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Nuclear Power: Not the Solution to Climate Change via Monthly Review

If carbon emissions from energy production are the problem, is nuclear power the solution?  After all, nuclear reactors split uranium atoms to generate heat; no fossil fuels are used on site, and no CO2is released into the air from the power plant itself.  Plenty of voices can be now heard advocating construction of nuclear plants in order to save the environment.  The Obama administration supports new loans and incentives for nuclear power, as does the Kerry-Lieberman climate and energy bill.

It’s not quite that simple.  The nuclear power life cycle includes many steps, from mining and enriching uranium, building the reactor, operating the plant, processing and disposing of the spent fuel, through, someday, decommissioning the plant when it can no longer be used.  Many of these stages are quite energy-intensive, so there are life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear power.  The best available data show the life-cycle emissions from nuclear power to be much lower than from fossil fuel-burning power plants, but equal to or higher than the emissions from renewable energy, such as solar, wind, and hydro-power.


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