Hansen is wrong that nuclear energy is an answer to the climate crisis

Paul Dorfman

Newborn babies in the Mukarovsky maternity home near Kiev in the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. ‘With [renewables] one does not have to worry about the specters of Chernobyl and Fukushima.’ Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex es


Contrary to the article by James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira and Tom Wigley (Nuclear power paves the only viable path forward on climate change, 3 December), many scientists around the world remain sceptical that nuclear is the answer, or even part of the answer, to climate change. The academic authors have a fine record in identifying the causes and consequences of climate change, but their proposed solution simply doesn’t make sense.

The main problem is that, contrary what many think, nuclear power is a poor method of reducing carbon emissions: its uranium ore and fuel processes have heavy carbon footprints. Indeed, of the ways to reduce carbon emissions in the energy sphere, nuclear is by far the most expensive in terms of pound per tonne of carbon saved.

Renewables, especially wind and solar, are now less expensive, quicker to install, and much safer: with them one does not have to worry about the spectres of Chernobyl and Fukushima.

But perhaps most important of all is the moral dimension. Given the technical and political obstacles to dangerous spent nuclear fuel, should we be passing these problems to future generations? What about the Irish Sea, still the most radioactively contaminated sea in the world due to Sellafield’s discharges? What about the sheep farms in north Wales still subject to food controls due to radioactive contamination from Chernobyl almost 30 years ago?

Dr Paul Dorfman, Dr Ian Fairlie, Dr David Lowry, Jonathon Porritt