Is nuclear power the best way to get energy while putting less carbon into the atmosphere?

No, but perhaps not for the reason you think. There are probably lower-priced alternatives that will replace more coal. The excellent David Roberts at Gristmill picks up on Mark Clayton’s Christian Science Monitor story:

“The question is not whether nuclear power is ‘acceptable’ or ‘good’ by some subjective standard — economic, moral, or otherwise. It’s not even whether investments in nuclear power could lead to emission reductions. The question is: what is the maximum amount of climate change mitigation we can get for a given dollar of investment? Nuclear fails that test.”

OK, I don’t know if it fails the test or not. According to one study quoted by CSM, “Just improving a nation’s energy efficiency would produce far less CO2 than a new nuclear plant (5 grams vs. 32 grams per kilowatt-hour), the study found. And it would do so at lower cost (4.8 cents vs. 5.2 cents per kilowatt-hour).”

One study isn’t the whole story. But this is surely the standard by which we should judge nukes, and ethanol, and conservation, and sequestration, and solar/wind power.