Climate Energy

Jim Hansen on the Urgency of Nuclear Power


This skimmable article by leading climate scientist Dr Jim Hansen (former Director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies) argues for a rapid and global increase in nuclear power to curb CO2 emissions.

He explains how carbon intensive economies are growing fast around the world, fuelled by economic development and population growth.

To have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, Hansen recommends increased collaboration between US and Chinese nuclear engineers, to bring down the cost of safe breeder reactors.  These essentially burn nuclear waste and ‘fertile’ heavy elements such as Thorium, making their fuel virtually inexhaustible.

Later he explains how effective action on climate change is being held back by numerous popular myths about nuclear power, which he goes on to dispel. Pulling no punches, he recommends everyone halt payments to the people who promote and prolong these myths – the anti-nuclear organisations, whose overall claims are simply wrong.

My Opinion

In my view this is a critically important article, as relevant as ever, from a leading authority on climate change. We often see what looks like encouraging news about renewables generation, but realists know those messages to be overly optimistic, given the lack of cost-effective energy storage or smart-grids available today or even in the medium term future, to ameliorate the intermittency problems.

My only criticisms are that he doesn’t say anything about which of the fourth-generation nuclear technologies look most promising. In addition I believe his claim that 99% of nuclear waste could be burned is itself a little optimistic. Nearer 90% is nearer the mark, in part because some of that ‘waste’ doesn’t have to be waste at all, but can be separated into a number of valuable radio-isotopes for medical procedures and industrial use.

The good news is that a cheap fast breeder technology has recently been proposed by British company, Moltex Energy. Their Stable Salt Reactor (SSR) is inherently safe and has been credibly priced as cheaper than the equivalent coal fired power station (Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE) just $44/MWhr).  In addition the SSR can ‘follow grid demand curves’ by use of large storage tanks of high heat-capacity molten salt.

The Stable Salt Reactor is the holy grail climate campaigners have been yearning for and it should be shouted from the rooftops!


Skimmable means you can quickly get the gist of the article by reading only the paragraph headings.

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