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Lovelock: Earth in "Grave Danger"

Scientist and climate expert James Lovelock, who has been warning for the past two years that the world must turn toward nuclear energy in order to lower greenhouse gas emissions and stave off the effects of global warming, is raising the alarm once again in the pages of the Independent (U.K.):
The climate centres around the world, which are the equivalent of the pathology lab of a hospital, have reported the Earth's physical condition, and the climate specialists see it as seriously ill, and soon to pass into a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years. I have to tell you, as members of the Earth's family and an intimate part of it, that you and especially civilisation are in grave danger.
On February 2, Lovelock's next book, The Revenge of Gaia will be published. For a preview, click here.

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Paul said…
Picture this...

Man goes to doctor with terrible smoker's cough from cigarette addiction. Doctor Lovelocke looks the patient over and gives him a prescription for heroine.

Nuclear power is no better a solution to global warming and climate change.

First of all, you cant afford to build up enough MWe to matter in time. You cant afford to to provide it with reasonable protection (hence the current DBT would require a minimum defense against 19 suicidal paramilitarist coordinated into four teams by air attacks), you cant afford to even operate them in compliance with all the safety requirements (like Fire Protection for one), let alone with reasonable assurance of not having another accident particularly as they get older. You dont have workable emergency plans any better than demonstrated by Katrina. And last but not least, you still dont even know what to do with the nuclear waste for time immemorial, as this Yucca Mountain and PFS fiasco fall apart.

What am I missing in this picture of bankruptcy.

We and Dr. Lovelock are wasting precious little time still porking the same energy budget concieved in the 1950's to make more plutonium bucks for mega-mania weapons with taxpayer money.

Energy efficiency and conservation must take a priority over dirty and radioactive energy generators.
Renewables are the next generation power source.

Paul, NIRS
David Bradish said…

You are missing quite a lot. What do you mean we can't build up enough MWe to matter in time? Is there a point of no return? Last I checked everyone's still debating if global warming is even caused by humans.

If there is a point of no return does that mean that we should just drop everything and give up? Should we just sit around and wait for doomsday because there is nothing we can do?

I know your solution is renewables and conservation, but right now they can't do it all. Maybe in 100 years.

Right now wind power is the only renewable that is being built commercially that has a significant contribution to cleaner air. And a lot of it is being built which is great. Solar is not competitive and won't be for years. There's only so much hydro you can build. Energy efficiency will only go so far and then you will have to eventually build more electrical capacity. What capacity will that be then?

Wind, solar and hydro can't power a city 24/7. So your options are gas, coal and nuclear. Sounds like you are in favor of a cleaner environment and we know that gas and coal emit GHGs so it looks like the alternative is nuclear.

You say we can't afford anything well then lets leave it to the economy. If it's not affordable does it make sense that investors and utilities would spend their money on nuclear without getting anything in return? There are 103 nuclear plants running 24/7 in the U.S. Does it make sense that if they weren't affordable they would be running? No, I forgot, companies like to spend money and lose it.

Leave the economics to economists.

David, NEI
distantbody said…

Thankyou, I, like yourself, also believe that the high-tech western population must aggresively persue the lifestyles of African native peoples.
Anonymous said…
It is inevitable that nuclear power will replace current largescale energy sources such as coal and gas, whether Greanpeace prolongs coal use long enough to bring about civilization-destroying climate change is more relevant.
distantbody said…
Paul, you seem to be in the know, could you please outline your ideas for dramatically reducing carbon emissions that maintains economies, living standards & lifestyles in the west?

I look forward to reading your ideas.

Anonymous said…
Brian Mays said…
Earlier in this discussion, distantbody said, "Paul, you seem to be in the know, could you please outline your ideas for dramatically reducing carbon emissions that maintains economies, living standards & lifestyles in the west? ..."

Well, if you begin with the premise that Western Culture is evil, too materialistic, and devoid of soul and that all of these spoiled westerners need to give up their privileges and live like the rest of the world, then you don't have to worry about doing both at the same time.

Of course, I guess that Paul assumes that professional protesters and staff members of non-profit, tax-deductible organizations in D.C. will be well-off enough to still maintain a decent standard of living. It's always the little guy who gets the shaft.

Apparently someone reading this blog (I assume not Paul), believes that chanting "No to nuclear" will magically solve the problem, as if it will cause the enviro-fairies to fly down and keep us warm with their (organically produced and environmentally friendly) fairy dust.
Jim Hopf said…
The main flaw in Paul's arguments is the notion that a perfect terror defense, a perfect evacuation plan, and a perfect solution to nuclear waste are necessary for nuclear power to be acceptable. Put more briefly, nuclear must be zero risk to be acceptable. No, it just has to be less risky than the other primary energy alternatives.

Science has thoroughly established that nuclear's risks are a tiny fraction of those of fossil fuels. We have over 40 years of solid data and actual experience proving this. Fossil fuels have been killing ~25,000 people every year, whereas nuclear has caused none! Meanwhile, as a bonus, nuclear does not contribute to global warming.

The maximum consequences of a plant accident or attack have been grossly over-estimated. A highly trained band of dedicated attackers could do infinitely more damage, well, almost anywhere else. Following Paul's logic, we must abandon all chemical plants, all petro facilities, any LNG terminals, and all skyscrapers. All of these objects have a much higher risk of successful attack, AND would produce a far greater number of deaths.

Due to what we really know about the potential release, a guarantee of evacuation is completely unnecessary, and sheltering in place (perhaps supplemented by iodine) is more than enough.

Concerning nuclear waste, nuclear's waste stream, if buried right know in Yucca Mtn. represents a negligible overall risk, per kW-hr generated, compared to fossil fuels. Frankly, in addition to coal's vastly higher immediate (short-term) risks, coal's waste streams will be more of a public health threat 10,000 to one million years from now than nuclear waste ever will. Exactly how long will it take for all that mercury and arsenic "fallout" that has now been gently sprinkled all over the surface of the earth to recede back into the depths from whence it came?
Paul said…
Love a lively debate...


As I said, you can't afford to build
enough to matter in time.

Re: those economists: Read Standard & Poors Jan. 9, 2006 report. Industry credit rating is going to take a serious beating if and when they venture back into this new construction quagmire even with the $13 billion in the Energy Bill that still has to get through approps. That's all about those "heart attacks" that former Dominion Nuclear CEO Thomas Capps has warned about, if the announcement was made today.

Enough in time:
Even to make a dent in carbon emissions, worldwide industry would have to come up with 20-35 gigawatts in the next 45 years. We figure that amounts to building a new nuke every two weeks starting today.

With an aggressive policy for conservation and energy efficency, as I continue to say on this blog, we can cut 47% of the demand with current advances in residential, commercial and industrial applications and make the jump to renewable energy technologies which are trending to lower costs. Japan has recently announced that the cost of photovoltaic technology is dropping at 10% annually. As with regard to current affordability one has to remember that if you include the construction and financing costs for the current fleet of nuclear reactors they are not affordable either.

The cost of nuclear is trending, surprise surprise, more and more expensive. Not counting the hidden costs and dangerous cost saving measures. First Energy just admitted that they put the financial interests ahead of safety to compensate for this trend.

Is my mantra gettingy through, yet?

Germany is setting the pace by phasing out nuclear and phasing in renewables, efficiency and conservation for its cities.

US energy policy should getting moving in the right direction.
Time is wasting.

Paul, NIRS
David Bradish said…

I disagree with you on affordability but we'll just have to wait and see over the next 10-15 years what happens.

During that time we will be testing a new licensing process where the licensee will receive a combined construction and operating license. This should help eliminate many of the delays that occurred in the first round of building in the 70's and 80's. Once the COL license is issued, it should take 4-5 years to build the plant and then flip the switch and turn it on. At the same time, investors' money won't be spent yet until construction begins. The license is already issued before construction so delays should be minimal.

You could help with the process by bringing your claims to the table during the licensing process. But when it is under construction you won't be able to do anything.

One last thing, your math is way off with how much nuclear can be built in the next 45 years.

"Even to make a dent in carbon emissions, worldwide industry would have to come up with 20-35 gigawatts in the next 45 years. We figure that amounts to building a new nuke every two weeks starting today."

You must be getting terawatts and gigawatts mixed up. The average nuke plant is 1,000 MW. That is 1 GW if you recall high school math. So 20-35 GW are 20-35 nuclear plants. We figure that comes out to 1 plant every couple of years for the 45 year time frame you suggest. Not every two weeks.

Right now there are 103 nuke plants at about 100 GW. You do the math that is roughly 1 GW per plant. That 100 GW which are currently operating were built in a 30 year time frame. There are 9 companies planning to submit 13 COL applications in the next couple of years. That's 13 nuke plants anticipated to come online in the 2015-2020 time frame. Half of what you are claiming we can't build in a 45 year time frame.

That's not good if you can't do that simple of math. Go back to the drawing board and make sure you guys have it right next time.

Mathematician, NEI
David Bradish said…

I apologize for my tone and sarcasm in the previous comment. You do well in discussing the issues and I was a little rude in the response. Debating the issues is what it is about and I got personal. I apologize and look forward to more debates with you!

David, NEI
Jim Hopf said…
Responses to Paul's Points:

The cost of new nuclear plants is not trending upward, it's trending downward. The new plants recently built in the Far East were built on time and on budget, at a cost far lower than the much-delayed plants that were last to come online in the US. We have very strong reasons to believe that the next generation of plants will be significantly cheaper still.

In the '70s and '80s, the worldwide industry built ~400 GW of capacity, over a ~15-20 year period. Thus, we've already performed the feat of building a plant once every ~2 weeks. In the future, we will be more than able to do it again.

All we're talking about is choosing a nuclear plant over a coal plant, most of the time, when one has to build a new baseload plant. Why is this so hard for one to imagine? There is no "limit" on the rate at which plants can be built. All a larger number of plant orders will do is make nuclear even more economic, as it will allow large-scale, assembly line construction.

As far as stock prices, etc..., several utilities have made it amply clear that they intend to build new nuclear plants, and their stocks have actually increased. Also note that Toshiba's stock just soared on the news that it will acquire Westinghouse (despite a very high, 5 billion bid).

And no, it's not that the utilities' formal decision to build has not yet been made (and that their stocks will be dumped when it is). Remember the old Wall St. saying about buying (or selling) on the rumor, not the news? If investors thought nuclear was bad, they would have sold on this "rumor".

This is especially true given how clear it is that the utilities intend to build. They're even announcing site selections! And BTW, even though DOE is kicking in 50%, do you really think these utilities would be spending hundreds of millions of dollars of their own money on COLs if they didn't intend to build? Wall St. knows this.

As I've said before, the Dominion CEO's statements (made just before the Energy Bill was passed) were posturing, in order to try and get even more subsidies put in the bill. He succeeded. Before the bill was passed, more subsidies were added, perhaps in response to his remarks/threats. The moment the bill was passed, Dominion RUSHED out of the "gate", immediately announcing that they were starting work on their COL application, in order to be "first in the door".

In any event, the fact is that several plants WILL be built in the 2010-2015 time frame, as the subsidies in the bill were far more than enough. At that point, we will see how the "experiment" went, and we will have a good idea of what a nuclear plant costs. Then we will not have to have this discussion anymore, one way or another.

Although aggressive conservation measures can greatly reduce the rate of growth in energy demand, no serious energy expert believes that it will ever fall. Few believe that renewables can provide most of our energy needs for the foreseeable future, although their role will grow dramatically. The primary limit is not economics but intermittantcy. Even in terms of raw economics, solar has a very long way to go before it is as cheap as nuclear. As the technologies mature, the rate of (further) progress will slow, and they may never match nuclear in terms of cost. The cost of wind is at best about equal to nuclear, with wind meing intermittant.

Meanwhile, nuclear is already cheaper than gas, at today's gas prices (which are unlikely to ever go down much). Nuclear would also be cheaper than coal if coal were held to the same public health risk standards OR if any kind of hard limit on CO2 emissions were imposed.
David Bradish said…
Right now there are 14 units planned to be built in the next 10-15 years. 10 COL applications planning to be submitted in the 2007-2008 time period with the option of building up to two reactors per application. There are 3 ESPs under review with another 2 under development.

The Energy Bill only provides subsidies for the first 6,000 MW which was to jumpstart nuclear plants. And it definetly did!

Here's our link on the info:

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