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Nuclear Power Is Risky Solution for Addressing Climate Change

New Book Documents Accident, Proliferation, Contamination Dangers, Details Safer Carbon Dioxide Reduction Alternatives

Building more nuclear power plants is a hazard-filled strategy for reducing global warming, according to a book released today. Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate Change, produced by the non-profit Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), documents accident, proliferation and contamination threats associated with reviving the nuclear industry as part of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The book also details economically competitive alternative fuel sources which can address U.S. and world electricity needs.

Dr. Brice Smith, senior scientist at IEER and author of the book, explained, “Nuclear power is a very risky and unsustainable option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Trading one potentially catastrophic health, environmental and security threat for another is not a sensible energy policy.” Dr. Smith holds a Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dr. Smith continued, “Nuclear power plants are a uniquely dangerous source of electricity that will create serious risks, particularly if deployed on a large scale. These include the potential of catastrophic reactor accidents on the scale of Chernobyl, the difficulties of managing long-lived radioactive waste, and increased likelihood of nuclear weapons proliferation. For nuclear power to make a meaningful contribution to reducing CO2 emissions, 1,000 to 2,500 reactors would have to be operating globally by mid-century. That means commissioning a new plant every one to two weeks”

“There is no shortage of ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions: the essential question relates to cost,” said IEER president Dr. Arjun Makhijani. “Wind power with pumped storage, combined cycle liquefied natural gas power plants, and power plants using integrated coal gasification with carbon dioxide sequestration, all have costs comparable to estimates for nuclear power made by its advocates.” Dr. Makhijani has a Ph.D. in engineering from the University of California at Berkeley and has authored many publications on energy policy, including nuclear power and the first ever assessment of the energy efficiency potential of the U.S. economy.

Insurmountable Risks lays out a set of criteria for evaluating proposals aimed at limiting climate change, including:

    • comparative costs of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector;
    • risks of catastrophic accidents with long-term health and environmental impacts;
    • potential for compromise of power plant integrity by terrorist attacks;
    • proliferation and other security impacts; and
      management of wastes

Dr. Makhijani concluded, “Were there no alternatives, the severity of the threat facing humans and the environment from global climate change might warrant serious consideration of the risks of nuclear energy. But it is irrational to incur the proliferation headaches of nuclear power when alternatives are clearly available. We need an energy policy that is not steeped in subsidies but centered on cost, reliability and environmental sanity.”

Insurmountable Risks is being jointly published by IEER Press and RDR Books