If we can commit to confronting today’s so-called environmentalists on the political and cultural fronts while preparing the transition from fossil to fission, then a radiant tomorrow awaits us.
America wants to decarbonize. Tackling climate change has broad public support. The primary avenue we’re pursuing to achieve this goal is the decarbonization of our electricity system and “electrifying everything.” This is more than achievable; indeed, we have historical precedents. France’s nuclear buildout, beginning in the 1970s, achieved the greatest decarbonization in human history; since the 1990s, France has generated around 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. In North America, the mantle belongs to Ontario, whose nuclear plants replaced its coal fleet.1
Yet the United States has not pursued this proven path. Instead, the American nuclear industry is moribund and has suffered public disdain for decades.
Today, especially after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there seems to be some revival of interest in the “nuclear option.” Thus it’s worth exploring why America’s greatest postwar hope for energy and prosperity never materialized in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and what will be necessary to avoid the same disappointments going forward.