The notion that nuclear power can play a significant role in dealing with the current climate crisis has received a lot of unfortunate attention, coming from vocal and high-profile individuals like respected climatologist James Hanson, former President Obama, and fake environmentalists like Michael Shellenberger. Misleading statements about environmentalists reconsidering the use of nuclear power abound — just as fake advertising trumpeting that “Most doctors smoke Camel cigarettes” abounded when the tobacco industry was trying to deceive the public about the health risks of smoking.

However, it’s the accuracy of the information, not the messenger, which is most important in making rational decisions about what energy sources to use in a climate disrupted world.

In the debate about solving climate disruption, the public is often given a false, misleading choice between continuing with some form of coal — and nuclear power. Renewable energy is marginalized or not discussed. But before making choices about what to do, we first need to consider what the most urgent tasks are, and then evaluate the best ways to complete them.

When the lookout on the Titanic yelled, “Iceberg!”, it was not an invitation to hold a conference on bulkhead metallurgy on the quarter-deck; it was a call to ready the lifeboats, NOW! A crisis demands immediate, focused action, prioritizing what will work NOW, and what needs to be done FIRST. It is with this urgent prioritization in mind that we have to consider and follow the “rules” for best meeting the Climate Crisis.

Fighting Climate Disruption?  Follow the “Rules”!

If this is really about low-carbon energy fighting climate disruption, then we have to follow the rules!

The “2 x 4 Rule” for Fighting Climate Disruption:

 Our “2” major constraints (we’re short of BOTH) are:

  • Time
  • Money

The “4” Rules of  Prioritized Action – the energy resources we use MUST:

  • Remove the most amount of carbon…
  • In the quickest time (like, now or yesterday)…
  • At the lowest cost possible…
  • Without creating, substituting or worsening equally planetary threatening, environmentally damaging, socially unjust or unacceptable alternatives (like nuclear proliferation, terrorism, war, waste, etc.)

Based on these obvious priorities, nuclear power comes up way short.  Nuclear Power FAILS ALL of these conditions.

Using Nuclear Power Plants Will:

  • Break the bank: They’re not remotely cost-effective in carbon displacement compared to other currently available means; there are simply better, faster and cheaper ways to do the job of reducing greenhouse gases in a timely manner (IPCC study, May 9, 2011; 5-Labs study; Natural Capitalism). Dave, it would be good to have an actual cost range listed here. How much does it cost per CO2 displaced? Also, need link to these references.
  • Take too long to become operational to be effective, both compared to other available energy options, and to the 15-year deadline (i.e. by 2029) the 2014 IPCC report gives us for effective climate intervention. Would be helpful to give an actual timeline for how long it takes to build and bring online. Some of Arnie’s data would be good here.
  • Increase nuclear power’s currently unsolved problems like:
    • creating more high-and low-level radioactive wastes
    • increased accident probability, unintentional leaks, more uranium mining, other contamination
    • proliferation of technology, expertise, materials, and ultimately nuclear weapons
    • increased risk from terrorist attacks on nuclear facilities in a post-9/11 world, or becoming possible targets in wars (e.g. the 2014 Ukraine crisis, the Middle East, India/Pakistan, China/Taiwan/Japan, North Korea/South Korea, ISIS)
  • Produce less electricity, and be increasingly vulnerable to more frequent shut-downs under expected global warming conditions (higher water temperature; rising coastlines; more frequent and violent weather events (e.g., Pilgrim NPP in January, 2018); unpredictable availability of water (e.g. summers of 1988; 2005-06-09)), while creating other unacceptable environmental damage (e.g., increased thermal pollution to waterways).
  • Stifle development, implementation, and expansion of real climate disruption fighters — true local, sustainable and renewable energy resources, and energy efficiency that are ready, working and expanding today. In addition, they tie up inordinate amounts of increasingly scarce investment capital that could be put to better and immediate use expanding renewable resources.
  • Proliferate internationally the same set of unsolved problems nuclear power already plaguing developed countries, to countries that lack the capital, expertise, security, and political stability to manage and safeguard nuclear power even at our current level of questionable standards.
  • Vastly increase the likely negative health and genetic effects from allowable radiation releases during routine operation, accidental releases, and statistically expected increases in major accidents.
  • Engender a form of economic dependency at best, nuclear “neo-colonialism” at worst in currently non-nuclear reliant nations, especially in the developing world.

Nuclear Power Itself Contributes to Global Warming!

While nuclear industry spokesmen are fond of pointing out that nuclear power plants release no greenhouse gasses while in operation producing electricity, they always fail to point out nuclear power’s sizable “carbon footprint”; and that uranium enrichment historically accounts for huge percentages of some chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) released in this country.

For example, United States Enrichment Corporation’s sites in Ohio and Kentucky released 800,000 pounds of CFC-114 in 1999. CFC-114 lasts 300 years in the atmosphere, and causes 9800 times more global warming per pound than CO2. So US enrichment activities in 1999 released the equivalent of 3,920,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. In addition to global warming, CFC’s in the atmosphere cause another problem. They destroy the ozone layer. CFC-114 is one of the worst substances know to man in terms of ozone destruction. This is all just more evidence that nuclear power is not a clean technology!

Nuclear Power Won’t Work in a Global Warming World

Nuclear power plants require water. Lots and lots of cooling water. The majority of surface water used for any purpose in Illinois in a given year – more that 75% – is used by power plants of all types to produce steam, or as nuclear reactor coolant.

What happens when global climate change results in more hot, dry summers punctuated by violent storms which create runoff but don’t raise river levels for longer than a few days? With increasing electricity demand for air conditioners, higher environmental temperatures and less water in the rivers, the reactors will have to shut down or cook the fish. It has already happened here in the U.S., and in France in 2005. NEIS has a two-page report discussing the ways in which nuclear power plants can’t operate in a global warming world.

Read more about how drier rivers in a global warming world make nuclear power unworkable.

What We Recommend:

  • real carbon emission reduction targets and programs, with carrots if possible, sticks if necessary, to achieve a 100% reduction in GHG by 2040 using IEER’s Carbon Free/ Nuclear Free Roadmap for a U.S. Energy Policy ( ).
  • real, mandatory federal/state renewable portfolio standards (RPS) and vehicle mileage targets.
  • aggressive expansion and prioritized implementation of energy efficiency and renewable energy resources where appropriate, both domestically and internationally; adoption of national energy efficiency portfolio standard.
  • methodically planned elimination of nuclear and fossil power plants using steam-cycles (i.e., water-dependent systems) to produce electricity through the Carbon Free/Nuclear Free Roadmap for a US Energy Policy .
  • methodical preparation for real, but not necessarily painful or economically disruptive lifestyle changes in areas where technologic or market innovation cannot succeed, exacerbate the old problems, or create/substitute new ones; and per-capita reduction in energy use.

Carbon Free – Nuclear Free DOES Follow the “2 x 4” Rules for Fighting Climate Disruption:

What has NOT received sufficient coverage in the media is that we currently possess a great deal of the technological know-how needed to begin creating an energy future that will be BOTH carbon free and nuclear free — and by the year 2040 according to Dr Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER).

You can download Dr. Makhijani’s book Carbon Free/Nuclear Free Roadmap for a US Energy Policy as a PDF file; or order a printed copy.

“All of the above” is NOT an effective or even rational approach to fighting climate disruption:

It has been suggested by otherwise seemingly bright people, like former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and former President Barack Obama, that we need an “all of the above” approach of energy choices to fight climate disruption. This course of action is dead wrong, as this statement by former Nuclear Regulatory Commission Commissioner Peter Bradford explains:

“Those who assert that the problem of climate change is so urgent that ― we have to do everything (or, another popular substitute for serious thought, ― seek silver birdshot, not silver bullets) overlook the fact that we can never afford to do everything. The urgency of world hunger doesn’t compel us to fight it with caviar, no matter how nourishing fish eggs might be. Spending large sums on elegant solutions (especially those with side effects) that provide little relief will diminish what we can spend on more promising approaches.”

(Source: Honey, I Shrunk the Renaissance: Nuclear Revival, Climate Change, and Reality, Electricity, Oct. 11, 2010).

The “2 x 4 Rule” is a prioritized approach for action, based on a state of crisis, and greatest likelihood for immediate success and impact; not a feel-good press event or academic conference. And if we were truly sincere that “all things are on the table” for debate and consideration, we’d have to finally engage that uncomfortable debate as to whether capitalism is a viable and appropriate economic system in a climate disrupted world, since it causes much of the disruption.

Dr. James Hanson: great atmospheric scientist; lousy energy analyst:

The impassioned pleas of former NASA scientist Dr. James Hanson, and others, attempt to persuade people that the as-yet unbuilt “next-generation” of nuclear reactors will somehow be needed to undo the climate disruption caused by our fossil fuel addiction. This well-intended but totally inaccurate conclusion is best debunked in an article by Joe Romm, published on CLIMATE PROGRESS, titled, “To Those Who Want To See Nuclear Power Play A Bigger Role In Climate Action.”  NEIS’ positions as expressed in our Fact Sheets in this section are largely vindicated by this November, 2013 analysis.


Nuclear Power is Not the Answer
by Dr. Helen Caldicott

Low Carbon Diet: A 30 Day Program to Lose 5,000 Pounds
by David Gershon

While it’s true that we as a society need to take measures to reduce carbon emissions, individuals can take action now without waiting for the corporate/government complex to act. NEIS is able to conduct “Low Carbon Diet” trainings. If you like, you can also buy the sourcebook from NEIS that tells you how these cuts can be made ($15 incl. S&H).

Read our letter to the Editor:

August 2006

The recent heat wave contained two news stories about nuclear energy, one widely broadcasted, one completely ignored.

The first was about the record-setting electricity use, fuelled by the region’s demand for air-conditioned relief. Exelon and other nuclear utilities attribute their success at meeting this demand to nuclear power.

The second story barely appeared after the heat broke, when people weren’t paying attention. Both here and internationally, the demand for electricity was indeed met, sometimes by nuclear power. However, in many cases these reactors were either not allowed to run at full power, or, if they were, they were given regulatory permission to exceed safety and environmental standards. In other words nuclear plants were allowed to keep the air conditioners running, but only by risking an accident or damaging an already heat-stressed environment.

In Illinois, Exelon’s Quad Cities and Dresden reactors had to curtail power output because the hot water discharged into the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers exceeded EPA heat discharge regulations. This occurred previously in 1988, when then-ComEd reactors had 100+ reactors days of curtailed power output or complete shut down related to excessive thermal discharge. This resulted in millions of dollars of water-cooling retrofits for the reactors. Exelon came close to power curtailment again during Illinois’ 2005 drought.

Exelon’s Limerick reactor in Pennsylvania also curtailed power output. Across Lake Michigan the Donald Cook reactor building overheated on July 29-30, resulting in an automatic reactor shutdown.

Europe experienced similar problems. This year as in the 2003 heat wave, the French government gave permission for reactors to exceed heat discharge and even safety standards at 37 reactors. Germany allowed several reactors on the Elbe River to discharge in excess of thermal standards. One reactor in Spain was shut down completely rather than thermally contaminate the Ebro.

These situations occur in climatic conditions far less extreme than those anticipated in a full blown global warming world. They serve as a warning that nuclear power is ill-suited to help us in a global warming world – unless we are willing to either further destroy the environment, or risk increased likelihood of a nuclear accident.

When nuclear reactors will be wanted most, they are likely to be least available, and then only at greatly increased risk. Contrary to the spin that the nuclear industrial complex is feeding the public, you can’t ‘nuke’ global warming.


David A. Kraft
Director, NEIS