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Scientists Say Climate Change Should Propel Nuclear Energy to Prominence

shutterstock_142529875Nuclear 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.

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6 thoughts on “Scientists Say Climate Change Should Propel Nuclear Energy to Prominence

  1. It was the U.S. Congress that created the NRC in 1975 at the behest of the coal industry. Official line was that the Atomic Energy Commission had a conflicting mission of promoting nuclear energy and ensuring safety. The mission of promoting nuclear was given to the DOE and dropped. The NRC was given the mission to “maximize safety”. Orders for nuclear plants were cancelled as electric companies correctly anticipated skyrocketing costs and delays from onerous NRC regulation. In the 40 years since the NRC opened its doors not a single nuclear power plant was built from conception to completion. It will take the proverbial act of congress to reign in the NRC, or better yet, abolish it and replace it with something similar to the Atomic Energy Commission under which about 70 or 80 nuclear reactors were built in 10 or 15 years. That act of congress isn’t going happen as long as the fossil fuel industries own congress.

  2. It nearly grieves me to see a true hero- James Hansen, be so profoundly wrong and misinformed. He has been told over and over by dozens of credible sources that he needs to do his energy homework.

    This is so off-base it is verging on pitiful:
    “Nuclear, especially next-generation nuclear, has tremendous potential to be part of the solution to climate change. So for us to say we won’t use all the tools [such as nuclear energy] to solve the problem is crazy.”

  3. If they were talking about using Thorium instead of Uranium and potentially burning up some of our nuclear waste in the process I might be interested. Or if they were talking about injecting more funding into fusion technology maybe. But they aren’t so this is so foolhardy. I don’t disagree that an energy mix solution is required but has it escaped everyones attention that the common denominator between the push for natural gas and coal and the push for nuclear is the mining industry. Both require a fuel source to be mined from the ground. Solar and wind do not and is why they are constantly being supressed. Yes, yes resources have to be extracted for the infrastructure, but once recycling is sorted that will be reduced and once the infrastructure is in place the fuel source is free. The mining industry certainly don’t want a bar of that. Just as the invisible munitions corporations are the ever unmentioned keystone of all the armed conflict in our world, the silent mining giants hold the key to our energy future and will not budge.

  4. Morey Wolfson claims that James Hansen (Ph.D, one of the giants of climate science) is “profoundly wrong and misinformed”. This is Green code for “at odds with our ideological position”. Scientifically, Dr. Hansen has the only tenable position on the issue. No fossil-fired grid of any consequence anywhere has been freed of carbon emissions by any combination of wind, solar or geothermal power. On the other hand nuclear power has de-carbonized electric power as much as it’s been allowed to, everywhere it’s been tried. Success stories include Sweden, France and Ontario, which have per-kWh emissions a fraction of those in “green” Denmark and Germany.

    Regardless of this, Big Green is still rabidly anti-nuclear. This has to be laid at the feet of its donors, who call the ideological tune. Just as the fossil fuel industry owns Congress, it also owns NRDC, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace.

  5. Your arguement is circular. Just because what you say solar and wind has not, has no bearing on what it could do given the opportunity. You say that nuclear (like solar and wind) has been suppressed by Green Groups because they are a front for fossil fuel company donors, so how can you say what the potential of solar and wind would be without suppression and given the right subsidies and and research funding?

  6. Jai, you wrote: “so how can you say what the potential of solar and wind would be without suppression and given the right subsidies and and research funding?”

    That’s easy. Just look at Germany. 15 years and 100s of billions of Euros spent. Result: 15% of electricity from solar and wind (a mere 3.3% of total primary energy consumption) with no reduction of CO2 emissions for the last 6 years. Compare with France, which in the same amount of time (several decades ago) got to 80% CO2-free electricity with nuclear power. Even today, France leads the world in low CO2 emissions with 95% CO2-free electricity (75% from nuclear power).

    The empirical data is already available. That’s why the IPCC, the IEA, and most climate scientists agree we will fail to stem global warming unless we ramp up nuclear power, just as James Hansen tells us.

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