Leading scientists have warned that renewable energy sources offer too little too late, whilst an anti-nuclear stance increases the burning of fossil fuels. At the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference, held in Paris this year, scientists told ministers and leaders around the world that the world has very little chance of escaping dangerous climate change if political leaders and environmental groups fail to embrace nuclear power as a source of low-carbon energy.
They warned that renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, does not offer enough, and when it does, it is usually too late. From this, its leads many countries and environmentalists to taking an ‘anti-nuclear’ stance, which drives them to burn more coal, oil and gas.
“There is a sense of urgency. We need to reduce carbon emissions now and cannot wait for something to appear in the near future. Nuclear power can be done safely, and with a relatively small environmental footprint,” said Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC.
“We need to think about building a new nuclear power station somewhere in the world at the rate of about one a week if we are to meet future energy demands without burning more fossil fuel…it’s not an option to wait until we have renewables,” he said.
A number of scientists made the appeal at the Paris conference, including Professor Caldeira, James Hansen, former head of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, Tom Wigley, a climate scientist at the University of Adelaide in Australia, and Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“The dangers of fossil fuels are staring us in the face. So for us to say we won't use all the tools [such as nuclear energy] to solve the problem is crazy. Nuclear, especially next-generation nuclear, has tremendous potential to be part of the solution to climate change,” Dr Hansen said.
Dr Caldeira added that the biggest risk of expanding nuclear power around the world is the increase of nuclear material that could be used for military purposes; however, this could be addressed with appropriate regulation and safeguards.
The world will need a greatly increased energy supply in the next 20 years, particularly cleanly-generated electricity. Nuclear power provides about 11% of the world’s electricity, and demand is increasing twice as fast as overall energy use; in 2012, 42% of primary energy used was converted into electricity.
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