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Duelling Conferences Debate Role of Nuclear Power

Nuclear power is an important part of the solution to global warming, claimed one conference in Paris last week. No, asserted another conference outside Berlin, nuclear power is not an effective way to combat carbon emissions and will drain capital from alternative energies that are.

The duelling conferences in Europe reflected the global debate about what role nuclear power should play in reducing carbon emissions and whether the much-touted nuclear renaissance will actually become a reality.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy headlined the government-sponsored Paris conference, proclaiming that civil nuclear power should be accessible to developing countries as well as to developed countries. France is the second-largest producer of nuclear energy after the U.S., and home to Areva, the biggest builder of nuclear power plants.

Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman represented the U.S. at the conference. “Nuclear energy has a vital role to play in our low-carbon future,” he said. “President Obama has said that ‘we must harness the power of nuclear energy on behalf of our efforts to combat climate change, and to advance peace and opportunity for all people.’”

A separate conference in Potsdam sponsored by the Brookings Institution and the Global Public Policy Institute, with support from the European Commission, raised questions about relying on nuclear energy, however.

For one thing, noted nuclear economics expert Craig Severance, one of the 35 participants in the conference, calls for 100 new nuclear plants in the U.S. alone would require capital investment of $1 trillion. “Where will the funds come from?” Severance asks in a blog on the conference. “Will other energy priorities such as energy efficiency, the smart grid, and expansion of renewables be eclipsed by nuclear power’s needs?”

Other participants suggested that nuclear power would be too expensive and too slow to aid in the fight against global warming. Moreover, one expert concluded, while nuclear power accounts for less carbon emission than fossil fuels, it is by no means carbon free given the emissions entailed by uranium mining and enrichment.

A final caution at the Potsdam conference was on the question of security. The promotion of civil nuclear power to emerging economies would offer numerous countries the excuse to produce enriched uranium, which could also be used for nuclear weapons.

While speakers at the Paris conference said security standards could safeguard the use of uranium, the promotion of nuclear power to countries like Syria and Libya that have been suspected of harbouring terrorists will certainly generate more debate.

By. Darrell Delamaide




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  • Anonymous on March 18 2010 said:
    Nuclear energy is one thing, and global warming quite another, but even so I like to see them on the same stage, because I happen to believe that nuclear energy is an essential component of the optimal energy picture: somewhat more nuclear energy than we have today, and a very large helping of renewables and alternatives. BUT please try to remember that without nuclear, the others are not going to give us what we want, and need.
  • Anonymous on May 19 2010 said:
    It is too expensive and needs government bailout...too much heat potentional and thus too high of a serious "Oppps!" factor...too hard to clean up, which is built into the design to happen at the end of its less than 50 year life...and has to have laws changed in order not to violate them towards the end of its "safe to operate" life span. Its an economic burden on utilities even without an accident!
  • Anonymous on June 07 2010 said:
    Thanks for your comment Marci Davis, but I have to inform you that you are completely wrong. What I can't understand is why - when I am lecturing - I do not get a chance to correct some of the completely wrong statements that are made about nuclear.
  • Anonymous on June 07 2010 said:
    Hydro is probably cheaper than nuclear, but nuclear comes next. I won't bother to explain why though, because the best explanation in the world is generally unwelcome. I wonder why though persons are so concerned with nuclear safety. The equivalent of a nuclear catastrophe takes place every year in the global coal sector.
  • Anonymous on July 04 2010 said:
    In case you have not heard, Finland's parliament passed - by a large majority - a bill to introduce two more reactors into the country's energy system. Of course, the reactor being constructed now is way over cost, but it doesn't make any difference. Sometime after the middle of this century, and maybe before, Finland's nuclear sector will ensure that it has the lowest cost electricity in the industrial world.
  • Anonymous on August 03 2010 said:
    Nuclear is a huge economic boondoggle, without bothering to consider the waste issue. Guys like Prof.F Banks who go around spouting rubbish cost numbers should be ashamed of themselves :oops: (hint to Banks - stop using cost data from existing nuke fleet and then blithely assuming same costs going forward when we know costs have exploded - look at Finnish EPR for example). New nukes cost $7.5-$10B a pop, take ~8 years to build (on top of 5-10 years to get permits). Then add in decommission costs (that run into the billions) and you have an industry that is unsafe and not cost effective with other "clean" energy such as Wind. Solar will soon be cheaper as well, and we won't have to worry about another Chernobyl or 3 Mile Island...

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