Subscriber Patrick Greene pointed me towards this TED talk from Bill Gates. It’s a cracker. For starters he, like Decarbonise SA, is clear that half measures are totally inappropriate in the face of climate change. We either decarbonise fully, or we fail. He puts forward an excellent and succinct argument regarding the pressures of population, service consumption and energy efficiency on our total output of greenhouse gas, with an emphasis on the need to alleviate poverty. He then gives a highly pragmatic outline of the potential energy solutions before exploring his preferred: 4th Generation nuclear power. Here is the video, it’s 20 minutes plus questions. I have some criticism to follow.
My first criticism is really more an observation. The issues he raises with nuclear today are, in his own words, really a matter of public acceptance rather than actual hazard. I don’t dismiss the relevance to getting more nuclear out there, but I do believe that these issues can and must be worked on rather than just accepted. My second criticism is that he gives an impression that the technology is rather more uncertain than I understand it to be, with quite a large number of accumulated fast reactor years in the world by now. But that’s basically cool I suppose because he is wisely focussed on the goal of commercialisation rather than proof of concept.
My third criticism is a little more forthright. There seems to be an assumption in his talk that as long as the GHG is zero by 2050, it does not matter too much if it is still pretty high in, say, 2040. That’s really very wrong. The long-lived nature of CO2 in the atmosphere means that it has a culmulative warming impact. In terms of holding the temperature back, it very much matters that we cut our rate of CO2 output early and quickly rather than late and quickly . What we emit today will still be warming us in 2050 and well beyond. It is the total amount we emit that matters more than the amount in any given target year. That is why it is so critical to use the technology available to us right now, including the excellent nuclear designs that can be bought of the shelf, to start getting that job done. This returns to my first criticism, of letting the fear of nuclear that is so distant from its actual hazard to go unchallenged. We cannot, must not use 4th Gen nuclear power as an excuse to dither on shutting fossil fuels in favour of nuclear right now.