Business In Society
Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Business in Society Blog

The Green New Deal environment debate: Enter, the nuclear option

“The only possible solution [to global warming] is a rapid, worldwide expansion of nuclear power.”

Pretty bold, right?

What about the Green New Deal renewables? And fossil fuels, biofuels, hydro, energy efficiency and  pricing carbon? All useful in varying degrees and combinations, contends Richard Rhodes, but they won’t do the job without new nuclear reactors, and plenty of them, built with urgency.

Rhodes, a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner for his four books on energy, certainly has the credentials to warrant attention on the subject. He delivers in his New York Times book review,

“Nuclear Option, A sensible solution for dealing with climate change, borrowed from Sweden” The book is  by energy-expert colleagues Joshua S. Goldstein and Steffan A. Qvist, “A Bright Future, How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow”

Rhodes on the dual challenges and the urgency of addressing energy alternatives:

“Today, with global temperatures rising, time is running short…

“A double burden compounds the problem. We have to limit further increase in greenhouse  gas production as the 2018 Paris Agreement specifies. But that isn’t enough … Without growing nuclear power, replacing fossil fuels with renewables simply decarbonizes the existing supply. It doesn’t deal with the increased demand coming from the developing world.”

In another section of his review, Rhodes presents this chilling scenario:  “… given the increasing prosperity of the developing regions – China, India, Africa – … worldwide energy consumption 30 years from now is projected to be about 50 percent higher than it is today. If that number sounds exaggerated, think of four billion Asians installing air-conditioning.”

Rhodes is not alone in championing nuclear power as an antidote to global warming.

Michael Shellenberger, President of Environmental Progress, a research and policy organization, is quite outspoken in that regard.

Excerpts from his recent Forbes post skewering the current Green New Deal proposal, “The Only Green New Deals That Have Ever Worked Were Done With Nuclear, Not Renewables” :

“Just look at Sweden and France. In the 1970s and 1980s, they built nuclear plants at the rate required to achieve the alleged climate goals of the Green New Deal… Sweden in 2017 generated a whopping 95% of its electricity from zero-carbon sources, with 42% and 41% coming from nuclear and hydroelectric power. France generated 88% of its total electricity from zero-carbon sources, with 72% and 10% respectively coming from nuclear and hydroelectric power.”

After addressing the energy-cum-global-warming difficulties in several other countries, Shellenberger contends: “That leaves us with nuclear power as the only truly scalable, reliable, low-carbon energy source proven capable of eliminating carbon emissions from the power sector.”

But transition to a new major energy source is always a long term journey. With nuclear energy, it would be an especially complex socio-economic challenge involving politics, public opinion, infrastructure and alternatives.

So whatever the macro energy transitions needed to successfully address global warming — whether with elements of the nuclear option, the Green New Deal or some other combination of initiatives — we’d do well to heed Rhodes’ conclusion:

“Momentum has shifted to China and Russia, which are building advanced reactors for domestic use and for sale in Asia, Europe and the Middle East…

“Whether all these oppositions will converge in time to spare us from global disaster remains to be seen … evidence of inertia inherent in energy transition haunts me.”