Want Zero Carbon Emissions? Go Nuclear
By Marjorie Howard
Nuclear power often inspires fear and loathing, no more so than among environmentalists, who have long decried the potential dangers and the still-unsolved problem of what to do with nuclear waste. Consumers have their doubts as well. The memory of major accidents such as those at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and, most recently, Fukushima Daiichi in Japan leaves many regular folks cringing at the prospect of relying on nuclear energy to light and heat their homes.
But climate change has caused even some of the most ardent foes to reconsider: unlike oil, natural gas and coal, nuclear plants don’t emit greenhouse gases. And nuclear technology continues to improve, making plants cheaper to build and safer to operate, all of which leaves a potential opening for this long-spurned energy source.
Ujjayant Chakravorty, a professor of economics in the School of Arts and Sciences, is an expert on energy economics, and last year co-authored an article with two European researchers in the Journal of Public Economic Theory exploring the question of using nuclear energy to promote climate stabilization.
Tufts Now: What’s the best form of clean energy?
Ujjayant Chakravorty: As economists, we always say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. If you want clean energy, something has to give. Solar power and wind turbines are expensive and are not completely free of problems. Drive around a wind power facility, and it’s noisy; plus birds are killed when they collide with the turbines. Right now wind and solar provide only about 1 percent of the global energy supply. Hydropower has major environmental impacts. The big concern in New Zealand, which relies on hydropower, is the impact on its rivers and mountains; people there fear it is destroying the ecosystem. China’s Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydropower project, displaced more than a million people and caused environmental problems.
So what’s the best way to cope with climate change?
We will need many options. One technology won’t be the solution. In our analysis, which is a pretty sophisticated economic model, we are saying that nuclear might be quite good until we find cheaper alternatives.
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