More and more support for nuclear

Palo Verde nuclear stationTimes they are a-changin’ sung Bob Dylan. This is true as after years of despisal more and more people – even environmentalists  previously against such solutions – support nuclear as a way to avoid dramatic climate change.

This became apparent as Sweden stated it won’t stop as planned its nuclear plants next year and will even lift the ban on nuclear technologies research. Meanwhile, Americans never supported more this energy source.

The IAEA forecasts 60 % more nuclear plants by 2030 as more and more countries – Switzerland, Italy… – are getting back to this low carbon energy source. 

Of course, nuclear presents drawbacks with nuclear waste being the main. But this may not be a problem anymore in the very next decades.

Without further ado, here are the articles I selected. On Sweden, TreeHugger reported:

Just a year before it reached the original deadline to phase out its nuclear power (in 2010), Sweden instead reversed its decades-old dismantling policy and instead will now keep the 10 nuclear reactors it currently has, and lift bans on both new nuclear technology research and new plants.

(…) In a 1980 referendum, the majority of Swedes called for phasing-out nuclear, but ever since then each government has hemmed and hawed without actually closing many reactors (of 12 total reactors, 2 have been closed).

Now the tides of public opinion have turned, and a majority favors keeping nuclear, which is considered to be a cleaner and less carbon intensive energy source than coal or gas. Swedes also believe that their reactors are safe, and their waste management superior.

Another strong sign appeared in the United States as scientists gathered. Here is what Ars Technica noted:

Nuclear power is safe, affordable, and the waste problems are much more manageable than the public realizes. That was the take-home message from this year’s American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago, where a group of experts from the US and EU participated in a session called “Keeping the Lights On: The Revival of Nuclear Energy for Our Future.”

As you might have gathered from some of our prior AAAS coverage, climate change was a pretty central theme in many of the sessions and, although nuclear power won’t be able to fulfill all our energy demands in a post-carbon world, it’s hard to avoid thinking that the world will need to make full use of nuclear energy.

(…) Environmental critics of nuclear power frequently claim that nuclear power isn’t cost-effective once the decommissioning costs and waste storage is accounted for. That isn’t true, claims Dr. Roland Schenkel, Director General of the European Commission’s Joint Research Center.

Using Finland as an example (since they’re in the process of building a new reactor, one of the only nations currently doing so), he put the total lifetime cost of a nuclear plant at about €3 billion over 100 years. Of this figure, dismantling and waste management only amounts to €10 million, and repository closure and sealing another €230 million—that’s less than five percent of the total electricity production costs.

For more on this meeting, please check out this page.

The American public seem to follow a similar trend as World Nuclear News noted. Even strong opponents to nuclear are also changing their minds:

In a landmark article for the left-leaning Independent newspaper, a former head of Greenpeace, a Green Party activist, the chair of the Environment Agency and a leading green journalist all discussed their ‘religious conversion’ to support nuclear power.

“What’s happened is that we’ve woken up to the very serious climate-change problem, the essential task of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and the need to decarbonise electricity over the next 20 to 30 years,” said Lord Smith, who chairs the Environment Agency.

New Statesman writer Mark Lynas, who published a ‘coming out’ piece on his new views on nuclear power last year, said the anti-nuclear campaigns of the past “will come to be seen as an enormous mistake for which the Earth’s climate is now paying the price.” He cited the case of Austria where coal-fired capacity was brought online after the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant was stopped from ever operating, despite being fully constructed.

In a comment piece, Chris Goodall of the Green Party called for a realistic debate on energy policy, even describing certain drawbacks of renewable sources and the “cautionary tale” of Germany (note: read this article), where coal power is also likely to replace nuclear plants closed early after the policies of that country’s Green Party.

Stephen Tindale ran the UK branch of Greenpeace from 2000 to 2005. He told the newspaper, “It was like a kind of religious conversion. Being anti-nuclear was an essential part of being an environmentalist for a long time.” He now claims that “it’s actually quite widespread, now, this view that nuclear power is not ideal but it’s better than climate change.”

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