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Escape Velocity

Written By: - Date published: 9:11 am, February 7th, 2021 - 93 comments
Categories: climate change, Economy, energy, Environment, food, global warming, Mining, poverty, science, sustainability, uncategorized - Tags:

In this series so far I’ve examined three of the four terms in the Kaya Identity, population, economic intensity, and energy intensity. It can be conclusively shown that none of these factors can be reduced sufficiently to reduce CO2 emissions to zero – or even close enough to be useful. Let’s return to each one in turn:

Population. All the developed nations now have stable or decreasing populations. It’s only in the underdeveloped regions of Africa where population is still projected to increase this century. Human population will likely reach about 11b mid-century and then decline everywhere very gradually. This in itself will present many novel challenges as our demographic pyramids invert – but for the sake of this discussion we can set that aside.

Economic Intensity. While there is no question some small fraction of humanity engages in wasteful, excessive expenditure – the vast majority do not. We can, and for entirely tangential reasons moderate some of the excesses of the modern world, but any general proposal called ‘de-growth’ condemns around half of the world’s population to perpetual poverty, and much of the rest to never moving past the modest middle class life they’ve only just attained this last few decades. Moreover poverty is the crucial driver in large family size, which means driving that humanity back into a meagre standard of living will only have the perverse effect of driving up population growth rates again. And pushes poor rural people out into the remaining wilderness in order to scavenge for food or burn trees for charcoal. An imposed ‘de-growth’ agenda might look doable if you’re living a comfortable, economically padded life in the developed world – but for 90% of humanity it’s a disaster.

Energy Intensity. Put simply, while it can be shown that better technology has generally improved energy efficiency, the rate at which this is occurring is not keeping up with the increase in economic activity that is driving total human welfare.

The change over time of the these three factors is shown here.

Kaya Trend

Careful examination reveals three crucial aspects. One is that economic growth dominates everything. We have started on a trajectory to escape poverty but at the cost of destabilising our climate. Secondly that while both energy intensity and efficiency have been steadily improving – the present dominance of fossil carbon in the mix ensures we can never achieve zero carbon by being more ‘careful’ with how we use energy.

And thirdly there is a perverse cross linkage between all three of these terms – decreasing energy reduces economic activity, which in turn increases population. All three are connected in a complex web of social and economic interactions that mean tinkering with one of these terms as a matter of policy, is likely to have unintended consequences in one of the other three.

This leaves us with the fourth term, the only one that technically stands on it’s own.

Carbon Intensity. This is the measure of how much fossil carbon is released into the atmosphere per unit of energy we use. In our pre-Industrial era we relied totally on energy derived from photosynthesis, which gave us muscle power (serfs, slaves and draft animals) and wood to burn. Although carbon based, it had zero fossil carbon intensity and thus did not upset the atmospheric CO2 balance. But it was such a weak source it condemned most of humanity to grinding, endless poverty. And being geographically diffuse meant that to get more energy demanded more land, which in turn drove our old habit of invasion, conquest and empire. And of course it was also intermittent – some seasons famine stalked the land wiping out decades or even centuries of progress. Most catastrophic collapses of pre-industrial societies have some significant climate/food supply component to them.

The innate deficiencies of this diffuse and intermittent source of energy trapped humanity into a limited development range for millennia. Then we found how to burn coal in efficient steam engines and everything changed. Suddenly we had an intense, concentrated and reliable energy source and on the back of this we built the modern world. Every single aspect of your life that is modern, derives from this single critical invention.

But as we all know, this phase could not be sustained. Burning fossil carbon always had an expiry date on it. This would have doomed our leap into modernity to little more than a short hop into oblivion, but for the discovery of the atom and quantum mechanics. And then for first time we had a source of energy that was concentrated, continuous and has no impact on the natural world. (That our very first attempts to harness it have proven imperfect is no more surprising than the fact that early steam engines were imperfect too. And in both cases engineers learned the lessons and set about evolving their technology.)

It is nuclear power alone that holds the capacity to deliver zero carbon , reliable and ultimately abundant energy to humanity. This is how we drive the fourth term of the Kaya Identity to zero, and emerge from under the threats of poverty, empire, environmental collapse and uncontrolled depopulation – all at once. And as with all of our major technological innovations, it will enable the next major leap in our social development. This is the next stage that takes us to escape velocity – one that de-couples human development from unsustainable exploitation of the natural world.

A world that runs on nuclear energy is one in which geography suddenly matters much less. A nation favoured by climate, coastlines with deepwater ports, navigable rivers and accessible mineral resources no longer becomes the default regional empire. A world in which transport costs are the same almost regardless of location means that mountains, plateaus, wide oceans and deserts no longer condemn a people to isolation and poverty. A world where food, communication, education and opportunity are more or less equally available everywhere lacks only one thing to fulfill it’s promise – a global security order to ensure it’s stability, peacefulness and continuity. Finally humanity might leap from the constraints of it’s collective planet-bound childhood, into it’s adult version – one capable of delivering on so much of the potential we could only glimpse in our turbulent adolescent era.

This is a vision shared by numerous prominent and capable people. Dr James Hansen – the man most visibly identified with the modern climate change movement – has vocally promotes nuclear power as the most valuable tool we have in this crisis. Yet absurdly, irrationally and in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, Green movements globally have clung to an anti-nuclear stance, and perpetuated a fear-mongering campaign of disinformation that continues to mislead the majority of people everywhere.

In this I conclude that a future generation might come to regard the Green movement as the single largest threat to the environment of this period, an obdurate people who while holding to good intentions and professing to want to save the planet – spent decades denying us the one technology that could have easily permitted us to achieve just that.

93 comments on “Escape Velocity ”

  1. Robert Guyton 1

    "In our pre-Industrial era we relied totally on energy derived from photosynthesis, which gave us muscle power (serfs, slaves and draft animals) and wood to burn"

    Pre-agriculture, however, was a different story. The problem you describe arises from the reliance on the products of ag and industry. Without those "requirements", the need for "labourers" is not there; every man, woman and child involves themselves in living, without the "grinding, endless poverty" you so frequently cite 🙂

    • RedLogix 1.1

      That's true Robert. Yet pre-agriculture was an earlier stage altogether and a fascinating study in it's own right. I'd dwell on it more but I struggle to keep my posts concise as it is surprise.

      We tend to think of our deep ancestors as benighted and ignorant compared to us – and in some ways they were. But they were also very tough, smart and capable individuals who had to survive in a much more challenging world than us, and despite this, for tens of thousands of years our global population barely exceeded an estimated 10m.

      The geneticists tell us the we likely nearly went extinct several times, with one study suggesting we went through a bottleneck of fewer than 24 mothers from whom we're all descended.

      I can understand the temptation to propose that we could solve all the problems of modernity (and there are many) by abolishing it and reverting to earlier stage. To extend the rocket analogy – could we abort at our present stage like SpaceX and perform a safe soft landing back into the conditions that prevailed in our pre-agricultural history? I cannot rule it out, but I'd view it as a fraught proposition.

      • Robert Guyton 1.1.1

        I don't support "abolishing it" or "reverting to an earlier stage". We're clever primates and have fabricated some marvellous tools and ideas; if we apply those to the pressing issue (our impending demise) we will surely come up with something transformational. The concern I hear from many though, is that humans are poorly armed, intellectually and emotionally, to do what needs to be done, preferring to cling to their destructive cultures; consumerism, tribalism, biophobia etc. In other words, the heaving masses will sink us all 🙂

  2. Robert Guyton 2

    Reading on…you assign great influence to those "obdurate" greenies. Do you really feel they've been so powerful? Russel Norman's shaped the world we live in to that extent??

    James Shaw's Public Enemy No.1?

    • RedLogix 2.1

      There's no question that the anti-nuclear movement (that started out as a legitimate expression of the precautionary principle), is tightly linked to the Green movement. They're not exactly one and the same thing, but they do overlap extensively.

      Does this make James Shaw an public menace? Well the judgement of future generations may well be quite different to what we'd both like. Much depends on what happens in this decade.

      • Drowsy M. Kram 2.1.1

        RL, why do you think the anti-nuclear/Green movement failed to limit the development of the nuclear power industry in France? Are you perhaps crediting the Green movement with more political/industrial influence than is its due?

        Not that I'd mind if the Green movement did have more political clout, but it just seems an overly convenient bogeyman in support of your thesis: Anti-nuclear/Green movement(s) BAD; nuclear power GOOD.

  3. Gosman 3

    While I largely agree with your take on Nuclear energy as being vital for supplying the necessary energy that we need (coupled with greater use of hydrogen as a power source) I also am more optimistic in terms of increasing general well being. Ultimately wealth and growth is driven by productivity. Productivity is basically a factor of utilising resources in a more efficient and/or profitable manner. Human's have reached a level of technological advancement where we can continue to increase value while keeping resource usage the same or even less.

  4. barry 4

    But the cost of nuclear energy has never got down below the cost of coal/gas powered electricity, and it is now significantly more expensive than wind. The only advantage of nuclear energy is that it is always on, but there are ways around that with the right mix of renewable sources.

    If we had properly priced fossil fuel, and supported renewables, then the cost equation would have tipped in favour of renewables long ago. As it is we are just reaching that point.

    • RedLogix 4.1


      At this point in time cost is one of the three hurdles that must be leapt over. The other two are public acceptance and the need to attract new young engineering talent into the field.

      The good news is that all the next generation designs look to be addressing the cost question head on.

    • Gosman 4.2

      The problem Barry is that the extra capacity you need to build in to a renewable system to account for periods where generating ability is lower than expected makes it more inefficient in terms of use of resources and this grows exponentially the higher percentage of your power is generated via this source. Imaging if half of your power is generated by renewable sources like solar and wind and half via non-renewables. To cover a single day where solar and wind are working at only half their generating capacity requires the rest of the system to pick up the slack or for storage like batteries to do so. Now imagine 100% of your system is solar or wind and you have two or three days of cloudy still weather. Suddenly you haven't got another option to increase energy output and your power storage requirements are much higher. Storing a large amount of power just in case you have days of low generating capacity is incredibly inefficient and the cost of energy will rise as a result.

      • Tricledrown 4.2.1

        Gosman hydro dam storage can be used to cover low solar and wind.

        Nuclear is getting way to expensive to be economically viable not to mention the environmental consequences.

        The UK has had massive blow outs in 2 nuclear power plants that were being built that the money required to finish them is not available so they won't be completed.

        Because they are uneconomic .

        Gosman you are out of touch on just about every subject you comment on.

        Stirring for the sake of stirring.

        • RedLogix

          Nuclear is getting way to expensive to be economically viable not to mention the environmental consequences.

          That is the 'out of touch' belief you have. Time to update.

          • Tricledrown

            Redlogistics your link is an advert by a nuclear power plant construction company who are selling white elephants.

            All nuclear power plant construction including breeder reactors have had massive budget blowouts .EDR's French plant has gone from a €4 billion to nearly €20 billion and rising,like wise all other Nuclear power plant construction costs have gone way beyond economically viable.

            • RedLogix

              Read the link. You persist in conflating your out of date ideas with new designs that employ completely different methods.

              Your argument amounts to something like saying that smartphones could never be made because the vacuum tubes necessary would be too large.

        • Gosman

          Where are you going to build these hydro storage dams in NZ? Please specify the exact locations and the areas that need to be flooded for them

  5. Pat 5

    I find it curious that if nuclear is going to be the solution to future energy requirements that the sole country deriving the majority of its electricity (not energy) from nuclear, France, has implemented a programme to REDUCE the proportion of electricity generated by nuclear considerably over the coming decade or two.

    Perhaps the fact they now face the considerable problem of decommissioning the bulk of their sites as the reactors reach the end of their 40 (thats right, 40) year design life may have something to do with it…..and to be replaced by renewables.

    It also occurs to me that if you take the energy required to construct, operate and decommission a nuclear generator it may well be a net energy consumer rather than generator

    • RedLogix 5.1

      It's a purely political decision driven by the French Greens.

      • Pat 5.1.1

        Keep telling yourself that…the Greens in France have around the same electoral support as in NZ….not to mention the expert advice given to the French Gov that led to the decision.

        No comment I see on the net energy position of nuclear…a quick search found this.

        "We conclude that the operation of a large nuclear-power system, involving a continuing construction program of starting one new 1000-MW system each month for 100 yrs, would yield a relatively small amount of net energy, under optimistic assumptions. Under less-optimistic assumptions the net-energy yield is negligible to negative. "


        • RedLogix

          I'm on my phone at the moment but I'll offer a more complete answer later.

        • RedLogix

          Your reference is dated 1988 and has no relevance to the new 4th gen designs being developed now.

          • Pat

            Those 4th generation designs will have been considered when the French Gov. made their decision a year or so ago…..and youre welcome to provide any later study showing otherwise

            • RedLogix

              The French govt decision is entirely political – driven by an agreement with their Green party that has nothing to do with the safety or economics of the existing plants in question. The question of new fourth gen designs does not appear to have even been a consideration.

              In this case this decision will lead directly to an increase of France's carbon emissions – because these nuclear plants will have to be replaced with coal and gas. There will not be the renewables available to fill the gap.

              An entirely perverse and stupid decision.

              • Tricledrown

                The greens have very little power in French politics right wing govt have dominated in recent years even mitterrand was a damp squid.

                Chernobyl is the reason Europe is winding down its reliance on Nuclear.

                General public backlash is the reason.

                Then the Cost's of decommisioning have always been under costed by $100's of billions by the companies selling and constructing Nuclear reactors. Govt eventually pick up the tab power prices may not go up but your taxes and govt debt go up .

        • RedLogix

          OK here is my reference:

          Fessenheim had years left to run

          The French nuclear regulator, ASN, says that “the plant rates above average on safety and environmental performance compared to the rest of the French nuclear fleet, and around average for radioprotection.”

          Fessenheim is almost a carbon-copy of Beaver Valley Unit 1 in Pennsylvania, US. Beaver Valley Unit 1 started operation before Fessenheim but is licensed to operate until at least 2036. This seems to contradict the claim that Fessenheim is too old.

          Couple that with OECD research that suggests extending the life of plants like Fessenheim is the most cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions, and the reasoning behind closing the plant looks even shakier.

          The French government knows there is nothing wrong with Fessenheim, which is why it has agreed to pay compensation to the plant’s owners, EDF, every year until 2041; Fessenheim should have kept running for another 20 years. Unfortunately, there is no such compensation for the 5,000 people who will lose their jobs (directly and indirectly) when the plant closes.

          A question of politics

          The answer to why Fessenheim is closing is sadly one of politics. It goes back to 2012 when then President of France, Francois Hollande, made a deal to guarantee the support of the Greens (les Verts). Hollande promised France would reduce its reliance on nuclear to 50% instead of 75% of all electricity.

          • Pat

            Hollands's deal was scuppered and after further advice the current policy was implemented by Macron (no Greens involved)…such is politics

            • RedLogix

              In what world can you justify this?

              Replaced by fossil fuels

              The saddest part of this story is that there is no new renewable plant being built overnight to replace Fessenheim. It will be replaced almost entirely by fossil fuels. When questioned about the impact of Fessenheim’s closure on grid security, French grid operator RTE explained that the closure is not a problem as it’s being offset primarily by a “combined cycle gas plant in Landivisiau”.

              “The Fessenheim power station emits 6g of CO2/kWh, while, on the other side of the Rhine, the German electricity system emits more than 400g of CO2/kWh,” Valérie Faudon of the French Nuclear Society explained.

              “The output of the Fessenheim plant will not be replaced by renewable energy, which is already prioritised by the grid, but rather by the production of French or foreign gas-fired power plants. It’s worth noting that, as Fessenheim closes, Germany is commissioning a new coal-fired power plant, in Datteln,” Faudon added.

              So a nuclear plant closes as a coal plant opens. Perhaps one day there will be a reckoning in the green movement, and it will be seen that nuclear is better than coal. That day is not today.

              A prime example of ideology trumping basic science and engineering.

              • Pat

                "A prime example of ideology trumping basic science and engineering."


                "In 2015, the National Assembly voted that by 2025 only 50% of France's energy will be produced by nuclear plants.[28] Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot noted in November 2017 that this goal is unrealistic, postponing the reduction to 2030 or 2035.[29]

                In 2016, following a discovery at Flamanville Nuclear Power Plant, about 400 large steel forgings manufactured by Le Creusot Forge since 1965 were found to have carbon-content irregularities that weakened the steel. A widespread programme of reactor checks was started involving a progressive programme of reactor shutdowns, continued over the winter high electricity demand period into 2017. This caused power price increases in Europe as France increased electricity imports, especially from Germany, to augment supply.[30][31] As of late October 2016, 20 of France's 58 reactors were offline.[32][33] These steel quality concerns may prevent the regulator giving the life extensions from 40 to 50 years, that had been assumed by energy planners, for many reactors.[34] In December 2016 the Wall Street Journal characterised the problem as a "decades long coverup of manufacturing problems", with Areva executives acknowledging that Le Creusot had been falsifying documents.[35] The Le Creusot forge was out of operation from December 2015 to January 2018 while improvements to process controls, the quality management system, organisation and safety culture were made.[36]

                In November 2018, President Macron announced the 50% nuclear power reduction target is being delayed to 2035, and would involve closing fourteen 900 MWe reactors. The two oldest reactors, units 1 and 2 at Fessenheim, will close in 2020. A decision on any new nuclear build will be taken in 2021.[37] EDF is planning an investment programme, called Grand Carénage, to extend reactor lifespans to 50 years, to be largely completed by 2025.[38]

                In 2020, Energy Minister Élisabeth Borne announced the government would not decide on the construction of any new reactors until Flamanville 3 started operation after 2022.[39]"

                As stated earlier, the Macron policy has nothing to do with the Greens, rather it followed expert advice….nuclear power generation has a multitude of problems to overcome before it is a serious proposition and frankly we dont have the time or resources to continue down that rabbit hole….

                [RL: Straight copy and paste of large segments from wikipedia will often trigger the ‘too many links’ condition and place your comments into pre-moderation. Please consider this in future.]

                • RedLogix

                  nuclear power generation has a multitude of problems to overcome before it is a serious proposition and frankly we dont have the time or resources to continue down that rabbit hole

                  That may have been a reasonable claim in 2011 – it's not in 2021. Much has changed and progressed since.

                  • Pat

                    Obviously not to the satisfaction of the French, their decision was made in 2018….your constant cry of 'progress' is sounding very hollow….20 years to construct, 40 years operational life and 60 years to decommission….it aint the solution or even a partial solution.

                    • RedLogix

                      20 years to construct, 40 years operational life and 60 years to decommission

                      If I was here advocating for more of the existing third generation PWR style technology you might have a point. But I'm not and you're raising little but a strawman.

                      All new 4th gen reactors (of which there are almost 70 variants being developed around the world at the moment) are direct responses to the well understood vulnerabilities of PWR reactors. Alvin Weinstein – one of the four people whose name is on the original 1940's patent for them – completely understood this back in the 1950's. He was ignored and squeezed out of the industry. It was only in 2010 that his ideas were rediscovered and properly appreciated.

                      In short fourth gen designs avoid using water as the coolant or moderator. (Or they reduce the size of the reactor back to a scale that greatly mitigates the problems with using water. Hence the Small Modular Reactor SMR acronym commonly seen.)

                      In general fourth gen designs look to achieve the following:

                      1. Avoid using large high pressure and expensive containment vessels. Many operate at close to atmosphere. This hugely reduces the costs and safely profile issues associated with the nuclear island.
                      2. By using high temperature gases or molten salts they operate at similar temperatures to coal and gas boilers which means they can use standard turbines and balance of plant equipment that is a small fraction of the price of specialised nuclear rated equipment. This represents around 85% of the cost of the total plant build and has a major impact.
                      3. The associated civil footprint of all new designs is a small fraction of traditional plants. Many plants will be fabricated in factories and shipped to site in modules or ships. This typically reduces the amount of concrete and steel involved by 90%.

                      On a personal note I was directly involved just a few years ago in a non-nuclear engineering project that used a very similar approach. It was exceedingly successful and shattered all previous expectations on how quickly and cost-effectively such plants could be designed, constructed and commissioned. We literally halved the expected cost and time. We delivered into a site so challenging that two major corporates had tried and failed using traditional methodology.

                      1. Passive 'walk-away safety'. These designs exploit physics and gravity to ensure they are self-regulating and will always safely shut down. Nothing the plant owner or operator can do can change this behaviour. Indeed most plants are expected to be unmanned most of the time and remotely monitored.
                      2. The variants I personally support have their fuel in molten state by design. This means they can 'burn' 99% or more of their fissile fuel load and produce a much smaller volume of waste at a much lower level that only needs to be sequestered for 300 years instead of many 100's of thousands. Very achievable; we deal with other industrial toxics that present a much greater hazard with no particular anxiety.

                      Moreover this means existing waste stockpiles from solid fuel reactors (that typically only burn 3% of their fissile fuel load leaving 97% unused) – become an ideal fuel source for the new gen reactors.

                      Your ideas about nuclear power are entirely dated.

                    • Pat

                      My ideas about nuclear are dated….you say….but they are the same concerns of those in the energy industry.

                      "Cost and time overruns of the Areva EPR reactors at Olkiluoto in Finland and Flamanville in France are seldom out of the energy news. Olkiluoto began construction in 2005 with planned grid connection in 2010. The original build cost of €3billion has risen to €8.5 billion. And the grid connection has been pushed out to 2018 – 8 years late (13 years construction time) and €5.5 billion over budget."


                      The median construction time has INCREASED since the 1980s


                      "In short fourth gen designs avoid using water as the coolant or moderator. (Or they scale the size of the reactor back to a scale that greatly mitigates the problems with using water.)"

                      "According to a timeline compiled by the World Nuclear Association, Gen IV reactors might enter commercial operation between 2020 and 2030.[4] However, as of 2021, no Gen IV projects have advanced significantly beyond the design stage, and several have been abandoned."


                      Dated?….no, just not fantasy

                    • RedLogix

                      Dated?….no, just not fantasy

                      I am going to require you to explain exactly what aspect of Gen 4 you regard as fantasy?

                      You linked to a wiki page that went into some considerable detail on the various approaches that fall under that very wide and generic umbrella term. Do you consider this wiki page a fantasy?

                      Do you consider the 70 plus companies and institutions currently researching and developing new reactors are all fantasies?

                      Do you consider the physics unproven and a fantasy?

                      Do you consider the ORNL MSR-E molten salt reactor that ran for seven years in the 1960's a fantasy?

                      Or are you just saying that because the industrialisation process is underway and not yet complete – that it cannot be done and must be a fantasy?

                      Or are you just one of those people who exist in every workplace I've ever been in who loudly insist that every proposed innovation or improvement cannot possibly work?

                    • Pat

                      You are going to require??

                      The fantasy…..you have no operational generator (projections dont produced power) …therefore you have nothing to base a programme of construction upon….if you manage a commercially viable generator (even tomorrow) you dont have the resources for the required rate of construction even if you miraculously found enough suitable sites to make anything more than a tiny dent in power requirements in the next 2 or 3 decades….(never mind the fact that whole of life carbon emissions are far from low)….and there is still the problem of waste containment (we still havnt managed to deal with that at the comparatively low rate of production after decades)

                      Theres are currently around 440 reactors producing around 10% of the worlds electricity (2% of energy)…even if you commissioned one reactor a week from now until 2050 you wouldnt replace half of that electricity generation

                      Oh and you dont have a trained /capable workforce ….not really the sort of work you want to leave to the semi skilled.

                    • RedLogix

                      Again you base all of your objections on obsolete and irrelevant information. Essentially strawman arguments.

                      never mind the fact that whole of life carbon emissions are far from low)….and there is still the problem of waste containment (we still havnt managed to deal with that at the comparatively low rate of production after decades)

                      Both factors that Gen4 designs tackle head on. The whole of life emissions issue is a separate topic – but essentially it’s a non-issue. Existing waste stockpiles become fuel for many Gen4 designs.

                      As for delivery, perhaps the boldest timeline comes from Thorcon who will almost certainly have a working 50MW pilot reactor up and running by 2025.

                      Their key stakeholder is a major South Korean shipbuilder – these guys make supertankers – and using exactly the same factories and methods they can build GenV reactors.

                      The steel weight of a 500 MW ThorCon is about 50,000 tons. The world’s largest shipyard can build more than 2,000,000 steel tons of ships per year. A single shipyard can produce 20 GW’s of ThorConIsle power per year. In terms of resource requirements, one gigawatt of ThorCon power is not a big deal. The scale up rate will not be limited by shipyard capacity, but by the rate at which the turbogenerators can be built.

                      That's 40 new 500MW reactors per year from just one existing shipyard. All of it based on an engineering approach your author has personally been involved in and can vouch for how dramatically effective it is. And the above is just one of at least 20 molten salt companies and maybe up to 70 working in the larger Gen4 space. They won't all succeed – but it will only take one to make the breakthrough.

                      After nearly 40 years of research stagnation, nuclear power is undergoing a dramatic and resurgence of development. All the information is out there – you only have to look.

                    • Pat

                      What part of 'projections' do you not understand?…..and projections that have been consistently unmet

                  • Drowsy M. Kram

                    Our motto is "Nuclear energy for all, nuclear weapons for none".

                    That's a hard sell.

                    Iran's nuclear program was launched in the 1950s with the help of the United States as part of the Atoms for Peace program.

                    As of 2015, Iran's nuclear program has cost $100 billion in lost oil revenues and lost foreign direct investment because of international sanctions ($500 billion, when including other opportunity costs).

                    France generates 70% of it electricity from nuclear power; Iran <2%. Is mistrust of (certain) leaders and/or ideologies/beliefs a brake on the proliferation of nuclear reactors? Another advantage of renewables, IMHO – try constructing WMDs from solar panels and/or wind turbines smiley
                    Here's a recent grab bag of nuclear energy's promises and problems.

                    Safeguards, non-proliferation and peaceful nuclear energy [Ragheb, 27 Jan. 2021]
                    [Re: “Escape Velocity”] For humans to spread all of life throughout the Milky Way galaxy and beyond in the known universe, nuclear energy will be their most valuable tool.

                    • RedLogix

                      Has anyone ever covertly produced weapons grade material directly from a functioning power reactor?

                      It's always been a hypothetical possibility – but the reality is that all those nations who produce weapons do so using specific facilities designed for the purpose.

                      Yes proliferation is a potential risk, but it's an entirely manageable one. I've read a number of complex technical arguments on the topic, but the overall impression I have is that if anyone really wants a weapon, there are much easier more straightforward ways than trying to filch material from a power reactor.

                  • Drowsy M. Kram

                    "Has anyone ever covertly produced weapons grade material directly from a functioning power reactor?"

                    Not sure about anyone – does South Africa count? In that case fuel enrichment processes might have served as a cover for the enrichment of weapons-grade materials.

                    "Yes proliferation is a potential risk, but it's an entirely manageable one."

                    Entirely manageable? India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel…

                    Maybe who/whatever was responsible for managing the real risk of proliferation has upped their game – we can only hope.

                    Is the 'potential' risk of global warming "entirely manageable'? How about the 'potential' risk of widespread ecocide, or a global pandemic?

                    We may have to agree to disagree about the wisdom of regarding serious (global) risks as "entirely manageable", unless accepting risks (e.g. the risk of death due to COVID-19 infection) is part of the ‘management’ strategy.

                    • RedLogix

                      Most Gen 4 designs avoid nuclear processing in country. The optimum approach is to produce the 'nuclear island' in a central, tightly managed facility, and ship it to site as a sealed unit, then return it at it's 'end of life'. The opportunity to extract weapons grade material under these conditions is vanishingly small. It would be the least attractive approach to building a weapon imaginable.

                      Fearmongering up a tiny risk to deny the opportunity to tackle climate change really begs the question of your motives here. Nothing in life is risk-free – and demanding that it must be is the counsel of a fool.

                  • Drowsy M. Kram

                    Dear RL. my reply was in good faith. Since you've now questioned my motives and played the 'fool' card, I'm bailing before you play the genocidal anti-human card. I do, however, appreciate your unique PoV and sustained efforts to chart a path that might safeguard civilisation.

                    • RedLogix

                      Why play the proliferation card when there is scant evidence that it's relevant?

                      Demanding perfection before making any change is an old fallacy, one that's usually employed by people who want to obstruct change for reasons they never really come clear on.

                      Your approach here reminds me of the furor that arose in the 1800s when people seriously objected to school children converting from slate to pen and paper. Look it up.

                  • Drowsy M. Kram

                    I'm going to resist the temptation to say what your approach here reminds me of, and simply note that not everyone shares your PoV – vive la différence.

                    Humanitarian impacts and risks of use of nuclear weapons
                    12. It is possible to conceptualize the increasing risk of nuclear weapons being used according to the following four risk-of-use scenarios:

                    a) doctrinal use of nuclear weapons, i.e. the use of nuclear weapons as outlined and envisaged in declared policies, doctrines, strategies and concepts

                    b) escalatory use, i.e. the use of nuclear weapons in an ongoing situation of tension or conflict

                    c) unauthorized use, i.e. the non-sanctioned use of nuclear weapons by a non-state actor

                    d) accidental use, i.e. the use of nuclear weapons through error, including technical malfunction and human error.


                    • RedLogix

                      Conflating reasonable concerns about weapons with power generation is like banning gas barbecues because of flamethrowers.

                      Every day fossil fuels kill 10000 people from air pollution, yet you raise no objections to this. Why not?

                      And climate change presents a far greater and imminent risk we all understand but the one technology we do have to address it, you would deny us. Baffling.

                  • Drowsy M. Kram

                    RL, like you I’d prefer that fossil fuel use be phased out sooner rather than later – we just have different views on the best way to do this.


                    If I ruled the world then I'd consider alternatives to the 'nuclear power solution', but I'm not in a position to deny you/us anything. Baffling.

                    Every day fossil fuels kill 10000 people from air pollution, yet you raise no objections to this. Why not?

                    I await your next attack line with baited breath smiley

                    • RedLogix

                      Because you quibble over vanishingly small proliferation risks that are nothing by comparison.

                  • Foreign waka

                    RL: France's electricity need is covered by 70% of nuclear generation, they also export energy around Europe so generating income. Its a junkie policy as generators do have a finite lifespan and the need for energy and income generation cannot be so easily replaced. Neither material nor for those with financial interests. It is truly a pandoras box.

                    Lets not forget, it was the French that sunk the Rainbow Warrior and the value of silencing voices against nuclear must be worth a bundle as it was worth killing for.


                  • Drowsy M. Kram

                    @RL (1:20 pm) – "Vanishingly small" and "nothing by comparison" in your opinion.

                    While I agree that the challenges and risks of the (potential) proliferation of nuclear power and nuclear weapons are not unconquerable, I don’t agree that they are "vanishingly small". We can only speculate about the future of nuclear proliferation.

                    Here are a few links to recent articles in support of my opinion. Happy to agree to disagree – another point of difference, apparently.



                    Heed the doomsday alarm clock
                    The world has plenty on its mind. Even so, it cannot afford to downplay the dangers of nuclear proliferation. Today’s nuclear diplomacy may seem a slog, but it is as nothing compared with the lethal instabilities that arise whenever regional nuclear-armed rivals confront each other. There is no time to lose.

                    The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – What’s Next?
                    While most non-nuclear weapon states support the Treaty, nuclear-weapon states, nuclear-possessor states, and their allies continue to oppose the Treaty.

                    Indeed, as forcibly stated by another leading nuclear disarmament advocacy group, the Asia Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, there is no prospect whatever of any of the nuclear-armed states joining the treaty. So the TPNW will not eliminate one nuclear weapon, and will do nothing to reduce the number or intensity of global nuclear risks that run the fault lines of Asia and the Middle East. Nor will it do anything to lessen the tensions resulting from 70 years of nuclear confrontation between America and Russia. Existing nuclear arms control agreements that had moderated that conflict are dead or dying.

                    Nuclear Proliferation: The Next Wave in 2020
                    What will nuclear proliferation look like in the future? While the quest for nuclear weapons has largely quieted after the turn of the 21st century, states are still interested in acquiring nuclear technology. Nuclear latency, an earlier step on the proliferation pathway, and here defined as operational uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing capability, is increasingly likely to be the next phase of proliferation concern. The drivers of nuclear latency, namely security factors, including rivalries with neighboring adversaries and the existence of alliances, are especially consequential in an increasingly challenging geopolitical environment. Though poised to play a significant role in international politics moving forward, latency remains a core area of exploration and subject of debate within the nuclear weapons literature writ large. While in many ways similar to nuclear weapons’ proliferation, the pursuit of nuclear latency has distinct features that merit further attention from scholars and policymakers alike.

              • Pat

                "A prime example of ideology trumping basic science and engineering."

                Bollocks…a prime example of expert advice overcoming vested interest



                As stated earlier the policy was developed following expert advice, nothing to do with the Greens….nuclear has too many problems that need addressing before it can be considered a viable option and frankly we dont have the time or the resources….and its probably an energy cost anyway

                [unquoted and overlong cut and paste that triggered the spam filter deleted]

                • Pat

                  Duplicate post (virtually) that was caught up in premod before i realised I was in pre mod

                  • Incognito

                    Yup, I left it for the Author to sort it out but for some reason he didn’t!? Got enough to deal with here as it is.

              • Tricledrown

                Red Logics your Carbon use figures don't include the cost of digging up Uranium processing millions of tons of earth to get the yellow keg.Then the cost of building a massive concrete power plant.

                Then the cost of decommissioning power plants is many times the cost of construction.

  6. UncookedSelachimorpha 6

    Excellent and thought-provoking post. My first introduction to the Kaya Identity, which makes a lot of sense.

    Tend to agree that blanket opposition to nuclear energy is a really bad idea. Needs to be done right, but probably can be done right.

  7. Ad 7

    I'd like to see nuclear-powered spacecraft get us to Mars nice and fast to set up a colony.


    Free as a Belter!

    • The Al1en 7.1

      Just finished series 5 – Excellent TV sci fi.

    • joe90 7.2

      Manéo living the life..

    • RedLogix 7.3

      Oddly enough it was a NASA scientist Kirk Sorensen who was working on exactly this 'how to power a Mars expedition' problem in the late 90's who made the critical 're-discovery' of the long forgotten ORNL molten salt reactor experiment in 2000.

      He literally rescued all the old documentation dating from the 60's from being sent to the dump with hours to spare.

      • Snape 7.3.1

        I like what I’ve read about Gen 4 reactors, but disappointed by the timeframe. Construction starting in the 2030’s at the soonest?

        “Depending on their respective degree of technical maturity, the first Generation IV systems are expected to be deployed commercially around 2030-2040.”


        • RedLogix

          Construction starting in the 2030’s at the soonest?

          Yes sadly the consequence of a lost 40 years of development due largely to an irrational fearmongering of nuclear power that has stifled investment in the next Gen designs for far too long.

          I'll briefly give some historic perspective on this. By the early 1970's it was clear that the ORNL MSR-E was a technical success, but the Nixon administration decided for mostly political reasons to back an alternative 'fast breeder' design that promised to make unlimited amounts of it's own fuel. Plus lots of weapons grade plutonium as a Cold War bonus. That this program was also to be located in a key SoCal electorate was a desirable bit of porkbarrelling on the side.

          The MSR-E program was abruptly defunded and forgotten about. It's leader Alvin Weinberg was squeezed out. By the mid-80's however the fast breeder was shown to be a dead end – the economics of fuel production made no sense. It was not the uranium that was expensive but it's fabrication and nor was there the same pressing need for plutonium. (The Russians made one work, but they abandoned it for much the same reasons, over-complex and too expensive to make a profit.)

          Unfortunately the decision to drop the MSR was never re-visited, and the industry in the mean-time had committed to a fleet of the original PWR designs at large scale – all with the vulnerability of using using water as their coolant and moderator. Then in 1979 we got Three Mile Island (the exact event Weinberg had warned against) – and the anti-nuclear movement went into overdrive – forcing on the industry rafts of over-regulation that imposed huge costs. Nuclear power suddenly went from being very competitive at around $1000/GW to uncompetitive at over $4000/GW.

          The fossil fuel companies were delighted with their handiwork.

          Then of course the great drama of Chernobyl. Again exploited by anti-nuclear activists such as the ridiculous Caldicott who is on record as claiming it killed 'more people than the Black Death'. That would be somewhere around 100m people – an utter absurdity that was swallowed whole by legions. (Even her more usual claim of 1m deaths was insanely overblown.)

          When in fact both events actually demonstrate the exact opposite of what the irrational fearmongers were spewing.

          After a tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan eight years ago today, triggering the meltdowns of three reactors, many believed it would result in a public health catastrophe.

          “By now close to one million people have died of causes linked to the Chernobyl disaster,” wrote Helen Caldicott, an Australian medical doctor, in The New York Times. Fukushima could “far exceed Chernobyl in terms of the effects on public health.”

          But now, eight years after Fukushima, the best-available science clearly shows that Caldicott’s estimate of the number of people killed by nuclear accidents was off by one million. Radiation from Chernobyl will kill, at most, 200 people, while the radiation from Fukushima and Three Mile Island will kill zero people.

          In other words, the main lesson that should be drawn from the worst nuclear accidents is that nuclear energy has always been inherently safe.

          As a result of these events the industry diverted much of it's resources chasing a chimera of 'improved safety' to maintain it's existing fleet of PWR reactors – instead of developing the next generation. In the face of irrational public hostility it hunkered down instead of moving forward.

          It's my contention that if we had got a working MSR reactor in the mid-70’s – as we should have – we would not be here having this discussion about climate change.

  8. Snape 8

    What’s worse for an ecosystem, high levels of radioactive contamination, or human beings? Chernobyl suggests the latter:


    • Tricledrown 8.1

      Snape Chernobyl won't be safe for several thousand years.Then if underfunded containment strategies fail your argument is a false equivalence not unlike the short term thinking that has lead humans to continually destroy the plant.

      • RedLogix 8.1.1

        What exactly do you mean by safe?

        You do realise that it was only one of four reactors on site – the other three continued to operate for at least another decade afterwards with no problems for the people who worked there.

        Reactor No. 1 and 3 continued to operate after the disaster. Reactor No. 2 was permanently shut down in 1991 after a fire broke out due to a faulty switch in a turbine. Reactors No. 1 and 3 were eventually closed due to an agreement Ukraine made with the EU in 1995.

        In the meantime WHO has reliably estimated that air pollution from fossil fuel use kills about 4m people a year. That's 10,000 per fucking day. More people every day that nuclear power in the very worst possible interpretation ever has.

        All the anti-nuclear campaign has ever achieved is mass death.

      • Snape 8.1.2


        Chernobyl was safer for humans prior to the accident, but was a dangerous, unwelcoming place for animals like lynx, brown bear and wolves. Now it’s a haven:

        “Many people think the area around the Chernobyl nuclear plant is a place of post-apocalyptic desolation. But more than 30 years after one of the facility’s reactors exploded, sparking the worst nuclear accident in human history, science tells us something very different.

        Researchers have found the land surrounding the plant, which has been largely off limits to humans for three decades, has become a haven for wildlife, with lynx, bison, deer and other animals roaming through thick forests. This so-called Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ), which covers 2,800 square km of northern Ukraine, now represents the third-largest nature reserve in mainland Europe and has become an iconic – if accidental – experiment in rewilding.”


        • RedLogix

          Yes. That was one of the first things I read that gave a clue that my prior anti nuclear thinking might not be correct at all.

          • Snape


            Thanks for the historical perspective. This is a topic I’ve never spent much time on.

    • Pat 8.2


      and thats 'projected' to last only 100 years, and then we do it all over again (or not)

      • Redlogix 8.2.1

        100 years or so is quite long enough to develop a method of permanently dealing with it.

        Containment is just a holding pattern.

        • Pat

          lmao…ever the optimist….you may also wish to consider that Ukraine is the poorest European country so im sure theyll be up for the ongoing monitoring and maintenance…and of course in a hundred years (if it lasts that long) you wont be around to explain why your prediction didnt eventuate.

          • RedLogix

            Look back 100 years and tell me if nothing has changed.

            There is my optimism.

            • Pat

              Yep..its changed, and not as predicted by the optimists

              • RedLogix

                As Ad put it, stop painting all of history as tragedy.

                • Pat

                  Lol…if you stop with the pipe dreams

                  • RedLogix

                    Again you paint Gen4 as a pipe dream or a fantasy.

                    Success is difficult, but failure is only assured to those who will not try.

                    • Pat

                      and stupidity is basing your future energy supply on an unproven and undeliverable theoretical source….meanwhile the world has a job to do and no time to waste

                    • RedLogix []

                      What exactly are you claiming is 'unproven'?

                      Be specific. The argument that 'it hasn't been delivered yet' doesn't count. You have to show why you think it cannot be done.

                      Besides Thorcons reactor is directly based on the MSR which ran for seven years in the 60s. What more proven are you going to demand?

                    • Pat

                      round and round in circles we go…you havnt countered one point with anything other than hope…it isnt a viable plan.

                      How much time do you think you have?

                    • RedLogix []

                      I've pointed to a substantial number of development programs many of which are well past the 'hope' stage. Far too many to clutter this thread with, but the info is all there for anyone who cares to look.

                      You on the other hand have made a claim that it cannot be done and produced nothing to back it.

                    • Pat

                      You have provided nothing except development projects which have to date missed all their self promoted deadlines…you have yet to address the wherewithal to deliver said generation and you fail to address the time frame…in short you have nothing.

                      If a flotilla of ship borne gen 4 reactors turn up at ports in the next 2 or 3 years ready to be plugged in to national grids then you may have the beginnings of a case….and that aint gonna happen.

                    • RedLogix []

                      The only deadline I've referenced so far is Thorcons expectation to have a 50MW pilot plant running by 2025. It's hard to have missed that.

                      Most others have reasonable plans to go commercial late 2020s or early 2030s

                      Stop making shit up.

                    • Pat

                      No shit being made up by this commenter …nor any unobtainable goals.

                      Ive lost count of the opportunities you have been provided to address the question of time and you consistently ignore it….so have the courage of your convictions and put a date and number on when and how much power these wondrous 4th gen reactors will be supplying a significant amount of the worlds energy?

                      And then you can set about addressing the other limitations.

                    • RedLogix

                      Ive lost count of the opportunities you have been provided to address the question of time and you consistently ignore it

                      This is getting beyond absurd – I addressed precisely that in the comment above. The earliest we are likely to see a Gen4 design is the Thorcon 50MW pilot reactor that's been commissioned by the Indonesian govt in around 2025.

                      As for the other 70 odd programs in existence – all of them project a deliverable sometime between late 2020's and the early 2030's. This is entirely reasonable given most only really got underway in the past few years and I imagine you'd want them to take the time necessary to get it right.

                      Many are well past the concept stage, advanced simulations and preliminary design; in this respect they know their reactors will run. The real challenges now are aspects like detailed validation of instrumentation and balance of plant optimisation, supply chain materials and vendor equipment, HAZOP's, regulatory approvals and the development of operational and maintenance procedures. Some are close to non-fission pilot plant status.

                      Turning a proposal design into an buildable plant is by far the largest cost of building a new reactor, and you only make that kind of investment if you're confident you're going to get to an outcome.

                      Despite this you have made three specific claims:

                      1. That the entire Gen 4 program is a fantasy, a pipedream and unachievable, when there is ample evidence of substantial investment and progress.
                      2. That the Gen4 program has missed deadlines when in fact all the proposed delivery dates are in the future.
                      3. That in order to prove Gen4 is real I have to specify detailed deliveries years in advance of the fact.

                      All three are absurdities, and you've produced no evidence to justify them. In this I've decided you're trolling this thread.

                      Consider carefully if you decide to reply to this.

  9. Robert Guyton 9

    This post: "Escape Velocity", could well have been titled, "The Future is Nuclear!".

    The original title reminds me of the story of the steel manhole cover that was blasted into space as a result of an underground explosion – it certainly reached escape velocity. I suppose the underlying message from RedLogix is "we can leave this stinking mess far behind us, populate a new planet and get it right this time" but I'm not a believer in running for the hills and leaving everyone else to moulder; I think we carry our baggage with us where ever we go and until we've got our heads and hearts sorted, we'll just keep repeating history 🙂

  10. WeTheBleeple 10

    Good to see we're still costing the costings to the cost of preventing total catastrophe – which apparently would come at quite a cost!

    Where would we be without the bean counters and middle men muddling minds over the matter of maintenance of middle management.

    The question seems to be – how close to the status quo can we possibly get for we, the few, are very very comfortable.

    • Pat 10.1

      if you mean cost in monetary terms then it isnt a factor….time and resources however are costs that cannot be ignored for they determine what is possible

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