Those in the scientific and industrial community have long accepted the fact that nuclear power produces zero-carbon energy once constructed. Nuclear has similar life-cycle greenhouse emissions to wind and has a considerably lower carbon footprint than solar does, even when mining and waste disposal are included.
Many politicians have taken much longer to accept this with nuclear more often being grouped with fossil fuels than with renewable energies. But now nuclear is starting to get the climate recognition it deserves. The State of New York Public Service Commission has declared that the state must include nuclear in its Clean Energy Standard portfolio. This represents a major step forward and hopefully the start of greater acceptance of nuclear power as a future friendly, sustainable form of energy. It is however, just a start.
As the Paris conference highlighted, nuclear is still struggling. Energy for Humanity reported over the Paris COP that since 2001, nuclear energy has been explicitly excluded from climate mitigation strategies. This includes a ban on nuclear projects receiving financial assistance from the climate pact’s development mechanisms and significantly hinders both acceptance and deployment of nuclear.
Increasingly, high profile climate experts are speaking out to combat this stigma and support nuclear. At the Paris Climate Conference in December, Dr Kenneth Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science said “the climate doesn’t care whether the electricity comes from a wind turbine or a nuclear reactor. The climate just cares about carbon”. Dr James Hansen, the former NASA scientist who brought climate change to the attention of the US government in the 1980s, argued, “it is wrong to pit renewables against nuclear power. We need all hands on deck.”
It must be hoped that New York is but the first step towards greater global acceptance of nuclear’s carbon credentials and that policy makers can revise their renewables-only pathways in favour of an ‘all of the above’ plan; reflecting the urgency and scale of today’s energy, environmental and climate challenges.