Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation

Barry Brook, Corey Bradshaw

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    45 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Modern society uses massive amounts of energy. Usage rises as population and affluence increase, and energy production and use often have an impact on biodiversity or natural areas. To avoid a business-as-usual dependence on coal, oil, and gas over the coming decades, society must map out a future energy mix that incorporates alternative sources. This exercise can lead to radically different opinions on what a sustainable energy portfolio might entail, so an objective assessment of the relative costs and benefits of different energy sources is required. We evaluated the land use, emissions, climate, and cost implications of 3 published but divergent storylines for future energy production, none of which was optimal for all environmental and economic indicators. Using multicriteria decision-making analysis, we ranked 7 major electricity-generation sources (coal, gas, nuclear, biomass, hydro, wind, and solar) based on costs and benefits and tested the sensitivity of the rankings to biases stemming from contrasting philosophical ideals. Irrespective of weightings, nuclear and wind energy had the highest benefit-to-cost ratio. Although the environmental movement has historically rejected the nuclear energy option, new-generation reactor technologies that fully recycle waste and incorporate passive safety systems might resolve their concerns and ought to be more widely understood. Because there is no perfect energy source however, conservation professionals ultimately need to take an evidence-based approach to consider carefully the integrated effects of energy mixes on biodiversity conservation. Trade-offs and compromises are inevitable and require advocating energy mixes that minimize net environmental damage. Society cannot afford to risk wholesale failure to address energy-related biodiversity impacts because of preconceived notions and ideals.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)702-712
    Number of pages11
    JournalConservation Biology
    Volume29
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015

    Keywords

    • Climate change
    • Fossil fuels
    • Greenhouse gases
    • Land use
    • Pollution
    • Sustainable energy

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