Global Warming Activist James Hansen Says Nuclear Is the Answer

Published April 8, 2014

Prominent global warming activist James Hansen is urging environmental groups to rally behind nuclear power to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Solar and wind power cannot feasibly produce enough electricity in the foreseeable future to meet carbon dioxide reduction goals, Hansen observes.

Scientists Write Joint Letter
Hansen and fellow scientists Kerry Emanuel, Tom Wigley, and Ken Caldeira published an open letter encouraging environmental activist groups to rethink their traditional opposition to nuclear power.

“As climate and energy scientists concerned with global climate change, we are writing to urge you to advocate the development and deployment of safer nuclear energy systems. We appreciate your organization’s concern about global warming, and your advocacy of renewable energy. But continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity’s ability to avoid dangerous climate change,” the scientists wrote.

“Renewables like wind and solar and biomass will certainly play roles in a future energy economy, but those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires. While it may be theoretically possible to stabilize the climate without nuclear power, in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power,” the scientists added.

Longstanding Activist Credentials
Hansen’s nuclear power advocacy is causing a stir among environmental groups that have traditionally opposed nuclear power. More than 300 environmental groups responded with a joint letter criticizing Hansen for his support of nuclear power. 

Hansen’s history of environmental activism, however, makes him a difficult target for activist groups seeking to keep the shackles on nuclear power. Hansen has compared coal transportation to Nazi death trains and he has been repeatedly arrested for civil disobedience protesting coal-fired power plants.

Emanuel, Wigley, and Caldeira are among the most prominent scientists asserting humans are causing a global warming crisis.

Wind, Solar Not Enough
Tom Harris, executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), says environmental activist groups are naïve to think a reliable electric grid can be predicated on renewable power and energy efficiency measures.

“Climate scientists Hansen, Caldeira, Emanuel, and Wigley were justified to support nuclear power in the realization that renewables cannot scale up fast enough to ‘deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires,'” said Harris.

No Emissions Cuts Necessary
However, Harris continued, the underlying belief that carbon dioxide emissions are causing a global warming crisis is off base.

“They are completely wrong to promote the hopelessly flawed idea that we can significantly affect global climate through the elimination of our most important sources of energy: hydrocarbon fuels. Their stated goal of achieving ‘climate stabilization’ through energy choices defies sound science,” said Harris.

“Climate has never been stable and never will be. There is nothing humanity can do about it. Aside from continuing fundamental research into better understanding climate change, the only sensible climate policy is one of adaptation to whatever nature throws at us next,” Harris added.

Better Power Options Exist
Merrill Matthews, a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI), says environmental activists who seek substantial carbon dioxide reductions while opposing nuclear power are dreaming. He notes excess regulation deters the construction of new nuclear power plants and makes construction and operation more expensive.

“But the good news is that power plants are increasingly shifting to natural gas for power generation, which is cheap and has dramatically reduced power-plant carbon emissions, back to early 1990s levels. The real dreamers are the environmentalists who think that wind and solar power, which provide about 3.2 percent of electricity generation, would be able to fill the power gap,” explained Matthews.

Heartland Institute Policy Advisor John Dunn says there is no evidence renewables can play a major role meeting the nation’s energy needs.

“They’re a joke because they are more expensive, less efficient, and require [fossil-fuel or nuclear] backup systems due to their unreliability,” said Dunn.

“Most thoughtful people agree that nuclear is the way to go for emissions-free power, but we will never build any more plants until we can get past the extreme environmentalists,” he added.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.