POLITICS:

Groups oppose top climate scientists' call to embrace nuclear power

More than 300 groups are rejecting calls from top climate scientists to embrace nuclear power to fight climate change since renewables cannot be deployed fast enough.

Environmental and anti-nuclear groups from the United States and 22 other countries told former NASA scientist and activist James Hansen and three other scientists who have alerted the public to the dangers of climate change in recent years that nuclear power is too dangerous and relies too heavily on federal subsidies.

The groups, spearheaded by the Civil Society Institute and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, also called for a global phasing out of nuclear power and said wind and solar deployment, in the United States in particular, is far outpacing the development and construction of new reactors. The Civil Society Institute is an advocacy group focused on clean energy issues and climate change, and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service is a Maryland-based anti-nuclear activist group.

"Instead of embracing nuclear power, we request that you join us in supporting an electric grid dominated by energy efficiency, renewable, distributed power and storage technologies," the groups wrote in the letter Monday. "We ask you to join us in supporting the phase-out of nuclear power as Germany and other countries are pursuing."

The letter was signed by a number of groups opposed to fossil fuels and uranium mining, including the Coal River Mountain Watch and Utah-based Uranium Watch, as well as pro-renewables, social and religious organizations.

Signatories also included anti-nuclear and pro-renewables groups in Japan, a country still reeling from a 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Hansen joined Ken Caldeira, a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Kerry Emanuel, a prominent hurricane researcher; and Tom Wigley, a senior research associate at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, last year in calling on "those influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear power" to embrace nuclear power (E&ENews PM, Nov. 4, 2013).

The scientists said renewables cannot scale up fast enough to "deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires" and that there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power.

But the groups dismissed those claims and said "advanced" nuclear designs endorsed by the scientists "are mere blueprints without realistic hope, in the near term, if ever, to be commercialized." The United States, on the other hand, has deployed tens of thousands of megawatts of wind and solar with only minimal new construction in the nuclear sector, according to the letter.

Other science-based groups that did not sign the letter have also questioned nuclear's near-term role in tackling climate change, but without suggesting a global phaseout.

Steve Clemmer, director of energy research and analysis at the Union of Concerned Scientists, noted in a blog post last year that the cost of nuclear power continues to be high while the prices of wind and solar systems drop.

Whereas nuclear additions are limited, the United States broke records in 2012 after installing more than 13 gigawatts of wind and 3.2 GW of solar photovoltaic, Clemmer wrote.

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