Dr. Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science at MIT recently published a short, accessible book titled What We Know About Climate Change. It provides a good summary of the state of our knowledge about the issue, but the final two chapters of the book illustrate a what I believe is a significant communications challenge.
Chapter 7 is titled Our options. Emanuel classified the options into three categories, mitigation (curtailing emissions), adaptation and geoengineering. As I studied his description of the mitigation category, I wondered what he was going to say about nuclear energy.
In my optimistic view, nuclear fission can replace coal and natural gas in electrical power production, oil on ships at sea, increased electricity to charge battery powered automobiles, additional power for a growing network of electric trains, and the heat to replace coal, oil and gas in process and space heating applications. If pursued with sustained dedication, it can make a significant difference in the amount of fossil fuel waste that is produced every year.
Though I read the chapter carefully and even used the search feature (I bought the Kindle version of the book) I could not find a single mention of the word “nuclear” in the entire chapter. I even tried my favorite synonym and looked for “atomic”. Nothing. It seemed that Emanuel had decided that the nuclear is a technology that is best ignored when thinking about solutions to producing massive quantities of CO2 to power our technological society.
Then I turned to the final chapter of the book, which is titled The politics surrounding global climate change. In that chapter, Emanuel mentioned nuclear energy several times. Here are the quotes to indicate the context with which he decided to use the ‘N’ word. I think they are illustrative of something worth discussing, but I am not sure yet what path that discussion should take.
One can easily imagine conservatives embracing climate policies that are in harmony with other actions they might like to see. Conservatives have usually been strong supporters of nuclear power, and few can be happy about our current dependence on foreign oil.
Here is the second section that mentions nuclear energy.
But such alternatives as nuclear power are viewed with deep ambivalence by the left, and only a few environmentalists have begun to rethink their visceral opposition to it. Had it not been for green opposition, the United States today might derive most of its electricity from nuclear sources, as France does. Thus environmentalists must accept some measure of responsibility for today’s most critical environmental problem. Indeed, by focusing on solar and wind power sources – whose limited potential and high costs prevent them from meeting more than a small part of our energy needs – the environmental movement is engaged in unproductive theater that detracts from serious debate about energy.
Emanuel apparently recognizes that nuclear energy is one of the more useful tools available, but I remain confused about why he did not include any mention of the technology in his own section on solutions. Why did he choose to only discuss it in the political context? Please share any thoughts you might have that would help explain Emanuel’s puzzling choice to ignore the future potential of nuclear energy and only to discuss it as an historical political controversy.
I fail to understand why some people who favor the use of nuclear energy refuse to discuss it as a way to reduce CO2 production. I also fail to understand why people who profess a strong concern about climate change choose not to acknowledge that nuclear fission is a powerful tool that can be used to address their issue.
Keith Kloor – Slate (Jan. 14, 2013) The Pro-Nukes Environmental Movement:
After Fukushima, is nuclear energy still the best way to fight climate change?