Nuclear power is not the answer in a time of climate change. With our climate-impacted world now highly prone to fires, extreme storms and sea-level rise, nuclear energy is touted as a possible replacement for the burning of fossil fuels for energy – the leading cause of climate change. Nuclear power can demonstrably reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Yet scientific evidence and recent catastrophes call into question whether nuclear power could function safely in our warming world. Wild weather, fires, rising sea levels, earthquakes and warming water temperatures all increase the risk of nuclear accidents, while the lack of safe, long-term storage for radioactive waste remains a persistent danger. Kate Brown, a historian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author of Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future (2019), and Tim Mousseau, an evolutionary biologist at the University of South Carolina, also have grave concerns about forest fires. ‘Records show that there have been fires in the Chernobyl zone that raised the radiation levels by seven to 10 times since 1990,’ Brown says. Further north, melting glaciers contain ‘radioactive fallout from global nuclear testing and nuclear accidents at levels 10 times higher than elsewhere’. As ice melts, radioactive runoff flows into the ocean, is absorbed into the atmosphere, and falls as acid rain. ‘With fires and melting ice, we are basically paying back a debt of radioactive debris incurred during the frenzied production of nuclear byproducts during the 20th century,’ Brown concludes. Flooding is another symptom of our warming world that could lead to nuclear disaster. Many nuclear plants are built on coastlines where seawater is easily used as a coolant. Sea-level rise, shoreline erosion, coastal storms and heat waves – all potentially catastrophic phenomena associated with climate change – are expected to get more frequent as the Earth continues to warm, threatening greater damage to coastal nuclear power plants. ‘New nuclear power seemingly represents an opportunity for solving global warming, air pollution, and energy security,’ says Mark Jacobson, director of Stanford University’s Atmosphere and Energy Programme. But it makes no economic or energy sense. ‘Every dollar spent on nuclear results in one-fifth the energy one would gain with wind or solar [at the same cost], and nuclear energy takes five to 17 years longer before it becomes available. As such, it is impossible for nuclear to help with climate goals of reducing 80 per cent of emissions by 2030. Also, while we’re waiting around for nuclear, coal, gas and oil are being burned and polluting the air. In addition, nuclear has energy security risks other technologies don’t have: weapons proliferation, meltdown, waste and uranium-worker lung-cancer risks.’ Gregory Jaczko, former chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the author of Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator (2019), believes the technology is no longer a viable method for dealing with climate change: ‘It is dangerous, costly and unreliable, and abandoning it will not bring on a climate crisis.’
Aeon 28th May 2019 read more »
Dave Elliott: In its new report, the government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says we should aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. It wants a legislated UK target for a 100% reduction in greenhouse gases from 1990 levels, which should cover all sectors of the economy, including international aviation and shipping, and be in the place this year. It should be met via UK effort, without relying on internationally traded carbon credits. With its higher emissions from agriculture, Wales should set a target for a 95% cut in emissions by 2050. Better-placed Scotland should aim for net-zero emissions by 2045, and in the interim 70% by 2030 and 90% by 2040; the Scottish government has now agreed to that. However, the CCC says all this will need new policies: “current policy is insufficient for even the existing targets”. Its proposals certainly are quite ambitious. For example, the CCC looks to extensive electrification, particularly of transport. By 2035 at the latest, “all new cars and vans should be electric (or use a low-carbon alternative such as hydrogen)”. Electrification of heating is also backed strongly, with both these policies aided by a major expansion of renewable and other low-carbon power generation, including possibly some nuclear. Their scenarios have around a doubling of electricity demand, with all power produced from zero/low-carbon sources, compared to 50% today. The CCC says that could, for example, “require 75 GW of offshore wind in 2050, compared to 8 GW today and 30 GW targeted by the Government’s sector deal by 2030. 75 GW of offshore wind would require up to 7500 turbines and could fit within 1–2% of the UK seabed, comparable to the area of sites already leased for wind projects by the Crown Estate”.
Physics World 22nd May 2019 read more »