The Nuclear Choice

A lot of misinformation about our sources of electrical energy has been circulating, claiming nuclear plant construction and maintenance produce lots of CO2. That’s true to some degree, but let’s put that in perspective.

Solar and wind produce two to four times the CO2 produced by a nuclear plant per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced. And that doesn’t include energy storage that would be necessitated by reliance on intermittent solar and wind energy. When as-yet-to-be-developed storage is factored in, the CO2 footprint of intermittent sources will be dramatically higher. Nuclear produces electricity that is nearly always available at an average efficiency of 92 percent. Solar and wind 15-25 percent depending on the location and time of year.

California’s (and Germany’s) dirty secret is that since wind and solar are so intermittent, and we need electricity 24/7, the electricity we are using at night while charging our Teslas comes mostly from natural gas and coal. With nuclear, that would not be necessary. California’s and Germany’s CO2 emissions have gone up or remained flat since they decommissioned nuclear and relied more on solar and wind, while those states and countries who have maintained their nuclear fleets have lowered CO2 emissions from electrical energy production significantly.

The fact is that we need solar, wind, and nuclear if we are to have reliable and sustainable low emission electricity. In the words of James Hansen, the NASA scientist who first alerted us to the danger of global warming in 1988, “I don’t see a way forward without nuclear power. Nuclear will make the difference between the world missing crucial climate targets or achieving them.”


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