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Hamilton Place Strategies

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Where Is Nuclear
In The Climate Change Conversation?
Findings: POLICYMAKERS in been more explicit, the most
Washington and around the prominently discussed zero-
• Despite the significant globe have been debating emissions solutions still do
role nuclear energy climate change for years. not meet our energy needs.
plays in our low-carbon There is a full range of policy
energy portfolio, it is proposals to address this Zero-emissions energy
underrepresented in issue from the simple to sources, such as solar and
most climate change the complex, and from the wind power, have seen
coverage in the media. practical to the extreme. significant growth over
the past decade. Since
• Concerns about the The proposals that are 2008, wind generation
safety of nuclear energy being discussed in serious has increased five-fold
should be weighed circles include while solar
against the benefits of everything generation has
its ability to support an from universal The proposals that increased 39-
emissions-free future. vegan diets, are being discussed fold. However,
to seeding in serious circles even after
• Climate change the sky, to include everything years of rapid
solutions likely lie tinkering with growth, solar
in a combination volcanoes. For
from universal vegan and wind still
of strategies and example, the diets, to seeding the only make up
breakthroughs in EAT-Lancet sky, to tinkering with approximately
technology. commission volcanoes. 8 percent of
recommends electricity
radically generation in
shifting diets away from the U.S., and just 3 percent
Matt McDonald meat and dairy to support of all energy consumption.
Lauren Claffey planetary health. Other In contrast nuclear energy
Stratton Kirton experts, including researchers currently accounts for
Kelly Ogburn at Harvard, are suggesting 19.3 percent of electricity
Chris Doege even more extreme steps, generated in the in the
like geoengineering, to dim United States, and represents
the skies and offset the more than half (53 percent)
The views expressed in this effects of climate change. of all zero-emissions
document represent those of Although the threat of electricity. In terms of all
the authors alone. climate change has never energy consumed, nuclear
amounts to nearly 10 publications over a six month
percent. period. In those stories, When nuclear provides
mentions of nuclear energy nearly three times the clean
While public debate has energy as wind and solar, but
focused on alternative makes up a small fraction of
energy sources that provide
When nuclear provides climate change coverage, it’s
only a small fraction of our nearly three times the worth taking a harder look
electricity portfolio, it is clean energy as wind at our debate on climate and
an incomplete debate if we and solar, but makes energy.
fail to weigh the viability of up a small fraction
nuclear energy and its zero- The Debate
of climate change
carbon footprint.
coverage, it’s worth It’s true that nuclear
The Missing Conversation taking a harder look at energy poses some serious
our debate on climate challenges, including
Despite the significant and energy. questions about cost, safety,
role nuclear already plays and sustainability. However,
in our low-carbon energy these concerns should not be
portfolio, it accounts for a appeared in just 16 percent discussed without weighing
fraction of climate change of stories, in contrast to them against the benefits of
coverage in the media. We mentions of wind energy and nuclear energy and its ability
reviewed about 1,700 stories solar energy, both of which to support an emissions-free
covering climate change and appeared in over a third of future.
energy published in top-tier stories.
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Some estimates place the While nuclear energy skeptics billion (paid by industry)
cost of new nuclear plant have raised safety concerns, later, there has yet to be any
construction as high as $9 they are largely unfounded. spent fuel moved into the
billion. But it is important to Since 1977, the Nuclear permanent storage facility
consider that nuclear energy Regulatory Commission due to political gridlock.
is the only conventional has had resident inspectors
energy source that fully stationed at every nuclear Despite this, spent fuel
incorporates the cost of power plant, carrying out has been safely stored on
externalities (pollution, inspections on a day-to-day site and at interim storage
waste, etc.) into the overall basis. This focus on safety facilities in dry casks. These
price tag. While cost should has resulted in zero deaths in casks are so resilient that
be considered, it is just the U.S. from nuclear-related the Nuclear Regulatory
one factor in the larger incidents. Commission recently adopted
cost-benefit analysis. We a rule that fuel can be safely
know that nuclear produces Moreover, the industry stored for 60 years, 100
zero emissions during its has developed solutions to years, and even indefinitely.
operations. Even when handle the externalities of Storage is only one option
viewed through a lifecycle nuclear energy generation. for spent fuel. Other
analysis of greenhouse gas Nearly forty years ago countries have tackled waste
emissions, nuclear energy’s Congress designated a by adopting a closed-loop
footprint is on par with wind location to serve as a fuel system, and new reactor
and significantly less than permanent repository for designs hold the promise of
solar. nuclear waste. Thirty-seven producing substantially less
years and more than $40 (or no) waste.
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Looking Forward Sources: Worldwide,” World Nuclear
Association, 2/19.
The U.S. only has two nuclear “EAT-Lancet Commission
reactors under construction. Brief For Everyone,” EAT- Brad Plumer, “How Retiring
With six plants set to close Lancet Commission, Accessed Nuclear Power Plants May
between 2017 and 2025, if 4/3/19. Undercut U.S. Climate
nuclear does not become a Goals,” The New York Times,
more prominent part of the Stephen Fleischfresser, “6 6/13/17.
climate change conversation Ways Geoengineering Could
soon, we are at risk of losing Fight Climate Change,” “U.S. Energy Facts
a significant portion of Cosmos, 7/27/18. Explained,” U.S. Energy
our zero-emissions energy Information Administration.
portfolio. And under current “Renewables On The Rise,” Accessed 6/26/19
conditions, when nuclear Environment America,
plants close down, they are Accessed 4/3/19. “Under Construction
likely to be replaced by fossil Reactors,” International
fuels. “What Is U.S. Electricity Atomic Energy Agency
Generation By Energy (IAEA), Accessed 6/26/19.
If nuclear energy becomes Source?” U.S. Energy
a more prominent solution Information Administration,
to climate-change, next- Accessed 4/3/19.
generation nuclear plants,
with updated technology “Cheap Dreams, Expensive
and high safety standards, Realities,” Union Of
can play a significant role Concerned Scientists,
in an emissions-free future. Accessed 4/3/19.
But we will not achieve
these important goals “Life Cycle Assessment
without the human capital Harmonization,” NREL,
and infrastructure that are Accessed 4/3/19.
currently supported by the
existing fleet. “Backgrounder On Oversight
Of Nuclear Power Plants,”
The solutions for climate United States Nuclear
change likely lie in a Regulatory Commission,
combination of strategies Accessed 4/3/19.
– increasing zero
emissions energy sources, Dr. Elizabeth K. Ervin,
improvements in energy “Nuclear Energy Statistics,”
efficiency, and breakthroughs University Of Mississippi,
in new technology. Accessed 4/3/19.
Regardless of what that
solution is, we are doing Sonal Patel, “NRC Issues
ourselves, and the planet, a Final Rule To Replace Waste
disservice by leaving nuclear Confidence Decision, Ends
energy out of the debate. Licensing Suspension,”
POWER, 8/26/14.

“Plans For New Reactors

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