Climate Pragmatism in the White House

This is good news. The American administration appears to have been reading the Hartwell Paper [PDF] and The Climate Fix. My science policy mentor Roger Pielke Jr. discusses the implications of the newly released Obama advisors’ PCAST report on climate policy. Roger has very good reason to be pleased with the shift towards effective policy:

(…) Overall, while there are a few differences in tone and nuance, the report of PCAST represents an emerging, pragmatic perspective on climate policy that has been years, if not decades, in the making. Perhaps our efforts have contributed in some small ways to helping shape that agenda. Of course, good ideas are the offspring of many proud parents.

“Many proud parents” indeed. Now there’s just the small problem of implementation – which depends on leading the world away from the failed Kyoto-style feel-good policies towards attention to the Kaya Identity and  spending a tiny fraction of GDP on energy innovation to foster what Bill Gates terms “energy miracles”.  

Do read Roger’s whole essay. And if you’ve not already read the Climate Fix I can’t recommend it highly enough. As I wrote a while back in A Primer on How to Avoid Magical Solutions in Climate Policy, “Kyoto is not one of these policies”.

4 thoughts on “Climate Pragmatism in the White House

  1. The administration still is not supporting R & D to prepare a better nuclear technology for widespread implementation.

    • Sadly true. Well, there is slightly increased SMR support on matching funds basis.

      My hope is the new report will provide political cover for such as IFR and LFTR support. Why not invite GE to make same “GE takes all the risk” proposal that GE made to UK for the first 2 PRISM reactors?

  2. Whether the SMR is a reasonable way to is questionable. It would not solve the waste problem which the IFR and LFTR probably would solve. It would make it possible to expand capacity in smaller increments, but I don’t know whether it would have any other advantages.

    About two years ago, I had a brief meeting with representative Heinrich (now senator Heinrich) at which I presented material about the LFTR. He has a degree in engineering and had no difficulty understanding the basics, but it appears that he chose to do nothing with the information.

    These politicians must be aware of the need to do more R & D on reactors other than the PWR, but seem to do nothing.

    • It would not solve the waste problem which the IFR and LFTR probably would solve.

      There isn’t a “waste problem” because there is no technical issue with unburnt fuel, there is a political problem.  If uranium wasn’t so cheap the economics would have driven greater reprocessing. (yes, I know that idiots like Jimmy Carter could still interfere with the market).

      It’s important not to confuse the IFR and LFTR contributions with the concept of “mass manufacturing”. The latter is signified by “SMR”. Remove the “S” and you have “MR” or Manufactured Reactor which is what is significant. 

      It isn’t SMR-PWR vs. IFR/LFTR, it is volume manufacturing and the safety, quality and cost control that goes with the process-control that is important. When affordable AND reliable power becomes a political issue – then I think that both fast reactors and thorium reactors will have their opportunities to compete. And both will be manufactured in quantity, where safety will be inherent in both the engineering and the process, not in ridiculously costly inspections (NRC).

      So when you think of SMR don’t think narrowly of current technology – which is constrained by what can be shoved through sclerotic regulators like NRC. Think instead 50MW LFTR or IFR (with pooled pyroprocessing).

      We also must keep in mind that what the OECD countries do (esp. USA) does not really matter w/r/t global warming. It is what China, Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan, Uganda do. Those countries need cheap, reliable electricity that they can deploy without first creating a safety/technical culture and infrastructure. One or two gigawatt mega-reactors are not appropriate and will not be adopted in those markets. At the right price 25 to 250 MW reactors that can be buried and refueled in 10 or 30 years – these just might be adopted by countries that don’t give a damn about global warming. Let’s hope…

      We can also hope for a new politics where Bill Gates would have been able to build Terrapower in the USA instead of being forced to go to China.

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