Union of Concerned Scientists Position on Nuclear Power and Its Place In Slowing Global Warming
The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.
To address global warming, we need a profound transformation of the ways in which we generate and consume energy. The urgency of this situation demands that we be willing to consider all possible options for coping with climate change.
In examining each option we must take into account its impact on public health, safety, and security, the time required for large scale deployment, and its costs.
While there are currently some global warming emissions associated with the nuclear fuel cycle and plant construction, when nuclear plants operate they do not produce carbon dioxide. This fact is used to support proposals for a large-scale expansion of nuclear power both in the United States and around the world.
It must be borne in mind that a large-scale expansion of nuclear power in the United States or worldwide under existing conditions would be accompanied by an increased risk of catastrophic events—a risk not associated with any of the non-nuclear means for reducing global warming.
These catastrophic events include a massive release of radiation due to a power plant meltdown or terrorist attack, or the death of tens of thousands due to the detonation of a nuclear weapon made with materials obtained from a civilian—most likely non-U.S.—nuclear power system.
Expansion of nuclear power would also produce large amounts of radioactive waste that would pose a serious hazard as long as there remain no facilities for safe long-term disposal.
In this context, the Union of Concerned Scientists contends that:
1. Prudence dictates that we develop as many options to reduce global warming emissions as possible, and begin by deploying those that achieve the largest reductions most quickly and with the lowest costs and risk. Nuclear power today does not meet these criteria.
2. Nuclear power is not the silver bullet for “solving” the global warming problem. Many other technologies will be needed to address global warming even if a major expansion of nuclear power were to occur.
3. A major expansion of nuclear power in the United States is not feasible in the near term. Even under an ambitious deployment scenario, new plants could not make a substantial contribution to reducing U.S. global warming emissions for at least two decades.
4. Until long-standing problems regarding the security of nuclear plants—from accidents and acts of terrorism—are fixed, the potential of nuclear power to play a significant role in addressing global warming will be held hostage to the industry’s worst performers.
5. An expansion of nuclear power under effective regulations and an appropriate level of oversight should be considered as a longer-term option if other climate-neutral means for producing electricity prove inadequate. Nuclear energy research and development (R&D) should therefore continue, with a focus on enhancing safety, security, and waste disposal.