Nuclear is NOT Green

You have probably heard or read the term greenwashing: the practice of representing something as good for the environment, which is not. Greenwashing has predictably become more common in tandem with our urgent concern for the environment. The strategy of greenwashing uses our best intentions against us.

A key example is the promotion of the idea that increasing nuclear power production (and its associated deadly waste) is an essential part of combatting climate change. Experts weigh in on both sides of the question, but support for nuclear power production is, at its heart, industry driven. The activities of the NWMO and the statements of its hired experts are a case in point. But outside of those ranks, many scientists voice strong opposition to any further investment in nuclear.

Scientists who oppose nuclear power production have much to draw on. For instance, nuclear power production and the management of its waste do put carbon into the atmosphere – see this page from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC): “Greenhouse gas emission assessments for the Canadian nuclear fuel cycle.” Please also access this well-referenced article from The Conversation: “Is nuclear power zero-emission? No, but it isn’t high-emission either.” In addition, there is much information in the abstract of this article in the publication Energy Conversion and Management, “Life cycle energy and greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear energy: A review.

Our review of the various estimates suggests that the greenhouse emissions from nuclear power vary from 10 to 130 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour of power, with an average of 65 g per kWh – or roughly the same as wind power. For comparison, coal power has emissions of about 900 g per kWh, and gas-fired power about 450 g per kWh. About 15-25% of nuclear’s greenhouse emissions come from building, maintaining and decommissioning the nuclear power plant.

Many in the scientific community robustly refute the idea that we must sustain or increase nuclear power production to make headway in our battle with climate change. And, in the economic sphere, evidence is growing that nuclear makes no economic sense. Some of the following articles address this.

More Essential Reading:

Check this Sept 6, 2022 article by Mark Z. Jacobson, Professor of Civil Environmental Engineering; Director – Atmosphere Energy Program, Stanford University: 7 Reasons Why Nuclear Energy Is Not the Answer to Solve Climate Change. Professor Jacobson gives this hopeful news: “A breakthrough climate model shows that we have a window to stay below the dangerous threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, achieving net-zero emissions before 2040.” How? Not with nuclear – it’s much too slow, expensive compared with alternatives, and the waste is fraught with risks. 

In this January 2022 article with referenced sources, “Small modular reactors offer no hope for nuclear energy,” Professor M.V. Ramana refutes the idea that small modular reactors (SMRs) are a responsible choice to battle climate change. He demonstrates that renewable energy sources hold more promise for a reliable, economically feasible electricity system.

January 6, 2022 – In this concise 3-page statement, former heads of US, German, and French nuclear regulation, and secretary to the UK government’s radiation protection committee tell us: “Nuclear is not a practicable means to combat climate change.”

November 29, 2021Fact Check – Is Nuclear Energy Good for the Climate?” This article on Germany’s Deutche Welle “Made for Minds” website tells us, “It’s long been assumed that nuclear plants generate an average of 66 grams of CO2/kWh — though Wealer believes the actual figure is much higher. New power plants, for example, generate more CO2 during construction than those built in previous decades, due to stricter safety regulations.” Read more.

October 12, 2021 – Article in the Boston Review, Is Nuclear Power Our Best Bet Against Climate Change,” offers a comprehensive look at pros, cons and contexts of nuclear power generation, through the lens of our urgent need for action against climate change. Many robust references are linked.

See also our page: Is Nuclear Power Required to Avoid Catastrophic Climate Change?