Judith Curry is of the view that science deniers like herself are the only people permitted to "play politics with science". On her climate conspiracy blog today she wrote about an article in the Guardian by Naomi Oreskes. Professor Oreskes was writing about the push from some quarters into what she called "wholesale expansion of nuclear power". Her article came after a previous Guardian article by Professors James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira and Tom Wigley.
The argument in favour of nuclear power generation
The article by Hansen, Emmanuel, Caldiera and Wigley set out the following points in favour of the development of nuclear power, particularly next generation nuclear:
- A shift to clean energy is urgently needed.
- Not all clean energy is equal. Cutting down forests and damming rivers can have "terrible environmental consequences".
- The 100% renewable scenarios (without nuclear included) "ignore the intermittency issue by making unrealistic technical assumptions, and can contain high levels of biomass and hydroelectric power at the expense of true sustainability".
- Over the past 50 years, nuclear power stations have avoided "an estimated 60bn tonnes of carbon dioxide"
- Next generation nuclear power, with a closed fuel cycle (where spent fuel is reprocessed) is "is uniquely scalable, and environmentally advantageous"
- Nuclear energy can power whole civilisations, and produce waste streams that are trivial compared to the waste produced by fossil fuel combustion. There are technical means to dispose of this small amount of waste safely.
- Nuclear produces no CO2 during power generation
- Including large amounts of nuclear power "would make it much easier for solar and wind to close the energy gap"
- Nuclear does pose unique safety and proliferation concerns that must be addressed with strong and binding international standards and safeguards.
The argument against expanding nuclear power generation
In her article, Naomi Oreskes made the following points:
- Nuclear power is "slow to build, expensive to run, and carries the spectre of catastrophic risk"
- For safe operation, nuclear technology "requires technical expertise and organization that is lacking in many parts of the developing world (and in some part of the developed world as well)"
- France has successfully deployed nuclear power production, but in the USA, it is "hugely subsidised" by the government, which also indemnifies private nuclear power generation companies from accidents.
- In the USA, the US government has taken responsibility for disposal of nuclear waste, "a task it has yet to complete"
- Mark Jacobsen and colleagues set out a plan (in February last year) by which the USA can shift to 100% renewable energy by 2050 without adding nuclear energy.
Policy option discussions are very important
Naomi Oreskes also referred to those who argue that renewable energy on its own will need to be supplemented with substantial investment in nuclear energy as "a new, strange form of denial". I think that's unfortunate, particularly because she includes Drs Hansen, Emmanuel, Caldiera and Wigley in her "denial" allegation.
To my mind, more discussion over how to best shift away from fossil fuels is very welcome. We've had enough of fake sceptics wanting to avoid discussing future energy pathways and distract with "is it warming" or worse "it's not warming" claims. All views on how best to make the shift deserve full consideration. James Hansen is not the only scientist who is of the view that the world will find it very challenging to stay below 2C of warming, let alone 1.5C. Dr Oreskes would be of the same opinion.
It strikes me that Dr Oreskes and Drs Hansen and co are talking past each other to some extent. Dr Oreskes was discussing the situation in the USA. Drs Hansen and co were discussing the entire world. I am not convinced this is an "either/or" situation. China has plans to expand nuclear power generation ten-fold by 2050. I don't know that it's being progressed in other places - hopefully people who are more up on this issue than I am will comment.
[Personally I don't support the development of nuclear power plants, but I know that my lack of support is based less on considered reasoning and more on "gut feel", so it doesn't count. (I'm aware that on this issue I'm probably no better than the anti-GMO activists I criticise.) If Gen4 nuclear power plants ever get off the drawing board, some of my concerns may be allayed.]
Judith Curry plays politics
It's hard to know if Judith Curry supports a "wholesale push" to nuclear power or not. Judith rarely spells out in clear unambiguous language what she thinks, probably because she doesn't. Not rationally, that is. Judith copied and pasted huge slabs of text from Naomi Oreske's Guardian article and a press release from Drs Hansen and co, then wrote:
Well, to play Oreskes’ denial game, Oreskes et al. are engineering ‘deniers.’Since Judith questions the premise that human-caused climate change is dangerous, and doesn't even accept the premise that it's humans who are causing global warming, her opinion on any "near term alternative" is moot. But what about her notion that nuclear power can be expanded "near term"? She added:
If you accept the premise that human caused climate change is dangerous and that we need to rapidly stop burning fossil fuels, then I don’t see a near term alternative to nuclear. The innovations that Gates is looking for most likely won’t be major factors in energy generation for several decades.
There is no good solution massively reducing our emissions from fossil fuels on the time scale of a decade. If the nuclear solution is unpalatable, then reconsider whether the proposed cure is worse than the hypothesized disease.
I don't know what Judith regards as "massively reducing" emissions on the time-scale of a decade. For sure, nuclear energy can't be ramped up on the "time scale of a decade". It takes a lot longer than that in most countries (China may be the exception) for a new nuclear plant to go from inception to completion. For example, it took eight years just to finish the construction of a 1150 MW nuclear power plant in the Tennessee Valley - and that wasn't from design to completion, it was to finish building something more than halfway constructed. It was already 60% built back in 1985.
Judith pontificated further, writing:
Now that political victory on climate change has been declared, its time to look at the engineering (not to mention economical) challenges.
On that point I would agree, with the added comment that it's past time to look at this. And lots of people have been "looking" at these issues for a very long time already. Judith is very late to the party. Then she, who has long politically agitated against mitigating climate change had the cheek to write:
Naomi Oreskes and her ilk that are playing politics with science, and now engineering, need to get out of the way.Notice how Judith doesn't seem to think that she, Judith, is playing politics by advocating nuclear, but she accuses Dr Oreskes of playing politics by arguing against its use. Although I think the framing of Dr Oreske's article is unfortunate, I completely support her adding her views to the discussion of how best to make the transition to clean energy.
Judith Curry on the other hand, shows that she wants to stifle discussion. She doesn't want anyone to express an opinion that differs from her own. Time will tell if Judith is now wanting to jump on the technology bandwagon that's already left the station, or whether she'll sink back into greenhouse effect denial and climate science disinformation. Maybe she's belatedly read the writing on the wall and has decided to switch wagons - jumping off the science disinformation wagon and onto the nuclear energy wagon.