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Nuclear Power is not a Solution to Climate Change

Nuclear power
worsens the climate problem, because every dollar spent on costly nuclear power instead of cheaper options buys less coal displacement. For example, if a new nuclear plant delivered a kWh for only three times the cost of saving a kWh (the actual difference is typically much larger), then for the cost of your one nuclear kWh, you could have saved three kWh, tripling your carbon reduction. Amory Lovins

"Low carbon" misses the point The view that climate protection requires expanding nuclear power has a basic flaw in its prevailing framing: it rarely if ever relates climate-effectiveness to cost or to speed—even though  stopping climate change requires scaling the fastest and cheapest solutions . By focusing on carbon but only peripherally mentioning cost and speed, and by not relating these three variables , this approach misframes what climate solutions must do. nuclear power not only isn’t a silver bullet, but, by using it, we shoot ourselves in the foot, thereby  shrinking and slowing  climate protection compared with choosing the fastest, cheapest tools.
A common myth often repeated is that renewables use far more land than nuclear power. This is corrected in my technical paper — Renewable Energy’s ‘Footprint’ Myth. Solar land-use is actually comparable to, or somewhat less than, nuclear’s if you properly include the nuclear fuel cycle, not just the power plant it supports. 
Wind power’s land use in turn is 1–2+ orders of magnitude smaller than solar’s. A recent Bloomberg report, though it provides a more nuanced treatment, surprisingly botched this comparison, having been misled by a report from a Koch-funded “think tank” whose dodgy provenance Bloomberg may not have realized and did not mention. By Amory Lovins, Beyond Nuclear International, October 3, 2021

Nuclear power's reliability is dropping as extreme weather increases Warmer temperatures aren't the only threat. Hurricanes and typhoons have become the leading causes of outages in North America and some other areas. Ars Technica, July 24, 2021
Entire article: Increase in frequency of nuclear power outages due to changing climate, by Ali Ahmad, Nature Energy, July 2021

Nuclear Energy Will Not Be the Solution to Climate Change There Is not enough time for nuclear innovation to save the planet. By Allison Macfarlane, Foreign Affairs, July 8, 2021. The author formerly served as Chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Does nuclear power effectively reduce carbon emissions? If countries want to lower emissions as substantially, rapidly, and cost-effectively as possible, they should prioritize support for renewables rather than nuclear power. Scare resources allocated to slower or less cost-effective options – like nuclear power – detract from greater progress with more effective options like renewables. No single option is essential in a diverse mix. By Benjamin K. Sovacool, Patrick Schmid, Andy Stirling, Goetz Walter and Gordon MacKerron, Nature Energy, May 2021

We don't need "miracle technologies to slash CO2 emissions We have 95% of the technologies we need today and the know-how to get the rest to reduce emissions. No miracle technology, including modern nuclear power, is needed. By Professor Mark Z. Jacobson, Stanford University, May 20, 2021

CO2 emissions of nuclear power: the whole picture The life-cycle carbon dioxide emissions from nuclear power production, including uranium mining and processing, plant construction, plant operation and maintenance, and decommissioning, averages 160 grams/kWh produced. If one assumes the unlikely construction of enough new nuclear power plants to maintain the present global capacity, the number would exceed 400 grams by 2070, largely due to the depletion of rich uranium ores. These numbers compare to about 1000 grams/kWh for coal power (combustion only, not including mining, construction, operation, decommissioning, etc.), and about 400 grams for natural gas. So the carbon dioxide emissions attributable to nuclear power, while clearly lower than those for fossil fuels, are not negligible. By Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen, Nuclear Monitor #886, June 8, 2020

Does Nuclear Power Slow or Speed Climate Change? Nuclear power is slower to build and more expensive than clean options. To protect the climate, we must save the most carbon at the least cost and in the least time, counting all three variables: carbon, cost, and time. Since in reality money and time are both limited, our priorities in providing energy services must be informed by relative cost and speed. Lower cost saves more carbon per dollar. Faster deployment saves more carbon per year. We need both. By Amory Lovins, Forbes, November 18, 2019 (Condensed version here.)

Similar material is covered by Lovins in a 20-minute video presentation, Nuclear power and climate protection, towards an evidence-based nuclear energy policy, March 30, 2021

Nuclear power: No Solution to Climate Change The article explores the numerous economic and technical reasons that proposals to expand nuclear power in order to reduce greenhouse gases are misguided. By Jim Green, Nuclear Monitor, November 4, 2019

The Hoax That Nuclear Power Is Green Former NRC chairman Dr. Gregory Jaczko declares nuclear power is not a solution to climate change, and says, "In California last year they added about 11 gigawatts of new solar, which is about 11 nuclear power plants." Safety, economics, and the ability to execute are on the side of alternative energy sources.
Exelon in New York State got a $7.6 billion subsidy to keep four aged-out, uneconomic nuclear reactors running. This took money from a fund meant for clean energy alternatives and demonstrates how nuclear power continues to delay the transition to clean energy.
We have about a decade to solve 80% of the greenhouse-gas problem. But it takes 10 to 19 years to design and build a new nuclear plant, compared to 2 to 5 years for a wind or large-scale solar farm. Any new nuclear will not come on line until it's too late.
Conference on Financial and Environmental Dangers of NY's $7.6 billion Nuclear Bailout, and Soaring Cancer Rates Near Nuclear Reactors. Organized by Radiation and Public Health Project. (30-minute video by Karl Grossman, EnviroVideo) July 2019

Hot weather cuts French nuclear generation Scorching temperatures across Europe coupled with prolonged dry weather has reduced French nuclear power generation by around 5.2 gigawatts, or 8%. Electricity output was curtailed at six reactors, while two other reactors were offline due to high river temperatures. As global warming causes increasingly high temperatures, the ability of nuclear generators to work when most needed is reduced. Wire services, July 25, 2019

Climate change and why nuclear power can't fix it The false claims that nuclear power can address the climate crisis were dealt another blow last week as France faced the possibility of having to shut down its nuclear plants due to extreme heat. Nuclear plants cannot operate safely when their intake water is too hot -- or at all if water supplies drop too low and are not sufficiently available to cool the plant. Both of these conditions will occur with greater frequency in our rapidly warming world. In addition, water resources are becoming scarcer under the climate emergency, meaning that large thermo-electric plants, such as nuclear power plants, are devouring -- or are in competition for -- water resources needed for drinking and irrigating essential crops. As the World Resources Institute pointed out last year, "47 percent of the world's thermal power plant capacity -- mostly coal, natural gas and nuclear -- . . . are located in highly water-stressed areas." Clearly, nuclear power is a serious liability, detrimental to addressing global warming, and far from "reliable." By Beyond Nuclear, July 2019

The 7 reasons nuclear energy is not the answer to solve climate change
   Long time lag between timing and operation
   Weapons proliferation risk
   Meltdown risk
   Mining lung cancer risk
   Carbon-equivalent emissions and air pollution
   Waste risk
                       By Professor Mark Z. Jacobson, Stanford University, June 20, 2019

Carbon reduction via nuclear reactors is an industry marketing ploy View this two-minute animation. By Fairewinds Energy Education, June 2019

Climate change and why nuclear power can't fix it This article discusses numerous reasons that nuclear power will not help avoid climate change, including:

Nuclear power does have a carbon footprint
Nuclear energy is not "renewable"
Building new nuclear plants won't replace coal plants
The huge downsides of nuclear power
Nuclear plants must power down or shut down during droughts and heat waves
Coastal nuclear plants could end up under water
Climate change was not caused by prioritizing fossil fuel development over nuclear power
Nuclear energy use impedes renewable energy development

The article contains an interesting anecdote related to the last two topics above:

What led to the over-use of fossil fuel resulting in climate change was the choice to use nuclear energy at all. In 1952, the U.S. was at an energy crossroads. That year, President Truman’s Materials Policy Commission report urged “aggressive research in the whole field of solar energy – an effort in which the United States could make an immense contribution to the welfare of the world.” The report concluded that nuclear energy could deliver only a “modest fraction of American energy requirements at best.” But the succeeding Eisenhower administration chose the nuclear path over solar and implemented “Atoms for Peace” instead. The reasons, of course, were not entirely related to energy needs, but inextricably tied to nuclear weapons development. Early efforts focused on “dual use” reactors that served the need for weapons-grade plutonium production with electricity as a mere by-product.

History repeated itself in 1981. When Ronald Reagan took office, he removed the solar panels that Jimmy Carter had installed on the White House roof, and radically cut back research funding for renewable energy in favor of renewed emphasis on fossil fuels.

Beyond Nuclear, January 2019

What are nuclear power plants doing to address climate threats? This article takes a look at the threat of sea-level rise facing coastal nuclear plants. By John Vidal, August 8, 2018

Climate change and nuclear power: an analysis of nuclear greenhouse gas emissions This study assesses the following questions:
  • How large would the present nuclear mitigation share be, assuming that nuclear power does not emit carbon dioxide (
  • How large could the reduction become in the future, starting from nuclear generating capacity scenarios published by the IAEA, and also   assuming that nuclear power does not emit
  • How feasible are the projections of the nuclear industry?
  • How large could the actual nuclear
CO2 emissions be, estimated on the basis of an independent life-cycle analysis?
  • Does nuclear power also emit other greenhouse gases?
The article notes that, by 2060, nearly all currently operating nuclear power stations will be closed down because they will have reached the end of their operational lifetimes. To keep the present nuclear power capacity, the current construction pace would have to be doubled, or more, depending on assumptions. In view of the massive cost overruns and construction delays of new plants that have plagued the nuclear industry for the past decade, it is not clear how the required high construction rates could be achieved. This is yet another reason that nuclear power not only shouldn't, but can't, be a solution to climate change. By Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen, October 2017

The incredible shrinking nuclear offset to climate change Nuclear energy is becoming less relevant a solution to climate change as the time frame for mitigation becomes shorter. By Sharon Squassoni, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Volume 73, #1, January 2017

Why nuclear energy is not an answer to global warming Financial, health, environmental, and political reasons are presented, and the author notes that energy efficiency, energy conservation, and renewable energy can replace most of the dirty energy we use. By Dr. Alex Rosen, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (Germany), December 15, 2016

Nuclear Power Is Not "Green Energy": It Is a Fount of Atomic Waste Proponents of nuclear power would have us believe that humankind is smart enough to store nuclear waste for a quarter of a million years, but at the same time is too ignorant to figure out how to store solar electricity overnight. By Arne Gundersen (former nuclear reactor operator), Truthout, November 14, 2016
Video conversation with Arne Gundersen (25 minutes), December 7, 2016

Don't Nuke the Climate This issue of Nuclear Monitor (June 25, 2015) dissects and debunks the nuclear industry's claim that nuclear power is necessary for climate change abatement. Seven topics are covered:

  • Nuclear power could at most make a modest contribution to climate change abatement.
  • Greenhouse Emissions from the Nuclear Fuel Cycle.
  • A Slow Response to an Urgent Problem.
  • Some countries are planning to replace fossil fuel-fi red power plants with nuclear power in order to increase fossil fuel exports − in such cases any potential climate change mitigation benefits of nuclear power are lost.
  • Nuclear power plants are vulnerable to threats which are being exacerbated by climate change. These include dwindling and warming water sources, sea-level rise, storm damage, drought, and jelly-fish swarms.
  • Civil nuclear programs have provided cover for numerous covert weapons programs and an expansion of nuclear power would exacerbate the problem.
  • Global renewable power capacity more than doubled from 2004 to 2014 (and non-hydro renewables grew 8-fold). Over that decade, and the one before it, nuclear power flatlined.

Nuclear Power is not the answer to climate change mitigation
Response to James Hansen, et al, by three Japanese scientists. January 31, 2014

Why Letter by James Hansen, et al Misses the Mark on Nuclear Power and Renewables By NIRS and the Civil Society Institute, December 2013
Letter of response sent to Hansen, et al, January 6, 2014

How nuclear power worsens climate change The front and back ends of nuclear power generate a large volume of CO2 and leave a trail of endlessly dangerous radioactivity along the way. Sierra Club, 2014

Busting the Pro-Nuclear Propaganda Nuclear power, no matter the reactor design, cannot address climate change in time. In order to displace a significant amount of carbon-emitting fossil fuel generation, another 1,000 to 1,500 new 1,000+ megawatt reactors would need to come on line worldwide by 2050, a completely prohibitive proposition. Beyond Nuclear, May 2013 (PDF)

Amory Lovins: Expanding Nuclear Power Makes Climate Change Worse Expanding nuclear makes climate change worse, for a very simple reason. Nuclear is incredibly expensive. The costs have just stood up on end lately. Wall Street Journal recently reported that they’re about two to four times the cost that the industry was talking about just a year ago. And the result of that is that if you buy more nuclear plants, you’re going to get about two to ten times less climate solution per dollar, and you’ll get it about twenty to forty times slower, than if you buy instead the cheaper, faster stuff that is walloping nuclear and coal and gas, all kinds of central plants, in the marketplace. And those competitors are efficient use of electricity and what’s called micropower, which is both renewables, except big hydro, and making electricity and heat together, which takes about half of the money, fuel, and carbon of making them separately, as we normally do. Interview on Democracy Now!, July 16, 2008

New Nuclear Power Plants Are Not a Solution for America's Energy Needs New nuclear power plants are unlikely to provide a significant fraction of future U.S. needs for low-carbon energy. NRDC favors more practical, economical and environmentally sustainable approaches to reducing both U.S. and global carbon emissions, focusing on the widest possible implementation of end-use energy-efficiency improvements, and on policies to accelerate commercialization of clean, flexible, renewable energy technologies. Natural Resources Defense Council, February 2007 (PDF)

Security Meltdown Debunking the nuclear theology. Nuclear power worsens the climate problem, because every dollar spent on costly nuclear power instead of cheaper options buys less coal displacement. For example, if a new nuclear plant delivered a kWh for only three times the cost of saving a kWh (the actual difference is typically much larger), then for the cost of your one nuclear kWh, you could have saved three kWh, tripling your carbon reduction. By Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute, in RMI Solutions, Summer 2005, page 1.

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