Saving the planet from climate ideologues: Why nuclear power is the fastest, safest, most reliable way to tackle climate change



My state is burning, and the culprit is climate change.

According to climate science, we have just 10 years to mitigate the devastating effects of climate change, but according to climate ideologues, we must do so with our good hand tied behind our back.

That hand we must keep tied behind our back would, naturally, be nuclear power, the safest, fastest, most environmentally friendly way to tackle climate change. Don’t kid yourself, it is virtually impossible to get a hold on emissions that cause climate change without nuclear energy.

There’s a strong current of opinion in the professional activist sector against nuclear power based on a set of unfounded fears. Nuclear power is, after all, nuclear, and if it fails, the narrative goes, we can have daily Chernobyls in our midst.

SAFETY

But that’s just it. Chernobyl in 1986 is - and remains - the only reactor accident since the beginning of nuclear power generation some 70 years ago found to have caused any deaths or health damage. The other two widely known reactor accidents, Three Mile Island and Fukushima, did not cost a single human life, nor were ever found to cause radiation-related illness.

The human damage in the Chernobyl accident - which eventually resulted in about 50 fatalities and 5,500 cancer cases due to exposure, was attributable entirely to Soviet design without regard to safety in the middle of the Cold War.

One important thing to keep in mind is that contrary to popular perception, not every ‘accident’ at nuclear power facilities is deadly or major cause for concern. Despite there having been some 63 nuclear power plant accidents on record before 2007, the human damage toll remains limited to the Chernobyl, because of the extraordinary safety, redundancy, and auto-shutoffs practiced by nuclear plants.

Compare this to the “safety” record of the fossil fuel industry. Since 1969, over 40 major oil spills have polluted the waterways and coastlines of the United States alone, with the largest being the Deep Water Horizon spill in 2010. Over the last century, 100,000 people have been killed in coal mining accidents. And when it comes to a singular power generation disaster that cost the most lives in history, nothing comes even close to the 171,000 lives that were lost when the Shimantan Damn failed in China in 1975. Interestingly, like Chernobyl’s nuclear plant, the Shimantan Damn was also built with (wait for it) Soviet technology.

All of this to say nothing of the cost of air pollution, which costs up to 7 million lives every year, and the devastating cost of increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events in lives and dollars.

Activists would argue, however, that they are not advocating for more fossil fuel. They want more solar and wind power instead.

RELIABILITY

Simply put, demanding solar and wind exclusivity in the short or medium term (and perhaps even in the long term) is tantamount to advocating for more fossil fuels. Why? Because the sun sets or gets covered by clouds (or you know, smoke). The sun is the most bright - and therefore solar generation capacity is at its peak - for only about four hours a day even (a couple of hours before and after solar noon) when and where sunshine is aplenty. And the wind, well, the wind stops. Even if solar and wind technology were to get to a place where it would be able to meet all power needs when in operation, there are natural limits to that operation.

Couldn’t solar and wind generation simply generate more power during bright days and high winds and store the additional electricity for later use? Not. Even. Close. Take it from someone who is an expert in battery and conductor technology, Aspen Institute Trustee William Budinger.

For the answer, consider a specific case for just part of one state. A while ago, well-intentioned activists pushed to close Arizona’s Palo Verde nuclear plant and replace it with solar panels. The plant supplies a third of Arizona’s power and generates about 4 gigawatts (4GW) of 24/7 power. Had the activists been successful and actually replaced Palo Verde with solar panels and batteries, how much battery storage would they have needed? Since even Arizona can have a full week of cloudy days, those batteries would have to hold enough electrons to supply power for a week—some 670 GW hours of battery capacity (4GWx24x7).

Well, 670 GW hours is huge! As a point of comparison, the total battery storage expected to be in place in the United States at the end of 2019—utilities and homes—will be about 3 GW.

This, Budinger points out, is over 200 times the total US energy storage capacity - or 5,000 times the capacity of the most modern and largest battery in the world built by Tesla at the cool cost of $66 million.

Given even the advanced stage of storage technology, it is technologically impossible to meet our constant energy needs through solar and wind generation. Something else in the energy mix has to be a major partner in supplying the grid when the sun sets and the wind stops (even if you assumed there’s enough generation capacity).

For the time being, because of the fear campaign around nuclear energy spearheaded by activists, that something is coal and natural gas, both of which have large greenhouse gas footprints, though coal is the worst offender. Nuclear power, on the other hand, has a lower carbon footprint than wind at the to get started, and lower carbon footprints than both solar and wind for ongoing operation.

Note that although solar, wind, and nuclear power have no carbon emissions during the power production process, the carbon footprint is measured from the amount of emissions it takes to produce the parts necessary to produce raw material and build facilities and equipment.

WASTE DISPOSAL

The final fear campaign surrounding nuclear energy targets its waste disposal.

All the nuclear power that’s ever been generated have created less waste material - in total - that would occupy less space than a typical Walmart store. Waste is stored for 50 years before disposal, newer technologies allow for recycling much of the waste for more nuclear power generation, and when you’re not pulling a Sierra Blanca and following the advice of geologists instead, it turns out that deep underground storage in geologically proper areas is safe.

Nuclear power is exceedingly safe, extraordinarily clean, and effectively scalable. But for safe adoption of nuclear power to take hold, the planet must be saved, first and foremost, from climate ideologues.