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Nuclear Power Is Not a Viable Solution for Green New Deal

It's too expensive, too dangerous and dirty, and takes too long to deploy

nuclear power plant

The nuclear power plant in Byron, Illinois.  (Photo:  Michael Kappel/flickr/cc)

The Green New Deal resolution is a bold and necessary path forward to tackle the climate crisis. To be successful, it must leave nuclear power behind. 

As momentum around the Green New Deal turns into concrete proposals, we must recognize why nuclear power is a discredited and dishonest distraction, not a solution.

With just a decade left to stop the worst effects of climate change, we must dramatically transform how we produce, use and pay for energy. And as momentum around the Green New Deal turns into concrete proposals, we must recognize why nuclear power is a discredited and dishonest distraction, not a solution.

To reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 60 percent by 2030, and down to zero by 2050, we need cost-effective, proven energy generation technology that can be scaled up to meet these benchmarks. Nuclear power does not and will not ever meet these criteria.

After 60 years, despite massive subsidies, the nuclear industry is dying of its own accord. Why? Because it’s too expensive, too dangerous and dirty, and takes too long to deploy. Reactors are closing across the country, and major corporations have declared bankruptcy.

Nuclear power simply cannot compete against safer, cleaner, and cheaper renewable energy. Nuclear power is also expensive. Nuclear’s subsidies have been buried in hundreds of spending bills, it’s costs externalized to the environment and future generations, and its bills literally unpaid, defaulted on or passed to taxpayers. Conservative estimates suggest that the nuclear industry has received more than $85 billion in subsidies. A centrist estimate might double that.

For 60 years, nuclear power has posed a serious risk to people and our planet. It will be the same for the next 10,000 years. Our children and generations of their children will be forced to endure the radioactive pollution and fallout from devastating accidents like 3 Mile Island, Fukashima, and Chernobyl, and the permanent waste that no one can safely store. The risks of nuclear proliferation and the spread of dangerous weapons and technology only adds to this.

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Nuclear power is too slow to scale up to our current challenge. Far too slow. In 1997, when the historic Kyoto Protocol was signed, nuclear power’s share of electricity generation globally was around 17 percent. Now, after two decades, the aging fleet of reactors account for barely 10 percent of global electricity generation and about 4.4 percent of global commercial primary energy consumption. Even the nuclear industry’s grandiose and preposterously expensive proposal to build two new nuclear reactors a month, from now to 2050, would be far too little and far too late.

The endless talk of a new nuclear technology that will magically transform this problem is a pipe dream that has a proven record of failure. Hundreds of billions were spent on “breeder” reactors and other esoteric designs and not a single one has yielded a commercial scale reactor.

Continuing to subsidize and retool current reactors will re-direct massive resources that should be put into renewables, while doing nothing to slow global warming.

And continuing to subsidize and retool current reactors will re-direct massive resources that should be put into renewables, while doing nothing to slow global warming.

The task ahead is indeed daunting if we are to turn around global greenhouse gas emissions in the time we have. We must move from a 20th-century energy system based on dirty, dangerous, and expensive fossil fuel and nuclear power to a 21st-century energy system based on renewables.

The solution is a massive commitment to ramping up renewable energy coupled with energy storage while applying modern energy efficiency technologies to decrease demand. Wind and solar are cheap, clean, and proven to work. We must focus all resources on scaling those up.

Some have suggested that climate change is so dire that all options must be on the table. But that’s an ideology, not a strategy. We must choose the technologies that will not produce greenhouse gases and can be scaled up quickly, safely, and at lowest cost. That means the path ahead must be based on renewable energy. If we want to stop the worse of the climate crisis and pull humanity back from the apocalypse, this is the only way forward.

Damon Moglen

Damon Moglen

Damon Moglen is a senior strategic advisor to Friends of the Earth, with over 30 years experience campaigning on climate and nuclear issues.

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