Opinion

The Great Debate

The nuclear option for emerging markets

Last year, greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high of 39 billion tons. Emissions actually dropped in the United States and Europe, but substantial increases in China and India more than erased this bit of good news.

That is all the more reason to focus on innovative solutions that slow the growth in emissions from emerging markets.

The U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal is one such solution.

The key principles of this agreement were signed by President George W. Bush and Prime Minster Manmohan Singh eight years ago this week. The deal brought India’s civilian nuclear program under the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection regime. In return, Washington removed sanctions and permitted India to build nuclear power plants with foreign help. Most of the discussion leading up to the deal has focused on its potential effect on non-proliferation treaties and on the partnership between the U.S. and India.

The deal’s most lasting effect, however, may well be its role in reducing the growth in greenhouse gas emissions, while giving India the electricity it desperately needs.

India is growing rapidly. In recent years its economy has expanded by 6 percent to 7 percent per year. This growth is exacerbating a voracious appetite for electricity that India’s bankrupt utilities are unable to satisfy. India’s electricity generation still relies almost 60 percent on coal. Blackouts are common.

Is nuclear power the answer on climate change?

James Hansen’s latest press conference was positively scary.

NASA’s former chief climate scientist (he recently left government to pursue a more activist role) met with environmental journalists last month at Columbia University to release a new study with the ominous title, “Assessing Dangerous Climate Change: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature.”

Hansen and his co-authors contend that the agreed-to goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Farenheit) above pre-Industrial levels prescribed in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is still too high to prevent “long-lasting, irreversible damage” to our planet — including raising sea levels, submerging coastal cities and turning vast tracts of the earth into virtual furnaces.

Hansen departs from environmental orthodoxy, however, in arguing that there is no way to cut greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently by relying solely on green alternatives like solar and wind power.

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