Final Remarks


In case you weren’t keeping score . . .

We gave the Roadmap fourteen gimmes:

  • We set the lifespan of a reactor at a conservative 60 years.
  • We calculated pumped hydro at the lowest quintile of $0.20 an installed watt-hour.
  • In our mineral calculations, we didn’t include copper for transmission wires and silver for the curved mirrors of the overbuild CSP farms.
  • We assumed that solar farms would be sited in the very best locales, to keep inverter replacements down to 3 swap-outs in 60 years.
  • We accepted the Roadmap’s 21% capacity factor for rooftop PV solar, even though the current CF for U.S. rooftop is in the mid-teens.
  • We assumed a 25% solar-to-electric conversion efficiency, even though the industry is currently averaging about 17%.
  • We used the latest 160-watt / 40-year hot-rod panel, and presumed that it would become the industry standard.
  • We applied a 28% future discount to utility PV, and a 23% future discount to rooftop PV.
  • We used the Roadmap’s land density estimation for wind, even though it’s one-fourth of the NREL estimate. And mind you, NREL based their estimate on what they found at dozens of actual, operating U.S. wind farms.
  • We didn’t apply a premium to the cost of refurbishing the Roadmap’s 156,000 offshore wind turbines, even though it will clearly be more expensive than refurbishing onshore turbines.
  • We didn’t beat up the solar industry for its toxic waste stream, even though the daily fabrication and recycling of 1.23 million square meters of PV panels would make a major mess.
  • We also didn’t beat up the wind industry for its toxic waste in China. Even though solar and wind waste makes nuclear “waste” pale in comparison.
  • We didn’t apply a premium to U.S. domestic wind and solar fabrication costs.
  • We went with the Roadmap’s much lower price for CSP, rather than the real-world costs encountered in Andasol, Spain.

And after all that, the Roadmap still doesn’t pencil out. Like we said, were not pro-nuclear, we’re pro-math. (Actually, we’re pro-nuclear because we’re pro-math.)

How can the U.S., in good conscience, commit to such an expensive and unproven scheme as the Roadmap? When it doesn’t even hang together on paper?

As we see it, there are two reasons why the Roadmap has become so popular:

a) the public doesn’t fully understand what it would actually entail,
and / or:

b) their fear and loathing of all things nuclear make renewables seem like
the only option to save the planet.

Hopefully, we’ve put a big dent in (a). And Part Two of this book will hopefully put an even bigger dent in (b).

Oops. We forgot to tell you, but this is Part One of an upcoming book titled Power to the Planet. Part Two will be an in-depth (and entertaining) exploration of nuclear energy and nuclear reactors, with an emphasis on our favorite reactor.

Plus we’ll address every halfway sensible objection to nuclear power that we can find. And some of the crazy ones, too. So watch this space.

In the meantime, stay engaged, speak up, and do yourself (and everyone else) a favor – think long and hard about what you’ve read here. But most important:

Be willing to change your mind.

Fight truth decay!

If you haven’t guessed by now, we’re both politically left of center. And yes, we did say that science should be above politics. So why are we even bringing it up?

Because tribalism and partisanship are killing us.

In our experience, too many lefties are stubbornly irrational about nuclear energy, and too many righties are stubbornly irrational about AGW (anthropogenic global warming.)

To admonish the folks on our side of the aisle: A liberal (as distinct from a doctrinaire leftie) is by definition open to new ideas. As the British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell once said:

“The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: Instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment.”

John Maynard Keynes put it more bluntly. A Cambridge-educated economist whose ideas were favored by president Franklin Roosevelt, Keynes responded to an antagonistic politician with these immortal words:

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

The wild rumors of a million deaths from Chernobyl, and of Fukushima poisoning the entire Pacific Ocean, are as provably false as the wild rumors that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with al-Qaeda, and had a direct connection
to 9/11.

Fear mongering, misleading statements, weasel words, cherry-picked facts and outright lies have no political affiliation.

Small world, big planet

Humans have always had tribal minds. The problem is, we now have a global reach. Bits of our trash wash up on someone else’s beach, no matter how diligently we try to recycle.

We just think we throw our trash away. But in truth, there is no “away”. We’re all right here, on a small, crowded, and rapidly warming planet, with a populace that uses the oceans and atmosphere as trashcans.

By the way, there is a practical and well-developed technology to reduce any form of trash down to its component atoms: Plastic, for example, reduces to elemental carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, etc.

But powering enough plasma-arc furnaces1 to effectively address the world’s trash will require terawatts of clean, cheap energy.

This is not a drill

Published in August 2017, a sobering meta-study2 concludes that we only have a 5% chance of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, unless we put climate change at the forefront of our concerns, and keep it there.

The paper strongly urges severe reductions in carbon emissions, to avoid even greater temperature rise.

We’ve already released enough excess carbon to guarantee a rough ride for the next several centuries. It’s baked in the cake. So we need to do two things at once:

  • Rapidly reduce the volume of carbon we’re dumping into the atmosphere and oceans, with the ultimate goal of zero emissions.
  • Actively remove excess carbon from the atmosphere and the oceans, until we restore the planet’s heat budget.

How to accomplish the first one is obvious: Switch to a clean energy paradigm ASAP. Something with, say, a one-decade buildout (nuclear comes to mind . . .)

But realize that the only thing that rapid carbon reduction will accomplish is to take the edge off a tough situation. We also need to reverse the damage we’ve done.

To do that, we must capture the billions of tonnes of excess carbon we’ve dumped into the atmosphere and oceans, and put it back where we got it – the crust of the earth.

The environmental imperative of getting to zero emissions, and then actively reversing our carbon footprint, will create global industries demanding terawatts of clean, cheap and reliable power. That’s in addition to the power we need to cleanly recycle our trash.

And we have to do all of the above while generating enough energy to run the machinery of civilization.

After 150 years of making a mess, Mother Nature wants us to start cleaning up after ourselves. Otherwise she’ll do it for us. And we won’t like it if she does.

Power to the planet!

There is a school of thought that says we need to power down civilization. While it’s true that we as individuals should consume less energy, we as a global civilization of more than 7 billion people actually need to power up.

Simply put: The world needs all the clean, carbon-free energy it can get.

But there’s a catch: That energy source will have to be cheaper than coal, and just as reliable. Or the world will keep right on using coal.

Nuclear fission can generate all the carbon-free energy the world needs, with enough left over to deal with our trash and actively reduce our carbon backlog.

The solution exists – without reinventing the waterwheel, or hoping the weather cooperates, or relying on a herd of green elephants with training wheels. Nuclear power is a well-proven, scalable technology that can be deployed in the time we have to act.

The new Gen III+ reactors offer substantial improvements in efficiency, safety, standardization, and ease of construction. And the upcoming Gen IV reactors are designed to maximize safety, reduce proliferation, and confine nuclear material in case of a malfunction.

We favor the MSR in particular because we feel it’s the best Gen IV design to fulfill these requirements. Proponents of other designs will beg to differ, but good people can disagree. That’s why they make Chevys and Fords.

The road ahead will be rough. But a steady supply of clean, cheap and abundant energy will significantly enhance our ability to adapt to climate change, and mitigate its worst effects, by restoring the energy budget of the planet3 and the pH level of the oceans.

This is the challenge of our era, and will always be our legacy. That includes all of us, because there are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.

Go nuclear or go extinct.

Final Remarks End Notes