The Nuclear Backlash

By Keith Kloor | June 16, 2011 11:51 am

It’s gonna hurt, reports the Guardian:

The International Energy Agency has warned that the world faces higher energy costs, more carbon emissions and greater supply uncertainty if it turns its back on nuclear.

Nobuo Tanaka, the executive director, signalled the organisation was likely to cut its estimates of atomic power when it finalises its latest World Energy Outlook this year.

The IEA previously believed nuclear would generate 14% of all electricity by 2035 but this figure is under revision in the light of Germany and Japan abandoning the sector following the Fukushima crisis. This week, in a referendum, Italy also voted overwhelmingly ““ and against the advice of Silvio Berlusconi’s government ““ to reject any return to nuclear power.

“If nuclear is not 14% but say 10% then it means more gas and more coal as well as more renewables”, said Tanaka.

“It will cost much more, be less sustainable and there will be less security. These are the consequences of lower nuclear,” he said at a World of Energy prize giving on the sidelines of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum.

In the UK, George Monbiot and Mark Lynas have stepped into the fray on the nuclear issue. In the U.S., there is conspicuous silence from the climate change-concerned community on the implications of the nuclear backlash. Why, when so many of them know better?

I’d say they are either being cowardly or are in denial.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, nuclear power
  • harrywr2

    In the U.S., there is conspicuous silence from the climate change-concerned community on the implications of the nuclear backlash.

    The US isn’t Germany, Italy or Switzerland. Nuclear has reasonably good public acceptance at the majority of the existing nuclear sites in the US.

    The Westinghouse AP1000 will jump thru the last set of regulatory hurdles this year and construction will begin in the US Southeast…if the first couple come in close to budget more will follow as two of the biggest financial risks, regulatory and cost overruns will have been addressed.

    The single nuclear project that was canceled was supposed to be a joint venture with TEPCO. TEPCO’s current financial condition precludes it from going forward as a joint venture partner. The financials for nuclear are not particularly good in Texas(cheap coal and cheap gas) , add to that the regulatory and construction risk of building a ‘first of design’ doesn’t make the project particularly attractive.

    The US Southeast doesn’t have much in the way of usuable wind, solar insolation factors are okay but not outstanding, the delivered price of coal is substantially above national average and they are experiencing population growth. All those factors make the Southeast the best candidate for ‘first of kind’ nuclear demonstration plants.

    Other areas of the country are better suited for ‘wind demonstration’ projects or ‘solar demonstration’ projects etc etc etc.

  • Michael Tobis

    I believe that we have a main outcome menu with four choices:

    1) carbon capture and sequestration of some sort
    2) nuclear power of some sort
    3) dramatic cultural and infrastructure changes to go renewable and frugal
    4) big, big trouble

    Other things (black carbon reduction, geoengineering, biofuels, local resilience) may have an important role to play but is in my opinion secondary.

    You can mix and match among the four, but you have to solve on a global scale. Partly because no single country can resolve the problem, the current prognosis isn’t pretty. #4 is ahead by several lengths. Fukushima took a big bite out of our prospects.

  • NewYorkJ

    IEA has consistently underestimated renewable energy potential.

    But I agree with the overall sentiment on Germany’s decision.  Would be much easier if they decided to ditch coal, which has far worse environmental costs than nuclear.

  • Keith Kloor


    Have you done any nuclear-related posts in recent months? It seems like the kind of thing that would be perfect for you to take up at your site.

  • Tom Fuller

    Funny that there still seems to be an elephant ignored in the room. Of the 52 quads of renewable energy produced last year, 50 of them came from one source–hydro-electric power. Less than 3% of U.S. dams are used to generate electricity. You only need a head of a couple of meters to get some decent generation.

    CCS is dead–they just haven’t scheduled the wake. Culture and infrastructure will definitely change–but we don’t know in which direction.

    Dam it.

  • RickA

    I’d say they are either being cowardly or are in denial.

    Ha – funny.  But lets not start calling the anti-nuclear folks denialists.

    I really dislike that term when it is applied to me and so don’t think we should start using it to label the anti-nuclear folks.

  • Michael Tobis

    I agree (mirabile dictu!) with Tom Fuller that CO2 gas injection into deep reservoirs is not looking good, though my reasons for this differ from those I have seen elsewhere.

    There are other CCS strategies around. I’m partial to the olivine ones; biochar is another. They don’t usually go by the name “CCS” but the point is that carbon is captured and sequestered.

    The big problem with gas injection is that the sites will be privately owned and are difficult to monitor. There is a huge motivation to cheat, either by not injecting the CO2, or by overfilling the reservoir inducing eventual failure. In short, I want to pay you to sequester carbon after it doesn’t escape into the atmosphere, and if “after” is less than a thousand years you haven’t achieved much.

    The problem with the others is the separation of the capture process from the emission process. The polluters become free riders on the efforts of the unpolluters. But I think they are more feasible because the carbon is chemically rebound, not just swept under a rug which you hope is air-tight.

    Keith, I have never written a piece specifically about nukes but I have never written a piece about any other energy supply as such. It’s not exactly my turf. Barry Brooks climate/energy blog is excellent on this; admittedly he isn’t American.

    On the other hand, I’ve never been shy about my support, albeit unenthusiastic, for them. Had civilian nukes never started up my opinion might be different, but the problems are not going away so we might as well have the benefits.

  • grypo


    The interesting story, that also ties into the phony controversy from yesterday, is the divide that still remains within the groups that are calling for large-scale mitigation.  This was highlighted by Lynas’ too-quick to jump on renewable “news”.  We know where he stands.  And you see Joe Romm on the opposite side.  I’d say that’s where the real ‘middle’ of the debate is.  And it’s infinitely more interesting than any silly drama coming out of McIntyre’s meanderings.

  • Keith Kloor

    RickA (6)

    There’s a difference between the phrase “being in denial” and the term “denialist.”

    That said, it’s important to remember that “denialist” has become so closely associated with climate skeptics that it’s not applied in an intellectually consistent manner, as I discussed here.

  • Barry Woods


    The follow up to that ‘non-story’ is quite interesting….

    Maybe it will be picked up by the media, maybe not…but eventually this sort of NGO/EU money/policy go round will be noticed.

  • Michael Larkin

    LENR is fodder for cranks, right?

    Maybe not. It is now being supported by a chief NASA scientist (Dennis Bushnell):

    A related podcast featuring an interview with Bushnell is here:

    He mentions other technologies, too. This guy is no crank. I guess my point is that there just might be another option to the renewable/carbon-based/nuclear energy menu that, if Bushnell’s optimism  is correct, could come on stream quite quickly:

    ‘They also claim to be going into production, with the first units expected to ship by the second half of October of this year, with mass production commencing by the end of 2011. The first units will be used to build a one megawatt plant in Greece. This one megawatt plant will power a factory that will produce 300,000 ten-kilowatt units a year.

    ‘This would become the world’s first commercially-ready “cold fusion” device. Licensees are mentioned, with contracts in the USA and in Europe. Mass production should escalate in 2-3 years. Presently, Rossi says they are manufacturing a 1 megawatt plant composed of 125 modules. These modules should begin shipping by the end of October. On January 31st, 2011, Rossi wrote: “The cost to produce the catalyzer is 1 cent per MWh generated; the life expectancy is 20 years; the cost impact is between 1 and 1.5 cents per MWh.” ‘

    (Above referring to Andrea Rossi’s E-Cat generator):

  • Michael Larkin

    Sorry – it looks above as if Bushnell made the quotes in the last two paragraphs. That is not so. Listen to what he says on the podcast for his own take.

  • NewYorkJ

    …what grypo said.  Spot on.

  • intrepid_wanders


    “And you see Joe Romm on the opposite side.  I’d say that’s where the real “˜middle’ of the debate is.”

    You people are are truly insane.  Until your cadre understand Kloor, Lynas and even the Pielke(s), your goals of change are finished before they start.  I may not agree with your views, but, using the Romm and the Ward PR machines as a “moderate”?!  Watching Ward plead for Lynas to retract his disgust at the IPCC betrayal and NYJ acting like he does not understand the concept of “Conflict of Interest”.

    Wow.  I suggest you re-align your chakras…breathe in a little more qi and come back to reality.  Bring nuclear back to the table to solve “your” (maybe mine) problems and I believe we can start talking again.  Other than that, the “real” conservatives are going to take back all and an extra portion of the regulations that have done good.  Pure selfishness.

  • Dan Moutal

    ” In the U.S., there is conspicuous silence from the climate change-concerned community on the implications of the nuclear backlash. Why, when so many of them know better?”

    Well not technically in the US, bit Vancouver is close enough.  I did do a segment on Nuclear power on Episode 19 of Irregular Climate and wrote an article for the blog.
    And I plan to tough on the issue some more on the upcoming episode.
    Bottom line for me, is that since we have backed ourselves into the corner in regards to climate, it would be irresponsible to take nuclear off the table.

  • Ian

    …what intrepid said. Spot on.

  • Bart Verheggen

    Just tweeted (BVerheggen):

    Does getting rid of nuclear help a sustainable energy transition? That all depends what’s replacing it. Coal? no. Solar, wind? yes.

    I’m not a big fan of nuclear, but I changed my opinion from being opposed to it to the above. The comparatively low CO2 emissions (cf with fossil fuels) outweigh the proliferation and waste risks for me.

  • Pascvaks

    (SarcOn) There’s nothing more dangerous than a lot of people who are distracted from the normal routine of their lives by an idiot with a stupid brite idea; unless, of course, it’s a bunch of stupid idiots who have been distracted from the stupid rountines of their stupid lives by some godless investors and dumb politicians who think Karl and Adolf and Mao were really on to something quite good.  Divide and conquer is the name of the game.  People really need to be very selective about which fools they listen to in life.  It can be fatal.  Go Slow dear World!  The BobbySockers and the Boomers were the worst generations!  Ignore them all!(SarcOff)

  • Jonathan Gilligan

    @Harry: US Southeast indeed. TVA is looking to nuclear for most of its generating expansion (not just because of the price of coal but also because of the North Carolina public nuisance lawsuit), and there have been news stories in the last couple of days about:

    * NRC issued a permit for fuel handling at Watts Bar Unit 2

    * TVA is looking to restart construction on the Bellefonte plant.

    * TVA has signed a letter of intent with B&W for up to 6 modular reactor units at Clinch River.

    A concern as we look forward is the prospect that low streamflow and rising water temperatures that require thermal plants to throttle back or shut down will become increasingly common (and these cooling water problems affect coal as well as nukes). Nukes are a necessary part of the energy supply, but they’re going to be facing increasing environmental stress that will limit their ability to deliver power precisely at times of peak demand, so we’ll have to diversify the energy supply in the Southeast.

  • Pascvaks

    If we all start living underground that would help, right, I mean left, I mean down?

  • harrywr2

    @Jonathon #19,

    Yep, stream flow and heat loadings are an issue. At some places both exist, at other places it’s either or.
    If water temp is the issue then cooling towers solve that at the cost of losing more water to evaporation. It’s definitely something that has to considered when siting plants.
    Solar will make some inroads eventually. Nothing wrong with letting Californian’s suffering the ‘growing pains’ of things like Solar Roofing shingles 😉



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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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