I’ll admit that I am actively searching for good news about nuclear energy to counter the conventional wisdom that we are losing the market battle to cheap natural gas. I found an interesting take on recent Cabinet appointments in a New York Times editorial titled Two Enlistees in the Climate Wars. Though it appears as almost an afterthought, nuclear energy gets a couple of favorable mentions as a technology that can be a useful tool in making a real difference in the rate of CO2 dumping in the atmosphere.
Mr. Obama nominated Gina McCarthy, an experienced clean air regulator, to run the Environmental Protection Agency, and Ernest Moniz, an M.I.T. physicist and strong advocate of natural gas and nuclear power, to run the Energy Department. Both believe global warming is one of humanity’s most pressing challenges.
There is obviously more: finding new refrigerants to replace climate-warming hydrofluorocarbons, investing not only in familiar renewable energy sources like wind and solar power but also in basic research, next-generation nuclear plants and experimental technologies that could smooth the path to a low-carbon economy.
The first commenter on the post, a Mr. Tom McMahon, was not impressed with the Times’s editorial staff recommendations. Here is a quote from his comment:
Nuclear power is yesterday, Germany has already abandoned nuclear energy, Japan is restarting some nuclear plants to satisfy energy needs but is reinvesting in new alternitive energies. The U.S. should be the wind farm capital of the world, the steps from the great plains to the rocky mtns offers nothing but wind from the Canada’s border to New Mexico. We have thousands of miles of tidal basins from which to procure energy from tides, tidal energy, never ending, sure thing twice a day, tides come in and go out.
Our investment as a country should be away from fossil fuels and nuclear power to clean renewable energy.
I submitted the following response to that comment:
Mr. McMahon is too quick to dismiss both natural gas and nuclear energy, technologies that can be used to propel the US (and the rest of the world) to a future with abundant, affordable, cleaner and more reliable power that enables people to prosper.
Natural gas is abundantly available in North America now. Current supply has driven fuel prices to levels that are still about 1/3 of their 2008 peak. We have a large inventory of machines capable of efficiently turning natural gas into useful energy. Fracking is controversial and potentially hazardous, but it is being made safer and cleaner. Gas will not last very long; the most optimistic forecasts show 2170 TCF in the US; that quantity will last about 90 years as long as we do not increase consumption.
Nuclear energy is on the rise in China, India, and other growing economies. It is still so early in its technological lifecycle that there is room for improved technology to reduce the time required to build new machines, increase cost predictability, and improve ability to meet market demand for controllable, emission free power. We’ve only known about fission for 75 years but we’ve also known since 1955 that it is a proven power source clean enough to operate inside sealed submarines.
There is enough fuel to power human society for thousands of years.
Cheap natural gas today helps make nuclear construction more affordable. New nuclear plants started today will produce emission free power for 60-80 years.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
(In the original, I ran out of space and left off my signature.)
As you can see, I have started to move closer to understanding and advocating for the N2N energy path recommended by Robert Bryce; natural gas to nuclear is starting to look like a pretty reasonable way forward.