Climate experts to enviros: “The time has come” to embrace nuclear power

Wind and solar power alone won't do enough to counter climate change, say four top climate scientists

Topics: Nuclear Power, renewable energy, Climate Change, greenhouse gasses, Oil and Gas, fossil fuels, Wind energy, Solar Power, , ,

In an ideal world, we’d move steadily away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, like wind and solar, while neatly avoiding messy alternatives like natural gas and nuclear power. But according to four top U.S. scientists, renewable energy won’t be enough to head off the rapidly advancing reality of climate change. Despite the scary things you may be hearing about it, they said, nuclear power is a solution, and it needs to be taken seriously.

The letter, signed by James Hansen, a former top NASA scientist; Ken Caldeira, of the Carnegie Institution; Kerry Emanuel, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Tom Wigley, of the University of Adelaide in Australia — all of whom, according to the AP, “have played a key role in alerting the public to the dangers of climate change” – was sent to leading environmental groups and leaders around the world. Advocating for the development of safe nuclear power, they wrote:

We appreciate your organization’s concern about global warming, and your advocacy of renewable energy. But continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity’s ability to avoid dangerous climate change.

…Renewables like wind and solar and biomass will certainly play roles in a future energy economy, but those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires. While it may be theoretically possible to stabilize the climate without nuclear power, in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power.

Using a bit less tact, Hansen told the AP: “They’re cheating themselves if they keep believing this fiction that all we need” is wind and solar.

The experts also took pains to address concerns over nuclear safety — something that’s been a particular sticking point for nuclear power in the wake of the disaster at Fukushima:



We understand that today’s nuclear plants are far from perfect. Fortunately, passive safety systems and other advances can make new plants much safer. And modern nuclear technology can reduce proliferation risks and solve the waste disposal problem by burning current waste and using fuel more efficiently. Innovation and economies of scale can make new power plants even cheaper than existing plants. Regardless of these advantages, nuclear needs to be encouraged based on its societal benefits.

Quantitative analyses show that the risks associated with the expanded use of nuclear energy are orders of magnitude smaller than the risks associated with fossil fuels. No energy system is without downsides. We ask only that energy system decisions be based on facts, and not on emotions and biases that do not apply to 21st century nuclear technology.

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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