Nuclear Energy is a Game Changer, But Not For Climate Reasons!

By Vijay Jayaraj

Nuclear energy offers humanity the safest, most efficient approach to harnessing natural resources for its use. As the densest energy source available, nuclear fuel requires the least amount of material and land for electricity production.

This is sufficient reason to support the technology. Yet, some promote it as a means to address a manufactured climate emergency – worse yet, as a mere stop-gap in a transition to weather-dependent wind turbines and solar panels.

Presenting nuclear energy as a so-called solution to climate change damages the credibility of those making the case and detracts from the real benefits of the technology. Suggesting that nuclear is only a bridge to the least dense energy sources – wind and solar – is absurd.

Uranium was discovered in 1789 by Martin Klaproth, a German chemist. However, it was not until the 1930s that scientists understood that its atoms could be split to release energy.

According to the World Nuclear Association, “Uranium has the advantage of being a highly concentrated source of energy which is easily and cheaply transportable. The quantities needed are very much less than for coal or oil. One kilogram of natural uranium will yield about 20,000 times as much energy as the same amount of coal.”

Unlike intermittent solar and wind energy, nuclear power plants can operate virtually continuously to provide a steady source of electricity. In the United States, for example, nuclear plants have an average capacity factor of over 93 percent, compared to around 35 percent for wind power and even less for solar.

It is no wonder that some of the world’s leading economies rely heavily on nuclear. More than 70 percent of all electricity consumed in France comes from nuclear. All the aircraft carriers of the U.S. Navy are nuclear powered, as are about 40 percent of major U.S. naval combatant vessels.

I’ve come across multiple people who advocate for nuclear energy as a solution to a climate crisis. The problem is not with their advocacy of nuclear energy. Rather, their misstep is accepting a popular, but fallacious, theory that carbon dioxide is dangerously overheating the planet – or with their lacking the courage to confront the falsehood.

Fortitude is required in the politicized milieu of the climate debate to state the simple fact that very significant climate change occurred many times well before there were industrial emissions of carbon dioxide.

Periods warmer than today existed 2,000 and 1,000 years ago when Romans grew citrus in northern England and Vikings grew barley on Greenland, respectively. The modern warming phase that began in the 17th century, starting the exit of the Little Ice Age, was well underway at the advent of our era of heavy industrialization.

In addition, the effect of CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels  on atmospheric temperature is a highly debated topic.

It may not be a debate acknowledged in the mainstream media or by political elites, but thousands of scientists view assertions that CO2 is driving dangerous warming as gross exaggerations contrary to common sense and scientific integrity. Computer models attempting to predict the warming effect of CO2 almost universally fail.

So, people advocating for nuclear power on the basis of its potential to address a nonexistent climate emergency undermine their arguments for the technology’s actual benefits of safety and efficiency. The last thing we want is a mischaracterization of a wonderful and groundbreaking technology in the name of climate change.

Nuclear energy is awesome, and supporters should make an equally awesome – and factual – case for it.

This commentary was first published at Real Clear Energy, April 24, 2023, and can be accessed here.

Vijay Jayaraj is a Research Associate at the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, Virginia. He holds a master’s degree in environmental sciences from the University of East Anglia, UK and resides in India.

Photo attribution:  Lucas W Hixson, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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