U.S. falling behind in science and engineering: 3 ways to catch up | Staff Columnists

One example of where science-based decisions could better inform our energy policy are small modular nuclear reactors, or SMRs. Many people immediately reject nuclear power as a viable energy option because of two false perceptions: that it is fundamentally unsafe and that there is no good way to dispense with spent radioactive fuel. However, even well-respected former anti-nuclear advocates, like Michael Schellenberger, have changed their minds on this. Electricity from nuclear plants can be created safely, affordably and without turning radioactive material into weapons.

Another example is hydrogen-based fuel cells, which produce electricity in a way that exhausts only water and heat. The global market is still relatively small, only about $5 billion today, but one analyst believes it could grow to $40 billion in six years; another believes that in 2032 over 5 million hydrogen-fueled cars will be sold worldwide, worth over $250 billion. Almost every major foreign manufacturer has scaled a fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) to production, but the U.S. is virtually invisible in the market. Unwisely retreating from FCEVs unnecessarily limits the U.S. from competing in advanced energy manufacturing and transportation.

There are three decisions we can make that would put the U.S. on proper footing.

First, we need to agree that voluntarily relinquishing technological leadership is going to severely hurt our economy and our global political influence. Pushing a coal-based agenda or ripping up environmental regulations is not going to make us cleaner, healthier, more productive or more employable. The last Quadrennial Energy Review predicted that 1.5 million new jobs will be created in the energy sector between 2016 and 2030; in fact, according to the 2020 US Energy and Employment Report, there were 54,000 net new jobs in just energy efficiency alone.

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