Are we finally ready to tackle climate with both hands?

6 November 2019

Rauli Partanen.jpg

Rauli Partanen

Chief Executive Officer

Think Atom

There has been no lack of stories, discussions and hashtags on the topic of climate urgency recently. And for good reason. Climate science’s message on the matter has been growing more and more serious, and ominous. For the last 30 years we have been talking about doing something, but not accomplishing that much. Emissions are still rising. Now our kids and grandkids are out there protesting and demonstrating to finally get something done.

It is safe to say that what we have been doing has not worked. Maybe we should finally try something that has worked? Nuclear power has played an integral role in the few decarbonization successes out there. Sweden, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Ontario, Finland, all have decarbonized their electricity systems to a level the rest of the world only dreams of achieving by mid-century, and they did it with a combination of nuclear power and renewable energy (mainly hydro).

Almost half of Europe’s clean electricity comes from nuclear. It is our only scalable source of both reliable and clean energy. Yet current EU level policies discriminate against it, and some EU countries do their utmost to shut it down and prevent others from using it.

With nuclear, the public discussion is often further from the facts than in almost any other subject. It sometimes feels like the majority of people were climate deniers – everyone is ignoring the science and finding excuses not to listen to it. I should know, I have written several books on the very topic.

Too often those who claim to be the most worried about climate change refuse to even allow, let alone support, nuclear energy. The arguments go in a roundabout of “it’s too dangerous”, “what about the waste”, “it’s too slow” and “it’s too expensive”. Drawing a perfect circular argument, too often the reason for people not to like it is “because people don’t like it”.

The thing is, these arguments are mostly false. Look at the science, bring context and do some reasonable comparisons, and you see that nuclear is our safest energy source, the waste has never hurt anyone and likely never will, it has been our fastest way to add low carbon energy and can be faster still if we let it, and that it is only expensive if not compared to other clean ways to provide a reliable energy service.

In truth, we need to make another energy turn. The Green New Deal, or whatever it ends up being called, needs not to just accept nuclear, although that is a good first step to take from where we are standing. It needs to embrace it in the same way as other low carbon energy sources and mitigation efforts are embraced. In all seriousness, how else can we build five times our current nuclear fleet, like the IPCC scenarios show we are likely to need?