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James B. Meigs: The Road to an Energy Crisis

Tom welcomes James Meigs to the program. James is senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and Contributor to City Journal. He formerly worked on three magazines as editor, including Popular Mechanics.

James discusses how his views on nuclear energy have changed over his career. Studying our existing grid and the problems around carbon dioxide has changed his views. Good clean energy solutions are few and far between, and nuclear can fill a key role in base energy. Wind and solar have a place, but they are difficult to use as a foundation for the grid. Nuclear provides that steady, reliable power source for months on end. Which is essential for modern society.

James explains the purpose of the Manhattan Institute to find solutions that are compatible with free markets. Maximum individual and business freedom while not relying on heavy-handed government interventions. There are practical solutions that market forces can bring. Governments have bad records at figuring out rapidly evolving technology. We need rapid progress in clear zero carbon energy that works for the consumer.

Europe and Germany in particular have seen themselves as green power pioneers. Germany wanted to ween themselves from coal, gas and oil. However, they weren’t able to get away from using coal like they imagined. Likewise, they spent a fortune on electricity before the war, and now we see a huge drag on the economy. We could see major industries shut down this winter and homes that go unheated.

Modern economic activity has largely been decoupled from carbon emissions. However, energy is necessary to run everything, and therefore it’s important not to abandon existing technologies.

Grids are less reliable when nuclear power is decommissioned. The truth is that modern reactors don’t take that long to decommission. Funds are normally set aside during operations to pay for the decommissioning process. Nuclear is the most regulated energy market in the United States. It’s an extremely long process to license and permit these plants.

France has had the most success with reducing carbon output. They became quite concerned during the 70s as to their energy security. So, they invested heavily in Nuclear Power by building a couple of dozen nuclear plants. Today, their grid is run from 70% nuclear sources. Not only that, but they have lower prices than most of the rest of Europe.

James is excited about some of the nuclear technology that is in development. There is a lot of cool research that has been done in nuclear within the United States, but we haven’t deployed these ideas commercially. Many of these plants could be much smaller and modular. Instead of powering a major city, we could power individual manufacturing plants or remote sites like in Alaska. These would be built in factories and trucked to their locations. They are inherently safe and would not require constant supervision.

Lastly, he discusses the potential of nuclear fusion and the technologies behind carbon capture and sequestration.

Time Stamp References:
0:00 – Introduction
0:39 – Nuclear Energy
2:40 – Manhattan Institute
4:42 – Europe & Energy
7:23 – Carbon Tax Reality
12:47 – New Tech. Costs
16:15 – Green Subsidizes
21:26 – Reopening Plants
28:35 – Carbon-Neutral Energy
31:00 – Green & Grid Stability
34:33 – Future Nuclear Tech.
39:17 – Nuclear Roadblocks
42:15 – Fusion in 20 Years?
45:30 – Carbon Capture
50:16 – Wrap Up

Talking Points From This Episode

  • How views are gradually changing on the benefits of nuclear energy.
  • The purpose behind the Manhattan Institute.
  • The problems with green energy and trying to transition too quickly from carbon-based sources.
  • Why France has benefitted greatly from nuclear and what the future holds in newer technology.

Guest links:

James B. Meigs is a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. He is the former editor of Popular Mechanics, where he helped reposition that century-old brand to become a major voice on technological issues of the day. He currently cohosts the How Do We Fix It? Podcast and writes the Tech Commentary column for Commentary magazine. His coverage of energy, environmental policy, culture, and other topics has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Slate, the New York Times, and other publications. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Dartmouth College.

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