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Scientists and Experts Allege Anti-Nuclear Bias in UN Climate Report - Do You Support Nuclear Power?

by Axios | 10.26.18

A group of roughly three dozen scientists and other energy experts are claiming a seminal United Nations report on climate change is biased against nuclear power.

Why it matters: A global entity like the UN climate panel can have a big impact on the acceptance of nuclear power, as calls to address climate change intensify and the challenges facing the nuclear industry grow around the world.

The big picture: Nuclear power, which provides 30% of the world's zero-carbon electricity, is facing international skepticism over past accidents and public fear about its radioactive waste.

  • In the U.S., numerous plants are poised to shut down earlier than their licenses allow — and some already have — due primarily to market and policy hurdles.
  • Natural gas has largely made up the difference after these plants have shut down, so greenhouse gas emissions ticked up in some parts of the U.S.

The details: A letter being sent to leaders of G-20 nations claims the recent report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change includes “misinformation about nuclear energy, contrasts nuclear negatively to renewables, and in some cases suggests an equivalency with fossil fuels.”

  • “While IPCC authors note that public fears of nuclear are an obstacle to its diffusion, in several instances they reinforce unfounded fears," the letter states.

The signatories include:

  • Tom Wigley, a climate scientist at the University of Adelaide in Australia
  • Kerry Emanuel, atmospheric science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • David Lea, professor of earth science at the University of California

What they're saying: Emanuel told Axios the IPCC’s latest report contains a number of factual errors and displays a bias against nuclear power that many environmental groups struggle with.

“The IPCC says, correctly, that even 1.5 degrees of warming is dangerous, especially for the developing world. We agree with that, on the other hand it throws cold water on what empirically is the fastest way to mitigate emissions we know about today."

— Kerry Emanuel

He cited a statement in Chapter 5 of the report that says replacing fossil fuel power plants with nuclear energy has mixed effects for human health — despite the millions of premature deaths that occur worldwide from coal-fired electricity, for example.

Jonathan Lynn, an IPCC spokesman, rejected the accusation that the panel has it in for nuclear power, telling Axios: “We completely reject the idea we are biased about nuclear power or anything else.”

  • Jim Skea, a climate researcher who worked on the IPCC study, said “most” low-carbon scenarios the organization laid out assume the share of nuclear power will increase worldwide.

Between the lines: Opposition to nuclear power from environmentalists, policy leaders and the general public likely hampers nuclear power’s growth, but it’s hard to really know how much would change if the opposition lessened or dissolved altogether.

This energy resource faces a lot of challenges independent of its criticism, including high upfront capital costs competing with increasingly cheap wind and solar energy, along with natural gas.

Go deeper:

-Amy Harder, Andrew Freedman

(Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios)



Axios

Written by Axios

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(188)
  • Dave
    Voted No
    10/27/2018
    ···

    The problem with Nuclear power, which provides 30% of the world's, is what do you do with the waste? It gets in the ground water, rivers, ocean, air, neighborhood; ie Japan, Russia and the USA. Disposal is the problems, we can’t clean up the mess we’ve got already!

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  • burrkitty
    Voted Yes
    10/28/2018
    ···

    My view on this is very different from most of my liberal colleagues, because as a scientist I believe in facts and data first. And the facts and the data show that nuclear power is incredibly safe and a spectacular base-load generation system. There is no doubt that nuclear power has problems that can cost human lives, but such risks are borne by all major modes of energy production. Therefore, the question shouldn’t be, ‘is nuclear energy deadly?’ Instead, we should ask ‘is nuclear energy more dangerous than other energy sources?’ Fossil fuels have a host of problems themselves. The byproducts from burning fossil fuels are toxic pollutants that produce ozone, toxic organic aerosols, particulate matter, and heavy metals. The World Health Organization has stated the urban air pollution, which is a mixture of all of the chemicals just described, causes 7 million deaths annually or about 1 in 8 of total deaths. Furthermore, coal power plants release more radioactive material per kWh into the environment in the form of coal ash than does waste from a nuclear power plant under standard shielding protocols. This means that, under normal operations, the radioactive waste problem associated with one of the most mainstream energy sources in use actually exceeds that from nuclear energy. In fact, on a per kWh of energy produced basis, both the European Union and the Paul Scherrer Institute, the largest Swiss national research institute, found an interesting trend regarding the fatalities attributable to each energy source. Remarkably, nuclear power is the benchmark to beat, outranking coal, oil, gas, and even wind by a slight margin as the least deadly major energy resource in application. The nuclear industry is constantly developing innovative technologies and protocols towards making the energy production process failsafe. Newer generations of nuclear reactors, particularly what is called a pebble-bed reactor, are designed so that the nuclear chain reaction cannot run away and cause a meltdown – even in the event of complete failure of the reactor’s machinery. Geological stability considerations will also likely play a bigger role in approving new sites of construction. And although long-lived nuclear waste may remain dangerous for considerable periods of time, that timescale is not prohibitive. In fact, even without recycling the fuel, which would further shorten the lifetime of radioactive waste, the radioactivity of the waste is reduced to around 0.1% of the initial value after about 40-50 years. The primary proposal for long-term storage of nuclear waste is burial in very carefully selected deep geological repositories. Yucca Mountain in Nevada was once a promising candidate, though this option was shut down in 2011 due to strictly political reasons. There is now only one deep waste repository in the US: the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. However, this plant itself has faced some problems that highlight the need to research better alternatives for the Yucca Mountain repository. Unfortunately, the same sentiments that inspired closure of the Yucca Mountain repository have also inspired reducing research funding and preventing investigations of other potential geological locations. Finding a replacement for the Yucca Mountain repository is possible, but this requires greater cooperation between researchers and policy makers than is currently taking place. Dangers associated with nuclear power are, in many ways, different from the dangers we face from other methods of getting energy. This might explain why fear of nuclear power persists and why the actual fatality rate doesn’t jive with the public paranoia. However, we know that nuclear energy does not produce the greenhouse gases that fossil fuels have been producing for over a century. Research also concludes that the more familiar dangers from using fossil fuels claim far more lives. Furthermore, with the advent of modern reactors such as the pebble-bed reactor and careful selection of plant sites, nuclear accidents like the one in Fukushima are actually not possible. When balanced with these notable benefits, the problems associated with nuclear power do not justify its immediate dismissal as a potential energy source.

    Like (19)
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  • Bex
    Voted Maybe
    10/28/2018
    ···

    Nuclear power would be great if it didn't have a toxic byproduct that requires long term storage.

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  • Riley
    10/29/2018
    ···

    I don't care about anything the UN has to say. They need to keep the dirty destructive hands out of the USA. Just look at what has happened to Europe recently. You can't even barely recognize the place because of how bad they screwed it up. We will miss you Nikki Haley, the best ambassador to the UN ever, in my book.

    Like (4)
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  • Sam
    Voted No
    10/28/2018
    ···

    To this day they still do not have any idea of how to break down nuclear waste!

    Like (24)
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  • James
    Voted Yes
    10/27/2018
    ···

    Yes but nuclear fission can be disastrous! The combing of atoms is Fusion! That’s how the sun operates! Fusion reactors would be totally safe! Keep working on it but remember that how the sun and all stars operate are the Work of God! Like I said keep up the research as fusion gives off a lot less radioactive matter. Remember who Created This Universe as well and perhaps He does not want you to know about it! Mankind does not have the power to create anything! Inventions are different than creation and only God Creates!

    Like (9)
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  • Jeremy
    Voted Maybe
    10/27/2018
    ···

    This is a complex issue. Saying yes to nuclear inheritly also means we say yes to the containment and protection of radioactive waste. I can imagine there would be a lot of waste generated by nuclear that is not as simple to contain as other nonrenewables. I'll need to do more research on other renewable energy sources because I didn't realize solar had such a high production of CO2 as well. I wonder if this number is related to the amount of coal and natural gas needed to make solar viable. But I think there's an alternative that isn't considered. I've heard of something related to storing solar energy not in a battery but in vats if molten salt to use heat as a form of potential energy. They are trying it in Spain and so far it sounds like a great alternative for cloudy days. Read more: Trafton, Anne. "'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution." MIT News. July 31, 2008.http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/oxygen-0731.html

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  • Lonesomelight
    10/28/2018
    ···

    Nuclear power is not renewable for the mere reason that even if nothing goes wrong, you still need to dispose of highly radioactive rods. I oppose nuclear power.

    Like (3)
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  • J. scott
    Voted No
    10/28/2018
    ···

    Nuclear Power seems to offer more than it provides especially when you consider the massive amounts of water required and then there’s the spent nuclear ☢️ rods waste problem that remains unsolved — primarily because folks tend to view it as a complete and wholesome technology and it’s not much remains to be done but there’s no incentive as long as people think it works good enough.

    Like (16)
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  • AbolishWaste
    Voted No
    10/28/2018
    ···

    Renewable energy from wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, and others are already well-developed. Even energy from soil organism activity is harnessable now. Please prioritize these over nuclear sources. Yes, nuclear is better than coal, but this source of power is distracting us from the fact that wind and solar energy is already cheaper than nuclear.

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  • Juan
    Voted No
    10/28/2018
    ···

    No nuclear! We have solar wind and more non polluting sources.

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  • Jim2423
    Voted Yes
    10/27/2018
    ···

    Even though fear has overtaken our country nuclear power is still cleaner than fossil fuels. We need to have prime power plants that can quickly come up on line in to restore the electrical grid. Steam power plants are that equation. We do not have hydroelectric everywhere and some areas it is unreasonable to have fossil fuel power plants. Here in Nevada we have Yucca Mountain storage which could make the state millions in storage fees. But stupidity has taken over. We will find a use for spent fuels where it will benefit all.

    Like (9)
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  • Jeanne
    Voted No
    10/27/2018
    ···

    We only have one planet we need to keep it as healthy as possible.

    Like (7)
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  • Jr
    Voted No
    10/28/2018
    ···

    Are you kidding? The waste will last with us forever. How insane are we?

    Like (6)
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  • Loretta
    Voted No
    10/28/2018
    ···

    Let’s try to figure out what to do with nuclear waste and work on clean energy from now on... quit messing with the planet!

    Like (6)
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  • PeardonXavier
    Voted No
    10/27/2018
    ···

    Nuclear power would have devastating effects. Runoff pollutes water and soil with radioactive material and when an inevitable meltdown happens, a huge swath of area would be wiped of life and not be able to repioneer the area for a very long time.

    Like (5)
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  • Maverick
    Voted No
    10/27/2018
    ···

    There is no need for it, it produces terrible and hazardous waste, and is a potential target with dangerous consequences. Besides, all of our power needs can be met with wind, hydro and solar.

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  • Mary
    Voted No
    10/27/2018
    ···

    We have yet to find a way to safely store nuclear waste. The period of time needed to sequester nuclear waste until it becomes non-radioactive and the lack of stable storage options makes the continued use of nuclear energy unrealistic and unwise. We have been using nuclear power with the idea that we would solve this problem some time down the road. We have numerous renewable options available right now that do not require production of such dangerous by-products. in addition, the dangers from nuclear accidents and waste contamination are current issues that we are failing to deal with successfully. We need to commit to and invest in safer options immediately.

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  • KansasTamale
    Voted No
    10/28/2018
    ···

    Nuclear power is the worst type. They could be targets for Russia or China, leaks are an end to the areas where they are situated, what happens to the “HOT” LEFTOVERS- do any of you know? ?!! They bury it!! And it leeches into the land and water & REALLY, how much cheaper is electricity?? Wind & solar is much better renewable energy without the fear of dying.

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  • Elizabeth
    Voted Maybe
    10/26/2018
    ···

    Keep what you have then phase out for solar/wind hybrid. Cooling rods and residual uranium are obvious problems for safety. Above all reduce carbon emissions, close mines retrain personnel for solar installations. Promote e-cars and restrict gasoline. Plant trees and other carbon reduction strategies, the planet can not accept further warming, sea rise, tornadoes, hurricanes and fires, droughts and floods. Please take action NOW.

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  • David
    Voted Yes
    10/27/2018
    ···

    Nuclear power, when regulated, has proved to be one of the safest and cleanest forms of clean energy production. Brown and black-outs are dangerous. We need to grow our clean energy portfolio in California and the US by including nuclear power plants.

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  • John
    Voted No
    10/27/2018
    ···

    We should convert to solar wind and geo thermal instead of going back to poison power and we have enough bombs to destroy mankind several times over

    Like (4)
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