As part of his “democratic socialist” revolution, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is pledging to combat climate change. The Vermont senator has called for not renewing the licenses of every nuclear power plant in the U.S. and for a nationwide ban on fracking.
Sanders is airing this ad in New York state pushing his fracking ban, among other things:
But a study released by Third Way, a think tank aligned with centrist Democrats, finds that Sanders’ plan would actually increase greenhouse gas levels. The reason is that fracking has enable coal-fired power plants to be replaced with cleaner-burning natural gas plants. Also, nuclear power has no greenhouse gas emissions.
More from Foreign Policy:
“There is a basic reality here, which is that nuclear energy is the single-largest source of zero-emissions electricity in the United States,” Josh Freed, vice president of clean energy at Third Way, a centrist think tank, told Foreign Policy. “If you care about climate change, that should be a very significant influence on your policy.”
Third Way crunched the numbers and found that getting rid of nuclear power means U.S. carbon emissions would “go up dramatically,” and in the worst-case scenario, could “wipe out a decade’s worth of progress” and return U.S. carbon emissions to levels last seen in 2005. That’s because retired nuclear plants would almost always be replaced by natural gas or coal. Freed said that when the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant was shuttered in 2014, the electricity shortfall was largely made up by burning more coal.
Third Way also cited data from Germany and Japan. Both countries have been trying to reduce their reliance on nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima meltdown in 2011. Although they’re striving for more renewable energy sources, both ended up relying more on fossil fuels such as crude oil, natural gas, and coal.
The proposed ban on fracking is even more short-sighted, if you care about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A recent study found that it is better for the climate to continue fracking so long as it reduces coal use. The cheap natural gas created by the fracking revolution is a major reason why the nation’s largest coal company, Peabody Energy, filed for bankruptcy protection last week.
The planet will “feel the burn” if we let ideology triumph over science. Nuclear power and natural gas both roles to play if the goal is to reduce greenhouse gases in particular and air pollution in general.