At The Energy Collective, there is an active comment thread on a post titled Is Bill McKibben Really Serious About Climate Change? that has been sustained since March 8, 2013.
Recently there was a comment that provided an opportunity to address a frequently expressed meme that is often used by people who oppose the use of nuclear energy. The basic thrust of the objection is that it is not worth pursuing nuclear energy unless it can supply all of our energy needs. Here is the comment posted by Steven H Johnson on March 25, 2013.
Hmm. If nuclear is to meet all the demand, it has to be able to warm and cool all our buildings, power all our vehicles, including aircraft, and power all our factories. It’s an interesting proposition. Could you take us through each of those challenges and show us how nuclear is the best solution in each instance?
That question provided me with the opportunity to briefly summarize my position on why nuclear fission energy can make a real difference, even if it does not have the ability to power automobiles and aircraft directly.
Nuclear does not have to do it all in order to make a huge difference in the world’s energy supply and carbon emissions situation.
It can start with the market application where it has proven to be extremely competitive – supplying large scale, reliable electricity that would otherwise be produced by burning coal, natural gas or oil. It can also take large chunks of market share in another application where its proven capability is just as extensive, though less visible to most of the people in the world – propelling large, fast, emission-free ships that would otherwise be powered by burning oil.
As nuclear energy increases its market share and suppliers begin building in earnest, manufacturing economies that are almost guaranteed with any product will enter into the picture. As volume sales increase for all of the special parts that go into nuclear plants, they will become less unique and more standardized, leading to overall cost – and then price – reductions.
Nuclear can enter into markets for both space and industrial process heat with almost as much ease as with the previous two markets I mentioned; there are probably a dozen or more reactors around the world that are already supplying reliable heat to urban space heating systems and at least a couple that have been used to supply industrial process heat.
Factories can either be supplied by the grid or by smaller units on site. We have a great deal of experience in building smaller nuclear plants in the same power output range as would be needed by a moderate to large factory. An on site small reactor (or several for an industrial complex) would be able to be a cogeneration facility that supplies both heat and electricity.
Nuclear heat can play a role in supplying personal vehicles and aircraft with fuel by being an integral part of the process that converts carbohydrates from plants or carbon from coal into a liquid hydrocarbon using processes like the endthermic Fischer-Tropsch for coal to liquid or one of several distillation processes for carbohydrate conversion.
There are many challenges to be overcome between our current state and a state of atomic abundance, but the primary hurdles have been erected by human decision making rather than based on physics or weather. The nice thing about human decisions is that they are easier to change than the laws of nature that limit the competitors to nuclear energy.
Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights