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Expanding Nuclear Power is Key to Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Northeast United States, Study Shows This study demonstrates
that nuclear energy must remain a leading source of electricity in the Northeastern United States for decades to come if efforts
under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to reduce CO2 emissions in the electricity sector are to prove successful
without major upheaval for industry and consumers. Non-emitting nuclear energy produces 31.6 percent of the Northeasts electricity,
making it the single-largest electricity source in the region. The prominence of nuclear power plants means that Northeastern
states already enjoy some of the lowest carbon dioxide emission rates in the country
18 scientists say yes!
Science 1 November 2002:
Vol. 298. no. 5595, pp. 981 - 987
Paths to Global Climate Stability: Energy for a Greenhouse Planet
Martin I. Hoffert,1* Ken
Caldeira,3 Gregory Benford,4 David R. Criswell,5Christopher
Green,6 Howard Herzog,7 Atul K. Jain,8
Haroon S. Kheshgi,9Klaus
S. Lackner,10 John S. Lewis,12 H. Douglas Lightfoot,13 Wallace Manheimer,14John
C. Mankins,15 Michael E. Mauel,11 L. John Perkins,3
Michael E. Schlesinger,8Tyler
Volk,2 Tom M. L. Wigley16
the carbon dioxide-induced component of climate change is an energy problem. Establishment of a course toward such stabilization will require the development within the coming decades of primary energy sources that do not emit carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, in addition to efforts to reduce end-use energydemand. Mid-century
primary power requirements that are free of carbon dioxide emissions
could be several times what we now derive from fossil fuels (~1013 watts), even with improvements in energy efficiency. Here we survey possible future energy sources, evaluated for their capability to supply massive amounts of carbon emission-free energy and for their potential for large-scale commercialization. Possible candidates for primary energy sources include terrestrial solar and wind energy, solar power satellites, biomass, nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, fission-fusion hybrids, and fossil fuels from which carbon has been sequestered.
Non-primary power technologies that could contribute to climate stabilization include efficiency improvements,hydrogen
production, storage and transport, superconducting global electric
grids, and geoengineering. All of these approaches currently have
severe deficiencies that limit their ability to stabilize global
climate. We conclude that a broad range of intensive research and
development is urgently needed to produce technological options that
can allow both climate stabilization and economic development.
1 Department of Physics,
Department of Biology, New York University, New York, NY 10003, USA.
3 Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, CA 94550, USA.
Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697, USA.
5 Institute of Space Systems Operations, University of Houston, Houston,
TX 77204, USA.
Department of Economics, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 2T7, Canada.
7 MIT Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.
Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801, USA.
9 ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company, Annandale, NJ 08801, USA.
Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering,
11 Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, Columbia University, New York,
NY 10027, USA.
Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA.
13 Centre for Climate and Global Change Research, McGill University,
Montreal, Quebec H3A 2K6, Canada.
Plasma Physics Division, Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, DC 20375, USA.
15 NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC 20546, USA.
16 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO 80307, USA.
To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: email@example.com
Scientists back nuclear power to help beat global warming
JAMES KIRKUP WESTMINSTER EDITOR
NUCLEAR power must be part of attempts to address global warming, according
to a government-sponsored study of climate change.
In an apocalyptic assessment endorsed by Tony Blair, an international group
of scientists warned in the study published yesterday that increasing temperatures caused by the greenhouse effect pose a
pressing threat to humanity.
"It is clear from the work presented that the risks of climate change may
well be greater than we thought," the Prime Minister said of the study, which forecasts the melting of the Greenland ice sheet
and a resultant rise in sea-levels of up to 16 feet over the next millennium. In response, the scientists argue, governments
must use a wide range of tools, nuclear power included.
The document, Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change, brings together evidence
presented at a conference hosted by the UK Meteorological Office at Exeter last February. In it, the head of the British Antarctic
Survey, Professor Chris Rapley, says the huge West Antarctic Ice Sheet may also be starting to disintegrate. He writes: "The
last report characterised Antarctica as a slumbering giant in terms of climate change. I'd say it is now an awakened giant."
The report comes as ministers consider authorising the construction of
a new generation of nuclear reactors in Britain. Adding urgency to that review, the most recent official figures show that
the UK's carbon emissions are rising again.
Many environmental groups and some Labour MPs are opposed to new atomic
power stations, although the Prime Minister is understood to be leaning towards the nuclear option.
Unlike coal-power and gas-power plants, nuclear stations do not produce
. "There are no magic bullets; a portfolio of options is needed and excluding any options will increase costs," the scientists
Governments should use a variety of means to cut emissions in "wedges",
including increasing energy efficiency, nuclear energy, low-emission transport fuels and fossil-fuel power plants with carbon-capture
technology, they said.
The scientists also recommend that poorer nations consider investing in
nuclear power plants. "Efficiency improvements and alternative energy supply such as nuclear and renewables are of priority
for developing countries to contribute [to attempts to cut emissions]," they conclude.
Nuclear energy is likely to prove the most contentious aspect of the Prime
Minister's attempts to meet his targets to reduce Britain's carbon emissions. One criticism raised of nuclear power is that
the relative scarcity of the uranium it relies on means it is not a long-term option.
But in another study published yesterday, Bert Metz and Detlef van Vuuren
of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, dismiss those suggestions. "New discoveries of uranium resources, use
of thorium [an alternative nuclear fuel], more efficient technologies and production of uranium from seawater could, at least
in theory, imply that this option is almost without technical limits," the researchers write.
Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, has expressed doubts about
the value of nuclear power, but yesterday insisted it has to be an option for Britain. "Once you have put in all the energy
required to construct the nuclear power stations, it is actually a low-carbon form of energy," she said, although she conceded
that nuclear has "other problems", especially how to dispose of waste.
This article: http://news.scotsman.com/uk.cfm?id=152932006
Last updated: 31-Jan-06 10:40 GMT
Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, protested at the cost of disposing of
nuclear waste and the decommissioning of plants, saying that it would amount to a "nuclear tax". The money would be better
spent investing in renewable energy and encouraging energy economy, he said.
||November 30, 2005|
Anti-nuclear lobby 'holding back fight on climate change'
|GREEN lobby groups that oppose nuclear energy
were accused of "fundamentalism" yesterday as the Government announced a review of whether to build a new generation of nuclear
May of Oxford, the outgoing president of the Royal Society, said that environmental campaigners risked holding back the fight
against climate change with an absolutist approach that refused to consider nuclear power.
"I recognise there are huge problems with nuclear, but these have to be weighed
against other problems," Lord May said. "This has to be recognised as a problem by what you might call a fundamentalist belief
"Fundamentalism doesn’t necessarily derive from a sacred text. There
are also NGOs [non-governmental organisations] that are reluctant to weigh one problem against another, but have a subset
of problems that are absolute and undiscussable."
He will go further in a valedictory speech today, linking such opposition
to a resurgent fundamentalism, more often displayed by religious extremists, that threatens free scientific inquiry.
His warning came as Tony Blair announced to the CBI conference his long-awaited
energy review, which will recommend next summer whether to start building new nuclear power stations in readiness for when
the present nuclear plants are due to be decommissioned in about 2020.
Mr Blair was prevented from making his speech in the main conference hall
by two Greenpeace demonstrators who climbed up an inside roof overlooking the stage. Instead Mr Blair spoke in improvised
form in a crowded side meeting room.
The Prime Minister said that Britain and other countries would have to diversify
into several sources of energy and predicted that the Kyoto Protocol governing carbon emissions, which expires in 2012, would
be followed by a binding international agreement covering all leading economies.
"Energy prices have risen. Energy supply is under threat. Climate change is
producing a sense of urgency," Mr Blair said. "The future is clean energy and nations will look to diversify out of energy
dependence on one source."
In 15 years Britain would have decommissioned both coal and nuclear plants
that between them accounted for 30 per cent of today’s electricity supply, he said. "Some of this will be replaced by
renewables but not all of it can."
The CBI ordered an immediate review of its security after it was discovered
that the two Greenpeace protesters, who posed as conference delegates, had paid for delegate passes through a bogus company,
E-Lingo, before scaling girders to reach the roof. The pair, Huw Williams and Nyls Verhauelt, were later arrested.
Two legitimate passes were issued to Greenpeace delegates, although the campaign
group was refused permission to erect an exhibition stand in the hall.
Malcolm Wicks, the Energy Minister, who will head the Government’s review,
said that it would consider ways of speeding up any planning inquiries should new nuclear power stations be proposed. These
would require private investment but would need "some special relationship between the market and the state in this area".
The review would also look at renewable energy, coal, gas and new technologies,
plus transport systems and energy efficiency, Mr Wicks said. Its aim was to identify clean, reliable, affordable energy supplies
for the long term.
The Conservatives welcomed the review but were non-committal on nuclear power,
although it is supported by a number of party figures.
organisations took a similar stance, saying that the Government must develop a clear policy and secure energy supplies but
without taking sides over nuclear power.
Sir Digby Jones, Director-General of the CBI, would say only: "Potential investors
in new power generation plant require a clear and stable framework from government in which to plan. We now need to see a
full and informed debate that engages the whole nation, and leads to a clear conclusion — whatever that is."
But environmental groups urged ministers to reject the nuclear option. Tony
Juniper, of Friends of the Earth, said: "Nuclear power is dangerous, expensive and unnecessary."
- An international task force has agreed on six nuclear reactor technologies for deployment between 2010 and
- All of these operate at higher temperatures than today's reactors. In particular, four are designated for
- All six systems represent advances in sustainability, economics, safety, reliability and proliferation-resistance.
After some two years' deliberation, the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) representing ten countries
announced the selection of six reactor technologies which they believe represent the future shape of nuclear energy. These
are selected on the basis of being clean, safe and cost-effective means of meeting increased energy demands on a sustainable
basis, while being resistant to diversion of materials for weapons proliferation and secure from terrorist attacks. They will
be the subject of further development internationally.
We live in a world that has only begun to consume energy. Today India and China are gaining rapidly on Europe and America
in per capita energy consumption. During the next 50 years, as Earth's population expands from 6 billion toward 9 billion,
humanity will consume more energy than the combined total used in all previous history. With carbon emissions now threatening
the very stability of the biosphere, the security of our world requires a massive transformation to clean energy.
An interdisciplinary MIT faculty group decided to study the future of nuclear power because of a belief that this technology
is an important option for the United States and the world to meet future energy needs without emitting carbon dioxide and
other atmospheric pollutants. Other options include increased efficiency, renewables, and carbon sequestration, and all may
be needed for a successful greenhouse gas management strategy. This study, addressed to government, industry, and academic
leaders, discusses the interrelated technical, economic, environmental, and political challenges facing a significant increase
in global nuclear power utilization over the next half century and what might be done to overcome those challenges. This study
was supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and by MIT's Office of the Provost and Laboratory for Energy and the Environment.
Low Cost, Emission-Free Electricity GE Nuclear Energy and its affiliates provide technology-based products and services for
Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) and Advanced BWR (ABWR) nuclear power plants.
James LOVELOCK's preface to the book
"Environmentalists For Nuclear Energy"
Comby I spent my childhood in the English countryside over 70 years ago where we lived a simple life without telephones or
electricity. Horses were still a normal source of power and we hardly imagined radio and television. One thing I remember
well was how superstitious we all were and how tangible was the concept of evil. Men and women who in other ways were intelligent,
fearfully avoided places said to be haunted, and they would suffer inconvenience rather than travel on Fridays that were the
13th day of the month. Their irrational fears fed on ignorance and were quite common. I cannot help thinking that they persist,
but now these fears are about the products of science. This is particularly true of nuclear power plants that seem to stir
the dread that in the past was felt about a moonlit graveyard thought to be infested with werewolves and vampires.
of nuclear energy is understandable through its association in the mind with the horrors of nuclear warfare, but it is unjustified;
nuclear power plants are not bombs. What at first was a proper concern for safety has become a near pathological anxiety and
much of the blame for this goes to the news media, the television and film industries, and fiction writers. All these have
used the fear of things nuclear as a reliable prop to sell their wares. They, and the political disinformers who sought to
discredit the nuclear industry as potential enemies, have been so successful at frightening the public that it is now impossible
in many nations to propose a new nuclear power plant.
of power is entirely safe, even windmills are not free of fatal accidents, and Bruno Comby's fine book gives a true and balanced
account of the great benefits and small risks of nuclear power. I wholeheartedly agree with him and I want to put it to you
that the dangers of continuing to burn fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) as our main energy source are far greater and they threaten
not just individuals but civilization itself. Much of the first world behaves like an addicted smoker: we are so used to burning
fossil fuels for our needs that we ignore their insidious long-term dangers.
the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has no immediate consequences, but continued pollution leads
to climate changes whose effects are only apparent when it is almost too late for a cure. Carbon dioxide poisons the environment
just as salt can poison us. No harm comes from a modest intake, but a daily diet with too much salt can cause a lethal quantity
to accumulate in the body.
to distinguish between things that are directly harmful to people, and things that harm indirectly by damaging our habitat
plague in the Middle Ages was directly harmful, caused immense personal agony and killed thirty percent of Europeans, but
it was a small threat to civilization and of no consequence for the Earth itself. The burning of carbon fuels and the conversion
of natural ecosystems to farmland cause no immediate harm to people but slowly impair the Earth's capacity to self-regulate
and sustain, as it has always done, a planet fit for life. Although nothing we do will destroy life on Earth, we could change
the environment to a point where civilization is threatened.
in this or the next century we may see this happen because of climate change and a rise in the level of the sea. If we go
on burning fossil fuel at the present rate, or at an increasing rate, it is probable that all of the cities of the world now
at sea level will beflooded. Try to imagine the social consequences of hundreds of millions of homeless refugees seeking dry
land on which to live. In the turmoil, they may look back and wonder how humans could have been so foolish as to bring so
much misery upon themselves by the thoughtless burning of carbon fuels. They may then reflect regretfully that they could
have avoided their miseries by the safe benefice of nuclear energy.
power, although potentially harmful to people, is a negligible danger to the planet. Natural ecosystems can stand levels of
continuous radiation that would be intolerable in a city. The land around the failed Chernobyl power station was evacuated
because its high radiation intensity made it unsafe for people, but this radioactive land is now rich in wildlife, much more
so than neighboring populated areas. We call the ash from nuclear power nuclear waste and worry about its safe disposal. I
wonder if instead we should use it an an incorruptible guardian of the beautiful places of the Earth. Who would dare cut down
a forest in which was the storage place of nuclear ash?
the extent of nuclear anxiety that even scientists seem to forget our planet's radioactive history. It seems almost certain
that a supernova event occurred close in time and space to the origin of our solar system.
is the explosion of a large star. Astrophysicists speculate that this fate may overtake stars more than three times as large
as the Sun. As a star burns - by fusion - its store of hydrogen and helium, the ashes of the fire accumulate at the centre,
in the form of heavier elements like silicon and iron. If this core of dead elements, which are no longer able to generate
heat and pressure, should much exceed the mass of our own sun then the inexorable force of its own weight will cause its collapse
in a matter of seconds to a body no larger than 18 miles (30 kilometers) in diameter but still as heavy as a star. We have
here, in the death throes of a large star, all the ingredients for a vast nuclear explosion. A supernovae, at its peak, produces
stupendous amounts of heat, light and hard radiations, about as much as the total produced by all the other stars in the same
are never one hundred percent efficient. When a star ends as a supernova, the nuclear explosive material, which includes uranium
and plutonium, together with large amounts of iron and other burnt-out elements, scatters in space, as does the dust cloud
of a hydrogen bomb test.
the strangest thing about the Earth is that it formed from lumps of fall-out from a star-sized nuclear bomb. This is why even
today there is still enough uranium left in the Earth's crust to reconstitute on a minute scale the original event.
no other credible explanation of the great quantity of unstable elements still present. The most primitive and old-fashioned
Geiger counter will indicate that we stand on the fall-out of a vast ancient nuclear explosion. Within our bodies, half a
million atoms, rendered unstable in that event, still erupt every minute, releasing a tiny fraction of the energy stored from
that fierce fire of long ago.
nearly four billion years ago under conditions of radioactivity far more intense than those that trouble the minds of certain
present-day environmentalists. Moreover, there was neither oxygen nor ozone in the air so that the fierce unfiltered ultra-violet
radiation of the sun irradiated the surface of the Earth. We need to keep in mind the thought that these fierce energies flooded
the very womb of life.
I hope that
it is not too late for the world to emulate France and make nuclear power our principal source of energy.
There is at present no other safe, practical and economic substitute for the dangerous practice of burning carbon fuels.
Bush Calls for More US Nuclear Energy
By Scott Stearns
Bush wants to build more nuclear power plants in the United States. It is part of the president's push to reduce America's dependence on
It has been more than 30 years since anyone has placed an order for a new reactor in the United States, largely because of public concerns over nuclear safety
following the partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island plant
in Pennsylvania in 1979 and the explosion at Ukraine's Chernobyl facility in 1986.
But with oil pushing $60 a barrel, President Bush says it
is time to re-energize America's
nuclear power industry. "Nuclear power is one of America's safest sources of energy," he said.
The President pushed his plan during a tour of a nuclear plant south of Washington where he put on a hard hat and also addressed public safety concerns about nuclear
"Some Americans remember the problems that the nuclear plants had back in the 1970s. We all remember
those days," he said. "That frightened a lot of folks. Yet people have got to understand that advances in science and engineering
and plant design have made nuclear plants far safer, far safer than ever before."
President Bush also cast the issue
as one of competitive advantage in a global economy. Even without a new plant in 30 years, the United States gets about 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear
power. In the same time, President Bush says France has built 58 reactors, which supply about 80 percent of
the country's electricity.
Many scientists continue to express concern about the safe disposal of nuclear material.
But much of the environmental issue has shifted in the last 30 years because nuclear plants do not produce so-called greenhouse-gas
emissions like oil, coal, and natural-gas facilities. "There is a growing consensus that more nuclear power will lead to a
cleaner, safer nation," the president said.
As part of his energy bill, President Bush wants the government to provide
risk insurance to protect new plant builders from licensing and legal delays. Congress is considering loan guarantees and
tax breaks for new reactors.
Source: VOA, 22 June 2005
Nuclear power gains economic momentum
Aid, incentives eyed for utilities
CLINTON, Ill. -- Along the streets of this economically depressed farm
town, there is optimism that a proposed nuclear power plant could bring in new jobs, give a boost to local retailers, and
increase taxes for schools.
The United States has not started a new reactor project for 29 years, but
President Bush is calling for a new era of nuclear power, saying it would reduce air pollution and dependence on foreign energy.
If new reactors are built, the first could be in Clinton or two other possible sites nationwide.
''It's the best option for power," says Stan Winterroth, a high school
shop teacher in Clinton. ''I don't agree with President Bush on anything else, but I think he's right on the issue of nuclear
To promote his program, Bush will visit the Calvert Cliff's nuclear power
plant in Maryland on Wednesday. It is the first time a president has stepped inside a nuclear plant since Jimmy Carter rushed
to Three Mile Island in 1979 to calm public fears during the reactor's partial meltdown, industry officials say.
The Senate, meanwhile, is preparing subsidies and incentives for utilities
to build new nuclear plants. The nuclear industry has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into new technology in recent
years. And the Nuclear Regulator Commission has hired droves of engineers to accommodate an atomic renaissance.
But the sober reality of nuclear power is that the United States will move
slowly and cautiously, at best, because Wall Street financiers and the nation's utility industry have vivid memories of the
legal, financial, and regulatory debacles that resulted from the building binge of the 1970s.
Even with subsidies and other incentives, few expect any construction before
2010, and only a small handful of plants to start up during the next 10 years.
Most utilities will wait to see whether the new regulatory system works
as advertised, and only then would they begin a more ambitious construction effort. It could be another two decades before
additional nuclear power plants have a significant impact on the US energy supply.
''There is much more confidence in the new process, but not enough yet
to make a new investment," acknowledges Marilyn Kray, president of NuStart Energy Development, a consortium of nine utilities
preparing an application for a nuclear construction license. ''Financiers are saying they are not yet comfortable."
Still, the industry is taking a series of preliminary steps under government
sponsorship. Three utility consortiums are getting $539 million of taxpayer subsidies through the Energy Department to seek
nuclear construction licenses under the new regulatory system. By going through the bureaucratic motions of applying for a
license, the utilities are supposed to gain confidence in new licensing rules intended to reduce delays and litigation.
Separately, three utilities have put in early site applications for new
reactors at existing plants, including ones in Illinois, Virginia, and Mississippi. The early site approval system is another
reform meant to reduce risks that projects will become mired in delays.
An energy bill now before the Senate contains operating subsidies in the
form of tax credits, much like the solar and wind industries receive. The legislation would also renew the Price-Anderson
Act, which provides legal immunity in the case of a meltdown or other nuclear accident.
Largely unnoticed, existing plants have increased their generating capacity
significantly in recent years, adding the equivalent of six new plants of output, and vastly improved their reliability.
© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.
Nuclear fusion boost from global
Experts sense G8 leaders will select
STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Nuclear fusion as a future
abundant energy source, and a key tool to combat global warning, could get a major boost next week if Group of Eight leaders
agree to a site for the world’s first fusion test reactor.
Group of Eight members France and Japan have been competing for
the right to build a fusion reactor — a project called ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) and expected
to cost $12 billion over 20 years.
Nuclear fusion mimics the way the sun produces
energy and could potentially provide a nearly inexhaustible supply of low-cost, clean and non-radioactive energy using seawater
Global warming, a problem experts say could be
eliminated if nuclear fusion becomes the favored energy source, is on the agenda at the July 6-8 summit of rich nations in
Scotland —meaning the ITER project could be up for discussion too.
Nuclear power does not emit carbon dioxide, a
key greenhouse gas that many scientists fear is behind global warming, because it does not burn fossil fuel.
Nations see potential, need “ITER will be decided ... I suspect it will be at the G8 meeting in Scotland,” said Robert
Aymar, director-general of the Swiss-based European Organization for Nuclear Research.
ITER — also Latin for “the way”
— is backed by the United States, the European Union, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea with India and Brazil expected to join soon, Aymar said.
“These countries at the political level
have realized that there is a potential and there is a need and they are trying to make this effort,” he said.
The fusion reactor project had been ready for
launch already in 2003 but the U.S.-led war in Iraq got in the way of a decision on location, Aymar said.
U.S. President Bush then wanted to reward Japan
for its support on Iraq, leading to a tug-of-war with the European Union over where the site would be built.
EU officials have said they believe Cadarache
in the south of France will be the site of ITER.
Fission vs. fusion
Aymar and Carlo Rubbia, an Italian nuclear
scientist who shared the 1984 Nobel physics prize, spoke to Reuters on the sidelines of an energy symposium organized by the
Nobel prize foundation.
Nuclear and solar power look like the only viable
solutions for the world’s growing energy needs without exacerbating global warming, Rubbia said, adding that a quarter
of earth’s population — 1.6 billion people — have no electricity.
He said conventional nuclear power, obtained
through fission instead of fusion, would eventually disappear.
Conventional nuclear reactors — in which
uranium atoms are split, creating hazardous radioactive waste such as plutonium that can be used in nuclear weapons —
currently produce around 15 percent of the world’s electricity.
Fusion reactors would “remove some of the
great concern that we had in the past” such as the Chernobyl disaster, Rubbia said.
Scientists have not yet mastered the fusion process
but are “confident that the goal will be achieved,” Aymar said, adding that a commercial fusion reactor would
probably not come on stream until around 2050.
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.
Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters.
Jun 30th 2005
From The Economist print edition
step towards commercial fusion power. Perhaps
Get article background
THIS week, an international project to build a nuclear-fusion reactor came a step closer to reality
when politicians agreed it should be constructed in France rather than in
Japan, the other country lobbying to host it. The estimated cost is $12 billion,
making it one of the most expensive scientific projects around—comparable financially with the International Space Station.
It is scheduled to run for 30 years, which is handy since, for the past half century, fusion advocates have claimed that achieving
commercial nuclear fusion is 30 years away.
The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), as the project is known, is intended
to be the final proving step before a commercial fusion reactor is built. It would demonstrate that power can be generated
using the energy released when two light atomic nuclei are brought together to make a heavier one—a process similar
to the one that powers the sun and other stars.
Advocates of fusion point to its alleged
advantages over other forms of power generation. It is efficient, so only small quantities of fuel are needed. Unlike existing
nuclear reactors, which produce nasty long-lived radioactive waste, the radioactive processes involved with fusion are relatively
short-lived and the waste products benign. Unlike fossil-fuel plants, there are no carbon-dioxide emissions. And the principal
fuel, a heavy isotope of hydrogen called deuterium, is present in ordinary water, of which there is no shortage.
The challenges of achieving fusion
should not be underestimated. A large volume of gas must be heated to a temperature above that found at the centre of the
sun. At the same time, that gas must be prevented from touching the walls of the reactor by confining it in a powerful magnetic
field known as a magnetic bottle. The energy released in fusion is carried mostly by neutrons, a type of subatomic particle
that has no electric charge and hence cannot be confined by the magnetic bottle. Ensuring that the reactor wall can cope with
being bombarded by these neutrons presents a further challenge.
The costs involved are immense. The
budget for ITER involves spending $5 billion on construction, $5 billion on operating costs over 20 years and more than $1
billion on decommissioning. Yet the reason why taxpayers should spend such sums is unclear. The world is not short of energy.
Climate change can be addressed without recourse to generating power from fusion since there are already many alternatives
to fossil-fuel power plants. And $12 billion could buy an awful lot of research into those alternatives.
Part of the reason why commercial fusion
reactors have always been 30 years away is that increasing the size of the reactors to something big enough to be a power
plant proved harder than foreseen. But fusion aficionados also blame a lack of urgency for the slow progress, claiming that
at least 15 years have been lost because of delays in decision-making and what they regard as inadequate funding.
There is some truth in this argument.
ITER is a joint project between America,
most of the European Union, Japan,
China, Russia and South Korea. For the past 18 months, work was at a standstill while the member states wrangled over where to site
the reactor in what was generally recognised as a proxy for the debate over the war in Iraq. America was thought to support the placing of ITER in Japan in return for Japan's support in that war. Meanwhile, the Russians and Chinese were supporting France which, like them, opposed the American-led invasion. That France was eventually chosen owes much to the fact that the European Union promised
to support a suitable Japanese candidate as the next director general of ITER.
Like the International Space Station,
ITER had its origins in the superpower politics of the 1980s that brought the cold war to its end as Russia and the West groped around for things they could collaborate on. Like the
International Space Station, therefore, ITER is at bottom a political animal. And, like the International Space Station, the
scientific reasons for developing it are almost non-existent. They cannot justify the price.
France wins battle to host experimental fusion
MOSCOW -- In a bid to harness what backers say could be a nearly limitless
source of clean electric power, an international consortium chose France yesterday as the site for an experimental fusion reactor that will aim to replicate how the sun creates
The planned $13 billion project is one of the most prestigious
and expensive international scientific efforts ever launched. But critics say the technological hurdles to be overcome are
so vast that the money could be better spent in other ways.
Japan and France, backed by roughly equal factions in the consortium planning the project, had competed fiercely for the
prestige and economic benefits of hosting the project. But Tokyo agreed
to a compromise: The fusion reactor is to be sited at Cadarache, near Marseille in southern France, while Japan
will have the next-largest role in the project. Cadarache has one of the biggest civilian nuclear research centers in Europe.
''We are making scientific history," Janez Potocnik, the
European Union's science and research commissioner, said at a news conference in Moscow held to announce the agreement for
the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project.
''This is a great success for France, for Europe, and for all of the partners in the ITER," French President Jacques
Chirac said in a statement. ''The international community will now be able to take on an unprecedented scientific and technological
challenge, which opens great hopes for providing humanity with an energy that has no impact on the environment and is practically
Fusion is the process of atoms combining at extraordinarily
high temperatures that not only provides the energy of the sun and stars but also gives hydrogen bombs their enormous power.
The challenge faced by the international project is to control that energy in a self-sustaining reaction in which the heat
released by fusion can be used to generate electricity, an engineering feat of daunting complexity.
But the theoretical attractions of the idea are also great.
The reactor's main fuel, deuterium, also known as heavy hydrogen, can be obtained from water. The project's website states
that Lake Geneva alone contains enough deuterium to meet global energy needs for several thousand years.
Existing nuclear reactors use fission, or the splitting of
large atoms, to produce power, a process that leaves waste that remains highly radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.
Fusion reactors, by contrast, would produce minimal waste that would be radioactive for a much shorter period, backers say.
A joint declaration signed yesterday at a meeting in Moscow
of representatives of the United States, the 25-member European Union, Russia, China, Japan, and Korea, said the project would
explore ''the long-term potential of fusion energy as a virtually limitless, environmentally acceptable, and economically
competitive source of energy."
The project is important for ''the rapid realization of fusion
energy for peaceful purposes and the stimulation of the interest of succeeding generations in fusion," it said.
The experimental reactor project was conceived at an international
summit in 1985 as a showpiece for cooperation during the Cold War. Construction of the reactor is expected to take 10 years
to complete. The reactor itself is budgeted to cost about $6 billion and will produce about 10,000 jobs. The rest of the $13
billion is for associated research, a significant portion of it in Japan.
If the project is successful, long-term plans call for a
demonstration fusion power plant to be built in the 2030s and the first commercial fusion plant to be built in midcentury.
''As a project of unprecedented complexity spanning more
than a generation, ITER marks a major step forward in international science cooperation," said Potocnik, the EU commissioner.
''Now that we have reached consensus on the site for ITER, we will make all efforts to finalize the agreement on the project,
so that construction can begin as soon as possible."
Vladimir Kuznetsov, director of the program for nuclear and
radiation safety of the Russian Green Cross, said that, ''Russia was the country that initiated this kind of research" half
a century ago, but that ''since then nothing spectacular was achieved along that road." He expressed doubt that the project
would ever come to fruition.
According to the agreement reached yesterday, the European
Union as a whole will cover 40 percent of the cost and France alone will cover another 10 percent. The remaining half will be paid by the other five partners, including the
United States, at 10 percent each. France will provide 40 percent of total staffing and Japan 20 percent.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
Lovelock: 'Only nuclear power can now halt global warming'
by Michael McCarthy
Global warming is now advancing so swiftly that only a massive expansion of nuclear power as the world's
main energy source can prevent it overwhelming civilisation, the scientist and celebrated Green guru, James Lovelock, says.
call will cause huge disquiet for the environmental movement. It has long considered the 84-year-old radical thinker among
its greatest heroes, and sees climate change as the most important issue facing the world, but it has always regarded opposition
to nuclear power as an article of faith. Last night the leaders of both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth rejected his call.
Lovelock, who achieved international fame as the author of the Gaia hypothesis, the theory that the Earth keeps itself fit
for life by the actions of living things themselves, was among the first researchers to sound the alarm about the threat from
the greenhouse effect.
He was in a select group of scientists who gave an initial briefing on climate change to Margaret
Thatcher's Conservative Cabinet at 10 Downing Street in April 1989.
He now believes recent climatic events have shown
the warming of the atmosphere is proceeding even more rapidly than the scientists of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC) thought it would, in their last report in 2001.
On that basis, he says, there is simply not enough time
for renewable energy, such as wind, wave and solar power - the favoured solution of the Green movement - to take the place
of the coal, gas and oil-fired power stations whose waste gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), is causing the atmosphere to warm.
believes only a massive expansion of nuclear power, which produces almost no CO2, can now check a runaway warming which would
raise sea levels disastrously around the world, cause climatic turbulence and make agriculture unviable over large areas.
He says fears about the safety of nuclear energy are irrational and exaggerated, and urges the Green movement to drop its
In today's Independent, Professor Lovelock says he is concerned by two climatic events in particular: the
melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which will raise global sea levels significantly, and the episode of extreme heat in western
central Europe last August, accepted by many scientists as unprecedented and a direct result of global warming.
are ominous warning signs, he says, that climate change is speeding, but many people are still in ignorance of this. Important
among the reasons is "the denial of climate change in the US, where governments have failed to give their climate scientists
the support they needed".
He compares the situation to that in Europe in 1938, with the Second World War looming, and
nobody knowing what to do. The attachment of the Greens to renewables is "well-intentioned but misguided", he says, like the
Left's 1938 attachment to disarmament when he too was a left-winger.
He writes today: "I am a Green, and I entreat
my friends in the movement to drop their wrongheaded objection to nuclear energy."
His appeal, which in effect is asking
the Greens to make a bargain with the devil, is likely to fall on deaf ears, at least at present.
"Lovelock is right
to demand a drastic response to climate change," Stephen Tindale, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said last night. "He's
right to question previous assumptions.
"But he's wrong to think nuclear power is any part of the answer. Nuclear creates
enormous problems, waste we don't know what to do with; radioactive emissions; unavoidable risk of accident and terrorist
Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, said: "Climate change and radioactive waste both pose deadly
long-term threats, and we have a moral duty to minimise the effects of both, not to choose between them."
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