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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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Is This The Death Knell For Nuclear?

It’s nearly impossible to discuss climate change and the future of the energy industry without discussing nuclear energy. Nuclear energy produces zero carbon emissions, it’s ultra-efficient, it’s already in widespread use, and could be scaled up to meet much more of our global energy needs with relative ease, but it is, and will likely always be, an extremely divisive solution.

For all its virtues, nuclear energy certainly has its fair share of drawbacks. It may not emit greenhouse gases, but what it does produce is deadly nuclear waste that remains radioactive for up to millions of years and we still don’t really know what to do with it other than hold onto it in ever-growing storage spaces. And then there are the horror stories that keep civilians and politicians alike wary if not outright antagonistic toward the technology. Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Three Mile Island loom large in our collective doomsday consciousness, and not without good reason.

We’re still dealing with the aftermath of these nuclear disasters. Japan is in many ways still reeling from 2011’s Fukushima nuclear disaster and recently even threatened to throw radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean or letting it evaporate into the air because they are running out of storage space for the wastewater they have been using to keep the damaged Fukushima reactors from overheating again. So yeah, nuclear isn’t perfect. 

Because of all of these reasons, as well as financial burden, nuclear energy has been on the decline in much of the world (with some notable exceptions in the nuclear-friendly administrations in China and Russia). This is not new news. Now, however, Chatham House, the UK's Royal Institution of International Affairs, has taken things a step further by taking the official stance that nuclear will never be a serious contender as a solution to catastrophic climate change.  Related: Bearish Sentiment Returns To Oil Markets

As paraphrased by environmental news site EcoWatch, the energy experts at Chatham House “agreed that despite continued enthusiasm from the industry, and from some politicians, the number of nuclear power stations under construction worldwide would not be enough to replace those closing down.” The consensus was that this is nuclear’s swan song, and we are now unequivocally entering the era of wind and solar power

These conclusions were arrived at during a summit convened to discuss the findings of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019, which concluded that “money spent on building and running nuclear power stations was diverting cash away from much better ways of tackling climate change.”  Related: Low Gas Prices Crush Appalachia Shale Boom

This echoes the sentiment of many other climate and energy experts, who have long been sounding the alarm bells that renewable energy is not being built up or invested in with nearly enough urgency. Last year the International Energy Agency announced that renewables growth has slumped, and that our current renewable growth rate of 18o GW of added renewable capacity per year is “only around 60 percent of the net additions needed each year to meet long-term climate goals”.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) did the math, calculating exactly how much renewable energy will need to be installed by 2030 if the world has any hope of meeting the goals set by the Paris climate agreement, and they found that “7.7TW of operational renewable capacity will be needed by 2030 if the world is to limit global warming to ‘well below’ 2C above pre-industrial levels, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement,” according to reporting by Wind Power Monthly. “However, at present, countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) amount to 3.2TW of renewable installations by 2030, up from 2.3TW currently deployed.”

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report succinctly sums up the situation while sounding the death knell for nuclear: "Stabilising the climate is urgent, nuclear power is slow. It meets no technical or operational need that these low-carbon competitors cannot meet better, cheaper, and faster."

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com

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  • N P on January 18 2020 said:
    Remains radioactive for a million years? Umm, it was radioactive when it came out of the ground. If anything, its decay was accelerated by using it in a reactor. Deadly? Got news for you, all sorts of stuff is deadly including just about every cleaner on your shelf. Efficient? Compared to coal yes, but actually it is only 3% efficient as we leave 97% of the reactionable fuel in the rods when we take the rods out. What that means is that molten fuel reactors have the prospect of using 33x less fuel for the same output.
    Used fuel storage space? Nearly all the fuel ever used is still at the reactor sites. There is certainly not mountains of the stuff. Compare that to the waste from coal. 130 million tones produced the the US annually. That is the same mass as 1,286 Nimitz class aircraft carriers. And that is just the solid waste. Never mind all the tons of mercury and astronomical amounts of CO2.
    And anything highly radioactive isin't for long. If it is highly radioactive it is changing forms fast and will be mostly transformed fairly fast. Anything with a million year half life is perfectly safe...as far as the radioactivity is concerned.
    Three Mile Island? Give me a break. Caused no elevation in cancer...all lies. Decades of testing found nothing. Did not stop people like you from trying your best to terrify people. How many people do you think died in Fukushima? That was the real deal...total meltdowns. Not one person died of radiation. Some people died because the earthquake and tsunami cause an industrial accident. Stuff falling and such, as might happen with any massive power plant.
    Chernobyl? No one knows. They never gathered the statistics. The majority of the cancers generated were thyroid cancer...which could have been prevented if they gave everyone exposed or likely to be exposed in the near future simple iodine pills. But the Russians were not just incompetent reactor designers and operators they were incompetent in dealing with the aftermath. Thyroid cancer is a special case. Most radioactive stuff you are exposed to is not concentrated enough to cause your cells any issues as there are repair mechanisms. But iodine is very highly concentrated by the body in the thyroid. And our bodies are very eager to scoop up iodine if we are low in iodine. It will get it from the air, surfaces you touch as well as from food. But if you give it enough clean iodine, it does not take it up from the environment or at a much reduced rate. Then as now nearly everyone in Russia is iodine deficient.
  • Purniah Boddapati on January 19 2020 said:
    The nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima are man made. Fukushima because of commercial greed and Chernobyl due to an experiment (not allowed in Power reactors) gone horribly wrong. So its not to put down nuclear as an unsafe technology.
    Nuclear has a role in providing base power 24X7
  • Sco Bur on January 19 2020 said:
    Nuclear needs to be used better - not continue with 1950's technology.

    Smaller modular units that use interchangeable parts would be a great start.

    Use heat generated by the plant to be free heating to homes in near by communities

    Plants don't make much waste - 50+ years in a football field size storage pool.
    Nuclear waste can be re-used. It's U.S. policy not to enrich it to be used again.
    I still feel it's less dangerous in its current storage than a coal ash pile that are left to blow around, and worse in floods.
  • Don James on January 19 2020 said:
    To compare Fukushima and Three Mile Island to Chernobyl is not only ignorant and outright stupid, it has no basis in fact. No one died, nor was the general health affected by Fukushima or Three Mile Island. If you must label those two events a disaster, label them correctly as ECONOMIC disasters for the operator utilities.

    How many workers have died producing and refining oil? The article is totally biased to support the fossil fuel consortiums. Of course my comments will be rejected by your moderators.
  • WILLIAM FORTUNE on January 19 2020 said:
    The Greens say that they would replace the NH coal plants with renewables. I claim that they are no way qualified to make such statements. NO ONE that is pushing renewables is showing how many solar panels, batteries & diesel powered generators are needed to replace the NH 585 MW coal fired power plants. Those plants are to a great extent load following and can operate CONTINUOUSLY for 8000 hours/year.
    They should not be shut down until all the money is recovered that was spent for the mercury scrubbers and other cleaning equipment. Money lost by the Utility Companies has to come from somewhere- YOU !

    As Governor i would fight to keep the 2 coal fired plants operating at 100 % until NH is allowed to install at least 700 MW's of the Greenhouse Gas Free, safe, economical, load following Generation IV power plants. The Greens can put their efforts into doing something useful.

    BTW, there is not enough natural gas generating capacity in New England, so on cold days and in the event of a power plant shutdown OIL & COAL has to be burned !

    William Fortune
  • B Jensen on January 20 2020 said:
    I don't see any indication that people are being honest with themselves, or others, about the big picture on power solutions.

    Solar and wind require a massive investment of resources and land to only actually provide decent output 30-40% of the time.
    No one actually talks about the financial or environmental impact of recycling solar panels either, which do contain some amounts of hazardous materials.

    Barring near-future breakthroughs in fusion, we need to right size the proper solution(s) until we can hit the milestone fusion will introduce.
    We can't do that with wind and solar, at least not alone, unless we're willing to sacrifice countless acres of land and displace thousands of natural animal habitats to make it happen.
  • Suqi Madiqi on January 23 2020 said:
    Haley Zaremba articles are more propaganda than truth. With the intermittency and diluteness problems of wind and solar, they are no where close to a solution.

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