Even as the U.S. shale boom has sent oil and gas production skyrocketing, interest in alternative energy has increased. Yet nuclear power is still largely shunned by environmentalists, who see the fuel source as too costly and inherently dangerous.
That, however, may be changing. Last week, more than 200 United Nations researchers threw their weight behind atomic energy, calling for a tripling of output within the coming years as a means to combat carbon emissions. The move comes against the backdrop of nuclear innovations that seek to address safety and cost issues that have hampered the sector.
Currently, support for nuclear power among most environmentalists is tentative at best. But at least a few voices within the movement insist that soaring global demand for energy makes it imperative for climate change advocates to fully embrace atomic power.
"Environmentalists have to learn to live with nuclear energy," said Josh Freed, vice president for energy at Third Way, a multi-issue centrist think tank in Washington. "The globe is going to be an increasingly high-energy planet ... and [emerging markets] are going to demand the same baseload energy that industrialized countries are used to."
The chief environmental argument among nuclear power's backers is that its carbon emissions are the lowest among major power sources. Carbon emissions are among the chief cause of global climate change, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and a broad consensus of climate scientists.
That, however, hasn't dented opposition from many conservationists. While not completely opposed to atomic energy, they point out that it has its own environmental perils. Some argue against its economic viability as well.
"It's not that we're anti-nuclear, but that nuclear is not the best way to advance carbon control given its economic situation," Thomas Cochran, former director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's nuclear program, said in an interview.