Connaughton’s nuclear litmus test for climate change seriousnessJuly 7, 2008 at 8:22 am | Posted in Climate change, Environment, Germany, Nuclear power, United States | 5 Comments
Tags: Climate change, Connaughton, Germany, Litmus test, Nuclear power, Serious or not?, United States
My friends in Germany may find this pertinent question and answer (American opinion) from today’s Press Briefing by James Connaughton, Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality worth reflecting on:
MR. CONNAUGHTON: … The U.S. is bringing to that table more than $4 billion annually in technology, research and development spending in the clean energy space. We are bringing to the table this year $42.5 billion of publicly backed loan guarantees to actually get these technologies into the marketplace at commercial scale. And we have invited other countries with similar portfolios to us to make that kind of a public commitment. We’ll see what happens with respect to that, too. Watch for that in the G8 and watch for that in the major economies process.
Q The term “clean energy,” as you used it in that context, does this include nuclear energy, as well? Or is that an extra topic and maybe an extra conflict in the G8?
MR. CONNAUGHTON: When you speak of power generation being the most important area for reducing carbon emissions, the — finding carbon and capture solutions for coal is one piece of the answer. A significant scale-up of nuclear energy is another part of the answer. And a move from relatively small-scale renewables to what we call gigawatt-scale renewables — these are huge renewable power development — is a third part of the solution.*
There is no question, and the IPCC has made this clear in its assessments, that nuclear energy, responsibly developed by countries capable of managing it, is an essential component of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. And so I actually use that as a litmus test for seriousness on climate change. A country that has the capability to responsibly use nuclear energy in my view has a responsibility to do so, if we want to get serious about not just cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but also improving public health through reduced air pollution.
Q So then — one more question — does that mean that Germany now is not serious in fighting climate change?
MR. CONNAUGHTON: I’ve given my views on — any country that has the capacity and capability of using nuclear if you want to make — achieve deep cuts in emissions should use it. I will give you the example. We have to — in order to — let’s use the idea of cutting emissions in half. In order to cut emissions in half, if you take the trajectory of countries today, you’re talking about avoiding more than what’s called 30 gigatons of emissions — gigatons. These are billions of tons of emissions that will otherwise go up through coal use and other fossil fuel use.
Well, let me give you an example. Thirty gigatons is what we have to try to cut or more. Well, one gigaton reduced is 136 nuclear power plants. That’s one-third of the current number of nuclear power plants. Just to increase one gigaton, you need 136 new nuclear power plants. The globe is not on path to do that much today. And so what we really have to look forward to is a significant scale-up beyond that. And that’s just to get a couple gigatons reduced. We need to do the same with renewable power. We need several gigatons reduced renewable power, but that requires going from several tens of thousands of windmills globally to, you know, perhaps a couple of million.
And so we have to understand the scale of what we need to do if we’re serious about deep cuts. Efficiency will get us a piece of it, but even if efficiency gets us 20 to 30 percent — efficiency and conservation — well, that still leaves 70 percent. So you still have to find carbon capture and storage solution, or these zero-emission solutions like nuclear power if you want to make real progress.
* Update: I added in this grey text so you can see the nuclear reference with respect to investment in “clean energy”, although, Connaughton did not answer the question about “clean energy” using those words directly 😉