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Daily RC Article 179

Nuclear Power's Environmental Advocates: A Shift in Climate Change Solutions


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Climate and energy scientists James Hansen, Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emanuel and Tom Wigley have released an open letter calling on world leaders to support development of safer nuclear power systems. Wait – pro-nuclear environmentalists? Isn"t that an oxymoron? Apparently, not so much anymore.

Embracing nuclear is the only way, the scientists believe, to reverse the looming threat of climate change which they blame on fossil fuels. Depending on who you ask, they"re either abandoning – or leading – traditional environmentalists who for a half-century have rejected clean-burning nuclear power as too expensive or too dangerous. Opponents cite disasters at Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile island.

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The fear is that time is running out. Without nuclear, the scientists believe global energy consumption will overtake the planet"s ability to reverse the buildup of carbon dioxide pollution from burning oil, coal and other fossil fuels. At risk, said Hansen, are disintegrating polar ice sheets and rising sea levels which will threaten coastal regions. Are we witnessing the birth of a mutiny within the environmental movement? Will typical 21st-century environmentalists eventually embrace the power of the atom? A leading environmental group opposed to nuclear power says no. "I don"t think it"s very significant that a few people have changed their minds about nuclear power," said Ralph Cavanagh of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Nuclear fuel may burn cleaner, the NRDC says, but comes with too many safety issues and too high of a price tag. The letter admits "today"s nuclear plants are far from perfect." However, "... there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for different technologies."

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As an alternative, the NRDC is touting efficiency. Energy-saving technology is becoming so successful, according to a new NRDC report, that efficiency has "significant potential to dramatically reduce power plant emissions." Total U.S. energy use peaked in 2007 and has been trending downward ever since, the NRDC says. On the other hand, scientists claim energy consumption globally could double by 2050 – and perhaps triple or quadruple by 2100 – as growing nations like China, India and Brazil start to want more energy.

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A United Nations report released last month re-confirmed Hansen"s fears. The study concluded that the planet is heating up, the oceans are rising and there"s more evidence that neither development is natural. Hansen, who was among the initial wave of scientists warning about climate change in the 1980s, said on Friday that he fears most its "irreversible effects." "Once we get to a certain point and the ice sheets start to disintegrate, then you can"t stop it." Then Hansen paused. "And we"re getting very close to that point. If we stay on the current path”, he said, "those are the consequences we"ll be leaving to our children. The best candidate to avoid that is nuclear power. It"s ready now. We need to take advantage of it."

A group of climate and energy scientists, including James Hansen, has issued an open letter urging world leaders to support the development of safer nuclear power systems as a solution to combat climate change. Despite historical opposition from environmentalists, these scientists argue that embracing nuclear power is essential to prevent the irreversible effects of climate change caused by fossil fuels. They believe that without nuclear power, global energy consumption will surpass the planet's capacity to address carbon dioxide pollution. While some environmental groups remain skeptical, the scientists emphasize the need for different technologies to achieve climate stabilization. The debate highlights a potential shift in the environmental movement towards accepting nuclear power as a cleaner energy source.
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