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The Inconvenient Truth About Green Activists' Crusade Against Nuclear

Climate activists who have successfully vilified nuclear energy, leading to plant closures around the developed world, may be surprised to learn that their efforts have actually increased greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report from The Breakthrough Institute, an environmental research center.

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“Premature shutdowns of nuclear power plants in developed countries, for instance, have caused additional annual carbon emissions that now total 138.1 million metric tons (Mt) of CO2 equivalents a year,” the report states. “This yearly carbon footprint is nearly equal to the combined annual emissions from 37 African countries, with a total population of 455 million people.”

The paper explains that phasing out clean energy sources like nuclear increases carbon emissions because there has to be a replacement energy source, and more often than not, it is fossil fuels. The effect on carbon emissions over the last decade from such moves has been significant. 

In total, since 2012, the carbon costs of nuclear phaseout policies in developed countries add up to about 800 million tons of CO2. To place that number into context, that’s enough CO2 emissions to melt 2400 km2 of Arctic summer sea ice, plus or minus another 240 km2. It equates to a full two years of nationwide fossil CO2 emissions from a medium-sized country like Turkey, Australia, or the United Kingdom, or more than 0.1 parts per million of the 416 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere.

These totally unnecessary carbon emissions will continue to grow over the coming decades, with one academic paper estimating that added global emissions from Germany’s nuclear phaseout alone will total 1100 Mt of CO2 by 2035. With each additional year, the consequences of reactor shutdown decisions made years ago continue to accumulate around the world. (The Breakthrough Institute)

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As nuclear proponent Michael Shellenberger has explained, the true reason climate activists oppose nuclear energy is because it means renewables are unnecessary. 

"The problem with nuclear is that it doesn’t demand the radical re-making of society, like renewables do, and it doesn’t require grand fantasies of humankind harmonizing with nature," he wrote in Forbes. 

"Nor does nuclear provide cover for funnelling billions to progressive interest groups in the name of 'community-controlled renewable energy, local organic agriculture, or transit systems,'" he continued. 

"All nuclear does is grow societal wealth, increase wages, and decouple the economy from pollution and environmental destruction," Shellenberger added. "No wonder they hate it so much."

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