IPCC working group III recommends nearly quadrupling nuclear energy

A few of my pronuclear friends have been disappointed by the treatment of nuclear energy in the recently released final draft of the IPCC working group III Summary for policy makers. For example, Steve Aplin at Canadian Energy Issues thinks that the IPCC is prejudiced against nuclear energy.

While there may be some members of the body who don’t like nuclear energy very much, the rational, numerate members of IPCC working group III managed to slide some very important words past the dissenters in a way that makes me, as a lover of careful wording, want to praise their composition skills.

Policy makers should note that the word ‘nuclear’ appears 11 times in the summary. In four of those important passages, it is a key component of a short list of zero- and low-carbon energy sources.

  • At the global level scenarios reaching 450 ppm are also characterized by more rapid improvements in energy efficiency, a tripling to nearly a quadrupling of the share of zero- and low-carbon supply from renewables, nuclear energy AND fossil energy with carbon capture and storage (CCS) OR bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) by the year 2050. (p. 15)
  • Zero- and low-carbon energy supply includes renewables, nuclear energy, AND fossil energy with carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS), OR bioenergy with CCS (BECCS). (p. 16)
  • In the majority of low-stabilization scenarios, the share of low-carbon electricity supply (comprising renewable energy (RE) nuclear AND CCS) increases from the current share of approximately 30% to more than 80% by 2050, AND fossil fuel power generation without CCS is phased out almost entirely by 2100. (p. 23)
  • annual investment in low-carbon electricity supply (i.e., renewables nuclear AND electricity generation with CCS) is projected to rise by about USD 147 (31-360) billion (median: +100% compared to 2010) (p. 29)

(Emphasis and capitalization of operators added.)

Not only have I spent time smithing words for human consumption in intensely political environments, but I also have a fair understanding of Boolean logic. I admire what the IPCC authors have accomplished. In both human communications and computer programming, the operators ‘AND’ and ‘OR’ have important meanings. So do modifiers like ‘with’. (Fossil with CCS is a completely different animal than fossil without CCS.)

In my analysis, the recommendation for policy makers is quite clear. The only way to stabilize atmospheric CO2 concentration at acceptably low levels is to nearly quadruple the output of renewables, nuclear, AND electricity generation from fossil or bioenergy with CCS. The ‘and’ means that all of the items on the list are needed, the program cannot pick and choose the one or two that it likes the best.

However, since current electricity generation with CCS is virtually zero, nearly quadrupling it will mean it is still nearly zero in 2050. Renewables will gain a substantial market share, but the biggest current source of zero- or low-carbon energy in the developed world — nuclear energy — will have to grow the most in absolute terms to keep doing its share of the heavy lifting.

IPCC working group III also provides some explanation for the current state of nuclear energy and its perceived utility.

Nuclear energy is a mature low-GHG emission source of baseload power, but its share of global electricity generation has been declining (since 1993). Nuclear energy could make an increasing contribution to low-carbon energy supply, but a variety of barriers and and risks exist (robust evidence, high agreement)
Those include: operational risks, and the associated concerns, uranium mining risks, financial and regulatory risks, unresolved waste management issues, nuclear weapon proliferation concerns, and adverse public opinion (robust evidence, high agreement. New fuel cycles and reactor technologies addressing some of these issues are being investigated and progress in research and development has been made concerning safety and waste disposal.

That explanation, in my opinion, is carefully worded to answer the logical questions that curious policy makers would be sure to ask – “If nuclear energy is a proven, mature, low- or zero-emission power source, why isn’t its use growing?” The IPCC working group has informed policy makers that the engineers and scientists are doing their part of addressing the reasons why nuclear energy has not been growing for the past 20 years, but the rest of the issues must be tackled by the policy makers themselves.

Most of the listed barriers to increasing clean energy output using atomic fission are political, not technical. That does not make them any more difficult to solve. In fact, the solutions are at hand, now all we need is a little more honesty and accurate risk assessment. The public’s opinion can be swayed by the people who have assumed the burden of leadership and spend most of their days working to influence the public to do the right thing.

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NS Savannah tours May 18, 2014

Press Release

NS Savannah, dressed out for 50th Anniversary celebrationsHistoric Ship N.S. Savannah Open for Tours May 18, 2014 in Observance of Maritime Day

N.S. Savannah Association, Inc. 4/17/2014

The unique, nuclear powered ship N.S. Savannah will be opened for tours at her pier in Baltimore, Md. on Sunday, May 18, 2014 as a part of the annual commemoration of Maritime Day.

During the hours of 10:00 AM – 3:30 PM, visitors will be offered a rare opportunity to view this beautiful and historic vessel.

“This day pays special tribute to the people who served as merchant mariners in service to their country as well as to the benefits that the maritime industry provides for the United States,” says Bob Moody, President of the N.S. Savannah Association Inc. and former licensed reactor operator on the ship. “We’re pleased that the Port of Baltimore hosts visitors on these occasions, and that the U.S. Maritime Administration opens the ship for the day for tours so that people can see just how unique and beautiful the ship is, inside and out.”

N.S. Savannah Association members will be on board during the weekend, providing information to visitors from a unique perspective – that of having worked on the ship. The Association serves to assist in preservation of the ship, as well as public education about the ship and its history. The ship is owned by the U.S. Maritime Administration.

Maritime Day, declared as a holiday by joint act of Congress in 1933, was set as May 22 as that is the day in 1819 on which the steamer Savannah left on the first successful transatlantic voyage by a steam-powered vessel. In honor of that pioneer, the keel of N.S. Savannah was laid on Maritime Day in 1958.
The ship is located at Canton Marine Terminal Pier 13, 4601 Newgate Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21224.

This press release came with fortuitous timing for Atomic Insights, considering the fact that the most recent prior post was about a special tour of the NS Savannah. I hope some of you can take advantage of the opportunity.

Trip report from visit to NS Savannah

About three weeks ago, I wrote an article about commercial nuclear ship propulsion. That post introduced Benjamin Haas, a student at SUNY Maritime, who has been leading a design team that is developing the conceptual design for a nuclear powered shipping system. Ben’s team is not just focused on the ship itself, but on all […]

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Smoking Gun – NCPC & John F. Kennedy

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Some lessons were learned from TMI. Others were not.

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On March 28, 1979, a little more than thirty-five years ago, a nuclear reactor located on an island in the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, suffered a partial core melt. On some levels, the accident that became known as TMI (Three Mile Island) was a wake-up call and an expensive learning opportunity for both the […]

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Using X-rays To Treat Inner Ear Infections and Deafness

Dr. Edward Calabrese and G Dhawan have published an article titled Historical use of x-rays: Treatment of inner ear infections and prevention of deafness in Vol 33(5) of Human and Experimental Toxicology, May 2014. Abstract Purpose: This article provides an historical assessment of the role of radiotherapy in the treatment of inner ear infections. Materials […]

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SMRs – Why Not Now? Then When?

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