Mr. Modi, don’t nuke the climate change debate. Nuclear is neither clean, nor green!

Kumar Sundaram

verdict-on-nuclearIn the joint press-meet with the Canadian PM yesterday in Ottawa during his state visit, the Indian Prime Minister repeatedly referred to the uranium supply agreement with Canada as promotion of ‘Clean Energy’ by the two countries. He evoked the urgency of the climate change to justify his uranium shopping in Canada. It’s important to dispel the myth of nuclear energy being a solution to climate change, something that will likely be repeated by Mr. Modi’s PR managers and the mainstream media more vociferously in the coming days. While the nuclear industry keeps claiming in India that n-power is cheap, Modi claimed in Canada that nuclear should be embraced in the wake of climate change even though it is expensive.

Simply put, 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]

Mr. Modi has only taken the nuclear obsession of his predecessor to a new height, going out of his way to route the nuclear liability to the Indian tax-payers although his own party strongly opposed such moves when in opposition, and bailing out the French nuclear giant Areva which is almost on the verge of bankruptcy and whose same reactor design that Mr. Modi is buying was found severely vulnerable by the french nuclear regulator on the eve of Modi’s visit to France last week.

Mr. Modi must understand that Climate Change is an argument AGAINST Nuclear Energy, Not FOR it .




[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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