There was a time when diesel-powered vehicles were pretty much the dirtiest, noisiest automotive conveyance on the roads. Technology improved and great strides were made in diesel engine performance. Today's 'clean diesels' are actually considered green. We don't think of diesels today the way we thought of them in the past.
When it comes to nuclear power, there have also been enormous technological advances, yet we still think of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island or Fukushima - first or second generation powerplants, when we think of nuclear energy.
Today's state of the art nuclear technology comes to us in generation four and five reactors. One good part is that we've already got oodles of fuel for these reactors in the 'spent' fuel rods from our antiquated reactors that only manage to 'burn' a small fraction of the fuel in those rods. That's why we have to go to extreme efforts to keep those 'nearly new' fuel rods stored safely for thousands of years. New reactor technologies can get most of the energy out of those not-nearly spent fuel rods.
One guy who knows that we need these new nuclear plants now is American James Hansen who resigned as director of NASA's Goddard Space Laboratory to devote his time to the fight against global warming.
James Hansen and three other PhD-wielding climate scientists published an open letter Sunday calling on the world to ramp up the development and deployment of “safer nuclear energy systems” to help slow climate change. Nuclear power is a notoriously prickly subject for environmentalists: It promises bountiful zero-carbon power in an era of profligate fossil-fuel burning, currently meeting 20 percent of the nation’s electricity needs. But it produces copious amounts of radioactive waste, and it threatens communities living nearby (you may recall Fukushima in Japan, Chernobyl in the former USSR, and Middletown, Pa., near the Three Mile Island nuclear reactors).
In the letter, which is addressed to “those influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear power,” the quartet argue that renewables “like wind and solar and biomass will certainly play roles in a future energy economy,” but that such renewables “cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires.” Hansen is one of the world’s leading climate experts, renowned for warning Congress about global warming in 1988 when he worked at NASA.
Hansen et al wrote:
We understand that today’s nuclear plants are far from perfect. Fortunately, passive safety systems and other advances can make new plants much safer. And modern nuclear technology can reduce proliferation risks and solve the waste disposal problem by burning current waste and using fuel more efficiently. Innovation and economies of scale can make new power plants even cheaper than existing plants. Regardless of these advantages, nuclear needs to be encouraged based on its societal benefits. … With the planet warming and carbon dioxide emissions rising faster than ever, we cannot afford to turn away from any technology that has the potential to displace a large fraction of our carbon emissions. Much has changed since the 1970s. The time has come for a fresh approach to nuclear power in the 21st century.