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Climate Change/Nuclear Energy Letter Receives Broad News Coverage

We mentioned the letter by four leading climate change scientists, James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Tom Wigley, and Ken Caldeira, on Monday [the post right below this one] and predicted it would get some pickup in the mainstream press. Prediction fulfilled: next up, this week’s lottery numbers.

The stories have included some other interesting information that bolster the notion that nuclear energy can make a decided difference in mitigating climate change. Here’s the Detroit News:

Stephen Ansolabehere, a Harvard professor who studies energy issues, said nuclear power is “very divisive” within the environmental movement. But he added that the letter could help educate the public about the difficult choices that climate change presents.

One major environmental advocacy organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council, warned that “nuclear power is no panacea for our climate woes.”

Even the nuclear energy industry doesn’t call nuclear energy a climate woe panacea. I’m pretty sure no one does: and the letter does posit a role for renewable energy – it simply stresses that nuclear energy is here now.

The Hill catches this aspect, too:

Climate activists that oppose nuclear power say scaled-up use of green energy sources like wind and solar power, expanded efficiency, and other tools can bring steep carbon emissions cuts without constructing new nuclear plants.

And climate activists who support nuclear energy say: Do both. It’s not so complicated. It really doesn’t have to be an article of faith to support or oppose nuclear energy.

Ansolabehere has it right: where nuclear energy was once utterly rejected in the environmental movement, it is now “very divisive” – which may not seem like progress but is indeed. It allows scientists as prominent as these to make a case for nuclear energy and not have to give back their environmental decoder rings.

Gristmill’s John Upton writes about their prominence as a value:

Not everyone in the green movement is likely to unreservedly agree with these climate scientists’ call for nuclear action. But with voices of this pedigree getting behind nuclear, you can bet the debate will only get hotter starting … now.

And that’s because nuclear energy is now a permissible topic.

Ars Technical gives a straight report on the letter, but adds a note, again speaking to the issue of prominence: “Full disclosure: Ars has covered the work of Caldeira, Emanuel, Hansen, and Wigley multiple times in the past.” 

ThinkProgress took a look and, as you’d expect, did not like the letter much. Much of its response is just boilerplate anti-nuclear stuff with a bit of concern trolling, but this was striking:

A 2007 Keystone report concluded that just one wedge of nuclear power “would require adding on average 14 plants each year for the next 50 years, all the while building an average of 7.4 plants to replace those that will be retired” — plus 10 Yucca Mountains to store the waste.

But we need at least 12 to 14 wedges to avert catastrophic climate change. So it’s pretty safe to say that most of those wedges will be non-nuclear — and most of those can begin aggressive deployment now.

The wedge game! There’s nothing wrong with the wedge game, created by Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow to calculate the elements need to develop an effective carbon emission strategy. But people use it to make complex ideas simple, not to take the full measure of complex issues. Many factors weigh into policy and most of those factors don’t figure into the wedge game. (And I wonder how many turbines it takes – and land mass for those turbines – to make a wedge.)

All of the coverage has been highly respectful of the men who wrote it and their qualification, no matter how much the writers disagree with their view on nuclear energy. Fine – you would expect no less. But it’s great to see the issue engaged. That’s what we were hoping for when we saw this letter – and that’s what we’ve got.


Pacala1 and R. Socolow say that one wedge would equal 2 million 1-MW-peak windmills. They would occupy 30 million hectares, or 115,000 square miles. That's equal to the land area of California.

It's not clear whether those figures include the land occupied for new roads to construct and maintain the turbines, or the land occupied by transmission lines that transmit electricity from wind farms to grid connections. Nor is it clear whether those figures account for the biggest ecological impacts of wind farms: fragmented habitats and species avoidance behavior.
Spent fuel is not waste. It is an extremely valuable carbon neutral clean energy commodity that should eventually be used in the next generation thorium reactors.

There's no logical reason to place spent fuel in any Yucca Mountain-like facilities.

Marcel F. Williams
SteveK9 said…
Here, I'll say it. Nuclear power is a panacea for our climate change woes.

Why is that so difficult? It is clearly true. France eliminated fossil-fuel burning for electricity generation with nuclear.

Add in electric vehicles and heat pumps and we can eliminate fossil fuels for everything but aircraft (probably need synfuels here).

This will be cheaper and more effective than any other solution.

Why can't we just say that wind and solar are a waste of time and resources?
trag said…
Totally agree and reemphasize what SteveK9 wrote. And Mark, can you write even one, pro-nuclear blog without nattering on about needing unreliables too?

We don't need unreliables. They do not work on the grid. They are three to five times as expensive as nuclear in real practice. They damage grid reliability and they are an ecological disaster simply because of their geographical foot print.

Unreliables are not only unnecessary, multiple studies have shown that implementing them does not reduce total CO2 emissions because their intermittency creates inefficiencies in fossil burners which eats up any possible CO2 reductions.

We do not need so-called renewables. They should be no part of the solution to climate change. They do not help one wit with reducing climate change. They waste money and time and attention that could be spent on actually reducing climate change. These are not opinions. These are facts born out by actual studies of the results of implementing so-called renewables on large scales.

We don't need renewables. The only solution available to us, which actually works, is nuclear.

Nuclear is not only a panacea for climate change, it is the only solution to climate change available to us.
Mudcat said…
Nuclear Power is definitely a panacea for climate change and its effect on our environment. It has not been proven yet as a panacea against geologic change and its effect on our environment - as evidenced by the great swath of land contaminated by the Fukushima meltdowns.
trag said…
Contamination around Fukishima is well below normal background levels in other places. There's nothing magical about nuclear "contamination".

There is zero reason that everyone should not have moved back to their homes more than a year ago.

There's not actually any reason that any of them should have left.

Mudcat's claim that large swaths of land are contaminated is meaningless. The land is no more harmful than living in Colorado or any other place with a slightly higher background radiation than Japan.

But reality never stops the ignorant.

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