The Climate Change Movement and the Role of Nuclear Power

Is nuclear power an option in the fight against climate change?

In the last five years or so, there has been a shift in focus of the environmental movement. The environmental movement has been around since the 1970’s and basically rose out of the peace movement. Many Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have blazed the trail for issues surrounding pollution, forestry and endangered species.

Nowadays, the movement is focusing largely on the issue of climate change. We are seeing more and more NGO’s, corporations, government agencies and the public taking a stand on climate change issues. Climate change has been a catalyst for many other environmental initiatives recently, even on a grassroots level. We need to look no further
than the brilliant participation rates for Earth Hour this past March to see that energy conservation is important to big business and the average citizen alike. This new component of the environmental movement is even trickling down into the mainstream consumer market. More and more products are being labelled as ‘environmentally-friendly’, ‘biodegradable’ or ‘organic’. And people are buying into this left, right and centre (which is great)!

So, this discussion begs the question as to where the nuclear industry fits in. Nuclear
power plants emit no CO2 or other noxious gases. In nuclear power plants the energy to generate the electricity comes from a nuclear reaction entirely within the uranium fuel inside the reactor. Since there is no combustion there are no emissions. The more than 400 nuclear power plants operating around the world generate about one sixth of our electricity and emit no CO2.

In 2001 the 14 nuclear power reactors operating in Canada generated about 13 per cent of our electricity. The nuclear power plants in Ontario produced about 40 per cent of the electricity used in that province. If the electricity produced by Canada’s nuclear power plants were generated by coal there would be an additional 70 million tonnes of CO2 emitted into our atmosphere each year.

Facts like these have been the basis for many environmentalists speaking out in favour of
nuclear power. One of the most renowned environmentalists speaking in favour of
nuclear is former Greenpeace co-founder, Dr. Patrick Moore. Dr. Moore has been outspoken on his views in various articles in the Washington Post. Other pro-nuclear environmentalists include James Lovelock (author of The Revenge of Gaia) and even ex-Friends of the Earth leader Right Rev Hugh Montefiore, the former Bishop of Birmingham, UK.

Politicians the world over are becoming involved in the nuclear option in the climate change debate. Speaking at the European Nuclear Assembly in Brussels on 15 April, European Union Energy Commissioner Piebalgs said: “I believe that nuclear energy is part of the new energy mix of the European Union and will remain so. It will definitely help to
address the three goals that we are always talking about: not only sustainability, not only less CO2, but it will also help with the security of supply.”

The question being: is nuclear power an option in the fight against climate change? Seemingly so, keeping in mind that there is no panacea for the climate change crisis.

This blog post was first published by Hardy Steveson and Associates Limited in 2008.


About Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited

Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited (HSAL) is a multidisciplinary strategic planning and public affairs consultancy, focused on environmental and land use planning, stakeholder relations (including communications, facilitation, public consultation and engagement), socio-economic impact assessment, communications, engineering and related services. We have the expertise to predict and decipher technical and public policy issues, and significant experience mitigating them, building consensus and attaining even the most complex approvals. For more information, visit
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