Percolating up through many of our conversations, is a better understanding of the key differences between a short-term vision of a clean energy future that features super-low density intermittent renewable energy, and that of a long-term scientific vision, which features super-high density and modern atomic energy.

To make the shift to clean energy economically and sustainably we must move forward Scientifically, not backwards.

Sustainability we believe, accounts for the Total Life Cycle of an asset. There’s real science in that, often ignored by those who push a Romantic clean energy vision.

It’s not about just emissions and economics under operation, but also what comes before and after.

Mining, smelting, industrial production, transport, maintenance, recovery, decommissioning and recycling.

A full cycle of energy consumption and resource usage, without which the ‘asset’ could not exist.

Looking at the total life cycle of the building, running and scrapping of just about anything, we soon realise that it takes more than just ideology and good intentions to make a meaningful impact.

 

Atomic power has a central role to play in the clean energy transition, but for too long already, its use has been a divisive topic among us.

With a new generation of durable, efficient reactor technologies representing a radical departure from conventional ‘nuclear’, we can make that shift a meaningful one.

The International Atomic Energy Agency recently set out the things scientific facts that matter the most.

Read their Q&A here: https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/qa-public-opinion-of-nuclear-and-why-it-matters-to-the-clean-energy-transition

 

At the heart of public ‘fear’ of atomic power is our anxiousness towards radiation.

Now that we’re facing such stark choices about how to design future energy systems, the time has come to reassess our attitudes towards radiation.

The BBC laid it out perfectly this month, explaining that radiation is a perfectly natural thing and like everything else is nothing to be afraid of in small portions.

The amount of radiation we’re exposed to outdoors, on a plane, swimming in the sea and walking in the mountains, is way greater than anything we’re exposed to from atomic power.

It’s compelling stuff; please watch their video here: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-54211450

 

In the opposite corner from environmental Science, sits environmental Romanticism and a movement calling itself Extinction Rebellion. Their leader, a lady named Ms. Zion Lights has realised that if we act from ideology and not science, we will go down the wrong path.

She’s been really vocal about this and it’s well worth hearing her explaining why that is: https://youtu.be/ZGRuaM0oj6Y

Also, the Economist, that most respectable home of intelligent journalism said this month that climate change is about to upend the corporate world and urged firms to react fast. The problem with speed over quality though, is that we end up making short-term decisions, and often regret them.

Here they appear to fall into that trap with both feet: https://www.economist.com/special-report/2020/09/17/the-great-disrupter

It’s well worth a read.

 

Dr. Carlo Rubbia, the Global Energy Prize laureate and a Nobel Prize winner in physics touched a raw nerve this month when he laid out the case for atomic power’s Major Handicaps being its lack of major changes and developments over the past decades.

‘The main problem with nuclear power today’ he said .. ‘is the recycling of nuclear waste, and to solve this problem, it is necessary to encourage the use of thorium instead of uranium’.

Here he is being interviewed in connection with his Global Energy Prize: https://globalenergyprize.org/en/media-room/news/2020/10/2020.-karlo-rubbia

It’s hard to disagree with this, and to move decisively down the path of Thorium, we need 3 things:

  1. An approved supply chain for molten salt reactor technology that can support cheap and efficient construction.
  2. A fast-spectrum reactor technology (again with an approved and supported supply chain) that can breed starter fuel
  3. A 2-fuel breeder reactor that can sustainably generate as much energy as it consumes – just add Thorium.

The m-MSR will go a long way towards supporting the development of both the supply chains and technology acceptance by deploying small, efficient ‘reactor batteries’ for ocean transportation and for synthetic fuels production.

 

That spent fuel is also the centre of concerns around whether atomic materials can fall into the wrong hands.

Quite rightly, avoiding this is paramount to the success of any atomic power technology.

The m-MSR is being designed to provide power for ship propulsion for as long as the lifetime of a ship.

That can be 20, 25, 30 years or even longer.

Taking the fuel out of an operational m-MSR is simply not going to be possible.

The effect is that there is no spent fuel to handle when refuelling, because there is no refuelling.

 

Now, Professor Robert Svoboda and his team at the University of California have come up with a technique they believe will double down on the security of atomic fuels.

They’re building a Neutrino Detector (remember the Large Hadron Collider at CERN?) … which in theory at least, could reveal whether a reactor is building up materials meant for nefarious purposes.

Take a look here: https://www.wired.com/story/neutrino-detectors-could-be-used-to-spot-nuclear-rogues/

 

To build and launch technologies that form a ‘second atomic’ era of safe, sustainable and affordable atomic energy, investment is needed across a broad spectrum of technology.

Jostein Kristensen, a partner with economics consultancy firm Oxera, told the World Nuclear Association’s Strategic eForum last month that the markets lack a price signal for nuclear investment.

He said the nuclear industry should work with policymakers on the design of market mechanisms that can produce a clear price signal to attract investors to this low-carbon form of electricity, because markets currently do not reflect the value of nuclear power as a sustainable and reliable source of energy in the fight against climate change.

Here is the story: https://www.world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Markets-lack-a-price-signal-for-nuclear-investment

It’ll be interesting to see how such a market mechanism can be designed and implemented given the stand-still in political collaboration in most of the world’s leading economies.

 

We need to work in the private sector to get this done. It is the Private Sector which is the key to the future of atomic power.

The private sector has an uncanny ability to build machines that are better, faster and more appropriate for their intended use.

When private enterprise is stepping up to help fund new technology, there are good reasons to be optimistic about the future of atomic energy.

The National Review in the US said as much, read their story here: https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/09/nuclear-energy-private-sector-shaping-future-of-industry/

 

Those new technologies; those radically different ways of harnessing power from atomic energy, which the molten salt reactor does so well, will pave the way for nuclear power to enable us to meet climate goals.

The IAEA said, it -see for yourself: https://www.iaea.org/nuclear-power-and-the-clean-energy-transition/advanced-reactors-help-pave-the-way-for-nuclear-power-to-meet-climate-goals

 

To illustrate the difference between this clear Scientific way forward, and that of a Romantic vision of a renewables powered future, we need to look to Hydrogen.

All over the world, Hydrogen is being promoted as the answer to all our problems. Bank of America back-stopped it all and announced that the Hydrogen Economy would become an $11 trillion (that’s $11,000 billion) market in the coming decade.

It might, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

Here: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/27/hydrogen-is-at-a-tipping-point-with-11-trillion-market-set-to-explode-says-bank-of-america.html

 

A ‘hydrogen economy’ assumes we can produce renewable electricity inexhaustibly and continue to lead our resource-depleting lifestyles.

New Zealand based Pat Baskett argued that this is not the future we need.

Here is what she said: https://www.newsroom.co.nz/why-hydrogen-is-not-a-cure-for-emissions

 

It also seems that Policymakers in the EU and elsewhere have made a “green” energy shift a priority in economic recovery, but these visions ignore the dirty process of switching to “green” energy.

The Manhattan Institute, a serious Think-Tank, laid out the rationale for why the ‘green energy’ shift using solar and wind to create a hydrogen economy is not really green at all.

Here: https://www.manhattan-institute.org/mines-minerals-and-green-energy-reality-check

 

A shocking analysis by Finnish state-owned utility Fortum and which was reported by Reuters, set it all out in full techni-colour by showing that a carbon neutral Nordic region would need 75% more electricity to meet the additional demand for power if they become carbon neutral.

The implication is that to require 175% of our current energy production to consume the same amount of energy as we do today, would mean a massive expansion of wind and solar capacity across an often dark and stormy part of the world.

The environmental cost of this would pale in comparison to the perceived benefits, and could almost certainly not be reproduced worldwide.

Here is the report: https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN26827A

 

The Dutch economics ministry had commissioned a similar report by former International Atomic Energy Agency experts who naturally looked at atomic power.

They concluded that atomic power is both cheaper and safer than wind or solar, and would have a tiny environmental impact compared to ‘renewables’.

Here is what they said: https://www.rechargenews.com/transition/cheaper-and-safer-than-wind-or-solar-dutch-to-consult-on-new-nuclear-power-plants/2-1-880143

 

The fact is, we are going to need all the clean energy technology we can find to meet our goals to protect the climate, and the Royal Society, a very Science-minded organisation set it all out for us.

This is what they said: https://royalsociety.org/news/2020/10/nuclear-power-cogeneration-report/

 

The IAEA and IEA chiefs agreed and jointly. Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, and Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency wrote that the climate challenge means the world cannot afford to exclude nuclear power – the world’s second-biggest source of low-carbon electricity.

Here: https://www.world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/IEA-IAEA-chiefs-stress-role-of-nuclear-in-climate

 

Combining an appropriate balance of low-density renewable energy with modern atomic technology to lead us on to a long term sustainable energy future is clearly the way to maintain a growth momentum in the world economy. This will help us transition away from the fossil fuelled technology which caused the problem that got us to this point in the first place.

 

We need new technology solutions that can take us deep into the future.

 

To do so we have to embrace the possible, and leave our preconceived biases behind.