Keeping it short…and right

New Talking Points lay out key messages against nuclear power

Beyond Nuclear is developing a new series of handy Talking Points. You can find these in a special Talking Points section on this website and also under Publications on the Beyond Nuclear website. Look for others in the series in the coming months.

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Closing a costly US nuclear power plant — which will only get costlier the older it gets — and buying efficiency instead, would actually save considerably more carbon than continuing to run that nuclear plant.

That’s a pretty significant statement. It tells us that the argument that we need to keep current nuclear plants running — because they are here, now, and, in the operational stage, low carbon emitters — is invalid. It would only be valid to argue for the continued use of current, aging nuclear power plants if every other alternative was more carbon-intensive, and more expensive and slower.

The same is true for the argument that we must develop and build new nuclear power plants to address climate change, because, argues the nuclear lobby, renewables just aren’t here now in great enough numbers to fill the gap.

In reality, diverting funds from real solutions, and spending these instead on developing slow, expensive, untested new nuclear plants, just makes this argument a self-fulfilling prophecy. With the same allocation of funds, renewables would have saved more carbon far faster and more cheaply.

Our new series of Talking Points begins with Amory Lovins’ work on carbon emissions + time + cost which, taken together, eliminate nuclear power as useful in addressing climate change

All this is argued effectively — and laid out simply —in the first of our series of Talking Points — a double-sided single page handout called Why nuclear power slows action on climate change. 

We’ll be doing a series of these Talking Points, on different topics, drawn from the many excellent studies and reports out there, but which are sometimes a lot to take on board. However, when condensed down, they can provide a useful, empirically-supported script for our work, whether writing opeds or letters to the editor, educating and lobbying our elected officials, or doing media outreach. (If you’d like to support future such Talking Points, we gratefully accept donations to help pay for them.)

The first in our Talking Points series is a synopsis of the fine work of Amory Lovins and it’s designed to help all of us synthesize the necessary arguments that we are going to need to make — forcefully — in the coming weeks and months as the Biden administration rolls out its climate plan. We hope, of course, that is is useful in other countries as well, especially where new nuclear power plants are threatened.

Last September, we ran a shortened version of Lovins’s original, longer Forbes article, laying out the key points against using nuclear power to address climate change. But we still felt we needed something even shorter and handier. We continually confront the hollow arguments of the pro-nuclear lobby, or hear them on the air as we did recently on NPR. Their statements sound deceptively compelling, even as they parse the truth and scratch no deeper than superficial, but palatable-sounding, illusions.

The nugget of Lovins’s argument is that expensive and slow energy options will inevitably save less carbon than faster, cheaper ones. While the nuclear industry centers its advocacy around the “low-carbon emissions” assertion— which is only justified if you ignore the entire fuel chain and look only at the generation phase — that facet is irrelevant as soon as you factor in time and cost.

In fact, the nuclear industry and/or its boosters, sometimes even call nuclear power “zero carbon” which is more than stretching the truth.  And they completely ignore those other, inconvenient emissions — radioactive isotopes.

Because renewables are faster and cheaper than nuclear power, they are more efficient at reducing carbon emissions and addressing climate change. (Photo: Pixabay)

The now disastrous costs — both of keeping old reactors running and of building new ones — mean that reactors cost more to run than their output can earn, writes Lovins. “They also cost more just to run than providing the same services by building and operating new renewables, or by using electricity more efficiently,” he says.

The time factor has always seemed to me to be the knockout punch when it comes to the new nuclear argument. If, on the one hand, we agree that the climate crisis is precisely that, an urgent situation for which remedy is needed immediately, then nuclear becomes completely impractical. Even settling for the current Light Water Reactor designs rather than wasting more time researching and experimenting with new designs, results in intolerable delays for which we simply don’t have time.

Examples such as Plant Vogtle 3 and 4 here in the US along with the EPRs in France, Finland and the UK, demonstrate that embarking on new nuclear construction, even with known and tested reactor designs — is a longer, more expensive process, by far, than predicted at the start. The new nuclear plants we are building now cannot get here in time for the climate crisis. Reactor designs that have not yet passed fundamental safety tests, whether small or not, represent a detour that, if taken, will guarantee failure in addressing the climate crisis. 

In fact, as Lovins says on our Talking Points handout. “Building new reactors, or operating most existing ones, makes climate change worse.”

Our elected officials need to know this and hear this and understand this. And then act. Only we can ensure they do. Please download and distribute Why nuclear power slows action on climate change. And watch for new Talking Points to come in the ensuing months.

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