By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association
More and more highly credible environmentalists are arguing the case for nuclear energy. The case was already strong, and the flood of new high-profile advocates doesn’t in itself make it any stronger.
Where the flood of advocates does help us is in giving us more and more great writers and speakers to choose from. One of these, the renowned climate scientist James Hansen, will speak at the CNA Conference on February 26.
Amid the crush of conference preparation, I made time to skim the work of another of these very strong new advocates. He is Colorado State University’s Michael H. Fox, whose book Why We Need Nuclear Power: The Environmental Case was recently published by Oxford University Press. If you want to strengthen your own knowledge with a compact, solid primer on a raft of timely topics – including atmospheric science, the climate controversy, fossil fuels, alternative energy sources, nuclear technology, radiation and energy safety – it’s for you.
Fox is genuine, honest, direct and comprehensive, and a very good writer, so I’ll excerpt a few of his own words to get you started.
The largest factor in global warming is CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels (75%)…A substantial part of the fossil fuel emissions comes from burning coal to produce electricity…Natural gas is not really the solution…it is clearly better than coal…but it will still be a major contributor…
Wind and solar have a place…but they do not solve the energy problem…They can contribute the most power in places where relatively few people live, requiring a huge and expensive new network of transmission lines…They are expensive…They have very large footprints, which restrict them in many places. They are not very long lived…And they do not reduce the need for fossil fuels…because of their intermittent nature…Wind and solar are not able to wean us from our addiction to coal and natural gas…
A nuclear reactor will outlast several alternative energy projects but will cost far more upfront…The market alone is unlikely to be able to support either renewable energy projects or nuclear power projects because they are very expensive. But nuclear power alone has the potential to substantially reduce the CO2 emissions, which neither solar nor wind can do…[In the USA from 1950-2010] nuclear power and renewable energy (mostly wind and solar) each accounted for 9% of the total [federal government] incentives…Most of the incentives for nuclear power were for R&D…while for renewable energy about one-third were for R&D…
[U.S.] States with regulated rates set by public utility commissions are far more likely to build more nuclear…the energy crisis in California in 2000-2001…was an object lesson in how not to deregulate markets. Regulated states [provide] a climate in which the long-term costs of nuclear power plants can be amortized, resulting in low, stable rates. Since new nuclear power plants are designed for a 60-year lifetime, they will provide cheap electricity in future years, just as current reactors that were built 20 or more years ago provide cheap electricity now. Investments in nuclear power are truly long-term infrastructure investments that will pay off over a long time.
I and other pro-nuclear environmentalists find ourselves in an interesting conundrum. Many of my fellow liberal environmental activists are opposed to nuclear power, while many conservatives who are staunch deniers of global warming are supportive…Suppose we liberal environmentalists are wrong about global warming being caused by human influences. Would it really be such a bad thing if we actually reduced emissions of carbon dioxide?…And to environmentalists, is nuclear power really as bad as coal? Choices must be made, and every choice entails some risk. If you continue to oppose nuclear power, coal will still be providing most of the world’s electricity 50 years from now. The choice is up to us.
Maybe we’ll see Fox at a future CNA Conference. In the meantime, buy his book; like nuclear technology, it’s a long term asset that’s worth every penny. And we’ll be very excited to hear from James Hansen on Thursday.