A Costly Endeavor
Johnston also pointed out that nuclear power is often expensive compared to fossil fuel plants. This is true, but nuclear power could be made more competitive with a nationwide carbon tax. Besides, just because something is expensive that doesn’t make it bad – a sentiment any space agency would agree with.
Johnston added that “every one of those billions is a dollar not spent on sources that will deliver energy within the very short time frame required to stop catastrophic climate change.” The word “sources” in this case refers to renewables.
They may be expensive, but without them, the world would rely far more on fossil fuel power plants. hxdyl/Shutterstock
Solar power and wind power are the only two major renewable power sources that every country can practically adopt, and - as effective, efficient and clean as they are - these are currently not able to provide every single community on Earth with a constant source of energy. This is for a variety of reasons, but a reliance on fossil fuels is hard to break, particulalry as they're still so cheap to use.
There's also hydropower and geothermal heat, but these are only available to certain nations. Even then, this energy cannot currently be stored in the long term unlike nuclear power, whose fuel can wait around ready to be used when needed. (Saying that, battery technology is making huge leaps and bounds right now, and it might not be long before renewables and battery technology are all that most communities need.)
Most importantly, renewable power alone cannot currently sustain the entire planet, particularly as its population grows and electricity demands continue to rise. Theoretically speaking, it could, of course – a Sahara desert even partly covered in solar panels would technically be enough – but this is idealism without pragmatism.
At present, if current trends continue, coal will be phased out, but it'll be replaced by a mixture of increasingly cheap natural gas, solar and wind power. Fossil fuels could be pushed into the dustbin of history a lot faster, however, if nuclear power is adopted.
Nuclear power has a very low carbon footprint. A comprehensive study in 2008 found that modern nuclear power plants have a footprint 14.5 times lower than that of coal-fired plants and 6.7 times lower than natural gas-fired plants. A world running on nuclear and renewable power would produce magnitudes less carbon dioxide than the one we live in right now.
Johnston said he isn’t aware of any studies suggesting that nuclear power should be combined with renewables, but there is plenty of evidence out there to be found. Many experts commenting on the groundbreaking Paris agreement have also concluded that in order to meet the modest targets, nuclear power is essential.
Shades of Green
“Green” political parties are not much better in this regard.
The US, for example, has its own Green Party. It’s headed by Dr Jill Stein, who is a candidate for the US presidency. Although her viewpoints can seem appealing to her base of left-wing supporters, a closer look reveals that she is actually extremely unscientific in her approach.
Her party wishes to turn the US into a 100 percent renewable nation by 2030, something that practically speaking, is highly unfeasible. Stein’s party also has a distinctly anti-nuclear stance – a position shared by the UK Green Party, the Australian Greens, and similar groups from many other countries. Without nuclear power, climate change will march on.