An American reactor starts up, a Taiwanese reactor shuts down
Plus an update from my recent trip to Israel.
Greetings from gusty Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where the snow stopped flurrying but the wind is still howling and shaking the leafless limbs of the American elm outside my window.
In the five weeks since I last wrote to you, I visited Israel for the first time in 11 years, arriving on the day of the biggest nationwide protests in the country’s 75-year history. Demonstrators outraged by the far-right government’s attempt to curb the judiciary’s check on its power shouted the new environment minister off stage at a climate summit I attended in Be’er Sheva. The upheaval hung over the big tech-investor conference I attended a day later in Jerusalem. You can read those stories on HuffPost here and here.
It wasn’t all like that, though. I had a very emotional experience at the Kotel. I drank some freshly squeezed pomegranate juice that was so satisfying it reminded me why I stopped buying POM Wonderful 11 years ago. And Rabbi Susan Silverman and her husband, the solar entrepreneur Yosef Abramowitz (a.k.a. Captain Sunshine) had me over for a really nice Shabbos meal.
Last week, I attended SXSW to moderate a discussion on nuclear energy with Bret Kugelmass, the chief executive of the small modular reactor company Last Energy and host of the “Titans of Nuclear” podcast, which is well worth a listen. Video of our conversation should be online at some point soon. When it is, I’ll share it here. This was my first visit to Texas, though as I write those words, I imagine some Lone Star State natives insisting that Austin doesn't really count. Oh well. I had a great time eating tacos that beat anything we have here in New York for multiple meals in a row.
I’m writing to you today to briefly tell you about two separate milestones in nuclear energy on opposite sides of the world.
The first took place last week in rural Waynesboro, Georgia, where – after a grueling 14 years of construction and billions of dollars in cost overruns – the U.S. started up its first new reactor built from scratch in nearly half a century. It’ll be at least another six months before Unit 3 of Plant Vogtle actually delivers electricity to the grid. But its first split atoms herald the start of a new debate over whether or not the long-delayed facility is proof we should build more reactors – and how big those fission machines should be. If you’re curious about SMRs, how they differ from traditional, full-scale pressurized water reactors, and what the future may hold for American fission, this one's for you. Read it here on HuffPost.
The second took place today in New Taipei City, Taiwan, where the country’s second atomic generating station, the Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant, permanently closed. This is the second nuclear plant to shut down in Taiwan – the third if you count the unfinished Lungmen facility I visited back in November. That leaves just the two reactors at the Maanshan Nuclear Power Plant, which the Taiwanese government plans to shutter by 2025. If you recall my email from January, Taiwan’s retreat from nuclear energy has huge climate implications in one of the world’s top 25 emitters. It could also have major geopolitical impacts, since Taiwan is now dependent on imported fossil fuel that the Chinese military could easily blockade for nearly 90% of its electricity. That story is hot off the presses (a computer server is probably warming up somewhere, right?), and you can read it here on HuffPost.
Not banking on climate tech? The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank could put the squeeze on climate-tech startups, making it harder to raise money. Bloomberg
Big Oil Biden. The White House approved a controversial 30–year oil drilling project in the Alaskan Arctic this week, threatening to release a “carbon bomb” with worldwide shockwaves and damage an already fragile ecosystem. HuffPost
Corn cars? Lithium cars? Table salt car? The dazzling rate of change in technologies to decarbonize cars shows that the “energy transition is the site of conflict between an old world anchored in stocks and flows of hydrocarbons, and a new world dependent more on manufacturing processes and genuine innovation in energy.” The Polycrisis
Saudi’s atoms for peace. Riyadh has named its price for normalizing relations with Israel: U.S. help building its first nuclear power plant. This could open a whole can of worms about U.S. nuclear fuel agreements, which I touch on in my piece on Taiwan today. The Wall Street Journal
H2 slow? As federal regulators decide how to shell out $100 billion in subsidies for green hydrogen fuel, there’s a fierce debate unfolding over how much to restrict the handouts. Too little regulation could send billions intended for a zero-carbon hydrogen to high-carbon hydrogen, but too much could keep green H2 prices too high to be anything but a virtue signal. CNBC
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