Climate Change Emissions

Kurzgesagt on climate-change mitigation

They’re German. And they make sense on climate-change mitigation!

This animated video is one of the best summaries I’ve seen on the prospects for, and impediments to, cutting greenhouse gases. It’s factual, balanced and entertaining (as in all their work, the presentation is superb).

They note the following: This video is part of a series about climate change supported by Breakthrough Energy – a coalition founded by Bill Gates, that is working to expand clean-energy investment and support the innovations that will lead the world to net-zero carbon emissions.

I look forward to future installments. Please, do watch it, and encourage others to do the same! It’s 10 minutes well spent.

(Bonus points for anyone who picks up the funny error I noticed…)

P.S. They’ve also done a 4-part series on nuclear energy, outlining it’s history/status, for arguments, against arguments, and considering fusion.


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.

15 replies on “Kurzgesagt on climate-change mitigation”

Marvelous. A great deal of reliable and well-organized information is presented here in a very enjoyable fashion. The makers of the video apparently have a magic wand.


The problem with watching science is downmarket remakes.
After a generation of reruns of Sagan and Tyson remakes of Bronowski’s Ascent of Man I’m still looking forward to watching all nine yeards of Humboldt’s Cosmosdebut in 4K.


I wasn’t able to spot a funny error (not the stylized bridge-hugging train?) but there was a view of subsidies to fossil fuels three times larger than those to renewables, and of the same sign. If that were true, government could gain by rationing fossil fuels. Rationing would go into effect instantly.


The one I picked up was the city, going into blackout when fossil fuels were turned off. Yet, I could see the Eiffel Tower on the skyline. So, that city was nuclear-powered Paris. Hehe.


In the absence of any transcript, here is some text from the fourth In-a-nutshell video on nuclear, “Is nuclear energy terrible?”. It gives three reasons against.

Proliferation. The path to nuclear weapons is always paved with nuclear reactors. It is almost impossible to develop nuclear weapons without access to nuclear technology.
Reprocessing used nuclear fuel can be used to build nuclear weapons. A milligram of plutonium can kill you, a few kilograms makes a bomb. It cannot be reused in reactors because we don’t build the type of reactor that burns it.
Nuclear accidents on the scale of Chernobyl and Fukushima will occur every 30 years even if we don’t expand the share of nuclear electricity. Thousands of people died at Chernobyl and Fukushima. Large areas of land in Russia, Ukraine and Japan were rendered unfit for human habitation for decades to come. How much sacrifice can the environment make before we stamp out the use of this fuel?

I couldn’t find any reference table quoting the sources of this er, information. However, reassuringly, the comments list is derisive and renders many of the assertions as nonsense.


Known deaths from Chernobyl radiation are around 60-70, unknown maybe around 100-200
Known deaths from Fukushima radiation are 0-10.

Nuclear power is the safest way to generate electricity and always has been since the first power reactor began generating electricity in 1953.

Here are some some authoritative references:

Thomas, P.; May, J. Coping after a big nuclear accident. Process Safety and Environmental Protection 2017, 112, 1-3.

Thomas, P.J. Quantitative guidance on how best to respond to a big nuclear accident. Process Safety and Environmental Protection 2017, 112, 4-15.

Waddington, I.; Thomas, P.; Taylor, R.; Vaughan, G. J-value assessment of relocation measures following the nuclear power plant accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi. Process Safety and Environmental Protection 2017, 112, 16-49.

Waddington, I.; Thomas, P.; Taylor, R.; Vaughan, G. J-value assessment of remediation measures following the Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accidents. Process Safety and Environmental Protection 2017, 112, 16-49.

Yumashev, D.; Johnson, P.; Thomas, P. Economically optimal strategies for medium-term recovery after a major nuclear reactor accident. Process Safety and Environmental Protection 2017, 112, 63-76.


Regarding the Linear no threshold hypothesis:

Doss, M. Are We Approaching the End of the Linear No-Threshold Era? Journal of Nuclear Medicine 2018, 59, 1786-1793.

“The linear no-threshold (LNT) model for radiation-induced cancer
was adopted by national and international advisory bodies in the
1950s and has guided radiation protection policies worldwide since
then. The resulting strict regulations have increased the compliance
costs for the various uses of radiation, including nuclear medicine.
The concerns about low levels of radiation due to the absence of a
threshold have also resulted in adverse consequences. Justification
of the LNT model was based on the concept that low levels of
radiation increase mutations and that increased mutations imply
increased cancers. This concept may not be valid. Low-dose
radiation boosts defenses such as antioxidants and DNA repair
enzymes. The boosted defenses would reduce the endogenous
DNA damage that would have occurred in the subsequent period,
and so the result would be reduced DNA damage and mutations.
Whereas mutations are necessary for causing cancer, they are not
sufficient since the immune system eliminates cancer cells or keeps
them under control. The immune system plays an extremely
important role in preventing cancer, as indicated by the substantially
increased cancer risk in immune-suppressed patients. Hence, since
low-dose radiation enhances the immune system, it would reduce
cancers, resulting in a phenomenon known as radiation hormesis.
There is considerable evidence for radiation hormesis and against
the LNT model, including studies of atomic bomb survivors,
background radiation, environmental radiation, cancer patients,
medical radiation, and occupational exposures. Though Commentary
27 published by the National Council on Radiation Protection
and Measurements concluded that recent epidemiologic studies
broadly support the LNT model, a critical examination of the studies
has shown that they do not. Another deficiency of Commentary 27
is that it did not consider the vast available evidence for radiation
hormesis. Other advisory body reports that have supported the LNT
model have similar deficiencies. Advisory bodies are urged to
critically evaluate the evidence supporting both sides and arrive at
an objective conclusion on the validity of the LNT model. Considering
the strength of the evidence against the LNT model and the
weakness of the evidence for it, the present analysis indicates that
advisory bodies would be compelled to reject the LNT model.
Hence, we may be approaching the end of the LNT model era.”


Hi Peter. I think you are combating ignorance with facts. However Barry’s message seemed to be about salesmanship – before we can persuade the non-believers, we need to be using their language first. Even so, Kurzgesagt’s text seemed to reiterate misinformation as well, reinforcing the falsehoods. If I were to be hit with those chants (paraphrased above) in conversation, I would try to use their language without using their factoids. Thus, “yes, they used to use reactors to make bombs”, “yes, a milligram of plutonium surgically emplaced would kill you”, “yes, a few kilograms of plutonium can be reused in reactors if we build them“, “yes large areas of land were declared unfit for human habitation”, and so on. That way, having conceded the vocabulary but not the factoids, we can try to continue discussion and introduce the facts later.

Liked by 1 person

Australian Energy Update 2020 is an interesting read

Click to access Australian%20Energy%20Statistics%202020%20Energy%20Update%20Report_0.pdf

In Table 3.2 it says we consumed 264 Twh of carbon heavy electricity in 2019 of which about 34 Twh came from wind and solar. Next to Figure 4.3 it says Australia exported a subdued 7,571 tonnes of uranium. According to Euratom a kilogram of U308 produces 45 Gwh of electricity. I presume that’s in light water reactors net of enrichment effort. Multiplying I get 341 Twh in uranium exports. That is we tie ourselves in knots to produce 264 Twh carbon heavy domestic electricity while helping other countries achieve a near zero carbon 341 Twh. I guess Aussies can’t be taking emissions seriously.


Hi John Newlands. It is a little clearer if we cancel out the “hours per annum”. Thus 264 TWh/a is 30.1 GW. Considering that 1 GW of nuclear electricity fissions 1 tonne per annum of uranium, it would seem that in selling 7571 tonnes per annum we are exporting 7571 GW of potential power. Current PWR reactors burn only ~0.5% of raw uranium, so the immediate value to the rest of the world is 38 GW, similar to our own consumption. And yes, I quite agree, 38 GW of carbon-free power is a lot more virtuous than 30 GW of high-carbon power, even if injected with noise from wind and solar.


From an environmental point of view, I hope every almost existing nuclear reactor runs to the end of its safe life. I think it is unfortunate that Germany is closing its last reactor next year.

However there are two environmental problems with nuclear which are usually ignored, the first is waste and environmental costs from mining.
1. A 1% grade ore requires the mining of 2,000 tonnes of ore per year per GW of nuclear power. The tailings are contaminated with heavy metals and Radon which pose a multi century hazard to the surrounding environment.
2. Nuclear reactors are prodigious consumers of water. Typically a 1 GW plant with cooling towers consumes 17-20 GL of fresh water per year, enough to supply a region of 300,000 people. The seawater cooled plants at Barrakah need to pump 100 tonnes of water per second per reactor. The water is heated by 7-9 C which is enough to kill most marine larvae going through it, so there are usually large offshore zones around seawater cooled reactors where the marine environment is severely compromised.

However the argument against nuclear in Australia is simple economics. Plant Vogtle on an existing site with more than adequate water and grid connections is costing US $25 bn (A$33 bn). Plant Vogtle has 5,000 tradesmen on site and is close to a large skilled workforce and the US while not as strong in nuclear engineering as it used to be, still has far better heavy manufacturing and nuclear engineering capabilities than we have. Costs per MW at Olkiluotto, Flammanville, Hinckley Point are the same or higher. Thus it would be a triumph if we could contain costs within 25% of plant Vogtle costs. When operating its operating costs will be about US$40/MW (A$50-55)

Let’s assume that lessons have been learnt and for some reason we can get 1,000 or so key nuclear engineering staff to relocate to Australia at no employment premium and set up a site on the coast near the Latrobe Valley in Victoria or the Hunter in NSW where only relatively minor grid reinforcements would be needed. These regions have at least the basis for a locally engaged workforce and we only need to speed about $500 m-1,000 m on infrastructure so the total cost for a 2.2 GW (@15 C) plant still is contained to about A$35-40 bn, for a peak summer capacity of 2 GW and an annual output of 17,000 GWh. It would also be offline altogether for an average of 300-400 hours per year and at half capacity for 600-700 hours due to maintenance and refuelling. It will also need at least 1.1 GW of spinning reserves on line all the time. This not 1.1 GW of generator nameplate it is 1.1 GW of capacity which can be supplied within a few minutes, so if the spinning reserves are coal or gas it means 2-4 GW of capacity running at 50%-30% of nameplate

Alternatively we can build 3 GW of widely dispersed wind, 2 GW of tracking solar, 4 GW of east west rooftop solar, 1.5 GW/4 hrs of batteries and 1 GW 12 hours of pumped hydro. That would cost about A $16 bn. As wind + solar are never zero, at 6:30 on a summer afternoon, minimum available output would still be 3.3 GW+, Annual output would be between 21,000 and 24,000 GWh so even if 20% were curtailed it will still produce more than the nuclear plant. In addition it has the following advantages.
– No additional spinning reserves are needed
– Operating costs of A$15-20/MWh
– No water required
– No paramilitary security force required
– No single point of failure
– Zero hours at zero output, worst day based on recent NEM history 25 GWh,


Leave a Reply (Markdown is enabled)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s