France, U.S., Australia discussed on Why It Matters

Why It Matters
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The joke is that fusion is 30 years away and always will be. But if it works and there actually has been a lot of really interesting progress on that front, just over the past few years, it would be able to provide large amounts of electricity much more cleanly than nuclear fission. You know, the tricky thing is, there are a lot of scientific unknowns and a lot of engineering unknowns, and then after you lock those down, you still need to deal with how you construct these plants in an economical fashion. So there's a lot of work still to be done, but there are some really brilliant people and even some just fascinating private companies that are making really great strides on developing commercially viable fusion plants for the future. Fusion would represent an unparalleled breakthrough in the fight against climate change. But it still may be a long ways off. For now, countries have to weigh mounting climate and energy pressures against the expense and stigma of existing nuclear technology. Some countries, like Australia, for example, have no nuclear power at all. At the other end of the spectrum, you have countries like the UK, which plans to center nuclear to achieve a fossil fuel free energy grid by 2035. China is planning a 40% increase in nuclear capacity. India, has 7 new plants under construction. In France, is setting aside €1 billion for small, modular reactors. France in particular has a very high fraction of their electricity coming from nuclear. I think right now, it's about 80% in the past. It was slightly higher. Yeah, and so France among every industrial country has by far the lowest greenhouse gas production because so much of their energy comes from nuclear. And France in particular when they were building a lot of these reactors in the 1970s were especially good about streamlining the construction process as well. They built very, very similar reactor units across the country, which allowed them to cookie cutter style, just roll them out one after another after another. And just streamlining the actual construction is one of the most crucial pieces for making sure that these plants can be built on time and on budget. So where is the United States in all of this? We still derive about 20% of our electricity from nuclear power. But the infrastructure is aging. 12 reactors were permanently closed between 2013 and 2021. And in many cases, this led to an increased use of fossil fuels. If these trends continue, the nuclear share of U.S. electricity generation could fall to just 11% by 2050. What is the risk if we don't pursue further research and implementation of nuclear energy? I think that nuclear is crucial for hitting our climate goals. I think there's no way that we'll be able to hit our climate goals with solar and wind and hydro and geothermal alone. I mean, to get a little bit more specific on that, there aren't very many more places in the world where we can install additional hydro or geothermal. And wind and solar, they're fantastic technologies, but we need to couple them with better grid scale energy storage, or else they won't be useful for the grid. I mean, one of the craziest things to me about the electric grid in general as a system is that you need to across an electric grid match very, very closely, the amount of electricity being produced at any one time and the amount of electricity being consumed at any one time. And you can get halfway decent estimates for how much electricity is being consumed at any one time. You can say, okay, well, this is baseline how much people in businesses use and okay, there's a heat wave coming up next week so we can guess that people are going to turn on their air conditioning units and it will increase a little bit. But if you couple that with an unpredictable supply from solar and wind, it becomes a very, very, very tricky problem. And again to emphasize that I'm 100% in favor of expanding solar and wind. We definitely need to expand that as well. But we also need to figure out better types of storage in order to be able to use them properly. And we're running out of time. Scientists at the intergovernmental panel on climate change warned that the earth's average temperature could hit the dangerous threshold of 1.5° warming by the early 2030s. I mean, it's fascinating to me that we need to expand nuclear because it felt like when I was growing up nuclear energy was thought of as something that was very bad for the environment. And now it seems that the reverse is true. I mean, there's still a little time left just ten years, according to some studies, and this is a tool that we have that we know works. I think that's exactly right. I think one of the more urgent pieces actually is when it comes down to whether you want to keep existing nuclear power plants open or not, because there's a large number about 99 operating in the U.S. about 440 worldwide of this older generation of conventional light water reactors. And there have been a number of places in the U.S. where these plants have been shut down, say in New England, where I'm originally from, then after the old nuclear plants are shut down, the balance of electricity production is made up for with coal power, which is just catastrophic environmentally. So I think it's really important also to not shut down the existing facilities prematurely. You know, they're operating safely. They've been operating safely for 30, 40, 50 years, and you want to make sure that you keep breathing the benefit of them. I think there is the potential for people to start having warm feelings towards the next generation of nuclear power plants. And I think I'm not completely insane in saying that. But they can say, okay, that is a carbon free source of electricity. It's safe. It is good for my community. I am glad.

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