Climate Change, Nukes, and Geoengineering

By Robin Hahnel.

On November third James Hansen signed an open letter addressed to environmental organizations urging them to demonstrate “real concern about risks from climate damage by calling for the development and deployment of advanced nuclear energy.”

Like Hancoolingtowersen and some notable long-time environmentalists who have recently come out in support of nukes, I am desperate. I am desperate because, like them, I know we we have very little time left to pull off the greatest technological “re-boot” in human history, turning global fossil-fuel-istan into global renew-conserve-istan before it is too late. That is why I recently sent my own open letter to those in the climate justice movement who argue that green capitalism is an oxymoron and climate change can only be solved by economic system change. In my view those who argue that greener capitalism is a false hope and not worth pursuing have no sense of time. They have no sense of how fast irreversible climate change is coming compared to how fast we can marshal support for economic system change. However, I find it sad that people like Hansen are caving on nukes when we do not need dangerous or new technologies to solve the problem. Continue reading…


Nuclear Power Not the Solution

The emerging nuclear crisis in Japan has brought the future of nuclear power in the U.S. to the fore. The Obama administration supports nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels. But is it really the solution? Frank Ackerman addressed this question in a post this past summer for Real Climate Economics. We’ve copied that orginal post below.

If carbon emissions from energy production are the problem, is nuclear power the solution? After all, nuclear reactors split uranium atoms to generate heat; no fossil fuels are used on site, and no CO2 is released into the air from the power plant itself. Plenty of voices can be now heard advocating construction of nuclear plants in order to save the environment. The Obama administration supports new loans and incentives for nuclear power, as does the Kerry-Lieberman climate and energy bill.

It’s not quite that simple. The nuclear power life cycle includes many steps, from mining and enriching uranium, building the reactor, operating the plant, processing and disposing of the spent fuel, through, someday, decommissioning the plant when it can no longer be used. Many of these stages are quite energy-intensive, so there are life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear power. The best available data show the life-cycle emissions from nuclear power to be much lower than from fossil fuel-burning power plants, but equal to or higher than the emissions from renewable energy, such as solar, wind, and hydro-power. Continue reading…