“Climate change, nuclear power, and the adaptation–mitigation dilemma”
Natalie Kopytko a JohnPerkins b
a The University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, UK
b The Evergreen State College, 1806 24th Avenue NW, Olympia, WA 98502, USA
Received 15 April 2010, Accepted 29 September 2010, Available online 30 October 2010.
Many policy-makers view nuclear power as a mitigation for climate change. Efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, however, interact with existing and new nuclear power plants, and these installations must contend with dilemmas between adaptation and mitigation. This paper develops five criteria to assess the adaptation–mitigation dilemma on two major points: (1) the ability of nuclear power to adapt to climate change and (2) the potential for nuclear power operation to hinder climate change adaptation. Sea level rise models for nine coastal sites in the United States, a review of US Nuclear Regulatory Commission documents, and reports from France’s nuclear regulatory agency provided insights into issues that have arisen from sea level rise, shoreline erosion, coastal storms, floods, and heat waves. Applying the criteria to inland and coastal nuclear power plants reveals several weaknesses. Safety stands out as the primary concern at coastal locations, while inland locations encounter greater problems with interrupted operation. Adapting nuclear power to climate change entails either increased expenses for construction and operation or incurs significant costs to the environment and public health and welfare. Mere absence of greenhouse gas emissions is not sufficient to assess nuclear power as a mitigation for climate change.
►The adaptation-mitigation criteria reveal nuclear power’s vulnerabilities. ►Climate change adaptation could become too costly at many sites. ►Nuclear power operation jeopardizes climate change adaptation. ►Extreme climate events pose a safety challenge.
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