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With climate challenges looming, this is no time to do away with nuclear energy

The exterior of a facility in Idaho Falls, Idaho, which has been restarted to test nuclear fuels.
The exterior of a facility in Idaho Falls, Idaho, which has been restarted to test nuclear fuels.Keith Riddler/File 2018/AP

In the Jan. 5 letter “Consider the real carbon impact of nuclear reactors, just for starters,” the director of the antinuclear group Pilgrim Watch argues that the negative aspects of nuclear energy should exclude it from consideration in the technological portfolio for mitigating climate change. Many of her points are the familiar green exaggerations, from over the past four decades, of the perils of mostly manageable nuclear energy features. During this period, the errors of these points have not been so harmful as to attract much rebuttal. However, those days are over, as we face the existential challenge of climate change that likely will demand nearly complete replacement of the existing energy infrastructure within this

The challenges and penalties of failure are so great that we are unlikely to be able to indulge the luxury of rejecting practical options that can be life-saving. The real question is whether even the maximum conceivable efforts can be sufficient. It is important to recognize that the future versions of nuclear energy technologies can be greatly improved over those that we have today. However, realizing this future and its benefits would require urgent, ambitious efforts. Our attention would be better devoted to organizing such efforts for providing effective mitigation choices than it would to continued argument for rejection of potential planet-saving options.


Michael Golay


The writer is a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT.