I think the most important moral issue of our day is global climate change.  As climates change, the ability of those climates to support civilization as we’ve known it (provide water, food, safe places to live [free from flooding]) will also change, many of them changing to ‘now it can’t support civilization as we’ve known it.’  Lacks of water, food, and safe shelter will lead to deaths and massive displacement of people, and very possibly to war.  In addition, climate changes will cause an change in human, animal, and plant disease patterns – again, causing deaths and massive displacement of people, and very possibly to war.  This is THE moral issue of our day.

There is a vital need to decrease the human-caused levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, particularly CO2.  That means electricity production needs to move away from fossil fuels.  It is in this context that I consider the question of nuclear power plants for electricity production.

Like most environmentally concerned people, I am wary of nuclear power because of its definite and potential environmental impact.  The most obvious definite environmental impact of nuclear power come from uranium mining.  Uranium mining, like all mineral mining (coal, uranium, gold, copper, etc.), has significant negative environmental impacts – a strike against nuclear power production.  The two obvious potential environmental impacts come from releases of radioactive particles – either from failed storage of nuclear power production waste or from accidents at nuclear power plants.  Two more strikes against nuclear power.

In nuclear power’s favor:  once the plant is built, it has a very low carbon footprint.  No CO2 is released in the production of electricity.

So, where do I come down on nuclear power?  Mixed.  I am in favor of improving the safety at existing nuclear power plants so that they can continue to produce electricity as safely as possible (some plants, especially older plants or plants vulnerable to natural disaster may need to be decommissioned).  I am potentially in favor (I haven’t made up my mind for sure) of the building of a few breeder reactors as a way to reused some of the nuclear waste from existing power plants.  But I oppose building new nuclear power plants.  It seems to me, given the negatives of nuclear power production that it would be wiser to spend the money on reducing power needs (insulating homes, improving electrical efficiency of appliances and thing like the internet, etc.) and on developing non-nuclear zero-carbon technologies for power production (solar, wind, geothermal) that it would be to spend the money on building new nuclear power plants.

The old adage is “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot.”  That’s not just good lifestyle advice.  It’s also a hierarchy.  It is better to reduce the amount we use (be it of stuff or of power) and to reuse.  But if we can’t reduce, better to reuse than to recycle (reusing has a smaller environmental footprint).  Etc.

Better for us to reduce our power needs than to build new nuclear power plants.