Inspired, no doubt, by recent lively discussion in Ask Umbra and Gristmill on nuclear power (necessary evil or pure evil?), New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has decided to join the fray with his simplistically titled (and conceived) “Nukes Are Green” column. He’s of the James Lovelock school of thought, arguing that with climate change bearing down on us and renewables not yet up to full speed, nuclear is our only hope.Kristof makes a few pithy points:

America’s biggest power source is now coal, which kills about 25,000 people a year through soot in the air. To put it another way, nuclear energy seems much safer than our dependency on coal, which kills more than 60 people every day.


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Radioactive wastes are a challenge. But burdening future generations with nuclear wastes in deep shafts is probably more reasonable than burdening them with a warmer world in which Manhattan is submerged under 20 feet of water.

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And yet complexity and nuance (and, well, accuracy) elude him.

Take this: “Nuclear power, in contrast with other sources, produces no greenhouse gases.” Well, not exactly.  

As John Busby explains in the Australian e-journal On Line Opinion, “Carbon dioxide is released in every component of the nuclear fuel cycle except the actual fission in the reactor. Fossil fuels are involved in the mining, milling and enrichment of the ore, in the fuel can preparation, in the construction of the station and in its decommissioning and demolition, in the handling of the spent waste and its re-processing and in digging the hole in the rock for its deposition.”

And I’m sure bright Gristmill readers could poke some holes in Kristof’s contention that nuclear energy is cost-competitive with other sources. Have at it, kids!

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(But at least there’s more substance to this than to Kristof’s “Death of” column, which Dave slashed to bits.)

Update [2005-4-12 15:44:5 by Lisa Hymas]: The Times published seven letters in response to the column today — check ’em out.