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Face It. Nukes Are the Most Climate-Friendly Industrial-Scale Form of Energy

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Old 05-20-2008
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Face It. Nukes Are the Most Climate-Friendly Industrial-Scale Form of Energy
Look at the environmental protection agency's CO2-per-kilowatt-hour map of the US and two bright patches of low-carbon happiness jump out. One is the hydro-powered Pacific Northwest. The other is Vermont, where a 30-year-old nuclear reactor, Vermont Yankee, keeps the Ben & Jerry's cold. The darkest area corresponds to Washington, DC, where coal-fired power plants release 520 times more atmospheric carbon per megawatt-hour than their Vermont counterpart. That's right: 520 times. Jimmy Carter was right to turn down the heat in the White House.
There's no question that nuclear power is the most climate-friendly industrial-scale energy source. You can worry about radioactive waste or proliferating weapons. You can complain about the high cost of construction and decommissioning. But the reality is that every serious effort at carbon accounting reaches the same conclusion: Nukes win. Only wind comes close — and that's when it's blowing. A UK government white paper last year factored in everything from uranium mining to plant decommissioning and determined that nuclear power emits 2 to 6 percent of the carbon per kilowatt-hour as natural gas, the cleanest of the fossil fuels.
Embracing the atom is key to winning the war on warming: Electric power generates 26 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions and 9 percent of the United States' — it's the biggest contributor to global warming. One of the Kyoto Protocol's worst features is a sop to greens that denies carbon credits to power-starved developing countries that build nukes — thereby ensuring they'll continue to depend on filthy coal.

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