This piece was originally published in the Finnish newspaper Aamulehti on Friday 8th of November 2017. The article is based on an earlier English blog piece I wrote, which was quite a bit longer than the 4500 character limit at the paper, and unlike it, included plenty of graphs and hyperlinked sources. For a long version of the topic you can head on over there. However, I felt I could hardly turn down a reader’s kind request to translate the newspaper-published piece as well. So here it is: the TL;DR version of my economical arguments around low-carbon electricity. A few graphs added. Continue reading
I’ve joked to my friends that if there is anything that proves how important I consider the clean energy topic to be, it’s me digging into electricity pricing. I have a natural aversion to economics – I’ve demoted that aversion somewhat from the position of idealist elitism it carried back when I was a teenager (anything to do with money was about greed and not worth considering). Now I acknowledge that my prejudice toward economics is a flaw in my character which means I’m probably missing a whole lot about a fascinating and complex aspect of societal dynamics. I’ve battled that weakness a couple of times to catch a glimpse of that complexity.
So, when I used to hear people complain about nuclear energy being expensive and slow to build, I would thoughtfully nod my head, thinking: “Well, they probably have a point, it’s expensive, and it’s quite a project to build a plant. Still, it’s important because it can provide astounding amounts of reliable carbon-free energy, so we just have to stomach that slow and costly process.”
You’d think I would have learned by now about the risks of making assumptions based on hearsay?
When someone pointed me to a graph comparing the best build-rates we’ve ever had on carbon-free energy over the last half a century (first the excellent one presented by Climate Gamble, then another from Cao J et al, Science, which you see below), I had to stare at it for a while to process how wrong I had been about that “slow to build” part.
I first saw the giant inflated bubble-igloos at the COP23 area at night, illuminated from inside with a green and violet light, giving them a sort of futuristic bouncy castle -vibe. The circus-sized igloos were to be the location for the UN Environmental Program’s (UNEP) Sustainable Innovation Summit (SIF) – the largest official side event of COP23. This was a major event for tech companies to present their ideas about how to steer the modern society in a direction that would help protect the planet and mitigate climate change.
This was not something for the general public – with tickets 1000 dollars a piece (500 for NGOs), the two day event, a few hundred meters from the official Bula Zone of the Bonn conference, was definitely industry centric. But not just any industry.
The UNEP had selected those it deemed most suitable for its sustainability goals. With that in mind, you might find it surprising that car and coal power companies were not only among the event’s participants, but among their gold sponsors, with their names displayed all over the event. Continue reading
In the aftermath of the controversial US panel on energy at COP23, Lenka Kollar was the only panelist who stayed behind and gave interviews to several camera crews. These included one with a pitbullish German reporter, whose demands for exact price of future nuclear energy on any number of different markets prompted me to write about a few curious themes I’ve witnessed in discussions about energy economics in: The Right Price for Saving the Planet Depends on the Energy Form. Lenka also gave another interview to Democracy Now – this material has unfortunately not seen the light of day so far.
We meet again
Among the thinning group of people in the meeting room I had noticed a few familiar faces from the anti-nuclear protest which me and Eric Meyer from Generation Atomic had happened by two days earlier, with heated consequences. I recognised one lady, who had actually talked to us, and she got a turn to interview Lenka.
The New Mexican lady might be the one in the middle of the yellow ‘indigenous people against nuclear’ -themed banner on stage. The black-clad man who put the police on me is definitely in the crowd watching.
For background: this lady’s anti-nuclear fellows had threatened us with a beating, screamed at us, and shoved Eric around – you can read more about that in Anti-nuclear protesters get up close & personal, try to get me seized by the police.
She asked Lenka the very same questions about uranium mining which me and Eric from Generation Atomic had tried to answer the previous time. I was glad, this time, to hear her calmly listen to Lenka’s answers. Perhaps, just perhaps, she might realize that we must to look at the environmental harm from mining in context – in connection to mining required by every kind of energy production, for instance – to begin making fair comparisons on their impacts. Continue reading
The controversial US energy panel at COP23 was over, and people began pouring out of the room at the climate conference in Bonn. While most panelists left, nuclear engineer Lenka Kollar from NuScale stayed and gave interviews to several camera crews. I was impressed by how she continued to answer countless of questions in a calm and friendly fashion. One of the interviews was with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, but so far I haven’t seen any published material relating to their interviews of Lenka or Eric* from Generation Atomic.
The segregated economics of low-carbon energy
Meanwhile, Lenka continued kindly answring questions. There was one German interviewer, in particular, who grilled her on the exact price per kWh on her suggested type of nuclear power. Even after Lenka gave him the numbers for the US, he kept demanding to hear the price in other countries. Lenka politely noted that each market was different, and she couldn’t give him a specific number on that. He kept insisting, citing prices on solar panels, trying to pit renewables against nuclear – an unfortunate but rather common tenet of many environmental activists, which distracts from the important discussion on the common goal of decarbonisation.
The price argument reminds me of a strange trend I have encountered several times among a subgroup of renewable proponents: after they no longer contest the data that shows nuclear to be one of the safest energy forms, as well as one of the most efficient ways of producing carbon-free energy, suddenly the argument shifts to ‘but it costs too much’. It is as if saving human lives and the environment -arguments go out the window.
I would never have guessed a panel discussion on energy could have been as intense as this one. I went from thinking I would not even be able to see it, to being lead to the room following the special Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guests, to witnessing impromptu political speeches, a choir of protesters, hearing many valid and rational arguments and quite a few less well-formulated ones, and getting to celebrate the fact that an evidence-based view on nuclear power had a seat at the table.
At five in the evening it was clear that something unusual was brewing at the Bonn Zone of the COP23 conference. The US panel on energy was not scheduled to start until one and a half hours later, but the complex was packed, and the entire wing of the conference area in front of the meeting room 10 was occupied by a queue. It was clear the entire existing queue at that point would probably not fit in the room.
The queue 1.5 hours prior to the event.
We definitely did not want to miss the event, and were especially looking forward to hear the engineer Lenka Kollar from NuScale speak on the topic of nuclear energy. I had first met Lenka at the action we held earlier that day outside of the UNEP summit, (where they refused to give any present or future nuclear technology even a Seat at The Table, while car and coal power companies were very welcome – a piece on that in progress) and her friendliness and expertise had made a great impression.
Three things happened today, two of them very exciting, one, intense. I heard Eric Meyer of the Generation Atomic sing several pieces of nuclear opera (wow!), I got my official observer badge for the conference (yay!)… aand I had a confrontation with anti-nuclear protesters and the police (o_O). Frankly, I had not thought that my time in Bonn would be quite so eventful.
The morning started by me meeting up the bright young minds behind Generation Atomic and Bright New World at their crowded airbnb, among a veritable sea of laptops, dirty mugs, and half-awake nuclear advocates. After preparations, we navigated to the entrance of the very-official Bula Zone of the conference, where Eric poetically sang about the future of the human race in the rain. I am to blame for any shaking or needless movements in the film (which will be up later). I also got my badge and the free public transport chip, wouhouu. We decided to head to a museum cafe for late lunch, when we walked into… an anti-nuclear demonstration. We decided to dive right in.
Posted in climate, nuclear
Tagged COP23, WHO