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Grandfather of global warming fight: Nuclear power saves millions of lives

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Climate campaigner and nuclear advocate James Hansen has been arrested several times at fossil fuel protests. Here a policeman readies him for jail at an Aug. 2011 anti-Keystone Pipeline rally outside the White House.

Nuclear power has prevented about 1.8 million air pollution related deaths and could save up to another 7 million lives by 2050, a long time campaigner against man made climate change says.

James Hansen, known by some as the "grandfather" or "godfather" of the global warming fight, also says that nuclear has prevented 64 gigatonnes (that's a lot) of greenhouse gas emissions, and has the potential to spare another 240 gigatonnes by mid-century.

Hansen retired this week as the head of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) to spend more time on his climate change fight, including promoting nuclear power as a source of clean energy that does not pollute or emit greenhouse gases (GHG), as fossil fuels do. His analysis of lives and emissions appears in an article he co-wrote for Environmental Science & Technology.

In case any of you have just returned from a long stay in another universe, GHGs such as CO2 contribute to global warming. Nuclear power, like many renewables, does not release GHG in the electricity generation process, while fossil fuels like coal and natural gas do.

On a life cycle comparison of materials, construction, operation and retirement, nuclear emits less CO2 than many renewables, including photovoltaics.

As I reported last year, Hansen joined with entrepreneur Richard Branson and the then head of the American Nuclear Society in writing a letter to President Obama urging the deployment of a type of nuclear reactor called an integral fast reactor that can burn nuclear waste as fuel. A film supporting fast reactors debuted at January's Sundance Film Festival.

NASA's New York City-based GISS specializes in climate studies. Hansen, a Columbia University adjunct professor, had run it since 1981. He has been campaigning against fossil fuels for decades. His protests have landed him in jail several times.

Photo from Tarsandsaction via Wikimedia.

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— By on April 4, 2013, 8:41 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure