Climate Change

Nuclear power is counterproductive to efforts to address climate change effectively and in time. Funding diverted to new nuclear power plants deprives real climate change solutions like solar, wind and geothermal energy of essential resources.



"Don't Nuke the Climate!" at White House rally marking start of COP21 in Paris

As reported by the Washington Post, the anti-nuke movement (including representatives from Beyond Nuclear, NIRS, and other groups) was "in the house" at the White House for a climate rally in D.C. marking the beginning of COP21 in Paris, France:

In the District, several hundred gathered by the White House and marched along the Mall, with signs that read, “Preserve our home,” “Don’t nuke the climate” and “Keep it in the ground,” the latter referring to fossil fuels.

(Of course, the letter could -- and should -- also refer to uranium, as well as thorium, for that matter!)


Rally with Pope Francis in the call to moral action for climate justice: National Mall, Washington DC, Thurs., Sept. 24th

Pope Francis waves as he leads the Angelus prayer from the window of the Apostolic palace in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, Aug. 9, 2015. Photo: Reuters.A coalition of environmental groups has called for a Rally with Pope Francis in the call to moral action for climate justice, to take place on the National Mall, Washington DC, between 3rd and 7th Streets, from 7:30am to 12:30pm on Thursday, Sept. 24th. In his encyclical letter on the climate crisis, Pope Francis does not include nuclear power as a solution. On the contrary, he cites the false nature of nuclear power as a climate solution, and its environmental risks. Pope Francis' call for real answers to the climate crisis, such as energy efficiency and renewable energy, including wind power and solar photovoltaics, joins his recent call -- on the 70th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan -- for a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons.


Nukes “too expensive to matter” in President Obama’s Clean Power Plan

President Barack Obama campaigns at a wind farm in Iowa, August 14, 2012. He had pledged to support clean energy in his second term, and his administration's EPA CPP does just that. (Photo: Reuters)Just as the Obama Administration rolled out its Clean Power Plan (CPP) another published scientific study disclosed the world’s glaciers are melting at a “historically unprecedented” rate, twice as fast as the previous decade. The good news amid such calamity is that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final rule on climate is a significant first step aimed at cutting U.S. global warming emissions from its coal-fired electricity generation. The new rule ranks renewable energy (such as solar photo-voltaics, and wind power -- see photo, left) and energy efficiency as the Best Systems of Emissions Reduction (BSER) for replacement energy. It also casts increasing doubt on the continued operation of more than a dozen “economically at-risk” U.S. nuclear power plants.    

The EPA’s final rule states “the main impact of this rule on the nation’s mix of generation will be to reduce coal-fired generation, but in an amount and by a rate that is consistent with recent historical declines in coal-fired generation… the trends for all other types of generation, including natural gas-fired generation, nuclear generation, and renewable generation, will remain generally consistent with what their trends would be in the absence of this rule.”

Those same trends already demonstrate that nuclear power’s false promise is consistently trumped by “a real-time revolution in efficiency-plus-renewables-plus-storage.”

Still, the nuclear industry and its champions are keeping their spin on it. The Administration’s EPA does grant two concessions important to the nuclear industry expansion agenda. First, the rule eases pressure on state emission reduction compliance standards by not penalizing those states for the potential failure-to-complete any of the five economically bankrupt nuclear generator projects currently under construction in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. Tennessee’s Watts Bar 2 project has held on to a construction license for 43 years, longer than its still elusive 40-year operating license.

For existing reactors, while recognizing that expensive “power uprates” do not significantly reduce carbon emissions, states are limited to emissions reduction credit only for the incremental increase in thermal ratings to generate extra electricity output.

The climate rule rejects the creation of carbon reduction rewards for reactors with 20-year license extensions. 

It further does not allow for the preservation of a growing list of  “economically at-risk” operating units teetering on permanent closure that can be replaced with renewable energy and energy efficiency.  The nuclear industry had intensely lobbied the EPA to allow states to incentivize keeping dirty, dangerous, and expensive nukes operational that otherwise are headed for decommissioning. These troubled reactors include Indian Point 2 & 3 (NY), Ginna (NY), Fitzpatrick (NY), Oyster Creek (NJ), Three Mile Island (PA), Davis-Besse (OH), Pilgrim (MA), Byron 1 & 2 (IL), Quad Cities 1& 2 (IL) and Clinton (IL).

We can, however, expect that both the coal and nuclear industries will meet rulemaking with rule breaking, a strategy of endless litigation to stay implementation, and even more divisive political wrangling hinged on the next administration.  To this end, President Obama has warned, “There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change.”


Ten foot sea level rise by 2100 would threaten coastal nuclear power plants

In an article entitled "Climate Seer James Hansen Issues His Direst Forecast Yet," Mark Hertsgaard has reported at the Daily Beast that "James Hansen’s new study explodes conventional goals of climate diplomacy and warns of 10 feet of sea level rise before 2100. The good news is, we can fix it."

Although the article lists nuclear power as a "non-carbon fuel," alongside solar, wind, and efficiency, as potential energy sources for averting climate catastrophe, it does not mention the famed NASA scientist's pro-nuclear advocacy. Hundreds of environmental groups have challenged Hansen's nuclear power advocacy as illogical and misinformed, while continuing to thank him for his essential work on climatology.

Along similar lines, IEER showed nearly a decade ago now that nuclear power is incapable of averting climate catastrophe, in its trailblazing 2006 book Insurmountable Risks by Dr. Brice Smith. IEER's president, Dr. Arjun Makhijani, followed up with a description of climate solutions, in his 2007 Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy.

Hansen's nuclear power advocacy also ignores the fact that nuclear power cannot operate safely in destabilized climatic conditions. For that matter, nuclear power has shown five times in 35 years that it can't operate safely in stable climate conditions (the meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979, the explosion and fire at Chernobyl in 1986, and the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi 1, 2, and 3 in 2011).

Ten foot sea level rise would not only flood major cities, as Hansen's study has warned. It would also flood many coastal nuclear power plants, threatening not only reactor operations, but also on-site radioactive waste storage (see U.S. reactors located along both coastlines on the map in the Beyond Nuclear pamphlet about "routine" radiation releases into surface waters).

Even if not directly inundated, such sea level rise would threaten nuclear power plants located at higher elevations, or further inland, with storm surges and other extreme weather coming off the oceans.

For more information on why nuclear power cannot operate safely in a destabliized climate, see Beyond Nuclear's "Climate Chaos and Nuclear Power" fact sheet, published in 2008.


Pope Francis does not see nuclear power as a solution to the climate crisis

In his 192-page ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME, on the climatic and environmental crises afflicting planet Earth, published on June 18, 2015, Pope Francis did not list nuclear power as a solution. In fact, he cited the threats and risks created by nuclear power, as well as nuclear weapons, as referenced below.

Thanks to Tim Judson, Executive Director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service, for providing a prompt analysis of Pope Francis' encyclical, identifying the following excerpts, in order of relevance:

In the 184th paragraph, in Chapter Five, LINES OF APPROACH AND ACTION, under Section III, DIALOGUE AND TRANSPARENCY IN DECISION-MAKING, Pope Francis wrote: In the face of possible risks to the environment which may affect the common good now and in the future, decisions must be made “based on a comparison of the risks and benefits foreseen for the various possible alternatives”.[131] This is especially the case when a project may lead to a greater use of natural resources, higher levels of emission or discharge, an increase of refuse, or significant changes to the landscape, the habitats of protected species or public spaces. Some projects, if insufficiently studied, can profoundly affect the quality of life of an area due to very different factors such as unforeseen noise pollution, the shrinking of visual horizons, the loss of cultural values, or the effects of nuclear energy use. The culture of consumerism, which prioritizes short-term gain and private interest, can make it easy to rubber-stamp authorizations or to conceal information. (emphasis added)

In Chapter One, WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OUR COMMON HOME, appearing in Section I, on POLLUTION AND CLIMATE CHANGE, in a sub-section entitled "Pollution, waste and the throwaway culture," at the 21st paragraph, Pope Francis wrote: Account must also be taken of the pollution produced by residue, including dangerous waste present in different areas. Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources. The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish. Industrial waste and chemical products utilized in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low. Frequently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected. (emphasis added)

In the 104th paragraph, in Chapter Three, THE HUMAN ROOTS OF THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS, Section I, TECHNOLOGY: CREATIVITY AND POWER, Pope Francis wrote: Yet it must also be recognized that nuclear energy, biotechnology, information technology, knowledge of our DNA, and many other abilities which we have acquired, have given us tremendous power. More precisely, they have given those with the knowledge, and especially the economic resources to use them, an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the entire world. Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely, particularly when we consider how it is currently being used. We need but think of the nuclear bombs dropped in the middle of the twentieth century, or the array of technology which Nazism, Communism and other totalitarian regimes have employed to kill millions of people, to say nothing of the increasingly deadly arsenal of weapons available for modern warfare. In whose hands does all this power lie, or will it eventually end up? It is extremely risky for a small part of humanity to have it. (emphasis added)

In the 3rd paragraph, in the introduction, in a sub-section entitled "Nothing in this world is indifferent to us," Pope Francis wrote: More than fifty years ago, with the world teetering on the brink of nuclear crisis, Pope Saint John XXIII wrote an Encyclical which not only rejected war but offered a proposal for peace. He addressed his message Pacem in Terris to the entire “Catholic world” and indeed “to all men and women of good will”. Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet. In my Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I wrote to all the members of the Church with the aim of encouraging ongoing missionary renewal. In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.

In the 57th paragraph, Pope Francis wrote: It is foreseeable that, once certain resources have been depleted, the scene will be set for new wars, albeit under the guise of noble claims. War always does grave harm to the environment and to the cultural riches of peoples, risks which are magnified when one considers nuclear arms and biological weapons. “Despite the international agreements which prohibit chemical, bacteriological and biological warfare, the fact is that laboratory research continues to develop new offensive weapons capable of altering the balance of nature”.[34] Politics must pay greater attention to foreseeing new conflicts and addressing the causes which can lead to them. But powerful financial interests prove most resistant to this effort, and political planning tends to lack breadth of vision. What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so? (emphasis added)

The concluding sentence of the 20th paragraph, in Chapter One, WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OUR COMMON HOME, Section I, POLLUTION AND CLIMATE CHANGE, seems directly relevant to the issue of nuclear power as a false solution to the climate crisis: Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.

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