Nuclear power is not the solution to climate change.
Those who tuned into CNN’s town hall on climate change may have been surprised to hear nuclear power come up repeatedly. Nuclear power is often proposed as a solution because, unlike fossil fuels, it does not emit climate changing gases. But, unlike other zero emissions technologies such as solar and wind, nuclear poses enormous risks to the environment and communities, and it’s too costly to boot.
Nuclear power raises all the dangers inherent in working with radioactive materials. Mining uranium produces tailings that create radon emissions and also pollutes soil and water with sulfuric acids and cyanic salts. Spent nuclear fuel can remain radioactive for thousands of years.
And there is always the risk of a catastrophic accident or terrorist attack that can release enormous amounts of radiation. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima all offer potent warnings of just how much can go wrong. There are already 448 operable nuclear power plants in the world, with 53 under construction. These plants pose significant risks, and adding more would be irresponsible.
Some people acknowledge the risks of nuclear but then argue that because the impacts of climate change are so much greater, we need to adopt nuclear power despite the risks. But that argument overlooks the fact that we don’t need nuclear to get to zero emissions energy. Studies, including a recent one from Energy Watch Group of Germany and LUT University in Finland, demonstrate that we can meet 100% of our energy needs with renewable energy.
These renewable technologies are already cost competitive with fossil fuels, unlike nuclear power, where plants under construction regularly experience multiple delays and cost overruns, making them prohibitively expensive.
It’s time we gave up on the delusion of nuclear power as a solution to climate change and scaled up the proven winners of solar and wind, along with increased energy efficiency.
Todd Larsen is executive co-director of Green America.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nuclear power is too costly and too risky: Green America