From one look at how the world could work to constrain greenhouse gases over the long-term, look no further then Princeton University’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative. Instead of falling back on the idea of the one silver bullet to reduce GHGs, two professors, Robert Socolow, and Stephen Pacala, have broken the task into seven wedges.
Here's a more complete explanation from ScienceMag (subscription required):
So what are the wedges? Check the table below:And low and behold. What’s Option 9?....Nuclear Fission.
The Stabilization Triangle
We idealize the 50-year emissions reductions as a perfect triangle in Fig. 1B. Stabilization is represented by a "flat" trajectory of fossil fuel emissions at 7 GtC/year, and business as usual is represented by a straight-line "ramp" trajectory rising to 14 GtC/year in 2054. The "stabilization triangle," located between the flat trajectory and BAU, removes exactly one-third of BAU emissions.
To keep the focus on technologies that have the potential to produce a material difference by 2054, we divide the stabilization triangle into seven equal "wedges." A wedge represents an activity that reduces emissions to the atmosphere that starts at zero today and increases linearly until it accounts for 1 GtC/year of reduced carbon emissions in 50 years. It thus represents a cumulative total of 25 GtC of reduced emissions over 50 years. In this paper, to "solve the carbon and climate problem over the next half-century" means to deploy the technologies and/or lifestyle changes necessary to fill all seven wedges of the stabilization triangle.
Option 9: Nuclear fission. On the basis of the Option 5 estimates, a wedge of nuclear electricity would displace 700 GW of efficient baseload coal capacity in 2054. This would require 700 GW of nuclear power with the same 90% capacity factor assumed for the coal plants, or about twice the nuclear capacity currently deployed. The global pace of nuclear power plant construction from 1975 to 1990 would yield a wedge, if it continued for 50 years. Substantial expansion in nuclear power requires restoration of public confidence in safety and waste disposal, and international security agreements governing uranium enrichment and plutonium recycling.Did you read that? “The global pace of nuclear power plant construction from 1975 to 1990 would yield a wedge, if it continued for 50 years.” Meaning we’ve done it before and we can do it again.
Each time I read their ideas I get pumped to go out and promote these solutions. I want everyone from all industries (renewables, fossils, nuclear, tree huggers, etc.) to get together and focus on their contribution for reducing carbon.
Back in the real world though, that thought becomes more a pipe dream than a reality. What’s worse, a former NRC commissioner says nuclear can’t scale to the task while all other options can. I wonder if he has studied how much renewable capacity it takes to fill a wedge. According to the table above, it would take 50 times the current capacity of wind, 700 times for PV and 100 times for biomass. And only three times the current capacity for nuclear. Hmmm. I wonder which is more realistic. I also wonder how many people know that nuclear avoids about half a wedge in the world right now.
If anyone gets anything out of this concept it should be that not one option is going to solve our climate change situation. Also, if you hear someone saying that renewables or nuclear or sequestration are going to solve climate change by themselves, then I suggest you quit listening.
For other bloggers’ takes on the Wedge Concept, check out We Support Lee and A Musing Environment. Also don’t forget to review Princeton’s wedge game.