Four of the world’s top climate scientists issued an open letter urging environmental groups and politicians worldwide to support nuclear energy as a primary way to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions known to contribute to global warming.
James Hansenof Columbia University’s Earth Institute and formerly at NASA, Ken Caldeira, senior scientist in the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tom Wigley, a climate scientist at Australia’s University of Adelaide, wrote that renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy cannot by themselves stem the threat of global warming.
The letter agrees that:
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 the authors say that it is theoretically possible to achieve global carbon emission reduction goals without an increased use of nuclear energy, “in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power.”
The letter echoes views shared by the nuclear energy industry. Responding to President Barack Obama’s climate change action plan earlier this year, NEI President and CEO Marv Fertel said,
As a nation, we cannot reach our energy and climate goals without the reliable, carbon-free electricity that nuclear power plants generate to power our homes, businesses and infrastructure.
Similarly, the scientists note the small risk associated with nuclear energy.
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,” the letter says, continuing that decision makers should be guided by “facts and not on emotions and biases that do not apply to 21st century nuclear technology.
Hansen, known for his high profile climate change activism while at NASA, told the Associated Press “They’re cheating themselves [environmentalists] if they keep believing this fiction that all we need” is renewable energy.”
Hansen has also been a noted supporter of nuclear energy. In a study published earlier this year in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, he and a co-author argued that nuclear plants saved 1.8 million lives by displacing coal facilities and held the potential to save 7 million additional lives in the next 40 years if nuclear energy facilities replaced coal plants.
So joining Hansen with three prominent climate scientists – and in different areas of the issue – gives this letter unusual heft and potential influence. Expect to see a good deal of coverage of it and, if we’re lucky, some discussion pro and con. The more the ideas in this letter get play, the better for nuclear energy. It has become increasingly clear that it is the logical way forward if we mean to get to grips with climate change.
Fertel issued a statement specifically about this letter that broadens the perspective quite a bit:
“The letter puts an exclamation point on a phenomenon that has been unfolding for several years, namely the steady growth in support for nuclear energy from leading environmentalists – Stewart Brand, James Lovelock, Mark Lynas and Patrick Moore to name just a few. Greenhouse gas emissions would be vastly higher if nuclear energy facilities did not provide 40 percent of the electricity globally that is produced by carbon-free sources of power (63 percent in the United States).
“This is why James Hansen and the other scientists make this point: ‘In the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power.’ There is ever-increasing recognition of this analysis.
“When the Robert Stone documentary ‘Pandora’s Promise’ airs this Thursday night on CNN, viewers will see environmental leaders who are embracing nuclear energy, and hear them explain why they’ve reached the conclusions they have regarding the value of nuclear energy to preserve our environment.”
CNN makes this connection, too, at the link holding the whole letter – as Fertel points out, the network is showing Pandora’s Promise this Thursday. There doesn’t seem to be any explicit coordination between the letter and the movie showing, but there doesn’t need to be any: they both make the same worthwhile point.