Archive for November 2008

November 25, 2008

Joe Bonometti@Google on the LFTR

I am from the government…

November 19, 2008

And I am here to help…this time for real

The dreaded government official might now be necessary to buttress a crucial factor in the energy crisis- nuclear power. In a sad bit of collateral damage, it seems the global financial crisis might stem the growth of nuclear power- never too encouraging and strong to begin with- throughout the world and especially the US. As a Nature article reports:

The growing difficulties in attracting investment may prevent nuclear power from playing a significant role in the fight against climate change. A global energy outlook published on 12 November by the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization that guides energy policy, called for an 80% increase in the world’s current nuclear capacity by 2030 in order to keep global carbon dioxide levels from rising above 450 parts per million. That would require bringing some 25 new reactors online every year between now and 2030, five times the current rate of construction, according to Matthew Bunn, a nuclear-policy expert at Harvard University. Given the bleak financial outlook and the limited production capabilities of power-plant vendors, “nuclear can no longer support climate-change needs and targets”, he says.

This is particularly sad given the new nuclear power plant designs that are based on higher efficiency, safety, economy and better proliferation resistance. Britain has for example decided to wisely double its nuclear power capacity with the goal of meeting an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases. But the financial meltdown has made some wary of this target.

The way I see this, it’s pretty clear that some major policy initiatives will have to be axed because of the financial crisis. However, the credit crunch should clearly affect government funding initiatives less than private funding ones. For example, in China nuclear power generation is slated to be quadrupled through government spending, and this won’t be affected as much.

Thus, with government funding for nuclear now becoming crucial, the real question is which policy initiatives the government should ax, if any. It would a very big folly as I see it to stifle nuclear and fund renewables instead. In fact what I fear is that because of the poor public perception of nuclear, private investors as well as the government might actually come forward and fund renewables, thus propelling the country and the world down a path that would not promise any significant returns in the crucial next decade for mitigating climate change and providing higher energy density. After that it might be too late.

To me the solution looks simple, even if non-trivial to implement; if the government pot of money is small but the private pot of money is smaller, the government needs to prioritized its spending, make sure that nuclear gets its fair share of investment. It’s up to the government now who can really help. This would be a pretty good test for the energy policy of the Obama administration. That should make the choice of energy secretary even more important and anticipated.