Biotech and Pharma
Case Study No. 3 in How to Make Nuclear Innovative
What will it take to bring 21st-century innovation to the nuclear industry? How to Make Nuclear Innovative, a new Breakthrough Institute report, makes the case for an entirely new model of nuclear innovation based on lessons drawn from some of the most innovative industries in today’s economy. This case study, the third in the series, assesses the “biotech-pharma networked model” of innovation in relation to the nuclear industry’s players, regulators, and public institutions. The nuclear industry will need more support in taking new technologies from the university lab to start-up companies, the authors find, and more explicit recognition of the public health benefits of nuclear compared with other energy sources.
America’s Role in Global Nuclear Innovation
The Once and Future King?
If there’s a nuclear renaissance happening in the world today, it’s not in America. More reactors went online globally in 2016 than in any year since 1990, but that was mostly in other countries—China, Pakistan, India, and Russia. That makes sense, since electricity demand is growing globally while stagnating in the United States. But is there a downside to the United States forfeiting leadership in nuclear energy?
Case Study No. 2 in How to Make Nuclear Innovative
What will it take to bring 21st-century innovation to the nuclear industry? How to Make Nuclear Innovative, a new Breakthrough Institute report, makes the case for an entirely new model of nuclear innovation based on lessons drawn from some of the most innovative industries in today's economy. This case study, the second in the series, follows the recent development of wide-body aircraft as a model, and at times a cautionary tale, for similar innovation in the nuclear industry.
Case Study No. 1 in How to Make Nuclear Innovative
What will it take to bring 21st-century innovation to the nuclear industry? How to Make Nuclear Innovative, a new Breakthrough Institute report, makes the case for an entirely new model of nuclear innovation based on lessons drawn from some of the most innovative industries in today’s economy. This case study, the first in the series, explores the recent history of commercial spaceflight, and the path NASA has taken to stimulate private-sector activity, in order to extract lessons for the nuclear industry and its public-facing institutions.
The End of the Nuclear Industry as We Know It
Toward a 21st-Century Model of Nuclear Innovation
News last month that Westinghouse is facing crippling losses due to cost overruns and delays at four new nuclear reactors under construction in the US are but the latest evidence that the nuclear power industry in developed economies is in deep trouble. China, South Korea, and Russia continue to build new nuclear plants. But in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan, the nuclear industry, as we have known it for over a half-century, is coming to an end.
The End of the Nuclear Industry as We Know It
How to Make Nuclear Innovative
Lessons from Other Advanced Industries
What will it take to bring 21st-century innovation to the nuclear industry?
How to Make Nuclear Innovative, a new Breakthrough report, makes the case for an entirely new model of nuclear innovation. Instead of conventional light-water reactors financed and constructed by large incumbent firms, the advanced nuclear industry will be characterized by innovative reactor and plant designs, new business models, and smaller entrepreneurial start-ups.
Another Record Year for Nuclear Power
2016 Adds 9.5 GW of Global Capacity
Last April, Will Boisvert noted that 2015 was a record year for new nuclear power around the world, with more reactors added than in any year since 1990. But 2016 proved to be an even bigger year for nuclear power, with ten reactors coming online around the world, adding 9.5 gigawatts (GW) of capacity. This was the largest annual addition of nuclear power since 1990, and the largest two-year addition of nuclear power since 1989-90.
The Role of Baseload Low-Carbon Electricity in Decarbonization
The last decade has seen tremendous progress in renewable energy. The cost of manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines has fallen precipitously. Thanks to ongoing policy support in the form of mandates and subsidies, world solar photovoltaic capacity reached 227 GW in 2015, up from just 40 GW in 2010. World wind capacity, meanwhile, has more than doubled since 2010, hitting 433 GW in 2015.
Trump and the Environment: A Round-Up
By Alex Trembath and Emma Brush
Well, that was surprising.
Last week, those of us working in the energy and environment space joined the rest of the world in adjusting to the unexpected election of Donald Trump. Environmental forecasting is always hard, and perhaps only more so in pursuit of predicting what a Trump Administration’s environmental policies will look like.
Same Issues, Different Stories
Talking Nuclear Waste and Risk Perception with Suzanne Waldman
A 2015 Breakthrough Generation fellow, Suzanne Waldman is currently completing her doctoral degree in Communication Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, where she researches risk perception of nuclear power and nuclear waste. As we well know, questions surrounding both issues tend to dredge up a range of responses, from the technocratic to the anti-nuclear, that Waldman says correspond with different cultural “frames,” or worldviews. Drawing on research by Dan Kahan and others, she emphasizes that “we’re all in different tribes when we think about risk” and that these tribes each tell a particular kind of story. When it comes to the weighty question of disposing of our nuclear waste, she has set out to find, is it possible to engage these contradictory stories into some larger narrative, one that brings us closer to policy solutions?
Britain’s Civilian Nuclear Program Is Not a Stealth Military Program
Lack of Evidence of a Conspiracy is Not Evidence of a Deeper Conspiracy
Last week, the New York Times published an Op-Ed by Peter Wynn Kirby, a social anthropologist at Oxford, alleging that the United Kingdom promoted the Hinkley Point C project as “a stealth initiative to bolster Britain’s nuclear deterrent.” The author’s argument is entirely dependent on a “painstaking study” authored by the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex.
Democracy in the Anthropocene
This week, Breakthrough announced that its seventh annual Breakthrough Dialogue will be themed “Democracy in the Anthropocene,” a topic that serves as a challenge in many ways to its participants of varying ecomodernist stripes. “If it turns out,” as the Dialogue’s description concludes, “that we’re not very good at being gods, is it possible to get better at it?”
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Responses to the Problem of Nuclear Waste Management
The University of Pennsylvania’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy has recently published a report, entitled “Nuclear Decommissioning: Paying More For Greater, Uncompensated Risks,” that aims to address the enhanced risks and costs associated with waste disposal as nuclear plants face premature retirement. While the author, Christina Simeone, is correct in pointing out the federal government’s failure to permanently dispose of spent nuclear fuel, the report’s recommendations fall short of providing any viable alternatives. In addition, Simeone ignores all the progress—albeit slow—that has been made with regard to spent fuel management, both through traditional geologic repositories and advanced reactors.
Radiation and Reason
An Interview with Dr. Wade Allison
Dr. Wade Allison taught and studied at the University of Oxford for over 40 years, where he is now an Emeritus Professor of Physics. His two books, Radiation and Reason and Nuclear is for Life, provide great introductions and references for those looking for a deeper understanding of how radiation affects the environment and public health.
Food and Fuel for Thought
By Emma Brush and Alex Trembath
With all the bizarreness of this past week’s feuds, it’s important (for both our productivity and our sanity) to take stock of those debates that receive less airtime but that will prove of great consequence over the next half-century and beyond.
All Pain, No Gain
Closing Diablo Canyon Will Cause Costs and Emissions to Rise
Last week, California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announced it intends to close the state’s last nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, starting in 2024. Diablo Canyon, a 2200-megawatt plant just north of San Luis Obispo, generates 8–10% of California’s electricity every year with zero air pollution and zero carbon emissions. The closure is explained in a proposaldeveloped by the utility along with environmental and labor groups.
Welcome Breakthrough Generation 2016
Scholars Join the Breakthrough Institute for the Summer
Low-Carbon Portfolio Standards
Expanding existing state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) into Low-Carbon Portfolio Standards (LCPS) would more than double the statutory requirements for clean energy in the United States. Such a policy shift would prevent the premature closing of many of Amer- ica’s nuclear power plants and assure that nuclear power plants will be replaced with low-carbon electrical generation when they are retired.
Passion and Pragmatism
Remembering David MacKay
I first met David MacKay in the summer of 2009 or thereabouts. Michael Shellenberger and I had just finished a talk co-hosted by Policy Exchange, a UK-based Conservative think tank, and IPPR, a think tank aligned with Labor. Afterwards, David was among the first people to approach me. He pushed a copy of Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air into my chest and told me, in his trademark manner (simultaneously respectful, polite, and direct) that while I was right that climate mitigation would require a clean energy revolution, I needed to stop banging on about renewable energy.
Not Dead Yet
Global Nuclear Industry Picked Up Steam in 2015
Despite all the obituaries, last year’s stats show the nuclear renaissance is alive and kicking—and keeping pace with wind and solar. Here’s how to keep it going.
Last year the success of wind and solar power made headlines as installations of new turbines and PV panels soared. Meanwhile, “nuclear is dead” think pieces mushroomed in the press as old plants closed and new projects floundered in delays and cost over-runs.
But while the “rise of renewables” is indeed reason to celebrate, the “death of nuclear” storyline has been greatly exaggerated. Far from being moribund, in 2015 the global nuclear sector quietly had its best year in decades. New reactors came on line that will generate as much low-carbon electricity as last year’s crops of new wind turbines or solar panels. The cost of building those reactors was less than one third the cost of building the wind turbines and solar panels, and typical construction times were under 6 years. The conventional wisdom that nuclear projects must be decade-long, budget-busting melodramas proved starkly wrong last year. In crucial respects the nuclear renaissance has hit its stride and is making a fundamental contribution to decarbonization—one that will accelerate if the industry gets recognition and support for what it is doing right.
How Much Radiation Is Too Much?
An Interview with Edward Calabrese
Everyone knows that the dose is critical when you are taking a prescription medication: a small amount can provide significant benefit, but a large dose can kill you. This “non-linear” effect is taken for granted in pharmaceuticals, but is not generally adopted for regulating the risks of radiation. Dr. Edward Calabrese is a professor and toxicologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst's Department of Environmental Health Sciences. He has spent his career studying non-linear effects in different carcinogens. From hundreds of studies, he has concluded that radiation should be treated more like pharmaceuticals, and regulators needs to change how they think about radiation risks and harm.
The Fifth Anniversary of the Tōhoku Earthquake
Remembering Loss in Japan
I would venture a guess that most readers don't know what the Tōhoku earthquake is offhand. The gargantuan 9.0 quake happened five years ago this week off the eastern coast of Japan, killing almost 16,000 people and displacing over 225,000.
Zero-Carbon in the 50 States
An Interview with 'Footprint to Wings' Founder Rezwan Razani
While the Clean Power Plan is embattled in the courts, Rezwan Razani wants states to start playing the game. Her organization, Footprint to Wings, encourages states to join the race toward net zero-carbon emissions and offers a playbook and coaching. Drawing on her experiences in Hollywood and regional planning, Razani works to create a new narrative around decarbonization that both inspires and motivates us to act more aggressively to reduce emissions. The race to zero carbon is kicking off with an actual race on May 21st this year, the Race to Zero Carbon 5k and 10k in Bridgewater, New Jersey. The event includes clean energy expositions and Zero Carbon Coaching for those that want to know about methods for dramatically reducing carbon emissions.
March 15: Jessica Lovering Speaking at Climate One
With many of America’s first nuclear power plants nearing the end of their expected lifespan, should they be shut down or given a new lease on life? In recent years the licenses have been extended on many nuclear plants while a few have shut down. There is a lively debate over whether California should shutter the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. If it does close, would its electricity be replaced by clean fuels, fossil fuels or perhaps new nuclear?
Gates Continues Push for Energy Innovation
Dispatches from the Front Lines of Ecomodernism
Bill Gates is continuing his admirable efforts to promote energy innovation through the recently launched Breakthrough Energy Coalition.
Dispatches from the Front Lines of Ecomodernism
King's College London's Leif Wenar had a terrific, brief essay in the New York Times last week asking "Is Humanity Getting Better?" (Recalling, naturally, Charles Kenny's Getting Better, Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, and a number of other melioristic perspectives.)
Apples to Apples to Atoms
The Problem with Comparing Learning Rates Across Energy Technologies
Future energy scenarios are dependent on assumptions about the prices and scalability of energy sources, often relying on historic learning curves to predict the future costs of various fuels or generation technologies. But the academic literature has become overly focused on comparing learning curves for different energy technologies, often in an attempt to divine intrinsic economic qualities about different technologies. In particular, it’s common to highlight the difference between the trends for solar PV panels, which are often described as following Moore’s Law, contrasted with nuclear power, where costs appear to only increase over time. But the metric that matters most, cost of generating electricity, appears to follow no guaranteed trend for these technologies, as new data shows.
Dispatches from the Front Lines of Ecomodernism
Last week, Energy Policy published a peer-reviewed paper by my colleagues Jessica Lovering, Ted Nordhaus, and Arthur Yip.
Historical Construction Costs of Global Nuclear Power Reactors
In Breakthrough’s 2013 report, How to Make Nuclear Cheap, we argued that nuclear needed innovative new designs to become radically cheaper, able to displace fossil fuels. But in the aftermath of that report, we uncovered a large disagreement about why nuclear power became expensive. In particular, many critics have claimed that cost escalation and “negative learning” are intrinsic to nuclear power.
Nuclear Costs Reconsidered
‘Negative Learning’ Not Inherent to Nuclear Power
Last month in Paris, the cognitive dissonance between environmental demands for immediate and rapid decarbonization of the global economy and the long standing rejection of nuclear energy by environmental NGO’s and advocates reached the breaking point. Four climate scientists, led by Dr. James Hansen, flew to Paris to reiterate their call for environmental leaders to reverse their opposition to nuclear energy. “The future of our planet and our descendants depends,” the four scientists wrote, “on letting go of long-held biases when it comes to nuclear power.”
Improving on Nature
Dispatches from the Front Lines of Ecomodernism
"So sometime in the distant past, at least 20,000 years ago and probably much more, members of our species decided they could improve on nature."
Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Ecomodernist Movement
Last week, 'An Ecomodernist Manifesto' coauthor and Alliance for Science visiting fellow Mark Lynas traveled to Oxford to present and debate ecomodernism. Respondents included Oxford geographers Constance McDermott, Richard Grenyer, and Paul Jepson.
The Year of the Good Anthropocene
Top Breakthroughs of 2015
In 2015, the Breakthrough Institute welcomed that debate. In April, several of us co-authored “An Ecomodernist Manifesto,” which states that “knowledge and technology, applied with wisdom, might allow for a good, or even great, Anthropocene.” The theme of our summer Dialogue this year was “The Good Anthropocene,” where Clive Hamilton debated Manifesto coauthor Mark Lynas on our stage. We also released the fifth issue of our Breakthrough Journal, themed “The Good Anthropocene.”
Ecomodernism in Paris
The biggest news this week was the announcement by President Obama, Bill Gates, and other world and industry leaders that both the private and public sectors would step up their commitment to advanced energy R&D. Bizarre wet blanket skepticism from Joe Romm and Mark Jacobson nothwithstanding, this is huge.
Ecomodernist Cheer for the Holidays
I wish I had written this great article by Ed Cumming in the Guardian. Titled "The scientists with reasons to be cheerful," it's a multi-profile of Ruth DeFries, Max Roser, Steven Pinker, and Hans Rosling, and other optimistic scholars.
Seeds of a Good Anthropocene
Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Ecomodernist Movement
The UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change's twenty-first Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris is less than a month away. I'm not a huge fan of forums for hundreds of negotiators to figure out how to make business-as-usual sound like ambitious target-setting, but okay.
Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Ecomodernist Movement
Songs of Ecomodernism
Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Ecomodernist Movement
This week we published the German translation of An Ecomodernist Manifesto. I always like learning how 'ecomodernism' translates into different languages. In German, it's 'Ökomodernisten.'
By my rough calculations, the Manifesto can now be read by about a third of the planet in their native language, and about half the planet in a primary or secondary language.
Nope—There’s No Thyroid Cancer Epidemic in Fukushima
A New Study on Child Thyroid Cancer Gets Widespread Attention From the Media—While Another Study Proving It’s Wrong Gets None
A new study comes out with claims of a giant epidemic of thyroid cancer among kids exposed to radioactive iodine from the Fukushima nuclear accident. It’s disproven by another recent study showing that thyroid cancer rates are no higher in Fukushima than in distant regions uncontaminated by the accident. Which study gets lots of attention? And which one gets none?
Keeping Nuclear Plants Open
Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Ecomodernist Movement
Last week could have been better for the world's fleet of nuclear power plants. Entergy announced they were closing the 680-megawatt Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts, despite the plant having been relicensed in 2012 for an additional 20 years of operation. German utility Eon has also decided to shutter two units at Sweden's Oskarshamn plant. As we've seen everywhere from Germany to California to Japan, natural gas and coal fill in where nuclear falls off, which is the opposite direction from where we should be heading. For more on the situation in the States, check out the latest Energy Gang podcast, where MIT's Jesse Jenkins explains why it will be difficult to meet US carbon goals with so many threatened nuclear plants.
Ecomodernism: A Third Way
Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Ecomodernist Movement
"During a presidential election year, the eco-modernists have a prime opportunity to advance their agenda on a national level. Is it possible for candidates to actually move beyond the question of who’s to blame for climate change and make this about sound environmental and economic progress instead?"
An Ecomodernist Mom and Nuclear Power in Kenya
Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Ecomodernist Movement
“It wasn’t until I read the Manifesto that I felt I could call myself an environmentalist.” That’s the kind of thing we like to hear, in this case from Amy Levy, author of the brand new ecomodernistmom.org.
David MacKay Announced as 2016 Paradigm Award Winner
Scholar Has Opened Pragmatic Discourse for Meeting Future Energy Needs
The Breakthrough Institute will honor David MacKay, Regius Professor of Engineering at Cambridge University and former Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, with the 2016 Breakthrough Paradigm Award in recognition of his excellence in energy and climate change analyses.
Clearing the Air
EPA Climate Rule Not Designed to Keep Nuclear Plants Open
This post is coauthored by Alex Trembath and Michael Shellenberger
The recently released final rule of the EPA Clean Power Plan projects to reduce US power sector carbon emissions by 32 percent under 2005 levels by 2030. That's awesome. But by allowing existing nuclear capacity to close and be replaced by fossil fuels, the CPP jeopardizes almost one-half of EPA's emissions reduction goals from 2013 to 2030.
The Diablo We Know
The Case for Keeping California’s Last Nuclear Plant
Diablo Canyon is California’s last nuclear power plant. It has been the state’s most famous and most controversial plant ever since it divided Sierra Club members in the late 1960s. Perched amidst spectacular natural beauty on the California coast, Diablo faces threats on many fronts. State regulators are demanding that it build expensive cooling towers to ease its impact on marine life. Harsh claims are being made about its vulnerability to earthquakes. And there are lawsuits filed by environmental groups aimed at shutting it down.
Antinuclear Effect of Clean Power Plan Could Allow Emissions to Rise
EPA Says Energy Trends Will Remain Consistent Even “In Absence of this Rule”
States that close existing nuclear power plants will be allowed to increase carbon dioxide emissions under a final EPA rule regulating carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act, a new Breakthrough Institute analysis finds.
2015 Breakthrough Generation Fellows Arrive
Top Young Scholars to Conduct Research on Global Challenges
A rollercoaster enthusiast who traveled to India to study tribal women’s empowerment; an energy analyst interested in the impacts of innovation on geopolitics; an engineer who has worked on alternative transportation and urban development; and a former scholar of the Victorian era who now writes on energy technologies and risk perception. These are among the seven outstanding thinkers who will join the Breakthrough Institute this summer for research fellowships focused on crafting pragmatic, new solutions to major environmental challenges.
Five Surprising Public Health Facts About Fukushima
Journalist Will Boisvert Investigates and Finds Fewer-than-Average Thyroid Cancers and Seafood Safe to Eat
Four years ago a large earthquake and tsunami devastated northeast Japan. More than 15,000 people were killed. A subsequent nuclear meltdown added fear to grief.
As terrible as the meltdown was, the radiation did not have significant public health consequences, much less the catastrophic ones that many feared and some continue to claim.
On the fourth anniversary of the tsunami, earthquake, and meltdown, journalist Will Boisvert investigates and unearths five public health findings from Fukushima that you've probably never heard.
China’s High-Energy Innovation
An Interview with Dr. Ming Sung, Clean Air Task Force
What’s the state of energy innovation in China? Breakthrough spoke with Ming Sung, Chief Representative for the Asia-Pacific region at Clean Air Task Force, about the work underway in China to rapidly develop and commercialize carbon capture and storage, advanced nuclear, and renewable technologies to curb pollution and meet energy demand.
Beyond Technology Tribalism
A Call for Humility and Comity in the Clean Tech Debates
Last week, Stony Brook professor and economics blogger Noah Smith published a blog post titled “Nuclear will die. Solar will live.” In the post, Smith argues that nuclear power plants are incredibly large, capital-intensive, and complex investments, while solar power “can be installed in large or small batches” and continues to benefit from cost reductions. Smith ties solar’s success to nuclear’s challenges and criticizes Breakthrough Institute for our “anti-solar antipathy.”
The End of the Clean Energy Race
The 'Cooperative Advantage' in Energy Innovation
Last year, the Breakthrough Institute and ASU’s Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes released High-Energy Innovation. In the report, my colleagues and I argue that rapidly growing energy demand in emerging economies and increased multilateral investment represent the next great opportunity to accelerate energy innovation.
We contrasted this to a framework embraced over the last few years: the idea that the United States was in a race to capture the jobs and industries associated with clean energy technologies like solar panels, batteries, and advanced nuclear reactors.
The Year of Our High-Energy Planet
Top Breakthroughs of 2014
If 2013 was the year of hope and change, 2014 will be remembered as the year of the high-energy planet. The “small is beautiful” ethos crumbled as global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions grew faster than ever in recent years, despite the financial crisis, a global recession, and fears of “secular stagnation in the West.
US-China Climate Deal Underscores Need for Substantial Energy Innovation
China to Add More Electric Power From Coal Than From Nuclear, Wind, or Solar
Talks at the UNFCCC COP20 in Peru undoubtedly have been buoyed by the recent US-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change. While the pledges by the two largest players may represent a political breakthrough, a new Breakthrough analysis of China’s energy plans shows there is reason for concern. Despite unprecedented efforts, China will likely replace existing coal consumption with more new coal power generation than that from new nuclear, or from new wind and solar power generation combined.
Renewables and Nuclear Energy At A Glance
Climate Mitigation and Environmental Footprint
Welcome New York Times Readers
An Introduction to the Breakthrough Institute
In a new opinion piece for the New York Times, Breakthrough cofounders Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus comment on the recent bestowment of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics to the trio of researchers whose work led to the creation of light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. Shellenberger and Nordhaus commend the researchers for their scientific achievements, but caution against the idea that LEDs will significantly reduce energy consumption, as touted by the Royal Swedish Academy in the award presentation. Shellenberger and Nordhaus conclude:
DOE Loans Are Only the Beginning for Much-Needed Investment in Nuclear
Hurdles Remain for Next-Generation Reactors
Last week, the Department of Energy announced a major investment in advanced nuclear power, a draft solicitation for up to $12.6 billion in loan guarantees across four categories of innovative nuclear energy technologies: front-end fuel cycle innovation, advanced nuclear reactors, small modular reactors, and upgrades or uprates to existing reactors.
The Left vs. the Climate
Why Progressives Should Reject Naomi Klein's Pastoral Fantasy — and Embrace Our High-Energy Planet
Ever since Marx’s day, leftists have been straining to spy the terminal crisis of capitalism on the horizon. It’s been a frustrating vigil. Whatever the upheaval confronting it — world war, depression, communist revolution, the Carter administration — a seemingly cornered capitalism always wriggled free and came back more (and occasionally less) heedless, rapacious, crass, and domineering than before.
Saudi Arabia Fast-Tracks to Nuclear
Royal Family Plans for Nuclear to Provide 15 Percent of Power in 20 Years
Last Tuesday, energy officials in Saudi Arabia announced plans to become a major nuclear energy state, assuring the reactors would be used only for peaceful purposes (The Nuclear Wire). They intend to move fast, beginning construction by year’s end.
Nuclear energy is an essential source of zero-carbon, efficient, and reliable power that also does not heavily intrude upon the land. But for nuclear to rapidly displace dirty fossil fuels, it must become safer and cheaper. Given their growing populations, industrializing countries like China and India are leading the development and deployment of advanced nuclear technologies.
Access to affordable and reliable energy is absolutely essential for human development; but energy production takes a heavy toll on the environment. With demand for energy expected to grow for decades to come as developing nations emerge from poverty, substantial innovation into clean energy technologies will be necessary to achieve our ambitious goals for greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Forging an Ecomodernist Vision of the Future
From Water Consumption to Whales, Generation Fellows Conduct Cutting-Edge Research
Have the construction costs and duration of new nuclear builds always increased over time? How did humans move away from hunting whales for oil and lubricants? What will innovation look like in the 21st century given that it is increasingly complex? These are a few of the big questions Breakthrough Generation Fellows 2014 tackled this summer, laying the foundation for groundbreaking research in the areas of energy, environment, and innovation.
A High-Energy, Low-Footprint Planet
Why We Can Expect Peak Impact by the End of this Century
Most of us tend to think that the more energy we consume, the more we destroy the planet. But according to Linus Blomqvist, Director of Research at the Breakthrough Institute, just the opposite may be true: a world with cheaper, cleaner, and more abundant energy might improve the wellbeing of the growing human population and, at the same time, leave more land for natural habitats and wildlife.
“Let It Go”
Japan's Fukushima Ice Wall is Unnecessary and Fuels Irrational Fears
What if Iceman from the X-Men could put a frozen ice wall around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant so that no radiation could get out? I’d be all for it.
Actually, that’s more likely than you might imagine.
For the past three years, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) has faced an uphill battle of restoring public trust in their ability to manage the ongoing cleanup of the crippled Fukushima Daichi plant.
Development Experts Make the Case for Big Investments in Sub-Saharan Africa
Africa has experienced massive economic growth over the last decade, but in order for this growth to translate into significant development outcomes, big investments will be needed to provide electricity to the 600 million sub-Saharan Africans who lack it, said a panel of development experts at Breakthrough Dialogue.
Lack of cheap and reliable energy is a significant barrier to continued economic growth. While some advocates have suggested that small-scale, distributed renewable energy technologies can meet the needs of sub-Saharan Africa, two of the panelists argued that Africa’s power sector will much more diverse, and, at least in the near future, dominated by hydro and fossil fuels.
Why Tesla Giving Up Its Intellectual Property Is the Model for Clean Tech
Late last week, Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, announced he would not initiate lawsuits against anyone who uses the patents for Tesla’s technologies. In effect, Tesla’s competitors can now freely take advantage of the company’s designs for sunroofs, vehicle parts, and batteries.
Given Musk’s celebrity status as an inventor, it is no surprise that most of the press has devoted its coverage to analyzing his rationale. On the face of it, letting others openly copy the technologies and ideas you have painstakingly developed doesn’t seem like a sensible business plan. In the long-term, however, Musk’s decision shows how greater knowledge sharing and looser patent regulations could accelerate innovation in the clean tech industry.
Proposed EPA Rules Are Kryptonite to New Nuclear
Why Regulating a Harmless Emission Could Make Nuclear More Expensive
I like the proposed carbon emissions rules from Environmental Protection Agency. They address the real issue of balancing our energy mix and may be the only way to move forward in the absence of congressional leadership.
But the EPA has gone a little wild with their latest proposal. This new proposed emissions rule (actually a re-do of parts of 40CFR190 that may result in a rulemaking) is for nuclear power plants (Federal Register). An operating nuclear power plant has very low emissions of any kind except water vapor. No carbon emissions and almost no radioactivity emissions.
Nuclear Is Cheaper Than Solar Thermal
New Vogtle Plant Costs Half As Much as Crescent Dunes Solar Facility
I’m a big fan of TIME reporter Mike Grunwald and often think that he and Breakthrough are among the only people who really understand that Obama’s signature climate policies are not fuel economy standards or power plant regulations, but the tens of billions invested in clean energy technology and innovation.
EPA Points to Nuclear as Climate Solution
Advanced Nuclear and Preventing Retirement of Plants Key to Carbon Reductions
The Environmental Protection Agency is encouraging states to consider building new nuclear power plants, and keeping older ones open, to meet federal carbon dioxide targets. State incentives could "discourage premature retirement" and “encourage deployment of nuclear unit designs that reflect advances over earlier designs,” wrote the EPA in its proposed carbon dioxide rule, issued by the Obama administration on Monday.
Godzilla, the 350-Foot Metaphor We Can’t Kill
Why the Radioactive Reptile Continues to Embody Our Nuclear Fears
From the opening moments of the new Godzilla movie, it’s eminently clear that the nuclear fears that animated the first incarnation of the monster in Japan 1954 are still very much with us. In just the film’s first ten minutes, director Gareth Edwards treats us to images of nuclear bomb tests from Bikini Atoll, featuring voluminous apocalyptic mushroom clouds and a full-blown Fukushima-like nuclear power meltdown.
To Carol Browner, Nuclear More Than Just Matters – It’s Essential
Former EPA Administrator on Why We Must Preserve Existing Nuclear Plants
In late April, Carol Browner, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, announced she was joining Nuclear Matters, an alliance of individuals, organizations, and businesses seeking to preserve America’s existing nuclear plants because of the benefits they provide. Browner has a long history with environmental policy. Not only was she the longest serving Administrator of the EPA, Browner also served as director of the Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy under President Obama. Although Browner never felt strongly opposed to nuclear energy, she came to the realization that, without it, we will likely fall short of our clean energy and carbon pollution goals. Breakthrough spoke with Browner about her new role with Nuclear Matters and the challenges facing the industry today.
Moderate Environmentalists Go Nuclear
The Incremental, Pragmatic, and Prudent Shift in Green Attitudes
Last year, many scoffed at the suggestion that support was growing for nuclear power. Before the release of pro-nuclear documentary Pandora's Promise, green magazine Grist wrote, "Of the 10 leading enviro groups in the US, zero support new nuclear power plants." In response to an open letter sent by climate scientists to environmental leaders last fall, Ralph Cavanaugh told CNN, "I've been in the NRDC since 1979. I have a pretty good idea of where the mainstream environmental groups are and have been. I have seen no movement.”
Can Any Tech Stop Asia’s Coal Future?
Solar, CCS, Nuclear, and Natural Gas Not Scaling Fast Enough
Coal will dominate China’s power landscape for decades to come and is increasing in Southeast Asia’s energy mix as well. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has reported that coal will replace natural gas as the dominant power-generating fuel in the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). At the same time, energy consumption in this region is expected to double in the next 20 years, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates that coal will account for approximately 83 percent of electricity production in the Asia-Pacific by 2035. In advance of the 2014 Pacific Energy Forum, NBR spoke with Armond Cohen, Cofounder and Executive Director of the Clean Air Task Force, to explore the implications of coal’s growing role in the fuel mix of China and ASEAN countries—as well as India—and assess the tools and policy options available to reduce the environmental impacts.
UC Berkeley's Per Peterson Pursues Radical New Design with Off-the-Shelf Technologies
What is the best design to make next generation nuclear reactors safer and cheaper? That’s the question everyone from Bill Gates to the Chinese government is asking. The US Department of Energy has recently bet that smaller will be cheaper, funding small modular reactors with passive safety features. But much of the action is on molten salt reactors, which are being pursued by Gates-backed Terrapower, Transatomic, and UC Berkeley Nuclear Engineering Professor Per Peterson.
USS Reagan Sailors’ Lawsuit Found ‘Lacking’
Nuclear Expert Questions Link Between Radiation Exposure and Health Woes
A group of Sailors and former Sailors who served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan during the US relief efforts following the 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami have been periodically making the news for their belief that their ailments are caused by radioactive fallout from the Fukushima reactor accidents.
Five Energy Challenges Confronting India
Stronger Infrastructure Reforms Could Release Nation from Energy Poverty
On March 12, 2014, India and the United States renewed talks regarding cooperation on clean energy. The talks concluded positively with memorandums of understanding for the two countries to cooperate on research and development, more extensive use of environmentally friendly technologies, and greater coordination on scientific development.
It is a positive development that the United States (and many others) are paying attention to India’s energy needs. With a growing middle class and a population of 1.27 billion people, 50 percent of whom are under age 25, India is expected to have some of the fastest growing energy needs that are certain to dramatically impact the global economy and its energy market. With this in mind, here are 5 key things to know about energy in India.
In Defense of ‘Picking Winners’
To Reduce GHG Emissions, We Need Government-Led Innovation
Virtually all economists working on climate change agree that we should price GHG emissions. Doing so creates an incentive to reduce emissions without the government directing specific technology adoptions or activity changes, that is, without “picking winners.”
Nearly as many economists agree that we should subsidize basic R&D. Doing so accelerates the scientific breakthroughs that will be necessary to avoid even higher concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere. Of course, we can’t and shouldn’t subsidize all basic R&D regardless of how nutty the idea or indirect the connection to GHG reduction. We should subsidize the best ideas, that is, we should pick winners.
Ivanpah’s Land Footprint
World's Largest Thermal Project Requires 92 Times the Acreage of Babcock & Wilcox "Twin Pack"
The opening of the world's largest solar power station provides an opportunity to take stock of our energy options. Comparison of large solar and small nuclear holds some important lessons for constructing a future that is both energy-rich and decarbonized for around 10 billion people.
The Poverty of the Energiewende
How Low Homeownership Makes Germany's Antinuclear, Pro-Renewables Policies Regressive
I recently had an interesting opportunity to spend a week in Berlin talking to many people about Energiewende, one of the most radical and far-reaching initiatives any affluent economy has undertaken in recent years. The term Die Wende has a gradation of meanings, from a gradual turnaround to a sudden U-turn, and before it became associated with energy, its most common use in German conversations was in reference to the demise of East Germany in 1989. That was, of course, a true U-turn, from dogmatic communism to absorption by liberal Germany. Energiewende cannot be a near instant U-turn — no complex technical infrastructure can be changed that rapidly — but Germany’s new energy goals are bold and truly transformative. Their implementation is also proving to be less than admirable, indeed the process is becoming rather burdensome. Yet most of the people I talked to in Berlin seemed unconcerned, and many were even incredulous or politely hostile when I suggested (always mindful of Andersen’s wise tale) that the king may not be fully clothed.
The Nuclear Power Imperative
Breakthrough Senior Fellow Richard Lester on the Need for Next-Gen Nuclear
Can we solve the energy problem without nuclear? I’ll come to my own views on this question shortly. But first I want to make a few comments about other people’s views.
In recent months, some prominent and previously antinuclear environmentalists have been declaring their support for a larger nuclear role, citing the risks of climate change for their change of mind.
The Passion of Alvin Weinberg
The Humanitarian Behind China's Great Thorium Push
The 59-year-old physicist was in a something of a panic. The earth was getting hotter, and nobody in Washington seemed to care. Nuclear power — the only realistic way to produce a lot of electricity with few carbon emissions — was the solution. But rising costs for nuclear power and the power of the coal lobby appeared to be trumping environmental concerns, and rationality itself.
He started writing articles. The first he published in Science. It was called “Global Effects of Man’s Production of Energy.” Next, he co-authored an article evaluating what would happen if the U.S. moved away from nuclear. “Continued energy demands during the first few decades of the next century will push atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to levels which warrant serious concern, even for the low energy growth case.”
Germany’s Nuclear Phase-Out & Rising Coal Consumption
In September 2012 Germany's Environment Minister opened a new lignite power plant, arguing the following: “If one builds a new state-of-the-art lignite power plant to replace several older and much less efficient plants, then I feel this should also be acknowledged as a contribution to our climate protection efforts.”
Peter Altmaier is not alone, recently the climate benefits of Germany's new and apparently ultra-efficient coal power plants have been extolled not only by manufacturers such as Siemens and power companies including RWE, but even some of the German nuclear phase-out's most vocal proponents.
Baucus Proposal A Promising Start, But Neglects Existing Nuclear
Current Fleet Supplies 60% of Domestic Zero-Carbon Energy
Last month Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus released a proposal to replace 42 existing energy tax incentives with two “technology neutral” tax credits, one for electricity fuels and the other for transportation fuels. By embracing natural gas and new nuclear power, Chairman Baucus’ proposal could contribute to a pragmatic climate strategy. But the plan could go even farther by extending incentives to the existing nuclear fleet, where an anticipated decline over the next two decades poses the largest threat to emissions reduction efforts.
The Coal, Hard Truth
China's New Coal 6 Times Higher than Wind, 27 Times Higher than Solar in 2013
The new year brought some deserved celebration of the advance of renewable energy in China, as the government announced nearly 8 gigawatts of wind power additions and 3.6 gigawatts of new solar installed during 2013. But as I’ve previously pointed out, it is important to keep this laudable progress in perspective compared to the still staggeringly large annual increase in new China coal power capacity.
Animal Planet’s Bogus Account of Chernobyl Wildlife
Fission for Scare Tactics
As someone who has spent the past four years making and distributing a documentary film about nuclear energy, Pandora’s Promise, it’s nice once in a while to spend a relaxing weekend at home with my kids thinking of more pedestrian things, like doing the laundry. But the battle over nuclear energy refuses to leave me alone despite my best efforts.
Recently, my 10-year old son, Luc, has become enamored with a highly popular fishing show on Animal Planet called River Monsters. To those of you unfamiliar with it, River Monsters is a British reality show that follows a dashing expert fisherman named Jeremy Wade around the world in search of dangerous freshwater predators. Last weekend, my son and his best friend were hanging out on a rainy day watching their favorite show when suddenly I hear shrieks from the TV room, “Dad, you gotta come and see this!”
Nuclear Waste Worth Its Salt — for a Billion Years
250 million-year-old DNA has been recovered intact from a nuclear waste disposal site in New Mexico and provides ample evidence that the waste will be imprisoned for life, but likely prison time will top a billion years.
Forensic teams of scientists working over a decade in laboratories at University of North Carolina, Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico State University, and West Chester University carefully culled the evidence from original fluid inclusions in the massive salt rock that hosts America’s only operating deep underground nuclear waste repository, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The DNA and other biomolecules are remnants from ancient salt-loving bacteria that once lived in a drying-up ocean.
2014 Breakthrough Senior Fellows Announced
Five Distinguished Scholars Join Breakthrough Community
A economist studying electricity access for India’s poor. A Stanford University scholar who published a groundbreaking ecomodernist critique of environmentalism over two decades ago. One of France’s leading novelists and social critics. The co-inventor of a breakthrough nuclear technology. And the engineering professor who revitalized MIT’s nuclear energy department. Breakthrough Institute is honored to announce these individuals — Joyashree Roy, Martin Lewis, Pascal Bruckner, Per Peterson, and Richard Lester — as Breakthrough Senior Fellows 2014.
This is the sixth year of Breakthrough Senior Fellows. These five new Senior Fellows will join 30 Senior Fellows. Breakthrough Senior Fellows advise Breakthrough Institute staff, collaborate on scholarly and popular papers and reports, and attend Breakthrough Institute’s annual conference, the Breakthrough Dialogue.
2013: A Year of Hope and Change for the Environment
How the Green Ideological Nucleus Split
For many people who care about the environment, 2013 was a dispiriting year. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide reached 400 parts per million, the highest in three million years. Beijing choked on smog. Policy action on climate, whether at the United Nations or in Washington, appeared more remote than ever.
But in other ways, 2013 was an inspiring year. Declining US carbon emissions from cheap natural gas offered a picture of what climate mitigation looks like in the real world. Top environmental scientists, business leaders, climate advocates, and the world's largest economies embraced nuclear power. And a wide number of “ecomodernists” are coming to embrace an approach to saving nature that is strikingly different from the seventies-era "small-is-beautiful" model.
California Gets Coal for Christmas
SONGS Closure Produces Extra 18M Tons of Carbon Dioxide
California is getting a lump of coal for Christmas because it was naughty in shutting down the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in San Diego this year. The lump of coal comes in the form of an extra 18 million tons of CO2 per year delivered to the atmosphere by replacing the 15 billion kWhrs of electricity each year with a mix of gas, wind, and solar. Also lost will be 1,500 local jobs and $50 million in lost revenue to Southern California each year (EIA, NEI).
Virgin’s Richard Branson Defends Nuclear
Sir Richard Urges People to Watch 'Pandora's Promise'
Few would question the environmental credentials of Britain’s business magnate Sir Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group. As founder and chief benefactor of the Carbon War Room, Branson has long advocated carbon pricing, energy efficiency measures, and transforming business as the answer to global warming. Add to that list the expansion of nuclear energy.
Climate Change Is Now in the Developing World’s Hands
Can Their Economic Self-Interest Help Us All?
This past weekend, exhausted diplomats from around the world climbed into fossil fuel–powered airplanes and bade good riddance to Warsaw, Poland. They had spent two weeks holed up in the frigid capital engaging in what has become an annual Kabuki dance over what to do about climate change. Almost exactly as has happened in prior international climate change conferences—gatherings that, like the falling leaves, have become autumnal rites—intonations about a global warming threat were offered, hope for selfless environmental cooperation was expressed, and battles over who should foot the bill were fought. By the time everyone headed for the airport, little of substance had gotten done.
Hendrik Hertzberg’s Nuclear Option
New Yorker Editor Endorses the Atom
Tucked into his New Yorker column on Congressional filibuster reform, Hendrik Hertzberg admitted his support for the expansion of nuclear energy: “Nuclear power plants have their drawbacks, as we’ve learned from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima,” Hertzberg wrote. “But global warming has changed the picture.” Echoing a recent letter written by four leading climate and energy scientists, which acknowledges the scaling challenges of solar and wind, the New Yorker senior editor argued, “breezes and rays are not enough.” In terms of a realistic alternative to fossil fuels, Hertzberg says, “the nuclear option, though not the best of all possible worlds, is better than the one we’re living in.”
Embracing Our High-Energy Planet
More Energy, Not Less, the Key to Cutting Emissions
"The long story of human progress is one of continually rising energy consumption," says the Breakthrough Institute's Alex Trembath.
In order to continue the path of human progress, and indeed to extend it to all of the world's inhabitants over the next century, Trembath argues that we need a "high-energy planet."
This idea flies in the face of the conventional environmental movement. Our profligate energy use is our biggest problem, the story goes. So in order to avoid doomsday scenarios, we need to cut back. We all need to live simpler and smaller lives.
The Socialist Case for Nuclear Energy
How Technology Can Achieve Marx’s Vision of a New Society
The deepest, the most objective and the most indisputable criterion says: progress can be measured by the growth of the productivity of social labour. -- Leon Trotsky, The Lessons of October (1932)
Energy, the environment, global climate change, and sea level rise are all huge, vast interconnected subjects that generate much debate and controversy at every level of society. One expects this when the future of our species, and all other species, are at stake.
The center of this discussion can be narrowed down to one technological and scientific issue: the generation, use, and distribution of energy. The historic application, or utilization, of various forms of energy is a measure of human progress. Even before the rise of civilizations such as the Indus, Greek, Persian, and others long gone were relegated to the anthropology text books and museums, and even before the development of class society, human use of energy set us apart from all other species, including the higher ones such as dolphins and apes.
The Great Green Meltdown
How Economic Arguments Against Nuclear Highlight Environmentalist Delusions
Two weeks ago, four of the world’s most respected climate scientists took the extraordinary step of sending an open letter to their long-time friends and colleagues in the environmental movement, urging them to reverse their longstanding opposition to nuclear power. The scientists told AP and CNN they felt the need to make public their displeasure after years of trying and failing to reason privately with green leaders, who believe solar, wind, and efficiency are enough to power the planet.
Nader-Shellenberger CNN Debate Showcases Generational Divide on Environment
The generational divide around nuclear power within the environmental movement got wider last week when environmental leaders from two different generations clashed on CNN’s Crossfire.
Breakthrough Institute’s Michael Shellenberger, president of Oakland-based environmental think tank, Breakthrough Institute, debated legendary consumer and environmental advocate Ralph Nader on November 7.
Top Climate Scientists Urge Support of Nuclear Power
Letter Calls for ‘Fresh Approach’ to Nuclear in the 21st Century
On Sunday, November 3, four top climate and energy scientists, James Hansen, Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emanuel, and Tom Wigley, released an open letter calling on world leaders to advocate for the development and deployment of safer nuclear power systems. The letter begins:
To those influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear power:
As climate and energy scientists concerned with global climate change, we are writing to urge you to advocate the development and deployment of safer nuclear energy systems. We appreciate your organization’s concern about global warming, and your advocacy of renewable energy. But continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity’s ability to avoid dangerous climate change.