Don’t nuke the climate change debate: nuclear is not green

P K Sundaram

Nuclear power cannot provide a solution to the climate change crisis. Concerns about global warming and climate change have been exploited by the nuclear industry to promote atomic energy by dubbing it “clean”, “carbon-free” and environment-friendly. However, a number of studies have revealed that nuclear power is not a solution to climate change; rather, it becomes a dangerous quick-fix which will create more problems and aggravate them for the coming generations.

  • Nuclear power has a large carbon footprint—carbon-intensive processes are involved from mining to milling, enrichment, transportation, to reactor construction, heavy water production and spent fuel reprocessing, all the way to decommissioning reactors.
  • An assessment by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other studies estimate that we would need to build a minimum of 1,000 reactors worldwide for nuclear power to have any effect on global warming. This is wildly unrealistic, given the current decline in nuclear energy generation.
  • Even a massive, four-fold expansion of nuclear power by 2050 would provide only marginal reductions   of 4 percent in greenhouse gas emissions, when we need global emissions to peak at 2015 and to be reduced by 80 to 90 percent by 2050. Thus, nuclear power can only make an expensive, late and marginal contribution to climate change mitigation.[i]
  • Uranium stocks, like those of any other mineral, are limited. Both the extraction cost of uranium and the carbon-intensity of the extraction process will rise rapidly after a few decades. This would make nuclear power’s carbon footprint unacceptably large. [ii]
  • Electricity is only a small part of our total energy consumption and nuclear energy is a much smaller sub-part of it. Carbon dioxide emissions are a cumulative effect of our entire energy consumption, including industrial processes, agriculture and other forms of direct combustion of fossil fuels. Nuclear energy just cannot replace all these processes.
  • There are plenty of credible and scientific studies by pioneer institutions and experts who have developed convincing models of a comprehensive “carbon-free, nuclear- free” energy policy [iii] with a proper mix of energy conservation, efficiency, R&D on renewable sources and larger social-political changes ensuring greater community and public use of resources which can help us in mitigating climate change effectively. [iv]

[i] “Getting Serious about Nuclear Power” Greenpeace International,

[ii] Benjamin Sovacool, “Valuing the greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear power” (2008) 36 Energy Policy 2940.

[iii] Makhijani, Arjun, “Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free:

A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy”

[iv] “Climate 2030: A National Blueprint for a Clean Energy Economy” Union of Concerned Scientists.…/climate-2030-report.pdf


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