Published in paperback in 2013 by UIT Cambridge Ltd PO Box 145, Cambridge CB4 1GQ, England www.uit.co.uk +44 1223 302 041 First published as an Amazon Kindle Single in 2013 © 2013 Mark Lynas Mark Lynas has asserted his moral rights under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles or reviews.
Nuclear 2.0 Contents Introduction .6 1. How we got to where we are .10 2. The carbon challenge .18 3. The N-word .27 4. The case against: nuclear accidents and radiation .40 5. Next generation: Nuclear 2.0 .61 6. The spectre of climate change .74 7. All of the above .82 Notes .90 Index .106.
Nuclear 2.0 Introduction Humanity is currently on course to double or even triple the carbon dioxide content of the Earth’s atmos- phere by the end of this century. Our current level of about 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO is already 2 higher than at any time during the evolutionary his- tory of Homo sapiens. By 2100 the carbon content of the air could reach levels not seen for as long as 50 million years, pushing up global temperatures by 4-6°C (7.2-10.8°F) and transforming our planet beyond all recognition. To try to visualize what this ‘carbon bomb’ might mean in reality, a few years ago I published a book called Six Degrees: Our future on a hotter planet. For analogues of the future, I was forced to examine the geological past – in particular an event over 55 million years ago called the ‘Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum’. This ‘thermal maximum’ was seriously hot – rainforests grew up to the poles, Antarctica was green rather than white, and the Arctic Ocean was full of seaweed and as tepid as the Mediterranean. It’s likely there was not a speck of ice anywhere on the entire planet: not on the poles; not even on the peaks of the highest mountains.
Nuclear 2.0 CHAPTER 1 How we got to where we are Carbon emissions from fossil-fuel burning (ignoring agriculture, deforestation and cement production), which already total about 32 billion tonnes of CO 2 per year, on average rose by 676 million tonnes annu- ally from 2000 to 2010. This is equivalent to almost twice the emissions of Brazil added to the global total during each twelve-month period.1 Although this massive increase in fossil-fuel burning has caused disastrous pollution and health impacts in China and elsewhere, the drama tic rise in global CO is actually a good thing in one respect, because 2 it shows that developing countries are expanding their energy consumption in order to extricate them- selves from centuries of famine and misery. In other words, we are losing the war on carbon precisely because we are winning the war on poverty.
Nuclear 2.0 CHAPTER 2 The carbon challenge Fossil fuels may have liberated us from a crude agrar- ian existence, but now we are entering a different era. The global-warming crisis is sufficiently urgent that fossil fuels must be phased out and replaced with alternatives that can maintain an energy-intensive and growing human civilization without destroying the life-supporting capacity of the biosphere. Solar and wind The standard prescription for tackling climate change is to mobilize a combination of energy effi- ciency and solar and wind power. While efficiency is clearly a good idea in both theory and practice – you get more services per unit of energy – expecting this combination to actually reduce overall energy use is a different matter. Historically, greater effi- ciency tends to accompany an increase in overall energy use: Western economies today are generally twice as efficient as they were 40 years ago, but use far more energy in total. There are good economic reasons for this: efficiency reduces the price of energy 18 .
Nuclear 2.0 CHAPTER 3 The N-word For the majority of my career as an environmental writer and campaigner, I either ignored or disparaged nuclear power. My first climate change book, High Tide: News from a warming world, published in 2004, didn’t mention the N-word at all, even as I ended the narrative about global warming impacts on places as far afield as Peru, Tuvalu and Alaska by imploring readers to “take personal action to reduce emissions” and “keep repeating the climate change message”. My second climate book, Six Degrees: Our future on a hotter planet, did mention nuclear, but only in one sentence, most of which warned about “deadly acci- dents” and “the still-unsolved question of what to do with highly radioactive wastes” – all standard environ- mentalist talking points. The National Geographic TV adaptation of Six Degrees featured a whole sequence on nuclear – but this was all about the dis- tant dream of nuclear fusion, not the current reality of nuclear fission. Challenging the taboo Still, during that Oxford University energy confer- ence I mentioned in the Introduction to this book, a 27 .
Nuclear 2.0 CHAPTER 4 The case against: nuclear accidents and radiation Between them, the world’s fleet of 400 or so reactors have run up tens of millions of pollution-free operat- ing hours over the last quarter-century. Even so, no technology can be completely fail-safe under all circum stances. Think of dam failures, large bridge collapses, aeroplane crashes and chemical plant explosions: the best we can do is to minimize the dangers as far as technically possible through a determined and constant commitment to safety. In all these areas much higher safety standards now operate than was the case in the past, and nuclear power is no exception. Sceptics might ask whether the stakes are not higher in the case of nuclear: if things do go wrong, are the results not far worse than with other technologies? To try to address this, it is worth looking in detail at the two major civilian nuclear accidents that have released substantial quantities of radiation, at Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011. 40 .
Nuclear 2.0 CHAPTER 5 Next generation: Nuclear 2.0 Like everyone I have ever met in the nuclear industry, I strongly believe that the next generation of reactors must be designed and engineered so that innocent people never again suffer the kind of accidents exper- ienced at Chernobyl and Fukushima. Instead of granting life extensions for older plants, therefore, I think we should instead prioritize the deployment of new nuclear plants that are far safer than the previous generation. I call these Nuclear 2.0.
Nuclear 2.0 CHAPTER 6 The spectre of climate change What happens if we fail, and the nuclear renaissance runs into the sand – either because of a renewed anti-nuclear movement or because new reactors are too costly to be worth bothering with, or because of some other factor? This is where we must run some final numbers. The coal-based scenario First we need a baseline – I will use the US Energy Information Administration’s projections to 2030. The EIA projects a 250-per-cent increase in wind power and a 400-per-cent increase in solar power by that year: a major scale-up but still not enough to prevent global CO emissions in 2030 rising to 40.6 2 billion tonnes, about 28 per cent higher than today. This EIA baseline projection also includes nuclear accounting for 14 per cent of global electricity in 2030, a proportion essentially unchanged from today.1 But let’s suppose that all nuclear power plants are shut down one by one between now and 2030, and 74 .