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.  

Read more

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.

Read more

Preaching to the Climate Converted

Why Showtime's "Years" Is Unlikely to Reach Non-Believers

In the first episode of the $20 million Showtime series on climate change, Years of Living Dangerously, which aired last Sunday, we meet a 46-year-old evangelical Christian named Nelly Montez. Montez was laid off from a local meatpacking plant that closed due to a drought. Every week she and other women march around the plant, praying for rain. The actor Don Cheadle, one of the show’s celebrity correspondents, asks Montez if she attributes the drought to anything. She says, “I think it’s biblical.”

Read more

Welcome New York Times Readers

An Introduction to the Breakthrough Institute

If you read Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger’s op-ed in the New York Times today and have come here to learn more about the Breakthrough Institute, welcome. For general information on Breakthrough, please visit our About page.

Breakthrough has provided more articles for understanding the larger context of the op-ed:

Read more

Our High-Energy Planet

A Climate Pragmatism Project

More than one billion people globally lack access to electricity, and billions more still burn wood and dung for their basic energy needs. Our High-Energy Planet, a new report from an international group of energy and environment scholars, outlines a radically new framework for meeting the energy needs of the global poor. 

According to the authors, the massive expansion of energy systems, mainly carried out in the rapidly urbanizing global South, is the only robust, coherent, and ethical response to the global challenges we face, climate change among them. The time has come to embrace a high-energy planet, they say.

Read more

Energetic Africa: Part One

What Obama & the UN Should Do on Energy for Sub-Saharan Africa

The Obama administration, the US Congress, the United Nations, and other international agencies should encourage and plan for far-higher energy consumption in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions that rely on burning wood and dung for energy, say a group of international energy and development experts in a new report, Our High-Energy Planet.

The report comes at a time of debate about how to help Africa and other poor nations gain access to electricity. Congress held hearings on Electrify Africa legislation in March, and the Obama administration is currently developing a framework to support increased electrification in Africa.

Read more

Jesse Ausubel Announced as 2014 Breakthrough Paradigm Award Winner

Environmental Scientist Has Demonstrated How Humans Save Nature

Modern humans are destroying the planet. Once, there was a time in which people lived in harmony with nature, but those days are long gone. In order to save the Earth, we must roll back the clock and live like pre-industrial civilizations lived. Or so goes the classic environmental narrative, which blames industrialization, modernity, and human development for what ails Mother Nature.

But as environmental scientist Jesse Ausubel argues in his landmark paper, “The Liberation of the Environment,” human beings have been committing sins against the environment for thousands of years. And contrary to conventional wisdom, modernity, development, and technology are not drivers of human-led destruction of the environment. Rather, Ausubel contends, human development is the liberator of the environment. 

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.”

Read more

Der Kohle-Boom

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.

Read more

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. 

Read more

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!”

Read more

Miracle WIPP

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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 (EIANEI).

Read more

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.

Read more

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.”

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

Generation Nuclear

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. 

Read more

‘Pandora’s Promise’ Airs Nationwide Nov. 7 on CNN

Pronuclear Documentary Deemed ‘Essential Viewing’

Tune in and set your DVRs: Pandora’s Promise will air nationwide on CNN this Thursday, November 7 at 9 p.m. (EST), with an encore showing at midnight (EST). Following a strong critical reception at Sundance Film Festival and a successful film tour led by its Academy Award-nominated director Robert Stone across the United States, Australia, and Japan, Pandora’s Promise will be available to US viewers for one night only.

Read more

The Lessons of Hinkley Point C

Why Nuclear Needs to Get Cheaper, Faster

The energy-geek world I inhabit has been abuzz this week with the announcement of commercial terms for the construction of 3.2 GW of new nuclear power in the UK, to be known as Hinkley Point C. Total cost to first operation is £16 billion, comprising £14 billion in construction and £2 billion in costs to date. At £5,000 kW installed, we are talking some serious coin here.

Read more

Climate Skeptics Against Global Warming

What Conservatives Can Teach Liberals About Global Warming Policy

Over the last decade, progressives have successfully painted conservative climate skepticism as the major stumbling block to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Exxon and the Koch brothers, the story goes, fund conservative think tanks to sow doubt about climate change and block legislative action. As evidence mounts that anthropogenic global warming is underway, conservatives’ flight from reason is putting us all at risk.

Read more

Nuclear Has One of the Smallest Footprints

From Fuels to Building Materials, the Atom is Antidote to Sprawl

When evaluating the footprint of nuclear, writers and analysts tend to focus on its near-zero carbon emissions. Yet, there are many other areas where nuclear power consumes fewer resources than other electricity-generating technologies. In fact, when compared to coal, natural gas, and renewables, nuclear is the most land efficient, energy-dense source of power, with the lowest use of building materials per unit of energy generated per year, and one of the least expensive in terms of levelized costs. Evaluating these different aspects of its footprint demonstrates that nuclear is one of our most viable solutions to readily decarbonize the economy.

Read more

Nuclear and Gas Account for Most Carbon Displacement Since 1950

US Saved About 54 Billion Tonnes of Carbon Dioxide Emissions Switching to Cleaner Energy

A new analysis finds that the vast majority of the carbon dioxide emissions associated with America’s carbon intensity decline since the mid-1900s can be attributed to the increasing shares of two energy sources: nuclear fission and natural gas. These two fuels have done more than any others to displace coal, and have saved the country 54 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions since 1950. By comparison, in 2012 the entire world energy sector emitted 35 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Read more

Mark Bittman’s Renewables Delusions

Debunking the New York Times Columnist’s Recent Attack on Nuclear Energy

Nuclear provided America with about 180 times more energy than solar last year, and is one of our cheapest, safest baseload sources of zero-carbon energy, and yet New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman insists that solar and other renewables are better positioned than nuclear to replace coal. This post debunks Bittman's column. 

Read more

Subsidies for Solar Two Times Higher Than for Nuclear in California

Golden State Spends More on Solar than Nuclear on Per-Kilowatt Basis

California has spent two times more on subsidies for solar than nuclear, measured on a per-kilowatt basis, according to a new Breakthrough analysis. The finding challenges a new analysis from DBL investors, which compares nuclear to solar subsidies without accounting for the fact that nuclear generates far more electricity than solar. Comparing subsidies on a dollar-per-kWh basis is more appropriate because it gives a sense of relative effectiveness of subsidies at providing services to society, in this case electricity provision. 

Read more

Decentralized Renewables Won’t Fuel Modern Cities

Why We Can’t Ignore Fundamentals of Power Density

The 21st century will almost certainly witness a transition to an overwhelmingly urban human population, and – hopefully – a low-carbon energy system. The former scenario, however, will have a significant impact on the latter because a fundamentally urban species cannot be powered locally.

The continued, and essentially unabated, accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may at times render considerations of the requirements of a decarbonized energy system appear somewhat self indulgent, but I must ask the reader to indulge me, and at a little length.

Read more

Liberals and Progressives for Nuclear

The Coming Atomic Age

While historically conservatives have been the prominent supporters of nuclear energy, the urgency of climate change has recently compelled liberals and progressives to reconsider nuclear as the best zero-carbon source of baseload electricity for a world with rapidly rising energy demand.

A couple years prior to the release of Robert Stone’s documentary Pandora’s Promisewhich follows five anti- to pro-nuclear converts, Breakthrough Senior Fellow Barry Brook, writing at his blog Brave New Climatecomposed a list of the most prominent intellectual leaders and public figures who changed their mind about nuclear energy and now support it.

Read more

Germany’s Green Energy Bust

Energiewende by the Numbers

Through much of 2012, the Energiewende, Germany’s pioneering effort to construct an energy system around renewables while simultaneously phasing out nuclear power and cutting carbon emissions, was on a roll. Plunging prices and eye-popping production figures for wind and solar power seemed to fulfill all the visionary prognostications. Germany shrugged off the shuttering of nearly half its nuclear plants without a backward glance: not only did it not suffer the predicted power shortages, it boosted electricity exports. Renewable power pushed market prices down and threatened to drive gas- and coal-burning power plants into bankruptcy. The press and the green blogosphere celebrated passed benchmark after shattered milepost, including the day in May when, according to Treehugger.com’s headline, “Half of Germany Was Running on Solar Power.”

Read more

A Green Vision of Technology

How Ecomodernists Foresee Room for Nature

There is a new environmental agenda out there. One that is inimical to many traditional conservationists, but which is picking up kudos and converts. It calls itself environmental modernism — which for many is an oxymoron. Wasn’t the environmentalism of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Greenpeace’s warriors against industrial whaling and the nuclear industry, and efforts to preserve the world’s last wild lands, meant to be the antithesis of the modern industrial world?

Read more

A Deeper Climate Conversation

How Natural Gas and Nuclear Are Essential to Decarbonization

In the last month, the Breakthrough Institute has published two major reports that inject fresh and pragmatic perspective to the discourse on climate and energy. In contrast to the binary and simplistic conception of decarbonization that imagines a step-wise shift from fossil fuels to exclusively renewable technologies, we have aimed to simultaneously place the role of natural gas in the broader process of decarbonization and chart a new path for nuclear energy innovation. These two goals are neither replacements nor antecedents for continued support for renewable energy, but they do and should complicate dialogues over how best to transition to a high-energy, zero-carbon planet.

Read more

Mugged By Reality

Nordhaus on the Smarter Environmental Agenda

In 2007, when Ted Nordhaus, the co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute, published his first book (Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility) he became simultaneously one of the most despised and one of the most revered figures in the U.S. environmental movement. The book, coauthored by Michael Shellenberger, was a seething indictment of the sort of traditional environmentalism that prizes renewable energy, condemns fracking and nuclear plants, and threatens global apocalypse should we fail to address climate change. Five years later, he hasn’t backed down. What follows is an edited interview based on two recent conversations with Nordhaus.

Read more

Making the World Safe for Coal

The History of the Antinuclear Movement

The antinuclear movement has historically drawn from a number of wellsprings, from fears of radioactive fallout caused by nuclear missiles, to parallels between Nazi Germany and the science of nuclear energy, to paranoia over radiation as the ‘most serious agent of pollution.’ The success of such antinuclear campaigns in the 1970s has guaranteed a legacy of increased use of coal for decades to come, as proposed nuclear plants across the Western world were cancelled and replaced by coal plants.

Read more

How to Advance Nuclear

Support Grows for Safer, Cleaner, and Cheaper Reactors

The last few years have seen a growing number of liberal and environmental heavyweights publicly call for more nuclear energy to deal with climate change. Today, the pro-nuclear ranks include Bill Gates, Al Franken, Richard Branson, and Barack Obama. Also on the list are superstar economist Jeffrey Sachs, the novelist Ian McEwan, Google chairman Eric Schmidt, and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. There are former environmental leaders, including former Greenpeace Executive Director Stephen Tindale, and former Friends of the Earth trustee Hugh Montefiore. And there are prominent scientists including Gaia hypothesis ecologist James Lovelock, former NASA climate scientist James Hansen, much-cited climate scientist Tom Wigley, and MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel.

Read more

Nordhaus on How to Make Nuclear Cheap

The E&E On Point Interview

In a recent interview for E&E’s OnPoint, Ted Nordhaus, chairman and cofounder of the Breakthrough Institute makes the case for policy and technical tools that can help make nuclear power safe and more cost-effective, as outlined in the new Breakthrough report How to Make Nuclear Cheap. Receding from the debates, argues Nordhaus, are issues of waste storage and proliferation, with more attention paid to the economics of nuclear. This shift in the discussion has opened up more space for engaging with advanced nuclear designs that have the potential to address the key features plaguing current light-water designs. 

Read more

Germany’s ‘Energiewende’ Shows Why We Need Nuclear

Renewables Can't Go It Alone

Germany’s massive investment in distributed and renewable electricity, known as the Energiewende (energy transition), is often heralded as the shining example for climate change action. Many use it as evidence that wind and solar photovoltaics are mature, scalable, off-the-shelf, cost-effective, and market disruptive technologies. Germany's impressive wind and solar deployment in recent years has been used by activists in the environmental community, as well as governments, to argue against the need for investment in other zero carbon energy sources, particularly nuclear and other centralized forms of energy.

Read more

Clean Energy Stagnation

Growth in Renewables Outpaced by Fossil Fuels

The world was moving faster towards reducing its reliance on carbon intensive energy consumption in the 1970s and 1980s than in the past several decades. In fact, over the past 20 years there has been little if any progress in expanding the share of carbon-free energy in the global mix. Despite the rhetoric around the rise of renewable energy, the data tells a far different story.

Read more

How to Make Nuclear Cheap

Safety, Readiness, Modularity, and Efficiency

Nuclear energy is at a crossroads. It supplies a substantial share of electricity in many developed economies — 19 percent in the United States, 35 percent in South Korea, 40 percent in Sweden, 78 percent in France — but these figures may decline as reactors built in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s retire. Meanwhile, developing countries are increasingly turning to nuclear to meet rapidly growing energy demand and to reduce pollution. China is currently building 28 reactors and has plans for dozens more; 11 are under construction in Russia, seven in India. Nevertheless, fossil fuels remain dominant worldwide, with coal the reigning king and natural gas production booming. The central challenge for nuclear energy, if it is to become a greater portion of the global electricity mix, is to become much cheaper.

Read more

How Fast Are The Costs Of Solar Really Coming Down?

Recent Gains Do Not Promise Sustained Growth

The case for solar energy as a near term alternative to fossil energy hangs largely upon the view that the costs of solar energy have come down rapidly in recent years and will continue to do so in the coming years. But a close examination of where and why solar costs appear to be declining casts doubt on those claims. Solar module prices have dropped substantially in recent years. But much of the decline in recent years has been due to Chinese overproduction and dumping. Installed costs of solar systems have come down dramatically in Germany. But a significant portion of the cost declines experienced in Germany that the rest of the world hopes to emulate are from non-module “soft” costs. As Germany’s rooftop solar installation industry has scaled up, costs related to permitting, installation, and supply chains have declined, but these cost reductions have not proven transferable across national borders. 

Read more

‘Pandora’s Promise’ Stirs National Debate Over Nuclear

"The Most Important Movie about the Environment Since ‘An Inconvenient Truth'’’

Following a strong critical reception at the Sundance Film Festival, the new documentary “Pandora’s Promise,” which opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, is sparking national debate over whether to embrace nuclear energy to address global warming.

“Life is about choices, and we need to make one,” writes Michael Specter in the New Yorker. “Being opposed to nuclear power, as [Richard] Rhodes points out [in the film], means being in favor of burning fossil fuel. It’s that simple. Nuclear energy — now in its fourth generation — is at least as safe as any other form of power.”

Read more

San Onofre Nuclear Closure to Boost State Carbon Emissions by 8 Million Tons

Replacement Electricity Equivalent to Adding 1.6 Million Cars

The retirement of two nuclear reactors at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in Southern California, announced Friday, is expected to increase state carbon emissions by at least 8 million metric tons annually, the equivalent of putting 1.6 million new passenger vehicles on the road, according to a Breakthrough Institute analysis.

Read more

No Solar Way Around It

Why Nuclear Is Essential to Combating Climate Change

Nobody who has paid attention to what's happened to solar panels over the last several decades can help but be impressed. Prices declined an astonishing 75 percent from 2008 to 2012. In the United States, solar capacity has quintupled since 2008, and grown by more than 50 times since 2000, according to US Energy Information Administration data. In 1977, solar panels cost $77 per watt. Today, they are less than a dollar per watt.

Read more

The Green Nuclear Conversion

'Pandora's Promise' Cuts Through Misinformed Fears

Kamakura, Japan—Chances are pretty high, based on prevailing public opinion, that you will think my wife and I are a tad crazy, maybe even guilty of child abuse. During the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, which is a couple hundred miles from where we live, we stayed put while thousands of others fled the Tokyo area and many foreigners left Japan for good. Not only that, we buy as much of our fruits and vegetables as possible from Fukushima Prefecture, the Connecticut-size jurisdiction where the plant is located (we even specially order boxes of Fukushima produce) while millions of others in Japan take extreme care to consume only food from the far west and south of the country. And yes, our whole family, including our 12- and 10-year-old sons, eats Fukushima food. We’re convinced it’s perfectly safe, and we like helping people whose products suffer from an unjust taint.

Read more

Collection: Nuclear Energy

The Breakthrough Institute team works to publish up-to-date analysis on nuclear energy, centering around international developments in innovation and deployment and the resulting effects for climate change and the global economy. Here is our collection of analysis on nuclear energy:

Read more

Planetary Emergency? Then Go Nuclear

Anti-Nuclear Greens Aren't Serious About Climate Change

Last week we published an oped in the Wall Street Journal that began like this:

Over the last several decades, the cost of electricity from solar panels has declined dramatically, while the cost of building new nuclear plants has risen steadily. This has reaffirmed the long-standing view of many environmentalists that it will be cheaper and easier to reduce global warming emissions through solar electricity than with new nuclear plants. But while continuing price declines might someday make solar cheaper than nuclear, it's not true today. Yet the mythmaking persists.

Read more

Frequently Asked Questions About Nuclear Power

Going Green

No technology is more enshrouded in myth than nuclear energy. The urgency of addressing global poverty and reducing emissions demands that we consider this technology without ideological blinders. The basic facts of the technology — both good and bad — must be confronted. This Breakthrough Institute Frequently Asked Questions is backed by primary sources and addresses the toughest questions asked of nuclear.

Read more

Environmentalism’s Merchants of Doubt

Anti-Nuclear Sentiment Brings Coal-Fired Future

After clear warnings from scientists more than 20 years ago, the issues of human-caused climate change and fossil-fuel-dominated energy should be on the way into the environmental history books. Sadly, they’re not, which is why we need a new global movement of nuclear support.

A bit like the CFC/ozone dilemma, we should by now be enjoying disputes about just how the success came about, and focusing attention on more challenging sources of emissions.

Read more

Green Hypocrisy on Nuclear

Dismissing Zero-Carbon Energy, Paul Gilding Handicaps Climate Fight

All of the evidence in Gilding’s piece is pulled together to support his premise of imminent renewable revolution as part of global mobilization against climate change, while any and all countervailing evidence is blinkered out. He references the headline from a Bloomberg article regarding new renewables in Australia now being cheaper than coal. This headline’s claim and the work underpinning it was demolished in a critique by me and Tristan Edis of Climate Spectator, both of us (but the latter in particular) being supporters of renewables having a role in the changes to come. But Gilding took the Bloomberg piece at face value, along with everything else. His article managed to talk about winning the climate crisis seemingly on the back of wind and solar. There was no mention of biomass, energy storage or, you guessed it, nuclear power. So I picked up Gilding’s book with trepidation to check his treatment of nuclear power in Chapter 12. It began promisingly:

I’m simply advocating a careful rational discussion about the opportunities open to us, and an intelligent debate about the alternatives, in the context that a failure to change will have consequences.

Read more

Nuclear Saved 1.8 Million Lives

NASA Scientist James Hansen Also Finds Nuclear Could Save 7 Million More

Nuclear power is often promoted as a low-carbon source that mitigates fossil fuel emissions and the resulting health damage and deaths caused by air pollution. But is it possible to provide estimates and actually quantify these effects?

new paper from NASA’s Goddard Institute authored by Pushker Kharecha and James Hansen in the journal Environmental Science and Technology purports to do just that. Hansen is well known as one of the founders of modern global warming science. The authors come up with the striking figure of 1.8 million as the number of lives saved by replacing fossil fuel sources with nuclear. They also estimate the saving of up to 7 million lives in the next four decades, along with substantial reductions in carbon emissions, were nuclear power to replace fossil fuel usage on a large scale. In addition the study finds that the proposed expansion of natural gas would not be as effective in saving lives and preventing carbon emissions. In general the paper provides optimistic reasons for the responsible and widespread use of nuclear technologies in the near future. It also drives home the point that nuclear energy has prevented many more deaths than what it has caused.

Read more

The Keystone Distraction

How Environmentalists Got Lost in a Dangerously Misguided Battle

Climate activists amassed an impressive army to march on Washington against the Keystone XL pipeline and the dirty oil it would bring from Canada to U.S. refineries and world energy markets. In this fight, however, a relatively small volume of carbon-dioxide emissions is at stake -- the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that those from Keystone amount to a mere 0.2 percent of the “carbon budget” that scientists say we need to shrink in order to avoid catastrophic warming.

Read more

Chinese Nuclear and the Future of Energy Innovation

Between Nuclear and Fracking or Coal and Pollution, the Choice Is Clear

Over the past few years I've given the New York Times’s Justin Gillis a (deserved) hard time for some of his reporting. I'm now happy to given him some well-earned praise on the occasion of his first monthly column at the Times on climate change. Gillis wisely chose to write his first column on energy innovation, with a focus on nuclear power and China:

We have to supply power and transportation to an eventual population of 10 billion people who deserve decent lives, and we have to do it while limiting the emissions that threaten our collective future. 
 

Read more

Why Progressives Don’t Like Nuclear

Values and Worldview Trump Facts

Many of my friends are science-loving liberals. Many of them are also environmentalists. But most of them are against nuclear energy, and this is where I disagree with them. Over the years I have had several conservations with these friends about nuclear power and most of their objections seem to boil down to a handful of arguments that are well-meaning but often ignore some basic facts. So here’s a purely personal, short list of reasons which in my opinion drive a lot of liberal objections to nuclear power. These are by no means exhaustive, but it just seems to me that there are some simple answers at least to a few questions raised by well-meaning liberals regarding nuclear energy, and it’s worth delving into them.

Read more

Obama Aims for Nuclear Breakthroughs

Administration Pushes Innovation of Next Generation Technologies

Two years ago, some thought that the nuclear energy had been leveled. But the industry today is picking up steam by getting construction licenses to build four new units and by getting government funding to develop smaller nuclear reactors that are less expensive and which may be less problematic when it comes to winning regulatory approval.

Read more

‘No Clinically Observable Effects’ From Fukushima Radiation: UN

Report Offers Corrective to Japan’s Nuclear Freeze

A very big report came out last month with very little fanfare.  It concluded what we in nuclear science have been saying for decades – radiation doses less than about 10 rem (0.1 Sv) are no big deal. The linear no-threshold dose hypothesis (LNT) does not apply to doses less than 10 rem (0.1 Sv), which is the region encompassing background levels around the world, and is the region of most importance to nuclear energy, most medical procedures and most areas affected by accidents like Fukushima.

Read more

Tech Breakthroughs Needed to Address Global Warming

New Analysis Concludes Socolow/Pacala Wedges Underestimate the Energy Challenge

Carbon dioxide emissions need to be reduced far more and far faster than previously thought if a global temperature rise is to be kept under 2 °C, according to a report in Environmental Research Letters. The researchers say that scaling up existing technology won’t be good enough to meet the goals. Instead, we need new technological breakthroughs.

 

Read more

Obama’s Climate Legacy

Delivering on an Innovation Agenda

With Tuesday's State of the Union address, liberals are wondering how President Barack Obama will set the tone for major progressive priorities in his second term. By giving climate change a prominent mention in his second inaugural address last month, Obama has raised expectations of delivering on a green agenda over the next four years. Nevertheless, many environmentalists remain deeply disappointed over the failure of cap-and-trade legislation and the president’s hedging on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. They are as skeptical that he has the conviction to lead a fight against climate as they are of his willingness to battle intransigent Republicans in Congress.

Read more

Al Gore’s Nuclear Hypocrisy

How the Former Vice President Set Back Baseload Clean Energy

I recently had the pleasure of reading Al Gore’s latest volume, The Future. This not particularly tightly written book has among other things a section on biotechnology that shows that Gore’s attachment to science is somewhat fleeting. Of particular interest to me is a comment Gore makes about nuclear power.

In the climate change section entitled “False Solutions,” Gore expresses some skepticism on nuclear power, and writes the following:

There is still a distinct possibility that the research and development of a new generation of smaller and hopefully safer reactors may yet play a significant role in the world’s energy future. We should know by 2030.

Read more

Shellenberger on Colbert Report

Breakthrough Cofounder Talks Climate, Nuclear, and Frankenstein with Stephen Colbert

Michael Shellenberger, president and cofounder of the Breakthrough Institute, made the case for a new environmentalism on the Colbert Report last week.

The new environmentalism is defined by its embrace of technology as essential to human progress and overcoming environmental challenges such as climate change.

“That’s why we wrote this book — it’s called Love Your Monsters. It comes from this idea that we should treat our technologies like our children, like our creations,” Shellenberger explained. “When they fail us — when they disappoint us — you don’t abandon them, you improve them. You make them better.”

Read more

Against Technology Tribalism

Why We Need Innovation to Make Energy Clean, Cheap and Reliable

The following is a speech delivered at the Energy Innovation Conference in Washington, DC, on January 29, 2013.

About once a month we at the Breakthrough Institute get an email or, as often, a carefully hand-typed letter, from someone who politely if sternly informs us that they have invented the solution to all of the world's energy needs. This incredible technology, they explain, has none of the problems that plague other energy technologies. It's so cheap as to be almost free. It emits zero pollution. It's safe. And it's totally reliable.

Unfortunately, they explain, the investors they've shown their design to just don't get it. They are writing in the hopes that we might get it — seeing as we’re committed to paradigm shifts and all — and help them to secure modest up-front financing required to demonstrate this miracle for all of the world to see.

Read more

America’s Nuclear Future

Nobelist Burton Richter on Why the US is Falling Behind

When it comes to nuclear energy, Dr. Burton Richter is Mr. Credible. Winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize for discovering a new sub-atomic particle, Richter has advised presidents and policymakers for almost 40 years. Richter has been a Breakthrough Senior Fellow since 2011, and is technical adviser to the forthcoming documentary, "Pandora's Promise," about pro-nuclear environmentalists.

Breakthrough interviewed Richter recently to get his opinion on next generation nuclear reactors, and why so many of them are being developed abroad and not by the Department of Energy in the United States. "The DOE is too screwed up to go into a partnership and do this in the US," the blunt Richter told us, referring to the Bill Gates-backed nuclear design pursued in China by Terrapower. 

Read more

A Squandered Opportunity

Germany's Energy Transition

My conclusion so far is that unfortunately Germany’s ‘renewables revolution’ is at best making no difference to the country’s carbon emissions, and at worst pushing them marginally upwards. Thus, tens (or even hundreds, depending on who you believe) of billions of euros are being spent on expensive solar PV and wind installations for no climatic benefit whatsoever.

Although I have been unable to find clear figures for the changing CO2 intensity of German electricity (if anyone has them, please post in the comments below), nuclear’s fall of 1.7% almost exactly equals the rise in renewables of 1.6% between 2011 and 2012. This means that the dramatic and admirable increase in renewable generation in Germany is simply a story of low-carbon baseload from nuclear being replaced by low-carbon intermittent supply from wind and solar (which, incidentally, also raises system costs by making the grid harder to manage due to intermittency).

Read more

Obama’s Climate Cunning

Gas, Clean Tech, and the Path Ahead

The New Year will not mark a clean slate. Congress and the president will re-convene their hostilities. And while the impasse will prevent legislative action to fix the level greenhouse gas emissions, the president is nevertheless preparing a more insidious attack on climate change.

Re-election to the White House is giving President Obama the oomph he needs to tackle the effects of global warming — a topic that has been legislatively off-limits. To achieve his objectives, Obama is remaining persistent and is pursuing a high-tech, clean-tech economy in conjunction with his administration’s recently enacted environmental regulations.

“Addressing climate change is urgent,” says Michael Shellenberger, president of the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental think tank based in Oakland, Calif. “Energy transitions take a long time and we need to get started.”

Read more

On Justice Movements

Why They Fail the Environment and the Poor

The theory of climate justice tells us that the gap between rich and poor and the looming threat of catastrophic climate change are not simply unfortunate circumstances that demand our attention and action, but rather the result of active efforts on the part of rich nations, wealthy elites, and powerful corporations to profit on the backs of the global poor and the environment. But demands for climate justice too often ignore basic practicalities of energy, poverty, and climate change, directing our gaze away from the issues that really matter to the future prospects of both the global poor and the planet and toward issues that don’t.

Read more

Announcing Energy Innovation 2013

Clean Energy: Ready for Prime Time?

Clean energy is at a crossroads. Thanks to public investments in the United States, Germany, China, and elsewhere, solar, wind, and battery technologies have improved significantly and become cheaper over the last five years. Yet renewables are still not as cheap as fossil fuels. Moreover, many of these investments, including wind's crucial production tax credit, are at risk of expiration or have already lapsed. Meanwhile, innovations in the production of natural gas are displacing coal, generating billions of dollars in consumer energy savings, and becoming the energy leader that few foresaw.

What then is the future of clean energy? Congress remains deeply divided over renewables, but President Obama has defended his clean tech investments and says energy innovation remains a high priority. Senate Energy Committee Chairs Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have expressed optimism that they can reach bipartisan agreement on new energy legislation. And natural gas and nuclear energy — two long-standing clean energy outliers — have received renewed attention due to possible inclusion in a clean energy standard. Never before has a clear-eyed assessment of emergent clean energy technologies been more important.

The Breakthrough Institute and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation are excited to invite you to join us for Energy Innovation 2013, our third annual conference taking place the morning of January 29, 2013, at the JW Marriott down the street from the White House.

Read more

Germany’s Lost Decade

Nuclear Shutdown Whets Germany's Appetite for Coal

Germany appears intent on doing three things faster than almost any developed country: expanding renewable power, closing nuclear power plants, and building new coal power plants. The first two are much praised by those who drink the Energiewende Kool Aid, while the third is often treated as some kind of myth by the same people. Germany’s Environment Minister however recognizes it is not a myth, but appears to believe in magic instead.

Read more

Next Nukes

How U.S.-European Cooperation Can Deliver Cheaper, Safer Nuclear Energy

As the debate over climate policy picks up again in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and President Obama’s reelection, policymakers should prioritize efforts that will accelerate the adoption of zero-carbon technologies, especially the only proven baseload source available: next generation nuclear.

Whereas traditional nuclear reactors from the 1950s were designed in secret, advanced models are being researched, designed, and financed by innovative international collaborations. Take GE-Hitachi's PRISM, a joint American-Japanese venture to construct a power plant in the United Kingdom capable of processing plutonium. Or the recent announcement that South Korea's national electric utility, KEPCO, had been awarded a contract to build the first nuclear plant in the United Arab Emirates, using Australian-mined uranium for fuel.

An expanding international community recognizes the importance of developing advanced nuclear reactor designs to meet energy needs and address global warming. Thirteen countries have joined the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), for instance, a cooperative endeavor to encourage governments and industry to support advanced nuclear energy concepts. Member countries, which include the United States, Japan, Russia, and China, have agreed to expand R&D funding for advanced nuclear projects that meet stringent sustainability, economic, safety and nonproliferation goals.

Read more

The UK’s New Zero-Carbon Energy Alliance

How Climate Change is Bringing Together Nuclear, Wind, and CCS Industries

The energy debate is shifting. With wind, nuclear and CCS (carbon capture and storage) trade associations in the United Kingdom issuing their first-ever joint statement, the political tectonic plates of climate change have begun subtly to move.

But it is a risky strategy. Many of those who defend wind power from attacks by Nimbies and rightwing Tories are ardent opponents of nuclear power, for example.

The three trade associations clearly risk losing core supporters by this temporary pooling of lobbying resources.

But the fact they are taking this risk is a sign that all three see vastly greater danger in the current attacks in the media and the Conservative Party against the entire decarbonization agenda.

Read more

Why Governments Must Pick the Right Energy Policy ‘Winners’

Carbon Pricing Will Encourage Gas More Than Renewables

There are almost audible sighs of relief in parts of the Whitehall establishment at today's news that Japanese firm Hitachi is set to buy the Horizon nuclear power project from German firms E.ON and RWE – a slender lifeline to the UK's stalling "nuclear renaissance." At the same time, others in Whitehall – including a worrying number of Conservative ministers – are driving for a new dash for gas and casting doubt on renewable energy.

 

Read more

Asia Returns to Nukes

Post-Fukushima Moratoria in China and Japan Give Way to Energy Reality

Asia’s two main economies appear to be winding down their moratoria on nuclear power.  The latest is China, which says it is starting to build nuclear reactors again, 19 months after the Fukushima disaster in Japan triggered a nuclear power pullback around the world. By 2015, China will have 40 GW of nuclear power capacity, or 10 GW less than planned prior to Fukushima. The resumption fits into China’s aim of developing the world’s largest non-fossil-fuel energy sector.

Read more

No Nukes? Then Say Yes to Global Warming

How the Anti-Nuclear Movement Undermines Climate Efforts

Japan has proposed to phase out nuclear power by 2040 in reaction to last year's Fukushima Daiichi incident, drawing cheers from many environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists. Japan's turn from nuclear, however, means the country will use more fossil fuels, resulting in greater amounts of harmful emissions and all the costs to public health and the environment such a path entails.

Read more

Carbon Taxes and Energy Subsidies

A Comparison of the Incentives and Costs of Zero-Carbon Deployment

Carbon taxes like the ones being proposed by current and former member of Congress are unlikely to increase the deployment of zero-carbon energy technologies and would only modestly increase the incentive for utilities to shift from coal to gas, a new Breakthrough Institute analysis finds. Absent continued Congressional authorization of existing low-carbon energy subsidies, the price incentive for the deployment of zero-carbon energy sources would decline by between 50 to 80 percent.

Read more

New Nukes

Why We Need Radical Innovation to Make New Nuclear Energy Cheap

Not long after a tsunami washed over Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plants in March 2011, causing a partial meltdown, it appeared to many that humankind's half-century experiment with nuclear power might be in permanent jeopardy. Although nuclear energy provides 15 percent of the world's electricity, all without spewing greenhouse gas emissions, many countries seemed ready to forgo nuclear for deadlier but less viscerally frightening power sources. And sadly, while U.S. political leaders, including those at the just-concluded Democratic National Convention, are quick to trumpet their embrace of natural-gas drilling, the word "nuclear" is scarcely ever mentioned.

Read more

Nuclear Costs in Context

A Viable Public Good

Replacing large-scale fossil fuel energy production with zero-carbon sources will come with a big price tag. Yet compared with the other available options -- especially wind and solar -- nuclear is our best bet. High capital costs are simply a reminder that we can’t have something for nothing, least of all major new infrastructure. The ability to generate zero-carbon baseload power for decades to come is a public good worthy of limited government support.

Read more

On Geoengineering

Oliver Morton Reflects on the Breakthrough Dialogue, Geoengineering, and Climate Change

I recently had the great pleasure of attending this year's Breakthrough Dialogue at Cavallo Point, an event at which the Breakthrough Institute brought together kindred spirits of disparate views to hash out some of the many issues that that Institute takes an interest in. On the basis of this Economist special report I was invited to talk about nuclear power, but in the many fruitful interstices of the meeting found myself talking about geoengineering quite a lot, because this is the sort of crowd where that sort of discussion makes sense, and because I am working on a book on the subject.

Read more

Are Fast Breeder Reactors A Nuclear Power Panacea?

Debate Heats Up Over Next Generation Technology in the UK

Plutonium is the nuclear nightmare. A byproduct of conventional power-station reactors, it is the key ingredient in nuclear weapons and leaves behind a million-year radioactive waste legacy. But a new generation of "fast" reactors can burn plutonium, turning a health and security risk into cheap, low-carbon energy. It sounds too good to be true. Are the techno-optimists right -- or should the conventional environmental revulsion at all things nuclear still hold?

Read more

Worldwide Nuclear Energy Expansion Continues

Japan's Shutdown Only a "Speed Bump"

New estimates predict global production of nuclear energy will see significant gains in coming decades, as dampened enthusiasm for the atom in the wake of last year's nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi appears to be only temporary. East Asia will lead the expansion, as China has resumed construction on new plants and appears intent on pursuing more advanced domestically produced reactor models. Meanwhile, momentum builds for next generation nuclear technologies in the United States.

Read more

Fukushima Death Toll Projections Based on Junk Science

New Study Employs Scare Tactics

The media is abuzz with the first study attempting to quantify expected cancer deaths which may result from Fukushima. Written by Ten Hoeve and Mark Jacobson from Stanford University, the paper 'Worldwide health effects of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident' is published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science (free PDF copy).

 

 

Read more

Nuclear Weapons and Wickedness in Iran

Rittel and Webber's essay "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning" first coined the term "wicked problem" in order to describe what the authors saw as increasingly common, intractable planning challenges facing society. In reading their paper and the surrounding literature, I've come to understand wicked problems as boiling down to three key components: a) the problem is socially defined and thus often difficult to identify by consensus, b) there is a confusing combination of adversarial stakeholders, feedback loops, path dependencies, and other trade-offs, and c) multiple explanations of the problem lend themselves to a host of different solutions, each of which can be optimized in different ways, often to the disagreement of those involved. Using this definition is helpful for understanding convoluted issues of politics; one example is that of Iranian nuclear proliferation, which I believe can be better explained and managed through an understanding of wicked problems.

The nature of a wicked problem as inherently complex comes not only from Rittel and Webber's original definition, but also from system dynamics theory. As Braden Allenby explains in his chapter "Complexity: the New Frontier" in Reconstructing Earth, complex systems are those that involve many agents interacting with each other. Often, their interaction becomes so difficult to analyze that the participants themselves are unable to optimize the outcomes. In addition, defining what variables are relevant to the problem (ie. what factors are endogenous to the system) is itself a step that is subject to legitimate debate and social discussion.

Accordingly, a problem is wicked in the sense that it is difficult to gather consensus on the problem, let alone the solution. As a result of the complexity, more likely than not the problem has no truly 'optimal' solution with which all stakeholders are satisfied; furthermore, any approximate 'optimal' resolution may also have unintended effects that actually worsen the problem (feedback loop) or cause other undesirable problems (spin-offs). In short, the recognition of some problems as wicked is a reflection of our increasing awareness of the true complexity of our social, natural, and political interactions.

Read more

The Historic Roots, and Impacts, of Our Nuclear Fear

 

Originally published at Risk: Reason and Reality at Big Think.


I remember going to bed one night when I was 11, seriously afraid I would not be alive in the morning. It was October, 1962, and the frightening cold war between the U.S. and Soviet Union, constantly in the news but mostly abstract to me as a kid, had becoming terrifyingly real. I had watched a stern President Kennedy on TV revealing that Soviet missiles were being installed in Cuba and ordering a blockade of Soviet ships. There were pictures of the missile sites, and video of confrontations at sea. The world really was on the brink of nuclear war. I was viscerally afraid, and I wasn't alone.

But that was long ago, and those fears were well-tucked away...until I started reading Spencer Weart's fascinating new book, The Rise of Nuclear Fear. It was remarkable how quickly, and powerfully, the feeling of those scary days came back to life. Even more, it was stunning to discover how broadly and profoundly our nuclear fears have shaped our modern world. If you want to understand our acute modern fear of cancer, the roots of environmentalism, what really put a man on the moon, even what turned our 1950s and 60s faith in science and technology into the doubt and skepticism of today, you must read this wonderful insightful entertaining book.

Read more

Gas Boom Poses Challenges for Renewables and Nuclear

The ongoing shale gas boom and the advent of low natural gas prices has pushed back the goal posts for clean energy technologies like wind, solar, and nuclear power, according to a new fact sheet released by the Breakthrough Institute. While significant progress has been made in low-carbon technologies in recent years, continued innovation and cost declines will be necessary for clean tech to become broadly competitive with natural gas on an unsubsidized basis.

 

Read more

Which Nations Have Reduced Carbon Intensity the Fastest?

Driving down global emissions of climate destabilizing carbon dioxide by at least 50 percent by 2050 may be necessary to avoid the most dangerous impacts of global climate change (IEA 2010). To achieve these deep emissions declines while supporting continued economic growth and expanded energy access, particularly in the world's emerging economies, the world's economies must rapidly decarbonize, reducing the amount of CO2 produced for each unit of economic activity at greater than 4 percent per year (IEA 2010).

That may not sound like much, but such rates are more than three times greater than the 1.3 percent per year global average rate sustained since the 1860s (Nakicenovic 1997).

Even at a national scale, achieving a 4 percent per year or greater rate of decarbonization is unprecedented in recent history, according to new analysis from the Breakthrough Institute, which examines historic decarbonization rates among developed nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (the OECD).

Nonetheless, by examining the rates of decarbonization among these OECD nations, this analysis provides historic evidence regarding the fastest sustained rates of decarbonization achieved by developed economies to date, while shedding light on key drivers of decarbonization. Insights from the nations that have achieved the fastest reductions in carbon intensity will be critical to formulate effective policies to accelerate global decarbonization and climate mitigation.

Read more

Bill Gates: Make Energy Cheap, Clean

What does energy have to do with ending poverty? Bill Gates -- whose philanthropic largesse has made him one of the most prominent advocates for the world's poor -- should know.

At the recent Wall Street Journal ECO:nomics forum, Gates made a pitch for making energy cheap and clean around the world.

"If you want to improve the situation of the poorest two billion on the planet, having the price of energy go down substantially is about the best thing you could do for them," Gates said. "Energy is the thing that allowed civilization over the last 220 years to dramatically change everything."

Read more

The Making of a Radiation Panic

One year after Fukushima, independent scientists working for the UN say bluntly that irrational fears of radiation poisoning will cause far more harm than the radiation itself. Not a single individual from the Japanese public received a dangerous dose, according to the early and informal analyses by the scientists. (Conspiracy theories cannot survive against the constant independent radiation measurements uploaded on Twitter.) Even the 70 altruistic plant workers who stayed behind gained an additional cancer risk of just 0.002% -- effectively zero in a country where four out of ten people get cancer.

Read more

Nuclear Down, Carbon Intensity Up in Japan

Japan's nuclear power fleet has sat idle since a powerful earthquake struck the nation in March 2011, driving a sharp increase in fossil fuel imports and a spike in the nation's carbon intensity, new data shows. Together, these changes have battered Japan's trade balance, increased the carbon intensity of its energy supply, and raised important questions about its future CO2 emissions trajectory.

Japan's 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster have exerted substantial impacts on the nation's economy and energy system. Given Japan's reliance on nuclear power, its lack of domestic fossil resources, the magnitude of the earthquake and tsunami, and the technical and political implications of a major nuclear crisis, these impacts were largely predictable.

But although it was clear early on that Japan's triple disaster signalled major economic and technical changes in Japan, only recently has good data become available to shed light on the specifics of the changes underway.*

Two notable trends emerge from this data, both relating to Japanese energy supply. Together, these trends are exerting profound impacts on Japan's trade balance, the carbon intensity of its energy supply, and its future CO2 emission trajectory.
 

Read more

Mark Lynas Interviewed in Yale 360

mark-lynas-environmentalist-and-author.jpg

Yale 360 published an interview this week with Mark Lynas, environmental journalist and author of The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans, which was released this past summer. Breakthrough's book review of The God Species is available here.

Lynas has become well known for his about-face on certain environmental issues like nuclear power, genetically modified agriculture, and geoengineering. In the interview, Lynas discusses his conversion, and why he feels traditional environmental opposition to these technologies is irrational and dangerous.

Read more

Analysis: Germany’s Plan to Phase Out Nuclear Jeopardizes Emissions Goals

One week ago, the German government released a report outlining its plan to close all of its 17 nuclear power reactors by 2017 and power the country without causing electricity shortages. That plan hinges heavily on the construction of 16 GW of new fossil-fired power pants. This analysis finds that Germany's new strategy would make achieving the country's ambitious 2020 climate goals far more difficult. To both achieve emissions reduction goals and fully displace nuclear power, renewable energy would need to scale up from 17% of the country's power supply today to a full 57% of total electricity generation in just nine years' time.

Replacing Lost Nuclear Capacity and Electricity Generation

Table 1 below, excerpted from the report, outlines the German government's plan for replacing the 21.4 Gigawatts (GW) of lost nuclear power generation capacity.

The plan indicates that--in the absence of nuclear power--Germany will continue to be heavily reliant on fossil-fuel generation for the bulk of its electricity supply. The report calls for the construction of 5 GW of new natural gas power plants, in addition to 11 GW of new coal-fired power plants currently under construction in the country. This will leave the country with a net increase of 5 GW in coal-fired electricity capacity, after the retirement of some 6 GW of older, and more carbon-intensive, coal-fired power plants.

The report also proposes an increase in the country's capacity to generate electricity from biomass by 1.4 GW.

Read more

UPDATED ANALYSIS: The Costs of Canceling Japan’s Plans for Nuclear Power


Updated 5/13/2011 to include construction costs for Japan's proposed 14 nuclear reactors.

On Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced that the country would scrap its plans to increase nuclear power's contribution to electricity generation to 50 percent by 2030, in response to the crisis at Fukushima's Daiichi nuclear complex. Replacing nuclear power's sizable role in Japan's energy system with a greater reliance on imported coal or liquefied natural gas (LNG) could increase Japan's CO2 emissions by up to 26 percent relative to current levels while damaging the nation's trade balance, while replacing nuclear with renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal energy would require a roughly 50-fold increase in the electricity provided by these sources, as well as considerable replacement costs.

Japan's Nuclear Plans on Hold

Prior to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis, Japan had planned to increase nuclear power's share of national electricity generation to 50% from roughly 30% today. To achieve this increase, Japan had planned to construct fourteen new nuclear power reactors and raise the capacity factor of the country's existing nuclear power plants to 90%, an increase from roughly 72% in 2009 to a level equivalent to the capacity factors maintained by the U.S. nuclear industry. Existing nuclear plants would have their operating life extended wherever it was deemed safe to do so.

In the following scenarios, we consider the challenge of replacing nuclear power's role in Japan's energy system with fossil and renewable energy alternatives. We consider the new generation required to replace the electricity provided by the fourteen nuclear reactors planned by 2030, as well as assume that Japan does not grant license extensions to any existing plants during this period. By 2030, we therefore assume the retirement of thirty-eight existing Japanese reactors built before 1990, including the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, totaling 28,431 MW or 61% of the nation's current nuclear capacity.

The total nuclear power generation 'lost' in this scenario totals 399 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2030. We have assumed that the country will still raise the capacity factor of the remaining twenty-one reactors still operating by 2030, providing 21,555 MW of capacity. Under this scenario, nuclear power would still provide almost 15% of Japan's projected electricity demand in 2030.

Read more