Last updated on: 10/2/2020 | Author: ProCon.org

Should Nuclear Energy Be Used to Achieve Net Zero Carbon?

PRO (yes)

Pro

Union of Concerned Scientists, in a Nov. 8, 2018 article, “Nuclear Power & Global Warming,” available at ucsusa.org, stated:

“To help prevent the worst consequences of climate change, the United States must achieve economy-wide net-zero emissions by or before mid-century. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) supports policies and actions that put our nation on the path to attaining this goal.

Swiftly decarbonizing the electric sector, one of the largest sources of US carbon emissions, is among the most cost-effective steps for limiting heat-trapping gas emissions. Renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency measures can help dramatically cut the sector’s emissions, and are safe, cost-effective, and commercially available today.

Yet limiting the worst effects of climate change may also require other low- or no-carbon energy solutions, including nuclear power.

Nuclear power produces very few lifecycle carbon emissions. It also faces substantial economic challenges, and carries significant human health and environmental risks. UCS strongly supports policies and measures to strengthen the safety and security of nuclear power.”

Nov. 8, 2018

Pro

Tom Greatrex, British Labour Co-op politician, in a Sep. 20, 2019 article, “Why nuclear energy is key to net zero,” available at newstatesman.com, stated:

“Nuclear power has been producing low-carbon electricity to meet the needs of our homes, workplaces and public services for more than 60 years, and is currently the largest single source of clean power going into our grid. The advantages of nuclear in producing power without emissions and being able to do so regardless of the weather on a constant and reliable basis have not been lost on those seeking to design the future system. The firm power to complement more variable sources of producing electricity, better energy efficiency, use of technology to manage demand in different ways – all will be needed for the future.

As the [UK] Labour Party has made clear in parliamentary debates over the past year, the current, continuing and future role of nuclear power will be an integral part of a system designed to complete the transition to net zero.”

Sep. 20, 2019

Pro

Fiona Rayment, PhD, Chief Science and Technology Officer at the National Nuclear Laboratory (UK), in a Mar. 8, 2020 article, “How nuclear energy will be crucial in achieving net-zero carbon emissions post-Coronavirus,” available at energyvoice.com, stated:

“With the International Energy Agency Chief warning that the world has just six months to prevent a post-lockdown rebound in emissions and avert a future climate crisis, it’s essential, now more than ever, that the UK honours its commitment to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

There’s no doubt that the advancements made in the renewable energy sector in recent years have boosted confidence and provided greater assurance that future energy demands can be met without the need for coal. But renewables can’t provide all the answers alone. Nor are they the only low-carbon solution available.

Currently, 50% of the low-carbon energy produced across Europe (EU & UK) is produced by the nuclear sector. If we are serious about moving away from fossil fuels, including natural gas, nuclear will need to remain part of that clean energy mix. With the output from solar and wind heavily dependent on weather conditions, we need a reliable source of near-constant, low-carbon energy – something that nuclear sector currently supplies. Throughout lockdown, nuclear reactors also continued to fare well in terms of reliability, safely providing power to the UK and keeping the lights on, despite vastly reduced numbers of staff on-site.”

Mar. 8, 2020

Pro

Exeloncorp, an energy provider, in an article accessed on Oct. 2, 2020, “Nuclear,” available at exeloncorp.com, stated:

“America can have clean air and keep the lights on, too.

Nuclear energy emits no greenhouse gases (GHG), making it a clean power source. Right now, nuclear plants are helping address climate change, providing 20 percent of the nation’s electricity and 60 percent of its clean, zero-carbon energy.

Nuclear power dominates in clean energy and also reliability. It meets the demand for an uninterrupted flow of electricity for extended periods, in even extreme weather conditions. This steady, around-the-clock performance means more reliable service for customers and communities…

If America is to achieve its 80 percent reduction goal in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, nuclear energy needs to be part of the solution: unlike other sources, it provides carbon-free, baseload power. Federal and state policies should encourage the continued and extended operation of existing plants.”

Oct. 2, 2020

Pro

Jonathan A. Lesser, PhD, adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, in a July 10, 2019 article, “Is There a Future for Nuclear Power in the United States?,” available at manhattan-institute.org, stated:

“The short answer is that the goal of supplying the nation with sufficient amounts of zero-emission and reliable electricity cannot be met without nuclear power. The inherent intermittency of wind and solar generation—along with the huge land areas that would be required,[13] both for the generating capacity itself and the battery storage needed to “firm up” these resources—makes that goal unrealistic without nuclear, even if wind, solar, and battery technologies continue to improve.[14] The costs of providing backup battery storage and acquiring vast tracts to site utility-scale wind and solar generation are simply prohibitive. Thus, barring development and commercialization of entirely new emissions-free generation technologies, the nuclear industry must be revived.”

July 10, 2019

Pro

Bret Kugelmass, Managing Director of the Energy Impact Center, in a Jan. 22, 2020 article, “Want to Stop Climate Change? Embrace the Nuclear Option.,” available at usatoday.com, stated:

“Every energy source has a carbon footprint. Even renewables require energy and chemicals to move and transform raw materials into energy production systems. (To make solar panels, burning coal is necessary to transform silicon dioxide into the requisite purified silicon.)

Here’s the crux: Since it takes energy to remove carbon and carbon is released in making energy, being “low-carbon” isn’t good enough! The energy source used needs to have such an extremely low carbon footprint that it can effectively power the capture and transformation of carbon dioxide.

Regardless of cost and considering only the carbon math, the only possible energy source capable of powering atmospheric carbon dioxide removal — true negative emissions — is nuclear energy.

This becomes obvious considering that any power source’s carbon footprint is a function of materials required to produce this energy. Using nuclear forces (the energy inside an atom), instead of chemical forces (the energy between atoms), we produce 3 million times as much power for the same amount of material.”

Jan. 22, 2020

CON (no)

Con

Green America, in an article accessed on Oct. 2, 2020, “10 Reasons to Oppose Nuclear Energy,” available at greenamerica.org, stated:

“Green America is active in addressing the climate crisis by transitioning the US electricity mix away from its heavy emphasis on coal-fired and natural gas power. But all of that work will be wasted if we transition from fossil fuels to an equally dangerous source – nuclear energy. Nuclear power is not a climate solution. It may produce lower-carbon energy, but this energy comes with a great deal of risk.

Solar power, wind power, geothermal power, hybrid and electric cars, and aggressive energy efficiency are climate solutions that are safer, cheaper, faster, more secure, and less wasteful than nuclear power. Our country needs a massive influx of investment in these solutions if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, enjoy energy security, jump-start our economy, create jobs, and work to lead the world in development of clean energy.

Currently there are 444 nuclear power plants in 30 countries worldwide, with another 63 plants potentially under construction.”

Oct. 2, 2020

Con

Gregory Jaczko, PhD, former Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), in a May 17, 2019 article, “I Oversaw the U.S. Nuclear Power Industry. Now I Think It Should Be Banned.,” available at washingtonpost.com, stated:

“For years, my concerns about nuclear energy’s cost and safety were always tempered by a growing fear of climate catastrophe. But Fukushima provided a good test of just how important nuclear power was to slowing climate change: In the months after the accident, all nuclear reactors in Japan were shuttered indefinitely, eliminating production of almost all of the country’s carbon-free electricity and about 30 percent of its total electricity production. Naturally, carbon emissions rose, and future emissions-reduction targets were slashed.

Would shutting down plants all over the world lead to similar results? Eight years after Fukushima, that question has been answered. Fewer than 10 of Japan’s 50 reactors have resumed operations, yet the country’s carbon emissions have dropped below their levels before the accident. How? Japan has made significant gains in energy efficiency and solar power. It turns out that relying on nuclear energy is actually a bad strategy for combating climate change: One accident wiped out Japan’s carbon gains. Only a turn to renewables and conservation brought the country back on target…

The real choice now is between saving the planet or saving the dying nuclear industry. I vote for the planet.”

May 17, 2019

Con

Mark Z. Jacobson, PhD, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Director, Atmosphere/Energy Program, Stanford University, in a June 20, 2019 article, “The 7 Reasons Why Nuclear Energy Is Not the Answer to Solve Climate Change,” available at leonardodicaprio.org, stated:

“[N]ew nuclear power costs about 5 times more than onshore wind power per kWh (between 2.3 to 7.4 times depending upon location and integration issues). Nuclear takes 5 to 17 years longer between planning and operation and produces on average 23 times the emissions per unit electricity generated (between 9 to 37 times depending upon plant size and construction schedule). In addition, it creates risk and cost associated with weapons proliferation, meltdown, mining lung cancer, and waste risks. Clean, renewables avoid all such risks…

Finally, many existing nuclear plants are so costly that their owners are demanding subsidies to stay open. For example, in 2016, three existing upstate New York nuclear plants requested and received subsidies to stay open using the argument that the plants were needed to keep emissions low. However, subsidizing such plants may increase carbon emissions and costs relative to replacing the plants with wind or solar as soon as possible. Thus, subsidizing nuclear would result in higher emissions and costs over the long term than replacing nuclear with renewables.”

June 20, 2019

Con

Avery Thompson, staff writer for Popular Mechanics, Feb. 28, 2019 article, “The Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ‘Green New Deal’ Wants to Get Rid of Nuclear Power. That’s a Great Idea.,” available at popularmechanics.com, stated:

“The Green New Deal calls for the entire country to be powered by renewable energy. While solar and wind energy are prominently featured, one power source is deliberately left out: nuclear…

At first glance, it seems at least strange and perhaps short-sighted for any environmental plan that would move the U.S. entirely off fossil fuels to leave out nuclear power. After all, nuclear plants can produce an enormous amount of energy with no carbon emissions. Nuclear power can be generated consistently, where wind and solar are intermittent by nature. Nuclear plants could replace current coal or natural gas plants, or supplement solar or wind installations in populous areas…

[D]espite the advantages, nuclear simply has too many downsides to ever be a viable way to produce electricity in the U.S. Primarily, it’s just too damn hard and expensive to build new nuclear capacity in 21st century America.”

Feb. 28, 2019

Con

Greenpeace UK, in an article accessed on Oct. 2, 2020, “Nuclear Power,” available at greenpeace.org.uk, stated:

“Nuclear power is incredibly expensive, hazardous and slow to build. It is often referred to as ‘clean’ energy because it doesn’t produce carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases when electricity is generated but the reality is that it isn’t a plausible alternative to renewable energy sources…

Nuclear energy is also dangerous. We’re still living with the legacy of accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima which released huge amounts of radioactive material. Even without such accidents, nuclear power creates radioactive waste at every stage of production, including uranium mining and reprocessing of spent reactor fuel…

A thriving renewable energy industry will create jobs, provide cheaper electricity and help cut emissions much faster than nuclear power.”

Oct. 2, 2020

Con

Heidi Hunter, PhD, Associate Professor of Environmental Humanities at Stony Brook University, in an article accessed on Oct. 2, 2020, “Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer in a Time of Climate Change,” available at aeon.co, stated:

“With our climate-impacted world now highly prone to fires, extreme storms and sea-level rise, nuclear energy is touted as a possible replacement for the burning of fossil fuels for energy – the leading cause of climate change. Nuclear power can demonstrably reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Yet scientific evidence and recent catastrophes call into question whether nuclear power could function safely in our warming world. Wild weather, fires, rising sea levels, earthquakes and warming water temperatures all increase the risk of nuclear accidents, while the lack of safe, long-term storage for radioactive waste remains a persistent danger…

Proponents of nuclear power say that the reactors’ relative reliability and capacity make this a much clearer choice than other non-fossil-fuel sources of energy, such as wind and solar, which are sometimes brought offline by fluctuations in natural resource availability. Yet no one denies that older nuclear plants, with an aged infrastructure often surpassing expected lifetimes, are extremely inefficient and run a higher risk of disaster.”

Oct. 2, 2020