Nuclear essential for climate stability

04 November 2013

Four eminent climate and energy scientists have issued a plea for world leaders to support the development and deployment of nuclear energy in an open letter that has achieved global coverage in news media.

"In the real world, there is no credible path to climate stabilisation that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power."

The letter, signed by climatologist James Hansen, atmospheric scientist Ken Caldeira, meteorologist Kerry Emanuel and climate scientist Tom Wigley, is addressed "To those influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear power." In it, the quartet urges the development and deployment of "safer" nuclear energy systems as vital if the world is to address the problems presented by climate change.

The world needs to meet growing global energy demand without "using the atmosphere as a waste dump", and while the authors acknowledge the role that renewable energy will play in the future energy economy, they contend that to stabilise the climate without recourse to nuclear remains a possibility in theory only. "In the real world, there is no credible path to climate stabilisation that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power," they state.

The letter rehearses the scientists' arguments in favour of nuclear power in clear and simple language. Although describing current nuclear power plants as "far from perfect", they point to features including new safety systems, reducing proliferation risks, improving efficiency and favourable economics presented by modern nuclear technology. However, they say that regardless of such advantages, nuclear should be encouraged for its "societal benefits" and call for a fresh approach to nuclear power in the 21st century.

The signatories:

James Hansen, Columbia University;
Ken Caldeira, Carnegie Institution for Science Department of Global Ecology;
Kerry Emanuel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology;
Tom Wigley, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

"No energy system is without downsides. We ask only that energy system decisions be based on facts, and not emotions and biases that do not apply to 21st century nuclear technology," they say.

Earlier this year, a study co-authored by former NASA scientist Hansen estimated that the use of nuclear power between 1971 and 2009 had likely prevented at least 1.84 million deaths from the effects of fossil fuel combustion pollution worldwide.

US braces for impact

The scientists' letter was circulated as US president Barack Obama established a special task force to help American communities deal with the impacts of climate change. An executive order signed by the president directs federal agencies to take a series of steps intended to help communities "strengthen their resilience to extreme weather and prepare for other impacts of climate change." The move comes a year after the USA's eastern seaboard experienced first-hand the impacts of extreme weather when Superstorm Sandy caused widespread damage and flooding that left over 30 dead and millions of residents without power.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News