Nuclear power is one of those solutions that I consider key for taking a warmist seriously. A warmist that says nuclear power is not required has already proven themselves incapable of honestly looking at a situation as simple as generating electricity. Nuclear power played an early role in turning me into a skeptic. I got into a discussion about “green” energy and the people were convinced of two things. The first being that CO2 was causing warming and the second that wind power and solar power could produce all the worlds electrical needs. I knew the 2nd idea was false and proving it took only a few moments. They were unswayed by the data and persisted because it was what they had read from a respected source on the issue of global warming. That set off all kinds of warming bells because anyone who thinks the world could produce the same amount of electricity without carbon AND nuclear power is living in a fantasy world.
However, when I do come across a warmist that says nuclear power is the only answer I tend to pay attention because they are really going out on a tree limb for what they recognize as the reality of the situation. That is something I can respect. So I pay attention.
Barry Brook is a scientist from Australia and even has some government level position about coping with climate change. While that doesn’t mean a lot to me, it is the type of thing that warmists like to fling around as mattering. It also indicates that he has reviewed the global situation about electrical generation and knows the difference between that and the energy usage that ethanol (biomass) provides. While I don’t think he likes nuclear power, he clearly recognizes that there is no chance that the future will be carbon free without nuclear power.
I would like to cover some of the key points he makes in his latest article about how critical nuclear power is for a carbon free future.
However, where I part way with many environmentalists in on our view as to what the solutions to these problems are. Many well-intentioned people hope to see a world without nuclear weapons or nuclear power, and unfortunately consider (wrongly) that the two are irrevocably intertwined. In the typical environmentalist worldview (I am, of course, deeply environmentally conscious), nuclear power is not only dangerous, but also unnecessary. Renewable energy, from sunlight, wind, waves and plant life, are clearly the answer, they believe. This is a widespread view – almost ‘common wisdom’ – and would be perfectly acceptable to me if the numbers could be made to work. Unfortunately, they can’t, and there is no prospect of this changing.
I like the way that he (in a very delicate manner) points out that carbon free without nuclear power is a fantasy. Not only does he say it is impossible, but the impossibility in the future is not going to change. That all happens to be true. Clean renewable energy is simply too expensive and too low quality for really large scale production. There is no chance that the laws of thermodynamics will ever retreat to make things easier for warmists. That is exactly why coal and oil are so successful. They work and they work well. Everything that renewable energy cannot say.
If we aim for society to be nearly completely powered by zero carbon sources by mid century, what is the size of the task? This might require 8 to 10 thousand gigawatts of electrical capacity, worldwide. Let’s say we were to do it all with wind and solar. Even if we ignore the substantial issue of energy storage and backup, this would still require building 1,200 huge wind turbines and/or carpeting 45 square kilometres of desert with mirror fields, every day, for forty years. For wind, this would consume 1.25 million tonnes of concrete and 335,000 tonnes of steel. For solar, it would be 2.2 million tonnes of concrete and 690,000 tonnes of steel. That’s what’s required to be built every single day, for decades and decades. What if we did it with nuclear power? Using the AP1000 design currently being deployed in China, we’d have to build two reactors every three days, using 160,000 tonnes of concrete and 10,000 tonnes of steel per day. Once again, a massive task, but one that is substantially less material- and land-intensive than the wind and solar options. When large-scale energy storage and its required peak-capacity overbuilding is considered, the numbers blow out ever further in favour of nuclear.
This is really the fun part of his article for me. He displays the reasons why renewable is so foolish in a way that would not cross my mind. He focuses on the raw resources needed to make solar/wind succeed at the task in front of it. In total 3.5 million tons of concrete and nearly a million tons of steel. Consider the carbon emissions required for 3.5 million tons of concrete. That is a breathtaking number.
For nuclear power, those values are less than 5% to produce the same power. Cost wise that is how it works out and as he points out, that is best case for renewable energy. The reality is even worse. The capacity factor for wind and solar require about 4x the installed capacity. The real resources needed to produce the worlds energy for today and the future will require a resource investment of almost 100:1 when compared to nuclear power. That is the bottom line. Using any resources on the low grade renewable garbage is incredibly wasteful.
The rest of his article discussing the different methods of nuclear power. It is a good article and worth the read. While I disagree with him on global warming as a whole, he is honest in his approach and recognizes the reality of the situation and for that he has earned my respect. He is the type of scientist that could change his view if the proper theory was presented to him.