To the editor:
The carbon emissions will stop or we're dead. I hate to admit it, but we can't categorically say no to nuclear, with the understanding that we still don't have a single long-term high level nuclear waste repository in this country. Renewables ought to go to the head of the line for massive public support for development. Nuclear isn't the only game in town as an alternative to fossil carbon for base load electricity generation. A combination of wind, solar, and storage need but one thing to replace fossil carbon energy, capital to flow where capital will flow when we price carbon emissions to their real price. Capitalism will work once we allow it to, which is precisely the idea behind a bill before Congress right now, HR763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.
What HR763 needs if it is to have a prayer: 1. Grassroots support. 2. Endorsements from influential people in religion, science, finance, politics, and in business.
Still, though, think about the challenge: We've got to replace what fossil carbon presently covers. Plus we'll probably need to run vast numbers of carbon scrubbers to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Plus we might need to run vast numbers of snow machines to keep the Antarctic ice sheet from disappearing. Plus we might need to run vast numbers of refrigeration units to keep coral systems alive as oceans warm. This wouldn't have been the case had we acted 50 years ago instead of stone walling climate science, but here we are contemplating unpleasant choices such as whether to indenture the future into perpetuity to nuclear power.
Picture a world in which the Roman Empire had nuclear power. How would we feel here in the 21st century having to manage Rome's nuclear waste? Before we jump into nuclear, there's so much more we could do by way of efficiency improvements. The far and away cheapest energy is the energy not consumed in the first place. Just replacing internal combustion vehicles with electric vehicles would provide vast improvements in transportation efficiency. For transportation for which electrification is not feasible such as the airline industry, here's a business concept. Raw materials: Sunlight, wind, atmospheric carbon, sea water. Finished good: Carbon neutral jet fuel.
Renewables plus efficiency just might obviate the need for nukes. It's well worth a try.
If we go nuclear in a big way, though, should it be with uranium reactor designs that haven't evolved much since their inception in World War II? The design came out of a need to make bombs. For civilian use, wouldn't a thorium molten salt reactor design make more sense?