Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions, which is particularly a selling point for nuclear power advocates. Like with nuclear waste, proponents seem to again use scientific data and statistics to support their argument that an increased use of nuclear power will lower the amount of greenhouse gases released into the earth’s atmosphere. An example of this use of data and statistics is seen in an article by the Nuclear Energy Institute, which illustrates the positive impact of nuclear energy on greenhouse gas emissions by stating, “In 2008, U.S. nuclear plants prevented the emissions of almost 689 million metric tons of carbon dioxide” which is “nearly as much carbon dioxide as is released from all U.S. passenger cars”[1]. This statement uses both a raw statistic and a comparison to illustrate its point. While the statistic makes the argument seem more scientific and credible, the comparison to the amount of carbon dioxide released from all US cars put that statistic into perspective, making it much more comprehensible to the average person. The US Department of Energy also incorporates statistics and data to show the importance of nuclear energy in reducing carbon emissions: “Nuclear energy provides about 20 percent of total U.S. electricity, but 70 percent of its carbon-free electricity”[2]. With this use of statistics, the Department of Energy is able to establish that even though nuclear energy accounts for a relatively small portion of electricity production, it is a major player in creating carbon-free electricity, which is beneficial to the environment. The general trend for the way proponents deal with the topic of greenhouse gases is to provide statistics and data to give perspective and insight into how much positive impact nuclear energy actually has.

Below are graphs comparing the carbon dioxide emissions of nuclear power to other forms power.

Those who are against the use of increased nuclear power also show a trend of using statistics and data in relation to the topic of carbon emissions; however they use them to demonstrate how unrealistic it is for nuclear power to be able to significantly decrease carbon emissions fast enough to solve the problem of climate change. Greenpeace, for instance, in their argument, show that the idea that nuclear power will significantly reduce carbon emissions with various statistics, references a report by the International Energy Agency, which “assumes a massive expansion of nuclear power between now and 2050” and “says that 32 large reactors (1,000 MWe each) would have to be built every year from now until 2050,” which would be “unrealistic, expensive, hazardous” and “would cut carbon emissions by less than 5%”[3]. These numbers provided by Greenpeace are intended to demonstrate how unrealistic it is for nuclear power to have a substantial impact on the amount of greenhouse gas that is emitted for the sake of creating electricity. Another example of data being used to argue that nuclear power does not have a positive influence on carbon emissions can be seen in an article by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, which states that “according to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study on the future of nuclear power, 1,500 new nuclear reactors would have to be constructed worldwide by mid-century for nuclear power to have a modest impact on the reduction of greenhouse gasses”[4]. Once again, statistical data is used to argue against the use of nuclear power. Both these articles cite similar types of data; both give a projected number as to how many reactors need to be built in order to create a substantial impact on greenhouse gases. These numbers all seem quite ridiculous and unrealistic, urging the reader to agree that nuclear power is not a viable solution to the carbon emission problem.


[1] “Nuclear Energy and the Environment.” Nuclear Energy Institute. Nuclear Energy Institute, June 2011. Web. 3 Nov 2011. <http://www.nei.org/resourcesandstats/documentlibrary/protectingtheenvironment/factsheet/nuclearenergyandtheenvironment/>.

[2] “Nuclear Energy – An Overview.” The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. U.S. Department of Energy, 15 Feb 2011. <http://www.ne.doe.gov/pdfFiles/factSheets/2012_Overview_Factsheet_final.pdf>.

[3] “Nuclear Power and Climate Control.” Greenpeace. Greenpeace International.  <http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/campaigns/global-warming-and-energy/energyrevolution/Nuclear-Power/>.

[4] Slater, Alice. “Nuclear Power No Solution to Global Warming.” Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Nuclear Energy Peace Foundation, Aug 2008. <http://www.wagingpeace.org/articles/2008/08/18_slater_towards_irena.pdf>.

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