Josh Freed at the Brookings Institution:
So what, after a 30-year drought, is drawing smart young people back to the nuclear industry? The answer is climate change. Nuclear energy currently provides about 20 percent of the electric power in the United States, and it does so without emitting any greenhouse gases. Compare that to the amount of electricity produced by the other main non-emitting sources of power, the so-called “renewables”—hydroelectric (6.8 percent), wind (4.2 percent) and solar (about one quarter of a percent). Not only are nuclear plants the most important of the non-emitting sources, but they provide baseload—“always there”—power, while most renewables can produce electricity only intermittently, when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.
In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations-based organization that is the leading international body for the assessment of climate risk, issued a desperate call for more non-emitting power sources. According to the IPCC, in order to mitigate climate change and meet growing energy demands, the world must aggressively expand its sources of renewable energy, and it must also build more than 400 new nuclear reactors in the next 20 years—a near-doubling of today’s global fleet of 435 reactors. However, in the wake of the tsunami that struck Japan’s Fukushima Daichi plant in 2011, some countries are newly fearful about the safety of light water reactors. Germany, for example, vowed to shutter its entire nuclear fleet.