere. They are: Use the Clean Air Act to limit pollution (good for nuclear); Make natural gas safer (neutral); Improve energy efficiency across the board (also neutral). All these align with Obama’s views on energy, so the Times is likely to get its wish-list fulfilled.

Nuclear energy falls into the “other good ideas” category:

There is obviously more: finding new refrigerants to replace climate-warming hydrofluorocarbons, investing not only in familiar renewable energy sources like wind and solar power but also in basic research, next-generation nuclear plants and experimental technologies that could smooth the path to a low-carbon economy.

It’s a fine point, but when nuclear energy is just another Joe or Jane in the energy mix, all is good. That’s what it is, after all, but a particularly useful one for the goals the Times is seeking. Its inclusion here is appropriate.

washington_post_logoThe Washington Post takes an unusual perspective on the nominations, using its editorial less to run through qualifications – it does that in news analysis stories – than to take a swipe at environmentalists that have apparently objected to Moniz.

Mr. Obama should also ignore the complaints about Ernest Moniz, whom the president nominated Monday to head the Energy Department. Mr. Moniz, an MIT professor, favors renewable sources of electricity — but also nuclear power and natural gas.

I would think after Energy Secretary Steven Chu, enviro-types would understand that Obama has no particular animus against nuclear energy – and that Obama tends to prefer academics when there is science involved – and that science-based academics have mostly sidestepped ideological worries about nuclear energy. I can see where Obama’s choices can be frustrating to that crowd – but it does help keep the energy discussion broad and inclusive.

Anyway, the Post continues its argument with an example involving natural gas, so no nuclear pickup there. But it concludes:

Instead of indulging in distractions, Mr. Obama and his friends in the environmental movement should push for policies that could make a significant difference by cutting demand for carbon-intensive fuels.

Even though the dismissal here might seem a bit too airy – I doubt the complainers consider their complaints a distraction – I have to agree with the sentiment. Better to table increasingly stale arguments in favor of really engaging with the topic. Nuclear energy has a role to play here – as does natural gas – and enviros and the Obama administration agree on it’s importance. That’s a big win. There will be other days to fight about the particulars.

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