Nuclear energy would put an end to CO2 anxiety

Well it’s true, don’t blame me if it hurts your feelings. Let me explain why.

Currenly the so called western civilization has fallen into some form of collective hysteria about CO2 emissions and how this fertilizer gas could eventually spell the end of mankind. I personally do not worry too much about the possible warming of our globe, and a meter or two of sea level rise – it is not so dramatic as some would like us to believe. But okey, there are other valid arguments that indicates that getting off the fossil-fuel addiction is a good thing regardless, not least the fact that it will be increasingly costly to produce oil as the low hanging fruit gets picked.

So let us look at the problem. Globally we emit about 35 Gt of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere per year and about 50% of this comes from electricity and heat generation, while another 20% is added by the transport sector (source). As we aim to electrify large parts or even all of our transportation system, including passenger flights, there will be an addition demand for electricity, and the worst case scenario would be if this added capacity came from coal powered plants. Electricity generation using fossil fuels is already one of the worst offenders in terms of CO2 emissions and the combined coal, natural gas and oil related emissions from India and China and US amount to 7.7 Gt yr-1, or 22% of the total CO2 emissions! If we include the rest of the world, the numbers are 13 Gt yr-1 and 38% respectively.

This means that by shutting all fossil fuelled power plants in the world we could reduce total CO2 emissions by 38%, if we replace the capacity with low CO2 intesive alternatives. Nuclear power generation has one of the lowest CO2 footprints (about 16 g/kWh for old generation II plants, compared to coal, which has 1000 g/kWh emissions) of any technology. In short nuclear powerplants have the following selling points:

  • It’s safe, and new plants will be even safer
  • It’s reliable and continous (no need for energy storage)
  • 4th generation technology mean we have virtually unlimited fuel available (>1000 years worth)
  • the land use footprint is small (high power density) compared to solar PV and windpower

So is appears to be a no-brainer, right? Why would anyone worried about CO2 and climate change ever turn down a safe, clean, reliable technology for electricity generation? My guess is that this position is based on legacy ideology with roots in the 60-ies and 70-ies, which is wierd. Would anyone sane person judge the feasibility of solar PV today, based on the performance and cost of solar cells in 1975?