Generating Failure: How Building Nuclear Power Plants Would Set America Back in the Race Against Global Warming

Environment America’s new report released today, Generating Failure: How Building Nuclear Power Plants Would Set America Back in the Race Against Global Warming, analyzes the role, under a best-case scenario, that nuclear power could play in reducing global warming pollution.

Environment America Research & Policy Center

Executive Summary

Some key findings of the report include:

  • To avoid the most catastrophic impacts of global warming, America must cut power plant emissions roughly in half over the next 10 years. No new reactors are now under construction in the United States, and building a single reactor could take a decade or longer. As a result, it is quite possible that nuclear power could deliver no progress in the critical next decade, despite spending billions on reactor construction. 
  • Even if the nuclear industry somehow managed to build 100 new nuclear reactors by 2030, nuclear power could reduce total U.S. emissions of global warming pollution over the next 20 years by only 12 percent.   As a result, America would burn through its 40-year electric sector carbon budget – the limit on carbon emissions determined by scientists to be necessary to stave off the worst impacts of climate change – in just 15 years. 
  • In contrast, energy efficiency and renewable energy can immediately reduce global warming pollution. Energy efficiency programs are already cutting electricity consumption by 1-2 percent annually in leading states, and the U.S. wind industry is already building the equivalent of three nuclear reactors per year in wind farms. America has vast potential to do more. 
  • Building 100 new reactors would require an up-front investment on the order of $600 billion dollars – money which could cut at least twice as much carbon pollution by 2030 if invested in clean energy. Taking into account the ongoing costs of running the nuclear plants, clean energy could deliver as much as 5 times more pollution-cutting progress per dollar overall.
  • Nuclear power is not necessary to provide clean, carbon-free electricity for the long haul. The need for base-load power is exaggerated and small-scale clean energy solutions can actually enhance the reliability of the electric grid.
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