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Energy is life – and nuclear power can provide the reliable clean energy essential to our future

It has been about two months that most of us have been staying home to help flatten the curve of the COVID 19 pandemic.  While it may seem difficult, we keep telling our kids how lucky we are to have incomes as we work from home to limit our health risk.  There are many who are struggling to meet their expenses having lost their jobs and are extremely stressed about what their future may hold.  We also have to appreciate those who continue to go to their workplace, to help us stay fed and have what we need to survive, often for very little pay while they are at increased risk of becoming sick.  And most of all, we need to acknowledge the challenges faced by our health care workers who are working so hard to try and help those who are suffering most from this illness.

Just try to imagine what would it be like to be at home if we couldn’t count on the very basics such as staying warm or keeping our food fresh and having the means to cook it.  What would we do without the internet and our mobile phones that keep us connected to the outside world and enable us to do our work? These things we need to maintain our health, be fed, work at home and stay safe, all depend upon access to reliable cost-effective energy. 

 

Yes, some will point out the oil market has crashed, and energy demand has dropped the largest amount since the second world war.  But what we need to understand is that while demand is down as our economies have ground to a halt, our reliance on energy has never been greater.  Without access to reliable economic energy, suffering would increase.  Energy not only allows us to live, it enables us to thrive.

Many of you will have watched Michael Moore’s latest film “Planet of the Humans”.  We will not review it here as there are numerous articles and videos out there to explain why it is both right and completely wrong in its assessment of the environmental movement.  And while some may find it fun to watch progressives take on their own set of beliefs; what is really important is the recognition that intermittent renewables, wind and solar energy, cannot solve our climate crisis on their own.  We talked about this last year when the International Energy Agency (IEA), issued it report “Nuclear Power in a Clean Energy System” that clearly stated “despite the impressive growth of solar and wind power, the world’s overall share of clean energy sources in total electricity supply in 2018, at 36%, was the same as it was 20 years earlier” after spending billions of dollars to increase their use. 

Unfortunately, the movie seems to say there is no solution.  It takes the anti-capitalistic view that continued growth is simply unsustainable suggesting the only way to reduce the burden on the planet is to reduce both population and our consumeristic approach to life, so that we all must learn to live happily with less.  These folks look to how much the environment has improved during this pandemic as we stay at home as an example of what is possible. 

However, it should come as no surprise that if we sit home doing nothing, then the air will be cleaner, but at a what cost?  While this may be able to be sustained for some time to help solve an urgent crisis if we all work together, it cannot be the way of the future as millions are out of work with no way to support their families’ basic needs.  And to suggest this is a viable path is an insult to the more than one billion people on the planet that have no ready access to energy and who are suffering from the most difficult of human conditions, extreme poverty.

In fact, we know the best way to limit global population is to create wealth.  World Bank data clearly shows that population growth is lowest in wealthier countries.  The least developed countries have a growth rate of 2.4% (2018 data), while the richest are much lower with the US at 0.6%, the EU at 0.2%, and Japan not even replacing its population at -0.2% growth.  The answer is not reducing our reliance on energy but rather ensuring that everyone has access to clean affordable energy. 

We have this energy source available to us today, nuclear power.  It was completely overlooked in Planet of the Humans (by design), yet it can provide the world with an almost unlimited amount of low carbon, economic and most of all, extremely reliable energy.  The movie was right.  Renewables cannot be counted on to solve this problem alone, but together with nuclear power, there is a future that meets all our needs.  We see this in Ontario, Canada.  Today is a typical work day during the pandemic  and our electricity is being generated almost completely from nuclear and renewables (hydro, wind and solar), supplemented with a small amount of gas generation so that we are emitting an extremely low 16 g/kWh of carbon, essentially nothing. 

Ontario Canada Electricity Generation May 12 (1-2 PM) – Gridwatch.ca

So, if the environmental movement can critically review its commitment to renewables and realize that maybe they can’t do it all; then could they also be wrong about nuclear power?  A critical look with an open mind may actually surprise them.  Of course, for those that want to believe that going back to simpler times is the only path, having abundant clean energy is not desirable.   But these are also the people who are sitting in their comfortable homes, with ample energy, so they can use the internet to do interviews, talk on the phone, and make movies. 

[This post is dedicated to my mother, Rennie Caplan, who passed away on April 25.  This will be the first post in my 10 years of blogging she will not read.  Although she had little interest in the subject matter, I was sure to hear after every post that she read it and thought it was wonderful.  There can be no replacement for the absolute support received from a parent, even when we are well passed the age of needing it.  Our family will never be the same without her.  She will be missed, and we will always remember her for the wonderful mother and grandmother she was.] Milt

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 14, 2020 4:17 pm GMT

However, it should come as no surprise that if we sit home doing nothing, then the air will be cleaner, but at a what cost?  While this may be able to be sustained for some time to help solve an urgent crisis if we all work together, it cannot be the way of the future as millions are out of work with no way to support their families’ basic needs.  And to suggest this is a viable path is an insult to the more than one billion people on the planet that have no ready access to energy and who are suffering from the most difficult of human conditions, extreme poverty.

Well said, Milton. Efficient operation of commercial/residential/industrial applications is a tool and it can help mitigate some problems short-term, but it's definitely not THE solution, especially long-term. Efficiency helps individual customers and grids, but not the large scale worldwide problems. And you're right, access to energy in developing nations is necessary, it's a basic human need at this point. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 14, 2020 5:48 pm GMT

"So, if the environmental movement can critically review its commitment to renewables and realize that maybe they can’t do it all; then could they also be wrong about nuclear power?  A critical look with an open mind may actually surprise them.  Of course, for those that want to believe that going back to simpler times is the only path, having abundant clean energy is not desirable.   But these are also the people who are sitting in their comfortable homes, with ample energy, so they can use the internet to do interviews, talk on the phone, and make movies."

Bravo Milton, and sorry to hear about your Mom. Mine grew up during the Great Depression, and often responded to complainers, "be glad for what you got!". Hopefully she knew how glad I was for the Mom I got.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on May 15, 2020 4:14 am GMT

Here's my critical look with an open mind. If someone wants me to "invest" in a particular product then that product needs to be improving - not losing ground.

The nuclear industry WW is going backwards.... 

Nuclear generation WW in 2018 was less than it was in 2006.  ZERO construction starts so in 2020 and only 16 in the prior 4 years. Pathetic. Meanwhile 31 reactor shutdowns since 2016.

 The 2020s will be another "lost decade" for nuclear. Why invest in a product that shows no signs of life?  Show me the money!

Trend in Electricity supplies.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 15, 2020 2:51 pm GMT

Joe, nuclear energy is improving. But unlike solar panels and wind turbines, churned out by the thousands every day, nuclear reactors last a long, long time. They don't need to be replaced every thirty years, or forty years, or eighty years.

In nearly all of your posts denigrating nuclear ("pathetic" is a common term) the metric is you use to measure a source's success is reactor starts or sales - consumption. Raising the question: does sales of a technology necessarily translate into a reduction of carbon emissions? Solar panels and wind turbines have undoubtedly helped to reduce them, but at what point does the solution become the problem?

Planet of the Humans makes the accurate and pointed argument that we not only don't need to churn out thousands of tons of concrete, and steel, and aluminum, and silicon, and cadmium, and neodymium every day to generate electricity, we can't do it - not in any way, shape, or form, is it sustainable.* Let's face it, if we allow what's cheap - profitability - to guide our choices, we're doomed. Natural gas rules the day. Solar and wind have, just as undoubtedly, contributed to an increase in emissions from gas plants, and will continue to so as long as there is money to be made. Like Germany, the U.S. will hit a wall where further progress is insignificant.

We don't have time to learn Germany's lesson again, yet advocates continue to post misleading data. For example, your chart above shows an exponential rise in reactor starts 2016-2019, but a sharp drop in starts for 2020. Readers are expected to be too dim to understand we're not halfway through the year yet, and in the midst of a global pandemic.

"Plans For New Reactors Worldwide
(Updated March 2020)
• Nuclear power capacity worldwide is increasing steadily, with about 55 reactors under construction.
• Most reactors on order or planned are in the Asian region, though there are major plans for new units in Russia.
• Significant further capacity is being created by plant upgrading.
• Plant lifetime extension programmes are maintaining capacity, particularly in the USA."

https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/plans-for-new-reactors-worldwide.aspx

"Show me the money"? No, show me the potential to meet customer demand 24/7/365, and economy that's not measured in consumption, and I'll show you the only viable path forward on climate change.

*POTH producers didn't take on nuclear, but I hope they do for the sequel. Many viewers (and the producers) will have their expectations shattered, and that's a good thing.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on May 16, 2020 3:43 pm GMT

yet advocates continue to post misleading data. For example, your chart above shows an exponential rise in reactor starts 2016-2019, but a sharp drop in starts for 2020.

Why do you think 16 starts for nuclear reactors from 2016-2020 is an "exponential rise"?

Constructions starts:

  • 2006-2010       50
  • 2011-2015         32
  • 2016-2020       16 (so far)

 

From 50 to 32 to 16. Thats going backwards Bob. 

Readers are expected to be too dim to understand we're not halfway through the year yet, and in the midst of a global pandemic.

Why shouldn't we have already had some nuclear construction starts in 2020?  Any new starts would have been planned long ago. Why not a new construction start every month?   

Also, we already have 2 shutdowns WW in 2020. The shutdowns don't seem to be slowing down. Another unit closing at Fessenheim this year, a unit at Duane Arnold in US and a unit at Ringhals in Sweden closing in December. 

Reactor Shutdowns from:

  • 2006-2010       15
  • 2011-2015         30
  • 2016-2020       31 (so far)

 

As for the age of nuclear reactors - we have two units that are 51 and over 70 units that are 40+.  Plenty of more retirements coming. Gonna need a LOT more constructions starts - soon.

By the way - all the above charts/data are from 

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 16, 2020 6:30 am GMT

"As for the age of nuclear reactors - we have two units that are 51 and over 70 units that are 40+.  Plenty of more retirements coming. Gonna need a LOT more constructions starts - soon."

In modern times a common stratagem employed by companies to avoid paying employees the pension promised in their contract is to "let them go" (fire them) weeks short of their 65th birthday. Similarly, nuclear plants are forced into "retirement" at age 40, decades before they wear out, by companies eager to take their place in the dependable and reliable business of generating electricity. But are nuclear plants ready to retire in middle age? From 2009:

"Could nuclear power plants last as long as the Hoover Dam?

Increasingly dependable and emitting few greenhouse gases, the U.S. fleet of nuclear power plants will likely run for another 50 or even 70 years before it is retired -- long past the 40-year life span planned decades ago -- according to industry executives, regulators and scientists."

How Long Can a Nuclear Reactor Last?

In fact, with regular maintenance,there's no reason to believe any U.S. Gen 2 nuclear plant couldn't last indefinitely. So if there are plenty of nuclear retirements coming, it won't be because the plants are uneconomical, unsafe, or "aging". It will be the same toxic mix of disinformation and rampant fearmongering that solar, wind, and natural gas interests have exploited in the past to force them to "retire". Until now, it's been very effective.

"You’ve likely heard of the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident. It’s often cited as an example of the dangers of nuclear power. It’s usually mentioned in the same breath as Chernobyl and Fukushima.

But what exactly happened there? Was it truly an exemplar of the grave dangers posed by nuclear power?

The answer is no. No one died. No one was injured. The other reactor on the site was still in operation until September 20 (yes, September 20 of last year). The Three Mile Island incident is an example of both the recallability trap and the sometimes negative results of being too yielding to the demands of the precautionary principle.

The Psychological Impacts

The main impact of the Three Mile Island accident has been psychological rather than physical. Big events like this one shape public attitudes for decades. People don’t remember the real impact of the event; they remember the feelings of uncertainty and fear that came with it. Those feelings now taint the public image of nuclear power in the United States."

Three Mile Island and the Exaggerated Risk of Nuclear Power

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