James Conca is extremely disappointed that nuclear did not get a serious hearing by negotiators at COP26. Meanwhile in the “Green Zone” (for the general public), the World Nuclear Association had all of its members’ applications to establish exhibits rejected. Why? If public opposition is a main obstacle, the nuclear industry should be given an opportunity to argue its case, explain how it is one of the safest energy sources available, and overturn the misinformation around Fukushima, says Conca. Some voiced their support for nuclear at COP26, like French President Macron and U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry. And leading climate scientists wrote to COP and the IPCC to say that global targets cannot be met without nuclear. But was anyone listening? Conca points at the contradiction of negotiators, governments and environmental campaigners loudly welcoming the scientific evidence against fossil fuels while not accepting the scientific evidence on nuclear.
As COP26 wrapped up, the elephant in the room was why nuclear power was excluded from the adult’s table.
The World Nuclear Association had all of its members’ applications to establish exhibits at the COP26 climate summit’s civil society “Green Zone” rejected. The UK government, which is managing the Glasgow Science Center’s Green Zone, said there was limited exhibit space available. Right… but there was plenty of space for the Soroptimists, the The Froglife Trust and The British Dragonfly Society.
The Green Zone is billed as a space for organisations to host workshops, panel discussions and keynote speeches which promote dialogue, awareness, education and commitments on the climate crisis. So why in the world would you not want to raise awareness about the most useful, most misunderstood, tool we have to replace coal-generated electricity?
As reported by the Scottish outlet, the Ferret, a Scottish environmental group said that it was “right” to keep the nuclear industry out. Ironically, this group failed to note that COP26’s claims for being quite green comes from getting 70% of its power from nuclear. Nuclear is the only reason southern Scotland receives the cleanest power in the U.K., generated by the Torness and Hunterston B nuclear power plants. It has nothing to do with wind turbines.
So COP26 will be another failure in a long line of well-meaning attempts to wrangle climate change and decrease global emissions sufficiently to limit damage this century. Contrary to the feel-good back-slapping about the declaration that we can keep warming to 1.5°C just by saying so, and the announcement of the Net Zero World Initiative, global emissions will continue to increase until at least 2040, the tipping point date that has everyone so scared – for good reason.
Struggling to be heard at COP26
There were some clear heads in the group. COP26 leaders received an open letter signed by 12 leaders of labour unions from all across Europe, calling for nuclear power to be given higher priorities.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced the construction of new EPR nuclear reactors.
China will build 180 new large nuclear reactors by 2035.
Craig Piercy and Steven Nesbit of the American Nuclear Society sent a letter to the COP26 leadership on behalf of over 10,000 nuclear engineers, scientists, and technologists, urging COP 26 delegates to insist that any agreement arising from COP26 include a strong role for nuclear technology in achieving carbon reduction targets.
Even U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, was serious about nuclear, saying ”The task ahead of us — limiting global average temperature rise to well below 1.5°C and achieving net zero emissions by 2050 — is a formidable challenge and an immense economic opportunity. The global clean energy transition will require deploying, at massive scale, the full range of clean energy technologies available, including nuclear energy, over the next decade and beyond. The United States pioneered the peaceful uses of nuclear around the world and remains the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, which accounts for 20% of our electricity mix, and more than half of our carbon-free power.”
Fukushima fake news
But on Thursday, a horrible thing occurred, something I fear foreshadows the future. IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi stated that, “No one died from radiation at Fukushima.”
After which he was met with laughter.
This is disgusting. And is why the great hope of COP26 will fail. It’s run by a bunch of snowflakes that only embrace the science they like, just what they accuse the fossil fuel industry of doing. They don’t even listen to their own climate gurus.
In a previous open letter to the COP leadership and the IPCC, the world’s leading climate scientists James Hansen, Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emanuel, Tom Wigley reiterated, “There is no credible path to climate stabilisation that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power… A major expansion of nuclear power is essential to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system this century… We’ve done the math and we can’t power the world without nuclear energy.”
And it doesn’t matter that every legitimate study by actual scientists, have shown again and again that the radiation released from Fukushima never concentrated enough in any one place to cause health effects. The United Nations declared, “It is unlikely to be able to attribute any health effects in the future among the general public and the vast majority of workers from exposure to radiation following the leaks and explosions at the earthquake-damaged power plant in March of 2011.”
The one person claimed to have died of lung cancer from Fukushima was a life-long smoker and never received enough dose from the accident to get cancer, especially in such a short time period after the event. The latency period for lung cancer from radiation is longer than five years and 74 mSv spread over four years is not enough dose to cause any health effects, being lower than background radiation in many many places on Earth.
But they so wanted to find someone. Still, the only residual health effects from Fukushima continue to be from stress, depression and fear.
This goes deeper than just thinking Fukushima was death incarnate. It goes to show the shallow resolve many climate activists have to their cause. If they really cared about solving such an existential threat to the entire planet, they would do their homework, listen to their own climate scientists, consult with actual nuclear scientists and figure out how to best address this looming threat with every tool we have.
Instead, they cleave to a mantra that wind and solar and batteries will do the job just fine.
But if you listen closely, you can hear Putin laughing.
James Conca is an earth and environmental scientist and a regular contributor to Forbes magazine
I think this graphs shows why ever fewer people care about nuclear:
James Conca says
Why does this have anything to do with it? It just shows we basically stopped building nuclear, not that that was good.
it shows that the dynamics are so very much lacking that it seems wrong to bet on that dying horse
for the last 20 years one hears about the soon-to-be nuclear renaissance, and nothing happened, and in the US and europe we see a lot of faile projects
on the other hand these renewables are getting better and cheaper and are growing fast (fast is important considering the time that we have left for change)
waiting another 10 years for the industry to get it together and then build for antoher 10 (including planning and permits), it will be 2040 till they will have an impact, which is frankly too late
If it where the year 2000 it would look differently, but now nuclear looks very much like and old dinosaur
Hugh Sharman says
Luke, Europe is currently seeing the closure of 80 GW of dispatchable plant (ancient nukes, coal, gas) that has been keeping it lit when there is little wind and effectively no solar power. For example, UK, these days, is depending on ancient coal units and even more ancient and polluting open cycle GTs just to keep the lights on.
The EU seems determined to destroy its 2000 year old civilisation.
Russia and China (and I suspect India too) will not grieve!
Nuclear is not “dispatchable”, since its output cannot be modulated. maybe in the future, when coupled with hydrogen production, but current reactors suffer a lot for any power level change (cracking, reactor poisoning, reduced income).
Bob Mcdonagh says
Expensive, unsafe, no storage plan, decades to build, and so many hidden costs. $660 billion to clean up Hanford. SIX HUNDRED AND SIXTY BILLION. No one seriously thinks nuclear is a solution to any energy problem any more.
James Conca says
Yes, but that huge cost is becuase they are doing the wrong thing. Vitrifying LAW is stupid, there’s no longer any HLW in the tanks, since it’s all decayed to TRU and LLW, and we had a plan 30 years ago to grout it fror a tenth of the price, but the State of WA insisted on glass because France does that, even though it’s a completely different chemistry and radionuclide inventory. Bit who ever listens to scientists?
All of you concerns are because of fear and politics, not technical issues.
maybe talk about the savings then, with numbers (which one can find online, bc people are talking about the idea)
the law how to classify nuclear waste in the us is indeed weird to say the least
cost: 300-700 (ish) billion glassified, 200-500 billion with grouting
is it cheaper? yes, it it so much that the cost concern is gone? no
all concern where: Expensive, unsafe, no storage plan, decades to build, and so many hidden costs.
ist is expensive? well in most places it is
unsafe? depends on who you ask ofc
no storage plan? is still lacking in all but i guess one country (finland)
decades to build? depends what and where, but in the west yes
hidden costs? see all the cleanups around the world, so yes
i don’t get how you can dismiss “alls of you concerns” as just non technical issues with a straight face
Ed Cooper says
Could not agree more! Nuclear waste issue doesn’t seem to be important to the promoters of nuclear power. France is fast running out of space for it!
Bruce Morton says
Nuclear maybe didn’t get a platform at COP but England is actively looking at building small nuclear plants along the lines of those in nuclear boats.
Yes nobody died at Fukushima but there are still 200 thousand displaced people. I live near Vajont where in 1963 a dam caused 2000 deaths by flooding. Today is completely rebuilt and thriving. When will it be possible to say the same for Fukushima (or Pripryat, for that matter)?
Well yeah, but electricity markets in the west are mostly liberalised, which means that unless the price of new nuclear gets down to manageable 60-70 Euros/MWh and we find a solution for nuclear’s “dispatchability” problem, and find a way to build it on time and on budget, not many countries will even want to consider it. It just doesn’t work well from the point of view of economics.
If you also look from a different perspective, recent nuclear projects in the west have all been terrible failures — we have reactors that have been under construction since the early 2000s and are 2-4 times over budget. That’s no way to build anything.
I’m sure we can somehow stick nuclear into this energy transition, but without a lot of effort from the nuclear industry this won’t happen.
It’s great that China has dedicated itself to building out nuclear, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves — proclamations are not actual deeds, they still have to build them first.