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It’s a perennial question. Perhaps, to quote “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau, one raising “some of the foremost rhetorical questions of our day.”

The issue here, in this month’s “This is Not Cool” video feature, is of course the potential that “clean” nuclear energy can help combat global warming by reducing future reliance on still more combustion of fossil fuels, in particular coal.

A little background here: Many fear that the projected threats posed by a rapidly warming climate are so serious that “even” nuclear power may shine by comparison, reducing need for more combustion of coal and other fossil fuels, including natural gas. This theory holds that renewable and other “clean energy” sources can’t do enough, soon enough.

Prospects for ‘green new nukes’ raise some of the day’s ‘foremost rhetorical questions …’

So, are what independent videographer Peter Sinclair refers to as “green new nukes” the way to go? Or at least one of the ways to go?

Maybe yes, but maybe no, two university energy experts say. They point not only to high construction costs but also to long lead times before on-the-drawing-board “new nukes” could really go commercial. They point to the pros and cons of keeping aging nuclear power plants on the job: “If we shut them down and replace them with natural gas,” says climate change expert (and Yale Climate Connections contributor) Zeke Hausfather, “that’s a disaster from a climate perspective.”

A nuclear power representative at one point in the video recalls often being asked by eager would-be customers, “Can we have it ready in six months?” Her reply: Think a decade or more, more like at least 15 years.

Given that a new nuclear power plant getting underway today is unlikely to come online, on average, until around 2033, those seeing nukes as a silver bullet are engaging in “a complete boondoggle and a waste of money,” Stanford’s Mark Jacobson says.
In the real world, concludes Hausfather of Berkeley, “new nuclear power is pretty much off the table” at least in the U.S. and in Western Europe, and “no new large build-out” is foreseeable.

Like it or not, find it promising or find it inadequate, Hausfather says, renewables appear to present the most promising prospect, “sort of ideal” compared with other foreseeable and practical options.

Peter Sinclair

Peter Sinclair is a Michigan-based videographer, specializing in climate change and renewable energy issues. He has created hundreds of educational videos correcting climate science misinformation,...