What is the future of nuclear power in this country?

I’m not asking what you think should happen, but rather what you think will happen.  How many new nuclear plants will begin construction this decade?  Do you think any existing plants will be shut down (or not have their life extended) as a result of the Japan Syndrome?

Bonus Question:  What are the country’s most unsafe reactors?  Here’s a video with a couple contenders:

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99 Responses to What is the future of nuclear power in this country?

  1. After the events of this past week, there will be Zero nuclear power plants coming on-line in the USA over the next decade. It will take more than a decade to overcome the scare reintroduced into public perception from the images of the Japan crisis. That puts the potential for new nuclear power systems out into the 2030’s at the earliest. That is too late to prevent the Global Warming Crisis from passing 2-3 degrees C rise.

    The only reason that nuclear power had in the previous several years come into a more positive opinion is that it was repackaged as a “clean energy” alternative to the obvious terrible effects of burning coal & the forseeable end of the oil supply. I suspect that Climate Hawks supported “Nuclear” because it allowed us to delude ourselves that we could continue the BAU of our high energy consumption life styles.

    It is time to frankly confront the issue in American culture that we can continue to consume resources at the level that we are currently doing. It is not viable on so many different levels.

    We need to get real right now about the need to implement Carbon Taxes, Energy Efficiency & switching the Billions of dollars from Nuclear Investment and Trillions of dollars from continuous War making into viable renewable energy systems, mass transportation systems and ecological food supply systems.

    That takes countering the Climate Change Deniers, who currently are much better at messaging than we are and not simply because they have more $$$ to get their message out.

  2. Scrooge says:

    As long as there is enough uranium, power plants will be built. A personal note on this is I actually worry more when I work on my gas dryer or water heater. Not that it is as bad in the larger scheme of things but a mistake could blow up my house with me in it. It is easier for me to see the smaller problems than the bigger more complex problems like nuclear. I think a lot of people are like that.
    When we come up with enough alternate clean energy nuclear will be done with, but I think we will run out of uranium before that happens. I hope I am wrong but at the moment this is what I see.

  3. S. Majumder says:

    I don’t think there will be any significant policy change. At best new plants won’t be built near the fault lines.

  4. rjs says:

    you’ll see a long delay, similar to what happened to the space program after challanger…but that wont fix anything…the problem is not nuclear power itself, but the system they’re being built under…for private contractors, economic incentives are to take money saving short cuts that come back and bite the rest of us…

  5. Tom Mallard says:

    Space-Age fuel, Steam-Age technology = two watts of heat-pollution per watt on the wire. The reason nuke plants are built on rivers or large bodies of water is they use it to cool the steam back down, losing 60% of the original watt as waste-heat directly into the world.

    So, using uranium to boil water to drive wires past magnets by world standards doesn’t include co-generation, which is too expensive to put in all the plumbing to transfer the heat somewhere so never done.

    Then, if the end-use of the electricity is to heat a home, boy, we just tossed out the book on thermodynamics and just gave up the ghost on “efficiency”, a word too misleading to use, it’s a total waste.

    What’s high-tech about it? Using a radioactive fuel that wastes a ton of heat directly into the world?

  6. Mitch says:

    It is important to remember that the Sendai quake was one of the largest ever recorded,so the actual reactor design was not the problem. The problem was siting and the design of needed backup equipment to shut the plant down safely.

    I think 2 things will happen–first, we will entertain a large political discussion where everybody’s fears will be aired. Since this is political, many agendas will appear, including both coal and ‘clean’. Then (if we’re lucky) we will get a thorough evaluation of the Fukushima failure, and better standards for nuclear plants.

    Since I believe we will see fossil fuel prices rising over the next decade, I think that we will actually be siting several new nuclear plants. We will also see renewable energy, 16% of US total energy in 2009, rise to something approaching 20-25% in the next decade.

  7. BBHY says:

    If it was entirely up to the American people nuclear power would have no future in the US.

    However, the country is largely in control of Republican ideologues in congress and a compliant president so I still give it a chance. It won’t be easy even for the most ardent nuclear supporters. I give it a 25% chance that the US will build new nuclear plants in the next ten years.

  8. lizardo says:

    I don’t have the link this second but an Irish sustainability group used to continue an archive of a very thorough study on the global supply of usable uranium and it concluded that there was only enough for the current fleet, not a whole new fleet. (Dr. David Fleming).

    In addition, nuclear power’s carbon footprint is not just front-loaded but preloaded, i.e. construction impact, so that it would make global warming worse before it could displace any coal power.

    New nukes only proposed where it’s much higher cost (e.g. Progress Energy Florida estimated something like $17 billion for two new reactors including infrastructure) can earn a profit in the rate base, i.e. in the south where states like NC, SC, have utility regulations which actually reward utilities for building the most expensive plant (as long as they can “demonstrate” that cheaper alternatives won’t do).

    (Yeah, nukes very inefficient at making power, but very efficient at making money under the right circumstances.)

    NRC has asked utilities to take a peek at risks, I hope to heaven this isn’t going to be the sum total of the “review” but I bet that’s the plan. i.e. nada.

    As now demonstrated to all: most vulnerable plants are GE BWRs, older plants always most vulnerable, but don’t most nukes already have their licenses renewed?

    I suspect those most likely to be shut down are those in the north east near densely populated areas.

    Fault lines not a problem unless active ones. (Harris Plant in NC right on top of “inactive” fault (Jonesboro fault).

    Expect to hear an awful lot about the wonders of the AP1000 and it’s passive systems but possibly the new GE BWR design could suddenly be poison.

    Ironically I’ve heard two or three or more right wing (David Frum) or NEI or other nuke industry types on NPR all on a whole new defense tack: talking about deadly coal is (and that it’s the only alternative). So that is new!

    My top pick for most unsafe US nuclear reactor no question is Progress Energy’s Brunswick nuclear power plant near Southport NC on the coast, units one and two, both GE BWR’s Mark I like Fukushima units 1-5 (unit 6 is Mark II).

    Reasons: design; location on hurricane prone coast (plus barrier islands can’t be rapidly evacuated); early history of constant serious problems and mishaps to the point where NRC asked utility to defend continued operation (in mid 80s).

    Nevertheless ANY current US reactor could end up having this kind of nightmarish meltdown given a loss of cooling due to major pipe break etc.

    My second top pick is Progress Energy’s Harris plant in central NC because it has the highest inventory of spent fuel in FOUR spent fuel pools (tho only 1 reactor, fuel is from PEC’s other plants). Plus, it has a huge fire risk because cabling was run too close for supposedly backup (“redundant”) power supply in the event of fire (as opposed to station blackout). Rules were changed after owner put in first application but cabling run to original design, in places cable trays run a mere 15” or so below one another so fire that affects one could spread to all. (Remember that at Fukushima it was loss of external supply and then flooding of external back up supply, and now it appears subsequent events damaged internal supply in some places so that internal cables are having to be replaced.)

    If all your internal cabling goes it really doesn’t matter if external supply is available (or generators).

    Harris Plant is sited 19 miles from the center of Raleigh and a 15 mile radius now includes a very dense population that wasn’t there when the site was first picked and has a large sprawly city in it’s path if wind direction is right.

  9. GettingWarm says:

    I think that capital concerns — who wants to shell out up to 10 Billion and wait up to ten years — will limit nuclear plant construction.

    The future is not the behemoths like at Fukushima but mini-nuclear plants.

    Let’s hope we get interested in building them in the US because the Chinese are already working on cornering the market.

  10. Mike Roddy says:

    There will be a delay, followed by an interesting confrontation. Nuclear is already prohibitively expensive, but additional safeguards deriving from experience at Fukushima will drive the cost up even more.
    Outrageous costs didn’t stop them before, though, and won’t this time either.

    Several years from now, nuclear touts- supported by banks, oil companies, DOE, and utilities, will try to revive nuclear power, saying that safety problems have been solved, that the Sendai earthquake was unique, and that the Japanese were not competent.

    This is all bullshit, of course. There are 23 reactors in the US similar to the ones that just blew, and some are located close to the New Madrid fault, which could be as bad as the one in Japan.

    Small modular units are the latest trial balloon, but this would be a big mistake. Personnel and infrastructure are not there to build these all over the place. Terrorist threats increase exponentially.

    Republicans will be leading the charge to ramp up nuclear again, with support from Blue Dog Democrats. They don’t care about global warming, or even if they ever get built. Their motivation is keep coal and gas plants going for another couple of decades, since fossil fuels look good compared to nuclear. They’ve already succeeded in confusing even some liberals, who soberly remind us that coal kills more people than nuclear. So what? That means that we have to build bombs everywhere?

    The Republicans’ main motivation is to stall and starve actual solutions such as solar and wind. And by “Republicans”, I mean the fossil fuel companies, since they are indistinguishable. They are on a planetary suicide mission, which they justify by increasing their own wealth, thinking that if things get bad that their families have a better chance to survive. They don’t give a shit about the rest of us.

    There is no outrage in the press or television, because they are on the same team as the coal and gas companies. Protest from young people is cursory, since they have become passive and frightened.

    I don’t know how we solve this. A good start would be a new media company, well bankrolled and aggressive. Thanks for Climate Progress.

  11. Malcreado says:

    What is currently under construction will probably come online but cost will kill any new projects. How much geothermal, wind or solar capacity could you build for 10 billion?

  12. Kota says:

    Well. I’ve gotten quite an education in the last week on what nuclear power is, how it is produced and how the spent fuel rods are managed. I’ve gone from a negative opinion of it an OMG incredulity of just how batshit insane humanity will go to grab a buck.

    I now rank this mode of energy right up there with building more coal plants. Given that nothing seems to go in the direction of what I think should happen, I will guess they will keep building these things, won’t regulate them enough and it will simply be a race as to which one will destroy life on the planet quicker. Probably a combination of both just like in Japan. The climate will damage the nuclear plants and the plants will finish off what few living things survived the climate destruction.

  13. Peter M says:

    Mike Roddy #10

    You know, you are the most cynical person I have ever seen. Well perhaps besides myself and a few others.

    Yes, I know we are doomed, and so is the capitalist system (finally)- what replaces it is one of the biggest unknowns facing us this century.

  14. Steven Leibo says:

    The momentum toward reviving our commitment to nuclear energy was very precarious and I find it very unlikely that it will be renewed anytime soon. On the other hand, the impact will probably be greater in Japan where issues related to radiation are especially sensitive. There we will most likely see a temporary reliance on more fossil fuels and once things calm probably a major and much deeper commitment to green energy that may well encourage us further. In short there may well be a “green” lining to this horror.

  15. Anonymous says:

    A few days ago in a comment it was suggested that by calculation of thermal expansion of materials, a single degree of temperature rise would caues a 1,300 foot expansion of the Earths crust(25,000 miles around). As an architect, I know that all buldings of any size include expansion joints and all typical detailing requires constant attention to the expansion of materials. The comment was a thinking out of the box type of comment and if it reflects reality, suggests that we are headed towards more powerful earthquakes, more frequently and possibly in places where they have not occured in the past.

    If more devastating earthquakes occur, nuclear power will be relagated to the position of not quite there technology in need of breakthroughs to put it back in the game. Operating plants could be shut down because of the increased risks of poised by climate change.

  16. Tom Street says:

    New nuclear power is dead in America. Under the current political regime of regulation hating and defunding, this is a good thing, especially if the Republicans were to control the White House.

    Hundreds of billions of dollars will be available for renewables as a consequence of no new investment in nuclear. This, of course, won’t happen either because why should we prepare for the future when the powers that be don’t believe in global warming or harmful pollution from coal fired power plants.

    While I think that we should throw everything including the kitchen sink at renewables, conservation, and efficiency, we need still a baseload power to cover renewables when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. Natural gas might be plentiful enough to provde that backup for awhile but it is, nevertheless, a finite fossil fuel. So we still need to focus on demand shifting and a breakthrough in storage.

    But hey, we can’t even replace the building lost on 9/11 or build a decent railroad system.

    The fossil fuel industry is loving this crisis.

    Even if nuclear were deemed safe, it will begin to fail because of water that is too warm to provide the necessary cooling. This has already happened in France and future global warming will make it an every summer occurrence.

  17. Leland Palmer says:

    It still depends on what happens in Japan, IMO.

    If a meltdown and a breach in containment happens on a massive scale, that’s it- we take precautions with existing nuclear power plants and don’t build any more.

    If no massive breach occurs, we take precautions with existing nuclear power plants and build more. Having survived the worst case scenario, we get over our nuclear phobia.

    Global warming makes what’s happening in Japan look like a Sunday in the park, IMO. The public might not appreciate that, but some of our decision makers do. And there are massive financial interests with a stake in the new nuclear building program.

  18. Kota says:

    Further more … the phrase ‘a few breding pairs nears the poles’ has lost its meaning now.

    Remember that charming series “A World Without People”? I don’t recall with all that lush life taking over that they ever mentioned thousands and thousands of tons of spent fuel rods sitting around all over the world with no water circulating on them. They should pop in new segment on that and let us see how lush they believe things would be.

    It’s insane to build more of these things so of course we will.

  19. jcwinnie says:

    Well, Joe, as the talking head in the video said, “There’s nothing to worry about.” Soon, as Congress passes a law saying there is no such thing as radiation, we won’t have to worry about that bothersome regulation either.

  20. If science and reasonable risk management prevail:
    There will be delays, perhaps years.
    Some plants will be retrofitted with some new safety measures. (like robust containment for spent fuel pools?)
    Some plants will be retired immediately.
    Plans for new plants will be enhanced to include these measures
    We will invest in 4th generation nuclear fission power research
    We will continue to invest in research of fusion power generation

    I’d like to see ROVs specialized to operate in high radiation environments.

    But people are scared of nuclear power, while, at the same time, they have no fear of coal power plants. So we might see the government withdraw the loan guarantees, therefore no new plants. This is human, but not logical. How many have died due to nuclear power compared to coal? How many will die if we don’t retire the coal? What would it take to retire the coal without nuclear? (yes we can, but will we?)

    Whatever happens…nothing will get done in time to spare Earth from going over the 2C threshold IMHO.

  21. Tim says:

    A number of analysts have pointed out that even worse than the Japanese reactor fuel is the large stockpiles of spent fuel sitting in cooling ponds that are near reactors. That problem is just as bad in the US – we have no consensus whatsoever as to what to do with spent fuel. It seems to me that we continue to stay away from breeder reactors for a reason that is long since obsolete – concerns about proliferation. Like it or not, isn’t that cat out of the bag?

    What will happen? Well, decisions in the US are now almost entirely made in line with corporate interests – and for the GOP there’s no “almost” about it. If the public opposes something that powerful corporate interests want, the media is saturated with propaganda that either brainwashes the public into accepting the corporate line or inculcates the public with enough fear to ram the corporate line through – or failing that, we are simply lied to about what the public consensus is and it is thereby ignored. (Witness the incessant attacks on Social Security.) I don’t know which way we will go – I’m sure the Koch brothers are salivating at the opportunity to cut nuclear out and may even be working behind the scenes to “help” greens in opposing it. Maybe nuclear will stay dead because big coal wants it to stay dead – our views on the matter don’t matter.

  22. Wit's End says:

    Ha, jcwinnie, I guess ’cause we can’t see it, it can’t hurt us!

    Actually though it’s possible the Fukushima disaster (and let’s keep in mind the fat lady has yet to sing on this one) more information will come to light that indicates nuclear is not safe and cannot be safe such as the accident at the plant at Sellafield which now reprocesses spent fuel and is known as the world capital of plutonium:

    Also, it seems to me that sea level rise is going to rule out just about any coastal locations.

  23. Prokaryotes says:

    Wit’s End “Also, it seems to me that sea level rise is going to rule out just about any coastal locations.”

    Also river water is often to warm to cool nuclear plants, as it happens the last years many times in france. Forcing them to import electricity when depend is highest.

  24. Aaron Lewis says:

    If Japan gets things stabilized with no new, big, bad surprises, the US will get new nuclear power plants. A few more bad surprises, and we will not see any new plants in the US.

    If Japan goes worst case, all nuke plants in the world will be shut down within 10 years.

    Odds of no new surprises, maybe .2. Odds of worst case, maybe .2 Most likely outcome, is a few more bad surprises, so that the US does not build any new plants, but does not shut down existing plants.

    One part of the story that has been missed is that Japan does not really have a place to safely put high-level mixed waste – to use the US terms. Any kind of cleanup and stabilization is going to generate a lot of such waste. The Japanese high-level waste is a special issue because it contains plutonium. This story is not over.

  25. Prokaryotes says:

    It’s high time to shut down the cali plants.

  26. Bob Wallace says:

    It’s hard to see how we will build any new reactors in the US in the next decade or two.

    For those who are ideologically opposed to renewables, they will realize that it is much faster and cheaper to build natural gas generation. Money speaks loudly to these people and just simple math shows them that they can profit more by installing gas turbines.

    (I’ll leave room for one or two new builds from companies who have been able to switch much of the financing of new reactors to their customers and who might take a “We’ll show you!” stance. What they will likely show is that reactors take a long time to build and are very expensive.)

    The ‘greens’ who have been supporting nuclear are going to find themselves largely abandoned by the rest of their community. The current scare is going to cause people to learn more about how we can power our grid (and transportation) with renewables. It will be very hard for anyone to make a case for nuclear as a route away from fossil fuel.

    Those who are motivated by nothing more than the desire to make money will find ample opportunity to make money off natural gas and renewable construction projects. There’s nothing magic about the profit from a reactor project for a concrete or steel company.

    The fossil fuel industry will win big in the short term by switching to natural gas. Most likely the price of gas will increase over time as will public concern over climate change. Those factors will cause an increase in the installation of renewables with existing (paid off) natural gas turbines being pushed into a backup role.

  27. Mike Roddy says:

    Bob Wallace,

    You’re right about natural gas. Expect a big media campaign to discredit the reports about fracking caused aquifer contamination. We’ll begin to see gas promoted as a clean global warming solution, and not just on Fox.

    Joe and a few others will call them on it. The challenge will be to communicate the truth to the public at large, something that will not happen on television or in newspapers. Oil, coal, and gas companies have overlapping ownerships and interests. They won’t be defeated on gas unless people fight, including by insisting on actual renewable power, through solar, wind, and geothermal.

    The president could wake people up here, but it obviously is not going to be Obama. And I’m not sure if we have time to sit out a few more presidential terms.

  28. Ziyu says:

    I’d say the nuclear industry would launch a lobbying effort to keep nuclear alive and start researching different types of reactors like thorium reactors and breeder reactors. Then in 20 years we might have nuclear fusion. And heck, one day, (by this I mean at least 40 years later) we might even produce energy by smashing matter and antimatter together. That’s the future of the nuclear industry as I see it. Besides the plants already approved, new uranium and plutonium fission reactors won’t be built any time during the next decade or two.

  29. Prokaryotes says:

    In the radiation zone around the power plant I Fukushima people work in the greatest danger. Why, ask a German robotics experts, there are no machines used? The technology exists already, but so far, robots are used in the disaster area hardly used.,1518,751880,00.html&

  30. Prokaryotes says:

    Study finds Chernobyl risks last years

    A U.S. study of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster finds health risks linger 25 years after the explosion that spread radiation over a huge swath of Europe.

    Read more:

  31. Prokaryotes says:

    Soviet nuclear experts have long before the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in April 1986, there used nuclear reactors warned, they could never fix their objections in writing. This is according to information obtained by SPIEGEL, previously unpublished documents produced from the Kremlin.,1518,751955,00.html&

  32. Prokaryotes says:

    Scientist warned years ahead of the Chernobyl disaster …

    Similar accidents, it is clear from the logs it had in 1975 and 1982 in the Leningrad nuclear power plant in Chernobyl and has already given, but its consequences were not so serious.

    In one of the meetings of the Politburo in July 1986 called for members of the government and the shutdown of nuclear facilities in Smolensk, Kursk and Leningrad, and even the closure of all reactors in the European part of the country.

    The Chernobyl-type reactors are today still in operation, despite some of them already 38-year maturity.

    In other news “Scientist warn since decades of catastrophic climate change”.

  33. Wonhyo says:

    Republicans will demand an acceleration in the building of new nuclear plants. Democrats will give in to those demands. Republicans will deny the risks of new nukes, but will demand even greater government loan guarantees, tax breaks, and other subsidies. Democrats will give in to those demands. Republicans will demand even further loosening of nuclear power regulations. Democrats will give in to those demands. Republicans will demand elimination of wind/solar power subsidies in the spirit of deficit reduction. Democrats will give in to those demands.

    Eventually, a nuclear disaster will strike in the U.S. The Democratic Speaker of the House (if there is one) will promise that investigations into industry collusion with Republican elected officials is “off the table”. The Republicans will shift the blame to Democrats. The Democrats will take the hits, turn the other cheek, take more hits, and fail to even attempt to fight back against Republican rhetoric.

    If the Democrats succeed in weaning us off of nuclear power, Republicans will insist on raplacing it with the most expensive, most dangerous, and most environmentally destructive alternative, with all profits made by private industry and all risks borne by the public.

    Is there anything I missed?

  34. Dave B says:

    Nukes are now the walking dead, financially, politically and public opinion wise. The attempted marketing phase “safe nuclear power” that Obama recited at the Democratic Party convention, and which almost brought cheering to a halt, no longer has any positive marketing value.

    The two nukes started in Georgia might get finished. But nukes as an industry in the U.S. Are now as popular as venereal disaease, and since the economics of it ring from politically derived massive subsidies, it’s done for – another victim of You-Tube, so to speak.

    As to the question of how much electricity you would get from $10 billion via PV, it depends a bit on where they are placed, but the simple answer is not much. About an average of 210 MW continuous output in the north east/Great Lakes, maybe twice that in the deserts in the southwest. It’s always going to be really expensive for PV, and you can get 5 to 10 times more energy per year output from wind turbines for the same amount of money as with PV.

    But, that rarely gets discussed, either, as it is the high real cost of PV that is one of the best arguments (however bogus) for nukes and coal burners.

  35. Mike Roddy says:

    Ralph Nader on nukes:

    Dave P, solar thermal is the preferred solution for utility scale power in the desert. PV farms are not viable. Why bring them up?

    Wonhyo, good one.

  36. BlueRock says:

    The Japanese crisis will slow or postpone new nukes. That will allow renewables to gain more market share, reduce costs, increase efficiencies. The window for nukes to grab a slice of the pie is rapidly closing – and very soon it will close.

    The only way nukes will be able to compete is manipulation of the market… which is exactly what the UK government appears to be doing now. They’ve gutted solar FITs and are working on some Machiavellian scheme to ensure nukes can be built “without subsidies”:

    * Nuclear power is the reason for the new energy regulations. The government’s energy market revamp is for one reason only – to build more nuclear power plants.

  37. Prokaryotes says:

    Japan Finds Contaminated Food Up to 90 Miles From Nuclear Sites

    DNA Mutation Potentials …

  38. Mike Roddy says:

    My brother Steve, who studied in Japan, tells me that Fukushima prefecture farms provide a significant amount of food for the country, and loss of them could affect national self sufficiency.

  39. Michael says:

    I for one think that if we want to continue using nuclear energy, we should, as Ziyu says in 29, research new kinds of reactors which are safer, both in operation and in waste. Supposedly, thorium is much safer than uranium or plutonium, as Wikipedia puts it:

    According to Australian science writer Tim Dean, “thorium promises what uranium never delivered: abundant, safe and clean energy – and a way to burn up old radioactive waste.”[18] With a thorium nuclear reactor, Dean stresses a number of added benefits: there is no possibility of a meltdown, it generates power inexpensively, it does not produce weapons-grade by-products, and will burn up existing high-level waste as well as nuclear weapon stockpiles.[18] Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, of the British Daily Telegraph, suggests that “Obama could kill fossil fuels overnight with a nuclear dash for thorium,” and could put “an end to our dependence on fossil fuels within three to five years.”

    Of course, statements like “there is no possibility of a meltdown” need to be proven. Then, much of the problems at Fukushima stem from the location of the plant on the coastline.

    Also, there is the Integral Fast Reactor, which could make uranium and thorium reserves last for a billion years since virtually all of the energy is extracted, as opposed to less than 1% in current reactors (the other 99+% creates radioactive waste).

  40. Jenny says:

    #26 Prokaryotes: Absolutely correct.

    How can any reasonable person watch the scientific simulation of the shaking involved in a massive quake on the southern San Andreas Fault (which is probably going to rupture in a big way within the next 30 years) and still believe that the San Onofre nuclear power plant is safe from the threats posed by such an earthquake and/or the related tsunami? See: and

  41. Richard Brenne says:

    Everyone will see the dangers of both nuclear and coal and agree to conserve and use only renewables by next Tuesday.

    (Wait, Joe’s directive was not what we think SHOULD happen, but WILL happen.)

    Nuclear will limp along stupidly, pathetically and greedily, and like a magician’s flourishes distract us from the Doomsday Machine that is coal and the other fossil fuels, meaning we’ll burn more coal and gas and have 12 degrees F (7 C) increase by 2100 with 48 per cent more water vapor in the atmosphere that will regularly create storms humans can’t now begin to comprehend, and our numbers will decline to near nothing in the next century and we’ll create Hansen’s runaway greenhouse and a completely dead planet like our sister Venus. Just as nuclear activists appropriately are saying “I told you so” now, the last coal activist will gasp the same bitter words with humanity’s last breath.

    But on the upside, no new nuclear power plants will be built.

  42. Mr Green says:

    Maybe the republican’s will learn to:

    Unless the technology of carbon sequestration is solved, Nuclear power will eventually replace coal (40 – 50 years). We know the ’70’s mantra “The solution to pollution is dilution” was as big a lie as was Janis Joplin’s stupid chant, ” Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose”. I prefer to keep my pollution very close and very watched, not spread out over the entire atmosphere. Future generations will not have the luxury of avoiding the dangers of their electricity generation. They will have to bear the brunt of the danger of nuclear power. If carbon sequestration is not solved, it is far more palatable than 850 ppm of CO2.

    As a solar developer, we are alredy seeing the cost of solar / kWh drop below the “all in” cost of coal fired electricity. Hopefully we get to a nuclear generated base load with a renewable generated peak loads soon.

  43. K. Nockels says:

    I forsee the same “Not in My Back Yard” no way objections for nuclear as for wind turbines only now there will be public protests and a lot of money and energy spent to try once again to clean up nuclear’s image.
    I can’t see it succeding in the climate of fear that has been unleashed by the images coming out of Japan. That and the food and water contamination reports will kill any chance of Americans accepting the risks. I have always been an opponet of nuclear power but not for the safty of the reactors we can build but because we have gone ahead with it knowing that the back end production of waste has been left as an unsolved, and dangerous part of the operation and if there is no environmently safe way to dispose of that waste we should not be using it. But we have instead gone ahead and now will be leaving that waste for future generations to deal with.

  44. Jim Adcock says:

    Things change VERY slowly in the power industry, thus what we see a decade from now will look very similar to what we see today: Few if any nukes will be being built. Older dirtier coal power plants will be slowly killed off. New cleaner natural gas plants will be slowly built, and more wind turbines will slowly built. The only thing that will continue to happen quickly is climate change and its deadly effects on the planet and the futures of our children and grandchildren.

  45. Barry says:

    Nukes suck. But I’d rather have nukes than coal any day. Coal kills more people every week than nuke power ever has. And fossil fuel pollution is getting close to egg-beatering our climate and removing whole ecosystems like corals forever.

    If society ends up forcing coal vs nukes choice I’m going to pick nukes.

    It will all be solar+storage eventually. Sure wish humanity had the clarity and cajones to just do it now.

  46. dp says:

    “How many new nuclear plants will begin construction [by 2020]?”

    up to 10. not zero, not a hundred.

    “Do you think any existing plants will be shut down (or not have their life extended) as a result of the Japan Syndrome?”

    i think so, even though the electricity they provide is a regional not local resource. hopefully the reaction to this extraordinary incident will join up with anti-coal sentiment downstream and start people really talking about transforming the grid, instead of greening its edges.

  47. KeenOn350 says:

    On track record to date, this won’t change things much in the US.

    Serious effort on construction of Gen IV nuclear power would be great for saving our civilization – done by some organization other than private power companies – say some organization along the lines of NASA, or a branch of the military (the navy has lots of Nuke experience).

    But nuclear is an alternative to fossil fuels – and the battle against all alternatives was essentially won by the fossil fuel companies long ago.

    So – no nukes in the US until it is basically too late.

    (Fossil fuels are definitely winning the battle – but it is seriously a Pyrric victory. They will eventually lose the war – but by that time, it will be too late to matter for any major civilization on the planet.)

  48. Will Koroluk says:

    An interesting op-ed in yesterday’s Globe and Mail by Thomas Homer-Dixon. He figures nuclear is on life support pretty well everywhere, except for India and China who appear to think they have no options. As for alternatives, he gives prominent mention to deep geo-thermal, and urges more research in that field.

  49. Despite the Nukushima Dai’ichi catastrophe, a handful of new nukes (6 to 12?) will probably be built mostly at existing stations in Texas & the Southeast during the next couple decades, though I doubt any will be approved near major population centers. But by then, very competitive renewables like solar & wind (& geothermal?) along with nat gas will be picking up the lion share of the load.

    New nukes are already too expensive to build, & the costs will become even moreso with the new safety standards that will have be retrofitted into existing nukes & built into any new ones following extensive Nukushima investigations & risk evaluations like after TMI.

    With the economic & safety risks of older nuclear power plants & the rapidly decreasing cost of renewables, a number of the old reactors will probably be retired sooner than later.

    No doubt, a technological world power like the U.S. will keep its big footprint in advanced nuclear power technology for decades to come.

    Location of Projected New Nuclear Power Reactors


  50. Adam R. says:

    As others have pointed out, the appalling direct costs of building new plants will inhibit construction too much for nukes to be the coal killer we need them to be. Until direct fossil fuel costs become prohibitive —the indirect costs already are, of course—nukes will lose ground slowly to renewables.

  51. Jim Groom says:

    Waste, waste and more waste. It is the height of hubris to believe that our use of nuclear must be born by untold numbers of future generations because we are too weak to take on the problems of fossil fuel addiction. We’ve not been out of the cave for very long and we are making commitments for coming generations to watch over our crap for centuries to come. I find that nauseating to say the least.

  52. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    Nuclear will sneak in the back door, alive and well, with new plants being built in areas where there’ very little population to notice and complain. It has big bucks behind it and nothing stops big bucks.

  53. Colorado Bob says:

    I just checked the weather in Japan , winds are out of ENE at 16 mph.

    Japan Finds Tainted Food Up to 90 Miles From Nuclear Sites
    It doesn’t matter what amount of radiation has been measured, people won’t be giving milk to their children , out of pure caution.

  54. Colorado Bob says:

    Economies are supposed to serve human ends.. not the other way round. We forget at our peril that markets make a good servant, a bad master and a worse religion.
    Amory Lovins –

    I once met an economist who believed that everything was fungible for money, so I suggested he enclose himself in a large bell-jar with as much money as he wanted and see how long he lasted.
    Amory Lovins –

  55. Colorado Bob says:

    Looking for a Lovins quote about nukes , still haven’t found it yet, but lots of other good stuff :

    What nuclear would do is displace coal, our most abundant domestic fuel. And this sounds good for climate, but actually, expanding nuclear makes climate change worse, for a very simple reason. Nuclear is incredibly expensive. The costs have just stood up on end lately. Wall Street Journal recently reported that they’re about two to four times the cost that the industry was talking about just a year ago. And the result of that is that if you buy more nuclear plants, you’re going to get about two to ten times less climate solution per dollar, and you’ll get it about twenty to forty times slower, than if you buy instead the cheaper, faster stuff that is walloping nuclear and coal and gas, all kinds of central plans, in the marketplace. And those competitors are efficient use of electricity and what’s called micropower, which is both renewables, except big hydro, and making electricity and heat together, in fact, recent buildings, which takes about half of the money, fuel and carbon of making them separately, as we normally do.

  56. Colorado Bob says:

    Amory Lovins

    Founder and chief scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute
    Posted: March 18, 2011 02:35 PM

    With Nuclear Power, “No Acts of God Can Be Permitted”

  57. Felix Kramer says:

    Must-read story in current issue of Time by Michael Grunwald, “The Real Cost of Nuclear Power.” He focuses on how the U.S. “nuclear Renaissance” was already stumbling before last week. He reviews how alternatives pencil out far better for investors; how conservation and renewables out-compete nuclear. I’d quote from it but there are too many good parts.,8599,2059453,00.html

  58. Colorado Bob says:

    More Lovins –
    In contrast, of the 66 nuclear units worldwide officially listed as “under construction” at the end of 2010, 12 had been so listed for over 20 years, 45 had no official startup date, half were late, all 66 were in centrally planned power systems–50 of those in just four (China, India, Russia, South Korea)–and zero were free-market purchases. Since 2007, nuclear growth has added less annual output than just the costliest renewable–solar power –and will probably never catch up. While inherently safe renewable competitors are walloping both nuclear and coal plants in the marketplace and keep getting dramatically cheaper, nuclear costs keep soaring, and with greater safety precautions would go even higher. Tokyo Electric Co., just recovering from $10-20 billion in 2007 earthquake costs at its other big nuclear complex, now faces an even more ruinous Fukushima bill.

  59. Mike Roddy says:

    oops, wrong link on Nader’s piece about nuclear. Here it is:

  60. Prokaryotes says:

    Barry “If society ends up forcing coal vs nukes choice I’m going to pick nukes.”

    Under labor conditions and all possible safeguards maybe, but with projected 300% increase of geomorphological uptake, nuclear energy is very disastrous and makes huge portions of the planet uninhabitable – for ever.

  61. Solar Jim says:

    It would seem that the future of nuclear energy is excellent, nuclear energy of the Sun that is. Otherwise, with millions of times the radiation of our bomb used at Hiroshima sitting in US “spent fuel pools” alone, without considering approximately one thousand times the radiation of that atomic bomb in each operating reactor, continuing with the militaristic theology of atomic fission, launched under Atoms For War (“Peace”), would be more suicidal and corrupt than we are now. Economic constructs are human made, and often these derive from foolish nation-state directives.

    Atomic fission is not an answer (and neither are climate change machines). It is a technocracy of mass destruction, which is directly associated with the Age of Atomic Weapons. It is time to end The Atomic Age in totality, including it’s pervasive hubris such as “electricity too cheap to meter.” The national books have been cooked (for “cheap uranium and mined-carbon fuels”) and so nearly are we. A truly sustainable, renewable, clean economy future is our only choice for peace and survival.

    We seem to be faced with insurmountable opportunities in a world of cascading tragedy. Peace, or oblivion from “the fuels of war.” Truly, a difficult choice for the corrupt, the insane or the nation-state.

  62. dp says:

    documentary about how the early boiling water reactors got built despite the known vulnerabilities

  63. Joan Savage says:

    For a systematic response to the caption and bonus question, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) list of all nuclear plants in the US is available at their web page:

  64. Merrelyn Emery says:

    It only takes a few minutes review of the international news to see that the social climate of the world is heating up as well as the physical climate. There is an increase in protests and demos around the world including the USA. It won’t be long before you start to see demos about nuclear.

    I notice a lot of basically defeatist comments here. Of course the nuclear and fossil fuel industries will fight back, thats only to be expected. But if you want a non-nuclear, non-carbon future you are going to have to fight for it. Starting from a position of defeatism is not going to inspire anybody to do anything and is more likely to guarantee exactly what you don’t want, ME

  65. denim says:

    When horses powered stuff, the manure pile was a problem.

    When coal powers stuff, the ash pile, mercury, and CO2 is still a problem.

    When natural gas powers stuff, the CO2 is still a problem as is water pollution from fracking it out of the ground’s bedrock.

    When uranium powers stuff, the highly toxic radioactive wastes are still a problem now and 10,000 years from now.

    When solar, wind, tides, ocean waves, and waterfalls power stuff, no problems like above even make the list of problems.

    So I see no nukes in the world’s future. None.

  66. newairly says:

    I believe that the likely pause is an opportunity to properly develop intrinsicly safe high temperature reactors, possibly based on the Thorium cycle. High temperature sources of heat can be used for hydrogen production for transport fuel. They can also be efficiently air cooled removing the need for large cooling water sources, a major drawback of most thermal power plants.
    Certainly the days of the old boiling water dinosaurs are very limited.

  67. Robert R. Holt says:

    Q.1 didn’t specify whether you meant in the US (probably very few, under 10) or in the world (I can’t guess; too many). Q.2: Yes, I do think that some existing (US) plants will be shut down, probably more than will be built. Too many are on seismic faults and/or near the seashore.
    It’s curious how few people think, when asked about what will happen in the future, about the very predictable consequences of further climate change, even if the world’s governments wake up and start taking centralized actions. We are certain to have rising sea levels, fiercer storms, bigger storm surges (more like tsunamis), and much localized flooding in the model of Pakistan, N. Australia, Nashville, etc. etc. No nuclear plants were designed for such an environment. If future ones are near enough large bodies of water to have assurance that they will have secondary coolant enough, they will be vulnerable to flooding; if safe from that, they will lose a lot of capacity factor because of inability to get rid of excess heat.
    But looming over all environmental threats is the real killer: solar storms, or “severe space weather,” in the terms used by an authoritative National Research Council report ( We are just coming out of an extended period of a quiet sun with very few sunspots, and are starting up the 11-year cycle. That alone is sure to create more grid failures like the famous one of March 1989 blacking out a lot of Quebec. But history shows that much greater sunstorms in the past have sent huge bursts of electromagnetic energy impacting a far less electronically interconnected earth, well before the days of nuclear energy. Simply a repeat of the great geomagnetic storm of May 1921 would melt the copper wires in hundreds of transformers and knock out huge segments of the US grid if not all of it. We now know that nuclear plants are dependent on external sources of electricity, so all that relied on the grid would be extremely vulnerable. Of course, such a space storm would inflict enormous damage on our interdependent civilization anyway, but if there are operating nuclear plants they would make things far worse. A good reason to abandon any thoughts of a “nuclear renaissance,” which we can’t afford anyway and which would set back the necessary world transition to an all-renewable energy system.
    Those who, like the supposed experts of the Obama administration, say we can’t manage without nuclear power should read Joe Romm and Amory Lovins. It can indeed be done; let’s get cracking.

  68. Richard Brenne says:

    Merrelyn Emery (#63) – I think we need all the voices here, and more. I don’t think it’s defeatism to try to accurately state what we’re up against. Ignoring the magnitude and complexity of what we’re up against is denial that will perpetuate the problems more than stating the magnitude of the problems will.

    In fact I think stating the magnitude of the problem is the most important first step to action, and is rarely done anywhere near sufficiently (and is best done here). I feel (and Bill McKibben seemed to agree) that discussing solutions without honestly understanding or communicating the magnitude of the problem is one of the myriad mechanisms of denial.

    This is one of the world’s few (and best) clearinghouse of all ideas, attitudes and feelings about what we face. I would censor none of them.

    As I’ve said before, I talk about this stuff a lot with eco-psychologist Thomas Doherty, who was on the climate change task force for the American Psychological Association, and many others with similarly sophisticated views about this. Thomas agrees that grieving is appropriate and necessary. Another psychologist told me that when A and B both have crippling accidents and A says “I’m going to only be positive and optimistic” and B goes through the stages of bargaining, anger, depression and finally acceptance, after a period of time B is much psychologically healthier and farther along than A.

    As I’ve also said before, I think a lot of very appropriate grieving takes place in these comments and nowhere else on Anthro-Earth that I’m aware of in proportion, quality and depth.

    Also, experimenting with humor, irony and metaphor to see what works and what doesn’t is an excellent idea and best done here. Each of these are critical tools in our toolkit, while humorlessness and scolding are not.

    Your vision is an excellent and critically important one. I would not try to censor it. So please return the favor.

  69. Tony O'Brien says:

    Bait and switch:
    Sell the forth generation as solving many of the problems of nuclear power, then deliver third generation because the other was too expensive.

    Redefine waist:
    There is high level waist such as fuel rods which must be processed accordingly. Everything else is low level waist which can go to landfill after an appropriate period of storage (You know an hour or so on the truck)

    Reassess the probability of extreme events:
    The earthquake in Christchurch was pretty extreme. The Sendai event was purely a one off, the stresses have been released and it will never happen again.

    Redefine the uses of coal:
    Coal is far too valuable to burn in power generation, we need it to turn into oil.

    What was that PT Barnum quote, about the intelligence of people.

  70. Tony Broomfield says:

    Merrelyn Emery above seems to be looking down the same wromng end of a telescope as most of the Planet right now.
    Is the “Default setting” really one where the people we elect get to rampage about the planet mlooting and pillaging and WE the PEOPLE have to go on the streets and get shot at to stop them?
    No it isnt, the “Default setting” is actually one where the politicians should be doing what we elected them to do and that is look out for us not themselves.
    How the boot got on the wrong foot is not the issue, changing the default setting is important though

  71. catman306 says:

    Chernobyl is a trend setting early adopter. The future looks really good for areas far away and up wind from nuclear power plants. Especially when compared with the future for areas close by and down wind. (If wind patterns don’t change with the climate.)

  72. TomG says:

    I just watched a short video on CNN entitled “Seawalls Fail Japanese Community” and on it I saw massive chunks of concrete seawall tumbled like a child’s building blocks.
    I suspect they are…umm were…close to the same size to those protecting that coastal California nuke.
    That nuke is a bad case of playing Russian roulette with a semi-automatic.
    The future for new nukes or those in dicey condition or in a poor location?
    Not good.
    Any elected public official who sponsors nukes is flirting with political suicide.
    Big time.

  73. Nuke reactors, already too expensive, will become even more expensive as regulators tighten safety rules and emergency preparedness requirements. There will be some new reactors built, but it will not be a renaissance, and the industry will survive by simply extending the life of or refurbishing the existing global fleet. In the meantime, renewables will continue to fall in cost and energy storage will emerge as a solution that makes nuclear even less appealing.

    The Fukushima crisis is worse than Chernobyl in many respects, because it’s a recent event being followed closely and in tremendous detail in on the Internet, in newspaper, on TV, blogs, etc… this will have an impact on generations of individuals who may have heard of Chernobyl but were historically detached from it.

    Read here, if you wish, for a lengthier commentary:

  74. Lou Grinzo says:

    I’ve been saying since the earliest days of my blogging that our future policies and actions in the US will have plenty for everyone to hate. Righties will have to deal with a lot more government intervention (in ways they don’t like, not just corporate socialism), and lefties will have to deal with a lot more nuclear power, just to mention two examples.

    In the case of our nuclear future, I think the US will see almost no new plant construction, right up to the moment we hit our cultural tipping point on climate change, a.k.a. our “climate 9/11” event that we’ve all talked about here so many times. Once that happens and people (finally!) get how terrifying our situation is, thanks in large part to timing, then all bets are off. We’ll still be in the age of extreme corporate influence, thanks to the Supremes and their dreadful Citizens United decision, so I fully expect we’ll see more (which is to say some) nuclear post-epiphany. Whether that’s a handful of plants in places like the eternally conservative SE US, or a much wider “renaissance”, is anyone’s guess.

    Our epiphany on climate change will present a great discontinuity in public policy and individual views, on a variety of issues. And that discontinuity will only be greater as we continue to delay getting our heads out of the sand.

  75. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Richard Brenne, good grief, how did you interpret my comment as wanting censorship? There is nothing further from my mind. I welcome the opportunity to comment and would not deny that to anyone.

    Re grieving, I don’t see defeatism, saying e.g. nothing can be done, the other side is going to win, has anything to do with grieving. Some of our people have recently gone through, and are still going through, the worst national disaster in our history. From the very beginning of it, although many of them lost everything, some including their families, they approached it with humour and saying that other people had it worse than they. There was a massive amount of action and huge spontaneous armies of volunteers came from everywhere to help them. You could see the same thing happening in Christchurch – no defeatism there either.

    My first discipline was psychology and there are mmany psychologists who agree with me that different cultures approach crises, and grieving, in very different ways. Perhaps this is why you misinterpret my comments?

    Tony Broomfield, I assure you that I am well aware of the ghastly future in store for us all if we do not get on top of this problem and soon. Re your ‘default setting’, of course your politicians should be looking out for you and I am suggesting you tell them so rather than give up in advance of such action. You have many ways to do it, some more effective than others.

    People have been telling representative governments what to do when they go off the rails ever since they were set up. Your country has a record of doing it and I would have thought you would be proud if it. There are protests going on about government actions in the USA right now although not about climate change. Sounds like those protesters have not given up, ME

  76. Philip Eisner says:

    New nuclear power plants in the U.S are in a precarious position. Siting has become an exceedingly difficult problem! Who will now wish to live near a nuclear plant? The cost of new plants is almost prohibitive! While many responders here have pointed out we must wait and see what happens to the Japanese reactors and their spent-fuel storage pools, the American public knows enough now to make the decision to abort future nuclear plants. As a country, we have had 40 years of hand wringing about the spent-fuel storage problem. Now we sit with 104 reactors and still no solution, not even a credible effort at one!

    The Japanese made a mess of their emergency generator siting; have we done any better! I don’t know; so far no one seems to be talking about that. Flooding is on the rise throughout the country due to GW plus there are many U.S. reactors on the coasts. Will they survive giant storms?

    All in all, it seems to me that nuclear is not the significant safety issue, it is our lack of planning for potential great risks that is the issue. What has happened is that the nuclear industry has more potential dangerous risks than most other industries and those “rare” risks that were not accounted for have actually happened.

    I guess that “no”, there will be no new plants built in the next ten years in the United States. After that it depends on how much GW interferes with our economy and how much off-shore wind capacity we are able to build during those 10 years.

  77. Nathan says:

    Given that supermajorities of public opinion have been routinely bulldozed in recent years, often without the public realizing it, it is hard for me to see how the case will be different here. The rub will be if a constituency more powerful than nuclear, i.e. finance, decides it is an unacceptable systemic risk to the economy (or a systemic risk that they personally do not benefit from). Of course, the two constituencies are maybe not as monolithic and discrete as I would imagine. Certainly, large lobbies have routinely ignored unacceptable systemic risk that could easily sabotage their bottom line in the short to medium term. Markets are really not that rational, to my persistent horror.

  78. Sailesh Rao says:

    Anonymous #15: The calculation of crust expansion assumes that Silicon DiOxide (Sand) is the main ingredient in the crust. It has a thermal expansion coefficient of 11um/mK and for a 25,000 mile crust will result in 1440 feet of expansion.

    I’ve always wondered why scientists who seem to be acutely aware of the expansion of sea water due to temperature ignore the expansion of the earth’s crust with temperature.

  79. Leif says:

    I am not a big fan of nuclear for all the reasons mentioned but feel that the next generation of small scale nuclear power will play a roll even yet. I would point out that that the US Navy passes within a couple of miles of my house monthly. A compliment of ~100 men live within feet of that power source for months on end beneath ocean and ice. Nuclear Aircraft Carriers have thousands of folks aboard, again within a few hundred feet as well. Those same ships will tie up in ports with many millions of folks in near proximity and not a peep from the population. The problem appears to be when Corporate America gets their fingers in the pie to maximize their profits. With tax payers holding the bag for cleanup and mitigation, cutting corners for extra profits becomes a given. Much like the well documented fossil industries’ propensity to ignore worker and environmental safety. Give them an inch and they take a mile and still want more!.

  80. Scott says:

    2. Scrooge, why do you say this? “When we come up with enough alternate clean energy nuclear will be done with, but I think we will run out of uranium before that happens.” It’s going to happen sooner than you think.

  81. catman306 says:

    The nearly permitted and ready to start construction nuclear reactor in Georgia, USA will be sited near the same fault lines that produced the big Charleston, SC quake in the 1880s.

    “Actually, the threat of earthquakes in Georgia is higher than people realize, said retired University of Georgia geologist David Dallmeyer.
    “We are in an earthquake-prone area, much more than people realize,” Dallmeyer said. “I think the Southeast of the United States does have significant seismic potential. There are a lot of these faults, many buried, but they’re there,” he said.”

    The nuclear power generation industry is stuck on stupid and covered with greed.

  82. Raul M. says:

    The want nuclear – Don’t want nuclear
    paradox. But how to give all that free
    Nuclear energy back to the rightful
    owners with just a simple no thank

  83. Larry Gilman says:

    Just as US nuclear orders flatlined before Three Mile Island, the “nuclear renaissance” had become a stillbirth rather than a rebirth _before_ Fukushima Daiichi — and for similar, i.e economic, reasons. Despite at least a decade of “nuclear renaissance” talk, global nuclear output and construction orders have stagnated, and are not sufficient to even compensate for scheduled closures. The reason is high cost, not fear, whether justified (as I think) or exaggerated (as advocates of the technology think). In the US, despite 100% public guarantees of financing, there is a conspicuous shortage of solid orders for new plants.

    If nuclear power were cheap the world would build nukes no matter how many people got wiped out in the occasional catastrophe, the same way we burn Killer Coal. But they aren’t, and they aren’t going to be. Promises of failsafe, ultra-affordable reactor and fuel-cycle designs right around the corner have been a staple in the field for half a century and will attract investment only from the heavily opiated. If we could harness nuclear promise-making as a power source, it would be too cheap to meter.

    So apart from what I think _should_ happen, what _will_ happen? What has already been happening: nuclear stagnation, diversion of monies to more effective investments. The exceptions, which will not be large-scale enough to reverse the global decline, will be in central-command energy systems like those of France and China, which disregard economic realities at will.

    As for greenhouse mitigation, nuclear is a loser choice, just as buying caviar on a limited family food budget is a loser choice. An energy buck spent on expensive, slow-to-deploy nuclear technology buys less greenhouse mitigation than a buck spent on efficiency, cogen, and renewables — drawing largely on the same sources of public and private financing, so the game really is zero-sum — and therefore mitigates climate change (and the other nightmarish harms of fossil-fuel extraction and burning) less than a buck spent on the alternatives. Therefore, in the same sense that paté de foie gras on a limited food budget is a fancy way to starve your family, nuclear power is a fancy way to keep the coal burning and the world warming.

  84. Jeffrey Davis says:

    Alexander Cockburn dismissed AGW as a stalking horse for the nuclear industry.

    I can imagine 15 years from now when the odd weather from this past year is the norm and WORSE weather is commonplace. At that point we’re also 20 years past Peak Oil and people are deathly tired of devoting 6-7% of their income to oil. So, there are 2 possibilities. A national nuclear energy program as in France. Or we essentially give the keys to the vault to a consortium of regional power companies: initial funding, scant regulation, waiver-of-liability, etc. Lo and behold, the money behind these power companies? Former oil barons.

    And it won’t be enough.

  85. Heraclitus says:

    What’s the most likely future for nuclear power? It’s not the nuclear reactors that are most likely to collapse but the civilisation around them, given the warming we are already committed to. I’ve asked a number of times but have never seen a satisfactory answer to the question: what happens to nuclear power stations when the society around them can no longer sustain the high-tec expertise required to maintain them? Nuclear technology reminds me of one of those fighter jets that can only fly because of constant feedback and adjustments from computer systems, left to their own devices they would fall out of the sky. But at least a fighter jet has an ejector seat.

    Are we bequeathing an extra unacceptable burden to future generations that are already likely to be struggling to survive in a barely recognisable world? Or would it be relatively easy to put nuclear power stations into a safe mode that required little or no maintenance and technological know-how?

  86. Mark says:

    First, thanks to ‘Lizardo’, post #8. Nuclear accidents, and most large-scale industrial accidents of any kind, usually involve a failure cascade from a low-probability sequence of events and design vulnerabilities. In hind sight, the failure seems obvious, but it apparently wasn’t through foresight. At Fukushima, the ‘critical components’ such as the reactor buildings, are at +13 m elevation. The maximum tsunami height determined through examination of over 40 historical tsunami was +7.5 m. The actual tsunami height at Fukushima was +10 m. Some components that proved to be critical were not located above +10 m, such as diesel fuel tanks, or diesel cooling pumps, and those critical components failed, either by physical destruction or displacement, or seawater inundation. The combination of critical components not originally deemed critical, and a tsunami 2.5 m above design elevation lead to the disaster.

    The biggest arguments against nuclear are economics and fuel disposal. Storage of spent fuel in pools is almost as dangerous as loss of cooling to the reactor core. We need to move the spent fuel out of the pools and into some other storage form, or at least have robust cooling systems that provide passive cooling in the event of station blackout. We can engineer more stringent safety elements and systems, such as passive core cooling, but every additional safety component inches nuclear to ever higher $/kW-hr costs.

    With regard to most dangerous nuke, as Lizardo points out, that depends on plant by plant characteristics, as US nukes were almost custom jobs, but I worry about Turkey point on Biscayne Bay south of Miami in the potential path of a Cat 5 hurricane and +7 m surge. Indian Point on the Hudson north of NYC has shown up on several lists as the ‘most dangerous’. I suppose this is because of the Ramapo Fault. But the Ramapo is an intraplate fault with no significant tectonic history for the last 200 million years. Indian Point is close to NYC, but at least tectonically, it isn’t a big worry.

  87. Richard Brenne says:

    Merrelyn Emery (#74) – You’re probably more right than I am and probably weren’t trying to censor comments, so I apologize for using that harsh word. Still, in your original comment at #63 you wrote “I notice a lot of basically defeatist comments here. . . .Starting from a position of defeatism is not going to inspire anybody to do anything and is more likely to guarantee exactly what you don’t want.”

    “Anybody. . .anything. . .guarantee. . .exactly” – really? And you’re certain that there was never any defeatism in anyone in Australia (I’m guessing) and New Zealand?

    Coming slightly short of omniscience myself, I think we need it all. We need all the activism and demonstrations and democracy you advocate for and of course infinitely more.

    While not defeatism, I think we also need to know and understand and communicate what we’re up against, and momentarily that might seem to some outsiders who really aren’t in a position to judge like defeatism.

    We’re all trying to get our heads around something that is unprecedented in human history (and thus precedents, like metaphors, are imperfect), and I don’t mind or judge any amount of mental, verbal or written thrashing about, however imperfectly, we might do to save ourselves. We need an always deeper range of the deepest emotions communicated about this, not a narrower range.

    James Hansen heads NASA-GISS and wrote in his book “Storms of My Grandchildren” that if we burn all available fossil fuels (which we show every sign of doing) that we’ll create a runaway greenhouse effect like Venus and thus a permanently dead planet. (Most other top climate scientists aren’t as certain about this, but I rarely argue with a guy who asked for a major volcanic eruption and got one, given his apparent connections.) I was paraphrasing Hansen’s concerns in my original comment here at #40, and that might seem defeatist as well. Some other comments echo my feelings and together we must have been the ones you were calling defeatist.

    Jim Hansen has spoken out more than any other climate scientist and thus endangered his career more than any other, confronting the very powerful and insidious Bush Administration heroically, and has also been arrested at coal plants and the White House as an activist.

    At a recent talk I gave to astronomers I developed a character who wasn’t from this planet and who was an expert in the Fermi Paradox (Why don’t we hear from any other civilizations on other planets?) and explained that it is the nature of civilizations that are developing radio to use fossil fuels that allow only the briefest technological spike before they change their climates and collapse their civilization. And then I explained that this is exactly what is happening now on Anthro-Earth.

    That could be seen as a defeatist message, but a couple of dozen astronomers and I all went out to dinner together afterward to discuss how to solve this problem (this is typical of my events, after one I found myself sitting between my panelists Bill McKibben and Al Bartlett and across from Kevin Trenberth, Brian Toon and Diane McKnight and thought I’d died and gone to doomer heaven).

    I’ve written and spoken over a million words (many feel this is the average length of my comments here) about climate change since 1992 when I made my first documentary featuring climate scientists, have produced and moderated about 50 hours of panels and tied them into the national radio show E-Town, speak and produce and moderate panels and series at universities, high schools, garden and other clubs, national parks and national forest sites, work with a NASA grant to teach global climate change on-line, am writing a screenplay (my prior profession, which paid infinitely more than I’m making now doing all this) set in a climate changed future, attend state and national teachers conferences to educate and get teachers to teach climate change (including State Teachers of the Year who I recruited Friday), and have done the vast majority of this on my own rapidly thinning dime.

    Other commenters here who I know to make comments that from time to time could also be considered defeatist do things I consider far more impressive than my own feeble attempts.

    We each have our callings and yours is wonderful and as important as any, and I basically agree with all your comments, I just think that comments here are awesome and need to be supported, encouraged and complimented for their earnest sincerity, whether we agree with all of them or not. By the way, the comments on this thread including at least the last 10 are prime examples of this awesomeness.

  88. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Thank you Richard Brenne and thanks for the humour as well as all your efforts.

    I have read ‘Storms of my grandchildren’ and it is downright frightening and depressing. However, that doesn’t stop him being an active scientist and an activist. By ‘defeatism’, I meant not even starting to take action.

    What worries me particularly about some of the comments is that I know that human emotions are extremely contagious. They can spread like wildfire. Emotions have consequences. To even make a dent in this problem we are going to need high levels of motivation, energy and persistence. I am all for realism and sincerity and if that includes expressing one’s despair that nothing can be done, then so be it. But lets be clear that if everybody does nothing but despair, it is definitely all over. It might be anyway but its still worth a try.

    I always appreciate your views on this site which are always generous and thank you for taking the time to get back to me, ME

  89. David B. Benson says:

    I recommend reading To EnginEER is Human by Henry Petroski.

  90. Richard Brenne says:

    Merrelyn Emery (#87), that is beautifully said. As well as an activist I can tell you are a philosopher and artist, quite possibly a poet. Did you move from psychology into another field? You sound like a dynamite anthropologist (though your anthropology needn’t be limited to just that explosive).

    I agree with everything you say here, and in fact I again apologize for overreacting to something that was mostly semantics. At least useful points came from it, mostly yours just above.

    You filled in the key paragraph I omitted that Hansen can also appear deeply depressed about what we’re doing but then take extremely meaningful action to prevent it.

    You and I and most other commenters here I suspect travel in rarified air with other progressives, at universities, in university towns or large cities with lots of universities, among many PhDs, scientists, social scientists, asocial scientists, teachers, writers, artists and activists. You probably don’t but for many of us it is easy to forget that these are the intelligentsia that gets this problem the most and needs to educate the world about it.

    Those trying to survive in one way or another understandably have survival as their primary or only focus and they comprise a majority of the world’s population that we most need to protect (please see the also beautiful, amazing and related last several comments by Kumar three posts below under “Deniers finally concede they have a growth” with the large graph, especially several of the last comments beginning with I believe your fellow Awesome Aussie Mulga Mumblebrain).

    So if someone despairs about what we’re facing, I’d still put them in the top few or likely one per cent who understands the problem best, and I would hope like you do that their despair would be as brief as possible and be replaced with the most meaningful action, which is always the best antidote to despair.

    But there can be meaningful thinking that can momentarily include what appears to be despair or even defeatism.

    But again this is all semantics, and I’m inspired by each of your comments and all of your action.

    Sincerely Yours,

    Your Evil Twin Underachieving Brother On The Other Side Of The World

  91. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Ah Richard Brenne, you make me laugh and thats good! A poet? I can only dream. I am just a pretty boring transdisciplinary social scientist developing a form of social science that is highly practical and genuinely scientific called Open Systems Theory. Quite a bit of our social science isn’t quite up to the mark unfortunately which is one of the reasons I broadened out from psych – looking for the real deal.

    If you want to check it out, the following sites are pretty new but will give you an idea. and

    When we tested the workshop design for communities to deal with climate change, we found that collectively they have the perceptions and experience required to understand the problem and take action. What is really missing are the opportunities to come together as a cohesive community of equals around a common purpose and ideals, ME

  92. Leif says:

    Merrelyn Emery, @ 91: ” I am just a pretty boring transdisciplinary social scientist…”

    Perhaps in real life but over here on CP, I for one look forward to your transformation into Wonder Woman!

    Be well and go get em,

    Leif, ;<)

  93. Steve H says:

    If I had my way, the president would say, “We have a giant pile of money just waiting for you energy hogs to use for making your homes more energy efficient. Either you cut your energy use or I fast track all the new nuclear reactors.”

  94. Clare says:

    I think this latest Climate Show is very interesting AND timely (as always), and pertinent to the discussion here:

    “With the terrible events in Japan uppermost in everyone’s mind, this week’s Climate Show goes nuclear, examining the prospects for the future of nuclear energy with Professor Barry Brook from the University of Adelaide. John Cook looks at what the tropical troposphere hot spot really means, and Gareth and Glenn look at mass loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, a record ozone hole over the Arctic, and review last winter’s climate numbers.”
    or on

  95. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Leif #92 thanks mate and Steve H #93 – I love it, ME

  96. Zetetic says:

    @ Steve H #96:
    But seriously the biggest problem with that plan is that the people most concerned about nuclear power are often the one that want to improve there efficiency. Those that most want to push for nuclear are often those that consider efficiency to be a “communist plot”. Just watch Fox “News” and most of the Republicans/Tea Party types in congress right now for proof.

    Although I absolutely agree with the need for improving efficiency. Just having passive house certification for all buildings would be enough to eliminate most of the coal power in the USA. This is where a “fee-and- dividend” approach would perhaps be more effective.