Nuclear energy’s resilience was never more apparent than during the COP21 climate talks in Paris. It was there that a famed environmentalist and the one who has cautioned against the effects of global warming said that the carbon-free energy form should figure a lot more prominently into utility power generation.
That may be happening much more in the developing world as China and India move to clean their air, while also continuing to build their economies. But it is not such a sure thing in the United States, which has access to cheaper natural gas that makes such capital intensive investments as nuclear look economically unfavorable.
Still, there’s breaking news: The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given its Okay this week for NRG to build two new nuclear reactors designed by Toshiba Corp. The plants would be built near Houston, which is at an existing nuclear site. But it is unlikely that the facilities would get constructed anytime soon, given that the price could run well into the billions, or north of $14 billion.
It’s not just the cost of construction, it’s also the fact that natural gas is so cheap, at around $2 per million Btus. Then there’s the whole safety issue thing, stemming back to Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, all before Fukushima. Even with all that, some of the globe’s leading scientist say that nuclear power cannot be avoided.
“Nuclear, especially next-generation nuclear, has tremendous potential to be part of the solution to climate change,” said James Hansen, the NASA scientist who first raised dire warnings over global warming, at the COP21 conference in December. “The dangers of fossil fuels are staring us in the face. So for us to say we won’t use all the tools [such as nuclear energy] to solve the problem is crazy.”
And he was joined by Tom Wigley, Ken Caldeira and Kerry Emanuel with the University of Adelaide, Carnegie Institution for Science and MIT, respectively, as reported by Scientific American. Those scientists have been on crusade to push nuclear energy even before the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded with 95 percent certainty that humans are mostly responsible for global warming.
Will nuclear make a comeback? China, Korea, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and the UK are advancing nuclear production to address air pollution and climate concerns. China has 20 nuclear plants today and 28 more under construction — 40 percent of all projected new nuclear units, says the World Nuclear Association.