Discussing Mark Lynas’ “Nuclear 2.0: Why a Green Future Needs Nuclear Power”

Jul 11 2013 Published by under Book Review, Nuclear energy

Mark Lynas just released an “Amazon short” title called Nuclear 2.0.

The book description at Amazon has this to say:

Lynas shows that with wind and solar still at only about 1 percent of global primary energy, asking renewables to deliver all the world’s power is “dangerously delusional”.

That got me interested. Maybe he’s talking about my “dangerous delusions”. I happen to think that it is the other way round. It is a delusion to hope for the nuclear bailout. Renewable energy will have to do the job alone.

It also claims in its first sentence, rather arrogantly:

Everything you thought you knew about nuclear power is wrong.

How does Lynas even know what his readers think? And how is claiming everything disagreeing with his views is wrong anything else as extremely annoying arrogance?

The first clear error came a couple of pages in. Lynas writes:

“I had entirely overlooked the world’s most abundant source of low-carbon power.”

That is not nuclear. It’s hydro. According to the 2012 edition of the IEA Key World Energy Statistics, nuclear generated  2756 TWh in 2010, while hydro generated 3516. Of course, nuclear is down as a consequence of the Fukushima accident, clocking in at only 2346 in 2012.

That makes nuclear the most abundant source of low-carbon power generation reductions. I expect plenty of more reductions from this source.

He then claims:

nuclear power provides 15 percent of global electricity

Nope. Even in 2010, the percentage was at 12.9, and it has of course declined substantially after that, again according to the IEA report cited above.

Not a good start, considering this claim:

using the very latest factual data

Next, a whopping mistake that makes me want to stop reading right there:

our task is to generate thousands of terawatts of power per year.

Newsflash: Power generation per year is measured in TWh, not terawatts. And “thousands” doesn’t cut it either. How can Mark Lynas, a reasonably competent journalist, make such a simple mistake?

And right then, he writes something I agree with completely:

Most importantly, the pro-renewables and pro-nuclear tribes will have to join forces if we are to confront the vested interests which threaten to keep this planet on its current trajectory towards disaster.

I have my doubts, though, if calling the other side “delusional” and “dangerous” will contribute to such a goal.

I also completely agree with the analysis that fossil fuel has given humanity, on average, a much better life since the industrial revolution. If one could choose the ideal age to live in, right now would be a rather good choice. Still receiving the many benefits of burning fossil fuel at a rate of 5.3 million over its reproduction, but still not feeling the more unfortunate effects of global warming.

Lynas then writes a couple of pages on how solar and wind will never be enough to achieve anything, citing numbers about the share of primary energy supply (which is a great way to make solar look bad and nuclear look good, with all the heat energy completely wasted in nuclear plants, but conveniently included in the primary energy balance).

If Lynas is right, there will be no solution for global warming. It’s as easy as that. Nuclear certainly won’t come to the rescue. It’s in decline, and will decline further.

But Lynas doesn’t understand the beauty of exponential growth. If solar growth world wide goes down to the lowest value recorded in the past twenty years (30 percent), then it will take solar supply only until 2030 to top world electricity demand, as Eduard Heindl kindly explains in this recent post (in German).

Lynas is opposed to building new hydro, because of “fragile riverine ecosystems”. Newsflash: those will be destroyed anyway if global warming proceeds unchecked. China has installed 230 GW of hydro in 2012 and will increase that to 290 GW until 2015. That compares to World nuclear capacity around 380 GW in 2010. Would Lynas rather get rid of all that low-carbon Chinese hydro capacity to protect some “fragile ecosystem” or other? I certainly don’t think the World could afford this kind of luxury.

Remarkably, nothing Lynas writes about the German “Energiewende” is wrong. Of course, shutting down nuclear capacity will, all things equal, lead to more CO2 emissions. The new renewable capacity must make up for the missing nuclear energy before it can displace coal. That’s just common sense.

But it is also common sense that calling for nuclear in Germany is a fringe minority loser position. If your global warming strategy requires nuclear power in Germany, get used to a warmer planet.

Lynas acknowledges that nuclear has a cost problem. He fails to mention though the part of the problem that comes from a stronger renewable penetration. That means that nuclear power plants can’t be expected to run around the clock any more, and it also means that the days of high peak noon power prices are gone for good.

Around the end I find out that the title “Nuclear 2.0″ means limiting global warming to 2.0 degrees by using nuclear power (which is not what one would assume from reading the title on its face).

The main thesis of the book is that everybody opposed to fossil fuel should work together in an “all of the above” strategy, though strangely one that excludes the real largest source of low carbon power (hydro). That used to be my position, until I found out that most pro-nuclear people are trying to slow down renewable energy, since they (correctly) perceive that their dreams of playing with plutonium won’t get anywhere with viable alternatives in place, and with renewable eating their lunch and dinner in the marketplace.

The “all of the above” idea is nice, but it won’t work in practice. We are in another Great War of Currents, and people need to chose their sides. Someone advocating “all of the above” like Lynas will probably alienate everybody in sight.


5 responses so far

  • Mark Lynas says:

    Karl. A couple of points about your claimed “mistakes” I am supposed to have made.

    1. Nuclear power is the most “abundant” source of power – but hydro has a larger share. That’s why I chose the word “abundant” – having spent months looking at the energy statistics, I am well aware that hydro generates slightly more power. Hydro is not abundant – it is geographically very limited, and basically maxxed out because of ecological constraints. More big dams will mean more extinctions of fish, more destruction of freshwater biodiversity.

    2. Nuclear power provides 15% of electricity. That was true in 2005, which is the year I am talking about if you read the passage properly. Again, I am well aware that it has declined since then.

    3. Terawatts – all the way through the book where I am talking about totals of power generation I use TWh. Perhaps you are nitpicking here, in order not to have to deal with the facts?

    4. I don’t say anywhere that we should remove current hydro. Of course this would do the same as removing nuclear, and push up emissions.

    It is sad that you choose division over unity – perhaps it shows that climate is not so far up your list of priorities as you think. That is of course your call – but my prediction is either your team will lose, or the climate will.

  • Karl-Friedrich Lenz says:

    Thanks for your reply. In order:

    1. If you include potential, in contrast to actual records, of course solar is the most abundant resource. So your claim is false either way, and it is at least misleading.

    2. In my post above I clearly made the connection to your claim of “using the very latest factual data”. I guess it’s my fault for thinking that claim had some substance to it. Again, your text is misleading at best.

    3. This is just a simple mistake, and you should acknowledge and correct it, instead of attacking me for pointing it out.

    4. I am glad to hear your opposition to hydro is limited to new installations, something I would not have known reading the text. I still think that “all of the above except new hydro” doesn’t make much sense.

    As to the final remark, I am not “choosing” division. I wish you were right and “all of the above” was possible. I don’t believe it is.

  • [...] Counting on it for your global warming strategy is “dangerous and delusional”, to give that compliment right back to Mark Lynas, who somehow thinks that renewable won’t be able to do the job [...]

  • [...] Post navigation ← Sunday, Solar Sunday — Germany’s July 7 Solar Power Record In-Depth Review: “Nuclear 2.0: Why a Green Future Needs Nuclear Power,” By Mark Lynas Posted on July 12, 2013 by Karl-Friedrich Lenz This article was first published on Lenz Blog. [...]

  • [...] ¶   Discussing Mark Lynas’ “Nuclear 2.0: Why a Green Future Needs Nuclear Power” Spoiler: The book does have a few errors in it. [Lenz Blog] [...]

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