Nuclear and CO2: The Long Game

Short post today, I’m getting ready for a presentation this upcoming Tuesday at Edmonton NerdNite So fingers crossed for me!

Today I want to talk about something that most people seem to forget about when they are talking about climate models and CO2 reduction and emission targets. We don’t win if we hit those targets by 2050 or 2100. We have to keep hitting and exceeding those targets every day for the rest of our civilization. That means that not only do the technologies we use have to be zero carbon. They also have to be sustainable. Not just to operate, but also to build, maintain, decommission, and recycle.

I already showed in the last article about how nuclear is far more space efficient than grid-scale solar for producing energy. It is also a well-known fact that nuclear plants operate at much higher capacities factors than any other form of energy generation. And there is the fact that nuclear plants can run for easily 60 years, potentially up to even 80 with proper maintenance, compared to the 20-40 for grid-scale wind and solar. But here’s the final piece of the puzzle.

Micheal Shellenberger posted this data in a piece of his back in May 2018

I know a lot of people hate graphs but this is important. this means that to make the same amount of energy(1 TWh = 1,000,000,000 kWhs), it would take more than 16x the amount of material to do it with solar than with nuclear. That’s 16 times more material that needs to be mined, processed, fabricated, and (hopefully) recycled. That is hugely opposed to the idea of sustainability. Especially as more and more people around the world are lifted out of energy poverty and start to use electricity at the same rate that western civilization does. So we have to get more and more efficient and producing more and more energy using the smallest amount of resources possible. I think Randall Munroe put it most eloquently.

cheers to xkcd for making all us, nerds and non-nerds alike, find fun in science.

There is a big push in the modern world to increase efficiency, but no matter how much we get better at using our energy, I seriously doubt the OECD countries will actually start to reduce their consumption. Humans are kinda predictable in that when we see that doing the same things we always do leaves us with more left over than we thought we don’t want to leave it like that, we instead want to do more for ourselves and those we care about with that excess. Helping others is always nice, but we just don’t think long term enough to realize when maybe we can help more people by doing nothing with that excess.

There are 7 billion people on this planet, racing toward 9+ by the end of the century and they all deserve the opportunity to live a life as energy-rich as the modern world can be. And no one has the right to tell them that they aren’t allowed to have that life for themselves or their children or their children’s children. Anyone who does is at best a hypocrite and at worst….. well I’ll leave that for you to decide.

disclaimer: all images used are under Fair Use

2 thoughts on “Nuclear and CO2: The Long Game

Add yours

  1. Sean, enjoyed reading this and thanks for posting at the Climate Coalition. Looking forward to our talk tomorrow!


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