Climate change definitely strengthens the case for nuclear power, but it is very hard to determine just how strong that case really is, particularly on economic grounds. Climate change does nothing to lessen the risks associated with accidents or nuclear proliferation, but it does represent some of the most significant risks associated with fossil fuel based forms of electricity generation.
Some of the major barriers to the deployment of new nuclear power plants are cost and long lead-in times. Construction can easily take a decade or more. One means by which both of those issues could potentially be addressed is through the use of small modular nuclear reactors. This is an approach being experimented with by a number of groups, including Russia’s state nuclear energy company (which is building a floating, towable nuclear power station) and firms like TerraPower, which has been enthusiastically endorsed by Bill Gates.
One of the most interesting possible uses for small nuclear reactors is as ‘drop-in’ replacements for the coal-burning parts of old power plants. Potentially, the heat source in a power plant could be switched from the combustion of coal to the fission of uranium, keeping most of the rest of the plant’s infrastructure in place. In particular, such converted plants could make use of existing transmission capacity.
I can’t say whether small nuclear reactors really are a more economical or appealing option overall, but it seems like a technology to watch as the world struggles to find ways to achieve carbon neutrality.