I am a retired professional engineer. Most of my experience is in the power industry, but none of it is in nuclear power.
Dr. Romm recommends subsidizing existing nuclear plants as long as they are safe, but building no more. Those who want to keep building them claim that they do not generate greenhouse gases. Dr. Romm seems to agree, although he does not believe that this is enough to justify building more plants.
But that claim is false. The studies by Smith and van Leeuwen and others are just a part of the proof. They deal with the normal life of a nuclear plant from start to finish, including decommissioning, taking into account every use of every resource. They show that in the normal course of events a nuclear power plant generates a lot of greenhouse gas over its lifetime.
But so far as I know, none of these studies calculate the amount of greenhouse gas generated by nuclear accidents. One accident is too many, and we have already suffered many more than that. They are inevitable.
After a nuclear accident, we lose the use of a large area of surrounding land for centuries. The infrastructure and other assets in that area, such as automobiles and trains and ships, are lost forever. All of it must be replaced elsewhere, for use by the people who were driven out and to restore services needed by many others. How many irreplaceable resources did we use to produce them, both the original and the new, and how much greenhouse gas did that generate?
Dealing with an accident at the plant itself requires further huge expenditures of money and natural resources, especially fossil fuels, with no end in sight. Nuclear power thus continues to produce greenhouse gases without limit and without benefit, only cost. Even then the response may not be enough to contain the poison.
In addition to accidents caused by human error, a natural disaster could cause the electrical grid to fail for several days and possibly several years. A solar storm in 1859 set telegraph wires on fire. A storm of that magnitude today would be an apocalypse on many levels. Considering just one, which would be enough to finish us, nuclear plants would lose the ability to cool their cores, and the cores would melt.
Worse than that, the plants would lose the ability to cool the spent fuel that is stored on site. It is more dangerous than melted fuel in the reactor, and it would be released to the environment.
A widespread loss of grid connection for more than a few days would destroy not just our civilization, but most of the life on this planet. Even if it happens at only one nuclear plant now and then it would be — and has been — an intolerable catastrophe and a massive generator of greenhouse gases.
A complete accounting of the effects of nuclear power must include accidents. It would show that nuclear power is by far the greatest generator of greenhouse gases and the most dangerous and deadly technology in existence. There is no justification whatsoever for civilian nuclear power, and those who promote it are insane.