MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

Renewable Energy, Nuclear Power and Climate Change

Among the responses to the growing consensus that climate change is an enormous problem that must be seriously addressed, the nuclear industry and some politicians are saying that nuclear power is a major part of the solution internationally and in the United States. They claim that nuclear powerplants have few or no carbon and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute mightily to climate change. They even say that nuclear power is becoming affordable. In sum, as New Mexico’s Senator Pete Domenici says: “In the twenty-first century, nuclear power will be a major contributor to global peace and a better quality of life for both the developed and developing world.”

For those few who have been involved in energy policy discussions for decades, the resurgence of such arguments is incredible, since similar claims made 50 years ago proved to be totally inaccurate. Nuclear power is not “too cheap to meter,” and in fact, despite hundreds of billions of dollars in government subsidies and in ratepayer charges, nuclear power greatly trails other fuels as a source of electricity and is useless in providing for the world’s other major energy needs, including transportation.

At Southwest Research and Information Center, much of our work over the past 35 years has been to address the enormous legacy of nuclear’s past and present -- sick and dead people and contaminated land and water from uranium mining and milling, the world’s first underground nuclear waste repository, and the political and economic power of the two nuclear weapons laboratories and their environmental impacts.

Nationally and in New Mexico, we are at another significant crossroads in the paths to our energy future. In passing the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress supported President Bush’s plan to give major incentives to building new nuclear powerplants in this country by providing direct subsidies, tax credits, payments for any delays in construction, and additional millions of dollars for research and development, among other provisions. In contrast, in New Mexico and many other states, government is supporting renewable energy, which is being used in rapidly increasing amounts by many citizens as the new path to the future, rather than nuclear power.

In this issue, we explore part of the international discussion about nuclear power and climate change. We also discuss what’s going on in New Mexico with renewable energy, work that offers a better response to meeting people’s energy needs and also is better environmentally and more affordable than nuclear power -- or coal, oil, and natural gas that also play major roles in New Mexico.

Thirty years ago, nuclear physicist Amory Lovins sparked national and international discussion and action regarding energy alternatives with Soft Energy Paths: Toward a Durable Peace. We are pleased to reprint the summary of a very recent important analysis by Amory Lovins regarding why nuclear power remains unaffordable and why alternatives are actually being used now and are faster growing energy sources than nuclear power.

Dr. Thomas Cochran of the Natural Resources Defense Council contributes a major environmental organization’s views on the present reality and future of nuclear power in the U.S. and alternative policies, especially in the West, that would provide a better energy future.

Two other articles by Charles Bensinger and Ben Luce discuss existing and proposed renewable energy programs in New Mexico that are providing transportation and electricity alternatives.

We encourage our readers to not only understand the international, national, and local debates, but to become involved in helping shape the energy future and which paths are taken.

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“In a market economy, private investors are the ultimate arbiter of what energy technologies can compete and yield reliable profits, so to understand nuclear power's prospects, just follow the money. Private investors have flatly rejected nuclear power but enthusiastically bought its main supply-side competitors decentralized cogeneration and renewables. Worldwide, by the end of 2004, these supposedly inadeqaute alternatives had more installed capacity than nuclear, produced 92 percent as much electricity, and were growing 5.9 times faster and accelerating, while nuclear was fading.”
—Amory B. Lovins "Competitors To Nuclear: Eat My Dust"
RMI Solutions, Fall 2005

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The nuclear waste dump is permitted to operate until 2024, but the federal government want to expand the amount and types of waste allowed with NO end date.
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