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The business case for nuclear power is not strong and could lead to climate change.
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The business case for nuclear power is not strong and could lead to climate change.

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The climate crisis is now, and we don’t have time to lose. We cannot afford to take one false step. Even though the UN COP26 conference on climate failed to set us on the correct path to keep the world below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, there are still important decisions to make as countries develop their latest climate plans.

The false promises of nuclear power, its continued use, and its illusory new program, are not a good way for the United States to reduce carbon emissions. Either would be a mistake.

The push for new nuclear development is focused on the so-called advanced reactors or small modular reactors (SMRs), designs that are capable of producing high-energy nuclear. Safety and cost uncertainties have not been satisfactorily addressed. 

Yet, Congress is already looking to award just two “advanced” fast reactor designs — the Terrapower Natrium reactor and X-energy Xe-100 reactor — an extravagant $3.2 billion in subsidies, even though the former is a project of billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.  

SMRs, which are usually less than one-third of the size of traditional nuclear power reactors, would need to be built in their hundreds, if they weren’t thousands, to realize the claimed cost savings. This factor has been a factor that has kept designs on the drawing boards for decades and has yet to attract buyers. Even if these unproven designs do work, it would be impossible to scale them up and implement them in a timely manner to reduce carbon emissions. 

This is reinforced by recent experience in building new, traditional reactors. They are subject to constant delays and cost increases. This suggests that commercializing new, untested reactor designs will not be faster or cheaper.

One example is another $1 billion was just added to the ever-escalating tab at the two Westinghouse reactors at Plant Vogtle in Georgia — underway since 2013, yet still unfinished — with costs ballooning to over $33 billion, and further delays likely pushing final completion into 2024 if ever.

The French-designed Evolutionary Power Reactor is a stunning failure, with long delays, huge cost-overruns and numerous technical flaws. Recent vibrations at the Taishan 1 EPR (now in operation) in China damaged fuel rods and forced it to shut down. The problem could also be related to a design flaw found in four other European EPRs. French nuclear lab to raise doubts about their safety.

Recognizing these issues, the U.S. nuclear industryIt is focusing most energy on keeping its current fleet, which includes 93 reactors. They claim that they are carbon-free. This is patently false — and not true of any man-made energy source, including renewables, as long as mining, transportation and manufacturing of these technologies are so reliant on fossil fuels.

However, the “zero-emission” mantra has been used to justify the inclusion of nuclear power plants in state and federal subsidies. It could have survived the machinations by Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOn The Money — Dems lay blame for Build Back Better blowup McConnell: Manchin’s opposition against the Biden plan is “great shot in the arm” for the country Harris claims that the stakes for Build Back Better to be about Manchin are too high LEARN MORE (D-W.Va.), the promising Build Back Better Act may have still shot itself in the foot by including a massive $35 billion subsidy for already-operating nuclear plants in its “Zero-Emissions Nuclear Energy Production Credit.” This subsidy would have funneled billions of dollars to corporations that own nuclear power plants, nearly all of which will continue operating with or without such support. 

Subsidizing nukes robs real solutions like renewables of funds at the time they are most needed, making climate change worse.

Further, transferring funds to old nuclear plants misses the point. Even if they were carbon-free, this It is not the only way mean nuclear power is a good way to address the climate crisis because it ignores its two biggest climate drawbacks— time and cost. 

As Stanford physicist Amory LovinsAs the UN has stressed, in order to solve the climate crisis quickly and effectively, we need to choose energy sources that can reduce carbon emissions the fastest and most cost-effectively. This is where renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation beat out nuclear power — as well as now gas and coal as well.

A recent Sussex University Study showed that countries that have focused on nuclear power have not significantly reduced carbon emissions. However, countries with strong renewable energy programs have seen a significant reduction in carbon emissions.

Nuclear power is too expensive and has no business case. This alone should be enough to disqualify it from being useful for climate protection. Our future should not hinge on the nuclear industry’s false choice between climate chaos and cancer-causing pollution. We can and should do better.

Tim Judson is executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, a non-profit environmental organization founded in 1978 that works for a just and equitable transition to renewable energy and a nuclear-free, carbon-free world.

Linda Pentz Gunter is the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear, an anti-nuclear non-profit organization working for a world free from nuclear power and nuclear weapons.


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