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Project January 10, 2017

Is Nuclear Power the Answer to Climate Change?

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Nuclear power
Is nuclear power the answer to climate change? Image courtesy of Jaroslava V / Shutterstock. United States, 2016.

With the election of Donald Trump as president, the United States confronts a new era of climate change discussion. There are some indications that the new president and his administration will approach climate change as the hoax that he claimed it to be during his campaign, and other suggestions that he is more open-minded on the subject.

In a special issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, leading experts on nuclear energy and climate change focus on the complicated question of whether nuclear power can be a significant part of world efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Bulletin and the World Nuclear Industry Status Report have also partnered with the Pulitzer Center to produce a series of interactive multimedia visualizations based on the WNISR's comprehensive data files on nuclear power plant planning, construction, and operation since the late 1940s.

At this point, there is no consensus about key elements of the possible use of nuclear power to address climate change. University of Chicago nuclear expert Bob Rosner, for example, writes that it is technically possible for the world to cut carbon dioxide emissions by replacing fossil fuel electrical generation with nuclear power, but the decision to undertake such a wide-ranging effort is ultimately a political one. Meanwhile, former Nuclear Regulatory Commission member Peter Bradford says the choice among nuclear power and other low-carbon energy sources should be left to power markets that likely will choose against nuclear in the long run.

Their research and analysis and those of other experts in this issue of the Bulletin are intended to inform the public discussion before hard decisions on climate change and energy policy are made by the United States government, or any other.

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