Is Nuclear Power Required to Avoid Catastrophic Climate Change?


(Please follow the links in this article to the authoritative source materials.)

Nuclear cannot expand quickly enough

Nuclear power is not a viable solution to the climate crisis. For starters, the nuclear sector will be unable to expand quickly enough to substantially reduce carbon emissions within the necessary time frame, i.e. by 2030.

Nuclear is not “emissions-free”

Equally important, nuclear power is not “emissions free”. The carbon emissions from building new reactors are substantial. Added to this is a carbon impact at each stage along the nuclear chain, from uranium mining, milling and refining, fuel production, and reactor operation – and then from managing the radioactive wastes far out into the future.

The life-cycle carbon emissions from nuclear power are greater than wind and solar and are increasing, while those from wind and solar are decreasing. See this well-referenced article, Fact check: Is nuclear energy good for the climate? to learn how much C02 nuclear power production actually puts into the atmosphere.

Please also note that there are other emissions to air, as well as releases of both radioactive and non-radioactive contaminants to air, land and water.

Canada maintains a National Pollutants Inventory. Information for Darlington, Ontario’s newest reactor, and Pickering, Ontario’s oldest reactor, can be found at the National Pollutant Release Inventory Dashboard. The data shows releases to air of ammonia and nitrogen oxides, among others.

Other nations are pulling out of nuclear

Not only is nuclear power too slow and costly to help solve the climate crisis, it is also not necessary. Countries like Austria and Denmark are on track to achieve carbon neutrality without the use of nuclear energy. Countries like Germany and Spain are phasing out nuclear power and looking to renewables and efficiency to fill the supply gap as they move on climate targets.

Nuclear is more expensive

Nuclear power is prohibitively expensive, especially when we consider the delays and cost overruns that commonly plague reactor construction and refurbishing. When we add in the cost of managing wastes over the very long time scales and the price of cleaning up disasters like Fukushima, the financial toll of nuclear energy becomes enormous.

Moreover, the production of nuclear power is linked to nuclear weapons, since nuclear power and nuclear weapons use many of the same materials and much of the same technology and expertise. Nuclear power production creates plutonium – an element essential to nuclear weaponry that is not naturally occurring.

Text: Small modular reactors offer no hope for nuclear energy; image: nuclear reactors at Vogtle.

In this January 2022 article with referenced sources, “Small modular reactors offer no hope for nuclear energy,” the authors refute the idea that small modular reactors (SMRs) are a responsible choice in our battle with climate change. They demonstrate that renewable energy sources hold more promise for a reliable, economically feasible electricity system.

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.

For more info, visit our page, Nuclear Is NOT Green!

Also, please visit our Q & A page for more questions and answers on nuclear waste and nuclear issues.