As climate change pushes states in the U.S. to dramatically cut their use of fossil fuels, many are coming to the conclusion that solar, wind and other renewable power sources might not be enough to keep the lights on.
Nuclear power is emerging as an answer to fill the gap as states transition away from coal, oil and natural gas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stave off the worst effects of a warming planet. The renewed interest in nuclear comes as companies, including one started by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, are developing smaller, cheaper reactors that could supplement the power grid in communities across the U.S.
Nuclear power comes with its own set of potential problems, especially radioactive waste that can remain dangerous for thousands of years. But supporters say the risks can be minimized and that the energy source will be essential to stabilize power supplies as the world tries to move away from carbon dioxide-emitting fossil fuels.
Tennessee Valley Authority President and CEO Jeff Lyash puts it simply: You can’t significantly reduce carbon emissions without nuclear power.
“At this point in time, I don’t see a path that gets us there without preserving the existing fleet and building new nuclear,” Lyash said. “And that’s after having maximized the amount of solar we can build in the system.”