While closing the aging Plymouth nuclear plant may have been a wise decision, the world’s withdrawal from nuclear power since the tragic tsunami at Fukishima in March, 2011 will likely lead to disaster.
Before Fukishima, a recent piece in the New Yorker points out, “there was serious discussion among energy experts about a nuclear ‘renaissance.’ “. After Fukishima, Japan shut all their nukes down. Belgium, Switzerland and Germany announced complete phaseouts of nuclear power, and France announced a major decrease.
The New Yorker reports that Pushker Kharecha, a scientist at Columbia University’s Climate Science, Awareness, and Solutions Program thinks this is a terrible mistake. ”Our window of time to mitigate the climate crisis is shrinking by the day….Given this urgency it simply makes no sense to curtail a non-fossil fuel source like nuclear power in countries that produce significant power from fossil fuels.”
If professors Stephen Pinker (Harvard), Joshua Goldman (American University) and Steffan Qyist a Swedish nuclear engineer are correct, we need to stop closing nuclear plants and start building them as quickly as we can. In a NY Times op-ed (“Nuclear Power Can Save the World”) they argue that the only way to supply the growing global demand for electricity without fossil fuels … is through a mix of renewable energy and nuclear power.
The professors believe we have to supplement the nuclear plants we have with a buildup of safer, advanced nuclear plants. While some experts assert that renewables alone can solve the problem, economic models show that at least 20% of our power has to come from a reliable, consistent, low-carbon source. And the only one we have available is nuclear power.
The risk of nuclear power is localized, visible, and very low — Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukishima notwithstanding. The risk of global warming is worldwide, not visible until it’s too late, and very high.
The professors tell us that “the reality is that nuclear power is the safest form of energy humanity has ever used. Mining accidents, hydroelectric dam failures, natural gas explosions and oil train crashes all kill people, sometimes in large numbers, and smoke from coal-burning kills them in enormous numbers, more than half a million per year.”
“By contrast, in 60 years of nuclear power, only three accidents have raised public alarm.” and except for Chernobyl they didn’t kill anyone.
“Climate change is a trolley moving inexorably but slowly toward the people on the tracks,” says Stephen Davis, an earth systems science professor at the University of California, Irvine. “Maybe nuclear is scarier because a person could be run down before she even sees the trolley.”
The future of nuclear power lies in “fourth generation” reactors currently being developed by dozens of start-ups. They will be mass produced with standard parts and shipped to the world, “potentially generating electricity at lower cost than fossil fuels.
The good news is that Congress recently passed the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act. Unless Donald Trump (who calls global warming a hoax) stops it, we may be on our way to a sensible answer to the problem.