All in all, there is no simple answer to this question. If you believe strongly enough that we should phase out nuclear then with sufficiently strong political commitment around the world, this could be done consistently with tackling climate change. However, as a practical matter, we are far from being on course to limit carbon emissions to levels consistent with a 2C target. Ruling out one of the major low-carbon technology options currently available is bound to add to the difficulty and the risk of what is already looking like a very tough challenge. Balancing the problems of nuclear power against its contribution to climate mitigation (and other energy policy objectives) is an inescapable dilemma.
Hirst knows as well as we do that finding “sufficiently strong political commitment around the world” to shutter nuclear energy is as likely as finding sufficiently strong political commitment to do anything, notably about climate change. After all, that’s the “inescapable dilemma” he sees by shutting down the facilities.
Hirst has contributed an unusually sophisticated and nuanced argument, especially for a newspaper piece – worth a full read.
From John P. Banks and Kevin Massy at the Brookings Institution, a think tank, a similar view, but a different angle:
While the developed world gets cold feet on nuclear power, its prospects in developing countries are different. The challenges of meeting electricity demand, reducing reliance on imported energy, and promoting economic growth while lowering carbon dioxide emissions, leave many emerging nations with no alternative but to consider nuclear energy as a key component of their economic development and energy security strategies.
I’m not as convinced the developed world is quite so chilly, but let’s give that to the authors. Or that the alternatives are so slender that nuclear energy is the only way to proceed. The reason for this doubt is that nuclear energy answers to more issues than just climate change – energy security and independence, the prospect of a very large amount of electricity for one admittedly large investment, etc. Still, the authors investigate the issue with due seriousness:
In our view, lack of stakeholder engagement is a major contributing factor. Governments that may not have a tradition of proactively explaining policy decisions and responding to questions and concerns in a timely and transparent manner are now confronting the reality that engaging in a dialog with all interested parties is essential, especially for an endeavor with such long-term and unique safety, environmental, cost, proliferation and strategic characteristics.
This is the gist of their piece and they provide examples of governments pursuing nuclear energy without buy in from their peoples, leading to protests borne of fear. Perhaps the idea is a bit oversold, but it seems a good topic with which to engage.
From Dr. Dale Dewar, executive director of the group Physicians for Global Survival, in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix:
An industry born in the secrecy of the Manhattan Project, building the nuclear bomb in the 1940s, it has continued to operate largely behind closed doors. Power plant construction has been highly government subsidized, consistently subjected to lengthy technical delays and always massively overbudget.
Anti-nuclear advocates often try the history-of-secrecy approach to imagine the nuclear industry a kind of atomic star chamber, doling out energy justice as it sees fits and irradiating its enemies out of inborn vicious spite. It’s a pretty old fashioned attack – at least Dr. Dewar could cast herself as the van Helsing dragging the shrieking nucleus of evil out of the shadows before staking it.
I wondered about the doctor, whose full column is equally littered with, shall we call it, antispeak, that is, a collection of dire if bald and dubious assertions. Here’s a little about her, after winning a raffle held by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War:
Dr. Dewar lives on a cash-strapped struggling Land Trust in Saskatchewan. She and her husband are delighted with the raffle win and plan to put it to good use in their continued exploration of alternative energy and lifestyles. Part of the ticket was purchased by the PGS, administrative officer, Andrea Levy, who earmarked her win to visit and provide supportive care to a dear friend on the other side of the continent. There will be many people and projects who will benefit!
Which is great! We also learn that she is a family doctor, great, too, especially if she is providing service at that Land Trust. I wonder if there is a certain groupthink in these interlinking groups, but it does help explain the “industry born in secrecy” view if you’re determined to connect the Manhattan Project to domestic nuclear energy.