[Vision2020] James Lovelock’s Argument for Nuclear Energy

Ted Moffett starbliss at gmail.com
Wed May 5 17:01:13 PDT 2010


James Lovelock’s Argument for Nuclear

Diderot has summarised Lovelock’s argument for nuclear energy for us.
Perhaps the most contentious issue facing us today, whilst nuclear energy
has always been the bete noire of environmentalists, Lovelock has endorsed
nuclear energy as the only practical solution to the twin crisis of global
warming and energy supply. Diderot writes:

Lovelock devotes chapter 5 of his new book, “The Revenge of Gaia”, to a
discussion of our major energy options.  The background to the
discussion is Lovelock’s belief that the planet is poised to flip into a
new hotter stable state with average temperatures 8 degrees higher than
now.  It’s an equilibrium that Gaia has reached many times before, most
recently 55 million years ago when carbon dioxide was at a concentration
similar to the one we are currently creating.  No one knows when we’ll
flip but all known climate systems are now in positive feedback and we
can expect to move to ‘hot earth’ within the next century.  When we do
most parts of the planet will become uninhabitable, the sea will swallow

With that in mind, Lovelock considers the energy options:

Fossil Fuel.  Lovelock is confident in chemists’ ability to synthesise
hydrogen or liquid fuels from relatively plentiful coal reserves (he’s a
chemist as well as a planetry physician) but believes that for
civilisation to survive, all the carbon dioxide must be sequestered.
The world produces 27,000 million tons of CO2 annually; frozen solid at
-80 degrees it would make a mountain 1 mile high and 12 miles in
circumference.  We can’t do it.

Natural Gas.  Around 2 to 4 percent of gas we extract leaks away, and it
has 24 times the warming effect of CO2.

Hydrogen.  Hydrogen is a battery - you need energy to make it.

Wind.  Wind is intermittent and we can’t currently store its energy.  It
would require 276,000 100 metre high 1 megawatt turbines, 3 per square
mile, to meet the UK’s current energy requirements.  Wind farms are
another pernicious agri-business further blighting our already decimated
countryside.  Offshore windfarms are too expensive - according to the
Royal Society of Engineers Report 2004 they’re over 3 times more
expensive than nuclear.

Wave and Tidal.  There are several schemes running around the UK coast
but they currently deliver only a tiny percentage of our energy use.
Lovelock believes it will be another 20 to 40 years before they can be
scaled up sufficiently.

Hydro.  Great if you’ve got a river but there aren’t enough of them.

Bio Fuels.  “We have to discard the old-fashioned teaching of both
science and religion and begin to look on the forrested land surface of
the Earth as something that evolved to serve the metabolism of Earth; it
is irreplacable.  We have already taken more than half of the productive
land to grow food for ourselves.  How can we expect Gaia to manage the
Earth if we try to take the rest of the land for fuel production?”

Solar.  Too expensive.  “At the Centre for Alternative Technology in
Wales there is an experimental house with a roof made almost entirely of
silicon photocells.  In summer it provides about 3 kilowatts of
electricity, but the cost of the installation was comparable with that
of the house itself, and the expected life of the cells is about ten

Nuclear Fusion.  Holy Grail; 20 years out at least.

Nuclear Fission.  The problem of nuclear waste is “a nightmare fantasy
wholly without substance in the real world”.  Radiation is in any case
only dangerous to us, not to Gaia.  Compare the 27,000 million tons of
carbon dioxide waste we currently produce (a mile high frozen mountain)
with nuclear that produces 2 million times less waste - it would occupy
a 16 metre cube.  The carbon dioxide waste is invisible but so deadly
that if unchecked it will kill nearly everyone.  Lovelock has offered to
store the annual high level radioactive waste from a nuclear power
station on his small plot of land where he will use it to warm his hands
and make tea.  Safety fears are overblown, concerning Chernobyl the WHO
reported 45 deaths after 14 years and 75 after 19 years, and what do you
expect if you disable the safety systems and then turn up the power?
The twin fears of nuclear war and cancer are out of all proportion to
their actual risk; we are pampered westerners and don’t know we’re born.

“Meanwhile at the world’s climate centres the barometer continues to
fall and tell of the imminent danger of a climate storm whose severity
the Earth has not endured for 55 million years.  But in the cities the
party goes on; how much longer before reality enters our minds?”


Vision2020 Post: Ted Moffett
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