Nuclear power could curb climate change but it would have to expand worldwide at the rate it grew from 1981 to 1990, its busiest decade, and keep up that rate for half a century, a report compiled by environmentalists, academics and nuclear industry proponents said on Thursday.
Specifically, that would require adding on average 14 plants each year for the next 50 years, all the while building an average of 7.4 plants to replace those that will be retired, the report said.
Currently, the United States, the world's top nuclear power producer, has 104 plants that generate 20 percent of the country's electricity.
Nuclear power, which has near-zero emissions of carbon dioxide, has recently come back into fashion as an alternative to generating electricity from coal and other carbon-based sources that contribute to global warming.
While the report also supported storing U.S. nuclear waste at power plants until the long-stalled Yucca Mountain repository opens, 10 dumps the size of Yucca Mountain would be needed to store the extra generated waste by the needed nuclear generation boom.
That outlook was too optimistic in light of how many new nuclear plants are currently on the drawing board, the report said.
The needed rate of expansion would be faster than during the industry's first 40 years and than the Energy Information Administration's forecast for the next 30 years in the United States.
Some individuals differed, though, on how much the industry will expand, and said it could still make some type of impact.
Twenty-seven individuals from organizations spanning a broad ideological spectrum, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Nuclear Energy Institute, spent nine months on the report, called "The Nuclear Power Joint Fact-Finding."
The group, which was brought together by the nonprofit Keystone Center, said that as companies limit generating electricity from coal and other fossil fuels, there will be more financial incentives to build nuclear power plants.
The Keystone panelists also said that President George Bush's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership could help countries and groups interested in building nuclear weapons obtain plutonium, the key ingredient in those munitions, which could help spread nuclear weapons.
While the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit organization of scientists focused on the environment and security, had trouble with most of the report, it agreed with assertions on GNEP.
"By promoting the commercial production and use of plutonium, the Bush administration is facilitating the spread of nuclear bomb materials around the world," said Edwin Lymann, a scientist working on security issues for the group.
The full report is online at www.keystone.org/spp/energy07_nuclear.html