Share This

More Scientists Call for Nuclear As Climate Change Solution

Jan. 28, 2014—Four prominent scientists and academics, including former NRC Chairman Richard Meserve, have made a plea for fellow environmentalists to recognize that nuclear energy needs to be “a part of the global climate change solution.”

A Jan. 22 open letter says that because of the intermittency of solar and wind generation, these sources cannot be scaled up to the levels needed to meet global energy demand. Therefore, the authors say, nuclear energy should supplement these carbon-free electricity sources and can do so safely, economically and securely.

The letter was signed by Meserve, who is president of the Carnegie Institution for Science, former MIT nuclear engineering department chairman Neil Todreas, MIT nuclear engineering professor Andrew Kadak and former Harvard physics department chair Richard Wilson. It presents itself as a follow-on to a similar letter written in November by four climate scientists, including former NASA scientist James Hansen (see Nuclear Energy Overview, Nov. 4, 2013).

Comparing overall carbon emissions over the life cycle of various electricity generation sources shows that nuclear energy is “one of the lowest overall emitters of CO2,” the letter says. It also argues for the expansion of nuclear energy on the basis of its insensitivity to fuel cost volatility and its strong safety record, regulatory oversight and culture of continuous improvement.

The writers assert that the industry’s three historical accidents—Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima Daiichi in 2011—caused, in aggregate, much less harm to human health when compared to “the significant number of deaths from other energy generating technologies, such as natural gas accidents or health impacts caused by air pollution from coal plants.” The letter notes the continuous safety advances made in the U.S. nuclear industry in the wake of Three Mile Island, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Fukushima.

While the authors acknowledge that nuclear energy facilities are more expensive to build than natural gas or coal facilities, once built they are less costly to run. In addition, the letter says, “[b]ecause of the relative insensitivity of the fuel cost to the price of electricity, the cost of power from nuclear plants is more predictable over the long term than that of fossil fuels.” This, the authors say, is “the real advantage of nuclear energy—a predictable and nonvolatile cost of electricity for consumers.”

The open letter was sent to Andrew Revkin of the New York Times.

An NEI graphic shows nuclear energy's low levels of carbon emissions compared to other generation sources.