First, nuclear energy needs to compete with fossil fuels, not renewables like wind or solar. This point rests on the basic observation that the only way to replace fossil fuels is to replace fossil fuels. This point also rests on the idea that the path toward sustainable energy requires more nuclear energy than anything else, a conclusion that seems to be supported by the work of David Mackay .
It is useless to develop new plant designs if they will be too expensive for utilities to purchase.
Most working American reactors were commissioned before 1975. Investing in nuclear is done over decades. Generations in fact: one builds nuclear plants for one’s grandchildren. Intergenerational justice is involved: if you invest money now for your grand kids, that’s less money for your kids. To estimate that kind of investments, discount rates matter. Institutional investors must step in and play harder than GRRROWTH enthusiasts usually promote.
(A remarkable corrolary is that the more you crank discount rates, the more nuclear becomes costly. So there’s a crucial tension between the pseudo-modern and the lukewarm playbooks. At least Richie’s or Matt King Coal’s version of it.)
Third, even if in small dose can be beneficial, hippie punching is a path of least resistance that can’t stand alone. It won’t reduce carbon emissions, and amounts to the same kind of scapegoating that contains any populist playbook. It’s a distraction, like if APPL started to whine about Linux. The difference of scale shows it’d be tilting at windmills. The alpha to beat is fossil fuels.
Fourth, the main financial obstacle to reduce fossil fuels are subsidies. According to Coady et al 2017, we’re talking about a $5 trillion dollars ballpark worldwide. That’s more than 5% of the global GDP. This is lightyears away from what we give solar and wind. To give you an idea of what we can do with that much money, 0.3% of the world’s 2014 income would be enough to achieve the Millenium development hunger target.
In short, divestment from fossil fuels will be required, whether we go nuclear or not. Hippies are winning more than their caricature make it seems. They at least picked to right target, i.e. fossil fuels, something that still escapes the BTI guys, whose proposition, I duly submit, has been confuted with this note.
I’m all for going nuclear. I live in Canada. Many uranium bases belong to us. I’ve been waiting for a decade now to go long on uranium. But I’m no dummy – I won’t invest in a market that low energy prices could kill in a whim just because gaz guzzlers decide to keep subsidizing fossil fuels.
Kevin Anderson suggests that we’d need 4000 new nuclear plants by 2050 to meet 25% of our total energy consumption. We are building 65. Going nuclear means regulating the energy market for a long time. That doesn’t imply nationalization, although this is tried, tested, and true. I suppose market-based solutions exist: the trick is to make sure corporations are kept in check.
To paraphrase Scott Denning, if Freedom Fighters shirk their responsibility, decisions will be made without them. They had all the time to make themselves heard. So much the worse if they waste everyone’s time punching hippies and tilting at windmills.
And that’s the memo.
: This claim has been revised on 2017-11-29 (17:11 EDT), based on BBD’s suggestions in the comments.