I’m in Japan this week, attending the 1st Asian Heads of Research Council Joint Symposium in Nagoya, with a follow-up workshop for training junior researchers later in the week. This is my fifth trip to Japan, but it’s always an exciting place to visit. Today, after an intensive morning session at which I gave a keynote talk on my work on integrating bioclimate and population models to improve forecasts of species extinction under climate change, we visited the Ramsar-listed Fujimae Tidal Flats and the stunning Kaisho forest.
Reflecting on the energy situation in Japan and its chances for complete decarbonisation, this is a country with few natural advantages — almost no domestic fossil fuel reserves or uranium supplies (fast breeders anyone?), poor conditions for solar thermal (today was 32C and cloudy — such is the rainy season), and few suitable locations for onshore wind (offshore may be more viable for any serious expansion). Its hydro resource is mostly tapped. The Greenpeace [r]evolution scenario for Japan, for what it’s worth, demands huge gains in energy efficiency and conservation, and yet is still left with a disturbingly large dependence on fossil fuels (one wonders why they eliminated Japan’s nuclear power…).
Anyway, to the main point of this post — to reproduce the third in a series by Steve Kirsch on IFRs as a solution to the global energy crisis. Like the previous two articles, Steve published this originally on the Huffington Post. I’m mirroring it here because its material is obviously highly relevant to the ongoing BNC discussion on the prospects for IFR nuclear power — and Steve (now a good friend of mine via regular electronic conversations!) has a real knack of asking the right questions about climate change mitigation. He, like me, is seeking a real solution, that will WORK, globally. Take it away Steve:
Nuclear is the elephant in the room
70% of the carbon free power in America is still generated by nuclear, even though we haven’t built a new nuclear plant in this country in the last 30 years. Hydro is a distant second. Wind and solar are rounding error. Worldwide, it’s even more skewed: nuclear is more than 100 times bigger than solar and more than 100 times bigger than wind. If I drew a bar chart of nuclear vs. solar vs. wind use worldwide, you wouldn’t even see solar and wind on the chart.
So our best bet is to join the parade and get behind supporting the big elephant. We put all the wood behind one arrow: nuclear. We invest in and promote these new, low-cost modular nuclear designs worldwide and get the volumes up so we can drive the price down. These plants are low-cost, can be built in small capacities, can be manufactured quickly, and assembled on-site in a few years.
Nuclear can be rolled out very quickly. About two thirds of the currently operating 440 reactors around the world came online during a 10 year period between 1980 and 1990. In southeast Asia, reactors are typically constructed in 4 years or less (about 44 months)
Secondly, the nuclear reactor can replace the burner in a coal plant making upgrading an existing coal plant very cost effective. Finally, it is also critically important for big entities (such as the U.S. government in partnership with other governments) to offer low-cost financing to bring down the upfront cash investment in a new nuclear reactor to be less than that required to build a coal plant.
Under my plan, we now have a way to economically displace the building of new coal plants that nobody can refuse. People will then want to build modular nuclear plants because since they are cheaper, last longer, and are cleaner than coal. No legislation or mandate is required.
My plan is credible since it doesn’t require Congress to act. Power companies worldwide simply make an economic decision to do the right thing. No force required.
My plan would provide huge economic benefits to the United States. We’d create jobs, improve our trade deficit, and get a nice on-going monthly cash flow from the plants we finance. So whether you believe in global warming or not, this plan works.
The only political impediment to overcome is to convince those countries that have a ban on nuclear to reconsider. However, this is not strictly required since the few countries that have such a ban have relatively small coal emissions compared to the countries that have no such ban.
Nuclear waste and proliferation issues are quite manageable. These issues are covered in my Huffington Post article “Climate Bill Ignores Our Biggest Clean Energy Source.”
Do we really think we solve our biggest crisis without a plan? That would be insane. If the White House doesn’t like my plan then they should propose a more viable plan, communicate it to the world, and start implementing it now, while there is still time.