The best way to stop global warming is nuclear power

October 2017

The Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth, MA is in trouble. It’s in poor condition and the owner, Entergy, has said that rather than spend the money to fix it, they will shut it down.

Like anyone on Cape Cod, I worry about being downwind from a nuclear plant with a bad safety rating; but I worry more about being downwind from the coal-fired plant near Fall River (which just closed) and the oil-fired plant at the end of the Cape Cod canal (which will soon be a gas-fired “peaker plant” ready on ten minutes notice to flll extra demand).

Forbes magazine reported that “According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Academy of Science (NAS) and many health studies over the last decade … the adverse impacts on health become a significant effect for fossil fuel and biofuel/biomass sources.”

The fact is that emissions from fossil fuel plants kill a lot more people than nuclear plants. Using data from the WHO, CDC and NAS, Forbes estimated that oil-fired power causes 36,000 deaths a year in the U.S. while coal-fired power is responsible for 15,000 more. Biofuel plants kill 24,000. Even rooftop solar kills 440 people a year, and another 259 die because of wind power (mostly from installation accidents). But the world-wide average of deaths from nuclear power is only 90 per year (and that includes Chernobyl and Fukishima).

Nuclear power is not only safer in the short run than fossil fuels, but it may be able to save us from our fast-rising oceans by nearly eliminating the production of CO2 from power plants. Unfortunately, after huge disasters like Fukishima and Chernobyl, and lesser ones like Three Mile Island, we have come to have an unrealistically deep fear of “nukes.”

The good news is that a new study, reported in the scientific journal PLos One tells us that if we get serious about nuclear power, it can solve the CO2 problem in roughly 30 years. The study concludes that if every country repeated the same level of development of nuclear power that France and Sweden did from the 60s to the 90s “… the global share of fossil-fuel-derived electricity could be replaced within 25–34 years. This would allow the world to meet the most stringent greenhouse-gas mitigation targets.”

As Staffan Qvist, a physicist at Uppsala University, who led the effort to develop this nuclear plan, said: “The mantra ‘nuclear can’t be done quickly enough to tackle climate change’ is one of the most pervasive in the debate today and mostly just taken as true, while the data prove the exact opposite.”

So if we can solve the problem, and perhaps avert a worldwide crisis that could put Cape Cod largely under water, what are we waiting for? Close Pilgrim if it needs closing, but let’s replace it with a bigger plant using modern technology.

Right now, the world is going in the wrong direction and reducing reliance on nuclear power. Barry Brook, an ecologist and computer modeler at the University of Tasmania puts it this way: “As long as people and nations put fear of nuclear accidents above fear of climate change, those trends are unlikely to change. But no renewable energy technology or energy efficiency approach has ever been implemented on a scale or pace required.”

The world really could go nuclear, but it won’t be cheap

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