Does Nuclear Energy Have the Power to Save the Climate Bill?

nuclear-plants-happyIs nuclear energy the solution to our environmental woes – and can it save the climate bill? Apparently, the answer depends on who you ask. Some promote the benefits of nuclear power (for example, its lack of carbon emissions), while others argue its drawbacks (for example, the issue of storage, and whether nuclear is the most efficient use of clean energy funds). Meanwhile, some believe nuclear power could salvage the energy bill; the Senate is already considering including nuclear in new climate legislation. A peek into the blogosphere reveals the multifaceted nature of the nuclear power issue.

A treehugger.com article discusses the (perceived) benefits and downsides of investing in nuclear power versus investing in energy efficiency, in the opinions of RMI chairman Amory Lovins, University of Chicago’s Robert Rosner, and PG&E’s Peter Darbee. The benefits? Nuclear is a relatively cheap electricity source, and, Rosner emphasizes, it already accounts for 50 percent the U.S.’s energy sourcing (versus less than 2 percent for wind and solar combined). The drawbacks? There are more efficient ways to conserve power (for example, wind energy or co-generation), Lovins says, and buying new nuclear power results in more carbon release than implementing efficiency measures. Moreover, nuclear power will likely develop too slowly to have a timely impact.

Meanwhile, while the Senate is nothing close to “united” on clean energy legislation, it’s not completely at odds regarding nuclear power. According to a Houston Chronicle report, when senators began negotiating the Kerry-Boxer climate bill Tuesday, some pushed for expanding nuclear power and offshore drilling (thereby altering the original bill) and implementing a cap-and-trade plan. In some analyses, including nuclear power and offshore drilling in the bill could quicken the bill’s passage, since it could attract Republicans opposed to other components of the bill (i.e. cap-and-trade). Meanwhile, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander reportedly supports nuclear development for other reasons: he sees nuclear as an alternative to the “energy sprawl” that could, he said, result from expanding wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources. (Check out greenbiz.com’s article discussing Alexander’s analysis.)

Economics aside, the issue of nuclear power is also messy from a social perspective (think Chernobyl, fear of fuel gone missing, and the whole “not in my backyard” problem). Would Americans “buy” the notion of increasing nuclear energy investment over safer options like wind, solar, and hydroelectric power, or even non-renewable power sources? What impact could these issues have on including nuclear power in climate legislation?

What are your thoughts on the role of nuclear power in creating effective, timely climate legislation?

Sarah Harper is a professional writer based in San Francisco, California. Her interests include sustainability, government policy, and international politics. In her free time, Sarah enjoys toying with the idea of holistic health, overanalysis, and plotting world exploration.