There Is Not Enough Time for Nuclear Innovation to Save the Planet
FOREIGN AFFAIRS: By Allison Macfarlane, July 8, 2021
The world is almost out of time with respect to decarbonizing the energy sector. Doing so, experts agree, is essential to forestalling some of the most alarming consequences of climate change, including rising sea levels, droughts, fires, extreme weather events, ocean acidification, and the like. These threats have helped generate fresh interest in the potential for nuclear power—and, more specifically, innovative nuclear reactor designs—to allow people to rely less on carbon-spewing electricity sources such as coal, natural gas, and oil. In recent years, advanced nuclear designs have been the focus of intensive interest and support from both private investors such as Bill Gates—who founded TerraPower, a nuclear reactor design company, in 2006—and national governments, including that of the United States.
Advocates hope that this renewed focus on nuclear energy will yield technological progress and lower costs. But when it comes to averting the imminent effects of climate change, even the cutting edge of nuclear technology will prove to be too little, too late. Put simply, given the economic trends in existing plants and those under construction, nuclear power cannot positively impact climate change in the next ten years or more. Given the long lead times to develop
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