Skip to main content

Four Noted Climate Change Scientists Say: More Nuclear Energy, Please.

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 Hansen

of 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.

UPDATE:

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.

Comments

Joffan said…
"Expect to see a good deal of coverage of it and, if we’re lucky, some discussion pro and con."

Sadly what I expect to see is a lot of people denying that these four men are capable scientists and asserting that they have been bribed.

The issues getting discussed - well, it might happen in some few areas but much more likely to be drowned out in nonsense and outrage.
jim said…
That this isn't getting much play in the green world or the media shows how bias is not just blind but hypocritical. Good luck to Pandora's Promise!

James Greenidge
Queens NY
Anonymous said…
I see high-visibility stories in the New York Times, Forbes, CNN. Not sure what you're complaining about?

Popular posts from this blog

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…