The climate change conference seems to be full of political fig leafs
As someone who has read as much of the coverage of the UN climate change conference as I can stand, I come away with a feeling that nuclear energy will get little positive attention this coming week. The agenda includes visits by President Obama and the heads of other nations to try to produce some political commitments from the meeting. A new international treaty on climate change seems out of the question.
What’s left is skepticism that COP15 will wind up no different than any other diplomatic conclave without binding agreements. Political commitments are only good until the next election and sometimes not even that long. Plus, there are so many voices at the conference that one wonders whether any of them will be heard. Then there are also a reported 5,000 journalists covering the meeting. The signal-to-noise ratio leaves much to be desired.
To give you an idea of how simplistic some of the thinking is at the conference, consider that the Washington Post reported Dec 11 that a 180 page conference document intended to guide the final lap of discussions was boiled down to just six pages. The words “nuclear energy” are nowhere to be found in that text. The newspaper also reported that “the current climate targets outlined by both the industrialized and major emerging economies fall short . . .”
Where is decarbonization?
Here’s my logic. If you want to pursue a strategy of decarbonization, and you don’t want to sacrifice economic development goals, then the nations of the world have only one form of electricity generation for base load demand to use to make that switch in one generation. Nuclear energy is the answer. Need evidence? Take a look at what India and China are doing.
Climate change is a challenge to the survival of the human species. We created this mess and, if we don’t want to turn into crispy critters on the only planet we have, then we have also have to fix it. To use an analogy from the military, you don’t fight a war with the weapons you wish you had, you fight it with the ones you’ve got.
Al Gore can preach all he wants about renewables, but battery storage technologies to support solar and wind aren’t likely to change in the next decade or so. In short, his plan, however popular with the press and green groups, is a sure fire path to reducing economic growth if relied on as a sole strategy to achieve significant change from fossil fuels.
The nuclear energy industry has some serious challenges ahead to explain itself in these terms. On the other hand, the big U.S. utilities are realists who see uprates to nuclear reactors as being competitive responses to combined cycle natural gas plants. None of the nuclear utilities are going to commit to building a new nuclear reactor until the government stops its denial that it has an obligation to leverage the future of the industry with loan guarantees.
It will be interesting to hear what the U.S. delegation says this coming week about nuclear energy. We’re either going to get more political fig leafs or maybe some real straight talk about what it will take to reduce the growth of greenhouse gases. I’ll be listening. I hope you will too.
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