An article in the New York Times today (August 20) by Eduardo Porter titled “Coming Full Circle in Energy, to Nuclear” looks at the critical need to finding a viable energy source which will be able to replace the enormous amount of energy that is currently being produced primarily by natural gas and coal.
With the aftereffects of the 2011 Fukushima disaster still making news around the globe, many of those most concerned about climate catastrophe are seriously promoting nuclear fission as the most effective way to meet the energy demands of an ever modernizing world while combating climate change by reducing carbon emissions.
The United States Energy Information Administration forecasts that global energy consumption will grow 56 percent between now and 2040. Almost 80 percent of that energy demand will be satisfied by fossil fuels. Under this assumption, carbon emissions would rise to 45 billion tons a year in 2040, from 32 billion in 2011, and the world would blow past its carbon ceiling in fewer than 25 years.
An analysis of power generation in 21 countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Energy Agency projected that even if the world were to impose a tax of $30 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, neither wind nor solar could outcompete gas and coal.
A new generation of nuclear power, by contrast, is potentially the cheapest energy source of all.
The study projected that the typical nuclear generator in North America could produce power at $50 to $75 per megawatt/hour, depending on assumptions about construction costs and interest rates, against $70 to $80 for coal-fueled power. Wind-powered electricity would cost from $60 to $90, but there are limits to how much it can be scaled up. A megawatt/hour of solar power still costs in the hundreds.
The study concluded that nuclear power would prove even more competitive in Asia and Europe.
Most mainstream analyses I have seen do not see a significant role for renewables (solar, wind, geothermal) in reducing the amount carbon produced in the near to medium term. Porter states that currently only 6 percent of US energy comes from renewables — most of which is hydroelectric plants. Of course most mainstream projections do not figure in the possibility of E-Cat or similar LENR technology which, I believe, could change these projections significantly.
I expect that those who are proposing ‘new nuclear’ as the best solution are fully aware how concerned many people are about its safety risks. My understanding is that new designs are far safer than some of the earlier plants — but even then, there are risks when unforseen catastrophes like the Japanese Tsunami can cause such havoc with backup safety plans. My hope is that many of those who are now promoting nuclear as the best of a bad set of energy choices will enthusiastically back LENR when it is demonstrated to be ready both technologically and commercially to step in and take up some of the load.