Oct 26, 2018

Scientists and experts allege anti-nuclear bias in UN climate report

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A group of roughly three dozen scientists and other energy experts are claiming a seminal United Nations report on climate change is biased against nuclear power.

Why it matters: A global entity like the UN climate panel can have a big impact on the acceptance of nuclear power, as calls to address climate change intensify and the challenges facing the nuclear industry grow around the world.

The big picture: Nuclear power, which provides 30% of the world's zero-carbon electricity, is facing international skepticism over past accidents and public fear about its radioactive waste.

  • In the U.S., numerous plants are poised to shut down earlier than their licenses allow — and some already have — due primarily to market and policy hurdles.
  • Natural gas has largely made up the difference after these plants have shut down, so greenhouse gas emissions ticked up in some parts of the U.S.

The details: A letter being sent to leaders of G-20 nations claims the recent report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change includes “misinformation about nuclear energy, contrasts nuclear negatively to renewables, and in some cases suggests an equivalency with fossil fuels.”

  • “While IPCC authors note that public fears of nuclear are an obstacle to its diffusion, in several instances they reinforce unfounded fears," the letter states.

The signatories include:

  • Tom Wigley, a climate scientist at the University of Adelaide in Australia
  • Kerry Emanuel, atmospheric science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • David Lea, professor of earth science at the University of California

What they're saying: Emanuel told Axios the IPCC’s latest report contains a number of factual errors and displays a bias against nuclear power that many environmental groups struggle with.

“The IPCC says, correctly, that even 1.5 degrees of warming is dangerous, especially for the developing world. We agree with that, on the other hand it throws cold water on what empirically is the fastest way to mitigate emissions we know about today."
— Kerry Emanuel

He cited a statement in Chapter 5 of the report that says replacing fossil fuel power plants with nuclear energy has mixed effects for human health — despite the millions of premature deaths that occur worldwide from coal-fired electricity, for example.

Jonathan Lynn, an IPCC spokesman, rejected the accusation that the panel has it in for nuclear power, telling Axios: “We completely reject the idea we are biased about nuclear power or anything else.”

  • Jim Skea, a climate researcher who worked on the IPCC study, said “most” low-carbon scenarios the organization laid out assume the share of nuclear power will increase worldwide.

Between the lines: Opposition to nuclear power from environmentalists, policy leaders and the general public likely hampers nuclear power’s growth, but it’s hard to really know how much would change if the opposition lessened or dissolved altogether.

This energy resource faces a lot of challenges independent of its criticism, including high upfront capital costs competing with increasingly cheap wind and solar energy, along with natural gas.

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World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Brazil on Monday recorded for the first time more deaths from the novel coronavirus in a single day than the United States, Reuters notes. Brazil reported 807 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, compared to 620 in the U.S. for the same period.

By the numbers: Almost 5.5 million people have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, and more than 2.2 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 14.6 million tests). The U.K. is reporting over 36,900 deaths from the coronavirus — the most fatalities outside the U.S.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 5,490,954 — Total deaths: 345,962 — Total recoveries — 2,228,915Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 1,662,250 — Total deaths: 98,218 — Total recoveries: 379,157 — Total tested: 14,604,942Map.
  3. World: Italy reports lowest number of new cases since February — Ireland reports no new coronavirus deaths on Monday for the first time since March 21 — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: New York stock exchange to reopen its floor on Tuesday — White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 42 mins ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: Authorities issue warning as Americans venture out for Memorial Day weekend

Ocean City in New Jersey on May 25. Photo: Donald Kravitz/Getty Images

Authorities urged Americans to maintain social distancing and wear masks to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus amid reports of packed beaches and bars during the Memorial Day weekend.

Details: Law enforcement stepped up beach patrols, and there were crowded scenes in several places, notably at Lake of the Ozarks bars in Missouri and at Daytona Beach and on the Gulf Coast in Florida, per AP. Police dispersed crowds in some places, ABC notes. But many Americans did take precautions against COVID-19 as they ventured outside for the long weekend, some three months after the pandemic began in the U.S.