News / Science & Technology

Scientists Urge Environmentalists to Support Nuclear Energy

FILE - The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, where the U.S. suffered its most serious nuclear accident in 1979, is seen across the Susquehanna River in Middletown, Pennsylvania.
FILE - The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, where the U.S. suffered its most serious nuclear accident in 1979, is seen across the Susquehanna River in Middletown, Pennsylvania.
Four prominent climate scientists are urging environmentalists to support the development of "safer" nuclear energy systems as an alternative to fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.

The U.S. and Australia-based scientists made the appeal in a letter issued Sunday and addressed to people "influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear power."

Many environmentalists believe nuclear plants are too dangerous and expensive to replace fossil fuels. They say governments instead should invest in energy sources such as solar and wind to meet the world's needs.

But the authors of the letter say solar and wind systems cannot be developed fast enough "to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires." They say there must be a "substantial role" for nuclear power in any "credible" solution to stabilizing the climate.

The four scientists say the risks of expanding nuclear energy are much smaller than those of continuing to rely on fossil fuel power plants, which they say treat the atmosphere "as a waste dump."

U.S. environmental advocacy group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, rejected the letter's emphasis on nuclear power. Spokesman Bob Deans says the world gains nothing from "substituting one set of environmental nightmares for another."

"We're concerned with safety, sustainability and cost. What we saw in [the Japanese city of] Fukushima [in 2011] was a reminder of the risk of a catastrophic disaster from nuclear power plants," he said. "Sustainability - we have problems [with that]. We have yet to figure out, 60 years after the dawn of this technology, how to deal with the waste from nuclear power plants. And there's also a security problem with having a terrorist get their hands on some of this material that can be used to make weapons. Finally, it's the cost issue. Nuclear power is one of the costliest ways to produce electricity right now."

Deans said the NRDC believes the United States should invest in making homes, workplaces and vehicles more energy efficient, so that people can do "more with less." He also highlighted China's investment in wind and solar power as a positive step by one of the world's top polluters.

But China also is seeking to export its nuclear energy technology after launching 17 domestic reactors and starting construction of 28 more - a rate of nuclear development that far outpaces the United States.

Deans said China is dealing with a unique energy challenge because it is trying to rapidly lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.

"We certainly understand China's growing energy needs, no question about that," he said. "At the same time, there is no more technologically advanced country in the world than Japan, and what we've seen in Fukushima has been an unrolling disaster that the Japanese have yet to get a handle on. That needs to be a warning to everyone around the world that we need to be very careful about this technology."

The pro-nuclear letter was written by Kenneth Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution, Kerry Emanuel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, James Hansen of Columbia University and Tom Wigley of the University of Adelaide.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

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Comment Sorting
by: Hiroshi Suzuki from: Tokyo
November 04, 2013 12:10 PM
For thousands exposed to radiation in Fukushima, it`s the youngest generation that is most at risk.

03/11/2013 ABC News

Tests commissioned by the local authorities have discerned an alarming spike in the incidence of thyroid cancer in Fukushima children and while specialists and experts are reluctant to draw a definitive link between the tumours and the nuclear radiation that erupted from the stricken power station, citizens are nonetheless deeply concerned.

The doctors in Fukushima say that it shouldn’t be coming out so soon, so it can’t be related to the nuclear accident. But that’s very unscientific, and it’s not a reason citizens can accept.

by: PermReader
November 04, 2013 11:14 AM
The dodgy Greens deseived the simple-hearted and fearful Westerners that the Muslim`s oil boycott is the same as the natural fuel lack.The West appeared before the horrors of dirty World of the water,athmospheare,fuel,genes - everything that is the creature of the Capitalism!!!

by: Manda Atsukoh from: AKB, TKO
November 03, 2013 6:36 PM
The four scientists are absolutely correct.
The environmentalists opposing nuclear power are foolish and they do not understand science and technology at all.
If they think we should terminate nuclear power plants, please do not use electricity produced by nuclear power plants. And if they want reduce CO2 witout using nuclear power plant, please stop breathing, that will contribute reducing CO2.

by: Benson Kane from: Melbourne
November 03, 2013 6:21 PM
There is far too much scare mungering concerning climate change. Tonight at 7,30 pm i believe the SBS are going to show the first part of a three part series about the cathasrophy that climate change is about to create . But according to the preview that they've showed ,it seems that they got the idea from the book of Revelation, which predicts very simmilar events at the end of the world.,but the book of revelation predict that such events will happennot not because of human induced climate change ,but because the wrath of God on humanity because of our immorality against him. However climate change could be one the end of the times signs, that science do not understand , and therfore are blamming the climate change on fossile fuels. However Iwouldn't start to pannick because the sooner this world comes to an end the better it will be .Because the new and better world will begin. If you believe the science then you still believe in Santa Clause.

by: Gizmonic institute from: Texas
November 03, 2013 2:44 PM
The solution is thorium-based reactors. No radioactive waste produced. Abandoned in the 50s because US needed plutonium for weapons.

by: Jason from: Illinois
November 03, 2013 1:32 PM
I for on am fully behind nuclear power, especially liquid fluoride thorium. If you haven't heard of it watch Kirk Sorensen's TED Talk.

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