The Atlantic: Build what we’ve already invented

May 16, 2022, 12:01PMANS Nuclear Cafe

“What if I told you that scientists had figured out a way to produce affordable electricity that was 99 percent safer and cleaner than coal or oil, and that this breakthrough produced even fewer emissions per gigawatt-hour than solar or wind?” That’s the question that Derek Thompson, a staff writer at The Atlantic, asks in his article, "The Forgotten Stage of Human Progress," before revealing, “The breakthrough I’m talking about is 70 years old: It’s nuclear power.”

Thompson then ponders why, considering the benefits of nuclear power, the United States has been shuttering old nuclear plants faster than it has been building new ones. He also examines why “Americans who support decarbonization in the abstract protest the construction of renewable energy projects in their neighborhood.”

Implementation of inventions: Perhaps the reason that the “U.S. is languishing” is because its policies are designed to encourage a scarcity of resources instead of promoting what Thompson calls “an abundance agenda,” as well as because “implementation [of technologies] is often underrated.”

Thompson notes that “the insistence on invention often overlooks the fact that we’re running low on the capacity to deploy the tech we already have.” What is needed is “better politics” to promote nuclear power: having the technology is one thing; having the political wherewithal to deploy it is quite another. For certain other technologies, such as carbon-removal systems that would vacuum emissions out of the sky, more technology based on cost efficiency is needed.

Let’s build! Near the end of his essay, Thompson asks another question regarding nuclear power: “Imagine a world where we invented a technology to save the planet and simply refused to use it. Wouldn’t that be wasteful? . . . We need to invent a better world. We need to build what we’ve already invented.”

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