Global Warming Mitigation

Tyler Thorne
February 19, 2015

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2015

Global Warming

Fig. 1: History of Global Nuclear Power Industry. [3] (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Global warming is a topic that surrounds itself with heated controversy across the world. Global warming is a term used to describe the evolving change of Earth's climate, causing a scare that the Earth's temperatures will increase and cause harmful effects in the future. This problematic issue surrounding climate change is one unlike any other problem the world has ever faced. The catalyst behind this scare is that energy consumption accounts for about 85% of global warming emissions. [1] Studies show that at least 50% of greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by 2050 if the average temperature in the world is to be limited by 2-3 degrees Celsius, to further avoid disastrous effects of global warming. [2] The problematic issues inherited from global warming have caused the world to rethink and transform how energy is generated in many realms. In 2005, studies showed that global warming emissions were broken up as followed: 33% electricity generation, 28% transportation, 24% fossil fuel combustion, 7% agriculture, and 5% industrial processes. [1] There is hope for improving global warming conditions, as nuclear energy is promising for that nuclear power plants don't produce any global warming emissions. Although it is only one of the myriad ways to address the issue, it is just as important as any. Scientists believe that the window to limit global warming is closing quickly, and that the only way to alleviate this issue is for industrialized nations, such as the United States, to reduce emissions effectively and quickly.

Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy is a form of energy used for generating electricity through nuclear fission. Expansion of nuclear energy could help avert global warming in the future. The United States leads the way in terms of nuclear energy, but is a promising source of electricity for the future of all nations. The world all shares this common issue of global warming. Global warming is a serious threat, but nuclear energy is an efficient remedy for limiting concerning increases in the Earth's climate. Nuclear energy is currently only 14% of global electricity production, and its expansion has remained stagnant in terms of growth in recent years despite rapid growth only decades ago. [2] Expanding nuclear power, which provides promising opportunities for the future, to 25% of global electricity could directly limit global warming due to the fact it emits close to zero carbon dioxide unlike other energy resources. [2] Nuclear energy is one of the largest non-fossil energy, and without nuclear power, OECD countries would emit around one third more carbon dioxide than they currently do. [2] Nuclear energy is critical for global warming mitigation, and the future is bright in this realm as long as concerns about the source are met accordingly.


Greenhouse gas emissions result from nuclear power, which further provides an indirect link to global warming. [1] There are two other links to global warming from nuclear power: cement manufacturing which produces carbon dioxide and iron production from steel which releases methane along with carbon dioxide. [1] So while the effects may not be as much as other fossil fuel emissions, they still contribute to global warming in their production of the plants themselves due to the concrete and iron used to build them. Other problems include the large amounts of radiation that a power plant accident could entail or the threat of nuclear weapons being made from obtaining materials from nuclear power plants. [1] Although there isn't a past history of problems in these specific realms, these plants are susceptible for further risks such as terrorist attack as they could be a hot spot for terrorists to exploit. Three things preventing nuclear energy from flourishing are social, political, and financial barriers. [2] An obvious other barrier to the expansion of nuclear plants is money. Congress limits the budget for the NCR to oversee these plants, limiting the funding necessary to ensure the safety and license for new plants. [1] These issues are concerning in their own rights, but they are problems that can be addressed and shouldn't outweigh the benefits that can arise from nuclear energy itself.

The Future

Nuclear energy expansion isn't a sprint, but is a marathon that will take years to successfully carry out. Today over 100 reactors are used to produce electricity, and if the number of reactors is doubled by 2050 then total emissions would be reduced by about 8%. [1] In order for nuclear power to truly flourish, technological advancements must be made. Furthermore without the government's support, both financially and strategically, nuclear energy will never truly be as impactful as it should. For example, the government would be necessary for monitoring safe management and disposal of nuclear waste, two major concerns of future expansion. [2] These problems aren't merely in the hands of the United States though. Future expansion heavily relies on developing countries that are depleted of nuclear programs due to the fact that these countries, such as China and India, have a greater capacity for nuclear expansion. [2] As nuclear power continues to increase, uranium sources must increase as well which could also be beneficial in the discovery of new sources of uranium, which is currently challenging as well. [2] Global warming mitigation is a concern for the future of our world. As the climate continues to progress, so must our progress to prevent it. Although nuclear energy is a controversial source in terms of its revolutionary emissions and scares for the future, an initiative to expand nuclear energy resources is a crucial step that needs to be dealt with in addressing problematic global warming issues.

© Tyle Thorne. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] L. Gronlung, D. Lochbaum, and E. Lyman, "Nuclear Power in a Warming World," Union of Concerned Scientists, December 2007.

[2] "Nuclear Energy and Addressing Climate Change," OECD, Nuclear Energy Agency, December 2009.

[3] "Nuclear Power Reactors in the World," International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA-RDS-2/26, May 2006.