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      Democracy Project Petition: Letter to Dr. Jefferey Sachs

      September 3, 2014

      Dr. Jeffrey Sachs

      UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network

      314 Low Library, 535 W. 116

      New York City 10027


      Petition: More nuclear power is not the answer to the climate crisis

      Thank you for the impressive scope of your preparatory research and recommendations for the 2015 UN climate talks. However, we wish to submit our strong dissent from your assertion that the public must accept a major role for nuclear fission to reach the level of greenhouse gas reductions needed to avert catastrophe.

      We believe that expanding the role of nuclear power may threaten the planet as surely as the global warming you seek to mitigate.

      Countless Americans would have died of radiation exposure had the 9/11 hijackers chosen to fly their planes into the Indian Point 2 and 3 nuclear plants in the heart of New York's metropolitan area. Southern California could have been wiped out if the 2000 attempt to bomb LAX had successfully attacked the nuclear reactor at San Onofre instead. We are permanent hostages to terrorist targeting of nuclear reactors and nuclear waste sites.  

      Japan's Fukushima catastrophe further shows that nuclear power plants cannot be protected from inevitable natural disasters like tsunamis even in an advanced technological society. Global warming increases the frequency of flooding, typhoons and other disasters in the coastal regions where most nuclear plants are located.

      We have experienced no less than five critical meltdowns since 1970: Three Mile Island [1979], Chernobyl (1986), and three at Fukushima three years ago. That's an average of one every eight years.

      Since 1972 there have been eight armed attacks on nuclear plants around the world, including a threat from a hijacked plane 8,000 feet above the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, site, which was resolved only by concessions to the hijackers.

      With at least 435 reactors in over thirty countries, and more being planned, projections of a nuclear catastrophe cannot be dismissed. Ukraine, the current focus of an escalating conflict between nuclear-armed powers, obtains over 46 percent of its electricity from nuclear plants, hardly a comforting figure.

      Yet despite the unresolved issues of safety, storage and economic cost, a drumbeat for nuclear power continues, not simply from interest groups but from a small number of respected climate scientists whose advocacy has found its way into the pages of your report. On p. xviii, you recommend, "advanced nuclear power technology that sustains public confidence and support." On p. 17, you write of "fourth-generation nuclear power" as potentially solving safety and security issues. We note that you are measured, however, in stating that "breakthroughs in safety systems, reliability, fuel security, fuel recycling, and dependably low costs will likely be needed in order for nuclear energy to remain a significant part of the decarbonization pathways of major emitting economies."

      These blinking yellow lights should be turned into red ones, i.e. by drawing on the same research to conclude that nuclear power cannot be considered part of any climate solution unless all its safety and cost issues are resolved in a process that includes democratic public consent. [1]

      In their urgency, the pro-nuclear climate scientists underplay their own evidence that the time is too short to feasibly create enough nuclear plants in the time period they claim is critical. To simply fast track those plants around the world would increase the nuclear risk and further centralize decision-making in the hands of a narrow nuclear priesthood rather than the citizens whose fates are at stake.

      We oppose any exploitation of the climate crisis to further the agenda of nuclear power.

      Current nuclear plants, of course, are significant contributors to electricity generation in a number of countries. France, for example, the host of the 2015 summit, also is host to some 70 nuclear reactors. There are 107 plants in the United States. But the fact of their existence is not a license to multiply under the cover of "clean" energy. Any viable climate stabilization agreement must include scenarios for their decommissioning during the transition to a genuine clean energy future.

      Nuclear power is not the "fix" which its proponents proclaim. The US, Canada, Germany, Japan, the UK and India presently rely on nuclear power for no more than twenty percent of their electricity, levels which can be sharply lowered if status-quo thinking is replaced by the urgency of putting conservation and renewables first. Besides France, the bulk of nuclear power is in Sweden, Belgium and the former Eastern European countries. If a Marshall Plan helped European recovery after World War 2, surely a similar effort could save Europe from a likely nuclear meltdown in the years ahead. We note that nuclear power is a relatively minor issue - thus far - among the developing countries who most need rapid action against climate change. Brazil's nuclear program, for example, generates three percent of its electrical power, while South Africa's rate is five percent. But if the US and Europe insist on a nuclear path, the global South will have an incentive to follow.

      In conclusion, the important and unresolved debate about nuclear power should be continued parallel to the climate talks, not incorporated as if it is a necessary bargain with the devil of global warming.

      We urge you to develop further scenarios between 2015 and 2050 that stabilize the climate without delivering humanity to what has been described as a nuclear winter.


      Tom Hayden


      Reid Hall

      4 Rue De Chevreuse

      75006 Paris


      New Delhi

      N21, 2nd Floor

      Green Park extension

      New Delhi



      [1] We note that research on nuclear fusion energy is a legitimate policy goal, though not a short-term means of climate stabilization. 

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