The following bit of wisdom can be found adorning the bumpers and t-shirts of environmentalists everywhere.
It even get’s its own brand of cleaning products to make people feel a little better about something.
Seven generations… shall we call that 150 years?
Many of the same people who wear the t-shirt or buy the detergent will also either say, or find themselves nodding along to, a statement like this:
Nuclear waste needs to be managed for hundreds of thousands of years. This is contrary to notions of intergeneration equity.
The two statements are utterly irreconcilable. The statement credited to the Iroquois is the vastly wiser of the two for a very important reason.
It does not excessively prejudge either the needs or the capabilities of our distant descendants, thereby not unduly hindering our ability to make sensible decisions on both our behalf and their behalf today. If we can be confident in maintaining something safely for 150 or so years, we can consider our responsibility to future generations discharged. They have the right to make their own decisions, and they will almost certainly be better equipped to handle challenges.
Right now, a 150 year time frame of continuing fossil fuel dependence spells catastrophe for coming generations. Deployment of nuclear fission in exchange for spent nuclear fuel that we already know how to both store and recycle, has the power to kill that dependence.
The bumper sticker is right. We are just screwing up the interpretation and application.
“Anti-nuclear arguments of “too slow” and “too costly” ring hollow when smacked with simple numerical truths”
This is an energy flow diagram for Australia in 2009/2010, taken from the Federal Government’s Energy in Australia 2012. If you are in the fossil fuel game, it’s a dream. If you are concerned about climate change, it’s a nightmare.
There is a lot to glean from this. Here are a few interesting points:
- Coal energy exports are over 4 times larger than domestic coal use
- Uranium energy exports, on the assumption of use in current generation light water reactors, are 1.7 times larger in energy terms than our entire domestic coal generation, and the electricity they produce releases no greenhouse gas
- Uranium energy exports, if deployed in Integral Fast Reactors that extract energy from all of the uranium, would provide roughly the same energy as our entire domestic coal and coal exports, with no greenhouse gas… fifty times over
This piece provides a considerably more detailed, but still highly accessible description of the workings of the Generation IV Integral Fast Reactor. Those who are truly in the know told me this was a great piece, so it’s recommended reading.
This excellent cross-post from Mark Lynas provides a great summary of the proposal for the UK to use Generation IV nuclear technology to exchange its unwanted waste for energy.
Why bury nuclear waste, when it could meet the world’s energy needs?
By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 6th December 2011
“These decisions are the result of an almost mediaevel misrepresentation of science and technology. For while the greens are right about most things, our views on nuclear power have been shaped by weapons-grade woo.”
It’s a devastating admission to have to make, especially during the climate talks in Durban. But there would be no point in writing this column if I were not prepared to confront harsh truths. This year the environmental movement to which I belong has done more harm to the planet’s living systems than climate change deniers have ever achieved.
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.
Slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, awareness is growing that there is some incredible new technology in nuclear power; Generation IV uranium reactors, and thorium fuelled reactors. These technologies bring significant advantages above and beyond the best commercially available and near –commercially available nuclear technology today. Neither is theoretical, both have been proven and demonstrated. India is building the first Generation IV plants now with the prototype fast breeder reactor plant (PFBR) to be completed at the end of this year. The advantages of the new technology over the current are basically these:
- Remarkable passive safety
- Extraordinary amounts of energy per unit of fuel
- Truly negligible quantities of much shorter lived waste
The thermal baffle being lowered into the 500 MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor in India, May 2010. Generation IV nuclear is not a myth.
For those less familiar with the technology to which I am referring, this article by Tom Blees will bring you nicely up to speed.
The basic issue with the technology is that it is very new to commercialisation (in the case of Generation IV uranium reactors), or a little way off commercialisation (in the case of thorium). That means we have some time to wait before manufacturing, marketing and selling of the technology is ramped up, and we might expect a few teething problems along the way. That says nothing about the technology; it’s the normal pathway of such things.
But the basic concepts are so good that it is enough to get even hardened nuclear opponents thinking twice, and leads to the refrain that is becoming more common, “We should use nuclear power, Generation IV”. I have heard that quite a bit now from a number of different people. The unstated (or sometimes very clearly stated!) implication being, we should not use what could be bought off the shelf and built more or less immediately.
I disagree, and I’m using the diagram below to explain why. I’ve mentioned before that diagrams are not my strong suit. Be nice.