Sen. Alexander proposes new Manhattan project for clean energy

Published 10:16 am Wednesday, September 11, 2019

I believe climate change is real.
I believe that human emissions of greenhouse gases are a major cause of climate change.
So, as one Republican, I propose this response: The United States should launch a New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy, a five-year project with Ten Grand Challenges that will use American research and technology to put our country and the world firmly on a path toward cleaner, cheaper energy.
Meeting these Grand Challenges would create breakthroughs in advanced nuclear reactors, natural gas, carbon capture, better batteries, greener buildings, electric vehicles, cheaper solar, fusion and advanced computing. To help achieve these Ten Grand Challenges, the federal government should double its funding for energy research and keep the United States number one in the world in advanced computing.
There is a reason advanced nuclear reactors are at the top of my list of priorities.
Nuclear power is our best source of carbon-free power, and we are running a risk of losing it just at a time when most Americans are increasingly worried about climate change. While nuclear power provides about 60 percent of our nation’s carbon-free electricity, solar power provides just 5 percent, and wind power provides just under 18 percent, despite billions of dollars in subsidies.
With nuclear power available, depending on wind and solar power makes about as much sense as going to war in sailboats. Nuclear power must be part of our energy future if we want clean, cheap and reliable energy that can create good jobs and keep America competitive in a global economy. Simply put, nuclear power is much more reliable than solar or wind power. It is available when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.
Unfortunately, we do not need to speculate about what happens when a major industrialized country eliminates nuclear power. Before 2011, Germany obtained one quarter of its electricity from nuclear energy. Today, after mandating that it replace its nuclear power with wind and solar power, that number is down to 12 percent. Now Germany has among the highest household electricity rates in the European Union and has had to build new coal plants to meet their energy demands, increasing their emissions.
That is where we are headed in the next 10 years if we do not do something. The stakes are high.
The strategy I propose, however, takes advantage of the United States’ secret weapon: our extraordinary capacity for science and energy research, especially at our 17 national laboratories. Congress has recognized the importance of this research by providing record-level funding for the Office of Science the past four years. Unlike the “Green New Deal” — which is basically an assault on cars, cows and combustion — meeting the Ten Grand Challenges will curb carbon emissions, strengthen our economy and raise our family incomes.
This strategy also recognizes that, when it comes to climate change, China, India and other developing countries are the problem; American innovation is the answer.
According to the Global Carbon Project, over the last 13 years, the United States has reduced emissions of greenhouse gases more than any major country. But over the last five years, China’s carbon emissions have risen.
A University of California, Berkeley physicist put it this way: Our mothers told us as children to clean our plates because children in India were starving. Cleaning our plates was a good thing to do, but it didn’t do much for starving Indian children. In the same way, reducing carbon emissions in the United States may be good to do, but it doesn’t do much to address climate change, because most of the increase in greenhouse gases is in developing countries.
If we want to do something about climate change, we should use American research and technology to provide the rest of the world with the tools to create low-cost energy that emits fewer greenhouse gases.
The purpose of the original Manhattan project during World War II was to find a way to split the atom and build a bomb before Germany could. The New York Times described this as the “most concentrated intellectual effort in history.”
Instead of ending a war, the goal of this New Manhattan Project will be to minimize the disruption of our lives and economies caused by climate change — both in our country and in the rest of the world — by creating large amounts of clean, inexpensive energy.
This bold agenda — which will hopefully have bipartisan support — can over the next five years place us firmly on a path toward dealing with climate change, and at the same time, produce large amounts of reliable, clean energy that lifts family incomes in our country and around the world.
(Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, is Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.)

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