Share This

Leading Scientists Urge Increasing Nuclear Energy to Address Climate Change

Nov. 4, 2013—Four of the world’s leading climate and energy experts urge environmental groups and politicians worldwide to support nuclear energy as a primary way to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

James Hansen of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and formerly of NASA; Ken Caldeira, senior scientist at 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 and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, wrote in an open letter to environmental organizations, journalists and politicians worldwide that renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy cannot by themselves stem the threat of global warming by replacing fossil-fueled plants.

“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,” the letter says.

The authors say that while it is theoretically possible to achieve global carbon emission reduction goals without the 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 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,” said Marvin Fertel, NEI’s president and CEO.

Fertel added, “There is ever-increasing recognition of the fact that 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).”

The scientists’ letter also urges environmentalists, many of whom have been anti-nuclear, to recognize that nuclear energy’s risks can quantitatively be shown to be “orders of magnitude smaller” than those associated with fossil fuels. 

“We ask only that energy system decisions be based on facts and not on emotions and biases that do not apply to 21st century nuclear technology,” the letter said.

Hansen, known for his high-profile activism on climate change while at NASA, told the Associated Press, “[Environmentalists are] cheating themselves if they keep believing this fiction that all we need” is renewable energy such as wind and solar.

In a study published in March this year in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, Hansen and co-author Pushker Kharecha calculated that the use of nuclear energy globally has saved 1.8 million lives since 1971 by displacing polluting fossil-fueled facilities and holds the potential to save up to 7 million additional lives by the middle of the century.

The Robert Stone documentary “Pandora’s Promise” will air on CNN Thursday, Nov. 7. Fertel noted, “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.”