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Behind the Scenes, Day 3, Part I: New Thinking on Nuclear Energy

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Graeme Stemp-Morlock
9:00 am - 5:30 pm, June 8, 2011
Energy 2030 Working Sessions


Walt Patterson, a visiting fellow in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, England and a WGSI advisor, fired a warning shot across the bow of the nuclear industry this morning in his opening plenary.

"Nuclear power is like a broken leg…It's a dangerous distraction where we use the same old technology at its worst," said Patterson (a nuclear physicist by training), surprising many in the main theatre here at Perimeter Institute. 

Stinging rebuke of the nuclear 'solution'

Considering recent problems in Japan and the fact that proliferation and waste problems have not improved after 60 years of development, it's not to hard to see why Patterson might be changing his tune. 

Additionally, it's worth asking if nuclear can actually be fast-tracked enough to bring about definite reductions in carbon emissions by 2030. 

Energy without fuel? 

Instead of investing in more nuclear, Patterson called on delegates to find renewable energies that don’t require fuel at all. 

"Many people talk about security and climate problems as an energy issue, but it is actually all about fuel,” he said. We can reduce our vulnerability if we change our use of fuel. Low carbon is actually low fuel, not low energy."

In other words, we don’t have to buy and feed a wind turbine with wind, as we have to mine and ship coal to coal plants to create energy. 

But unlike traditional energy generation, renewables require significant upfront costs. 

Frenetic action right till the end…

From the moment people started filling the summit room this morning, the discussion took on a higher level of urgency. 

An informal vote by delegates the night before culled some of the technologies under consideration from the final solution, based on the realistic ability to deliver the energy goods by 2030: 

Wide-scale deployment of superconductors for ultra-efficient electricity transmission, large hydrogen production plants, and even utility sized wind farms all seemed to fall out of favor. 

Can any energy turn things around? 

What’s to come in the last hours of the summit? 

Many delegates have been surprised by a dark horse energy generation technology with tremendous potential. 

Check back tomorrow for more here and on about this mystery technique. 


Written by: Graeme Stemp-Morlock

Graeme Stemp-Morlock is a freelance science writer based in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Graeme has the opportunity to sit in on all the Equinox Summit: Energy 2030 working sessions. His writing has been published in Popular Science, National Geographic News, Reader’s Digest Canada Online, Environmental Health Perspectives, and Green Living Online.