Oil is History, Nuclear is Future

Robert Newman’s show about modern historical conflict in the context of controlling oil supply is one of my favourites and I highly recommend it.

I wouldn’t know about the causes of WWI, though in the case of The Gulf War, even without the info-saturated internet we have now, his hyper-cynical assessment meshes with what I felt at the time.

I first watched this even before I had heard of thorium, and I’m sad to say Mr Newman’s bad news about oil depletion was more or less confirmation bias to my ears. Importantly, towards the end he dismisses nuclear power as a viable solution by asserting that total carbon emissions of the nuclear cycle are still 75% of what would be produced by coal generation. This is misinformed.


The 2011 IPCC special report, annex II: Methodology provides the 30-year literature review summarised in this table. I’m choosing to be intellectually honest and, comparing the 50th percentile lifetime emissions for coal and nuclear, I see that the latter is a mere 1.5% of the former. Oh, hydro always wins but its future is limited. Wind and wave are great, I personally like them, but again there’s no immediate solutions to the downtime power storage challenge; besides, biopower is an suite of energy sources most people support, and is hardly better or worse for emissions than nuclear. This is why incumbent environmental groups and parties are being implored to reconsider their opposition to nuclear energy, if they truly accept the clear warnings regarding climate change.

And consider that the next generation of reactor technology, which will be emerging within a decade in India and China, if not elsewhere, will not burn less than 1% of the nuclear fuel as in traditional commercial plants but closer to 100% of fissile and fertile fuel, plus processed weapons material… Not to mention modular assembly-line design and economies of scale… Well, guess which way that 1.5% figure is going to change?


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