Nuclear power: A false solution to climate crisis

Nuclear power: A false solution to climate crisis

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Takes too long

To ensure that global warming doesn’t lead to catastrophe, we have to act with a sense of urgency and begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions now. Otherwise, if emissions continue to grow over the next few years, natural feedback cycles could be triggered, moving us past a point of no return. Unfortunately, each new nuclear plant takes ten years or more to construct, and a large-scale transition to nuclear power would take decades—time we don’t have to spare. Other solutions, including switching to wind and solar power, and using energy more efficiently, can be adopted much more quickly.

Requires Vast Industry Expansion

In order to generate enough nuclear energy to replace the U.S. energy supply currently derived from coal—we’d need to build more than double the number of existing nuclear plants in the country. And that doesn’t take into account that under business-as-usual scenarios, domestic coal use would continue to increase. It also doesn’t account for the need to build even more nuclear plants to replace old ones that need to be phased out. Ultimately, we’d be talking about hundreds of new nuclear plants, which could total more than a trillion dollars with individual plants costing $5 billion or more. Varied state and regional permit processes, likely legal challenges, and political opposition from locals would present the nuclear industry with a logistical nightmare and make construction of this many plants nearly impossible. Of course, there’s no indication that the industry actually intends to build the number of plants needed to make a significant dent in global warming. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission reports that in the next few years, it expects to receive only 21 new nuclear plant applications.

Diverts Resources from Other Solutions

Over the past 50 years, nuclear power has been by far the largest recipient of government energy subsidies, yet nuclear industry advocates continue to ask for more handouts. From 1948 to 1998, the government awarded nearly $75 billion in handouts to the nuclear power industry while spending less than $15 billion on renewable energy and only about $12 billion on energy efficiency measures. Unfortunately, the nuclear industry is asking for tens of billions of dollars of additional subsidies, even though, at an estimated 6.7 cents per kilowatt hour, nuclear power is substantially more costly than wind power, which can now be derived for 3.5 to 4 cents per kilowatt hour. To tackle the global warming fight effectively and get the most bang for our buck, we should focus subsidies on increased wind power generation and the even more affordable alternative of encouraging energy efficiency. Nuclear power is simply a diversion.

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