As concerned climate scientists, we have published and lectured extensively on the scale and urgency of the human-caused climate crisis and the remedies needed for it. One key finding from our work is that the world will need all available non-fossil energy sources — nuclear energy as well as renewables — to be scaled up during the next few decades as fossil fuel emissions are phased out as rapidly as practical. Combined with improved energy efficiency, we foresee a planet on which young people and future generations will be able to enjoy a world with ample clean energy that has minimal environmental footprint. We can restore an atmospheric composition that allows us to pull back from potential climate catastrophe, providing an environment in which nature as well as people can thrive.
Specifically, we have shown in a 2013 paper that by displacing fossil fuels, over the past half-century nuclear energy has prevented over 2 million air pollution-induced premature deaths and 80 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions — several orders of magnitude more than it has caused and equivalent to hundreds of large coal power plants never having been built. More recently we showed in a 2019 paper that if Japan and Germany had reduced fossil fuel power instead of nuclear power after the Fukushima accident, they could have prevented over 28,000 excess deaths and 2.4 gigatonnes of excess CO2 emissions. Likewise, if nuclear reactors in Western Europe overall are shut down prematurely, that region could lose the chance to prevent over 100,000 premature deaths and 7 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions due to fossil fuel burning over the next 15 years.
Thus we believe there is no good basis to shut down nuclear reactors before the end of their operating lifetimes in regions that still produce electricity from fossil fuels. Furthermore, we strongly support development of next-generation nuclear reactors (including small modular ones) as a supplement to intermittent renewables such as solar and wind — otherwise, natural gas is likely to fill the supply void as is currently done (e.g. in Germany). In this context we find it very unfortunate that most environmentalists refuse to let go of longstanding biases against nuclear energy. We therefore strongly endorse the mission of Greens for Nuclear Energy and hope that their efforts succeed quickly.
James Hansen, PhD & Pushker Kharecha, PhD
Climate Science, Awareness, and Solutions Program Columbia University Earth Institute, New York, USA December 2020