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Yet analysis of the plans of 195 governments that signed up to the Paris agreement, each with their own individual schemes on how to reduce national carbon emissions, show that nearly all of them exclude nuclear power.
Only a few big players—China, Russia, India, South Korea and the United Kingdom—still want an extensive program of new–build reactors.
To try to understand why this is so the U.S.-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists asked eight experts in the field to look at the future of nuclear power in the context of climate change.
One believed that large-scale new-build nuclear power “could and should” be used to combat climate change and another thought nuclear could play a role, although a small one. The rest thought new nuclear stations were too expensive, too slow to construct and had too many inherent disadvantages to compete with renewables.
Industry in Distress
Amory Lovins, co-founder and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, produced a devastating analysis saying that the slow-motion decline of the nuclear industry was simply down to the lack of a business case.
The average nuclear reactor, he wrote, was now 29 years old and the percentage of global electricity generated continued to fall from a peak of 17.6 percent in 1996 to 10.8 percent in 2014. “Financial distress stalks the industry,” wrote Lovins.
Lovins says nuclear power now costs several times more than wind or solar energy and is so far behind in cost and building time that it could never catch up.
The full details of what he and other experts said are on the Bulletin’s site, with some of their comments below.
Professor Jeff Terry, of the physics department at Illinois Institute of Technology, was the greatest enthusiast for new nuclear build: "Nuclear energy is a reliable, low carbon dioxide source of electricity that can and should be used to combat climate change."
“China, India, Russia and South Korea are all building nuclear plants both at home and in other countries. Therefore, nuclear energy will continue to play a role in mitigating the effects of climate change for the next 80 years," Terry said.
“Why are these countries turning to nuclear energy? Mainly due to the versatility and stability of nuclear generation. Nuclear power has the highest capacity factor of any low carbon dioxide-emitting power source.”
Another potential enthusiast was Seth Grae, president and CEO of the Lightbridge Corporation, who believes light water nuclear reactors “must increase globally” if the world is to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement.
However, new technologies that could have a major impact on decarbonizing global electricity generation, including advances such as grid-level electricity storage, more efficient wind turbines and new types of nuclear reactors, are not being developed fast enough, he argues.
"Unfortunately, these technologies are not economically competitive enough for utilities to deploy at a large enough scale to prevent catastrophic climate change,” Grae writes. ”Sufficient improvement in economic competitiveness might not be achieved in time to prevent the worst effects of climate change.”
M.V. Ramana, of the Nuclear Futures Laboratory and the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, was dismissive. “There are still some who hope that nuclear power will magically undergo a massive expansion within a relatively short period of time."
”The evidence so far suggests that this is a false hope, one that is best abandoned if we are to deal with climate change with the seriousness the problem demands.”
Peter Bradford, adjunct professor at Vermont Law School and former Nuclear Regulatory Commission member, agreed: “Climate change, so urgent and so seemingly intractable, has become the last refuge of nuclear charlatans throughout the Western world.”
He said James Hansen, perhaps the most visible of the climate scientists who advocate heavy reliance on breeder or other innovative reactor designs, did so without paying any attention to their track record of long and costly failure.
Hui Zhang, physicist and senior research associate at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said China had a big program to build nuclear power stations. But they currently generated only 1 percent of the nation’s huge electricity needs and even if the target of 110 power reactors by 2030 were achieved, they would produce only 5 percent.
“While a fleet of nuclear reactors with 130 GWe by 2030 would represent a substantial expansion (more than four times China’s current capacity of 30 GWe and more than the current U.S. capacity of about 100 GWe), it would account for only 5 percent of total energy use in the country and would constitute just one quarter of the non-fossil energy needed," Zhang said.
“In practice, the total energy use will likely be higher than the planned cap, so the share of nuclear power in the overall energy mix would be even less.
“Eventually, nuclear power is important if China is to address concerns about air pollution and climate change, but it is only one piece of a huge puzzle.”
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By Tom Duszynski
The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.
In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.
How does your body fight off COVID-19?<p>Once a person is exposed the coronavirus, the body starts producing <a href="https://www.mblintl.com/products/what-are-antibodies-mbli/" target="_blank">proteins called antibodies to fight the infection</a>. As these <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/27/serological-tests-reveal-immune-coronavirus/" target="_blank">antibodies start to successfully contain the virus</a> and keep it from replicating in the body, symptoms usually begin to lessen and you start to feel better. Eventually, if all goes well, your immune system will completely destroy all of the virus in your system. A person who was infected with and survived a virus with no long-term health effects or disabilities has "recovered."</p><p>On average, a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 will feel ill for about seven days from the onset of symptoms. Even after symptoms disappear, there still may be small amounts of the virus in a patient's system, and they should stay <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html" target="_blank">isolated for an additional three days</a> to ensure they have truly <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">recovered and are no longer infectious</a>.</p>
What about immunity?<p>In general, once you have recovered from a viral infection, your body will keep cells called lymphocytes in your system. These cells "remember" viruses they've previously seen and can react quickly to fight them off again. If you are exposed to a virus you have already had, your antibodies will likely stop the virus before it starts causing symptoms. <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.5114%2Fceji.2018.77390" target="_blank">You become immune</a>. This is the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27158/" target="_blank">principle behind many vaccines</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, immunity isn't perfect. For many viruses, like mumps, immunity can wane over time, leaving you <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421145747.htm" target="_blank">susceptible to the virus in the future</a>. This is why you need to get revaccinated – those "booster shots" – occasionally: to prompt your immune system to make more antibodies and memory cells.</p><p>Since this coronavirus is so new, scientists still don't know whether people who recover from COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">immune to future infections of the virus</a>. Doctors are finding antibodies in ill and recovered patients, and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html" target="_blank">that indicates the development of immunity</a>. But the question remains how long that immunity will last. Other coronaviruses like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25685" target="_blank">SARS and MERS produce an immune response</a> that will protect a person at least for a short time. I would suspect the same is true of SARS-CoV-2, but the research simply hasn't been done yet to say so definitively.</p>
Why have so few people officially recovered in the US?<p>This is a dangerous virus, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being extremely careful when deciding what it means to recover from COVID-19. Both medical and testing criteria must be met before a person is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html" target="_blank">officially declared recovered</a>.</p><p>Medically, a person must be fever-free without fever-reducing medications for three consecutive days. They must show an improvement in their other symptoms, including reduced coughing and shortness of breath. And it must be at least seven full days <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">since the symptoms began</a>.</p><p>In addition to those requirements, the CDC guidelines say that a person must test negative for the coronavirus twice, with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/care-for-someone.html" target="_blank">tests taken at least 24 hours apart</a>.</p><p>Only then, if both the symptom and testing conditions are met, is a person officially considered recovered by the CDC.</p><p>This second testing requirement is likely why there were so few official recovered cases in the U.S. until late March. Initially, there was a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-test-shortages-face-masks-swabs.html" target="_blank">massive shortage of testing in the U.S.</a> So while many people were certainly recovering over the last few weeks, this could not be officially confirmed. As the country enters the height of the pandemic in the coming weeks, focus is still on <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/hcp/clinical-criteria.html" target="_blank">testing those who are infected</a>, not those who have likely recovered.</p><p>Many more people are being tested now that states and private companies have begun <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/testing-in-us.html" target="_blank">producing and distributing tests</a>. As <a href="https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200406/coronavirus-in-ohio-from-its-rocky-start-testing-for-covid-19-slowly-ramping-up" target="_blank">the number of available tests increases</a> and the pandemic eventually slows in the country, more testing will be available for those who have appeared to recover. As people who have already recovered are tested, the appearance of any new infections will help researchers learn <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/24/we-need-smart-coronavirus-testing-not-just-more-testing/" target="_blank">how long immunity can be expected to last</a>.</p>
Once a person has recovered, what can they do?<p>Knowing whether or not people are immune to COVID-19 after they recover is going to determine what individuals, communities and society at large can do going forward. If scientists can show that recovered patients are immune to the coronavirus, then a person who has recovered could in theory <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/3/30/21186822/immunity-to-covid-19-test-coronavirus-rt-pcr-antibody" target="_blank">help support the health care system</a> by caring for those who are infected.</p><p>Once communities pass the peak of the epidemic, the number of new infections will decline, while the number of <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/china-says-passed-peak-coronavirus-epidemic-covid-19-1491863" target="_blank">recovered people will increase</a>. As these trends continue, the risk of transmission will fall. Once the risk of transmission has fallen enough, community-level isolation and social distancing orders will begin to relax and businesses will start to reopen. Based on what other countries have gone through, it will be <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00154-w" target="_blank">months until the risk of transmission is low</a> in the U.S.</p><p>But before any of this can happen, the U.S. and the world need to make it through the peak of this pandemic. Social distancing works to slow the spread of infectious diseases and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/what-you-can-do.html" target="_blank">is working for COVID-19</a>. Many people will <a href="https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/2019-novel-coronavirus/" target="_blank">need medical help to recover</a>, and social distancing will slow this virus down and give people the best chance to do so.</p>
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