The most important investment that we aren’t making to mitigate the climate crisis

Another crisp piece from Steve Kirsch on HuffPo that I’d like to reproduce on BNC, for completeness. (For his other posts on the IFR, click here).

If you want to get emissions reductions, you must make the alternatives for electric power generation cheaper than coal. It’s that simple. If you don’t do that, you lose.


The US is making a huge mistake in the way we are dealing with global warming. Instead of following the old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” we are doing the opposite: committing massive dollars for mitigation strategies while at the same time refusing to build the most promising new clean base-load power generation technologies developed by our nation’s top energy scientists.

The International Energy Agency tells us that every year of delay in action to tackle global warming costs $500 billion.

So what are doing about it?

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. would join others in securing a $100 billion annual fund by 2020 to help developing countries cope with climate change.

Pouring money into token mitigation strategies is a non-sustainable way to deal with climate change. That number will keep rising and rising every year without bound.

The most effective way to deal with climate change is to seriously reduce our carbon emissions. We’ll never get the enormous emission reductions we need by treaty. Been there, done that. It’s not going to happen.

If you want to get emissions reductions, you must make the alternatives for electric power generation cheaper than coal. It’s that simple. If you don’t do that, you lose.

We don’t have to look very far to find the best area to invest in. Nuclear is the elephant of clean power technologies. It’s also very efficient in terms of the natural resources that are required to construct these power plants (less than a tenth of what it takes for the same amount of energy from renewables).

But this isn’t necessarily about nuclear. Perhaps there are other areas that I don’t know about that are also viable. The main point is this: We need to be investing billions of dollars right now in perfecting and cost reducing any technology that we know about today that has the potential to generate reliable baseload electric power at any site in the world at a cost less than a coal plant.

In the opinion of the energy experts I know, the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) would be on anyone’s “short list” of technologies that for sure we’d want to invest in now for the long term. The Gen IV International Forum (an independent international group of nuclear experts) did an extensive study of all nuclear designs and rated the IFR the best nuclear design overall. GE-Hitachi has all the plans completed is ready to build the needed commercial-scale demonstration. Unlike conventional nuclear, IFRs can replace the burner in a coal plant, making it very cost effective to switch to the lower cost, clean alternative. The fuel to run these plants for thousands of years has already been mined and is just sitting there collecting dust. We solve our nuclear waste problem at the same time. What could be better than that?

The fact that we aren’t investing even a nickel to prove the IFR is the “canary in the coal mine.” It’s telling me that our current strategy is defective.

It makes no sense to commit $100 billion every year to mitigate the effects of climate change while at the same time refuse to invest even a nickel in one of the most promising technologies (developed at our own national labs by our nation’s smartest energy experts) that could prevent the problem from getting any worse.

The billions we invest in R&D now in building a clean and cheaper alternative to coal power will pay off in spades later.We have a really great option now — the IFR is on the verge of commercial readiness — and potential competitors such as the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) are in the wings. But the US government isn’t investing in developing any of these breakthrough new base-load power generation technologies. Not a single one.

We are investing in third-generation nuclear which is a good short-term strategy.

But completely ignoring fourth generation nuclear (such as the IFR), is a very bad idea. Fourth generation reactors are over 100 times more efficient than existing reactors, they generate little waste, consume existing nuclear waste for fuel, and can help bring the spread of nuclear weapons under control.

We cannot be leaders in clean power by leaving our best technology on the shelf.

We need to move the world off of coal as soon as possible. Copenhagen has proven yet again that agreements to reduce emission won’t work. Therefore, an economic solution is the only option left. The best way to develop a cheaper alternative to coal is to place a few big strategic bets now on our best technologies that can do that. We have no time to waste.

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By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

108 replies on “The most important investment that we aren’t making to mitigate the climate crisis”

Ewen Laver

Excellent and thoughtful analysis.

Peter Lang

Fraud, per se, is not necessarily a relevant reason to dismiss what Ewen is proposing. I suspect most fraudulent losses are associated with spurious offsets and the issuance of too many or too cheap licences to polluters. Mandating and subsidisation of renewables are other very damaging characteristics of EU climate change policy. Australia might learn from the mess made by the EU and its CPRS scheme might avoid some of these problems.

You say that you are in favour of emissions regulation. Could you be more specific in your explanations as to why this would be superior to, say, CPRS (I’ll omit Tax and Dividend because you suggest it has no current Australian relevance). How would it be enforced? Why wouldn’t it raise electricity prices? Who would provide the funds for compensation? Why does your proposal have any more current Australian relevance than Tax and Dividend?


Hi Douglas Wise,

Thank you for all these questions. I believe I have provided the answers in a number of posts over several threads. I understand it has become rather disjointed and so it is probably pretty unclear to others what I am suggesting as an alternative and why I believe an ETS is the wrong policy for Australia at this time (maybe ever). I have sent an article to Barry to assist with answering some of these questions. Addressing why regulation rather than ETS may be a subject too big for me to handle in posts like this.

For now, can I refer you to the quote at the top of this thread:

If you want to get emissions reductions, you must make the alternatives for electric power generation cheaper than coal. It’s that simple. If you don’t do that, you lose.

and to the several related posts where I argued the case why this is so important

Then to:
and the related posts following this. Please also do refer to the links included. The GapMinder chart is important to understand where I am coming from.

There are many relevant posts on this thread including this:

Understanding what I am trying to say in these posts depends on the paper “Emission Cuts Realities – Electrcity Generation” as a prerequisite. What all these posts are trying to do is to provide a realistic way to achieve the least cost way to reduce emsiions the most and to achieve the schedule for emissions cuts. Option 3 – Nuyclear and CCGT is the option that cuts emissions the msot and alt least cost, so the posts I am referring you to are trying to achieve thos emissions custs and at that rate. In my opinion an ETS will not go close. It will achieve next to nothing for years. We’ll continue to muck around with CCS, solar therma and wind power. Unless we can assit Labor to get over its anti-nuclear policy, quickly, we are not going to make any real progress.

I believe this year, before the election, is the window of opportunity. If we miss it, the delay can go on for a long time. Its been going on for 20+ years and who knows how much longer. There is no point trusting what the Labor supporters say. They will simply defend what Labor wants to suit its election prospects. That will get us nowhere on introducing nuclear power in Australia. I believe we really need to apply the pressure to Labor now. The most important time is right now as the CPRS Bill is debated in Parliament, and following this in time to get funding included in the budget for this financial year. We need to get Labor to change its policy and take its policy to the election. We also need to encourage Labor that they have a unique selling point and a clear segregator from the Coalition on the basis of who has the best policy to implement nuclear at least cost. Labor can point to many of the argments that others have made here that it needs to have a major public sector involvement to achieve least cost. But don;’t start using safety or scare campaigns. Lets see the policy battel on the basis of least cost electricity. Otherwise, …..


I am new to this site but I am astonished at the general inconsistency in reasoning.

You are trying to push nuclear energy which is very sensible, but you are doing it with the disproven religion of AGW. That is marketing suicide as the flood gates have been open to the fraud perpetrated upon the public.

It is a shame that no one can just discuss the science without feeling like they have to cook the data. Do any of you have the original station data, not the homogenized data? Why is that data sequestered, homogenized and then destroyed. Placing your faith on the flawed work of others reduces the value of your objectivity, intelligence, and ability to persuade others of the value of nuclear energy.


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