"There is also a new, strange form of denial that has appeared on the landscape of late, one that says that renewable sources can’t meet our energy needs."
Um, no. The eco-nuke position is that nuclear power plus renewables are far more likely to cut into fossil fuel use than renewables alone. But currently, nuclear power plus renewables aren't even projected to halt the continuing growth in fossil fuels through 2030, at least, because the growth in nuclear and renewables are failing to keep up with the growth in demand--particularly in regions which have historically had energy poverty.
"four climate scientists held an off-site session insisting that the only way we can solve the coupled climate/energy problem is with a massive and immediate expansion of nuclear power."
Their position was that the transition to clean power needed to include an expansion of nuclear power. They were not proposing nuclear power as the only solution, excluding renewables.
"More than that, they are blaming environmentalists, suggesting that the opposition to nuclear power stands between all of us and a two-degree world."
Blaming anti-nukes is not blaming environmentalists. There are anti-nukes who are not environmentalists, and there are environmentalists who support the development and deployment of advanced nuclear power.
"Numerous high quality studies, including one recently published by Mark Jacobson of Stanford University, show that ...We can transition to a decarbonized economy without expanded nuclear power, by focusing on wind, water and solar,"
The Jacobson proposal is physically possible, yes. Is it socially, economically, and politically likely? Hardly.
"In fact, our best studies show that we can do it faster, and more cheaply."
Only if it is compared to the most expensive forms of legacy nuclear. But that's not what nuclear advocates are calling for.
"The reason is simple: experience shows that nuclear power is slow to build,"
1) This only matters if nuclear plants can only be built sequentially (they can be built in parallel) and if building a reactor somehow prevents building some faster alternative. This argument would apply with at least as much force to hydroelectric dams, and I don't hear Oreskes saying we should do without them. 2) It isn't slow to build everywhere. In China, nuclear generation is being built about 30% faster than wind when compared on the basis of actual generation and equalized on investment per year. 3) If we were to develop forms of nuclear which can be deployed faster, this argument would cease to apply.
"expensive to run"
The dominant cost problem with current nuclear is the capital cost. Otherwise, operational expense would be competitive against the cheapest fossil fuels. Even moreso with better forms of nuclear.
"and carries the spectre of catastrophic risk."
Hydropower has that too. But the nuclear and hydropower catastrophic risks combined are utterly dwarfed by the non-catastrophic kill rate from fossil fuels. And nuclear proponents are also advocating for safer forms of nuclear power.
"It requires technical expertise and organization that is lacking in many parts of the developing world"
As if building and operating a smart grid won't require technical expertise and organization. This is a rather patronizing objection, but dealing with it would be almost trivial compared to overcoming the problems with the Jacobson plan. People with technical expertise could be imported. Simpler reactors could be developed. Or indigenous people could receive education and technical training.
"As one of my scientific colleagues once put it, nuclear power is an extraordinarily elaborate and expensive way to boil water."
And Ivanpah was cheap and simple I suppose. And we know of ways to have nuclear power without boiling any water. As for expense, the world leader in producing cheap solar and wind power is China, and they are embarking on a massive nuclear development and build program. Why would they be doing that if renewables alone can do it all and do it cheaper?
"The only country in the world that has ever produced the lion’s share of its electricity from nuclear is France"
Versus zero industrialized countries who have made a similar transition to renewables-only.
"and they’ve done it in a fully nationalized industry"
Which I think was also smart.
"a model that is unlikely to be transferable to the US"
If the only global solutions were ones which could be implemented in the US, the situation would be utterly hopeless. Fortunately, the nationalized energy policy approach will be highly transferable to countries like China, India, and Russia. And low carbon power for China and India in particular would be a big help for the planet.
"particularly in our current political climate."
And given that political climate, how likely is it that the Jacobson proposal could be implemented in the US? This argument against nuclear power utterly flattens the proposed renewables-only alternative.
"Even in the US, where nuclear power is generated in the private sector, it has been hugely subsidized by the federal government,"
Which undercuts the argument that nuclear power would find no support in our current political climate.
"which invested billions in its development in order to prove that the destructive power unleashed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki could be put to good use."
Atomic energy is heat energy. Reactors make use of that heat energy. Atomic bombs use that heat energy for destructive power. Reactors don't use the destructive power of bombs any more than a Prius makes use of the destructive power of the firebombs which wrought even more destruction on Japan than the atomic bombs did. The fact that a form of energy can be used for destructive purposes does not mean that any alternative use would therefore be utilizing of the destructive potential of that energy
"The government... took on the task of waste disposal – a task it has yet to complete."
And anti-nuke obstructionists are largely responsible for that too. But another word for that "waste" is "fuel"--if we deploy reactors which can use it as such.
"There have been important signs of late of cracks in the Republican rejection of climate science"
I live in Texas, surrounded by climate change skeptics. But they have no problem at all with low-carbon sources of energy. We've got big wind farms, large and rapidly expanding solar farms, and we have nuclear power, and none of the people I've spoken to here would object to the expansion of any of those, nor to funding research to find better ways of doing low-carbon power. When it comes to saving the planet, I find it much easier to work with climate change denialists than green nuclear denialists.