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
Disclosure: No positions