A growing chorus of voices is touting nuclear power as the energy solution that can help curb global warming. I’ve never been one to sing that tune, but I’m no longer as certain as I once was.
My doubts arose after reading James Lovelock’s “The Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climate Crisis & the Fate of Humanity” (2006, Basic Books). In it, Lovelock warns that, within this century, climate change could very well end civilization. He also argues — more persuasively than I expected — that nuclear power is the only energy source today that will let us both stop pumpking lethal amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and preserve modern life as we know it.
I’ve heard that argument before, though never as eloquently as Lovelock puts it. But even if nuclear energy is as safe and reliable as Lovelock says, I still question whether it’s as low-carbon as its advocates make it out to be.
For one, there’s the matter of mining uranium for fuel and transporting it to reactor sites — that requires fossil fuels, doesn’t it?
Then there’s the construction of the nuclear plants themselves, with all their thick concrete shielding. The cement-making process creates a lot of carbon dioxide … possibly as much as a ton of carbon dioxide for every ton of cement produced, according to George Monbiot’s book “Heat.”
Assuming we could muster the will and finances needed — and overcome the guaranteed public objections — to embark on a nuclear plant construction spree today, wouldn’t we just be sending our carbon emissions into overdrive, at least until the reactors are up and running? Is it worth the risk, or do we have no other choice?
Photo courtesy of Tristan Nitot, posted on Wikimedia Commons