James Hansen: 2 Degrees is a Recipe for Disaster

May 5, 2015

Sydney Morning Herald:

The aim to limit global warming to two degrees of pre-industrial levels is “crazy” and “a prescription for disaster”, according to a long-time NASA climate scientist.

The paleo-climate record shows sea-levels were six to eight metres higher than current levels when global temperatures were less than two degrees warmer than they are now, Professor James Hansen, formerly head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and now at Columbia University in New York, said.

“It’s crazy to think that 2 degrees celsius is a safe limit,” Professor Hansen told RN Breakfast on ABC Radio on Tuesday, adding that this would lock in several metres of sea-level rise by the middle of the century,

New satellite data over the past decade indicate that the ice sheets are disintegrating faster than had been modelled by climate scientists.

“The ice sheets are losing mass faster and faster, with a doubling time of about 10 years,” Professor Hansen said. “If that continues, we would get sea-level rises of several metres by 40-50 years.”

“The consequences are almost unthinkable. It would mean that all coastal cities would become dysfunctional,” he told ABC Radio.

Senator James Inhofe for CNN:

If there was ever any doubt that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan is an energy policy plan, not a carbon reduction plan, all you have to do is look at how they treat nuclear energy.

Nuclear is our largest source of carbon-free energy, generating over 60% of our carbon-free electricity. Surely President Barack Obama’s climate plan, allegedly aimed at reducing the United States’ overall carbon emissions, would revitalize the nuclear industry, lead to increased plant construction and help meet aggressive carbon reduction targets. Well, think again.

James Hansen, the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in 2013 that “continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity’s ability to avoid dangerous climate change.”

Yet Wednesday, the White House will celebrate Earth Day and promote its work to fend off climate change, while strategically ignoring its largest tool to cut carbon emissions — nuclear energy — as well as the warning of one of the administration’s favorite climate scientists.

Despite the fact that nuclear power is carbon-free, the Obama administration’s energy policy plan is biased against it. This bias is created by how Environmental Protection Agency credits nuclear power in its models of both current emissions and plan implementation. EPA’s modeling is divorced from reality.

First, EPA’s “Base Case for the Proposed Clean Power Plan” purports to depict the current state of the industry as the future would unfold without the Clean Power Plan. This base case assumes no new nuclear construction and indicates the retirement of 96 of our 99 operating nuclear plants by 2050.

E&E Publishing:

Based on the opinion piece, one Australian newspaper wrote that Inhofe, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, appeared to be “changing his mind” on climate change. The paper noted that the senator cited NASA climatologist James Hansen’s support for nuclear power and backed the energy source as an effective means of cleaning the air.

“Jim Inhofe, the man known as one of America’s most staunch climate deniers, appears to be coming round to the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence,” the Sunshine Coast Daily wrote Sunday.

Republican strategist Mike McKenna said the editorial is indicative of tension within the Republican caucus between trying to improve the Clean Power Plan and scrapping the proposal altogether. The GOP, he added, is getting pulled in different directions by parts of the utility industry keen on improving the proposal — delaying implementation and pushing back compliance dates — and by more conservative elements seeking to kill the Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut power plant carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030.

“There’s zero doubt in my mind that Sen. Inhofe thinks the rule is an epically bad rule that shouldn’t be pursued. There’s also zero doubt in my mind that if the rule is pursued, it should account for nuclear correctly,” McKenna said. “And those two things are in conflict.”

Despite the ruminations, Inhofe spokeswoman Donelle Harder said the senator — infamous for lobbing a snowball at a Senate page in February to disprove warming and for calling human-caused climate change a “hoax” — hasn’t changed his position one inch.

Instead, Harder said, Inhofe was using his platform as EPW chairman to shine a bright light on the Obama administration’s hypocrisy of citing climate change as a force more dangerous than terrorism while not relying on the emissions-free, baseload power of nuclear reactors within the Clean Power Plan. Oklahoma has no operating nuclear reactors.

Motley Fool:

The nuclear renaissance some people hoped for took another big step backward this week when the Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant said it would be delayed another 18 months and cost at least $720 more than the $14.5 billion previously expected.

Nearly every nuclear plant that’s been proposed in the U.S. in the last decade has run into major cost overruns and delays, and without government support, the nuclear renaissance may already be dead. But the latest delay casts a shadow over an energy source that’s becoming increasing uncompetitive in today’s energy landscape.

What happened at Vogtle
The latest news from Southern Co.‘s (NYSE: SO  ) subsidiary Georgia Power is that the Vogtle Plant will now be delayed until mid-2019 for the first reactor, and mid-2020 for the second. Costs could pile up to $720 million and could be as much as $1 billion.

Contractors Westinghouse Electric Co. and Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. alerted Southern Co. of the delays, adding to a long list of delays for Westinghouse plants that were supposed to help revitalize nuclear power in the U.S. Worse yet, it’s ratepayers, not Southern Co.’s shareholders, who will be footing most of the bill for this project, even if it’s never completed.

The kick in the gut to ratepayers
If you live in Georgia, the delay and additional cost will affect you more than you think. Under a plan called construction work in progress, or CWIP, Georgia Power gets to charge customers for the Vogtle plant before it’s even finished. Yes, today customers are paying an average of $6.60 per month for a plant that isn’t likely to produce any power until at least 2019. It’s a sweet deal for utilities, but one that’s becoming increasingly problematic for consumers.

What CWIP does is transfer the risk from the company building the nuclear plant to ratepayers. If the project is delayed or costs more than expected, Georgia Power still makes its money unless regulators intervene. In fact, without CWIP, we may not even be talking about nuclear plants being built in the U.S. If utilities had to take on the risk of nuclear themselves, they wouldn’t do it, something we’re already seeing across the country.

Nuclear energy’s problem in the U.S.
This isn’t the only nuclear plant running into these kind of issues. NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG  ) abandoned a potential expansion of South Texas Nuclear Generating Station because of rising costs for nuclear plants and low cost natural gas. The project is still moving forward with regulatory approval, which partner Toshiba is funding, but it’s doubtful the plant will ever be built.


9 Responses to “James Hansen: 2 Degrees is a Recipe for Disaster”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    Nuclear power isn’t “carbon-free”. The carbon footprint of nuclear is 5-10 times higher than the one of wind energy. Not to mention the dirty legacy of nuclear still unsolved: waste and disaster.

    • jfon Says:

      The best known study coming to that figure was probably from Benjamin Sovacool ( other studies are available. ) Discussed here
      Though nuclear has no direct CO2 emissions, indirect ones include
      ‘ Construction (12 per cent), operation (17 per cent largely because of backup generators using fossil fuels during downtime)…’
      A thousand megawatt reactor makes more than twice as much power as two hundred five megawatt wind turbines, each bigger than a jumbo jet. This is because the reactor is on ninety percent of the time at full power, whereas a wind farm in a very good location might put out, on average, about forty percent of its nameplate capacity. Yet the reactor only needs about a tenth as much steel and concrete as the wind turbines. So the construction footprint for nuclear should be lower than wind – especially if you consider that a reactor can last sixty years, while a wind turbine is only expected to last thirty. The same applies to solar – to match the output of one reactor, you’d need enough standard size solar panels to stretch right around the world. Twice, if you count the expected lifespan.
      If you charge wind for the emissions from the gas and coal burned for the 60 percent of the time/output lacuna of wind, nuclear massively wins on the ‘operations ‘ front as well. But in practice, nuclear plants in countries with a high penetration of them, stagger the timing of their refueling shutdowns ( usually a month or so every year and a half ), so that they occur at times of low electricity demand, and not all at the same time. Yet wind plant ‘shutdowns’ are dictated all the time by weather systems, which are usually correlated over a thousand mile span and on multi day cycles. They can also be inversely related to demand – for example, in China, on smoggy days when for health reasons you might want coal generators to go offline, it’s likely to be windless. Washington State and New Zealand both have plenty of windfarms and plenty of hydro, which can back each other up – except that spring, when snowmelt runoff means the hydro plants have to run flat out, is also the windiest season.

  2. Remco van Ek Says:

    “If that continues, we would get sea-level rises of several metres by 40-50 years.”
    Hu? That is more than a tenfold higher estimate than the current global SLR. For instance, 2 m in 40 years is 2000 mm / 40 is 50 mm / yr. That is a bit higher than the current 3 mm/yr.

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