Nuclear Power - Yes Please

Tim Rickman's website

June 2013 temporary index page


Whoever you are ....

Whoever you are, please read at least this paragraph. It does concern you and could hardly be more important. What you have been told about the future is not true. The probable effects of what is happening to the climate are far worse than normally suggested, and necessary action is very different from that normally implied. The people apparently in charge will not do what is required. Even if they wanted to, control is not in their hands. The continuance of the world or its destruction (maybe wholly) is being irreversibly determined now by the energy use of ordinary people in the developed world. Soon (or perhaps already) it will be too late.

Summary of some main points:

What can be done?

In order to avoid disastrous global effects, the following two actions are required:

Nuclear Power

Now that the last few decades' disinformation about nuclear power has been exposed as untrue, our energy objectives need to change radically.

It no longer makes sense to use up precious public investment resources by building wind generators (even offshore ones). Wind generation does produce a tiny amount of low-carbon power, but it cannot realistically produce as much power as everyone wants. When adopted on any significant scale, it also makes it difficult for the power grid to be regulated so that supply at any moment equals demand. Beyond the next few years, neither is there any point in attempting slight reductions in demand such as might (theoretically at least) result from better domestic heat insulation, low-power lighting, grid-connected exercise bikes or whatever reality-avoiding nonsense is currently promoted.

There is only one way of producing anything approaching the vast amount of energy demanded, and that is nuclear. Ideally it would be fourth generation nuclear, which is certain to be more sustainable, safe, low-waste, and flexible than what is used now. High temperature reactors can also manufacture hydrogen-based products (like vehicle fuel and fertiliser) much more efficiently. However, there isn't time to wait for fourth generation development, so for the immediate future it will have to be a programme of frantically building the ordinary not-terribly-safe, wasteful, un-turn-off-and-on-able third generation nuclear reactors now in limited use in many countries. Some governments around the world are planning new reactors, but nothing like as many in total as are needed if all power (not just electricity) is to be provided by them. The future of the world depends largely on them deciding to build many more, as quickly as possible, with extreme emissions restraint until they do.

Once the necessary expansion of nuclear generation has been done, the question will be how to use (or waste) surplus energy, rather than how to avoid using it. This is because third generation reactors cannot respond quickly to changes in demand. Fortunately, there are lots of ways of using up surplus power, such as pumping water uphill, slightly compressing gaseous fuel, heating things, cooling things, manufacturing hydrogen products, grinding up rock, and removing carbon dioxide from the air or acid from the oceans. The last two or three now urgently need doing on a colossal scale anyway, to reduce the existing effects of past fossil fuel use. Charging batteries also uses up some power, since some road transport may (but, strictly speaking, need not) change from internal combustion engine to battery. Similarly, efficient heat pumps might replace conventional methods for space heating, or they might not. Once power production is nuclear, it doesn't really matter how efficiently such things are done, because there will normally be too much power rather than not enough.

So, energy-consumption-wise, nothing need change about our lifestyles. We can carry on our profligate and often revolting energy habits as if the world had never been on the brink of disaster. Not quite yet, though, because the reactors have to be built first. Also, tragically, it might very well already be too late. Maybe the world will go (or has gone) over the brink of disaster anyway, if we do not act quickly enough, or if we do not restrain our emissions while nuclear generation capacity is being put in place. What a strange outcome.

What can you do?

If you live in a country where politicians take notice of the electorate's wishes (as they often seem to with nuclear power) then you can contact your national political representative (MP or whatever) and tell them.

You can download a "Nuclear Power? Yes Please" logo (like the old "Atomkraft? Nein Danke!" design) from and print and laminate it and stick it in your window.

Whatever else you do, you also need to keep your emissions of persistent greenhouse gases (especially fossil CO2) to the absolute minimum possible until non-fossil power can be used instead. The sustainable threshold is zero.

More information

For apparently truthful scientific information and comment on climate change:

For pro-nuclear information and comment:

Many environmentalists now support nuclear power and have recently written supportively about it. (George Monbiot, Mark Lynas, a batch of former prominent UK Green Party members, etc.) Most but not all environmental organisations are still anti-nuclear.

Hansen or IPCC - Who is right?

Deciding how seriously to take climate change depends on us opting to follow either IPCC's relaxed view or the much more worrying assessments from people like James Hansen and Jim Lovelock. In many respects, the two views don't actually directly contradict each other, but that is because they are using profoundly different approaches and, to some degree, answering different questions. Actually, IPCC conclusions include the findings of Hansen and Lovelock, but these few individuals with their uncomfortable and outlying results must be difficult to amalgamate with the mass of other findings, so perhaps it is natural if they tend to get under-emphasised.

I welcome anyone who can better explain the daily realities of climate prediction, but I think it works like this. IPCC scientists commonly are engaged in climate modelling - trying to recreate the intricate workings of the entire planet inside a computer. Lots of assumptions have to be made, and a certain amount of tweaking of the model is necessary to get sensible results. Even excluding any poor practice, there is an obvious danger that whatever is expected will be found, whether it is there or not. Perhaps definite but moderate warming of the climate is what modellers expect. It is certainly the sort of result that seems satisfactory when it occurs, and one that does not necessitate a drastic re-think. So it tends to stand. In comparison, despite lacking these dangers, the much simpler approach primarily championed by Hansen can suffer from being really a bit too easy. Less work to be done, fewer jobs, fewer papers and a consequent tendency for the results to carry less weight with others because of them having less social and psychological presence.

The public nature of IPCC the IPCC process seems also to have had an effect. The credibility of the organisation is greatly increased by it presenting a consensus. Yet how are widely differing results to be comfortably presented as a consensus? A circumspect and calm tone is also valued, and results that strongly suggest we are all doomed can be difficult to accommodate within such a constraint. IPCC voices have been on the record as saying something to the effect both that IPCC should avoid creating a public panic, and that IPCC should strenuously avoid overstating the climate change case in order to protect its own credibility. Of course, neither of these logically necessitates understating the case for concern, but understatement certainly does seem to have been the outcome. It is not just ice loss that has been significantly quantitatively understated by IPCC. The next IPCC report will have to adopt a much more strident tone if it is to continue to truthfully represent what is clearly happening to the climate.

To date, IPCC has achieved consensus, and has preserved its credibility and authority. It has also not caused panic (far from it!). Presumably these were its priorities. However, it has not told us what we need to know. Hansen, on the other hand, to the best of his ability has told us the most important things possible. His evidence is simple, and presumably fairly reliable, although not plentiful. Some of what he has pointed out (such as the 350ppm CO2 limit) should have been obvious to us already. His analysis seldom seems to provide much opportunity for error. And, unfortunately, I think I believe him.


Hansen at NASA:

Hansen at Colombia:

Hansen's (non-technical) book:

Most of Hansen's papers recent are also in my (this) site in draft form. The final form is available free somewhere on the web.

How things have changed

The original purpose of this website was to tell the world the one thing it needed to know to avoid progressive (or possibly sudden) global destruction by global warming. At the time (about 1990) the available evidence seemed to indicate that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 would stop rising if fossil carbon emissions were reduced to a particular global rate. The people emitting the carbon (first world consumers) thus needed to know what this annual rate was if they were going to avoid either destroying the world or reducing their material living standards unnecessarily. The assumption was that a reasonable way to apportion the biosphere's limited capacity to absorb carbon would be for everyone to get an equal share, then for the capacity remaining unused (by people in less developed countries) to be shared out between everyone else. Anyway, however the sharing was done, people needed to know how much was actually available to be shared.

The figures were distributed first in paper form, then on the internet, to members of mainstream environmental organisations in the UK. It turned out these people (let alone everyone else) didn't want to know how much CO2 absorption capacity was available for them personally, because they intended using as much as they liked. Nor did they have any plans for preventing anyone else from using the same capacity. At that time, it appeared that no technology could supply the almost unlimited quantity of energy demanded without destroying the world. The inevitable conclusion was that the world was doomed, although at that time it seemed that it would be at least a century or so before irreparable damage was done.

In those days, people had not yet learned the tactics of effective and politically correct issue avoidance, so it was possible to learn something of their thoughts. Some put forward complex reasons why they were entitled to help themselves to atmospheric capacity which either did not exist or was being used by someone else. Some simply said they would be dead before any suffering could be caused to them by global warming. Very few people (anarchists or low-impact livers already) were not hostile to the idea of emissions restraint, and a few scientists in relevant fields had already understood the hazard and adjusted their lifestyles.

We now know that the sustainable emission rate is zero (so there is no need to argue about how to share it out) and that there is no time left before irreparable damage to the Earth is caused. Despite this, public perception has not changed much since the 1990s, except for campaigns designed to smear the credibility or integrity of climate scientists finding a welcome. Intergovernmental structures and national political initiatives to reduce
emissions have not been effective in tackling fossil carbon emissions. Indeed, it would be surprising if they ever were, since economic and political power stem directly from fossil fuel use. But, quite recently, one thing has changed. The damning criticisms spread against nuclear power by environmentalists have been exposed as untrue. It turns out that nuclear can indeed provide almost unlimited power for ever without destroying the world. It can even make fossil-free vehicle fuel and fertiliser. No other power source can sensibly do this. It also has become clear that nuclear power need not be dangerous or expensive or inflexible, although the designs of reactor now in use around the world do not perform well in most such respects. So he world need not be doomed. The much maligned scientists, having fed the world, cured many of its diseases, won World War Two for (arguably) the less evil side, gone to work on their bikes to avoid carbon emissions, and told the world that climate change was a problem at all in the first place, have now cured it for us as well. If we listen to them, that is.

So are we safe? Nowhere near. There are still ways for us to bollocks up the planetary paradise that has been handed to us on a plate. We could refuse to adopt nuclear power (possibly by declining to publicly invest in it) or we could emit CO2 at such a rate before nuclear power production is in place that the climate fails anyway. Our plans at present are to do both. (You can't take chances when the whole planet is at stake!) And, of course, we are destroying the world in a number of other ways, principally by making things extinct.

Tim Rickman's website:

The CO2 part of Tim's site now will have to be changed again as it has become clear that James Hansen is almost certainly right about climate change prospects and IPCC are currently (2012) far less right. Contrary to what Tim's old CO2 page said, it is now apparent that the sustainable emissions threshold is zero.

The previous site can still be found here and it all still applies apart from the CO2 page.

Unresolved science:

As of mid-2011, it seems to me that a significant fast negative feedback remains unidentified. (The most credible candidate for this is probably Lovelock's DMS.) For the continuation of acceptable global ecological function, it is probably necessary for this unknown feedback to continue to operate at an adequate level.

Here are some recent documents that might be useful:

Earth's energy imbalance and implications (Hansen, 2011)

Paleoclimate Implications for Human-made Climate Change (Hansen, 2011) (useful as introduction to situation)

The Case for Young People and Nature (Hansen 2011) (includes explanation of options still open, late in document)

Earth's Energy Imbalance and Implications (Hansen, 2011) (mostly too detailed, unless you're a climate modeller)

The following are less immediately useful:

The Efficacy of Climate Forcings paper (basis of Climate Threat to the Planet Bjerknes lecture) is available here as a full text.

The Zeebe Zachos Dickens paper about PETM full text

The Target paper full text with supplementary material

Anti-Hansen and related papers:

Includes finding that, in the case of one of the two time points used by Hansen, a computer model could bring about temperature change from solar forcing change alone without greenhouse gas amplification.

Implications of the Secondary Role of Carbon Dioxide and Methane Forcing in Climate Change: Past, Present, and Future (Soon)

Climate Hypersensitivity to Climate Forcing? (Soon, Posmentier, Balinunas)

Response of an Ocean-Atmosphere Climate Model to Milankovic Forcing (Posmentier, 1994)

My own criticism of Hansen would be that he aligns himself with everyone else in blaming politicians and big business rather than consumers/voters. His graph of climate sensitivity (in his book) could also be criticised for being part log, part linear although it looks like this could have been avoided.

Other papers not yet properly indexed:

Production of Hydrogen Using Nuclear Energy (Forsberg)

Is Hydrogen the Future of Nuclear Energy? (Forsberg) Conference plenary summary

Assessing dangerous climate change through an update of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) "reasons for concern" (Smith et al)

A Guide to CO2 Sequestration (Lackner)

Carbonate Chemistry for Sequestering Fossil Carbon (Lackner)

Tipping elements in the Earth System (Schellnhuber)

Paleo-perspectives on ocean acidification (Pelejero et al)

The coral reef crisis: The critical importance of <350 ppm CO2 (Veron 2009)

Ocean Acidification (Feely et al)

High-Resolution Greenland Ice Core Data Show Abrupt Climate Change Happens in Few Years (Steffensen et al, 2008) Long

High-Resolution Greenland Ice Core Data Show Abrupt Climate Change Happens in Few Years (Steffensen et al, 2008) Short

The New Climate Dice: Public Perception of Climate Change (Hansen, Sato, Ruedy 2012)

The Great Ice Meltdown and Rising Seas: Lessons for Tomorrow (Gomitz NASA GISS 2012)

Atmospheric CO2: Principal Control Knob Governing Earth's Temperature (Lacis, Schmidt, Rind, Ruedy 2010)

Earth's energy imbalance and implications (Hansen, Sato, Kharecha, von Schuckmann 2011)

Could nuclear fission energy, etc., solve the greenhouse problem? The affirmative case (Barry Brook 2011)

Geoengineering potential of artificially enhanced silicate weathering of olivine (Kohler, Hartmann, Wolf-Gladrow 2010)

Liquid Fuel Nuclear Reactors (Hargraves and Moir)

Advanced nuclear power systems to mitigate climate change (Blees et al)

Life in the fast lane (magazine article by Tom Blees)

Prescription for the Planet (book about IFRs etc. by Tom Blees)

Paleoclimate Implications for Human-made Climate Change (Hansen, Sato)

Climate Threat to the Planet: Implications for Energy Policy and Intergenerational Justice - Bjerknes lecture (Hansen, 2008)

An Early Cenozoic Perspective on Greenhouse Warming and Carbon Cycle Dynamics (Zachos, Dickens, Zeebe, 2008)

Earth's Energy Imbalance and Implications (Hansen, Sato, Kharecha)

MORE RECENT VERSION Paleoclimate Implications for Human-made Climate Change (Hansen, Sato)

A Slippery Slope (Hansen, about 2005)

Climate Change and Trace Gases (Hansen et al, 2007)

Climate Simulations for 1880-2003 with GISS ModelE (Hansen et al, 2007)

Climate Impact of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (Hansen, 1981)

Carbon Dioxide Forcing Alone Insufficient to Explain Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum Warming (Zeebe et al, 2009)

Dangerous Human-made Interference with Climate: a GISS modelE Study (Hansen et al, 2007)

Earth's Energy Imbalance: Confirmation and Implications (Hansen et al, 2005)

Efficacy of Climate Forcings (Hansen et al, 2005)

Extensive Dynamic Thinning on the Margins of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets - Correction notice (Pritchard et al, 2009)

Forcings and Chaos in Interannual to Decadal Climate Change (Hansen et al, 1997)

Global Sea-Level Fluctuations During the Last Interglaciation (MIS 5e) (Hearty, 2007)

Global Temperature Change (Hansen et al, 2006)

Global Surface Temperature Change (Hansen et al, 2006)

Global Warming in the Twenty-first Century: An Alternative Scenario (Hansen et al, 2000)

Earth's Energy Imbalance and Implications (Hansen et al)

The Case for Young People and Nature (Hansen et al)

Climate Sensitivity: Analysis of Feedback Mechanisms (Hansen et al, 1984)

A Plio-Pleistocene Stack of 57 Globally Distributed Benthic (Oxygen 18 isotope) Records (Lisieki, Raymo)

Scientific Reticence and Sea Level Rise (Hansen, 2007)

Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim? (including supplements) (Hansen et al)

The Missing Climate Forcing (Hansen et al, 1997)

Tipping Elements in the Earth's Climate System (Lenton et al, 2007)

Appendices for Tipping Elements in the Earth's Climate System (Lenton et al, 2007)

Trends, Rythms and Aberrations in Global Climate 65 Ma to Present (Zachos et al)

Oceanic Dimethyl Sulfide Emission and New Particle Formation around the Coast of Antarctica: A Modeling Study of Seasonal Variations and Comparison with Measurements (Yu, Luo, 2010)