Thursday, June 18, 2015

Don't Nuke the Climate??? Please be reasonable

This article is a direct response to the organizers of "Don't Nuke the Climate: COP21 Paris"

"Nuclear power is dirty, dangerous and expensive; not carbon-free; and encourages nuclear proliferation."

Please tell me who has used nuclear material from civilian nuclear power plants to create weapons? Also would you please do me the courtesy of looking at this article and then tell me please which energy source is dangerous. And finally may I state that every source of power has "dirty" processes tied to it? More on this later on, but let me state this : even renewable energy is dirty.

"Keep False Solutions out of the climate talks."

I would also urge people to look at substantive arguments, and quantifiable arguments. Let's acknowledge that not a single government is going to flick the switch, put the lights out. You're probably suggesting that Nuclear Energy is a "false solution", I'll state that renewable energy is a "false solution" as well. And I will substantiate this later on.

"A nuclear power station itself does not emit greenhouse gasses like CO2. Yet nuclear power contributes to climate change; with every step in the whole fuel chain, needed to in the end generate electricity, many energy is used."

You mean "much energy is used" and secondly the same applies for all energy sources, even renewables. Yes renewables don't emit any greenhouse gasses during operation, but the bunker fuelled cargo ships, the trains, trucks and heavy machinery do (emissions per fuel) . The mining equipment emits green house gasses, the purification processes emit green house gasses and the manufacturing processes are a source of greenhouse gasses. You're not off the hook here...

"For instance, the extraction of uranium and the enrichment of uranium are extreme energy-intensive processes." 

I can easily bounce this one back : The extraction of copper, iron ore, bauxite, silica and the purification thereof are extreme energy-intensive processes. You do know that the materials for renewables aren't magicked into being, right? And you do know that renewables have low-energy density which means that the amount of materials required to build this vast network of panels and wind turbines is colossal, vastly outstripping the required mining activities required to feed nuclear reactors. I'll substantiate later on.

"Life-cycle analysis of the whole fuel chain clearly shows the contribution of nuclear power to climate change."

Citation needed? I can say that fairies live in my house, as long as I don't open the door, you can't prove they aren't there.

"In a ground-breaking study Sovacool et al screened 103 lifecycle studies of greenhouse gas equivalent emissions for nuclear power plants to identify a subset of the most current, original, and transparent studies. They than calculate that while the range of emissions for nuclear energy over the lifetime of a plant reported from qualified studies examined is from 1.4 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kWh (gCO2e/kWh) to 288 gCO2e/kWh, the mean value is 66 gCO2e/kWh."

Sure I can cite a dozen less biased/more inclusive studies that do a comparative analysis rather than a single sided one.



What matters is that everything to the right of Natural Gas is significantly better in terms of Greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear is among the best. And you forget to mention that in the current context you need backup energy generation in a renewable context. Which most often means gas or coal. When generation capacity dwindles, something else has to pick up the slack or people are going to experience black- or brown-outs. Grid instability is a bitch... Now dispense with the "smart grid" argument, shall we? I'll quantify the issue later on.

"The Nuclear Monitor has written many times about this issue, we recommend the special issue of the Nuclear Monitor and the factsheet '10 reasons not to nuke the climate'"

Do you have any unbiased literature for me?

There's a million things we can do to address any of the points you've addressed. Now let's turn the table around, shall we?

Lets dissect this page : "The solution: efficiency, savings and renewables"

"The world does not need fossil fuels and nuclear energy. What we need is a big, visionary measure to turn around the global trend towards runaway climate change. This plan needs political will to make it happen."
Okay let's get into the nitty gritty of things, right. What do we need to do :
  1. Acknowledge the scale of our problem : 840 Quadrillion BTu's worth of energy demand by 2040. We're now in the 600 Quadrillion BTu range.
  2. Increase RD&D budgets for high-density energy
  3. Do some math.... I'll settle for the 600 Quadrillion BTu figure, it helps get the message across.
"Make sure emissions peak in 2015/16 and decrease as rapidly as possible towards zero after that""Developed countries must make cuts of 40 percent on their 1990 carbon emisisons by 2020"
No contention here, I agree... But I accept that this is an incredibly big problem, of the 600 Quadrillion BTu's only 60 Quadrillion BTu is used for electricity generation. That's about 10 percent...
"Developing countries must slow the growth of emissions by 15-30 percent by 2020, with support from industrialised nations"

Everyone deserves amenities like running and potable water, good sanitation, electricity, food, jobs and education. In order for the developing countries to obtain and provide these amenities, they need energy and lots of it. No one is going to flick the switch and put out the lights there, it would be highly unethical and immoral to do so. We've usurped the "third world" for far too long. I would hope to see them grow into stable, prosperous and safe societies, they need energy to do it...

There is a suite of technologies that can do that : Sewage recycling, Solar Heat and Nuclear in densely populated areas and PV and Wind in rural off-grid areas.

The truth is that these countries are pushing for coal and gas, since they are the cheapest options. So the serious question would be : what are you going to do about?

"Protect tropical forests with a special funding mechanism - forests for climate"

Is that all you would do? What happened to the "big, visionary measure"? I would suggest you go and look at what Tasso Azevedo does in Brazil. But to be quite honest, we do not have to "just" protect rainforests, we also need to increase forest cover significantly in order to restore the carbon-capture and hydrological cycles.

Massive reforestation efforts are required...

"Replace dirty fossil fuel energy with renewable energy and energy efficiency"

This is where my magic comes out and begins it's enthralling work. Are you ready for some math? Let's get this going shall we?

So the premise is that 10% of all the energy demand is satiated by electricity generation e.g. 60 Quadrillion BTu's. This roughly translates into 20.000 TWh's. I'm rounding everything down...

The Topaz 550MW PV solar plant is one of my favourite go-to arguments. The Topaz PV power plant is one of the largest in the world. It's about 65 square kilometres, has 9 million PV panels and churns out enough energy for 160.000 Californian homes (7000KWh a piece). If you reverse the math you'll learn that the Topaz PV plant generates 1,12 TWh in a year.

Suppose we want to do the all-PV-panel approach. We would have to build roughly 20.000 Topaz PV plants in order to satiate world demand of 20.000 TWh's. (this is from a 2014 context).

That would also mean that we would have to construct 180 billion panels / 1.3 million square km's (less than a percent of the total surface area of the earth < this is what the "renewables" cling on to)

Current production capacity is around 200 million panels annually (50GW). At this rate it'll take them 900 years to get it done or we would have to increase the current production rate by 300 times to get it done in three years... And that's generating 60 quadrillion BTu's worth of energy in a 600 Q BTu world with fossil stocks that are running out. And don't forget the amount of energy required to create these panels (add mining, purification, manufacturing, transportation, installation, decommissioning, limited recycling emissions...)These simple maths give a man perspective. That's why i don't talk about money for instance.

Suppose we accept the "nuclear road", we'll go on developing MSR's and Fusion and rate them at approximately 682MW a piece. Then we would need 3000 of them to replace coal-fired and gas-fired energy generation. This would mean a significant decarbonisation of at least 90%.

Try to imagine 180 Billion PV panels being shipped and moved around.

And if we manage to do this within a reasonable time frame of let's say 20 years. We still have to decarbonize all the other processes, which in term will drive up the electricity demand. For every 10% we decarbonize add another 180 Billion PV panels or 3000 nuclear power plants.

Suppose we can cut energy demand by 30% or let's be extremely optimistic 40% and decarbonize all the rest, transforming half of it into electricity demand and the other half into heat demand. We would be requiring three times 20.000 TWh which would amount to 60.000 TWh and 180 quadrillion BTu's of heat. Assuming we will stay in the 600 Quadrillion BTu range... (that's would be a colossal feat of optimism). How would you, the Anti-Nuclear-Specialist, say we would do it?

Let's look at Wind Turbines, the other holy grail of renewable energies. An average wind turbine is rated at 5MW. I'll grant them a super optimistic 35% capacity and it will generate 0.01534 TWh in a year. Filling up 20K TWh would require 1.3 million Wind Turbines. 1.94 MW per turbine is more accurate but I feel generous today, i'll let you clasp on this thin thread for a moment...

Let's look at what the Wind Pro's have to say about it

They propose a very optimistic 15.000 TWh generation capacity by 2050. This is their "SUPER SCENARIO!!!" With me giving them 10% generation capacity extra. They themselves give it 10.000 TWh...

If they rate their most optimistic figure at 10K TWh, you have to be reasonable about "running the world on renewables".... And these people are the "Wind turbine people"...

What about EOL?

  • Nuclear : 50~60 years
  • Wind : 20~25 years
  • Solar : 20~25 years
The limited life cycle of wind and solar force us to double all the numbers in contrast to nuclear over a timespan of 60 years. 
  • 3000 nuclear power plants for 20TWh annual generation over 60 years.
  • 360 billion solar panels for 20TWh annual generation over 60 years.
  • 2.6 million wind turbines for 20TWh annual generation over 60 years.

Add to this the problem of the diminishing of Coal, Gas and Oil and you have to acknowledge that we're in deep trouble. Especially if you are willing to discount the good of nuclear and form a biased opinion based on myths and fairy tales and mathematical improbabilities.

Let's be honest, a decarbonized future isn't going to happen without nuclear. It is a mathematical improbability.

"Reject false solutions like nuclear energy"

I am going to call "unsubstantiated and biased category five bullshit".

What is the main issue at play here? Fear-mongering... Far from WISE if you ask me.

Now let's dispense with the bull shall we

Please be reasonable and include nuclear energy in the COP21 summit

It would be really cool if unicorns existed....... but they don't


  1. FWIR, we were only up to about 16 TW total consumption; what'd I miss?

    1. Generation in 2012

      Consumption in 2012

      Total generation in 2012 was 21 TWh / Consumption 19.7 TWh

      You need more generation than is consumed, because of transmission and conversion losses. And you don't want black/brown-outs ;)

  2. "These simple maths give a man perspective. That's why i don't talk about money for instance."

    totally agree.
    a lot of times anti-nukes like to cite studies on how costly nuclear power supposedly is in financial terms,
    and these are often people who like to label themselves as progressives.

  3. Why do we use costs at all? We're talking about "To be or not to be" in terms of life on our planet.

    Did we do a cost analysis regarding the decision to fight the Japanese after binning of Pearl Harbor. Don't recall that discussion happening. WG