You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

President Joe Biden Is Stopping or Reversing Many of Donald Trump's Changes to Climate-Based Policy

Popular Mechanics logo Popular Mechanics 1/02/2021 Caroline Delbert
a man in a blue vase: Scientists say rejoining the Paris Agreement is a good start. Where else does nuclear fit under the president's energy plan? © Getty/Staff Illustration Scientists say rejoining the Paris Agreement is a good start. Where else does nuclear fit under the president's energy plan?
  • President Joe Biden is stopping or reversing many of Donald Trump’s changes to climate-based policy and science.
  • Political differences aside, however, Biden’s nuclear energy policy isn’t all that different from his predecessor’s.
  • Biden is advocating for environmental justice, especially citing harm to Black Americans.

As is custom for new commanders in chief, President Joe Biden immediately issued a series of high-profile executive orders when he entered the Oval Office last month.

Biden especially made headlines for swiftly re-admitting the United States into the Paris Agreement>>>P, under which almost every nation on Earth has pledged to limit the rise in global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial levels by the year 2100.

Join POP MECH PRO and get exclusive answers to your most pressing science questions, starting now.

President Donald Trump’s administration withdrew the U.S. from the climate pact in 2020, and Biden’s move is seen as a symbolic rollback of his predecessor’s lack of enthusiasm for climate science, and a clear indication that clean energy will be a major part of his agenda as president.

But where does nuclear factor into Biden’s clean energy plan>>>P? And will his investment in nuclear be markedly different from Trump’s?

One of the biggest points of contention between nuclear energy and anti-nuclear activism is over the idea that nuclear is“clean” energy. Yes, nuclear energy produces less carbon in terms of the most literal power output compared with coal and fossil fuel power plants, but there are other factors in the mix: radioactive waste, safety risks, potentially high costs, and more. It’s not the clean one-to-one replacement that advocates want it to be. But Biden, along with many pragmatists around the world, believes nuclear energy is a key piece of the carbon-neutral near future.

Biden’s energy platform mentions advanced nuclear as part of“critical clean energy technologies” and lists“reclaiming” domestic uranium mining as a goal. The Biden presidency will“leverage the carbon-pollution free energy provided by existing sources like nuclear and hydropower, while ensuring those facilities meet robust and rigorous standards for worker, public, environmental safety and environmental justice.”

Cool Stuff We Love: The Best Nuclear Books

And where the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) currently works on energy projects, Biden wants to create an ARPA-C agency for climate technology goals in particular. Per Biden’s plan, the ARPA-C initiative“will target affordable, game-changing technologies to help America achieve our 100% clean energy target,” with a specific focus on small modular reactors at“half the construction cost of today’s reactors.”

The Department of Energy (DoE) has a full portfolio of investments and goals in progress, including many that went on unimpeded during the Trump administration. Advanced reactors, for example, have goals that overlap with President Trump’s more military-minded policymaking.

These reactors include the smaller or even fully mobile reactors, projects that will work in space, and more. The sheer diversity of the reactors means they’re likely to cover areas of the world that other energy solutions can’t reach alone. Remote areas that rely on diesel generators, for example, have long been a key demographic for smaller and safer new reactor designs.

The trade group Nuclear Energy Institute claimed Biden’s re-signing of the Paris Agreement as a nuclear energy victory>>>P, saying nuclear is“our nation’s largest source of carbon-free energy,” and“the climate crisis is a global problem and requires a global solution.”

Indeed, this is the key point when we talk about nuclear energy in 2021. For many of the world’s climate change-related goals, nuclear energy is mandatory as at least a large part of the plan. That includes providing large-scale power for entire cities as well as more specialized usages like process heat.

More Cool Stuff We Love: The Best Home Generators

How does this compare to Trump’s record on nuclear energy? It’s not especially different in the nitty gritty, but the frame is new. The Biden platform is heavy on ideas like environmental justice, supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs), and climate-driven energy goals, while Trump tended to emphasize preserving“American” energy and investing in nuclear weapons technology. But the Trump administration still invested in advanced reactors and many of the other goals Biden’s platform seeks to continue.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration recently extended a key nuclear arms limitation treaty with Russia that Trump didn’t love—likely the last pact of its kind as a holdover from the Cold War era of deescalation.

The move grants a five-year extension to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)>>>P, which issues strict limits on the number of nuclear weapons either country can deploy on land, air, and sea. New START was set to expire this month. Like many pre-existing treaties, Trump panned New START as a“another bad deal” that his predecessor Barack Obama had signed, and Trump believed he could renegotiate a better one.

Arms control advocates feared a collapse of the treaty could lead to a dramatic increase in the number of nuclear weapons that both sides are ready to use.

The U.S. and Russia signed the New START Treaty in 2010. The treaty is designed to lower the number of deployed nuclear weapons—i.e., nukes onboard ballistic missile submarines at sea, bombers parked at alert status, and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) sitting in hardened silos.

The treaty isn’t perfect, but it’s a... well, start. The goal is to keep building and building upon New START until the ideal arms treaty is put into place. Will Biden be the nuclear president to keep the peace?

🎥 Now Watch This:

More from Popular Mechanics

Popular Mechanics
Popular Mechanics
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon