On Nuclear Energy and Sustainability

That’s the subject line of an email I received today from Eric McErlain, Senior Writer and Edior of the Nuclear Energy Institute’s Nuclear Notes blog. Eric encouraged me to look at the blog, noted “there are plenty of environmentalists who think we need to give it a second look,” and pointed me to this post on the blog. I promised to be open-minded as I reviewed the blog, and in response, Eric also sent me a link to this press release on Greenpeace co-founder Dr. Patrick Moore’s recent testimony before Congress on behalf of nuclear power as “the only non-greenhouse-gas-emitting power source that
can effectively replace fossil fuels and satisfy global demand.”

Rather than go into a tirade (as I’m sometimes prone to do), I’d like to open up the debate: should we seriously consider ramping up production of nuclear power in response to the threats posed by climate change? I’m still skeptical at this point. I don’t see how we can consider nuclear power as a sustainable option considering the powerful radioactive wastes it produces, as well as the need to mine uranium (a technique I know little about, but I’m guessing its environmental impact would be fairly substantial). I’m also not sure that NEI or Dr. Moore are being completely candid about the time frame for bringing more nuclear power on line, or the costs — from my limited understanding, building a reactor is a long-term and very costly proposition. In fact, isn’t nuclear power an incredibly expensive option given these last two facts? Doesn’t it require much heavier subsidies than other energy forms? And finally, the NEI is an organization of the nuclear power industry — is there independent research that verifies the “safe and clean” label the industry is promoting?

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