On October 30, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board holds an evidentiary hearing in Crawford, Nebraska, to hear the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s argument that Crow Butte Resources should not be allowed to expand its in situ uranium mining in Dawes County. The board will also take public comment in a “limited appearance” session on October 28 at Chadron State College.
We may need to tell our Oglala Sioux friends to stand down and let us save the planet.
The grim new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says, among other things, that if the globe’s dominant species, whose distinguishing trait now appears to be its capacity for denial, does nothing to bend the curve of anthropogenic climate change, twice as many species lose over half of their habitat, twice as much fishery output may be lost, twice as much ecosystem may transform (do you want to roll the dice that South Dakota becomes scrubland or swamp?), and several hundred million more people may be susceptible to poverty.
Grist summarizes the kitchen-sink policy actions we’ll need to take just to reduce the damage of our decades of mostly heedless burning of fossil fuels and emphasizes that we’ll all have to give up something to save the planet:
…If we want to prevent the likely consequences of climate change — food shortages, forest fires, and mass extinctions — we’ll need to deploy the popular solutions as well as the some of the unpopular ones, the report concludes.
That means turning off coal plants and building lots of renewables, but also devoting more acres to growing biofuels. It means reducing consumption (fly less, drive less, and eat less meat) but also increasing our use of nuclear power.
The danger is so great, in other words, that the IPCC’s team of 91 scientists and policy experts suggest we consider all of the above. Whatever works. They came up with 90 different mixes of solutions that would keep warming limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but none of them work without biofuels, atomic energy, and reigning in consumerism [Nathanael Johnson, “The U.N.’s Climate Report Has Something to Piss Everyone Off,” Grist, 2018.10.09].
Looks like I’d better keep my computer screen dim, even when plugged in.
The IPCC identifies various downsides to nuclear power, including ongoing risk of nuclear arms proliferation, local thermal pollution of water used for colling nuclear power plants, legacy cost of waste and abandoned reactors, and mixed health impacts:
In spite of the industry’s overall safety track record, a non‐negligible risk for accidents in nuclear power plants and waste treatment facilities remains. The long‐term storage of nuclear waste is a politically fraught subject, with no large‐scale long‐term storage operational worldwide. Negative impacts from upsteam uranium mining and milling are comparable to those of coal, hence replacing fossil fuel combustion by nuclear power would be neutral in that aspect. Increased occurrence of childhood leukaemia in popoulations living within 5 km of nuclear power plants was identified by some studies, even though a direct causal relation to ionizing radiation could not be established and other studies could not confirm any correlation (low evidence/agreement in this issue) [IPCC, “Chapter 5: Sustainable Development, Poverty Eradication and Reducing Inequalities,” Global Warming of 1.5°C, drafted 2018.05.23, released October 2018].
In return, we get stable baseload power supply, less price volatility, nuclear energy jobs, and a third of the carbon emissions we get from gas power plants and a tenth of what burps forth from coal plants.
On the hopeful side, MIT engineers are moving us closer to graduating from nuclear fission to fusion power:
A class exercise at MIT, aided by industry researchers, has led to an innovative solution to one of the longstanding challenges facing the development of practical fusion power plants: how to get rid of excess heat that would cause structural damage to the plant.
The new solution was made possible by an innovative approach to compact fusion reactors, using high-temperature superconducting magnets. This method formed the basis for a massive new research program launched this year at MIT and the creation of an independent startup company to develop the concept. The new design, unlike that of typical fusion plants, would make it possible to open the device’s internal chamber and replace critical components; this capability is essential for the newly proposed heat-draining mechanism [David L. Chandler, “A New Path to Solving a Longstanding Fusion Challenger,” MIT News, 2018.10.09].
The MIT researcher call their design “advanced, robust, and compact”—ARC reactors, just like Iron Man has.
But let’s not think superheroes are going to save us. The immediate solutions will be the technologies we have in hand—nuclear plants, biofuels, energy efficiency—plus a lot of sacrifice—specifically, buying less stuff, driving fewer miles, and accepting some net declines in GDP… with maybe a few more uranium mines and borehole disposal sites.