Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter once wrote, "Situations emerge in the process of creative destruction in which many firms may have to perish that nevertheless would be able to live on vigorously and usefully if they could weather a particular storm."
If we are ever going to solve the problem of climate change, we will need innovative solutions to replace coal with natural gas, nuclear power, and other renewables. I am happy to report that we are finally developing the potential to reverse climate change.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of coal miners peaked in 1923 at 862,536 coal miners. By the end of 2022, there were approximately 38,300 coal miners.
In one century, the number of coal miners has dropped by 95%.
Despite the collapsing numbers in workers, the production of coal peaked in 2008 at 1.17 million short tons. In the last decade, the production of coal has fallen by more than half.
In 2021, the United States produced only 577.4 thousand short tons of coal.
The United States has no shortage of coal. Innovative companies have helped us develop a viable set of alternatives.
According to the Department of Energy, the world had 1.16 billion short tons of proven recoverable coal reserves in December 2021. The United States led the world with 22% of those recoverable reserves followed by Russia (15%), Australia (14%), China (14%), and India (11%).
In 2016, natural gas surpassed coal as our leading source of electricity due to an innovative combination of hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling.
By 2021, the United States produced 4.12 trillion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity. In 2021, 38% of our electricity was natural gas compared to 22% for coal.
The other major sources were renewables (20%) and nuclear (19%).
The amount of electricity from coal declined from just over 2 trillion kWh in 2007 to 899 billion kWh in 2021. In the same period, our electricity generated from natural gas had doubled from 897 billion kWh in 2007 to 1.575 trillion kWh in 2021.
Electricity from renewables had also doubled 353 billion kWh in 2007 to 826 billion kWh hours in 2021. Unfortunately, electricity from nuclear power had declined slightly from 806 billion kWh in 2007 to 778 billion kWh.
While coal is declining in the United States, the world broke a record in coal production in 2022. In 2022, China produced almost 4.5 billion tons of coal.
This is over half of the 8 billion tons in global coal demand. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), China and India are the two largest producers and consumers of coal.
We shouldn't forget that 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions are the result of producing electricity. Lowering the global demand for coal requires the United States, and other countries, to produce cleaner and cheaper alternatives to coal.
Thankfully, Bill Gates may have found a way.
In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded funding to TerraPower. This company was founded by Bill Gates.
This company has developed an advanced nuclear reactor. According to the company's website:
"TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy developed the Natrium technology with a cost-competitive, 345 MWe sodium fast reactor and gigawatt-hour-scale, molten salt energy storage. The storage can boost output to 500 MWe of power for more than five and a half hours when needed."
If this company can make nuclear power safe and competitive, nuclear power plants could replace coal plants around the world. Unfortunately, the war in Ukraine has set back this company's timetable to reverse climate change by at least two years.
According to Chris Levesque, President and CEO of TerraPower, "Russia's invasion of Ukraine caused the only commercial source of HALEU fuel to no longer be a viable part of the supply chain for TerraPower, as well as for others in our industry."
High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) is when uranium-235 is enriched between 5% to 20%. Advanced nuclear reactors require HALEU while most commercial nuclear reactors rely on low enriched uranium-235 (between 3% to 5%).
I doubt there is any possibility for a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine. Regardless of the outcome, the United States should work with Russia and China on reversing climate change.
COVID-19 killed over a million Americans, but nobody in the Biden administration is arguing that we should not work with China on climate change and other important issues. The United States and Russia can produce enough HALEU to help the Chinese, and the rest of the world, transition away from coal plants to nuclear plants.
The Biden administration should negotiate with Russia to acquire its HALEU fuel to reverse climate change.
Robert Zapesochny is a researcher and writer whose work focuses on foreign affairs, national security and presidential history. He has been published in numerous outlets, including The American Spectator, the Washington Times, and The American Conservative. When he's not writing, Robert works for a medical research company in New York. Read Robert Zapesochny's Reports — More Here.
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