Nuclear Energy: The Case for Intentional Inefficiency

Efficiency is the name of the game in society nowadays. Fuel efficiency, energy efficiency, mechanical efficiency, transmission efficiency… We hear or think about these things with impressive amounts of regularity, but what about other kinds of efficiency? How efficient we are at doing our tasks at work? How smoothly we can get the kids packed up and ready for school or hockey? How we can most easily make a nutritious and filling meal? Maybe how much energy it takes to even make the food we eat?

I’ve spoken about efficiency on this blog several time. whether it’s about the efficiency of land usage, the efficiency of materials for construction and operation, or the efficiency of always available power from nuclear, so this might sound strange when I say that nuclear power allows us to be inefficient in all the best ways.

Okay, maybe not All the best ways… Yet.

At its core, the response to climate change is all about efficiency. How can we get the most out of what we use to power and build our society while leaving the smallest amount as waste. Transitioning off of fossil fuels, reducing or eliminating single use plastics, increasing recycling for as many things as possible, improving efficiency of appliances and lights in our houses, better insulation of houses in all climates to reduce climate control costs from heating or air conditioning. These are all steps that everyone has talked about, taken steps to follow through with, or personally investigated. Some of them are huge undertakings that require governments to work on and some are things that we can do personally at home, with commensurately smaller impacts on the big picture.

And therein lies an interesting point. What effort should the individuals put forward when, even with everyone working together to do their small parts, the entire contribution is overshadowed by a larger industrial scale change that also needs to happen?

I was asked a question not that long ago about veganism and vegetarianism. The questioner stated that since veganism and vegetarianism reduce a persons CO2 footprint, should going vegan or vegetarian be considered a moral imperative for all people in our attempt to counter uncontrolled climate change? Now, I am certainly not going to say that people shouldn’t go vegan or vegetarian if they want to, for whatever reason they feel like. But I did struggle a bit with the idea of it being a “moral imperative”.

If it is a moral imperative to reduce our greenhouse emissions by going vegan or vegetarian, then what about all the things that have much more drastic impacts on our personal CO2 emissions? The most extreme example being “have fewer children” and getting less extreme through “take fewer long flights” and “don’t own a car”. Are those also moral imperatives?

Credit to Vox for this lovely infographic. I’m well on my way to avoiding taking another transatlantic flight this year already! That makes 7 years in a row. Does that mean I can put off going vegan for another 14 years or so and still be even?

I know I’m being a bit hard on people championing vegetarianism or veganism but it is in pursuit of my point. Forgoing our meat intake entirely would probably be the most efficient method of getting our calories for our livelihoods while reducing our carbon impact in terms of both energy and land usage. Getting everyone to drive smaller cars, or forgo cars altogether as well. Stopping air travel, and preventing cargo ships from moving goods for international travel and trade. These would all be very efficient methods of increasing our energy efficiency by reducing our CO2 footprint.

If you can’t tell by the hilariously slippery slope I just tossed that argument down, I am very against people telling other people to do something as it is a “Moral Imperative” to do so. Efficiency is a good thing to be mindful of, but it should not be the sole goal to chase, especially since inefficiency is what gives us all our little pleasures in life. Ice cream, walking dogs, and lazy sunday mornings. Baseball, beer, Battlestar Galactica, and the vast swaths of the internet that exist for no purpose other than to make us laugh, or exist for no discernible reason at all. But in an increasingly constrained world, inefficiency starts to get stamped out because there is less and less wiggle room.

Pushes for efficiency have not been successful methods to reverse our course on emissions or waste, but instead have turned out to be mere delaying tactics. Methods to prolong the validity of the current energy system that is choking our air and poisoning our water. I say this because even in Germany, emissions continue to rise. Coal, Oil and Gas were necessary for us. They lifted us out of the age of muscle power and gave us all the wonders of the modern era. But as Marie Kondo would tell us; if things do not spark joy in us anymore, then it is time for us to thank them for their service and put them aside. And I don’t know about you, but a world where we are told that we have a moral imperative to give up things, it doesn’t matter what that thing might be, that spark joy in our lives is not how I want to live.

This is one of the fundamental reasons I’ve chosen to champion nuclear energy, because it will allow us to exult in our inefficiencies. Not to be wasteful but to be joyful. It removes constraints we feel on ourselves because it is So plentiful, and so abundant without being so hugely detrimental to us. No worrying about whether it will melt the ice caps, no feeling guilty that our car will cause the death of a polar bear, no concern about whether there will be enough sun or wind to power our lives. Instead to have the ability to throw a Carnival parade and know that it causes no harm because the way we made it is as clean and tidy as possible. To travel the world and see people everywhere have clean water to drink.

I want a world filled with colour and life and energy! I want a world where everyone has choices and options, and the freedom to make them without fear. If the foundation of our society is predictable and sturdy and reliable enough to support our less than optimal choices and inefficient actions cleanly and efficiently. That way we can be efficient where it counts, without giving up being inefficient where it matters.

Maybe bring some dust masks though? That stuff cannot be great for your lungs.

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2 thoughts on “Nuclear Energy: The Case for Intentional Inefficiency

Add yours

  1. Locomotives: We switched from steam to diesel to electric.
    Electronic switches: We switched from vacuum tubes to transistors to integrated chips.
    Communication systems: Telegraph to telephones to wireless to undersea-optical-fibre.
    Energy: Firewood to coal to petroleum to natural gas.
    Efficiency improvements have changed our lives and has took our civilisation foreword. A civilisation progresses when our processes get efficient. Fluid-fuels like oil and gas is better than solid-coal. The fluid-fuels, oil and gas have changed our lives.
    Nuclear power today is done inefficiently. A CANDU uses about 0.7% of mined uranium and a LWR uses about 0.6-0.65% of mined uranium (For 18 month reload cycle. Also, the numbers vary according to enrichment efficiency.).
    I hope nuclear reactors get more and more efficient soon and possibly make some changes in our lives.

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  2. I liked this post.

    My parents were Early Adopters of the Big Kahuna on the chart. I was an only kid. And, I don’t have any kids/never really wanted kids. I have enough cousins to spread the family traits in the future.

    There’s a big pushback against lowering family size on both the Right and the Left. I’ll talk about the Left because they’re more ostensibly climate-concerned. Oh, they’re worried about less people to pay into Social Security, blah blah. Or, they’re women in academia and they want to show the world that they can “have it all.” So…restructure Social Security so it isn’t greatly dependent on future pay-in. Stop raiding the fund.

    The reality is that if more families were smaller, there would be less of an extreme demand for housing in U.S. cities. Costs would eventually come down and wages might (maybe) begin to rise. Homelessness? That would be viewed as a barbarity from the past.

    In a low-carbon society with small, educated families and nuclear energy, you would have abundance and parks and relaxed people who could be “inefficient.”

    Unfortunately, the real world is much more competitive, because people insist on unproductive energy, but highly productuve procreation.

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