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Energy

Nuclear

To give a sense of the scale of a nuclear power plant, this image shows a worker climbing a lattice of steel rods at one of the original Hanford Site nuclear reactors.

Nuclear plants use fission to split atomic nuclei and release the energy that binds protons and neutrons together. It is the most complex process ever invented to boil water, which powers steam turbines that generate electricity. Greenhouse gas emissions are calculated to be ten to a hundred times higher for coal-fired plants than for nuclear.

Currently, 29 countries have operative nuclear plants; they produce about 11 percent of the world’s electricity. Nuclear is expensive, and the highly regulated industry is often over-budget and slow. While the cost of virtually every other form of energy has gone down over time, nuclear is four to eight times higher than it was four decades ago.

With nuclear power, there is a climate dilemma: Is an increase in the number of nuclear power plants, with all their flaws and inherent risks, worth the gamble? Or, as some proponents insist, will there be a total meltdown of climate by limiting their use?

At Project Drawdown, we consider nuclear a regrets solution. It has potential to avoid emissions, but there are many reasons for concern: deadly meltdowns, tritium releases, abandoned uranium mines, mine-tailings pollution, radioactive waste, illicit plutonium trafficking, and thefts of missile material, among them.

Technical summaries for each solution will be available May 1, 2017.

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