Why Nuclear Power Is Not a Global Warming Solution

When people learn that I spend a lot of my working hours battling global warming, one of the first questions they ask is, “What do you think about nuclear power?”

This is how I reply: I think it is important to look at every available option to meet our energy needs without disrupting the climate. But when you run the numbers on new nuclear power plants, you find a long list of better solutions--solutions that are cheaper and cleaner and will deliver the emission reductions we need much faster.

This week, Joe Romm writing on Gristmill offers several examples of just how expensive new nuclear power is.  

  • One industry-funded analyst told Romm that a new nuclear power plant would likely charge 20 to 29 cent per kilowatt-hour in the first year of operation, then shift to an average of 12 to 17 cents over the plant’s lifetime.
  • Compare that to renewables: Electricity from concentrated solar power plants costs about 10 to 14 cents per kilowatt-hour, while wind power hit a low of 4 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour way back in 2002.
  • In Florida, utilities can now recover construction costs during the time a nuclear plant is being built. This means ratepayers will have to pay an estimated $9 extra a month for years long before these plants even generate one kilowatt-hour of electricity.

The soaring costs are just a part of what makes nuclear power so troubling.

To displace enough emissions worldwide to avoid just four-tenths of a degree of warming, we would need a new nuclear plant every 3 weeks for the next 40 years. Right now, nuclear power generates only 20 percent of America’s power needs, and we will need major investments to stay even at that level.

Nuclear power is a gold-plated energy path that is dangerous and impractical, especially since we have still not licensed a single safe place to permanently isolate radioactive waste, or developed workable international safeguards to prevent nuclear proliferation.Last year, Congress set aside $10 billion to build just a handful of reactors. Just months later, the industry lobbied hard for $40 billion in additional loan guarantees.

It’s time to put a limit on global warming emissions and let nuclear compete openly in the energy market with genuinely clean, renewable investments like wind, solar and energy efficiency and address its issues of safety, waste, and security that continue to cause real concern.