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The IPCC's Shifting Position on Nuclear Energy as a Climate Option

Suzanne Waldman's picture
, Carleton University

Suzanne researches public dialogues on energy and risk, with a particular focus on how citizens can become informed enough to motivate good policy decisions in the current era of energy dynamism...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Nov 4, 2014

ipcc nuclear shift

I’m currently working on a longer paper on the use of nuclear power as a climate strategy, but here is a key section I’ve written so far on shifts in perspective at the IPCC on nuclear power:

The International Panel on Climate Change was formed in 1988 by the UN. The IPCC report on Response Strategies in 1990 originally seemed fairly neutral about strategies, proposing “[e]xpansion of conventional nuclear power plants” along with “[s]tandardized design of nuclear power plants to improve economics and safety” as short term options to avert climate change (53). The report likewise projected that “West European countries [as well as North American and Pacific OECD countries may be able to stabilize or reduce C02 emissions by early in the next decade through a variety of measures including …[fuel switching to] nuclear power (68). 

IPCC’s second report in 1996 affirmed that “Nuclear energy could replace baseload fossil fuel electricity generation in many parts of the world, if generally acceptable responses can be found to concerns such as reactor safety, radioactive-waste transport and disposal, and proliferation,” though they noted that nuclear power development had been in decline since IPCC I due to capital costs and safety concerns (Executive Summary). 

IPCC III, released in 2001 was starting to get a bit cagey about nuclear power, proposing that “[l]ow-carbon energy supply systems can make an important contribution …through the use and lifetime extension of nuclear power plants.” Suggestively there is no mention of new builds. They also emphasized the caveat that “[e]nvironmental, safety, … proliferation concerns may constrain the use of some of these technologies (Section 3.8.4; Summary for Policymakers). 

In 2007, IPCC IV still indicated hopes from “advanced nuclear technologies” but also strongly highlighted safety barriers and investment barriers such as “financial markets commanding a higher interest rate to cover perceived risks, thus increasing the cost of capital and thereby generation costs” (WGIII 14). This time they put a firm number on nuclear’s limits, projecting only a 2% uptick in the share of global electricity from nuclear power generation by 2030 (from 16% to 18%) due to “costs relative to other supply options,” and only then in the best scenario where concerns about “safety, weapons proliferation and waste” did not swamp these developments. At the same time, they foresaw renewable energy jumping from 18% of the electricity supply to 30-35% share of the total electricity supply in 2030, assisted by a carbon price of at least $50 a ton of CO2 (WG3 Summary). 

Perhaps not coincidentally, 2007 was a banner year for renewable energy policy. In 2007 the European Union introduced its 20-20-20 targets which put its money and hopes behind renewable energy, calling for 20% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 but tying these specifically to binding national policies to raise the share of EU energy consumption produced from renewable resources to 20% as well as to a 20% improvement in the EU’s energy efficiency (“Climate Action” EU). Nuclear power was not mentioned as a favored option. China set out targets in a long-term renewables development plan in 2007 (REN21), as did a coalition of Latin American and Caribbean countries and about a dozen other countries as well as U.S. States and Canadian provinces. 

Then, in 2011, the IPCC published a Special Report, Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation, claiming that “renewable energy could account for almost 80% of the world’s energy supply within four decades” leading to a lot of press about how “Renewable Energy Can Power the World” (Guardian, 2011-05-09). In the charts in this report, Fossil Fuels were grouped with Nuclear and seemingly as less desirable options than Renewable Energy Sources, in which they included bioenergy, including energy crops; forest, agricultural and livestock residues and second generation biofuels;solar energy, including photovoltaics and concentrating solar power, geothermal energy, hydropower; ocean energy, ranging from barrages to ocean currents and ones which harness temperature differences in the marine realm, and wind energy (15).* 

The IPCC’s press release associated with the Special Report indeed put a normative spin on renewable energy choices, claiming “[t]his IPCC report has brought some much needed clarity to this debate in order to inform governments on the options and decisions that will needed if the world is to collectively realize a low carbon, far more resource efficient and equitable development path” and that “[m]ost of the reviewed scenarios estimate that renewables will contribute more to a low carbon energy supply by 2050 than nuclear power or fossil fuels using carbon capture and storage (CCS).” Thus, in 2011, the world seemed to be set on a distinctive course. Renewable energy could power the world, and countries need only make the policy choices to favor it, in a world in which it was dropping in price but was still not cheaper than fossil fuels. 

At the same time, there was the Fukushima incident, in which three of its six nuclear reactors failed when the plant was hit by a tsunami triggered by a magnitude 9 earthquake. For countries like Germany in particular, Fukushima solidified the choice of renewable Eenergy. Germany had already made nuclear power phase-out a policy of its Energiewende or Energy transition policy of 2002, which included scheduling its 17 nuclear plants to be offline by 2036 alongside a transition to a 60% share of renewable energy by 2050. But on 29 May 2011, Merkel’s government announced that it would close all of its nuclear power plants by 2022, and immediately shut down half of them, claiming that doing so would allow Germany to hopefully escape from a similar disaster while giving it a competitive advantage in an era that looked like increasingly like it could, should, and would be powered by renewable energy.

Yet it’s interesting that by 2014, the IPCC was already becoming somewhat more modest in its boosterism of RE. It still believed “aggregated global technical potential for RE as a whole is significantly higher than global energy demands” (25) but it admitted that “reported RE technical potentials are not always comparable to those for nuclear energy,” which seemed to indicate that they saw the numbers were not all running as good as they had been in 2007. There was much discussion of the “difficulties” associated with RE– difficulties of spurring energy transitions through policy and difficulties with the integration of RE supplies with other low-carbon options and other policy goals (881). The IPCC’s tone was generally less decisive about favored approaches and more humble and open to dialogue among “multiple interest groups and wider institutional and social constituencies.” There was also a bit more interest in nuclear, with the possibility of “expansion” coming back on the table (5). The IPCC also indicated hopefully that “new fuel cycles and reactor technologies addressing some of the usual problems are under development and progress has been made concerning safety and waste disposal.” Maybe most importantly, the IPCC grouped nuclear now not with fossil fuels but with RE as one “low-carbon electricity supply” in a “low-carbon energy system” to which we must transition (Summary 21).

So one might wonder what happened between 2007 and 2014? Well one thing, Germany’s Energiewende, which was the most conspicuous climate change policy to put all its eggs in the RE basket, started to hit some obstacles. But I’ll leave that for another post.

*It has been brought to my attention by Rod Adams that this report was written in part by representatives of Greenpeace. See this article in The Economist.

Photo Credit: IPCC Shifts on Nuclear Energy/shutterstock

Original article.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 4, 2014

Excellent Suzanne, looking forward to your followup.

I would urge readers to refer to the Economist article, the link to which Rod contributed above, as an example of how pervasive the fundamentalist, quasi-religious antinuclearism of Greenpeace has become in policy discussion. Though public perception must be addressed, erroneous perceptions must be met head-on. Permitting them to influence environmental policy is unconscionable.

Recently here on TEC there has been much discussion of the rebound effect resulting from efficiency improvements, and the article illustrates just how much renewable energy zealotry relies on efficiency to top off deficiencies in RE generation.


Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Nov 4, 2014

Thank you for this usefull overview Suzanne.

So one might wonder what happened between 2007 and 2014?”

I’d like to think that my relentless, merciless (some might say rabid) hounding of prime anti-nuclear propagandism on the internet and in real life has helped bring nuclear back into the discussion.

But obviously there is a sizeable group of far more active, well-credentialed, and influential individuals who have been doing great work on this, and for a very long time running in some cases. It’s their work which must have had at least some tangible effect in terms of normalising (IPCC) attitudes toward nuclear power, I believe.

Ultimately though, the appearance of the filmdocumentary “Pandora’s Promise” – which features some of these pro-nuclear advocates – might perhaps have been one of the most important developments in recent years concerning the public debate about the nuclear option and the relevance of this technology to the solution of anthropogenic global warming.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Nov 4, 2014

To borrow an old lawyer joke; “nothing is more expensive than cheap nuclear power.” I sincerely hope the latest British civilian nuclear power deployment shows new capabilities, and develops new markets. We need a big power success.

It remains a big question to the unconvinced as to why such an old concept as controlled nuclear fission, with enormous industrial and military experience and capital leverage, can’t show bigger development steps.

As for the nuclear bloggers, insulting other endeavors, however weak, will not gain you more adherents. Basically, what’s the beef and where’s the beef??

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Nov 4, 2014

The energy math points towards 1,000 exajoules of non fossil (not fossil backed) generation. Either we master small modular molten salt type hardened reactors or we cover up a lot of land trying to do it “the old fashioned way”. Or, we do OTEC if it can provide that kind of power. I say we “do it all”…

The world is not fully developed and billions are still in poverty because we want to play around with the old and worn out idea that old fashioned diffuse, unreliable and intermittent sources can “do it all”.

Alvin Weinberg knew a thing or two about the energy math required to develop a civilization without carbon dioxide emissions!

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Nov 4, 2014

I didn’t ask for the same old nuclear blogger tripe. I asked why, with all our nuclear fission resources in civilian and military going on for nearly a century now do we get nothing but the harassment and promises routine??

As someone who saw the great space race of the 1950s until recently, I have deep respect for the complexity of manned space flight and other serious science. This new era of amateurs on the cheap, relying on garage sale Soviet rockets and Richard Branson’s ambition would make Walter Cronkite steam. A sales hustle isn’t science.

Maybe your energy math will need to include less frozen pizza.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Nov 4, 2014

Nuclear is making great advances, just not in our part of the world.

In my country, the research reactor at my alma mater is due for an upgrade. The job was won by a Korean company. Anti-nuclearism has severely damaged our capabilities in the West, so now we have to buy it from the East. Anti-nuclearism cannot kill nuclear technology. All it does is kill OUR nuclear technology. Which is why I like to call anti-nuclear propagandists traitors.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Nov 4, 2014

I actually had some email correspondence with mr. Teske after the 2011 IPCC report came out. He was the Greenpeace IPCC author mentioned in the Economist article. We corresponded about the Greenpeace scenario for the Netherlands, which included 70 GW of solar and wind power IIRC while our current average power demand is about 11GW. I argued that such a plan was nuts and he tried to rebut my arguments.

In the end there was very little Mr. Teske and I could agree on except the need to cut co2 emissions but I remember that he put a lot of effort in our correspondence. Last time I heard he was pursuing a PhD in something to do with intermittent renewables integration. If anything, at least his authorship of the Greenpeace RE scenarios has apparently inspired him to dig deeper into precisely the subject matter which makes those scenarios unworkable. Good for him, I say. for that matter, I’d like to know if his research has caused him to change his mind about the realism of the Greenpeace scenarios at the time.

Andrew Bryce's picture
Andrew Bryce on Nov 4, 2014

There have been a lot of advances in nuclear energy in recent decades.

The most advanced reactor design is the Integral Fast Reactor. GE-Hitachi have proposed building the first one of these (they call it PRISM) at Sellafield in the UK. It is currently being considered by the the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

The advantages over traditional reactors:

Uses all of the uranium fuel, extracting 150 times more energy than a conventional reactor.

Waste has to be stored for only 300 years until it is safe (compared to 250,000 years for a conventional reactor)

Passive safety. It automatically shuts down without needing any active machinery or human actions, so the risk of a meltdown is very low. (This was confirmed at the EBR-II test reactor, where they shut off all the cooling systems to see if the reactor would meltdown. It didn’t/)

The waste is very hard to reprocess into weapons as it contains a lot of actinides that would inhibit a nuclear bomb. The waste is also highly radioactive so it must be handled by robots, which makes it hard for your average terrorist cell to work with. (To be fair, the waste from a conventional nuclear reactor is pretty hard to process into a weapon. The proliferation risk has always been a bit over-stated.)


All of the technical problems have been solved, but unfortunately the world has turned away from nuclear.


Here are a few links if you are interested:

Here’s a great description of the passive safety test of the EBR II (from the wikipedia page):

“In April 1986, two special tests were performed on the EBR-II, in which the main primary cooling pumps were shut off with the reactor at full power (62.5 megawatts, thermal). By not allowing the normal shutdown systems to interfere, the reactor power dropped to near zero within about 300 seconds. No damage to the fuel or the reactor resulted. This test demonstrated that even with a loss of all electrical power and the capability to shut down the reactor using the normal systems, the reactor will simply shut down without danger or damage.”

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 5, 2014

why such an old concept as controlled nuclear fission, with enormous industrial and military experience and capital leverage, can’t show bigger development steps.”

A few reasons:

  • The nuclear technology we have today is already quite good (even though much of society is in denial about this), so most of the claimed shortcomings simply are not very important.
  • We are not building many new nuclear plants, so developing new nuclear technology becomes a lower priority, especially for the private sector.  Similarly, nukes are not popular with the public, so they are a low priority for governments.
  • The GWatt scale of existing designs tends to produce lower cost electricity than could smaller designs, which means that newer designs which are small to reduce development cost and risk tend to be uneconomical.  SMRs could change that, but only if their production volume is high, and if the regulatory burden on them is reduced because of their greater intrinsic safety.
Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Nov 5, 2014


If you put Vermont Yankee in Google News, there are some interesting articles. Apparently, it will cost over a $1B to decomission. 

But electricity rates are set to skyrocket because they cannot yet get enough cheap natural gas to New England, although they eventually will, and according to the utility, nuclear cannot compete with cheap gas.

Here’s my idea for the environment. Put nuclear power plants on oil tankers and send them out to those huge patches of plastic in the ocean to scoop it out and use the heat from the nuclear plant to convert the plastic to oil for delivery. 


Suzanne Waldman's picture
Suzanne Waldman on Nov 5, 2014

Thank you for the thoughtful and learned comments, everyone.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Nov 5, 2014

Yes, the old nuclear systems in use today are quite good. And their operation has been notable, by any historic measure.

But cars were good in the 1970s. And computers, and medical technology, and agriculture were good, too. Of course huge public and private support made them much better. And still the same crowd complains like we are all going to die, which we are.

I think two issues dominate nuclear power implementation going forward;

First is security and supporting infrastructure. There are not many more places in the world where nuclear power generation can be established (like hydro-electric). I absolutely reject the claim that building nuclear power installations are a first step toward economic development and political stability.

Second, show us a plan. The advanced industrialized world got to be advanced and industrialized because we love good ideas and innovation. Those astronauts in shiny silver suits beaming pictures of a distant Earth will never leave my memory.

Jeffrey Miller's picture
Jeffrey Miller on Nov 5, 2014

Great article. I wasn’t aware of the reasons behind the IPCC’s evolving views on nuclear power. I find it somewhat discouraging that an organization of the stature of the IPCC would have released a report as recently as 2011 claiming that renewables could provide 80% of the world’s energy by 2050 when surely most of the energy experts at the IPCC must have realized that this is a dangerous fantasy. It’s good that the IPCC seems to be rethinking its views on renewables and nuclear.  I look forward to reading the rest of your paper.

Jeffrey Miller's picture
Jeffrey Miller on Nov 5, 2014

Nice article and website Janne. The graphic you show is astonishing in its implications.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 6, 2014

Roger, which American president made this promise, and when?

Just as a similar synthetic rubber corporation helped us win World War II, so will we mobilize American determination and ability to win the energy war. Moreover, I will soon submit legislation to Congress calling for the creation of this nation’s first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial goal of 20 percent of our energy coming from solar power within twenty years.

a) Barack Obama, 2009

b) Bill Clinton, 1996

c) Jimmy Carter, 1979

You already know the answer. If people were willing to accept failure and move on, we wouldn’t keep banging our unbelieving heads on a promise that went unfulfilled a decade and a half ago.

James Hopf's picture
James Hopf on Nov 6, 2014

Double post……

James Hopf's picture
James Hopf on Nov 6, 2014


The short answer to your question is the fact that NRC would require well over a decade, and charge over a billion dollars, to review any significantly different reactor technology (i.e., any significant advance).  Over a decade of beard pulling and analysis paralysis, trying to imagine any “unforseen” issue or vulnerability with the new technology.  A never ending stream of questions…  Ask anyone, from any other industry whether that would be a barrier to innovation or technological progress.  In other industries, people just have to come up with a technology that works, and they move right on to construction/implementation.  Some even suggest that this paralysis has increased nuclear risks, over the long run, as it has prevented the development of potentially safer reactor designs.

All that said, I’m skeptical that any technological advance could, by itself, significantly improve nuclear’s prospects.  The reason is that it is not a technological problem.  Strictly in terms of technical merit, nuclear is already far superior to most, if not all, other generation methods.  (It is already orders of magnitude safer and less harmful than fossil fuels, and even safer than renewables, statistics show.)  It is not a lack of technical merit, it is a regulation, poilicy and public prejudice problem.  These problems are so great that no amount of technical excellence will be enough to overcome them.

The degree of public prejudice against nuclear (and possible nuclear pollution vs. other forms of pollution) is astonishing.  Using Fukushima as an example, one significant release in non-Soviet nuclear’s entire 50 year history is unacceptable, and must “never be repeated”, even though it had no measurable public health impact, whereas fossil fueled power generation causes global warming and causes over 1000 deaths EVERY DAY.

This public prejudice is reflected in excessive regulation and a black and a white double standard against nuclear.  Nuclear must contain all of its wastes/toxins and even a rare release of pollution is absolutely unacceptable, whereas fossil plants get to just dump pollution directly into the environment continusouly (causing massive health impacts).  If fossil was treated like nuclear, they would not be allowed to emit any pollution at all, and would have to prove that it will remain contained for eons.

Beijing’s air pollution has been shown to reduce life expectancy by 15 years, a health risk/impact that is greater than living in even the most contaminated areas around Fukushima.  Those areas, of course, have been declared uninhabitable, even though the level of radiation is actually less than the level at which clear statistical evidence of any health effect exists.  The point is that people, and govts., are absolutely intolerant of any radiation-related risk at all (if, and only if, that radiation exposure comes from the nuclear industry).  How can it be that having well over 10 million people (in Beijing) be exposed to a larger health risk is accpetable, whereas having a few thousand people (who used to live in the most contaminated villages) face a smaller health risk is absolutely unacceptable?  Why hasn’t Beijing been declared “uninhabitable”?  Because there is a black and white double standard, with respect to how the public and policymakers view (and respond to) nuclear related health risks vs. pretty much all other risks, and forms of pollution.

I write more on this topic here:

You (and others here) may find my thoughts interesting….

The bottom line is that as long as nuclear is held to a standard of perfection, while other (fossil) sources continue to be allowed to pollute freely, and for free, no nuclear technology advance will be enough to overcome such an unlevel playing field.  On the other hand, *either* an appropriate (sane) level of regulations and requirements for nuclear, OR holding fossil fuels to a remotely similar standard (i.e., massive pollution and/or CO2 taxes, or simply not allowing them to pollute at all) would be enough to ensure nuclear’s success.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 6, 2014

“…as long as nuclear is held to a standard of perfection, while other (fossil) sources continue to be allowed to pollute freely, and for free, no nuclear technology advance will be enough…”

Great point.  It’s also worth saying that decarbonizing our energy sector to any medium or high degree* will cost more without nuclear power, and therefore we are likely to burn more fossil fuel (producing more pollution, health degradation, and CO2) in that case.

* there are several similarly prices ways to get 20% of our electricity from non-fossil sources, but very few economical ways to get 50-100% non-fossil energy (it has only been done at large scale using nuclear and hydro).

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Nov 6, 2014

Good job Janne.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Nov 6, 2014

You can very easily take nuclear to 80% of electric power (France went from 8% to 80% in 11 years).  Wind is even less suited for industrial and transportation energy (aside from ocean freight) than it’s suited to power the grid.  The only reasons anyone is trying to push it at this point are

  1.  Radiation phobia, or
  2. A romantic attachment to “natural” energies and cycles.

If natural energies and cycles sufficed for human health and welfare, coal would never have been developed in the first place.

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Nov 6, 2014

Wait, do you truly believe that there is the slightest possibility that at least one nation on this planet (or in this reality) is going to commit to siting and building more than 1000 reactors some time in the near future? AND have them all completed by 2050?  Because if you do, I don’t think you’re here with us now.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 6, 2014

Stephen, that rate of construction was exceeded in 1983, when 43 new reactors were built worldwide.

For comparative purposes, to equal that rate of decarbonization we’d need to

1) Install 4000 wind turbines every week, occupying 500 square kilometers, or

2) Cover ten square kilometers with solar panels – and keep them clean – every week.

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Nov 6, 2014

There is rate of construction and then there are political and logistical realities. Even China is not about to build 1000 reactors ($6 trillion). People protest 1 new nuclear reactor. You are living in a meticulously created fantasy if you believe Americans or even the authoritarian governed Chinese would stand by silently while they are massively taxed (And it would be massive taxes – on the level of the new deal. Private investment will not touch new nuclear right now without guarantees) for 1000 or more.

And this says nothing about enormous global regulatory challenges, global worker shortgages (welders), uranium supply, major waste issues, proliferation and national security issues  

That said, I can definately see China, India or even the US mandating solar on every rooftop  – and even getting support for such mandates


Andy Maybury's picture
Andy Maybury on Nov 6, 2014

We need to radically reduce the amount of energy that we use. Not just to ‘respectable’ European levels but MUCH less than that; simply by being less wasteful.

There is not enough Uranium around to power the world for more than a few decades unless we use MUCH more efficient reactors (like the fast reactors noted above). (Thorium is also a possibility but needs development work despite some commentators views that the nuclear industry has done most of the development that it needs to do!)

We will alter the way that we use energy and there are already a raft of methods to allow efficient use of intermittent sources of power (generally without trying to store it in chemical batteries).

There are so many things that can be done and we must do them all now because we have already used up most of our allowance.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 6, 2014

Stephen, it’s already happened. Calling it a “fantasy” or saying this or that “would” happen is not an argument with me, but with history.

That you “see” China or the US mandating solar on every rooftop is wonderful. That is unprecedented, however, and ignores the abundant history of solar promises which fell flat on their face.

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Nov 7, 2014

Yes Bob, 43 were built in 1983. the verb in that sentence is were – as in, the great pyramids were built 4000 years ago. This conversation is not about the past. Though you are free to live there if you wish. This conversation is about what is likely to happen in the future. 

Again, it is highly unlikely that any nation on this planet will start building 1000 or more nuclear reactors anytime in the near future. Also, unlike nuclear, solar is not dependent on big programs or projects and is growing at a rate that nuclear can only dream (including storage) even as it grows cheaper, advances technologically at a similarly phenomenal pace and becomes easier to install

By the by, solar’s past says every bit as much about solar’s future as computer technology’s past says about its future – that is to say; nothing at all




Peter Lang's picture
Peter Lang on Nov 7, 2014

Nuclear power would be the lease cost way to reduce the emissions intensity of Australia’s electricity system – that’s despite having cheap, high quality, low sulphur coal close to the major demand centres.

If we want to reduce emissions at least cost, nuclear is by far the cheapest way to achieve it.  This concludes that a mostly nuclear powered electricity grid would be 1/3 ther capital cost, 1/2 the cost of electricity and 1/3 the CO2 abatement of a mostly renewable powered grid.  See cost summary on Figure 6 here.

Nuclear colud be much cheaper if USA led the way to remove the impediments that are preventing the world from having low cost nuclear power.

James Hopf's picture
James Hopf on Nov 7, 2014

From a host of scientific studies.  It is also what just about all formal scientific organizations (e.g., the WHO) and national govt. agencies (e.g., the EPA) have been telling us, for decades.  The EPA has always maintained that coal kills over 10,000 people annually in the US alone.  Worldwide, it’s in the hundreds of thousands.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Nov 7, 2014

Are you somehow inferring that solar power will power our world by 2050? Are you kiding me?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 7, 2014

Richard, are you considering Chinese state-run radio a reputable source?

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Nov 7, 2014

2,000 new plants would be less prone to meltdown because “new” means better safety or even passive safety (if MSR and other non LWR designs). If the “x factor” was 0.1, then only 1 meltdown (according to your assumption) would save the biosphere in return for only one meltdown. I believe that is definitely worth it! There will be absolutely 0 meltdown of the Chernobyl type simply because there will be zero such reactor designs built.

I assume “as bad as 311” to be “Fukushima”. That was FAR, FAR less damaging than Chernobyl. We could build 50,000 smaller MSR’s and have no major radiation leaks!

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Nov 7, 2014

You believe that coal is good for breathing? Do you think that its emissions don’t cause warming and acidification? Do you think it will Never run out?

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Nov 7, 2014

I’m not here in your “now”, either, as 35 years is a LONG way off. France went 80% in only a third of that time! The only tech problem is that environmentalists would rather trade in the math which defines the relationship of Eroei, CF and Esoi as a percentage of output power, for fantasies of even less than 50% RE (lower numbers = greater the law of diminishing returns).

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Nov 7, 2014

Why is it that in the past, MORE could be done with LESS tech? Why? Are we stupy? To think that it can not be exceeded now is to suggest that we have already begun the slippery slope into another dark age. Learn from history because this is about saving the future!

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Nov 7, 2014

No, but it will power a much larger percentage of it.

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Nov 7, 2014

For nuclear to power a significant portion of the world, it wouldn’t be 1000 reactors, it would be 10,000 reactors or more.  

Jeffrey Miller's picture
Jeffrey Miller on Nov 7, 2014

Great comment James. 

The public needs to learn two things about nuclear power. First, as you note, is the extraordinary safety of nuclear relative to almost every other source of power. And second, we have zero hope of averting dangerous levels of climate change without massive new investments in nuclear (on the order of thousands of new 1 GW plants worldwide).  This is unfortunately an uphill battle. The public has been exposed to decades of lies from anti-nuclear activists, lies which continue to promote to this day. The other big problem is the media. The media loves sensational stories. When a core is damaged at a nuclear plant, the media gather like flies and generate endless hours of breathless and sensational reports. They give no attention to the actual expected health outcomes from the damage (which will be undetectable at Fukushima according to the WHO). And, even worse, they almost never discuss the many orders of magnitude more serious but much less exciting topic of the deaths from fossil fuel emissions. 

Regulators also need to change the way they regulate. As Joris van Dorp noted in another comment a while back, and as you note in your comment, it makes absolutely no sense to regulate different power producers according to wildly different and arbitrary standards. Currently, a death from coal is valued at a tiny fraction of a death from nuclear. There should be a common risk standard (something along the lines of expected years of life loss per GWH plus expected damages from climate change would be a good start) for all power producers. If we had a rational regulatory framework which truly valued human life and the environment, regulators would be promoting nuclear instead of stymieing it. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 7, 2014

Stephen, according to my source above, building one reactor/week would be sufficient by 2050 to halt atmospheric increases in CO2. That’s significant.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Nov 7, 2014

Of course you can get rid of the junk.  Edit in Notepad, not Word.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 7, 2014

Richard, you bring up a good point. Anything broadcast on Chinese state radio is certainly reviewed by a jury of “piers” at the Chinese Ministry of Propaganda before being disseminated to the masses.

Suzanne Waldman's picture
Suzanne Waldman on Nov 7, 2014

In response to some of the discussion–and to provoke more–I would just like to post a link to two charts as provocations for thinking about how much nuclear can be seen as needed to engender a fully post-carbon world that satisfies expected energy growth needs. The first is from DOE. The second is from WNA. These graphs say why many believe that if the world does not set out on a nuclear + renewbables course it will most likely fail at decarbonization. As was mentioned by some commenters, the IPCC scenarios that do not indicate growth for nuclear (e.g. MESSAGE) tend to indicate a fall in energy demand being achieved through massive efficiencies despite population growth. Many wonder if this is a reasonable planning scenario.


Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Nov 7, 2014

We need to radically increase overall global non hydrocarbon net energy use, for obvious reasons. Efficiency and conservation, although necessary to reduce wasted energy, can only delay warming, acidification and depletion because they can NOT change the laws of physics. For example, it takes a lot of energy to build an infrastructure for Africa.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Nov 7, 2014

If France can do their share by use of the then more intrinsically expensive LWR, the world could do much better. The U.S has even more reactors than France. A modular, passively safe design is needed to bring costs, and especially, regulatory bloat down. Most importantly, we need to inform everyone that this is the best solution to saving the biosphere.

Here is just one example of many possible designs. This one requires less start up fuel!

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Nov 7, 2014

Solar’s CF of 20% requires an overbuild by a factor of about 5 in which about 4 parts must be stored.

Figure the embodied energy requirements if solar has an Eroei of 10, the CF of 10% and which storage has an Esoi of 5. And then figure how much land will be needed to develop Africa’s infrastructure, to power the rest of the world, to power the extra needs of the still growing population and don’t forget that the residential sector is just a rather small part of overall energy needs. How much solar and storage is required just to charge up a billion electric cars, for example.

There’s nothing wrong with (cheap) solar, just that it, hydropower  and wind can not do it all alone due to both the laws of diminishing returns and because of the vast land requirements.

James Hopf's picture
James Hopf on Nov 7, 2014

Even assuming a substantial increase in nuclear generation, and continued use of the once-through fuel cycle (ii.e., not breeding), we have over 1000 years of uranium, at ore costs that would not significantly increase the overall cost of nuclear electricity.


James Hopf's picture
James Hopf on Nov 7, 2014

I fully concur that a common risk standard is essential.  Nothing is more important for nuclear to have a viable future (more important than any new reactor design, etc..).  Unfortunately, given people’s prejudices and the political power of nuclear opponents, the only way to get such an equal standard  may be through the courts, as I argue in 3rd link in my above post.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 7, 2014

Willem, maybe you’ve tried this but when you’re replying – if you click on Input Format underneath the box, select Full HTML, then click the little MSWord icon all the way to the right of the header bar – you can Paste From Word, which supposedly strips the formatting.

I’m curious whether it works.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Nov 8, 2014

Agree, notepad is an hassle. Just use:
– MS-wordpad. It has the nearly same edit facilities as Word. Misses only the complex edit options.
(Wordpad is in Windows: C:\Program Files (x86)\Windows NT\Accessories)
– Word from LibreOffice. I use that most. It is open source, free to download from their site.

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Nov 7, 2014

I have no problem with the new reactor designs per say.  It’s the process of getting them funded, the process of  getting them buillt, the process of getting them unbuilt, the process of finding a way to deal with the waste and it’s the loads of bureaucracy and corruption that finds its way into the nooks and crannies of each of these processes. 

They’re never built on time, they’re never built on budget, because of intrinsic security concerns they’re always built through impenetrable opacity and secrecy, and they often end up not being built at all. To support a new, enormous nuclear project is to feel like a sucker  

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Nov 7, 2014

With RE land is dual use (or more) – solar on rooftops or even use as shade, wind on farm land. Increasingly it’s not land at all – ocean based wind, solar, wave and tidal. 

I don’t know when we’re supposed to hit the trigger for the law of diminishing returns, but right now RE is growing like a house on fire and nuclear (at least in nations with democracies) is standing stock still.  


Suzanne Waldman's picture
Thank Suzanne for the Post!
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