What would happen if we discontinued nuclear electricity?

We are very much reaching limits in the field of energy. This seems to mean that we ending up taking more and more risks, so that there is a greater risk of things going wrong. At the same time, the world’s population is so high that without a good deal of external energy, we cannot provide basic necessities for nearly 7 billion people. So we almost have no choice but choose energy sources which are almost out of our reach.

With the problems with nuclear energy in Japan, the question arises as to what would happen if we just discontinued nuclear electricity. How big an impact would this have?

Since many plants are near the end of their originally planned lived, such discontinuation could come simply by not extending any more licenses, and not permitting new facilities. Since such decisions are made by each country, it is highly unlikely that a coordinated decision in any direction might be made. In fact, what we are likely to see is a mixture of different decisions. I thought it might be helpful to have some numbers to look at, to get an idea as to what role nuclear currently plays in generation around the world. I also discuss some other implications–for example, for electric cars.

1. The biggest impact of nuclear discontinuation would be in the OECD countries–that is, the “developed” countries, since these countries disproportionately are the users of nuclear energy.

Figure 1. OECD Electricity Generation, based on BP and EIA data.

Figure 1 indicates that nuclear accounts for about 22% of electric generation in OECD countries. “Renewables” is the sum of all types of electricity generation (other than hydroelectric) that are referred to as renewables–including burning wood for electricity generation, wind, solar photo voltaic (PV), geothermal, and biogas. Renewable amounts are from EIA data; the other amounts are from BP data.

The Former Soviet Union (FSU) would also be affected if nuclear electricity were discontinued, although to a lesser extent than OECD.

Figure 2. Former Soviet Union electricity generation, based on BP and EIA data.

Figure 2 indicates that the FSU gets about 18% of its electricity from nuclear, and this percentage has been rising. Since the Russia (and some of the other FSU countries) are big exporters of natural gas, if this area were to lose its nuclear, it would probably substitute natural gas, while reducing exports to other countries–especially Europe.

What I have called the “developing countries” (calculated as the World – OECD – FSU), have very rapidly growing energy use, but historically, very little nuclear use-a little over 2%. They would be least affected, as long as they could continue to expand their fossil fuel use (mostly coal) and their hydroelectric. These are big ifs, of course, as the world is running into limits with both fossil fuels and hydroelectric. Some of these countries (including China and India) are planning big increases in nuclear production in the future.

Figure 3. Developing countries electrical generation, based on BP and EIA data.

2. Within the OECD, vulnerability to a loss of nuclear power varies significantly.

A number of OECD countries have no nuclear electricity generating capacity. These would include Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, and Turkey.

At the other end of the range, some OECD countries have a very high percentage of electrical generation from nuclear. These include France, 76%; Belgium/Luxembourg, 56%; Hungary, 43%; Switzerland, 40%; Sweden, 39%; Czech Republic 34%; Finland, 33%; South Korea, 32%; Japan, 25%; Germany, 23%; United States 20%, United Kingdom, 19%; Spain, 18%; and Canada, 14%. (These amounts are based on BP statistical data for the year 2009.)

Within the United States, there is also variability in the proportion of electrical power from nuclear, with the largest concentration of nuclear power being on the East Coast and in the Midwest.

Figure 4. Map created by EIA showing nuclear electrical generating sites by state.

The two facilities in California are built on the coast, near the earthquake “ring of fire”. Diablo Canyon near San Luis Obispo is reported to be built to withstand an earthquake force of 7.5; San Onofre near San Clemente in San Diego County is built to withstand an earthquake force of 7.0. Both of these are far lower levels than the recent earthquake in Japan, which is now rated as a 9.0. California has limited power availability currently (it imports more power than any other state), so would likely have difficulty replacing lost nuclear power.

It might also be noted that Europe, right now, is at risk from declining North Sea natural gas. Replacing this with imports from elsewhere may be difficult, in and of itself. If declining nuclear production is added to the list of problems for these countries, there could be major difficulty.

3. Without nuclear electric power, electric cars seem very unlikely.

We would need more, rather than less, electric power to run electric vehicles. In the years ahead, it may not be all that easy to add electrical power of any kind. If areas were to lose nuclear electricity, they would be at a particular disadvantage.

4. Rolling blackouts would likely result in many areas, because of the difficulty of making up the shortfall in electricity from renewable or fossil fuel sources.

We are seeing rolling blackouts in Japan, when some of their nuclear electrical generation plants are taken off-line. I expect the same result would occur in at least some locations otherwise. The prices of coal and natural gas would likely rise, in an attempt to get more production. Oil prices might even rise also, since oil can also be used for generation.

Countries with a majority of their production from nuclear would likely lack alternate facilities for generating electricity. Even where such facilities are available, it is doubtful that coal and natural gas production can ramp up enough to provide to make up the shortfall. For example, in the US, nuclear and natural gas provide a similar amount of electrical generation, so it would likely be difficult to double natural gas production of electricity, to make up the nuclear shortfall.

Figure 5. US Electricity generation by source, based on EIA data.

There would be pressure to ramp up renewables other than hydroelectric, such as wind, solar, and biogas, but they are starting from a small base, and tend to be expensive relative to other fuels. For these reasons, it is doubtful that they would be able to replace more than small portion of the shortfall. Wind and solar PV are also intermittent, so pose additional challenges when substituting them for other fuel sources.

Rembrandt Koppelaar showed this summary of electrical generating costs, based on an IEA analysis, in a recent Oil Drum post.

Figure 6. Median and cost ranges for seven different electricity sources at a 5% and 10% interest rate. Amounts exclude charge for cost of carbon.

The table indicates that coal, natural gas, and nuclear are the least expensive sources of electric generation, and renewables tend to be more expensive.

5. Countries losing nuclear electric power would likely experience much higher unemployment, reduced tax revenue, and other financial problems.

Unless there were a way of replacing the electricity, industrial and commercial activity is likely to be scaled back, leading to widespread layoffs of workers. If those being laid off have loans outstanding, some are likely to default on them. Lower demand for homes is likely to reduce home prices, and indirectly, taxes based on the values of homes. Governments will also receive less revenue based on the salaries of people in the area, further adding to their financial problems. All of this will make it difficult for governments to pay their debts.

6. To the extent that fossil fuels are able to scale up to replace nuclear, CO2 levels are likely to be higher.

The fossil fuels most in use for generating electricity are coal and natural gas. To the extent that more of these fuels are burned than today, CO2 levels can be expected to be higher. Both of these fuels have other issues as well. Coal also has huge pollution issues, in addition to CO2 issues. Natural gas is now increasingly being extracted using fracking, a technique which has become controversial, especially when used in populated areas. Its price will likely need to be much higher in order to significantly raise production, making it less affordable for homeowners than either coal or natural gas today.

* * * * * * * * *

In spite of all of these issues, phasing out or scaling down nuclear electric may still be the way to go, especially in earthquake prone areas. We are also seeing rising political instability. It seems like building nuclear facilities in countries with political revolutions could prove to be disastrous.

If there were good choices available, decisions would be easy. The problem is that we need electricity for many things, including

  • Keeping up industrial production
  • Keeping oil pipelines moving crude oil and oil products
  • Keeping gasoline stations pumping fuel for cars
  • Keeping refineries refining oil
  • Keeping offices, restaurants, and other businesses open
  • Allowing medical equipment to work
  • Allowing refrigeration of food

So it is hard to walk away from a source of electricity that looks like it has a chance of being made to work, without too much damage to the environment. Except for Chernobyl (which was an exceedingly poor design choice) the outcomes have not been too bad–especially in comparison to the alternative of rolling blackouts, or more fossil fuel use.

If only the choices were easier!

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.
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30 Responses to What would happen if we discontinued nuclear electricity?

  1. USINPAC says:

    The Japan disaster is a rare event, and the use of nuclear energy cannot be eliminated out of fear of such incidents. What is important, is to ensure that all security and response mechanisms are in place and all nuclear installations are equipped to deal with any human or natural disasters.

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  6. eugene says:

    I have been watching this thing unfold for, at least, two decades. I see three scenarios. First is the “we’ll develop alternatives that will replace all the things oil does”. If one goes beyond “thought experiments”, I cannot find any legitimate support for that concept. Nor can I find any support for any combination of alternatives that will replace oil. It appears to me, combining all alternatives, we can replace some of the energy oil provides but huge gaps will be left in our present lifestyle. The gaps in food production appear fatal to me. Unlike Denis, I, long ago, stopped listening to financial people and people who are attempting to sell their product. I have had far too many technological, fail safe gadgets fail on me to put any faith in the technological gods. GM could be building the worst vehicles on the road but a dealer will tell you they are the absolute best.

    Secondly I hear the “go local” folks. I live in northern Minnesota. As I look at the numbers of people, skill levels of the people, soil composition, potential production and, the fact, it takes a whole lot of a compact energy source to produce food for tens of thousands of people. Land would have to be cleared, plowed, cultivated, trucks for transportation, mass gardening skills developed and, most of all, fertilizer produced. And yes, I know about organic food production, etc, etc. Few people, I know, can open the hood on their car let alone fix it. Long forgotten skills will have to be developed. Does not look very viable to me.

    Took me a while to accept the third alternative. Things are going to get very ugly, chaotic and a whole lot of people are going to die. They’re dying already. Thousands of Americans are directly dying to ensure our oil supply. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis alone have perished. Countrys are being destroyed. The diversion of resources to a massive war machine are bankrupting the country, devastating our educational system, our infrastructure is a disaster, our medical system is the worst in the industrialized world and, as a people, we are so busy bickering amongst ourselves that we can’t even discuss the issue. The crazies are coming out of the woodwork as we seek to shed ourselves of whole segments of our population with cuts everywhere but the killing machine.

    Doomy? You bet!! Hard to look it in the eye. Without oil/natural gas fertilizers and the endless equipment to make them available, etc., the world can support a billion, give or take. Seven billion now and growing at 80 million a year. All said and done, this is where it begins and ends for me.

    • I think you have pretty much hit the nail on the head.

      I think a lot of the “go local” folks assume you just need to drive your Prius to the local fertilizer store, pick up the supplies you need, and everything will work out fine. I expect that there will be some who survive–I am not sure who they will be. I expect they will be very independent, and perhaps will have learned non-fossil fuel skills in their youth. Quite a few will come from what we think of as underdeveloped countries, I expect.

  7. Denis O'Malley says:

    The discussion is certainly worthwhile, and should be encouraged. There are so many misconceptions and deliberate false notions about nuclear energy that it is hard to deal with them all. Like someone said “nuclear = evil” to the uneducated adolescents that oppose everything adult, and who only hear the scare stories from the MSM. I like the idea of calling it “terrestrial energy” to overcome the negatives so long associated with evil “nuclear bombs, energy, etc.” There is also “nuclear medicine” which we don’t hear used, but it is less “evil”. To get a good, reasoned description of our history of terrestrial energy, here’s a good article:
    The author’s home page is: http://www.terrestrialenergy.org/

    There are a lot more sources of uranium than we are told, and here is a list of prospective Uranium mining companies currently experiencing a market panic:

    No comment on who the first volunteers for the general genocide should be, but one thing seems historically obvious: if energy is cheap, people use a lot of it; if expensive, they get along with less… The Market is able to handle the problem.

    • Ikonoclast says:

      Denis, I think you ought to read in detail the two links I posted previously in this blog thread. Your statement, “There are a lot more sources of uranium than we are told…” suggests to me that you have been accepting uncritically the unscientific assertions of certain boosters of the uranium and nuclear industry. The real situation with uranium supply becomes clear once you investigate the scientific literature.

      Realistically, I think the following will happen. Nuclear stationary power generation will be phased out, perhaps over the next 30 years. It is unlikely that any new nuclear power plants will be commissioned in the West. The BRIC countries and few others may still build some more units. Nuclear research, radioisotopes for medicine and engineeering and military nuclear applications will (realistically) continue indefinitely.

      With respect to the phrase “the market will handle it”, there are many instances of market failure and many instances of other problems outside the ambit of market action.

      • Denis O'Malley says:

        Ditmar sounds like he doesn’t like nuclear energy and thinks the Red Book estimates are faulty. Doesn’t tell us what his “analysis” is, just that it disagrees. Sounds too much like dogma, so I dismiss it as so much more of the same. I’m not familiar with this forum, but many spread “bum dope”, and I am used to it.
        I own shares of Cameco Corp., the blue chip of the Uranium producers and engineers. See their profile:
        Home page: http://www.cameco.com/

        This is one producer that is confident it will not run-out of uranium. From a recent report: “”The market ended the year very strongly, as China signed significant long-term uranium purchasing agreements and several countries indicated their intentions to build more nuclear reactors. Our company is well-positioned to prosper from the growing need for clean energy now and in the future. We remain committed to our strategy of doubling production to 40 million pounds by 2018.”

        They are opening new mines and expect to have one ready to produce late this year. Many other companies in N.America have proven reserves but are ham-stringed with the permitting process. I have not heard any warnings of lack of the mineral, just problems developing due to Governments. The industry expects demand to justify the development expenses they spend to increase their business.
        Let us say that we have a Financial Community that thinks the opposite of you and Ditmar. I’ll bet on the Market satisfying demand. Wanna bet?

  8. Ikonoclast says:

    Here are two links to excellent papers which basically show that;

    1. Peak Uranium production has already occurred. To date, this is because of financial and technical constraints rather than resource constraints. However, the EROEI related resource constraints are so close that any attempt to ramp up uranium production will run into them almost immediately.

    2. Claims about getting economic, postive EROEI uranium from seawater and obtaining energy salvation via thorium-breeder reactors are completely debunked in terms of EROIE and scientific-technical feasibility.

    3. The OECD-IAEA “Red Book” data on world uranium reserves are fabricated and fallacious in the extreme. This can be (and is) proved by methodological and data cross-analysis from the sequential Red Books themselves. Glaring internal contradictions are made clear and grave doubt is thrown on the field data from many countries. Data is accepted without checks or audits although these countries have obvious incentives to falsify reserve estimates to attract investment. Even completely specious categories like estimated additional resources category I (EAR-I)), lower confidence undiscovered (potential) resources category II (EAR-II) and speculative resources (SR) have been used by the OECD-IAEA authors to arbitrarily bolster reserve estimated.


    Go the bottom of this linked article and find the links for the four chapters of Micheal Dittmar’s report. Once you follow these links you can then look at the PDFs by clicking one more link for each.


    The link above is to an article that discusses seawater “minining” feasibility for a whole list of minerals, not just uranium. Four common metals are commercially “mined” now from sewater, a fifth is possible. The rest are impossible from any reasonable cost-energy analysis perspective.

    • I have written articles about uranium limits too, including How Long Before Uranium Shortages? and A Brief Nuclear Update. I agree it is hard to see enough uranium to power the future. Kazakhstan is the one which is recently a big low cost producer of uranium. Prices don’t stay high enough long enough for higher cost producers to want to continue in the market.

      Some of this is a little fuzzy. For example, my guess is the that Red Book didn’t have good Kazakhstan data. But with the big amount of uranium being dumped on the market over the years by the Soviets, and this shortly stopping, it makes for a difficult situation for mines to scale up. Since a large amount of uranium is not needed now, prices do not signal a need for building more mines. So this makes one hurdle. And even if there is not immanent decline, it is hard to see that there will be uranium for another 60 years worth, if new plants are built. I am told that reprocessing can be done, but that it is usually more expensive than mining today. If this were done, much less ore would be needed.

      • Ikonoclast says:

        Micheal Dittmar’s report highlights the difficulties facing reprocessing and breeder reactors. Breeder reactors need an extensive and high cost reprocessing, storage and waste storage chain and repository complex system. The combination of extreme technical issues, extreme safety issues and extreme cost and insurance issues mean this path is not feasible on any objective analysis.

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  10. David says:

    It is interesting reading BBC this morning. This article covers many of those ideas we have talked about concerning the energy decent, collapse, and power down. It is also interesting that it is from a disaster/nuclear power supply event. We have in the past focused on how oil would cause this. This should be a big “wake up” for policy planners. We have multiple tipping points with the same possibilities of disruption to complexed societies.

    In my opinion managed decent is not possible. Phasing nuclear out is managed decent in my book. We must focus on education to change attitudes and mitigation to hopefully avoid a run away collapse scenario. The unintended consequences of this change in attitudes on a large scale is loss of confidence in the system leading to collapse anyway. Yet, it is going to happen irregardless. Maybe this unintended collapse scenario would be the closest we can come to managed decent. I am not sure if more than 10% of the population can “get it” with respect to our predicament.

    • It is easy to get the idea that some technology fix will save us. Nuclear has been one of those. Now we are seeing some of its downside.

      We are also seeing that “models” don’t work very well. What looks safe in theory, may not turn out to be in practice. It is virtually impossible to think of all adverse scenarios. Things people think are independent turn out not to be. Electric power goes out in a region; generators are washed away.

      We are also seeing that the longer the supply line, the more likely the chance of disruption.

  11. Keith Akers says:

    A strong case could be made for nuclear as a way to cushion the energy descent and keep the lights on — as opposed to ways to transition to hundreds of millions of electric cars. It bothers me that while I see a wide variety of political or social views on energy, this is one view that almost never gets argued; as far as I can see, nuclear advocates seem to believe that nuclear power is the path to “business as usual.” Thorium looks especially promising here; the technology to use it is already known, it’s more plentiful than uranium, and it’s less susceptible to proliferation and weapons problems.

    But we have to have dramatic reductions in population, elimination of the massive overconsumption we see today, dramatic reductions in the levels of inequality among and between nations, and a steady and dependable government to keep this all together. It’s too bad nuclear advocates can’t help us figure out how this could work.

  12. Thanks Gail for your contribution to an urgently needed discussion. Another great post but it left me with a sense that there is no choice other than a future of ever expanding energy needs which is of course not true.
    The energy requirements for sustaining a productive, prosperous and contented human society into the ultra long term future are very modest and well within the capacity of our ecosystem to provide, but we do have to sort out our wants from our needs.
    Endless growth within our finite system is clearly not possible so the discussion must turn from exploring technologies that prop up the status quo (postpone the inevitable) to exploring social and cultural models that can operate comfortable within the boundaries of the system. Instead of considering technology options, I find it more useful to simply consider the way we define our goals;
    ‘Productivity’ is not confined to number and variety of widgets. It can also mean gains in the world peace index.
    ‘Prosperity’ doesn’t have to be about how high up the ivory tower you can climb. It can also be about how many people stop to dust you off when you fall.
    ‘Contentment’ ? With just a subtle cultural shift it can be as much or more about giving as it is about receiving.
    You get the drift, I’m sure. Utopian? Maybe, but if those sorts of values don’t define our motivation, our end goal, then what does? They are readily achievable.
    In the social, cultural models to date, harnessed energy has facilitated exponential growth in population, technology deployment and resource depletion (footprint) to the brink of a collapse of the global commons. To bring the footprint down to a sustainable size, it is the social/cultural model we must change, not the energy source. There are ways of doing this. Society is not a rigid structure.
    Our ecosystem is not the opposing team to be outwitted and vanquished. It is the playing field and it writes the ‘rules of play’. Our brute behaviour to date has been hell-bent on tearing up the field before we’ve even learnt the rules of the game. The wise choice for the future is to develop a humble respect for the field and the rules through which we can access the fantastic complexity of learning opportunities embodied in both. Learning how to generate electricity from atomic energy is fine; intelligence, knowledge, ‘technology’. Deploying a gazillion nuclear plants is none of these things.
    I explore these aspects of humanity along with alternatives to the current model in my novel ‘pachacuti’ which I intuitively feel would interest you.

    • I agree with you that most Americans have too much, but I am not sure that even if they were to cut back greatly, that this goes very far toward fixing our problems. We have a couple of different problems:

      1. A financial system that demands growth, or it collapses. Even if we could manage to cut back (perhaps through much higher taxes, so no-one has much to spend left). we would have the problem of the financial system falling apart without growth.

      2. We are overshooting the world’s carrying capacity by something like a factor of 15 or 20, relative to what the carrying capacity would be without fossil fuels. There is no way that nearly 7 billion people can live on this earth without fossil fuels, even if everyone has only necessities. The world can support perhaps 500 million to 1 billion
      people without fossil fuels.

      So even if we do these things, it still leaves us with a big need for fossil fuels or nuclear electricity, and a collapsing financial system.

      If there were a lot fewer people in the world, and a different financial system, it would be pretty easy to see a way out of our current mess. The problem now is primarily the large number of people in the world, relative to the carrying capacity. The financial system (requiring growth) is a secondary problem.

    • Bicycle Dave says:

      Hi George,

      I think you have written a very thoughtful and caring comment. If enough people in the world concurred with your suggestions we might be able to “power down” with some semblance of grace. Unfortunately, my guess is that probably less than 1% of humanity has any sympathy for your insight.

      In my previous life, I developed computer software for industrial systems – one of my strong points was systems analysis. One simple lesson I learned is that proper definition of the problem is essential before setting goals and creating solutions. At this point, I see zero evidence that the planet’s problems are understood by anywhere near enough people to make a difference. To the contrary, powerful financial, political, and religious entities are aggressively promulgating disinformation for their short term gain. Solutions may be all around us – but are useless without committed stakeholders that totally understand the problem and are passionate about the goals.

      As Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” makes clear – humans are absolutely capable of ignoring the most obvious facts about their behavior – behavior which will yield disaster for them. It is really hard to envision a realistic scenario that will avoid or significantly mitigate some pretty nasty consequences of our current behavior. I think that Gail’s main message is to accept that we are headed for ugly times (with very little recourse) and try to be reasonably prepared and yet enjoy the life we now have. I keep looking for a valid counter argument – haven’t found one yet.

      Just as an antidote, recently, I was having a conversation with a surgeon – a very talented, bright and successful fellow. Very well educated and very well traveled (at least in Europe). We talked about energy for a few minutes – he was aware that gasoline price rise could cause economic problems. He was generally aware that there were global energy issues – especially with “foreign oil”. However, it never occurred to him that US energy demand might not be met “somehow”. He commented that “people have to drive to work” and that some (magical?) mix of government and the great entrepreneurial American spirit would ensure that US citizens would have their energy needs met. He was not mentally prepared to even consider some notion of “power down”, much less the potential for collapse somewhere down the road. This comes from a highly intelligent man who is pretty much consumed by his daily work and picks up most of his political and economic “worldview” from passing TV sound bites – just like millions and millions of others do. The people creating those sound bites have little motivation to think deeply about the real causes of our problems.

  13. As always a very good article, but I have reservations about the closing remarks: “We need energy for many things including…”

    If we really do need energy to power everything we already do then, for sure, there is no choice but to accept energy sources almost beyond our reach, including deep sea drilling and an exponential growth in nuclear power.

    We may indeed not be able to stop going down those paths but I think the word ‘need’ is slightly misplaced. We choose to have oversized TVs and fridges and so forth and so forth… and if we make those choices then we have to accept the consequences and risks. I think that’s what you were saying, Gail.

    • I think part of our problem now is that even that the items that are not necessary, provide jobs for people. As we cut back on unnecessary things, we will have more and more jobless people.

      Our system is made to work within certain “tolerances”. For example, the electricity company has to sell enough electricity to get enough revenue to pay it workers and to pay off its debt. If people economize, it may not exactly work out–for example, the electric company may go bankrupt. If there aren’t other organizations to pick up the slack, (or governments to look out for the utility), I could imagine a utility company going out of business, leaving people/ businesses to fend for themselves without electricity. Right now, this wouldn’t happen, but as things go downhill further, I can imagine such a thing.

      We know that in the past, the world could not support more than 1 billion people without fossil fuels. There is a significant chance that is still the case today.

      • Gary Peters says:


        Last year a friend and I coined the term BTOB, which stands for back to one billion. The world can probably support more than that, but I see no need for more. I have long been perplexed by a system that sought to maximize the number of humans on the planet, no matter what the costs or ecological damage.

        However, it is neither easy nor popular to think about how we might get from our current seven billion back to one billion. Right now we continue to add another 80 million each year and economists are already crying over the effects of population decline in places like Japan, Germany, and Russia.

        Before we can talk about sustaining anything, we have to change our economic system completely, and that won’t be easy.

      • Well, Gail,

        I don’t disagree with you but what a Catch 22 dilemma! We have to keep feeding growth, even though that is grossly non-sustainable, or the whole system will collapse and take us down anyway.

        Sort of leaves us like stunned mullets – not worth trying to go in any direction, just pad the nest a bit and wait and see what happens.

        Still, as disempowering as this message is, it would be dishonest to pretend that there is a solution.

        Thanks again for your straight-shooting honesty.

        • Exponential growth in a finite world worked for a while, but won’t work indefinitely. Even now, if we take our foot off the gas, we have a problem. Not a nice situation!

  14. alan says:

    An issue I have with the current nuclear debate is “nuclear” is a very generic term. IMHO this an issue with the MSM and jo-public (the electorate) perceiving anything with “nuclear” in the title = evil.

    Gail, its a very minor nitpick, but could you be more explicit when talking about Nuclear? Although that doesnt distract from another very fine article.

    We currently use Uranium/Plutonium fission. Thorium fission reactors are in the pipeline (China & India) which are apparently safer than Uranium fission (I’m not an expert) . Although qualifying the type of fission gets complicated (too complicated for this article)

    Then you have nuclear fusion, which still doesn’t work, but is worth an R&D push. I’d hate to see fusion research stopped just because its “nuclear”.

    • As a practical matter, we have a mixture of types of reactors out there. We don’t know exactly what they are–Chernobyl proved that it was possible for folks to put pretty bad reactors out.

      The problem with both thorium and fission is that even if the kinks were worked out tomorrow, it would take years and years to get them scaled up so that they could be economically produced at full size. It probably would take even longer to get regulator to agree that they are OK. Anything even slightly nuclear worries people, and without experience, no one wants to be first.

      Thorium seems to have some possibility. Fission still seems pretty far off, though.

  15. David says:

    We can’t be looking at what energy source to eliminate and talk about normality. Coal and Nuclear are essential for the status quo. Now if we are “OK” with collapse to a lower level of simplicity and a radically different type of living then we can pursue other means. My opinion is we need more time to educate more people about alternative civilization for any hope of avoiding catabolic collapse. This means business-as-usual. It is not going to last much longer anyway. We need “EVERY” TOOL IN THE TOOL BOX!

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