top of page
  • Writer's pictureTom Mast

Nuclear Energy - For Global Warming Mitigation

Updated: Nov 2, 2022

Tom Mast, founder Solve American Gridlock



Reference: Christopher Barnard in the WSJ Op-Ed of 7-19-22, The Global Nuclear Comeback


The table below appeared in previous post, but it is repeated here to provide the basis for making the argument more forcefully for nuclear energy.


In the table below, the last column that has ratings for each source’s potential to be a force in the fight against global warming. Wind and solar each earned an A-, the minus caused by their being intermittent. If they weren’t intermittent, perhaps we could depend solely on them to replace the fossil fuels, but causing the sun to shine 24 hours per day and the wind to blow all the time just is not going to happen. In both the EU and the U.S., it has become increasingly obvious lately that wind and solar energy have to be backed up by other sources or energy security (reliability in this case) suffers. People can then get cold feet (pun intended) and sour on fighting global warming. Energy storage may eventually be a big help for intermittent sources, but we don’t know now how to scale it up to the extent required.


Getting around to the meat of this story, the only other source with a grade above D is nuclear energy. That should really tell us something. We need a non-CO2-producing source that can provide much of the 60% of the electrical energy now generated by fossil fuels. That source appears to be nuclear.


In the article referenced above, Mr. Barnard makes a number of points about the past and present trends for nuclear energy.


PAST

  • Globally, nuclear energy went from 19% in 1996 to about 10% today.

  • Germany and Japan were leading the way to phase out nuclear energy.

  • The U.S. has closed 12 reactors since 2012.

NOW:

  • Belgium extended use of two reactors by ten years.

  • Poland is building its first plant.

  • The Czech Republic plans several.

  • France was tempted to shutter 14 of its 58 reactors, but has reversed course.

  • The Netherlands plans include two plants.

  • Japan, traumatized by its Fukushima disaster, now is planning to restart 30 reactors by 2030.

  • The U.S., among other actions, continues through private and governmental entities to pour money into Small Nuclear Reactors (see note 2 below the table). These SMRs are just now breaking into the limelight, but given the paucity of energy sources with strong and wide potential in the fight, they deserve strong consideration.


(Numbers in the table’s columns refer to Notes below)


Notes

1. Renewable energy is energy that is collected from renewable resources that are naturally replenished on a human timescale. It includes sources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. Wikipedia


2. Most existing electrical generation nuclear reactors are quite large. They are fission reactors, have been developed over many years and mankind knows how to make them. But, they have been built with many different designs, so they tend to be very slow to build and costly. Hence the development grade of “B” for these large reactors which are often one of a kind. Another class of reactors is called Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), and while much research and development has been done on them over many years, only now are the first ones beginning to come on line. So while they may have great potential for several reasons, their readiness is rated at “D”. This could be accelerated.


3. Fusion reactor technology is quite different from the fission technology used in all reactors operational to date. It may someday produce much energy for the world with almost no dangerous waste. But, the technical problems are extremely difficult and expensive, and despite serious research for many years and some prototypes well along, fusion technology is not anywhere near the stage that mankind can predict its success or schedule. Hence the readiness rating of “F”.


4. Wikipedia - Biofuel is a fuel that is produced over a short time span from biomass, rather than by the very slow natural processes involved in the formation of fossil fuels, such as oil. Since biomass can be used as a fuel directly (e.g. wood logs), some people use the words biomass and biofuel interchangeably. However, the word biofuel is usually reserved for liquid or gaseous fuels, used for transportation. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) follows this naming practice.[1]

a. Biofuel can be produced from plants or from agricultural, domestic or industrial bio-waste.[2] The greenhouse gas mitigation potential of biofuel varies considerably, from emission levels comparable to fossil fuels in some scenarios to negative emissions in others. The two most common types of biofuel are bioethanol and biodiesel.


5. As a source of renewable energy for both power and heating, geothermal has the potential to meet 3-5% of global demand by 2050. Wikipedia. Its potential is limited to locations where adequate conditions are found. Higher temperature locations with the potential to generate electricity are less common that ones that can just provide heating.


6. Hydrogen is described as not being a source of energy, but as a carrier of energy. Using electrical energy from some source is a common way to separate hydrogen from being bound up with other elements. Hydrogen is also separated from fossil fuels. It is dangerous and difficult to move as a gas, and it doesn’t exist as a liquid above -423 degrees Fahrenheit. Since it can generate electrical energy without producing CO2, and since it exists in great abundance, albeit combined with other elements, it generates much interest. But, there are fundamental issues with using it. Ref: U.S. Dept. of Energy

Comments


bottom of page