Climate scientists propose radical solutions – including nuclear energy

The best chance for humans to avert the worst risks of both accessible fossil fuel depletion and global climate change is for people who generally agree on those risks to begin working together to improve our ability to use nuclear energy. That will mean that both nuclear energy advocates and antinuclear environmentalists must recognize that they share a common rival and also share many common goals.

The barriers between the groups are falling; I believe there are two reasons. Environmentalists that have long opposed nuclear energy are reevaluating their position as a result of deep concerns about climate change. Many pronuclear advocates are reevaluating their learned aversion to left-leaning environmentalists, partially as a result of realizing that hydrocarbon salesmen touting unlimited supplies of cheap methane (aka natural gas) are responsible for recent job losses among their peers, engineering classmates and technical society friends.

The teaser for the above clip initially led me to believe that Ms. Goodman might have invited Hansen, Caldeira, Wigley or Emanuel to her show to explain their recent letter to fellow environmentalists, but at least one of the people she did invite mentioned the ‘N’ word as a possible mitigating tool.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Anderson, you say we need “radical and immediate de-growth strategies.” What exactly does that mean?

KEVIN ANDERSON: In the short term, the only way we can get our emissions down is to actually reduce the level of energy we consume. Now, we can also put low-carbon energy supply in place, you know, power stations that are renewable—wind, even nuclear, as well. These are all very low-carbon power stations and other energy sources. But they take a long time to put in place. And we now—we’ve squandered the opportunity we had to make those changes. So, we still need to do that, but it’s going to take us 20, 30 years to do that. So what we need to do in the interim is to reduce the amount of energy we consume, and therefore reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that we emit.

(Emphasis added.)

Later in the interview, Goodman described her interview of James Hansen from several years ago. It is past time for her to invite him back to explain why he and his climate scientist colleagues have strongly encouraged their environmentalist colleagues to engage in a rapid reevaluation of their opposition to nuclear energy development.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask about the role of scientists and protest, so that brings us to James Hansen, known as the leading climate scientist in the United States, retired this year as director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies so he can be more activist. He has been arrested multiple times in recent years protesting mountaintop removal, coal mining, demanding action on climate change. A few years ago, I talked to him about his arrests at these protests.

JAMES HANSEN: These protests are what we call civil resistance, in the same way that Gandhi did. We’re trying to draw attention to the injustice, because this is really analogous. This is a moral issue, analogous to that faced by Lincoln with slavery or by Churchill with Nazism, because what we have here is a tremendous case of intergenerational injustice, because we are causing the problem, but our children and grandchildren are going to suffer the consequences.

About Rod Adams

9 Responses to “Climate scientists propose radical solutions – including nuclear energy”

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  1. Daniel says:

    At some point the video branches to a point made by Hansen in 2009. He states that what we are doing today in terms of emissions is pure intergenerational injustice.

    I will always remember Nnadir who stated a while back that building a nuclear plant today is a gift that will last 100 years.

    • Engineer-Poet says:

      The carbon-free nature of the nuclear plant is a gift that lasts 1000 years (the atmosphere/ocean equilibration time).

  2. James Greenidge says:

    I think one of the ironic reasons for the turnaround of many feelings regards to nukes is the silver lining of Fukushima’s dark cloud; all the fears and speculation and uncertainties and theories and nightmares worried over what a _single_ meltdown could do the world were dispelled by witnessing _three_ simultaneous natural-event initiated meltdowns occurring and yet the environs in Fukushima were habitable during and after the event (except to politicians and antis with axes to grind.) Not even a local Doomsday! This seemingly obvious yet unrated fact needs to be shout a lot more often! Let no anti rant go unchallenged!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  3. Eino says:

    You boys can cheer all you want about environmentalists touting nuke power. However, neither the rabble rousing environmentalists nor the hard working nuclear engineers are going to be the decision makers for the next batch of nukes. It’s all about money. Natural gas is cheap. Now, while natural gas isn’t as good at reducing greenhouse gases, it is better than coal. Any executive deciding to build a combined cycle natural gas generating station will still allow his or her self to be patted on the back for reducing Carbon Dioxide emissions. The gas turbine selected to replace or supplement the aging coal plants will be simpler than either a coal or a nuclear plant, have a higher efficiency than a coal or nuclear plant and require less people to operate than a coal or nuclear plant. The executive will be performing an assigned duty to the stock-holders when he or she makes the decision to build the natural gas plant.

    In addition, a combined cycle gas turbine can be built more quickly for less cost.

    Unless, major problems are found with fracking, most new plants are going to burn natural gas.

    The only way around this is to use the tactics that have been used quite successfully by the environmentalists to strangle the nuclear industry. Two of these are to flood hearings on any request for a gas facility with screaming intervenors and force the choice to nuclear via the legislative process.

    • Rod Adams says:


      That’s the conventional wisdom. It leaves out the fuel price risk inherent in combined cycle gas turbines that have no fuel flexibility.

      Even without any serious environmental issues with fracking, there are physical limitations on the rate of production and delivery to customers. A few seriously cold days, perhaps in the near future will expose the risks of too much concentration in methane — as long as people pay attention. That’s part of my job, to encourage people to pay attention and ask questions.

      There are plenty of methane cheerleaders who want us all to believe in cheap gas forever; I’m not one of them.

      • Dave says:

        The problem is that few people think for the long term. Nuclear plants are 80 to 100 year investments, but the EIA evaluates their LCOE on a 30 year basis and, further seems to buy that the present methane prices will stay about the same over that 30 year period which is very doubtful IMHO.

        I personally believe that the current price of methane is caused by a glut caused by irrational driller exuberance, most of the frackers are losing money on every cubic foot, but still have to sell so as to delay the day their cash on hand and borrowing capability is insufficient to service their existing debt.

        I bet a reckoning is likely coming at some point when the price of gas will go to a higher price but still less than oil on a MMBTU basis.

  4. gallopingcamel says:

    There are some great reasons for “Going Nuclear” as the US senate recently did.

    First and foremost Gen IV fission plants have the potential to deliver electricity at lower costs than any other technology including “Cheap” natural gas.

    Second they will allow us to leave fossil fuels in the ground so that future genertations will be able to find better uses than burning them.

    Third they will be able to cope with mankind’s growing need for energy for at least the next 100,000 years. Sustainability at last!

    Fourth they scale well so in the future power plants can be far more numerous than today, reducing the need to increase the capacity of electrical distribution networks.

    Fifth, reducing the burning of fossil fuels will reduce the risk of CAGW (Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming).

    While I am sincere about reasons 1 through 4, reason 5 is total BS if you take science seriously:

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