Why Elon Musk Thinks This Nuclear Move In Europe Is 'Critical' For International Security

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has fueled concerns about a gas shortage and rising energy prices, particularly in Europe, which has grown dependent on the country's gas exports. The situation has shined a light on the importance of transitioning to clean and renewable energy sources, as well as to the everyday items that efficiently use them like electric vehicles.

Amid these concerns is a new series of tweets from Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, a company that makes EVs and home batteries, among other things. In one tweet, Musk called on Europe to "restart dormant nuclear power stations," describing the need for this move as "extremely obvious" and "critical to national and international security." Preempting concerns about safety, Musk also said he'd travel to "the worst location" someone can think of (in relation to its supposed radiation risk) and "eat locally grown food on TV" to show that it's safe.

Shortages and high energy costs fuel concerns

Europe has steadily moved away from nuclear energy, aiming to instead fill the void with renewable alternatives. This has proven problematic, however, as energy crisis concerns mount and clean alternatives fail to catch up fast enough. As reported by the International Energy Agency, the EU has grown quite dependent on Russia for its gas over the past decade or so; as of last year, Europe relied on those exports for 32-percent of its needs.

Russia's military action in Ukraine and general aggression toward Europe have underscored how problematic this dependency is, putting nations at risk of energy shortages and spiraling costs. Germany, in particular, has been phasing out its nuclear power plants since the tragic Fukushima disaster back in 2011, though some of the facilities are still operational. Assuming nothing changes before then, the country's final three nuclear plants will be shut down by the end of the year.

We may see at least a temporary change in plans, however, now that Russia's actions are forcing the nation to readdress its energy needs and goals. Reuters reports that German officials have been in talks about not only delaying the nuclear plant shutdowns but also reembracing coal-based power facilities as a way to further distance itself from Russian natural gas exports.

Amid all this, Musk is championing the return of nuclear energy, saying in one tweet, "Hopefully, it is now extremely obvious that Europe should restart dormant nuclear power stations and increase power output of existing ones." International security concerns related to dependency on Russian exports aren't new. 

Energy as a national security issue

The trade association Nuclear Energy Institute highlights this "rapidly shifting" energy landscape as one of its reasons for pushing this technology, also citing both Russia and China's growing number of reactors and their growth as energy suppliers. Separately, the US Office of Nuclear Energy points out that nuclear power — unlike coal-fired power plants — is better for the environment, offering zero emissions while having relatively small real estate needs and producing very little waste.

The Department of Defense is among the entities that rely on the nation's grid to power its installations, making dependency on foreign energy particularly risky. Nuclear power plants are resistant to many of the issues presented by alternative energy sources partly due to their constant generation of electricity and their multi-year on-site fuel storage, enabling them to remain operational for quite a while even if an unexpected situation — like Russia invading Ukraine — disrupts other supplies.

With more than a decade since the Fukushima disaster, geopolitical and national security concerns, and pressure from consumers already facing high energy costs, we may finally see a revival of nuclear power plants as clean and reliable sources of energy.