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The Nuclear Option

In response to:

A Very Grim Forecast from the November 22, 2018 issue

To the Editors:

In your article “A Very Grim Forecast” [NYR, November 22] about global warming you state that vast quantities of renewable technology have been deployed in China and India. However, you fail to mention that the “vast fleet” of new Chinese electric buses will be powered by electricity generated by nuclear power plants. Fact check: China is now in the process of building nineteen new commercial nuclear power plants, which will exceed the United States’ nuclear electric-generating capacity when completed. Both India and Russia are in the process of building five each. China’s main goals are to achieve energy independence along with reducing the terrible atmospheric pollution that the country now suffers.

Unfortunately, despite nuclear power’s excellent safety record, security, and climatic benefits, here in the United States its detractors now outnumber its advocates. Both the industry itself and government regulators can share the blame for their lack of transparency and past failure to address serious issues like constructing plants in densely populous and geologically unstable areas. Another area of reevaluation should be the so-called nuclear waste stream, which if properly recycled contains, almost magically, over 90 percent of the used energy in the form of plutonium and uranium. In addition there are in fact significant amounts of rare earth elements such as cerium, samarium, gadolinium, and europium that are all presently used in high-technology manufacturing.

Time is running out. The government must establish a national committee of scientific and industry experts and direct a complete and transparent evaluation of nuclear power generation in the United States. The somewhat fantastical notion that intermittent power generation by renewable technology can achieve the gigantic energy needs of our society and rescue us from global warming within a couple of decades is in my humble opinion dangerous mythology.

Lou de Holczer
Bronx, New York

Bill McKibben replies:

A full discussion of nuclear power’s prospects would require another essay; in this case let me just say that when China’s nuclear buildout finishes, it is expected to supply roughly 6 percent of the country’s electricity from reactors. China is also in the process of deploying renewable energy at some of the fastest rates in the world, and one trusts that the electrons produced from the sun and wind will continue to prove nonmythological.