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.

If energy policy is important to you, please consider a donation to Atomic Insights LLC. Donations are not tax deductible; Atomic Insights is a for-profit, tax-paying organization with a mission. We are passionate about finding and sharing accurate information and analysis about atomic energy, fuels politics, and the difficult energy choices that we all need to make.

If you think, but I’ve already donated, ask yourself how many times you have tipped your favorite bartender, waitress, garbage man or valet. Is the service provided here any less valuable?

Asking Powerful Public Scientists Hard Questions

On Wednesday, April 9, 2014, The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists hosted a symposium titled Speaking Knowledge to Power in Princeton University’s Robertson Hall. The speakers included John Holdren, Allison Macfarlane, Frank von Hippel and Christopher Chyba. Three out of the four (Holdren, von Hippel, […]

Read more »

Nader’s nuclear blind spot

Climate change discussion by politicians. Brought to you by BP.

A March 12, 2014 Democracy Now! segment featuring an interview with Ralph Nader was advertised as a report about the recent US Senate climate change talkathon. Nermeen Shaikh, the show co-host, moved rapidly from a discussion about the Senate actions to draw attention to climate change to asking Nader a leading question about nuclear energy. […]

Read more »

Alvin Weinberg’s liquid fuel reactors

Figure 6. Senators John Kennedy and Al Gore Sr flank Alvin Weinberg on a visit to ORNL

A nuclear pioneer’s work on safer, cheaper, inexhaustible nuclear power is still inspiring nuclear environmentalists. by Robert Hargraves Physicist Alvin Weinberg worked on the Manhattan Project and later co-invented the pressurized water nuclear reactor. As Director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory he led development of liquid fuel reactors, including walk-away-safe liquid fluoride thorium reactors with […]

Read more »

If you really care about carbon…

By Paul Lorenzini Two recent reports ought to frame the conundrum for environmental activists who oppose nuclear power and offer guidance for all who are concerned about carbon. Renewables and efficiency are not enough The first was BP’s Energy Outlook 2035. It challenges the prevailing narrative that has been driving the thought of many environmentalists […]

Read more »

ExxonMobil, XTO, and climate change strategy

On January 24, 2014, the The Society of Environmental Journalists and the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program presented a panel discussion titled The Year Ahead in Environment and Energy. I found out about it via this tweet from Andy Revkin: Video: Enviro journalists on Keystone, gas boom, western drought, much more at […]

Read more »

On Germany, coal and carbon

By Paul Lorenzini Germany’s nuclear phase-out has an obvious and unavoidable consequence: they will burn more fossil fuels and emit more carbon. They may succeed in lowering carbon emissions using some artifact (comparisons to some historical year) but only a fool would contend that their carbon emissions will be not be higher than they otherwise […]

Read more »

Antarctic misadventure failed to plan for resilience

I’ve been pondering the misadventures of the Akademik Shokalskiy for several days, thinking about the difference in result between an excursion planned on the cheap by people who depend on things going smoothy and a voyage planned by people who included contingencies and had access to more capable technology. In the summer of 1994, the […]

Read more »

Icebreaker saved by fossil fuels. Nuclear might have been better

Just before Christmas 2013, a diesel-powered, ice-capable Russian research vessel named MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which was carrying scientists studying climate change, got stuck in the Antarctic ice. The scientists on the ship were not in any immediate risk or suffering any hardship conditions; they had plenty of fuel and supplies. The scientists have been evacuated […]

Read more »

Why is the Green Schools Alliance censoring discussion about nuclear energy

I have learned through my grapevine that the leaders of an organization called the Green Schools Alliance (GSA) have decided to reject the suggestions of parents who wanted to include a showing and discussion of Pandora’s Promise in the program of a planned conference on Green Business. According to my sources those leaders told the […]

Read more »

Professional climate change mitigation consultant says: “Let’s get real: nuclear is the only option”

By Ben Heard HOW dare anyone pretend to be surprised by Japan’s reduced emissions target? This was a foregone conclusion with a global element of responsibility and important lessons for Australia. The frightening loss of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors precipitated the withdrawal from service of Japan’s remaining, largely undamaged nuclear generators for stress testing and […]

Read more »

Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace asks energy companies to shift from coal, oil, gas to clean energy

On November 21, 2913, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman interviewed Kumi Naidoo, the Executive Director of Greenpeace, in a segment titled Greenpeace: In Opposing Oil Drilling, Detained “Arctic 30″ Are Standing Up for Planet’s 7 Billion. (There is a full transcript of the interview at the link provided.) The above embedded video above includes the interview […]

Read more »