Is Expanding Nuclear Energy Production Necessary to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?


General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) wrote in its Dec. 2008 report "Climate Change and Nuclear Power 2008," published at www.iaea.org:

"There is increasing evidence put forward by climate modellers that global GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions need to peak within the next decade or so and then decline to substantially below the 2000 emissions by the middle of the century. However, the global energy system is heading exactly in the opposite direction: in the absence of sweeping policy interventions, energy related CO2 emissions are projected to increase by 55% in 2030 and by 130% in 2050 relative to 2005. The double challenge over the next 10–20 years will be to keep promoting economic development by providing reliable, safe and affordable energy while significantly reducing GHG emissions. A range of energy sources and technologies is available in various stages of research, development, demonstration, deployment and commercialization that could help to meet the challenge. Nuclear power is clearly one of them...

[T]he need to mitigate climate change is one of the salient reasons for considering nuclear power in national energy portfolios...

[T]he decision about introducing or expanding nuclear energy in the national energy portfolio rests with sovereign States."

Dec. 2008 - International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 



PRO (yes)

The Nuclear Energy Institute wrote in its July 25, 2008 article "Nuclear Energy's Vital Role in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions," published at www.nei.org:

"Carbon dioxide—the greenhouse gas mainly emitted by human activity—is the major focus of policy discussions to reduce emissions. At a time when the United States faces a projected 25 percent increase in electricity demand by 2030, failure to develop a holistic policy that meets the nation's energy demand, energy security needs and greenhouse gas reduction goals could threaten success on both objectives.

Nuclear power plants produce large amounts of electricity without emitting carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases...

Nuclear power plants already play a powerful role in preventing greenhouse gases in the electricity sector. By using nuclear energy rather than fossil fuel-based plants, electric utilities prevented 681 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2006. For perspective, the volume of greenhouse gas emissions prevented at nuclear power plants is equivalent to taking 96 percent of all passenger cars off America's roadways.

A credible program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will require a portfolio of technologies and approaches, including the widespread use of nuclear energy."

July 25, 2008 - Nuclear Energy Institute 



Patrick Moore, PhD, Chair and Chief Scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. and former International Director of Greenpeace International, stated the following in his Apr. 16, 2006 article "Going Nuclear: A Green Makes the Case," published in the Washington Post:

"In the early 1970s when I helped found Greenpeace, I believed that nuclear energy was synonymous with nuclear holocaust, as did most of my compatriots. That's the conviction that inspired Greenpeace's first voyage up the spectacular rocky northwest coast to protest the testing of U.S. hydrogen bombs in Alaska's Aleutian Islands. Thirty years on, my views have changed, and the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views, too, because nuclear energy may just be the energy source that can save our planet from another possible disaster: catastrophic climate change.

Look at it this way: More than 600 coal-fired electric plants in the United States produce 36 percent of U.S. emissions -- or nearly 10 percent of global emissions -- of CO2, the primary greenhouse gas responsible for climate change. Nuclear energy is the only large-scale, cost-effective energy source that can reduce these emissions while continuing to satisfy a growing demand for power...

Wind and solar power have their place, but because they are intermittent and unpredictable they simply can't replace big baseload plants such as coal, nuclear and hydroelectric. Natural gas, a fossil fuel, is too expensive already, and its price is too volatile to risk building big baseload plants. Given that hydroelectric resources are built pretty much to capacity, nuclear is, by elimination, the only viable substitute for coal. It's that simple...

[T]he 103 nuclear plants operating in the United States effectively avoid the release of 700 million tons of CO2 emissions annually -- the equivalent of the exhaust from more than 100 million automobiles. Imagine if the ratio of coal to nuclear were reversed so that only 20 percent of our electricity was generated from coal and 60 percent from nuclear. This would go a long way toward cleaning the air and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Every responsible environmentalist should support a move in that direction."

Apr. 16, 2006 - Patrick Moore, PhD 



Brian P. Bilbray, US Congressman (R-CA), made the following statement during the Apr. 23, 2008 US House Committee on Science and Technology hearing "Opportunities and Challenges for Nuclear Power":

"Mr. Chairman, yesterday nearly a billion people around the world celebrated Earth Day. All across the television, the Internet, radio and other means of communications we were told of the countless opportunities that alternative energy sources would have to combating global climate change. There were stories on solar, wind, hydroelectric and even vegetable oil. But nothing on nuclear power's promises. Why?

Last month, the Energy Information Agency (EIA) released its outlook for 2008. EIA indicated that U.S. electricity demand would grow 30 percent between 2006 and 2030. Likewise CO2 emissions are predicted to increase 16 percent from 2006 levels at a time when it will be essential to decrease them...

This increased energy demand will most likely result in increased greenhouse gas emissions and widespread global warming damage...

If we are to combat this looming crisis we will need a mixed bag of solutions. These will need to include command and control techniques including the use of renewable fuels such as wind and solar power, sequestration of fossil fuels, and most importantly the use of nuclear technology.

Nuclear energy has all the properties and benefits our world needs to successfully combat global climate change and meet our energy needs...

The United States has not built a new nuclear power plant in nearly 20 years. If we are to truly harness this great technology and solve our environmental problems, we must make a commitment to nuclear research and development as well as the production of new nuclear facilities."

Apr. 23 - Brian P. Bilbray 
"Opportunities and Challenges for Nuclear Power" (566KB)  



Samuel Bodman, ScD, US Secretary of Energy in the George W. Bush administration, stated the following during his May 22, 2008 testimony before the US House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming:

"We must vigorously develop power generation sources which reduce carbon emissions, and DOE [US Department of Energy] is doing that. The AEI [Atomic Enterprise Institute] recognizes that nuclear energy, which supplies twenty percent of our Nation's electricity, is a non-carbon dioxide emitting source of energy and will be a key factor in any climate change mitigation scenario. While we share the hope to expand use of wind and solar energy, we will need more nuclear power plants in order to maintain the current percentage of our electricity that is non-carbon dioxide emitting to meet growing demand. To this end, we are committed to safe nuclear power and to deploying advanced technologies...

There is no silver bullet that will immediately solve our energy challenges, or drastically reduce costs at the gas pump. But we need to work together and answer the President's call to increase domestic exploration, expand our nuclear infrastructure as well as solve our long-term nuclear waste storage challenge."

May 22, 2008 - Samuel Bodman, ScD 



Richard Meserve, PhD, JD, President of the Carnegie Institution, stated the following in a July 15-17, 2008 online debate titled "Is Nuclear Power Essential to Addressing Climate Change and Energy Independence?," published on the NewTalk website:

"Electrical generation that does not result in the emissions of greenhouse gases has to expand if we are to limit the hazards from climate change. We will need to use everything in our tool kit in order to reduce carbon emissions. Nuclear power today provides about 70% of US electrical generation that does not emit greenhouse gases during operation. It has to be part of the response. The NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) has indicated that it expects to receive applications for the construction and operation of as many as 34 new plants by 2010. Not all these applications will be filed and no doubt not all the filed applications will result in new plants. But there is the prospect of significant new nuclear construction in the US. From a climate change perspective, this should be seen as very welcome."

July 15-17, 2008 - Richard Meserve, PhD, JD 



CON (no)

The Nuclear Information and Resource Service stated the following in its May 2008 study titled "False Promises: Debunking Nuclear Industry Propaganda," published on www.nirs.org:

"[T]here is scant debate that climate change is one of the most pressing threats of our time, and it is imperative that we take swift and decisive action to avert its most severe impacts. However, the attempt by the nuclear industry to anoint nuclear power as the solution to climate change is dangerous and threatens to squander the resources necessary to implement meaningful climate change mitigation policies...

[N]ew reactors would have to come online every few weeks for the next fifty years to have even a modest impact on GHG emissions—new nuclear reactors cannot be built fast enough to address climate change...

The argument that we need nuclear power because it is the only environmentally viable alternative to coal is fallacious: alternatives exist and they are available right now...

There are numerous renewable energy technologies available which could be expanded and many more that have great potential and should be pursued and funded more aggressive...

Our choice is stark: we can effectively address the climate crisis or we can expand the nuclear industry. We can't do both."

May 2008 - Nuclear Information and Resource Service 
"False Promises: Debunking Nuclear Industry Propaganda" (3.3MB)  



Greenpeace International and the European Renewable Energy Council stated the following in their Jan. 2007 report "Energy Revolution: A Blueprint for Solving Global Warming," available at the Energy Blue Print website:

"[W]e can cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the United States nearly 75% by 2050 without relying on dangerous nuclear power or expensive new coal technologies. With rapid deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy we can stop global warming...

The solution to our future energy needs lies in greater use of renewable energy sources for both heat and power. Nuclear power is not the solution...

Renewable energy technologies vary widely in their technical and economic maturity, but there is a range of technologies that offer increasingly attractive options. These include wind, biomass, solar, geothermal, ocean, and hydroelectric power. Their common feature is that they produce little or no greenhouse gases, and rely on virtually inexhaustible natural sources for their 'fuel'...

We need to phase out coal and nuclear power. We cannot continue to build coal plants at a time when emissions pose a real and present danger to both ecosystems and people. And we cannot continue to fuel the myriad nuclear threats by pretending nuclear power can in any way help to combat climate change. There is no role for nuclear power in the energy [r]evolution."

Jan. 2007 - European Renewable Energy Council 
Greenpeace International 
"Energy Revolution: A Blueprint for Solving Global Warming" (3.8MB)  



Arjun Makhijani, PhD, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), wrote in the executive summary to his July 2007 book Carbon- Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for US Energy Policy, available at the IEER website:

"[A] zero-CO2 U.S. economy can be achieved within the next thirty to fifty years without the use of nuclear power and without acquiring carbon credits from other countries. In other words, actual physical emissions of CO2 from the energy sector can be eliminated with technologies that are now available or foreseeable...

The U.S. renewable energy resource base is vast and practically untapped. Available wind energy resources in 12 Midwestern and Rocky Mountain states equal about 2.5 times the entire electricity production of the United States. North Dakota, Texas, Kansas, South Dakota, Montana, and Nebraska each have wind energy potential greater than the electricity produced by all 103 U.S. nuclear power plants. Solar energy resources on just one percent of the area of the United States are about three times as large as wind energy, if production is focused in the high insolation areas in the Southwest and West...

Baseload power can be provided by geothermal and biomass-fueled generating stations. Intermediate loads in the evening can be powered by solar thermal power plants which have a few hours of thermal energy storage built in.

Finally, new batteries can enable plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles...

With the right combination of technologies, it is likely that even the use of coal can be phased out, along with nuclear electricity.

Complete elimination of CO2 could occur as early as 2040. Elimination of nuclear power could also occur in that time frame."

July 2007 - Arjun Makhijani, PhD 



Christopher Paine, Director of the Nuclear Program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, stated the following in a July 15-17, 2008 online debate titled "Is Nuclear Power Essential to Addressing Climate Change and Energy Independence?," published on the NewTalk website:

"[I]s there 'enough potential in energy efficiency and renewable energy such as solar and wind that we can do what we have to do on climate based on them alone, without building new [nuclear] power plants?'—the answer, on a pure resource basis, is clearly yes. The US has enough potentially recoverable efficiency savings and renewable energy resources—direct solar radiation, indirect solar radiation, wind, geothermal, biomass, small hydro, and wave-tidal energy, to eventually power the entire US economy, essentially indefinitely, without nuclear or coal."

July 15-17, 2008 - Christopher Paine 



Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen, MSc, Senior Scientist at Ceedata Consultancy, et al., wrote in the Oxford Research Group's Mar. 2007 research report "Secure Energy? Civil Nuclear Power, Security and Global Warming," available at the Oxford Research Group website:

"Global warming is without doubt humanity's greatest challenge. In responding to this challenge, we need to accept that radical action is needed. Nuclear power has been put forward as part of a sensible energy policy for reducing CO2 emissions, sometimes by unexpected people including Patrick Moore, the co-founder of Greenpeace. Given the way this claim is reported it is understandable that many people assume that it is correct. This assumption can and should be questioned...

The claim of the nuclear industry that nuclear power emits low levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is not based on scientifically verifiable evidence. Emissions of greenhouse gases other than CO2, often with Global Warming Potentials many thousands of times larger than carbon dioxide, by nuclear power never have been investigated and/or published. Absence of data definitely does not mean absence of greenhouse gas emissions...

It is true that the operation of a nuclear reactor emits virtually no CO2, but this is not true of the nuclear power system as a whole [mining and processing of uranium and the construction of the nuclear power plant itself]...Our calculations indicate that within 45 to 70 years (depending on the scenario) nuclear power will emit as much CO2 emissions as a gas-fired power plant...

If the full nuclear chain [mining and processing of uranium and the construction of the nuclear power plant itself] is taken into account, as it should be, nuclear power emits much more carbon dioxide per delivered kilowatt-hour than wind power...

[T]he evidence presented in this report constitutes a case against building new nuclear power stations and for halting nuclear reprocessing altogether."

Mar. 2007 - Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen, MSc