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Nuclear power is the greenest option, say top scientists



 

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Environmentalists urged to ditch their historical antagonism and embrace a broad energy mix

Steve Connor

Author Biography
SCIENCE EDITOR
Sunday 04 January 2015

Nuclear power is one of the least damaging sources of energy for the
environment, and the green movement must accept its expansion if the
world is to avoid dangerous climate change, some of the world's leading
conservation biologists have warned.

Rising demand for energy will place ever greater burdens on the
natural world, threatening its rich biodiversity, unless societies
accept nuclear power as a key part of the "energy mix", they said. And
so the environmental movement and pressure groups such as Friends of the
Earth and Greenpeace should drop their opposition to the building of
nuclear power stations.

In an open letter to be published next
month in the journal Conservation Biology, more than 65 biologists,
including a former UK government chief scientist, support the call to
build more nuclear power plants as a central part of a global strategy
to protect wildlife and the environment.


The full gamut of
electricity-generation sources, including nuclear power, must be used to
replace the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas if the
world is to have any chance of mitigating severe climate change, their
letter says.


The
letter is signed by several leading British academics including Lord
May of Oxford, a theoretical biologist at Oxford University and former
chief scientific adviser; Professor Andrew Balmford, a conservation
biologist at Cambridge; and Professor Tim Blackburn, an expert in
biodiversity at University College London.


As well as reducing the
sources of carbon dioxide, the chief man-made greenhouse gas implicated
in climate change, the expansion of nuclear power will leave more land
to support biodiversity and so curb the extinction of species, they say.


Recognising
the "historical antagonism towards nuclear energy" among
environmentalists, they write: "Much as leading climate scientists have
recently advocated the development of safe, next-generation nuclear
energy systems to combat climate change, we entreat the conservation and
environmental community to weigh up the pros and cons of different
energy sources using objective evidence and pragmatic trade-offs, rather
than simply relying on idealistic perceptions of what is 'green'."


It
is too risky to rely solely on renewable energy sources such as wind
and solar power for replacing fossil fuels because of problems to do
with scalability, cost, materials and land use, they explain.




Along with nuclear power, wind energy has the highest benefit-to-cost ratio
Along with nuclear power, wind energy has the highest benefit-to-cost ratio (Getty)



"Nuclear power – being far the most compact and energy-dense of
sources – could also make a major, and perhaps leading, contribution ….
It is time that conservationists make their voices heard in this policy
area," they say.


A golf-ball-sized lump of uranium would supply
the lifetime's energy needs of a typical person, equivalent to 56 tanker
trucks of natural gas, 800 elephant-sized bags of coal or a renewable
battery as tall as 16 "super" skyscraper buildings placed one on top of
the other, they said.


The letter was organised by Professor Barry
Brook of the University of Tasmania and Professor Corey Bradshaw of the
University of Adelaide. The two co-authored a paper in the January issue
of Conservation Biology outlining the scientific case of nuclear power
in terms of environmental protection. Of seven major technologies for
generating electricity, nuclear power and wind energy had the highest
benefit-to-cost ratio, they concluded.


"Trade-offs and compromises
are inevitable and require advocating energy mixes that minimise net
environmental damage. Society cannot afford to risk wholesale failure to
address energy-related biodiversity impacts because of preconceived
notions and ideals," they said.


Professor Corey told The Independent on Sunday: "Our main
concern is that society isn't doing enough to rein in emissions… Unless
we embrace a full, global-scale assault on fossil fuels, we'll be in
increasingly worse shape over the coming decades – and decades is all we
have to act ruthlessly.


"Many so-called green organisations and
individuals, including scientists, have avoided or actively lobbied
against proven zero-emissions technologies like nuclear because of the
associated negative stigma," he said.


"Our main goal was to show –
through careful, objective scientific analysis – that on the basis of
cost, safety, emissions reduction, land use and pollution, nuclear power
must be considered in the future energy mix," he explained.


The
letter aims to convince people of the potential benefits of nuclear
power in a world where energy demand will increase as the climate begins
to change because of rising levels of greenhouse gases, Professor Corey
added.


"By convincing leading scientists in the areas of
ecological sustainability that nuclear has a role to play, we hope that
others opposed to nuclear energy on purely 'environmental' – or
ideological – grounds might reconsider their positions," he said.



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