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stuff for the rest of us to discuss. You can also follow Elizabeth’s Twitter account at @elizeckhart
stuff for the rest of us to discuss. You can also follow Elizabeth’s Twitter account at @elizeckhart] The debate about the reality of human-induced global climate change has been settled — at least within the . Even Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si, stressed the need for an alteration in humanity’s practices to protect the earth from the ravages of global warming. While there have been some heartening developments in solar, wind, and other renewable forms of energy, we mustn’t forget that there’s a type of green energy that has already shown its value: nuclear. Unlike many other types of clean electricity production, nuclear plants are a proven and reliable technology that doesn’t need further development to become practical. It’s already widely acknowledged that the burning of coal and oil along with other types of fossil fuels is unsustainable in the long term, especially when such burning spreads massive amounts of nitrogen and sulfur oxides as well as heavy metals into the atmosphere – Dominion Power has even reported the burning of coal to have contributed over 75% of the total carbon dioxide emissions produced yearly. And besides the severe environmental consequences, there’s the issue of limited supplies. By contrast, nuclear energy generation emits hardly any greenhouse gases, and there’s estimated to be about a 250-year supply of fissionable materials worldwide even without considering improvements in efficiency and power plant design. Some feel that nevertheless, other types of clean energy are preferable to nuclear. But the reality is that renewable sources of energy, excluding nuclear, are expected to produce only 20 percent of the electricity generated in the Unites States by 2030 while nuclear currently supplies 19 percent. The other 61 percent would have to logically come from polluting forms of power generation unless nuclear’s share ramps up significantly. The exact numbers vary around the world, as some countries have more highly developed renewable infrastructures than others, but there’s a role for nuclear to displace coal, oil and natural gas in most energy markets. Despite the viability and benefits of nuclear power, it doesn’t have the same visibility in the public eye as solar power and other exciting, new forms of electricity generation. This is true partially because nuclear, once a thrilling, space-age technology, has become old hat, and it’s partly to do with the public hesitation in light of the Fukushima incident and other nuclear disasters. There are efforts to reawaken interest in nuclear power among the public with Nuclear Science Week, which began in 2010 and is running this year from October 19 – 23rd. It features local events around the United States and other countries, and participants include nuclear power workers, defense personnel, teachers and others involved in the nuclear industry. Likewise in the UK, the business-focused Nuclear Energy Business Opportunities Conference was recently held October 13 and 14th. About a month later, the signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will be meeting in Paris from Nov. 30 – Dec. 11 for the COP21 meeting. They will debate and make decisions regarding efforts to combat climate change on an international level. Nuclear offers several benefits that opponents of the resource usually ignore. Though there’s the potential for high-profile accidents with nuclear power, such as at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, when we consider the total destruction and harm caused by nuclear overall, it pales in comparison to the estimated 1 million deaths caused annually by pollution from burning coal. Nuclear energy is very reliable, with electricity available at any time of day or night, in contrast to wind and solar, which are dependent on weather conditions. Nuclear generates only tiny quantities of waste material, which can be easily monitored and managed. Even this small amount of leftover radioactive material could be employed in the future as inputs for advanced reactors, making nuclear fully renewable even under the most stringent definitions of the word. Nuclear Science Week and related public events could focus the media spotlight on nuclear power, convincing the representatives at COP21 to incorporate it into their planning and goals. With climate change, we’re dealing with a force that could devastate the world as we know it, so it’s important that all feasible clean energy options, including nuclear, remain on the table as long as they can help combat the problem. While solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal and other renewables undoubtedly are key to a sustainable energy future, they can’t do it by themselves. It’s true that most of the issues with these technologies will probably be solved within a hundred years, but we can’t let global warming continue unchecked until that time. Nuclear has a vital place within the energy production mix unless and until alternative means of power generation become cost-efficient, dependable and widely deployed.