Skip to content

Baker Fellow, John Nolt, on Nuclear Power, Fossil Fuels, and Climate Change: The Long View

Dr. John Nolt, UT professor of Philosophy, Baker Fellow in Energy & Environment and long-time environmental advocate, has written a policy brief – Nuclear Power, Fossil Fuels, and Climate Change:  The Long View. This paper lays out his “long view” of the debate beginning with a statement by another philosophy professor, Dr. Paul B. Thompson.  Writing in the early 1980s, Thompson elegantly summarized the debate over nuclear power: proponents argue that it is both necessary and safe, opponents argue that it is neither, and each group rejects virtually every substantive premise of the other (1984: 57-8). Over three decades later, that summary remains largely accurate.

Nuclear power is necessary, say its proponents, because demand for electricity is increasing, especially in developing nations. Ian Hore-Lacy, writing for the nuclear industry, contends that One-third of the world’s population does not have access to electricity supply, and a further third does not enjoy reliable supply. There is a huge need to address these shortcomings and expectations” (2012: 8). Fossil fuels cannot meet this need, proponents say, because their reserves are dwindling, their cost is increasing, and they are the primary sources of climate change. Renewable energy sources, such as wind and sunlight, are available only intermittently—and, say nuclear proponents, they cannot be scaled up fast enough to meet the challenge of climate change. Energy efficiency is not a solution, since it decreases energy costs and hence encourages more consumption. It is, moreover, unrealistic to expect consumption to decrease (Hore-Lacy 2012: 9). There is thus, according to nuclear proponents, no prospect of meeting growing global demand, addressing climate change, and reducing world poverty without nuclear power. This argument is forceful. If foregoing nuclear power would indeed condemn large swaths of humanity to poverty, long-term climate change, or both, then necessity trumps safety, and proponents prevail on grounds of necessity alone.

The complete publication can be found here: PolicyBrief-3-15-Nolt

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.