Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas (2000–2015) and former U.S. Energy Secretary (2017–2019), who has more recently been in the news because of his support for legalizing psychedelic drugs, including MDMA, psilocybin (magic mushrooms), and ketamine, for therapeutic uses, said nuclear power is his “favorite” electricity resource. Speaking at the co-located POWERGEN and DISTRIBUTECH events in Dallas, Texas, on May 23, Perry suggested people need to be realistic and admit that renewable energy resources alone cannot reliably supply all the power needed for the U.S. to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Therefore, nuclear power—another zero-carbon energy resource—is vital to reaching goals.
“This country, and the world, needs to be truthful about what is happening in the energy generation business and the challenges that you face, and government needs to quit playing politics with what we face in this country and what we face in the world,” Perry said.
Nuclear Power Is Important
Perry’s support for the nuclear industry was evident early on in his time as energy secretary. In an interview with CNBC’s Joe Kernen in June 2017, a little over three months after taking the post, Perry said, “Nuclear power is going to be a very important part of [the Trump administration’s all-of-the-above approach to energy]. So, bringing our nuclear energy industry back—small modular reactors, for instance—that’s on the front burner.”
During his talk in Dallas, Perry questioned how anyone focused on reducing emissions could disregard nuclear power as an energy resource. “If you’re one of those people who are for net-zero by 2050, your support group is probably not a supporter of nuclear energy,” he said. “How do you have a conversation in the world today and talk about the climate—talk about delivering power so that our economies can grow—and not have a conversation about nuclear power?” he asked.
While Perry certainly seems interested in seeing nuclear plants added to the U.S. fleet, he also has a broader vision that involves exporting U.S. technology around the world. Near the end of his time at the Department of Energy, Perry gave a keynote address to the U.S.-EU High-Level Industrial Forum on SMRs, which was held in Brussels, Belgium, on Oct. 21, 2019. The World Nuclear News reported that in his speech Perry said, “We are reaffirming nuclear energy as an indispensable source of energy for the world.”
“By sharing our nuclear energy technologies, we are breathing new life into that great and noble vision first unveiled to the world by President Eisenhower. A vision to convert nuclear power into peaceful energy for the whole of humanity,” he said. In his May speech, Perry asked rhetorically, “Are there ways that we can deploy affordable energy around the world developed in the United States?” He responded, “I think the answer is yes.”
While the conflict in Ukraine has uncovered some risks associated with nuclear power during wartime, it has also exposed several benefits the resource offers via energy security. In Belgium, Perry said, “When nations have secure energy sources, they can’t be controlled by other countries wielding that energy as a geopolitical weapon. In a very real way, small modular reactors can be another tool to help vulnerable nations take control of their destinies.”
Fossil Fuels and Hydropower Also Needed
Yet, Perry also believes fossil fuels and large-scale hydropower are vital to the U.S. energy mix. “We’re going to need it all. And I think we ought to be honest about it, and get up and talk about [it]. We’re going to need it all,” he said.
“You’re going to have to continue to use fossil fuels,” Perry said. However, he suggested much thought should be put into the strategy. “There are a lot of great and good things that are going on out there,” he said. “Whether it’s the carbon capture, the sequestration, there’s technologies out there that—if we will continue to push them forward—that will, in fact, address this issue of the climate, and how we as humans are affecting that climate. And we can come up with the ways to do that. But, the idea that there is this absolute, just, war against fossil fuels is really disheartening.”
Similar to his vision for helping the world implement nuclear technologies, Perry also sees great possibilities for the U.S. to export fossil fuels, and the tools to use them more cleanly and efficiently. Referencing information he had heard from Toby Rice, CEO of EQT Corp., Perry suggested if old, inefficient coal-fired plants in China, Europe, and India were replaced with cleaner-burning power plants fueled by liquefied natural gas from the U.S., it would greatly reduce worldwide emissions. “It would have the effect of every car in the United States—every vehicle in the United States—being electric, every rooftop being solar, plus, like a fourfold increase in wind energy,” he said.
In the end, Perry urged the POWERGEN/DISTRIBUTECH audience to get out and spread the word that fossil fuels, nuclear power, and large-scale hydro are not evil. “We hear these conversations across the media and these so-called designated experts, who tell us that the end is nigh, and that fossil fuels and nuclear power, large-scale hydro are bad. But the fact of the matter is, truth is, that American technology—American fossil fuels, in this case—and American know-how and innovation in the nuclear side of things, can literally change the world. And we need to be out talking about that more,” Perry said.
—Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor.