Argument: Nuclear energy detracts resources from superior renewable energy

Issue Report: Nuclear energy


Stephanie Cooke. “A nuclear waste.” New York Times. March 17, 2009: “PRESIDENT OBAMA has made clean and efficient energy a top priority, and Congress has obliged with more than $32 billion in stimulus money mostly for conservation and alternative energy technologies like wind, solar and biofuel. Sadly, the Energy Department is too weighed down by nuclear energy programs to devote itself to bringing about the revolution Mr. Obama envisions.

Today, the department’s main task is managing the thousands of facilities involved in producing nuclear weapons during the cold war, and the associated cleanup of dozens of contaminated sites. Approximately two-thirds of its annual budget, which is roughly $27 billion, is spent on these activities, while only 15 percent is allocated for all energy programs, including managing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and researching and developing new technologies.

The department, after all, has nuclear weapons in its DNA. It is essentially an offshoot of the Atomic Energy Commission, a civilian-run agency established in 1946 to continue the work of the Manhattan Project and to investigate the possibility of developing civilian nuclear energy. In 1974, Congress voted to abolish the commission, turning over the weapons activities to a new Energy Research and Development Administration and setting up the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The former was disbanded three years later and replaced by the Department of Energy.

Given the department’s origins, it is not surprising that nuclear programs have won out over other energy technologies. Of the $135.4 billion spent on energy research and development from 1948 to 2005 (in constant 2004 dollars), more than half, or $74 billion, went to nuclear energy, while fossil-fuel programs received a quarter, or $34.1 billion. The leftovers went for alternatives, with renewables getting $13 billion, or 10 percent, and energy efficiency $12 billion, according to a Congressional Research Service report written in 2006.

That historical pattern of spending continues to this day. This year nuclear energy research is receiving $1.7 billion, including for a weapons-related fusion program being touted for its supposed energy potential. Nuclear weapons programs are getting $6.4 billion, with an additional $6.5 billion allocated to environmental cleanup. Millions more are spent on efforts to reduce the risk of weapons proliferation, and recovering nuclear and radioactive materials from around the world.

Against this background, alternative energy solutions are but an afterthought: in the current fiscal year, for example, all of $1.1 billion is apportioned for programs falling under this category, not including the stimulus money.”

“Nuclear Power: No Solution to Climate Change”. Nuclear Information and Resource Center – Adding enough nuclear power to make a meaningful reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would cost trillions of dollars, create tens of thousands of tons of lethal high-level radioactive waste, contribute to further proliferation of nuclear weapons materials, result in a Chernobyl-scale accident once every decade or so, and, perhaps most significantly, squander the resources necessary to implement meaningful climate change mitigation policies.

“Nuclear power no solution to global warming”. Pacific Ecologist. Winter 2008 – nuclear power is the slowest and costliest way to reduce CO2 emissions, as financing nuclear power diverts scarce resources from investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The enormous costs of nuclear power per unit of reduced carbon emissions would actually worsen our ability to abate climate change as we would buy less carbon-free energy per dollar spent on nuclear power compared to emissions we would save by investing those dollars in solar, wind or energy efficiency. According to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study on the future of nuclear power, 1,500 new nuclear reactors would have to be constructed worldwide by mid-century for nuclear power to have a modest impact on the reduction of greenhouse gasses.4 The U.S. nuclear industry is estimated to have received more than $115 billion in direct subsidies from 1947 through 1999; Government subsidies for wind and solar energy for the same period totaled only $5.49 billion.

“The case against nuclear power”. Greenpeace. January 8, 2008: “When the true costs of nuclear energy are compared to the true benefits of renewable energy technologies, the choice is almost too obvious. In a world on a quest for energy security and solutions to climate change, investment in nuclear power makes little sense.

The real solutions to the energy security and climate change are available now. And nuclear power, the most dangerous and expensive source of electricity, is not in this equation. Instead, these solutions are ready to be delivered by renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. The deployment of renewable power requires little to no fuel inputs in order to harness free and clean energy sources like the sun and wind which are widely available throughout the country.

The potential for renewable energy in the Philippines is vast and far greater than that of nuclear power or fossil fuels. Wind and solar energy plants in Ilocos Norte and Cagayan de Oro are already showing that these solutions are working. But we need more. Our renewable energy potential unfortunately remains largely untapped. And worse, instead of focusing in pouring time and investments in expanding the renewable energy sector in a big way, there are proposals to shift to nuclear, such as House Bill 4631 and Senate Bill 2665, to immediately commission the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), and appropriate
taxpayer money for the plan.

Our policy makers should move on from promoting expensive, outdated and dangerous nuclear systems. Any effective response to energy demand in a world facing climate change involves enormous expansion in our use of renewables and a complete abandonment of nuclear power.”

Mark Hertsgaard. “The True Costs of Nuclear Power”. Mother Earth News. April/May 2006: “The upshot is that nuclear power is seven times less cost-effective at displacing carbon than the cheapest, fastest alternative better energy efficiency, according to studies by the Rocky Mountain Institute. For example, a nuclear power plant typically costs at least $2 billion, or up to $5 billion with overruns. That money could be spent to insulate drafty buildings, purchase hybrid cars or install superefficient light bulbs and clothes dryers. Such an investment would lead to seven times less carbon consumption than if that money were spent on a nuclear power plant. In short, energy efficiency offers a much bigger bang for the buck. In a world of limited capital, investing in nuclear power will divert money away from cheaper and faster responses to global warming, thus slowing the worlds withdrawal from carbon fuels at a time when speed is essential.”


This is a case of assuming what we are trying to establish; whether nuclear or other energy generation systems are “superior”. So this argument has no merit in deciding whether or not nuclear power is a good option.

It is in any case quite likely that we should pursue a number of different options, unless some are worse in every way, which is clearly not the case here.