Why would climate publications disrespect nuclear fission? 1

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  1. I understand Bill Gates’ support for nuclear power is through his personal investments. Although Gates founded Breakthrough Energy, some of its other investors are dead set against nuclear power.

  2. The dangers of excess CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere is a scientific reality that has gradually been embraced by the extreme left. And since commercial nuclear power has been demonized by the extreme left, many publications try to be politically correct when mentioning nuclear energy as a climate change solution.

  3. In Atomic Insights of 18 Dec 2023, Rod Adams asks, “Why would climate publications disrespect nuclear fission?”

    Evidently, the reason is that antinuclear disinformation is still thriving, now stronger than ever.

    I think the main problem is that understanding and acceptance of nuclear energy are determined by whether or not fear and ignorance have been replaced with basic understanding, e.g., by STEM education. AFAICT, that is still controlled by politics. For example, there are several good science museums in the SF Bay Area that love to go on about climate and biology, but they all steer clear of basics like chemistry and physics, either by silence or in some cases, by opting to leave students in an impossible are-you-for-it-or-against-it dilemma[1].

    I think that a better solution would be to teach basics of physics and chemistry of atoms, emphasizing the science in its own right, and not jumping into arguments about the rightness or wrongness of what people do with it. Just the facts, please[2].

    (Aside: Rod’s blog and discussions contain many of the best examples of leading STEM advocates towards understanding the science of nuclear reactors and away from public fear and ignorance, e.g., distinguishing “prompt” neutrons from “fast” neutrons and explaining that “delayed” neutrons are critical to the operation of both fast and slow neutron reactor designs. End aside).

    The best article I’ve ever read on how nuclear reactors work is one on Lithium Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTRs), written by Robert Hargraves and Ralph Moir[3]. Among other things, it includes a table graphically comparing the decay chains of the Th232->U233 and U238->Pu239 fuel cycles. Goodness, how I wish that schoolkids in the USA could be taught what constitutes the differences between the two fuel cycles, and at least some of what the differences mean, by the time the kids graduate from high school!


    [1] California Acadamy of Sciences, “Flipside Science, Exploring Energy: Designing a Brighter Future” (URL: https://www.calacademy.org/educators/nuclear-energy-is-fission-the-future). This unit falsely equates “clean energy” with “renewable energy”. It provides an overview of fission energy as too risky and costly to be practical, ignoring the details, instead cynically rooting for fission or fusion to provide a perfect solution for sometime in the indefinite future.

    [2] Albuquerque, NM has an excellent science and history museum that offers an after-school class on basics of nuclear chemistry, physics, and reactor engineering; the course is open to middle and high school students. See “Project Atom” at URL: https://www.nuclearmuseum.org/educate/project-atom

    [3] “Lithium Fluoride Thorium Reactors” by Robert Hargraves and Ralph Moir, in American Scientist July-August 2010; URL: https://www.americanscientist.org/article/liquid-fluoride-thorium-reactors

    1. @Chris Aoki

      I can’t speak for the SF area science museums, but I recall a visit to Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) when my children were young.

      There was an extensive display about electricity and electricity generation complete with stations where one could assemble various electricity circuits, Van Der Graff generators, and some great photos of power plants. Wind, solar, gas, coal, geothermal and even tidal were mentioned as sources or potential sources of power. Even though there used to be a nuclear unit about 1.5 hours north of Tampa at Crystal River, there wasn’t a single mention of the word nuclear in the entire exhibit.

      Tampa Electric Company (TECO) was the exhibit sponsor. At the time, TECO generated about 90% of its electricity by burning coal, with the rest being gas speakers. (This was in the early 1990s.)

  4. Wow! What a biased description given about fission power. The choice of words was negatively excellent while being just at the edge of going over the top.

    It was a grudging acknowledgement that nuclear fission exists. It was like the author was forced to mention it and it held the same smell for him as removing week old garbage that has been under a hot sun. As odd as it sounds, I think it’s an improvement over most. I’ve seen many pieces that rave about renewable energy with not a mouse peep mentioned about the power source that provides almost 20 percent of the US electricity.

    Is the reluctant acknowledgement a hidden expression of ignorance or is it real disdain for nuclear fission? Yet, nuclear fusion is often touted as a panacea for the world’s energy problems when a real example of an operating facility has yet to exist. We really don’t know all the waste by products of these envisioned facilities.

    The US will, no doubt, be building more nuclear plants. However, many will be dragged kicking and screaming along that future energy path.

  5. With regards natural draft cooling towers being indelibly associated with nukes, I think you can thank “The Simpsons” for that. The geothermal station at Ohaaki, New Zealand has one. More than a few tourists have complained that we can’t have a nuclear free status because they have seen the Ohaaki tower. When quizzed, they reference Homer.
    Though technically, I suppose one can claim geothermal stations are nukes. The radioactivity in the earth produces a lot of the heat.

    1. Jim

      Thanks for asking. I had the same question yesterday but have not yet found an answer. I’ll keep trying and will respond here if I find anything.


      1. South Texas unit 1 seems to have ramped back up. About 400MW early this morning (sometime after 1 AM when I checked) and looks like they are almost full power as I checked a few minutes ago (12:34 PM EST).

        ERCOT nuclear fuel mix (output) shows over 4900MW today versus about 3700MW each day for the previous week.

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