Here is another instance of climate reporting that treats nuclear fission as if it barely exists.
Before COP28, Cipher published an “Exclusive” that led off with “The United States is working behind the scenes to ensure nuclear power is not excluded from an expected global pledge to boost renewables at the upcoming climate summit in Dubai, Cipher has learned.” (Emphasis added)
Anca Gruzu’s article, Exclusive: U.S. pushes to ensure nuclear “is not forgotten” in COP renewables pledge describes the diplomatic effort craft a broad COP agreement to mitigate climate change, including tripling renewable energy capacity and doubling energy efficiency. She also mentioned a stretch goal of including language expressing the need to halt new coal plant construction.
The article includes a dismissive quote about nuclear fission energy.
“Despite its important role reducing emissions, nuclear energy is a controversial topic around the world, with concern persisting about safety, radioactive waste and the risk it could be co-opted for use in weapons. In the EU specifically, several member countries hold anti-nuclear positions.”
The article failed to mention that the broadly supported effort to ensure that nuclear was “not excluded” involved almost 2 dozen countries in addition to the United States, even before COP.
It also didn’t mention that the real, achieved goal, was to achieve a broadly supported declaration expressing a goal of tripling nuclear FISSION generating capacity.
A search of Cipher conducted this morning (DEC 16, 2023) revealed that its COP coverage included an extensive article by Bill Spindle about how nuclear fusion had made its “first ever appearance” at a COP during COP28. That 22 paragraph article describes the “universal fanfare over nuclear fusion” while including the following dismissal of nuclear fission.
“Fission got plenty of attention at this COP, as well, with 22 countries pledging to triple the capacity of the technology, which produces no global warming gases.
Fission plants — the hulking towers that have rarely, but at times spectacularly, struggled with safety issues in the three-quarters of a century they’ve been around — unleash massive amounts of energy by splitting atoms apart. This creates radioactive waste and requires controls to avoid the sort of runaway chain reaction that melted down the infamous Chernobyl facility in the former Soviet Union in 1986.“
Aside: Though some nuclear power plants have “hulking” cooling towers, those are not the fission part of the plant. They’re not any part of the plant for a large portion of the world’s nuclear plants because they are located on large bodies of water and use those for condenser heat rejection. Many fossil fuel plant have the same “hulking towers.” End Aside.
Within its extensive COP coverage Cipher also mentioned the 24 country agreement to triple nuclear energy capacity in a two sentence “Hot Take” titled “Nuclear Renaissance?”
The fusion article and the “hot take” seem to be the extent of Cipher’s nuclear energy coverage from a 2-week meeting that some attendees called “the nuclear COP.”
(My site search also found a pre-COP article about “Gulf petrostates” with the following sentence mentioning “nuclear.” “The UAE operates the world’s largest single-site solar farm and started up three nuclear reactors since 2020.” )
The first three reactors at the Barakah nuclear power station now produce more than 18% of the USE’s electricity. When the 4th one of the project starts commercial operation in the next month or so, the total will increase to 25%. It’s a somewhat bigger deal than Cipher made it out to be.
Why is this nuclear fission disrespect from Cipher important enough for such a long post?
Cipher’s “About” page includes this self-description “Cipher covers the technological innovations we need to combat climate change and transform our global energy systems.” The publication’s executive editor is @AmyAHarder Cipher is sponsored by Breakthrough Energy.
Cipher’s fission “coverage” slows global progress in combating climate change. Fission is an incredibly powerful natural reaction that serves as an easily controlled heat source for the most productive, cleanest and safest power plants on Earth. It will play an increasingly important role in addressing energy sufficiency for all, energy abundance for most, energy security and energy cleanliness.
Of course nuclear is a “controversial topic.” People have been carefully taught to fear fission. They have rarely been taught much about the technological details of the power plants. Publications like Cipher that point to accidents almost never mention the statistical evidence accumulated over >6 decades that shows nuclear fission is one of our safest forms of energy production.
It’s logical to have some trepidation and concerns about the unknown, especially when fear messaging has been so prevalent.
There is also the competitive factor. Nuclear energy production takes markets away from all other power sources. No business likes to lose sales and revenues. All businesses strive to beat their competition. Talking trash and going negative are frequently used techniques.
But journalists shouldn’t pick sides.
Cipher should adhere to its mission of covering [all of] “the technological innovations we need to combat climate change” and the rest of our energy challenges.
I’m sure this disclosure at the bottom of Spindle’s fusion article has nothing to do with Cipher’s editorial or journalistic decisions about technologies worth covering.
“Editor’s note: Commonwealth Fusion investors include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a program of Breakthrough Energy, which also supports Cipher.”
After all, Bill Gates is a major part of Breakthrough Energy. He is widely known in the fission world as the primary backer for TerraPower, a leading fission system developer working on both liquid metal cooled reactors and molten salt reactors.
Image credit – International Atomic Energy Agency