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The world will not benefit if nuclear power’s contribution is withdrawn a decade or two after global scale-up begins, as a result of flaws related to its coupling to nuclear weapons.There are 3,000 billion tons of carbon dioxide (COin the atmosphere was about constant: the forests and oceans and atmosphere were in approximate equilibrium.These developments could begin to decouple nuclear power from nuclear weapons. While several approaches to climate change mitigation are available for immediate, rapid scale-up, nuclear power could be so in maybe 10 years, provided the coming decade is used to establish adequate technologies and new norms of governance.
Arguments for giving priority to climate change mitigation are uncomfortable bedfellows with arguments for nuclear power.
The dissonance arises among a political constituency, particularly powerful in Europe, for which mitigating climate change is seen as an opportunity for pursuing deep changes in social and economic structures and in values – away from consumerism and centralized authority.
Nuclear war is a terrible trade for slowing the pace of climate change. The national-security community is currently engaged, to an unprecedented degree, in seeking progress toward nuclear disarmament.
A by-product of this process could be different technology choices and innovations in the governance of nuclear power – notably, a halt to spent-fuel reprocessing to separate plutonium as well as multinational ownership and control of uranium enrichment facilities.
We are confronted with a risk-management problem of unprecedented complexity. The global atmosphere is well stirred and scarcely registers where CO Electricity serving air conditioner compressors, computer circuits, incandescent lights, and appliances arrives along wires that, worldwide, run from power plants of only a few kinds.
To be sure, nations differ in their endowments of resources; but, even so, a good strategy for mitigating climate change in one country will be a good strategy in many other countries.There are still more than 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world, and in the current international system, nations see these weapons as instruments of power and sources of prestige.These nations have competing interests and long-standing conflicts.A nuclear fleet of this size would contribute about one wedge, if the power plant that would have been built instead of the nuclear plant has the average CO Base load power of 1,500 GW would contribute one fourth of total electric power in a business-as-usual world that produced 50,000 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity per year, two-and-a-half times the global power consumption today.However, in a world focused on climate change mitigation, one would expect massive global investments in energy efficiency – more efficient motors, compressors, lighting, and circuit boards – that by 2050 could cut total electricity demand in half, relative to business as usual.A “wedge model,” published in 2004, quantifies the task of global climate change mitigation. We would emit 60 billion tons per year in 2050 if we were oblivious to climate change (the so-called business-as-usual world), and we can congratulate ourselves if we cut the anticipated 2050 emissions rate in half, emitting CO produced at coal plants and burying it deep below ground.About eight wedges are needed to pat ourselves on the back, and we can choose a portfolio of them in many ways. To do so, however, nuclear power would have to be deployed extensively, including in the developing world.A “one-tier” world will be required – that is, a world with an agreed set of rules to govern nuclear power that are the same in all countries. Nuclear-energy use today relies on technologies and a system of national governance of the nuclear fuel cycle that carry substantial risks of nuclear weapons proliferation.To meet this aspiration, climate policy often promotes wind power, solar thermal and solar photoelectric power, and other forms of renewables, relative to nuclear energy.This perspective also underpins the climate-policy focus on energy efficiency as a way to reduce global energy demand.