Top Climate Scientists Urge Support of Nuclear Power

Letter Calls for ‘Fresh Approach’ to Nuclear in the 21st Century

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The twin challenge of rising global energy demand, which must continue to grow to provide the needs of developing economies, and the urgency of addressing climate change has led top climate and energy scientists James Hansen, Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emanuel, and Tom Wigley to explicitly call for new nuclear technologies that will simultaneously expand energy supply while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. In an open letter released to the public last Sunday, the scientists reasoned that the renewables-only path is insufficient to solve climate change alone. Instead, “The time has come for a fresh approach to nuclear power in the 21st century.”

November 5, 2013 | Breakthrough Staff,

On Sunday, November 3, four top climate and energy scientists, James Hansen, Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emanuel, and Tom Wigley, released an open letter calling on world leaders to advocate for the development and deployment of safer nuclear power systems. The letter begins:

To those influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear power:

As climate and energy scientists concerned with global climate change, we are writing to urge you to advocate the development and deployment of safer nuclear energy systems. We appreciate your organization’s concern about global warming, and your advocacy of renewable energy. But continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity’s ability to avoid dangerous climate change.

The twin challenge of rising global energy demand, which must continue to grow to provide the needs of developing economies, and the urgency of addressing climate change has led Hansen, Caldeira, Emanuel, and Wigley to explicitly call for new nuclear technologies that will simultaneously expand energy supply while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The conclusion: “The time has come for a fresh approach to nuclear power in the 21st century.”

Renewables like solar and wind will play a role in the US energy mix, continue the letter’s authors, but they “cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires.” Embracing nuclear is one of the only ways to counteract the impending threat of climate change quickly enough, particularly given that global energy demand is expected to double by 2050 and triple or quadruple by the end of this century.

“While it may be theoretically possible to stabilize the climate without nuclear power,” write the scientists, “in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power.”

Critics of nuclear, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, have already responded to the letter. NRDC spokesman Bob Deans told Voices of America the world gains nothing from "substituting one set of environmental nightmares for another." Deans added that the NRDC believes the United States should invest in making homes, workplaces, and vehicles more energy efficient, so that people can do "more with less." He also highlighted China's investment in wind and solar power as a positive step by one of the world's top polluters.

At the time of the letter’s release, James Hansen told the Associate Press it’s not enough for environmentalists to simply oppose fossil fuels and only promote renewable energy. "They’re cheating themselves if they keep believing this fiction ‘that all we need is renewable energy such as wind and solar,’” he said.

Kerry Emanuel seconded this view in the AP article, saying that the signers aren’t opposed to renewable energy sources but want environmentalists to understand that “realistically, they cannot on their own solve the world’s energy problems.”

That four leading climate scientists have now publicly and explicitly called for support of the development of nuclear energy is sure to expose what Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus argued in TIME as the climate-energy paradox of the traditional Left: the claim that carbon emissions pose a catastrophic threat to human civilization while opposing the two technologies (nuclear and natural gas) capable of immediately and significantly reducing them. In fact, according to a recent Breakthrough analysis, since 1950, the switch from dirtier energy to zero-carbon emitting nuclear power accounted for a full half of the total emissions reductions, or 28.1 billion tonnes over the 60-year period.

By penning this letter, the authors are effectively "putting their reputations on the line to do something that the ultra-greens regard as treason," Stanford University Nobel-winning physicist Burton Richter told CNN. "We've got four top guns in the environmental movement telling [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel, 'You're wrong to shut down nuclear,'" said Richter. "I think that's a relatively big deal."

The letter acknowledges that today’s nuclear plants are “far from perfect” and that no energy system is “without downsides.” However, innovation and economies of scale can make future generations of nuclear plants safer and cheaper. Furthermore, “modern nuclear technology can reduce proliferation risks and solve the waste disposal problem by burning current waste and using fuel more efficiently.” With a nod to the historical antinuclear movement of the 1970s, the scientists ask that all energy system decisions be “based on facts, and not on emotions and biases that do not apply to 21st century nuclear technology.”

The letter’s authors are James Hansen, a former top NASA scientist and professor at Columbia University; Ken Caldeira, of the Carnegie Institution; Kerry Emanuel, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Tom Wigley, of the University of Adelaide in Australia.

According to CNN, there are 65 commercially operating nuclear plants in the United States, including 104 reactors. Five new reactors are currently being built, in Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. In 2012, utilities permanently shut down four others and plan to take a fifth out of service in 2014. At least two other planned projects have been suspended.

Read the full letter online here: http://bit.ly/1fc6Dpu


Comments

  • OH, and what about the reality of incredibly toxic, dangerous, Fukushima NUCLEAR disaster that is causing so much trouble now and for decades, centuries to come???!!!!  Get a clue, don’t you see, learn, and more???

    Pathetic!

    By Gordon Wood on 2013 11 06

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    • @Gordon Wood

      While Fukushima has indeed been an economic disaster for Japan, the actual health affects will be quite limited, perhaps not even detectable over the next decade. If you are concerned about the radiation leaking into the Pacific Ocean, even that is insignificant. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute put out this useful FAQ on radiation from Fukushima: http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?cid=94989&pid=83397&tid=3622.

      Jessica Lovering
      Policy Analyst | The Breakthrough Institute
      Energy and Climate Program
      http://thebreakthrough.org/
      Office: (510) 550-8800 ext. 300
      Twitter: @J_Lovering

      By Jessica Lovering on 2013 11 06

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    • You may not know about the many, many fission and fusion bombs exploded in the South Pacific in the Twentieth Century or how they didn’t cause the end of the world.

      By Walt G on 2013 11 14

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  • “We’ve got four top guns in the environmental movement telling [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel, ‘You’re wrong to shut down nuclear,’” said Richter. “I think that’s a relatively big deal.”

    Maybe Mr. Richter and the miserable nuclear cheerleaders of the BTI should inform themselves abit more about the hundreds of top renewbale energy scientists that have shown time and again that renewable energy work.

    But you people are so stuck in your comfortable wishful thinking, that you simply ignore them. Don’t care to look up the lead scenarios for the German government, don’t care to look at the dozens of simulations & fieldtests that proof that it’s possible with todays technology.
    Never heared of “Scenario THG95” or stuff like that.

    Just keep pushing the age old agenda. There are 1970s infomercials that are just like this site… it’s sad actually.

    By Martin on 2013 11 09

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  • Congratulations Martin! You are cheerleading the most expensive electricity in Europe, next to…Cypress! And of course, industry is not being forced to pay the extra costs, or else they’d leave Germany. So the increased costs of your wind/solar Nirvana are being borne by poor people, some of whom can no longer afford electricity. Meanwhile new coal plants are opening up to substitute for the nuclear energy shut down. Congratulations Martin, you aren’t a fool for Big Coal! Hell no, you’ve seen lots of “studies”.

    By Paul Wick on 2013 11 09

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    • Very cute and full of ignorance.

      Could you point me in the direction of a single study that showcases how a 100% nuclear electricity, heat & transportation system would work? How much storage is needed, how will it be stored? Or will there simply be several extra GW of nuclear to provide peak demand for heat during the winter months?

      I just find it rich, that organizations like the BTI promote an old idea like a very cool new hip thing, while not presenting hard scientific facts that show how it’s all possible with todays technological capabilities and at what eventual price.

      All those things have been shown time and again for a renewable energy system, yet there are people who claim it’s impossible while they dream about & idealize ideas like uranium extraction from seawater or new Generation “Whatever” super-duper nuclear reactors.

      By Martin on 2013 11 10

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  • Martin: it doesn’t need to be 100% nuclear, and I know of no studies that says it does. What it *does* need is essentially no carbon emissions, and I’ve seen no “all renewables + storage + fossil backup” study that even purports to do that for less than about 3x the cost of nuclear. And indeterminate integration cost. And time. If it can work at all. These are critical. The goal is not to build out renewables. The goal is not to build out nuclear. The goal is to save Life as We Know It. Six studies—three with the goal of renewable only, three with the goal of averting climate catastrophe—are discussed at http://www.edleaver.com/Archives/2013/06/PandorasBackPages/PandorasBackPages.php#x1-4100010.5
    Thanks

    By Ed Leaver on 2013 11 10

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