A group of the world's leading climate change experts have called for environmentalists to radically change their attitudes toward nuclear energy, saying it is the best means for humanity to avert catastrophic warming of the planet.

Four scientists who played a seminal role in bringing the issue of global warming to public attention sent letters to key environmental groups and politicians around the world over the weekend, urging them to reconsider the the use of nuclear power as a means of combating climate change.

Climate change  - James Hansen

James Hansen

The signatories to the letter are James Hansen, formerly a leading scientist with NASA; Ken Caldeira from the Carnegie Institution; Kerry Emanuel from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tom Wigley from the University of Adelaide in South Australia.

The signatories are among the leading veterans in the field of climate change research. Hansen and Wigley have both conducted research into climate change for over three decades, while Hansen, who is currently at Columbia University, played a key role in making the issue of global warming a part of mainstream discourse with testimony he delivered before the US Congress in 1988.

The joint letter points out that opposition to nuclear power among environmentalists is no longer a tenable stance if they wish to address the far more urgent issue of global climate change.

While many environmentalists have pinned their hopes on the development of renewable energy as a means of replacing the fossil fuels which are a key source of climate change, the letter’s authors point out that wind and solar will be unable to pick up the slack within a reasonable time frame.

According to the letter’s authors, “those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough” to be an economical or practical alternative to fossil fuels.

“With the planet warming and carbon dioxide emissions rising faster than ever, we cannot afford to turn away from any technology,” said the authors, who believe new forms of nuclear provide a safe expedient which will sate our energy needs while ameliorating the issue of global warming.

“The time has come for those who take the threat of global warming seriously to embrace the development and deployment of safe nuclear power systems,” said the letter.

This is not the first time this year that leading figures in the scientific community have come out in support of nuclear power. At the start of the year, three of the UK’s most senior scientific advisers to the government issued a report advocating the construction of next generation nuclear reactors in Britain, in order to enable the country to transition away from fossil fuels.

The report, whose authors included Sir John Beddington, the government’s chief scientific adviser; David MacKay, the chief scientific adviser to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), and John Perkins, scientific adviser to the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, pointed to the next generation of “fast” reactors as a safe source of nuclear energy, given their ability to render radioactive waste innocuous by consuming it as fuel.