Nuclear Energy

Nuclear Energy Laser Talk

Question:  Where does CCL stand on nuclear energy?

Answer:  Citizens’ Climate Lobby does not advocate for or against any specific energy technologies, including nuclear power generation. From the standpoint of greenhouse gases – the main cause of climate change – nuclear power’s life-cycle CO2 emissions are comparable to those of renewable energy. [1]

Concerns typically raised about nuclear power are plant safety, radioactive waste, and the potential for weaponization.[2] Like the ‘external’ costs associated with greenhouse gases, these costs should also be internalized in the price of nuclear energy. In fact, the costs of nuclear plant safety and waste storage are largely internalized through stringent equipment codes, insurance, and fees, [3,4] and evidence shows it to be far safer than fossil fuels for public health and safety even before considering climate change. [5]

Despite that record, many Americans are still concerned about long-term management of nuclear waste, risks of a major accident, and weapons proliferation. These concerns have spurred renewed interest in ‘Generation IV’ designs that produce far less radioactive waste, are inherently meltdown-proof, and resist weaponization. [6] Some may not even use uranium, but more abundant thorium, which could sidestep some of the concerns with conventional reactors. [7] Generation IV reactors have not yet been built on a commercial scale, but some companies have taken the first steps. [8,9]

CCL does not have the authority to define, or even predict, what role advanced nuclear energy will play under a carbon fee and dividend policy. That’s a mission for the engineers and investors who will try to meet its future challenges. Our mission is to make sure all the costs of climate change are paid for with an effective price on carbon. This will improve the long-term economic prospects of any technology with a low global warming footprint.

In a Nutshell: CCL does not advocate either for or against nuclear power. We recognize the data showing that nuclear power’s life-cycle carbon emissions are comparable to renewables. Safety, waste, and weapon proliferation concerns could be greatly mitigated if currently experimental Generation IV reactors can be successfully commercialized. Meanwhile, CCL will watch these developments closely, but remain agnostic on nuclear power.

  1. Schlömer S., et al. “IPCC Working Group III – Mitigation of Climate Change, Annex III: Technology – specific cost and performance parameters.” In Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, p. 1335 (2014).
  2. “Nuclear Power.” Wikipedia (20 Apr 2018).
  3. “Nuclear Reactor.” Wikipedia (19 Apr 2018).
  4. “Insurance Coverage for Nuclear Accidents.” Insurance Information Institute (17 Mar 2011).
  5. Ritchie, H. “It Goes Completely Against What Most Believe, But Out of All Major Energy Sources, Nuclear is the Safest.” Our World in Data (24 Jul 2017).
  6. “Generation IV Reactor.” Wikipedia (30 Sep 2018).
  7. Turner, B. “China is gearing up to activate the world’s first ‘clean’ commercial nuclear reactor.” Live Science (23 Jul 2021).
  8. Conca, J. “A Successful Nuclear Step for New Molten Salt Reactors.” Forbes(30 Nov 2017).
  9. Proctor, D. “Small Modular Reactor Project Advances in Canada.” Power(10 Jul 2018).

This page was updated on 12/14/21 at 11:56 CST.