An America without Nuclear Power

ENERGY, 8 May 2017

David Gattie and Scott Jones | Forbes – TRANSCEND Media Service

Plumes of steam drift from the cooling tower of FirstEnergy Corp.’s Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor, Ohio. Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp.’s customers in Ohio would pay higher rates under a proposed bailout for the state’s two nuclear plants, the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor, Ohio, and the Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Perry, Ohio. The aging plants provide jobs and make 14 percent of Ohio’s electricity, but face stiff competition from cheaper natural gas plants. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane, File)

[From TMS editor: We do not endorse the authors’ arguments and viewpoints. The point is the discussion about the nuclear—energy/weapons–issue.]

24 Apr 2017 – As the U.S. nuclear industry works to increase its contribution to the civilian power sector, recent issues with Toshiba and Westinghouse have reignited the debate regarding the future of nuclear power in the U.S.

On one side, opponents leverage these issues to argue that nuclear power has no future due to economics and they conclude that the U.S. should abandon nuclear and go all-in on renewable energy. This position is strongly supported by anti-nuclear activists promoting a chimerical renewable-energy-only economy. This has already had a chilling effect as Georgia Power Company recently suspended feasibility studies for a potential expansion of nuclear.

On the opposite side, some supporters contend these issues are a consequence of the U.S. having lost traction the past 30 years in nuclear development. They conclude that policymakers should not take a laissez-faire approach that allows civilian nuclear to fall victim to anti-nuclear activism or poorly structured U.S. electricity markets that cannot valuate zero-carbon baseload power.

Amazing as it may seem, the United States, leader of the liberal world order it established largely on secure energy resources, is debating whether to retain nuclear power in its energy portfolio and, by extension, its institutional DNA. This demands caution as a U.S. exit from nuclear, whether intentional or by market attrition, would threaten U.S. national security in at least three ways.

First, it would relegate nuclear science and engineering to military purposes only and widen the knowledge gap between the U.S. and the world’s economic, industrial and military powers. The U.S. is already experiencing consequences from a lapse in nuclear development. Abandoning it altogether would be a damaging, perhaps irrecoverable, loss within U.S. research and education institutions.

Second, it would eliminate the only zero-carbon resource for baseload power and create a complete dependency on intermittent renewables for zero-carbon energy. The arc of economic development in industrialized countries has tracked a country’s capacity to acquire energy-dense resources and allocate those resources within inclusive economic and political institutions. This trend has been from low quality renewables to energy-dense fossil fuels to energy-dense nuclear resources. As the future of coal in the U.S. is precarious and natural gas is abundant, the combined loss of coal and nuclear would dilute energy diversity and leave the power sector dependent on a single energy-dense resource (natural gas) supplemented by renewable energy—both of which have storage constraints. This would leave the U.S. vulnerable to disruptions in natural gas supply flows compounded by the unknowns of intermittent renewables.

The optimal resource in terms of energy quality, storability and carbon emissions is nuclear, which has untapped utility with respect to small modular reactors, molten salt reactors and thorium as a nuclear fuel. To abandon nuclear at this stage of development is to abandon the future of energy in order to return to the past, while hoping that battery technology matures to moderate some of the inherent limitations of renewable energy. The U.S. should not risk its energy and national security on technologies that are unproven at the scale of millions of people and trillions of dollars in economic activity.

Third, it would be an abdication of leadership in the global nuclear community where the U.S. provides critical training in nuclear security, trade and standards. The U.S. cannot sustain this responsibility without an institutional commitment to nuclear science and engineering. Moreover, this leadership role will not disappear with a U.S. exit from nuclear—it will be filled by a country geopolitically astute enough to seize the opportunity.

The World Nuclear Association recently published the list of countries actively considering nuclear power programs. One particular statement should create a sense of urgency for U.S. energy and national security analysts:

State-owned nuclear companies in Russia and China have taken the lead in offering nuclear power plants to emerging countries, usually with finance and fuel services.

These efforts by Russia and China are laudable on the grounds of humanitarian and climate objectives. However, it should be of concern that while China and Russia bolster their geopolitical spheres of influence through nuclear technology, some in the United States are proposing a total renouncement of civilian nuclear in order to go all-in on natural gas and renewables.

The U.S. should not reduce the fate of nuclear power to an environmental issue only nor broker it as just another commodity subject to market forces that cannot detect energy security stresses or global geopolitics. Rather, the U.S. must maintain civilian nuclear as an anchor for national security and global stature, both of which would weaken if the U.S. abandons the only resource capable of providing reliable, zero-carbon electricity for a multi-trillion dollar U.S. economy and billions of people throughout the world who need more energy, not less.

This is not an issue of nuclear versus renewables—both should occupy space in the U.S. portfolio. This is an issue of national security and global leadership, and U.S. policymakers should work aggressively with U.S. industry to ensure that nuclear power remains viable.

An America without nuclear power is a less secure America and a globally less relevant America. Perhaps more sobering, an America without nuclear power is a world with an America that has limited or no institutional knowledge of nuclear science and engineering—and that is a world we’ve never known.


Dr. David Gattie is an associate professor of environmental engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Georgia. He conducts solar power research on a facility operated by Georgia Power Company. 

Dr. Scott Jones is director of the Center for International Trade and Security in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia.

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3 Responses to “An America without Nuclear Power”

  1. Satoshi Ashikaga says:

    The above article, “An America Without Nuclear Power”, might remind its reader of the Cold War Era arguments about “nuclear deterrence”, probably one of the most seriously and frequently discussed subjects during the Cold War Era. By using this opportunity, let us review nuclear deterrence theory a little bit as follows:

    – Nuclear :
    – The Myth of Nuclear Deterrence :
    – Ten Serious Flaws in Nuclear Deterrence Theory :
    – Nuclear Deterrence: Hardest Argument in the World to Refute :


    Think about the following cases:

    Is the above article, An America Without Nuclear Power, about national security? Yes, at least, for the author of the article. The author says, “An America without nuclear power is a less secure America and a globally less relevant America. Perhaps more sobering, an America without nuclear power is a world with an America that has limited or no institutional knowledge of nuclear science and engineering—and that is a world we’ve never known.”

    [By the way, is nuclear power a kind of a “security blanket” for America? Comfort object (Wikipedia): “A comfort object, transitional object, or security blanket is an item used to provide psychological comfort, especially in unusual or unique situations, or at bedtime for small children. Among toddlers, comfort objects may take the form of a blanket, a stuffed animal, or a favorite toy, and may be referred to by nicknames.” and “Many adults consider the comfort that security blankets provide as essential to their mental and emotional well-being.[10]” However, nuclear power is too dangerous as a security blanket for a nation. Linus’s security blanket harms no one, but nuclear power affects the entire planet of Earth. Fukushima’s radioactivity, seriously damaged the Fukushima area and more, was detected in the West Coast of the United States, for instance. How Fukushima affects the US workers, for instance? , and FUKUSHIMA UPDATE: RADIOACTIVE FALLOUT AND MORTALITY INCREASES IN THE UNITED STAuTES: IS THERE A CORRELATION? ]

    How about the following description? Is that not about the (US) “national security”? : “Gun violence in the United States results in tens of thousands of deaths and injuries annually.[1] In 2013, there were 73,505 nonfatal firearm injuries (23.2 injuries per 100,000 U.S. citizens),[2][3] and 33,636 deaths due to “injury by firearms” (10.6 deaths per 100,000 U.S. citizens).[4] These deaths consisted of 11,208 homicides,[5] 21,175 suicides,[4] 505 deaths due to accidental or negligent discharge of a firearm, and 281 deaths due to firearms use with “undetermined intent”.[4] Of the 2,596,993 total deaths in the US in 2013, 1.3% were related to firearms.[1][6] The ownership and control of guns are among the most widely debated issues in the country.” wiki/Gun_violence_in_the_ United_States

    [No American has ever killed by the enemy nuclear weapon since the invention of this weapon near the end of WWII in 1945. And yet it is a matter of national security? On the other hand, tens of thousands of Americans are being killed in gun-violence incidents every year, mostly by their fellow Americans (homocides) or by themselves (suicides). Then, how many Americans were killed in gun-violence incidents after WWII so far, for instance? And yet it is not a matter of national security?]

    How about the following description? It is not about national security of the United States, but it is about national security of “Rwanda”. : “People were killed in the street by grenades, guns, and machetes. The killers were constantly incited to continue to kill, but ‘No more corpses on the roads, please.’ Corpses in the countryside were covered with banana leaves to screen them from aerial photography. Although on a large scale, this genocide was carried out entirely by hand, often using machetes and clubs. Local officials assisted in rounding up victims and making suitable places available for their slaughter. Tutsi men, women, and children and babies were killed in thousands of schools and even in churches. The victims, in their last moments alive, were also faced by another appalling fact:their cold-blooded killers were people they knew-neighbors, work-mates, former friends, and sometimes even relatives through marriage.” http://rwandangenocideela12.

    [Note that these 800,000 people were killed by grades, guns and machetes, NOT by a nuclear weapon. Be aware that the number of the victims of the Rwandan Genocide was nearly four times more than the total victims of the two atomic bombs!]


    As mentioned above, the article, “An America Without Nuclear Power”, may remind its reader of the arguments taken from (the latter part of) the 20th Century. The Cold War Era was over nearly three decades ago, but those arguments are still with us, living in the 21st Century. Visit the atomic memorial sites in Hiroshima and/or Nagasaki, for instance. Some of the visitors claim that at the site they can sense the presence of the ghosts of the victims of the atomic bomb. Yes, the ghosts are still with us. The ghosts of the Cold War Era are also still with us.


    Prof. Dr. David Gattie, the author of the above article, may be considered as a specilist of the environmental issues. He earned a Ph.D. in ecology. He asserts the promotion of nuclear energy (that is understood as the energy, produced by nuclear “fission”). The similar thing can be said to James Lovelock, the founder of the Gaia Theory. He also discusses the promotion of nuclear “fission” energy. The use of nuclear energy minimizes the emission of CO2. However, what to do with the high ratio of radioactivity of nuclear wastes, produced by the process of nuclear fission, then?

    If these scholars dare to promote nuclear energy, why don’t they promote more of R&D of nuclear “fusion” energy, for instance? Currently, nuclear “fusion” energy is considered as a dream eneargy source, but it is not yet in the phase of practical or commercial use. “Fusion does not create any long-lived radioactive nuclear waste (it produces no actinides).” (“Safety of Fusion Energy and the Environment” ) See also, for instance, “Nuclear fusion is the ‘perfect energy source'”( ); A new twist on fusion power could help bring limitless clean energy” ( ); “Nuclear fusion energy in a decade? Lockheed Martin is betting on it.” ( ). For nuclear fusion, see, for instance, “Nuclear Fusion Power” ( )

  2. Satoshi Ashikaga says:

    Of my comment above:
    The second paragraph from the bottom:
    “Prof. Dr. David Gattie, the author of the above article…” should be corrected as “Prof. Dr. David Gattie, one of the co-authors of the above article…”

    Note, however, it may be considered that Dr. Gattie is de facto “the” author of the article above. See his tweets:

  3. John Jacks says:

    (1) Nuclear energy is not carbon free. Each nuclear power plant releases massive amounts of Radioactive Carbon14 which converts to C02 in the atmosphere.

    Repeat: Each nuclear power plant releases massive amounts of Radioactive Carbon14 which converts to C02 in the atmosphere

    (2) During their normal operations, each nuclear power plant releases dangerous radionuclides which pollute the surrounding environment and is found in the air, milk, cattle, fish, vegetables, rain, snow, etc.

    See the NRC’s “Effluent” reports to see the many radionuclides released from each nuclear power plant

    (3) Studies found higher incidences of childhood leukemia in children living around nuclear power plants

    (4) Nuclear power plants use massive amounts of precious water. Each nuclear power plants uses up to 30 MILLION gallons of water per hour.

    (5) Nuclear waste is the largest form of long-term debt that any country with nuclear energy will ever have.

    The cost to store nuclear waste is infinite and several generations will bear the cost for this.

    Nuclear waste = bankruptcy