Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Is Nuclear Power the Way to Go?

EarthWISE—Megan Quinn Bachman

Is switching to nuclear energy our best chance to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, or a more dangerous prospect than climate change? Is nuclear power the only option to replace finite fossil fuels or can decentralized energy sources such as wind and solar, along with conservation and efficiency, fill the gap?

A nuclear advocate and a critic tackled these questions in a heated debate in November at a Michigan environmental conference. At odds were 1970s-era activists Patrick Moore, a Greenpeace co-founder and now a nuclear supporter, and Harvey Wasserman, an anti-nuke crusader from Columbus, who coined the expression, “No Nukes.”

The use of nuclear energy has become a hot button issue for environmentalists with some of its biggest names switching to endorse nuclear. Among them: James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis and Stewart Brand, former editor of the Whole Earth Catalogue.

Moore embraces nuclear power as a way to battle climate change. “If we want to reduce fossil fuel consumption, and 85 percent of the U.S. does, it’s not possible without nuclear energy on a large scale,” he said in the debate at the Conference on Michigan’s Future: Energy, Economy and Environment.

So renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass, when combined with radical conservation measures-local food production, other local production, sharing and exchange systems, such as ride-sharing and local currencies and credit-may be our best options because they are decentralized and under the control of communities, businesses and homeowners.

Moore claimed that wind and solar energy, now accounting for less than one percent of total production, will never replace fossil fuels because they are too intermittent and expensive. “You can’t run factories, schools and hospitals on sources that will disappear for days at a time,” he said.

Actually, he has a point. Even with double-digit growth rates, wind and solar along with geothermal remain a miniscule portion of total energy use. While green techno-enthusiasts may claim that a growing industrial world could be run on scaled-up renewable sources, the numbers suggest otherwise.

Wasserman, author of SOLARTOPIA! Our-Green Powered Earth, A.D. 2030, argued that a combination of renewable energy sources, increased efficiency and a new transportation infrastructure would better solve the climate crisis and energy problems than nuclear power, which he described as a “failed 20th century technology.” Wasserman detailed a long list of nuclear power’s woes—its high cost (about $10 billion or more per plant and rising), the potentially catastrophic health and safety effects from everyday radiation emissions and possible meltdowns and other accidents, the inability of the industry to get private funding and insurance and the unresolved issue of the disposal of high-level radioactive waste.

With these concerns, it’s no wonder that a new nuclear plant hasn’t been commissioned in the U.S. in some three decades. But the pressure for new nuclear plants will continue until what is truly the most cost-effective, clean, renewable, safe energy source is embraced—namely conservation—in the form of massive energy curtailment which embraces lifestyle changes in food, housing, transportation and other sectors.

But neither debater spoke of the promise of a rapid and deep reduction in per capita energy use from personal behavioral changes. Energy efficiency, promoted by Wasserman, relies much on unknown technological advances and has been shown to increase rather than decrease the rate of consumption of a resource (known as Jevons’ Paradox). We have more efficient cars, but tend to drive them more and our homes are more energy-efficient than 40 years ago, but twice as large.

Whether nuclear power is the safest, cleanest, cheapest energy source available, or the most deadly, polluting and expensive, the real issue might be the fundamental nature of power generation in the 21st century, a point which Wasserman hammered home. “The entire structure of centralized control [of energy] by large corporations is the problem,” he said.

So renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass, when combined with radical conservation measures—local food production, other local production, sharing and exchange systems, such as ride-sharing and local currencies and credit—may be our best options because they are decentralized and under the control of communities, businesses and homeowners.

  1. As Wasserman concluded in deriding nuclear power, “We are not only getting away from a failed technology, we are moving from a failed paradigm and that is centralized control.”

Click here for other EarthWISE Columns by Megan Quinn Bachman

People across New England witnessed a dramatic celestial event Sunday night.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Visitors look at a Volkswagen ID.4 electric car at the Autostadt promotional facility next to the Volkswagen factory on Oct. 26, 2020 in Wolfsburg, Germany. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

By David Reichmuth

Over the last month, I've seen a number of opinion articles attacking electric vehicles (EVs). Sadly, this comes as no surprise: now that the Biden administration is introducing federal policies to accelerate the roll out of electric vehicles, we were bound to see a reaction from those that oppose reducing climate changing emissions and petroleum use.

Read More Show Less


A woman walks along The Embarcadero under an orange smoke-filled sky in San Francisco, California on September 9, 2020. Brittany Hosea-Small / AFP / Getty Images

Smoke from wildfires may be more harmful to public health than other sources of particulate matter air pollution, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less
China's new five-year plan could allow further expansion of its coal industry. chuyu / iStock / Getty Images Plus

On Friday, China set out an economic blueprint for the next five years, which was expected to substantiate the goal set out last fall by President Xi Jinping for the country to reach net-zero emissions before 2060 and hit peak emissions by 2030.

Read More Show Less
Trans Canada Trail and AccessNow partnership for AccessOutdoors / Trails for All project. Mapping day on Capital Pathway in Ottawa, Ontario with Camille Bérubé. Daniel Baylis

The Great Trail in Canada is recognized as the world's longest recreational trail for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. Created by the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) and various partners, The Great Trail consists of a series of smaller, interconnected routes that stretch from St. John's to Vancouver and even into the Yukon and Northwest Territories. It took nearly 25 years to connect the 27,000 kilometers of greenway in ways that were safe and accessible to hikers. Now, thanks to a new partnership with the Canadian Paralympic Committee and AccessNow, the TCT is increasing accessibility throughout The Great Trail for people with disabilities.

Read More Show Less