A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow, by Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist, depicts two different paths of emission-free energy use: Germany and Sweden. The contrasting stories have Sweden on one side. The Swedish has cut carbon emissions in half while doubling the use of electricity through the construction of various nuclear power plants in the last 50 years. Then there’s Germany; who has twice as many emissions per capita, yet still uses only one third less the electricity. Instead of supporting its existing nuclear power generation, Germany has begun to close down plants and has attempted to replace that energy using wind and solar. These renewables make up 15 percent of their total energy production. In turn, emissions aren’t down; they are actually up and Germany still produces a billion tons of carbon emissions per year.
As Chris Wright reports in his review for Dissident Voices of the Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist book, “A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow,” both nuclear and renewables have little by way of lifecycle carbon emission, yet nuclear provides undeniably more powerful and dense energy. Take Ringhals, in Sweden, as an example. This nuclear power plant can produce 4 Gigawatts of electricity day and night. A solar field would need to stretch 40 to 100 miles to produce the same amount of energy as Ringhals, which only covers 150 acres.
Nuclear is a zero emission energy source that produces at a rate unparalleled with renewable energy sources, yet its prosperous potential is resisted by a common misconception about its waste. Nuclear, actually, produces very little waste. Goldstein and Qvist explain that “the entire volume of spent fuel from fifty years of nuclear power—a source that produces one-fifth of U.S. electricity—could be packed into a football stadium, piled twenty feet high.” Not only is there very little waste, but the waste itself has been stored for the last 70 years with no apparent health effects. We need to not just talk about nuclear waste—we need to compare nuclear’s waste with the waste of the alternatives. Fossil fuel waste is destroying the planet’s climate and causing as many as 7 million people a year to die prematurely from breathing poor air quality. Solar cells decay after a life estimated at 25 years and turn into long-lasting toxic waste, as do wind turbines, for which there is almost no good disposal process available.
Nuclear, the authors inform us, is one of our best weapons against fossil fuel use and should have a huge part in combating climate change. Without rapid production of nuclear power plants, it’s impossible to match the demand for energy while greatly diminishing carbon emissions. However, power plants across the United States are being shut down due to political reasons. Wright claims that “when Massachusetts’ last remaining nuclear power plant, Pilgrim, closed last month, much more electricity generation was lost than the state generates with all its solar, wind, and hydro power combined.”