Last week, Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends and advisor to the European Union on climate change and energy security, was a guest on The Diane Rehm Show on NPR. He was on to discuss his new book “The Third Industrial Revolution.”
If Rifkin’s name sounds familiar, it ought to, as he has more or less been in the business of bashing science and technology since he came on the scene in 1977. It was that year that Rifkin’s book, “Who Should Play God?” was published. A broadside against biotechnology, the book more or less set the tone for the rest of his career, one where Rifkin can charitably be described as one of the nation’s leading luddites.
In the interview, Rifkin outlined five key pillars focused on the merger between renewable energy and Internet technologies that he believes will help the world wean itself from fossil fuels and become less susceptible to the pendulum swing of economic downturns.
It sounds like it could be a promising plan. However, where does he see nuclear energy fitting into the equation? I’m guessing you won’t be surprised that he doesn’t think that the nation’s leading source of carbon-free energy has any place at all in his revolution.
I think nuclear’s—it’s really over. I think Fukushima was just the last point of the departure.
A startling statement—but coming from a guy who is convinced that Germany is leading the way in this new revolution—not surprising. (I guess he didn’t read our blog post from July that discusses the extra cost to Germany’s electricity consumers if the country phases out nuclear energy.)
He goes on to give us other “business reasons” why it’s over.
The problem is this. There’s about 400 nuclear power plants in the world. They’re very old. They only make up 6 percent of our energy mix, that’s all.
Fact check: In 2010, nuclear plants worldwide provided 13.5 percent of the world’s electricity production.
But our scientific community says to have a minimum impact on climate change, you’d have to have 20 percent nuclear in the mix of energy. That means you’d have to have 4,000 nuclear power plants. That means you have to replace the existing 400 and build three nuclear power plants every 30 days for the next 60 years. That’s not going to happen.
So, we need to tear down all operating nuclear plants to build new ones? That would be an unnecessary overhaul of reliable energy infrastructure.
“Old” nuclear plants are still held to the same strict regulatory standards as newly constructed ones, and, with continued improvements in technology and operations, these nuclear plants have proven to become even safer and more efficient. For example, more than 6,000 megawatts of power uprates have been approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission since 1977, which is the equivalent of adding another five to six nuclear reactors to the nation’s power grid.
Rifkin added yet another “business reason” to abandon nuclear:
We spent $8 billion to build that fail-safe vault at Yucca Mountain to put the nuclear material in. We can’t open it up because it’s already leaking.
Because it’s already leaking?! Correction: Because politics trumped science.
The Yucca Mountain repository is one of the most studied places on earth with more than 20 years of scientific research and analysis. Although the Bush administration in 2008 submitted to the NRC a license application to develop the site, a year later, the Obama administration withdrew the application and set up a blue ribbon commission to provide other recommendations.
It seems to me that some things just don’t add up in Rifkin’s plan.