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Robert Rapier

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The Vital Role Of Nuclear Power In Reducing Emissions

  • The growth of the renewable energy industry in the last decade has been remarkable, but these new technologies cannot supply global energy demand.
  • Nearly every model out there points to the important role nuclear power must play in an energy system designed to reduce emissions.
  • In order to ensure the future of nuclear power, the world needs safe reactor designs, effective waste disposal solutions, and more political support.

Any time I write about nuclear power, it evokes passionate responses from readers. That was certainly the case following my previous article, Nuclear Power Could Cut The World’s Carbon Emissions In Half.

There is always a contingent who are convinced that all we need is solar power. I tend to think of these people as those “who haven’t done the math.” They provide lots of qualitative responses like “solar is cheaper than nuclear power” and cite solar energy’s incredible growth rate.

It is true that solar is ramping up rapidly. In fact, I have written about it many times. All the way back in 2007 I wrote The Future is Solar. I have written dozens of articles on the topic since. But some solar proponents always try to convince me that we don’t need nuclear by citing facts I already know.

Consider one of the responses to a discussion that broke out on Twitter following my previous article. Jigar Shah is the director of the Loan Programs Office of the U.S. Department of Energy. He was the founder of one of the early, successful solar companies, SunEdison. There isn’t a bigger advocate of cleantech out there than Jigar. But he knows that solar can’t do it alone, tweeting in response to someone who suggested otherwise:

It is not a choice between the two. #solar will grow as fast as it physically can and won’t be 100%. Same with #wind, #geothermal, #hydro, #BiomassCCS, #efficiency, etc. You still have a huge political/resiliency hole that #nuclear has to fill. Every model shows it. #cleanfirm

— Jigar Shah (@JigarShahDC) August 27, 2022

Jigar argues that as fast as solar grows, it won’t be fast enough. There is a hole that nuclear has to fill. “Every model shows it.”

In fact, the International Energy Agency knows it, projecting that we will need to double the world’s nuclear output by 2050 to reach net zero energy.

That’s the difference between someone who has looked in detail at the numbers and someone who hasn’t. It’s the reason so many environmental organizations and advocates have come to the conclusion that if we don’t have a faster ramp-up of nuclear power, the world is going to keep burning coal.

Look, I wish renewables could do it all. But the largest renewable market in the world certainly doesn’t think so.

China has rolled out more solar power in recent years than any other country. Last year China’s solar output increased by 66 terawatt-hours (TWh). That was good for 35% of the entire global increase in solar power. China’s total solar generation for the year — 327 TWh — was double that of the U.S., which is in second place globally.

But that hasn’t stopped China from building both new coal-fired power plants and new nuclear plants. China’s coal consumption has more than doubled in the past 20 years. The country accounts for 53.8% of the world’s coal consumption, and last year China set a new record for coal consumption.

However, China has recognized that solar power — as fast as they are adding it — can’t do it all. That’s why China’s nuclear power output is growing steadily. Over the past decade, China’s average annual growth in nuclear power output was 16.7% — the most for any country except Iran. Over that time, China’s nuclear power consumption has increased by 320 TWh, and they still have 21 nuclear reactors under construction.

Total global nuclear consumption increased by 148 TWh in the past decade, which means outside of China, nuclear power consumption declined over the past decade.

Where is nuclear power growing? Below are the 10 countries with the fastest growth rates for nuclear power over the past decade.

  1. Iran — 41.9% average annual growth from 2011-2021
  2. China — 16.7%
  3. Pakistan — 14.9%
  4. Argentina — 5.4%
  5. India — 3.1%
  6. Russia — 2.5%
  7. Mexico — 1.7%
  8. Czech Republic — 0.8%
  9. Belgium — 0.5%
  10. Slovakia — 0.2%

Global growth is an anemic 0.5%. In the U.S., which is still the world’s largest market for nuclear power with a 29% share globally — nuclear output declined by 0.2% on average over the past decade. The European Union saw an even bigger decline, at 1.3% per year.

The EU overall is dependent upon nuclear power for 11% of its primary energy consumption. For the U.S. that number is 8.0% (this is for all energy consumption). In contrast, Asia Pacific’s, which is the region responsible for most of the world’s carbon emissions, is only dependent on nuclear power for 2.4% of its primary energy consumption.

Can Asia Pacific region continue to develop with renewables supplying the bulk of the new energy demand? Given the rapid growth of overall energy demand in the region, it appears highly unlikely that renewables alone can meet the demand. In recent years this has translated into a large expansion of fossil fuel consumption in these regions.

More nuclear power in developing regions could help supply growing energy demands without a continued explosion in the region’s carbon dioxide emissions. However, the world needs safe nuclear reactor designs, effective waste disposal solutions, and more political support.

In the next article, I will relay findings on all of these fronts from a recent conversation I had with Dr. Kathryn Huff, the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy.

By Robert Rapier via rrapier.com 

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  • DoRight Deikins on September 06 2022 said:
    All those passionate responses to your previous article (that can be found free on oilprice.com, not just to those who have a subscription to Forbes), are no less passionate than those who think they can shove half thought out solutions down our throats. Sure solar, wind, etc are nice and could reduce our energy costs if they didn't cost so much to build and produced so little in comparison to their expense. For example at 2022.9.06 at 0600 local time, Denmark, the king of wind turbines, is producing just 17% of their installed capacity from their vaunted turbines. If I built a fossil fuel plant that ran at 17% capacity, I would be sued and no bank would ever loan me money again. That's not even paying back capital costs. And Europe's solar panels, they are producing 0% capacity (it is early morning). I actually think solar and wind may have a future producing H2, (that is if they are not contracted to a given amount per day, or even per month!)

    So absolutely there needs to be an alternative to total dependence on renewables. But the answer is not nuclear. How many lessons do we need to learn? Let me give an example, when I started farming, I asked an old farmer why he ALWAYS wore long sleeves and a hat. He said how many old farmers do you see that don't. I admitted I didn't know any. He said that's because they're not still alive. You learn there are limits to the quantity of sun that one can take and take measures to protect yourself. I would think that one would take measures to protect oneself, not just from solar radiation, but from all forms of radiation. I am sure that we will find ways of concentrating and using radioactive materials, but we are most definitely not there yet.

    And then there is the problem of control. We can't even keep pipelines from being hacked/cracked. Wait until one of these nuclear power plants with its 'reduced work force' and full blown IOT automatic controls gets hijacked. And yes, anything can be hacked/cracked/hijacked. But then most of these are on the other side of the planet. "What me worry!", right?

    But what makes me really wonder is from where all this new interest in nuclear power came? I'm not very good at following the money, but I bet someone could make an interesting article out of it.

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