Mark Jacobson to James Hansen: Nukes Are Not Needed to Solve World's Climate Crisis
[Editor's note: On Dec. 29, former NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen wrote a piece on advancing nuclear energy to help address climate change and air pollution. The article below, by Stanford professor Mark Jacobson, provides a response to Hansen's comments.]
Comment 1 by Dr. James Hansen:
The urgency of expanding clean energy implies that nuclear power, presently the largest source of carbon-free energy and historically the clean-energy source of fastest scale-up, likely must play an important role in meeting needs for dispatchable electric power, carbon-neutral fuels and fresh water.
Nuclear is an opportunity cost relative to clean, renewable wind, water and solar energy because of
a. the significant lag time between planning and operation of a nuclear plant relative to a wind, solar, or geothermal plant;
b. higher carbon emissions of nuclear per unit energy; and
c. nuclear weapons proliferation risks, meltdown risks, waste disposal risks, and uranium mining risks. As such, the only basis for nuclear growth is if 100% wind, water and solar is not possible. However, because the technical feasibility of 100% wind, water and solar across 139 countries and 50 states has been shown to be possible, evidence suggests at this time that a solution can be obtained without nuclear.
The scale-up time for existing nuclear (10-19 years between planning and operation compared with 2-5 years for wind or solar) is too slow to help solve climate problems. Nuclear power requires 10-19 years between planning, permitting, financing and operating in all countries of the world.
This time includes 3.5-6 years to find a site, obtain a permit for the site, and obtain financing for the reactor, 2-3 years for the review and approval of the construction permit, 0.5-1 years between permit approval and issue, and 4-9 years for construction. (Jacobson, Energy and Environmental Science, 2, 148-173, 2009).
On the other hand, onshore wind and solar require an average of 2-5 years. A wind farm takes an average of 1-3 years for siting, purchasing or leasing land, monitoring winds, negotiating a power-purchase agreement and permitting. The construction period for a large wind farm is 1-2 years. A solar photovoltaic or concentrated solar power plant is also 2-5 years. Geothermal requires 3-6 years. (See citations in Jacobson, Energy and Environmental Science, 2, 148-173, 2009).
Nuclear is not carbon free and emits 6-24 times more carbon-dioxide equivalent emissions than wind per unit energy produced over the same 100-year period. Such emissions include those during (a) planning, permitting, constructing, operating, refurbishing and decommissioning a nuclear plant versus a wind turbine and (b) the emissions associated with reducing carbon sequestration in soil by covering the soil with impermeable material or by mining.
Whereas, the emissions associated with constructing, operating and decommissioning a plant are accounted for in the standard lifecycle assessment (LCA), those associated with the timelag between planning and operation and downtime due to refurbishment (OC, opportunity cost emissions) and emissions associated with the loss of carbon from soil, are not.
IPCC (2014) Section 7.8.1 (P. 540) suggests that the range in lifecycle carbon emissions from nuclear is 4-110 g-CO2-eq/kWh: The ranges of harmonized lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions reported in the literature are ... 4-110 gCO2eq/kWh for nuclear power.
The high-end of IPCC (2014) is 40 g-CO2-eq/kWh, higher than the high end of 9-70 g-CO2- eq/kWh provide in Jacobson (Energy and Environmental Science, 2, 148-173, 2009), suggesting the LCA results of Jacobson (2009) are well within the range of accepted norms.
However, when comparing different energy technologies for mitigating climate change, it is essential to account for the full emissions associated with the choice of one technology over the other over a similar period. This necessitates including emissions from the background grid associated with the difference in time-lag between planning and operating one technology versus another, the difference in emissions from the grid during downtime of each plant due to refurbishment, and the emissions associated with covering the soil with impermeable materials in each case.
Table 3 of Jacobson (Energy and Environmental Science, 2, 148-173, 2009) summarizes the opportunity cost emissions of nuclear power (59-106 g-CO2-eq/kWh) relative to wind and solar (0 g-CO2-eq/kWh), since the opportunity cost is taken relative to the generators with the shortest time-lag).
The figures in this document further summarize the comparison of all emissions from nuclear (LCA, OC, soil emissions and others) relative to all wind, water and solar technologies.
The net result of the data in the figures is that nuclear carbon-equivalent emissions per unit energy range from 6-24 times those of wind power, thus they are not zero.
Dr. Hansen argues that nuclear power “must" play an important role in the future. However, there is no scientific basis for this statement and his claim does not address the problems with nuclear power identified by the international community. First, whereas IPCC (2014) suggests that nuclear could play a role, they also imply that a solution can be obtained without nuclear. Specifically, they state that some proposed mitigation options may not be necessary:
IPCC (2014) FAQ 7.2. P. 569. The main mitigation options in the energy supply sector are energy efficiency improvements … use of renewable energy, use of nuclear energy, and carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) … A combination of some, but not necessarily all, of the options is needed.
Second, in the executive summary, IPCC (2014) clearly summarizes significant issues regarding nuclear power that Dr. Hansen does not discuss and that have not been resolved to date. IPCC (2014) states there is “robust evidence and high agreement" regarding these issues:
IPCC (2014) Executive Summary. P. 517. Barriers to and risks associated with an increasing use of nuclear energy include operational risks and the associated safety concerns, uranium mining risks, financial and regulatory risks, unresolved waste management issues, nuclear weapons proliferation concerns, and adverse public opinion (robust evidence, high agreement).
Finally, IPCC (2014) points to several studies that show that large penetrations of clean, renewable energy could do the job pending more grid integration studies:
IPCC (2014) Section 7.6. P. 533. Studies of high variable RE penetration (8 citations, including Delucchi and Jacobson, 2011) and the broader literature (2 citations) suggest that integrating significant RE generation technology is technically feasible, though economic and institutional barriers may hinder uptake … The determination of least-cost portfolios of those options that facilitate the integration of fluctuating power sources is a field of active and ongoing research (citations).
Since the publication of IPCC (2014), Jacobson et al. (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., 112, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1510028112, 2015), found multiple low-cost solutions to the grid integration problem across the 48 contiguous United States when 100% wind, water and solar (WWS) generation for all energy sectors (electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, industry) was combined with low-cost storage, demand-response and hydrogen production. Roadmaps were subsequently developed for 139 countries. In sum, if 100% wind, water, solar works for each state and country as suggested in these studies, there appears to be no need for the growth in nuclear power. Because of the significant lead time, lesser carbon benefit, weapons proliferation risk, meltdown risk, waste risk and uranium mining risk, nuclear appears to be an opportunity cost relative to clean, renewable energy.
Comment 2 by Hansen:
Nuclear power will need to complement renewable energies, providing sufficient baseload electric power to help address the challenge of replacing energy presently obtained from fossil fuels.
At high penetrations of intermittent renewables, baseload power becomes more expensive and more difficult to complement renewables. This effect is summarized in IPCC (2014), Section 188.8.131.52, P. 534, which states, …high shares of variable RE power, for example, may not be ideally complemented by nuclear, CCS, and CHP plants (without heat storage).
Comment 3 by Hansen:
Several blatant falsehoods about nuclear power were repeated in that session (AGU, December 2015), including that (1) nuclear power has a large carbon footprint (it is actually as low as that of renewables, and it is even lower with advanced generation nuclear power), (2) nuclear power is a slow way to decarbonize (in fact all of the fastest decarbonizations in history occurred via nuclear power, (3) nuclear power gets inordinate subsidies (in fact renewable subsidies dwarf nuclear subsidies).
Response 3a: Regarding (1) carbon footprint, see Response 1b.
Response 3b: Regarding (2) slow decarbonization by nuclear, see Response 1a.
Response 3c: Regarding (3) subsidies, IPCC (2014) states the following about nuclear: IPCC (2014) Section 7.12.4. P. 567. Nuclear has received significant support in many countries … IPCC (2014) Section 7.8.2. P. 542. Without support from governments, investments in new nuclear power plants are currently generally not economically attractive within liberalized markets …
Comment 4 by Hansen:
Referring to Jacobson et al. (Energy and Environmental Sciences, 8, 2093-2117, 2015). Not included in this chart is the “water" portion of this proposed renewable power installation: it is equivalent to 50 Hoover dams, one for each state; although the proposition is to do this with a larger number of smaller dams, it is not clear that these dams would be welcomed by all environmentalists.
Response: This statement is incorrect. Table 2 of Jacobson et al. (2015), shows that the 50-state roadmaps call for only 3 new conventional hydroelectric plants (thus dams), not 50, and they are all proposed for Alaska (thus none in the 48 contiguous states). The ones in Alaska can also be substituted for wind. The 48-contiguous-state grid integration study, (Jacobson et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., 112, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1510028112, 2015), similarly calls for zero new hydroelectric dams in these states. It does allow for pumped hydroelectric storage facilities that are existing plus those with pending licenses and preliminary and pending preliminary permits, but many of these exist already and they are nothing like Hoover Dam.
Similarly, the 139 country 100% wind, water, solar roadmaps, propose zero new conventional hydroelectric dams for any country. The efficiency of existing hydroelectric plants is proposed to increase, and existing plus planned pumped hydroelectric will also be used.
Delucchi, M.Z., and M.Z. Jacobson, Providing all global energy with wind, water and solar power, Part II: Reliability, System and Transmission Costs, and Policies, Energy Policy, 39, 1170-1190, doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2010.11.045, 2011.
IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) full citation: Bruckner T., I.A. Bashmakov, Y. Mulugetta, H. Chum, A. de la Vega Navarro, J. Edmonds, A. Faaij, B. Fungtammasan, A. Garg, E. Hertwich, D. Honnery, D. Infield, M. Kainuma, S. Khennas, S. Kim, H.B. Nimir, K. Riahi, N. Strachan, R. Wiser, and X. Zhang, 2014: Energy Systems. In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press,Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
Jacobson, M.Z., Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security, Energy & Environmental Science, 2, 148-173, doi:10.1039/b809990c, 2009.
Jacobson, M.Z., M.A. Delucchi, G. Bazouin, Z.A.F. Bauer, C.C. Heavey, E. Fisher, S. B. Morris, D.J.Y. Piekutowski, T.A. Vencill, T.W. Yeskoo, 100% clean and renewable wind, water, sunlight (WWS) all-sector energy roadmaps for the 50 United States, Energy and Environmental Sciences, 8, 2093-2117, doi:10.1039/C5EE01283J, 2015.
Jacobson, M.Z., M.A. Delucchi, M.A. Cameron, and B.A. Frew, A low-cost solution to the grid reliability problem with 100% penetration of intermittent wind, water and solar for all purposes, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., 112, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1510028112, 2015.
Jacobson, M.Z., M.A. Delucchi, Z.A.F. Bauer, S.C. Goodman, W.E. Chapman, M.A. Cameron, Alphabetical: C. Bozonnat, L. Chobadi, J.R. Erwin, S.N. Fobi, O.K. Goldstrom, S.H. Harrison, T.M. Kwasnik, J. Liu, J. Lo, C.J. Yi, S.B. Morris, K.R. Moy, P.L. O'Neill, S. Redfern, R. Schucker, M.A. Sontag, J. Wang, E. Weiner and A.S. Yachanin, 100% clean and renewable wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) all-sector energy roadmaps for 139 countries of the world, 2015.
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Fireworks Can Trigger Flashbacks<p>Hyperarousal, a core component of PTSD, occurs when a person is hyper-alert to any sign of threat – constantly on edge, easily startled and continuously screening the environment.</p><p>Imagine, for instance, stepping down the stairs in the dark after hearing a noise; you're worried an intruder might be downstairs. Then a totally unpredictable loud sound explodes right outside your window.</p><p>For people with PTSD, that sound – reminiscent of gunfire, a thunderstorm or a car crash – <a href="https://theconversation.com/veterans-refugees-and-victims-of-war-crimes-are-all-vulnerable-to-ptsd-130144" target="_blank">can cause</a> a panic attack or trigger flashbacks, a sensory experience that makes it seem as if the old trauma is happening here and now. Flashbacks can be so severe that combat veterans may suddenly drop to the ground, the same way they would when an explosion took place in combat. Later, the experience can trigger nightmares, insomnia or worsening of other PTSD symptoms.</p><p>Those of us who set off fireworks need to ask ourselves: Are those few minutes of fun worth the hours, days, or weeks of torment that will begin for some of our friends and neighbors – including many who put their lives on the line to protect us?</p>
Who Else Is Affected?<p>Millions of others, though not diagnosed with PTSD, may similarly be affected by fireworks. <a href="https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics" target="_blank">One in five Americans</a> have an anxiety disorder, many with symptoms of hyperarousal. Also impacted are those with autism or developmental disabilities; they find it difficult to cope with the noise, or just the drastic change from life routines. Then there are people who have to work, holiday or not: nurses, physicians and first responders, who have to be up at 4 a.m. for a 30-hour shift.</p><h3>How to Reduce the Negative Impact</h3><p>There are ways to reduce how fireworks affect others:</p><ul><li>For those with PTSD, the unexpected nature of fireworks is probably the worst part. So at least make it as predictable as possible. Do it in designated areas during designated times. Don't explode one, for instance, two hours after the designated time window. And avoid setting them off <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/04/fireworks-ptsd-fourth-of-july-veterans-shooting-survivors" target="_blank">on the 3rd</a>. People are less prepared then.</li><li>If you're aware that a veteran or trauma survivor lives in the neighborhood, move the noise as far as possible from their home and give them prior warning. Consider putting a sign in your front yard noting the time you'll set the fireworks.</li><li>Remember, it doesn't have to be super loud to make it fun. Consider using <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/504964-its-time-for-silent-fireworks" target="_blank">silent fireworks</a>. And you don't have to be the one who lights the fireworks. Simply enjoy watching while your city or township does it safely.</li></ul>
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By Jeff Berardelli
For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world's top climate modeling groups have been "running hot" – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.
International Effort to Evaluate Climate Models<p>For the past 25 years the international community has been evaluating and comparing the world's most sophisticated climate models produced by various teams at universities, research centers, and government agencies. The effort is organized by the World Climate Research Programme under the United Nations World Meteorological Organization.</p><p>Climate models are complicated computer programs composed of millions of lines of code that calculate the physical properties and interactions between the main climate forces like the atmosphere, oceans, and solar input. But models also go a lot further, incorporating other systems like ice sheets, forests, and the biosphere, to name a few. The models are then used to simulate the real-world climate system and project how certain changes, like added pollution or land-use changes, will alter the climate.</p><p>Every few years there is a new comprehensive international evaluation called the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP). In the sixth such effort, known as CMIP6 and now under way, experts are reviewing about 100 models.</p><p>Information gleaned from this effort will act as a scientific foundation for the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) next major assessment report, scheduled for release in 2021. The goal of the report – the sixth in 30 years – is to inform the international community about how much the climate has changed, and, importantly, how much change can be expected in coming decades.</p>
A Conundrum Emerges<p>Over the past year, the CMIP6 collection of models being reviewed threw researchers an unexpected curveball: a significant number of the climate model runs showed substantially more global warming than previous model versions had projected. If accurate, the international climate goals would be nearly impossible to achieve, and there would be significantly more extreme impacts worldwide.</p><p>A foundational experiment in every report addresses "sensitivity": If you double levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) that were in the air before the Industrial Revolution, how much warming do the models show? This doubling is not expected for a few more decades, but it is a quick way to communicate the critical role of greenhouse gases in changing the climate.</p><p>The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 35% since the 1800s because of the burning of fossil fuels. As a result, global temperatures have already increased by more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit.</p><p>In the first IPCC assessment report, published in 1990, the answer to that question about the impact of doubling carbon dioxide gave a fairly wide range of results – between 2.7-8 degrees F of global warming. Since then, four more assessments issued six to seven years apart reached nearly the exact same conclusion on sensitivity.</p><p>But that sensitivity may, for the first time, change significantly in next year's assessment. Why? Because starting last year, numerous models in the CMIP6 collection displayed even bigger spikes in temperature upon doubling of CO2 concentrations. We're in serious trouble if the climate sensitivity falls in the mid or upper range of the previous assessments. But if the new, higher estimates are correct, the impacts on civilization would be catastrophic.</p>
In the above CarbonBrief interactive visualization, the bars offer a comparison in the range of sensitivity in the CMIP5 models (gray) and CMIP6 models (blue).
New and Encouraging Evidence Is Emerging<p>At first, scientists were uncertain whether the new model runs were on to something, so the international modeling community dug in to produce multiple studies. The results are not yet conclusive, but a gradual collective sigh of relief seems to be materializing.</p><p>"Evidence is emerging from multiple directions that the models which show the greatest warming in the CMIP6 ensemble are likely too warm," explains Dr. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.</p><p>For example, <a href="https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2020-23/" target="_blank">a study</a> released April 28 evaluated the past performance of the models making up the CMIP6 ensemble. The team assigned weights to each model based upon historical performance of their warming projections, weighing the poorer performing models less. By doing so, both the mean warming and the range of warming scenarios in the CMIP6 ensemble decreased, meaning the warmest models were the ones with weaker historical performance. This result supports a finding that a subset of the models are too warm.</p><p>That conclusion is supported by another new study evaluating one particular model – the Community Earth System Model (CESM2) – that showed greater warming. Using that model, the researchers simulated the climate in the early Eocene era, about 50 million years ago, when rainforests thrived in the Arctic and Antarctic. The CESM2 simulated a historical climate that seems way too warm compared with what is known about that era from geological data, indicating that the model is likely also too warm in its future projections.</p><p>Two other recent studies of the CMIP6 models being evaluated use clever analysis methods to <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.earth-syst-dynam-discuss.net/esd-2019-86/&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNHYwFB-1KqndGfJ4sXdrrm9DpbLaQ" target="_blank">narrow the range</a> of future warming projections and also <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/12/eaaz9549&sa=D&ust=1589209938203000&usg=AFQjCNEhKY1YZ19qgjSZ_hJM14JmzqXOXw" target="_blank">reduce the projected warming</a> of the CMIP6 models by 10 to 15%.</p><p>Through the intensive research spurred by the CMIP6 climate-sensitivity curveball, scientists have been able to turn a confounding challenge into a confidence builder, providing even greater certainty than they had before in both the abilities of the climate science community and in the computer models used. Moreover, the experience has helped unearth uncertainties remaining in the modeling process.</p><p>Experts conclude much of this uncertainty probably lies in the complexity of clouds. "We have been looking as a community at why the models with greater warming are doing what they are doing – and it's tied to cloud feedbacks in the southern mid-latitudes mostly," explains Schmidt.</p><p>In fact, <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/26/eaba1981" target="_blank">a new study</a> addressing the increased sensitivity was published in Science Advances stating, "Cloud feedbacks and cloud-aerosol interactions are the most likely contributors to the high values and increased range of ECS [sensitivity] in CMIP6."</p>
Understanding the Complexity of Clouds<p>It's long been known in climate modeling circles that cloud processes and interactions are a potential weak link for climate modeling. That reality has been brought front and center by the urgent challenges posed during this CMIP6 evaluation period, but the current evaluation of models also provides an opportunity for discovery and improvement.</p><p>Cloud complexity comes from the reality that clouds have a multitude of sizes, altitudes, and textures. Some clouds cool Earth by providing shade, reflecting sunlight back into space. Others act like a blanket, trapping heat and warming the world.</p><p>Given that about <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/icesat_light.html" target="_blank">70% of the globe</a> is covered by clouds at any given time, it's no surprise that they play an integral role in regulating the climate. The challenge is to figure out which types of clouds will increase, which will decrease, and what the net effect will be on cooling or warming as the climate changes.</p><p><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-019-0310-1" target="_blank">One study</a> last year reached an alarming conclusion: Left unchecked, the release of CO2 into the atmosphere may lead to a tipping point where shallow low clouds disappear – leading to runaway, catastrophic warming of nearly 15 degrees F. While scientists see that outcome as only a remote possibility, it drives home the urgent need to better understand clouds.</p><p>"We have a saying at NOAA: It isn't rocket science – it's much, much harder than that," quips Dr. Chris Fairall, ATOMIC's lead investigator. "One of the major problems for modeling is there is not clean separation of scales." The photo below is one that Fairall took from the NOAA P-3 aircraft.</p>
Investigating the Secrets of Clouds<p>To address the urgent question about the dynamics and role of clouds in a warming world, NOAA and European partners launched their ongoing research effort unprecedented in scale. The U.S. contribution, ATOMIC – short for Atlantic Tradewind Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Interaction Campaign – is an international science mission that was featured recently on "<a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/video/study-aims-to-examine-links-between-climate-change-and-clouds/" target="_blank">CBS This Morning: Saturday</a>."</p>
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