Archive for the ‘climate change – global warming’ Category

Digital damage: Is your online life polluting planet?

November 3, 2022 Macquarie University/The Lighthouse Dr Jessica McLean is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography in the Macquarie School of Social Sciences. 22 Aug 22

Shorter emails, camera-off Zoom calls and deleting old photos could reduce our digital carbon footprints – but sustainability expert Dr Jessica McLean says this is too big for individuals, and governments and organisations need to take responsibility.

Swapping digital meetings, shopping and even exercise classes for their in-person alternatives can substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding transport-related pollution, but the environmental impact of our digital lives is also surprisingly high, says Human Geographer Dr Jessica McLean.

We don’t often think about the various infrastructures required to do simple things like send an email or hold our photos – these digital things are stored in data centres that are often out of sight, out of mind,” says McLean, who is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Macquarie University’s School of Social Sciences.

“If we think about it at all, we usually expect these services to be continual and think that there isn’t really a limit on those digital practices,” she says.

However, digital activity has a surprisingly high environmental impact, says McLean, who has recently published a book on the topic.

Along with the greenhouse gas emissions from substantial energy use by our personal computers, data centres and communication equipment, this impact also includes the water use and land impact from mining, building and distributing the metals and other materials that make up our vast global digital infrastructure.

High-impact digital activities

Many researchers have attempted to calculate the individual carbon footprints of various technologies, and these often focus on the energy used by servers, home wi-fi and computers and even a tiny share of the carbon emitted to construct data centre buildings.

Some of our greenhouse-gassiest digital activities include:

  • Emails: 
    Professor Mike Berners-Lee calculated that a short email sent phone-to-phone over wifi equates to 0.3 grams of CO2, a short email sent laptop-to-laptop emits 17g of CO2 and a long email with attachment sent from laptop could produce 50g of CO2.
  • Digital hoarding: Data transfer and storage of thousands of photo, audio and video files, messages, emails and documents in an average US data centre emits around 0.2 tons of CO2 each year, for every 100 gigabyte of storage.
  • Binge-watching in High Definition: Just one hour of HD streaming a day emits 160kg of CO2 each year – but swap to Standard Definition video quality and that drops to around 8kg of CO2 annually.

Beyond the individual

Deconstructing the many and varied impacts of our increasingly digital lives can be overwhelming.

Talking heads: Just one hour of videoconferencing can emit up to 1kg of CO2.

“There’s a lot to take in, and many of these figures will change depending on things like the use of renewable energy that is being taken up by some digital corporations and many individuals,” says McLean.

“This highlights the complexity of this challenge, showing that understanding and addressing digital sustainability goes beyond individual responsibilities, and is more fittingly held by governments and corporations.”

She says that the onus should be on governments to regulate a greater transparency on how digital corporations use energy, and to require regular reporting on sustainability targets.

Big tech continues to produce smartphones that are not designed to last.

“Most device manufacturers subscribe to a ‘planned obsolescence’ paradigm, rather than circular economy – for example, big tech continues to produce smartphones that are not designed to last.”

McLean’s recent research with Dr Sophia Maalsen (University of Sydney) and Dr Lisa Lake (UTS) found that while university students, staff and affiliates were concerned about the sustainability of digital technologies, there was a big gap between their intentions and actual practices of sustainability in their everyday digital lives.

“People expressed concern for the sustainability of their digital technologies, but they had limited opportunities to do anything substantive about this issue,” she says.

Digital ‘solutionism’ the wrong approach

Concepts like the paperless office, remote work and virtual conferences often come with a promise of lower environmental impacts – but McLean says these can be examples of ‘digital solutionism’.

E-harm: Digital activity has a surprisingly high environmental impact, says Dr Jessica McLean, who has recently published a book on the topic.

“It’s time to question whether being digital is always the most sustainable solution,” she says.

McLean says that our society is becoming increasingly entangled in the digital via the exponential growth of intensely data driven activities and devices, from the Internet of Things to Big Data and AI.

However, she points out that this digital immersion isn’t universal.

“There are uneven patterns and gaps in these digital affordances, both within Australia and across the Global South,” she says.

Her book, Changing Digital Geographies, explores alternatives to our current exponential digital growth, and its impact on our natural world.

“There are many alternatives for how we live digitally, from making decisions about what’s ‘good enough’ to changing the whole digital lifecycle and the way it is regulated,” she says.

“Individuals cannot be expected to resolve these issues, governments need to regulate and corporations need to act, to improve our digital future and make it sustainable.”

Nuclear war would turn oceans upside down, crash food web

August 4, 2022 July 8, 2022 By Chris Barncard , Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given the specter of nuclear war renewed weight as a global threat, and a new study of the environmental impact of a nuclear conflict describes dire consequences for the world’s oceans.

“If there were a nuclear war, these huge explosions and the firestorms they cause could throw so much soot — teragrams, or millions of tons — into the atmosphere, it would block out enough sunlight to cool the atmosphere significantly,” says Elizabeth Maroon, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

In just one month after a nuclear exchange between Russia and the United States or India and Pakistan, average global temperatures would drop by 13 degrees Fahrenheit — a larger temperature change than in the last ice age — according to climate modeling by Maroon and collaborators from around the world. The research team, led by Louisiana State University professor of oceanography and coast sciences Cheryl Harrison, published their findings July 7 in the journal AGU Advances.

Even setting aside radioactive fallout, the consequences on land would be dire, including widespread crop failures. But in just a year, the planet’s interconnected oceans would enter a state unfamiliar to scientists like Maroon who study the way oceans have changed on much longer time scales. And, unlike effects on the atmosphere and on land, oceans would not fully recover within the 30-year time period covered by the researchers’ simulations of nuclear conflicts.

“Changes in the ocean take longer than in the atmosphere or on land, but our modeling shows that even in the first year after a nuclear war the ocean circulation would have started changing drastically,” says Maroon, an expert on the interplay between the Atlantic Ocean’s complex circulation patterns and Earth’s climate.

The Atlantic’s major circulation turn-around in the northern latitudes — in which warm surface water streaming north to Greenland, Iceland and Norway cools and sinks into middle depths to be drawn south again — comes unhinged.

“Within the first year or two, water in the North Atlantic sinks all the way to the bottom of the ocean, which we think has not happened even in the ice ages,” says Maroon. “In today’s ocean, only near Antarctica does water sink all the way to the seafloor.”

That unprecedented mixing and ocean circulation speed-up — which would last for about two decades — would move nutrients in the ocean vital for supporting the smallest and most numerous marine organisms, like plankton, into entirely unfamiliar conditions around the world.

It would also result in cooling so strong it would extend sea ice and render impassable major seaports that are now open year-round, and would likely cause significant damage to much of the ocean food web.

“It’s no secret that nuclear winter would be terrible,” Maroon says. “What this study shows are the lasting extent of effects we hadn’t really addressed before on ocean circulation and ecosystems and the very base of the food web.”

To read more about the study and its findings, visit:

Smoke from nuclear war would devastate ozone layer, alter climate

December 25, 2021

SMOKE FROM NUCLEAR WAR WOULD DEVASTATE OZONE LAYER, ALTER CLIMATE   Atmospheric impacts of global nuclear war would be more severe than previously thought

OCT 13, 2021 – BY DAVID HOSANSKY    The massive columns of smoke generated by a nuclear war would alter the world’s climate for years and devastate the ozone layer, endangering both human health and food supplies, new research shows.

The international study paints an even grimmer picture of a global nuclear war’s aftermath than previous analyses. The research team used newly developed computer climate modeling techniques to learn more about the effects of a hypothetical nuclear exchange, including complex chemistry interactions in the stratosphere that influence the amounts of ultraviolet (UV) radiation that reach the planet’s surface.

Since the ozone layer protects Earth’s surface from harmful UV radiation, such impacts would be devastating to humans and the environment. High levels of UV radiation have been linked to certain types of skin cancer, cataracts, and immunological disorders. The ozone layer also protects terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, as well as agriculture.

“Although we suspected that ozone would be destroyed after nuclear war and that would result in enhanced ultraviolet light at the Earth’s surface, if there was too much smoke, it would block out the ultraviolet light,” said study co-author Alan Robock, a professor of climate science at Rutgers University. “Now, for the first time, we have calculated how this would work and quantified how it would depend on the amount of smoke.”


Expert response to the pro nuclear report by the Joint Research Centre

September 14, 2021

Any major expansion of nuclear energy would delay the decommissioning of fossil-fired power plants, as the latter would have to remain in operation during this period and therefore make it hard to achieve the climate change mitigation objective. It is even possible to argue that nuclear energy hinders the use of other alternatives with low CO2 emissions because of its high capital intensity.  Otherwise this capital could be used to expand alternative energy sources like sun, wind and water

While nuclear power generation in the electricity generation phase has been associated with relatively low greenhouse gas emissions from a historical perspective, the lions’ share of greenhouse gas emissions in the nuclear fuel cycle is caused by the front-end and back-end processing stages. Based on estimates, the CO2 emissions can be broken down into the construction of nuclear power plants (18%), uranium mining and enrichment (38%), operations (17%), processing and storing nuclear fuel (15%) and decommissioning activities at the power plant (18%) (BMK, 2020, p.6)   

Generating huge quantities of dangerous waste is being continued for decades without any effective disposal solution being available. The JRC itself says that the primary and best waste management strategy is not to generate any radioactive waste in the first place. However, this assessment is not consistently applied within the report. 

The draft of the delegated legal act is based on the recommendations of the so-called Technical Expert Group (TEG). …..The TEG did not recommend that nuclear energy should be included in the EU taxonomy register at that time and recommended an in-depth study of the DNSH criteria (TEG, 2020b). 

It is clear that the JRC barely touched on some environment-related aspects of using nuclear energy or did not consider them in its assessment at all.

.…  Questions must also be raised about the ageing process and the brittleness of materials and therefore the long-term behaviour of nuclear power plants beyond the original design period. 

This very positive presentation of future prospects for nuclear energy, which is shown in the JRC Report, must be viewed critically………..this presentation by the JRC is suspect from a professional point of view and possibly indicates a lack of adequate independence .

  Expert response to the report by the Joint Research Centre entitled “Technical assessment of nuclear energy with respect to the ‛Do No Significant Harm’ criteria in Regulation (EU) 2020/852, the ‛Taxonomy Regulation’”    Particularly considering the suitability of criteria for including nuclear energy in EU taxonomy The Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BASE) with support from the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS)  June 2021


The Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BASE) with support from the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS), acting on behalf of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), has examined the report by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Union (EU) entitled “Technical assessment of nuclear energy with respect to the ‘Do No Significant Harm’ criteria of Regulation (EU) 2020/852 (‘Taxonomy Regulation’)” to see whether the JRC has used expertise that is complete and comprehensible when determining whether the use of nuclear fission to generate energy can be included in the taxonomy register. 

The Taxonomy Regulation defines criteria that determine whether an economic activity (and therefore investments in this activity) can be viewed as ecologically sustainable. The JRC, the EU’s research centre, concludes in its report dated March 2021 that the conditions for including nuclear energy in EU taxonomy are met in terms of the “Do No Significant Harm” criteria (DNSH). Prior to this, the Technical Expert Group (TEG) had not yet recommended the inclusion of nuclear energy in EU taxonomy and advised the EU Commission to review the DNSH criteria more closely. 

This expert response finds that the JRC has drawn conclusions that are hard to deduce at numerous points. Subject areas that are very relevant to the environment have also only been presented very briefly or have been ignored. For example, the effects of severe accidents on the environment are not included when assessing whether to include nuclear energy in the taxonomy register – yet they have occurred several times over the last few decades. This raises the question of whether the JRC has selected too narrow a framework of observation. The aspects mentioned and others listed in this expert response suggest that this is true. 

This expert response also points out that the JRC mentions topics, but then fails to consider them further or in more detail, although they must be included in any assessment of the sustainability of using nuclear energy. The need to consider them is partly based on the fact that certain effects on the other environmental objectives in the Taxonomy Regulation must be expected if the matter is viewed more closely or at least cannot be excluded. In other cases, this need results from the fact that the Taxonomy Regulation refers to the UN approach in its 2030 Agenda in its understanding of sustainability – and the latter, for example, contains the goals of “considering future generations” and “participative decision-making”. Any sustainability, particularly for future generations, can only be guaranteed if attempts are made at an early stage to achieve acceptance in the population, enable future generations to handle the use of nuclear energy and its legacy or waste appropriately and ensure that information and knowledge are maintained in the long term. Generally speaking, it should be noted that the problem of disposing of radioactive waste has already been postponed by previous generations to today’s and it will ‘remain’ a problem for many future generations. The principle of “no undue burdens for future generations” (pp. 250ff) has therefore already been (irrevocably) infringed, while the DNSH-hurdle “significant[ly] harm” has also been infringed. 


Radiation, nuclear wastes, transportation, uncertainties – extract from Expert response to pro nuclear JRC Report

September 14, 2021

The DNSH-related TSCs state, among other things, that the repository facility must guarantee that the waste is contained and isolated from the biosphere. This also applies if extreme natural phenomena occur such as earthquakes, tornadoes, floods or the loss of technical barriers. 

……  nuclear energy has been used for several decades, but there is still no repositoryfor high-level radioactive waste operating anywhere in the world. Responsibilities are therefore passed on to following generations and they are restricted in their freedom of choice. Section 6 of this expert response will deal with this matter in greater detail. 

General results of the reviewThe JRC Report contains unfounded generalisations at many points. Conclusions are drawn from individual, selected examples and their global validity is assumed. Readers without any detailed specialist expertise will find it hard or impossible to recognise this.

.……….  The JRC presents the disposal of high-level radioactive waste as a completely resolved problem by citing the example of the disposal projects in Finland and France. This largely ignores the fact that the Finnish repository is still under construction and the licence application from the operational company has already been delayed on several occasions. Both countries are still years away from starting to operate the facilities. 

The JRC Report does not mention the aspect of transportation in its presentation of the life cycle analysis. This would have been necessary for a conclusive overall presentation of all the aspects of nuclear power.

the JRC Report states that a closed fuel cycle provides the advantage of significantly reducing the space required for a deep geological repository for HLW. It is necessary to add here that not only the volume, but also the decay heat at the time of disposing of the waste is relevant for the size of the disposal facility (KOM, 2016, p. 227). Additional low- and intermediate-level waste would also be produced and this would increase the disposal volume.

Expert response to the report by the Joint Research Centre entitled “Technical assessment of nuclear energy with respect to the ‛Do No Significant Harm’ criteria in Regulation (EU) 2020/852, the ‛Taxonomy Regulation’” 2021

“”………… 4.6 Ionising radiation and its impacts on people’s health and the environment during all the life cycle phases (apart from disposal and transportation)The JRC Report largely restricts itself in Part A 3.4 to the “impact of ionizing radiation on human health” (JRC Report, Part A 3.4.1, p. 167ff) and the environment (JRC Report, Part A 3.4.2, p. 173ff). The impact of emissions of non-radioactive substances is only considered at one point (publication [3.4-1]). ……..

The figures quoted for the radiation exposure of human beings in Part A 3.4.1 of the JRC Report are plausible. It is correct that human exposure to radiation as a result of the civil use of radioactive materials and ionising radiation is low in comparison with radiation exposure from natural sources and its range of variation. However, the report does not match the latest findings in radiation protection when specifying average effective doses per head of the population for nuclear facilities and installations. According to the latest recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), the so-called “representative person” in the sense of the ICRP has to be considered an individual in the population, who is exposed to higher levels of radiation because of his or her lifestyle habits. 

5 Criterion 2 in the Taxonomy Regulation – the DNSH criteria: disposal of radioactive waste, transportation, research and development The subject of disposing of radioactive waste is considered in this section. It professionally examines the scientific statements in the JRC Report about the topics of storage (section 5.1 of this expert response), disposing of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste (section 5.2), disposing of high-level radioactive waste (section 5.3), transportation (section 5.4) and research and development (section 5.5). Sub-headlines have been used to interconnect the subsections 

……….. The JRC Report does not adequately consider the fact that no successful, deep geological disposal of high-level radioactive waste, including the permanent seal, has yet been introduced anywhere in the world. 

5.1 Interim storage of radioactive waste The JRC Report generally fails to provide any basis for the findings that are listed in the Executive Summary of the report related to storing radioactive waste. As a result, questions must be raised about the transparency of the conclusions that are drawn

…………..  the assessment of interim storage consistently takes place according to the standard adopted by the JRC, which, however, is inadequate from an expert point of view. For beyond design basis events it is impossible to exclude that uncontrolled discharges of radioactive substances and therefore considerable effects on the environment may occur through incidents and accidents or by some other intrusion involving third parties (e.g. terrorist attacks) when operating storage facilities; a risk therefore remains. A holistic assessment of using nuclear energy must therefore include a risk assessment related to these events too (cf. section 2.1 and 2.2.1 of this expert response). 


Future generations, participative decision-making, proliferation, uranium mining – extract from Expert response to pro nuclear JRC Report

September 14, 2021

Consideration of participative decision-making in societies in the JRC Report The involvement of stakeholders is greatly oversimplified in the JRC Report and is described in very optimistic terms. For example, NGOs are not considered in the description of interest groups and their role in developing a programme for deep geological repository sites

The effects on indigenous peoples, on whose land most of the uranium mines are located, is not mentioned in the report,

Expert response to the report by the Joint Research Centre entitled “Technical assessment of nuclear energy with respect to the ‛Do No Significant Harm’ criteria in Regulation (EU) 2020/852, the ‛Taxonomy Regulation’”  2021

………………………………...6.  Future and further criteria in the Taxonomy Regulation – other sustainability goals and minimum standards  The JRC Report deals with other aspects that are important for sustainable development in conjunction with disposing of high-level radioactive waste, in addition to the ecological criteria. The JRC Report particularly highlights consideration for future generations (JRC Report, Part B, p. 258) and the importance of participative decision-making (JRC Report, Part B, p. 254) when searching for a repository site. The JRC Report formulates both aspects as important requirements when searching for a repository site. The two requirements of “considering future generations” and “participative decision-making“, however, are not considered in any further depth – e.g. mentioning the challenges associated with these requirements when searching for a repository site for radioactive waste. The report emphasises that there is still no repository for high-level radioactive waste in operation anywhere in the world (JRC Report, Part A 1.1.1, p. 17), but leaves open the question of whether there is any connection here with the challenges of “considering future generations” and “participative decision-making”.   ..

Regardless of disposal, the problem of proliferation (cf. section 6.3), which is only mentioned in a very rudimentary manner in relation to reprocessing in the JRC Report, and uranium mining (cf. section 6.4) mean that it is necessary to treat the topics of intergenerational justice and participation separately in terms of the sustainability of using nuclear energy. Even in the case of severe nuclear power plant accidents, where large amounts of radioactive substances are discharged into the environment, generational justice is an important aspect of sustainability. The example of Chernobyl shows that coping with the consequences of an accident will also plague future generations – ranging from restrictions or non-usage possibilities in the affected areas and even the planned dismantling of the damaged reactor block and disposing of the retrieved nuclear fuel.

6.1 “Considering future generations” and “participative decision-making” in conjunction with disposal ……..

Considering future generations and participative decision-making in any society represent individual sustainability goals in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN, 2015) ……..  These two sustainability goals are not adequately considered in the JRC Report with a view to nuclear disposal, but are important for assessing the fundamental issue of sustainability, which is also part of the Taxonomy Regulation 

Consideration of sustainability aspects and future generations in the JRC Report Developing and introducing a geological disposal programme/disposal system takes decades and is associated with costs that are hard to calculate. Monitoring after the closure of the repository will also continue for at least another 100 years. For example, France expects the operational time for a repository alone to exceed 100 years. During this long period, following generations will have to deal with problems that have been caused by previous generations 

The risk of long-term financial burdens that are hard to calculate (as the example of the Asse II mine illustrates) and the risks caused by geological disposal for several generations are not adequately treated in the JRC Report. ………  The report fails to provide any in-depth analysis of this aspect and provides a distorted picture, particularly with a view to the aspect of sustainability and intergenerational justice, by ignoring the negative consequences of using nuclear energy. 

Consideration of participative decision-making in societies in the JRC Report The involvement of stakeholders is greatly oversimplified in the JRC Report and is described in very optimistic terms. For example, NGOs are not considered in the description of interest groups and their role in developing a programme for deep geological repository sites (JRC Report, Part B, p. 253-254). Part B, p. 254 of the JRC Report ignores the fact that it may not be possible to reach consensus among the stakeholders. This also oversimplifies the problem of searching for a site and presents it in a one-sided way 

There is no discussion either that – where no social consensus on using nuclear energy exists – its use itself can represent a blockage factor for solving the repository issue – at least experience in Germany illustrates this. Abandoning nuclear power and therefore resolving a social field of conflict, which had continued for decades, was a central factor in ensuring that discussions were relaunched about a site election procedure and led to a broad consensus. …….


Overall, it is necessary to state that the consideration of sustainability in the JRC Report is incomplete and needs to be complemented in terms of the minimum objectives and other sustainability goals. The broad sustainability approach adopted by the United Nations is not picked up. EU taxonomy is based on this broad approach. It therefore makes sense to already analyse the use of nuclear energy and the disposal of radioactive waste specifically now – and in the context of other sustainability goals like considering future generations and participative involvement in societies. 

6.2 Preservation of records, .Preservation of records, knowledge and memory (RK&M) regarding radioactive waste repositories is only mentioned once as a quotation from Article 17 of the Joint Convention (JRC Report, Part B 1.2, p. 206) and once rudimentarily in Part B, p. 259f. This does not do justice to its importance for future generations (cf. sections 2.1 and 6.1 of this expert response). ………….  . Requirements like these are not taken into account in the JRC Report. 

6.3 Proliferation The JRC Report only mentions the risk of proliferation – i.e. the spread or transfer of fissionable material, mass weapons of destruction, their design plans or launching systems – very briefly in conjunction with the civil use of nuclear power. This analysis is inadequate to do justice to proliferation in the light of the DNSH criteria related to the environmental objectives, as it represents a considerable risk for almost all sustainability goals. 

The military and civil use of nuclear energy have been closely connected to each other historically. The technologies for their use are often dual-use items, i.e. they can in principle be used for both civil and military purposes. It is therefore necessary to create an extensive network of international controls as part of using nuclear energy and the supply and disposal of fuels associated with it in order to minimise the risk of military misuse by state or non-state players. This particularly applies to fissionable material like uranium-235 and plutonium-239, which are used when generating nuclear energy or produced in power reactors. In addition to this, significant risks are also created by other radioactive substances if they are stolen and used in an improper manner (“dirty bombs”). 

Processes that are particularly important for proliferation are created when manufacturing nuclear fuel (uranium enrichment) and reprocessing spent nuclear fuel materials: the technologies for uranium enrichment can be used with modifications to produce highly enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon. During reprocessing, plutonium is separated and it can be used for nuclear weapons. Even if the plutonium vector, which is produced in power reactors, does not have the ideal properties for military use from a physics point of view, it is still basically suitable for making weapons (Mark, 1993; US DoE, 1994). 

Using nuclear energy to generate electricity is therefore associated with specific risks of proliferation. As nuclear weapons have unique destructive potential in many respects (Eisenbart, 2012), the issue of sustainability for this type of energy generation should not ignore this aspect. ……

6.4 Uranium mining – specific requirements for sustainable mining ………………..  There is no real discussion of the term “sustainable mining” in the JRC Report (cf. particularly JRC Report Part A, p. 76 at the bottom). The report does not examine the discussion about sustainable mining has any repercussions for investigating the environmental effects of uranium mining. However, it is important in terms of other sustainability goals or the minimum safeguards laid down in Article 18 of the Taxonomy Regulation (cf. BMK, 2020, p. 22 too) 

All those involved in mining and processing uranium ore should be mentioned in conjunction with sustainability. The effects on indigenous peoples, on whose land most of the uranium mines are located, is not mentioned in the report, for example. The rights of these people for a just share in all the resources (ranging from clean water to reasonable healthcare and even the ownership of the raw material, uranium) are not considered, but should be to an extensive degree from sustainability points of view as regards taxonomy ……………..

Chinon nuclear site again leaks coolants that turn into powerful greenhouse gases.

September 14, 2021

The Chinon nuclear site (Center – Val de Loire) declared in August 2021 to have exceeded the annual authorized limit for coolant leaks. 100 kilos in 1 year is the quantity of refrigerants that each EDF nuclear power plant has
the right to allow to evaporate in nature. Because at normal pressure, these liquids turn into powerful greenhouse gases.

This is equivalent to several thousand kilos of CO2 released into the atmosphere each year by EDF nuclear facilities, which have very high cooling needs. The manufacturer does not brag about it, but this limit is regularly exceeded.

 Sortir du nucleaire 31st Aug 2021

The world’s climate catastrophe – there is little time left to act

September 14, 2021

 Reminders that our planet is wilting under the impact of human-driven climate change have been hard to avoid this month. Catastrophic floods have killed 160 in Germany while more than 50 died after massive inundations swept through the central Chinese province of Henan when a year’s worth of rain fell in three days last week.

At the same time, forest fires have ripped through one of the world’s coldest places, Siberia, after unusually hot, dry weather gripped the region. Canada and the US have also been afflicted by conflagrations that have destroyed communities and vast areas of woodland. One blaze in the US state of Oregon has spread over an
area 25 times the size of Manhattan and has raged out of control for weeks.

Global warming, triggered by rising levels of greenhouse gases, has beenimplicated in every case. The problem, say scientists, is that to halt worsening weather patterns by 2050, rises in global temperatures will have to be limited to around 1.5C from pre-industrial days.

However, the world has already heated up by 1.2C since then, thanks to the greenhouse gases we
have put into the atmosphere, and the prospects of limiting further rises to a fraction of a degree over the next 30 years look remote. In fact, estimates based on current pledges by nations to cut emissions suggest
temperatures are likely to rise by more than 2C above preindustrial levels by the middle of the century.

In such a future, more than a quarter of the world’s population would be likely to experience extreme drought for at least one month a year; rainforests would face eradication; melting ice sheets would result in dangerous sea level rises and trigger major changes in the behaviour of ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream.

In addition, loss of reflective ice from the poles would cause oceans to absorb more solar radiation, while melting permafrost in Siberia and other regions would release plumes of methane, another greenhouse gas. Inevitably, temperatures would soar even further.

This terrifying prospect has come about because politicians and business leaders have failed, for several
decades, to appreciate the risks involved in massively interfering with the make-up of our atmosphere and to instigate measures to limit the damage. As a result, the world faces a climate catastrophe with little time left to act to counter the threat.

 Observer 25th July 2021

As the world starts to panic over climate change, nuclear evangelists offer spurious solutions.

September 14, 2021

I too wish that the things that the nuclear industry says about itself were true—I wish it was green and renewable. I wish that there weren’t multiple uranium mining sites around the world with thousands of tons of uranium tailings abandoned and open to the elements, continuing to harm the health of generations born long after mining ceased.

I wish that it didn’t take immense, carbon-intensive mining projects to extract uranium from the Earth, and then again to “deposit” the spent nuclear fuel from reactors back half a kilometer underground.

Nuclear Stockholm Syndrome,

BY ROBERT JACOBS  9 July 21,  Bhaskar Sunkara’s recent opinion piece extoling the virtues of nuclear power and castigating its opponents as paranoid and ill-informed, is clearly motivated by his deep concerns over the dire impacts of global warming, which loom closer by the hour. Unfortunately, his arguments amount to little more than regurgitated industry talking points, in their traditional form of a Jeremiad.

First, Sunkara poses the decline of the nuclear industry in the West as an achievement of progressive political movements. Specifically, he cites the decline of nuclear power in Germany as attributable to a “Green party-spearheaded campaign.” This decline has been more reasonably ascribed to both market conditions and missteps by nuclear industry giants such as Westinghouse and AREVA. From its inception, nuclear power has been heavily dependent on government subsidies to appear economically viable (subsidies such as insurance and the disposal of waste largely configured as taxpayer burdens).

Rather than succumbing to its political opponents on the left, the industry has been sunk by its structural economic dysfunctions. In the US, this has sparked schemes to secure additional taxpayer subsidies in legislative fixes such as guaranteed returns for nuclear utilities, and outright bribery of legislators for taxpayer bailouts of failing companies.

The most simplistic recitation of nuclear industry talking points is when Sunkara dismisses concerns about nuclear waste, and extolls the mythic separation between “civilian” and “military” nuclear technologies. He asserts that most nuclear waste “can be recycled to generate more electricity,” an assertion that goes back more than half a century and has been ritualistically recited by an army of nuclear industry PR professionals before him…yet here we are 50 years later and very little spent nuclear fuel has actually been recycled. The most successful nuclear recycling nation is France which, nevertheless, is experiencing a “nuclear exit” and is unlikely to ever use this recycled fuel. AREVA, the French nuclear giant, has gone bankrupt. Reprocessing facilities like the Rokkasho plant here in Japan have never functioned properly, unless you consider their role enabling the stockpiling of plutonium by Japan to hedge against future weapon needs to be an elemental goal.

There is a difference between what can be done, and what actually happens. Rather than being recycled, hundreds of thousands of metric tons of spent nuclear fuel await “final disposal” in deep geological repositories. Some have been waiting for over 70 years. Just last week, a panel advising the EU on categorizing nuclear plant as “green” energy, and thus eligible to receive EU funding as a “sustainable investment,” concluded that the problems of nuclear waste preclude that designation.

I would point out that even though plastics manufacturers assure us that most plastic can be recycled, we still seem to be living a world with ever increasing amounts of plastic waste. Their greenwashing has not eventuated in a world full of plastics made from recycled materials. The market reality is that it is cheaper to manufacture new plastic than it is to manufacture plastic from recycled materials. Similarly, it is cheaper to discard spent nuclear fuel than it is to reprocess it.

Sunkara dismisses the irrevocable link between military and civilian nuclear technologies as imaginary. First, let’s consider the present imbrication. A 2019 Atlantic Council study places the value of the US civilian nuclear complex to the US national security apparatus at $26 billion annually simply in terms of the human capital assets: “In terms of nuclear technology innovation, export capacity, and geopolitics, a vibrant civilian nuclear energy sector is a critically important national security asset.”

However, the civilian operation of nuclear power plants also places future generations at military risk. I have written that, historically, nuclear reactors were “born violent.” That is to say, they were invented by the Manhattan Project in the early 1940s to manufacture plutonium for use in nuclear weapons, and were instrumental in killing almost 100,000 people in 1945. The “first” American commercial atomic plant in Shippingport, PA that went critical in 1958, was actually the 14th industrial nuclear reactor built in the United States, the other 13 only manufactured plutonium, which by then formed the fissile cores of thousands of nuclear weapons.

In nuclear reactors used to make electricity, this plutonium is not separated out for use in weapons. However, all nuclear power plants remain plutonium production factories. The fact that most of those tons of plutonium remain in the spent fuel rods does not mean they will stay there forever. Thousands of years from now, some government or military may dig up the spent fuel in our deep geological repositories and separate that plutonium out to build nuclear weaponry. All it would take is the technology (technology we currently possess) and the will. We continue to manufacture that plutonium—perhaps for them to weaponize. Every nuclear power plant that operates adds to that inventory; more than 99% of existing plutonium was manufactured in nuclear reactors. In 1962, the US successfully detonated a nuclear weapon assembled with just such “reactor-grade” plutonium. Our generation’s use of nuclear power silently stockpiles fissile material that will remain militarily viable for millennia.

I too wish that the things that the nuclear industry says about itself were true—I wish it was green and renewable. I wish that there weren’t multiple uranium mining sites around the world with thousands of tons of uranium tailings abandoned and open to the elements, continuing to harm the health of generations born long after mining ceased. I wish that it didn’t take immense, carbon-intensive mining projects to extract uranium from the Earth, and then again to “deposit” the spent nuclear fuel from reactors back half a kilometer underground. Estimates before construction began at Onkalo spent fuel repository in Finland were that the site would entail a “half-billion-euro construction project will generate some 2,500 person years of employment,” and would take 100 years to complete. That is just to contain the spent fuel from five nuclear power plants. The United States, by contrast, has 94 commercial nuclear power plants. There is still no actual plan for the astonishingly large and carbon-intensive site it will take to bury the more than 140,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel, with some hope of containing it for thousands of generations of future human beings. This doesn’t include the thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel from the nuclear reactors operated by the US military to provide the fissile cores of more than 70,000 nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

The panic-inducing impacts of anthropic climate change spark a desperate need for immediate reassurance and calming: we want to fix it now. We long to turn some corner that will change the situation. It is unlikely that the same short-sighted military-industrial technophilia that brought us to this climate crisis will flip over and provide us the urgent path to its resolution. Technological evangelists have been auditioning for the part of Climate Change Savior to anyone who will listen. Some proffer a Reagan-era Star Wars pitch: they will fill the skies with material to block the enemy (in this case sunlight rather than Soviet ICBMs). These geoengineering quick-fix schemes are more likely to cause unplanned outcomes than to achieve their missions.

At one time nuclear weapon producers imagined they too could geoengineer the planet to shape it to human desires. They tested the use of nuclear weapons to sculpt harbors into coastlines, and to release natural gas trapped in rock formations. These experiments led to some of the most significant radiological distributions and contaminated sites in the wide panoply of nuclear testing. Still, hyper-capitalist techno utopians like Elon Musk envision the key to human habitation on Mars is the detonation of a massive arsenals of thermonuclear weapons to shape it to our needs.

The nuclear industry will ignore its market dilemmas as long as taxpayers continue to backstop its investors. However, to believe that this massive, for-profit, military-based industry has concern for the welfare of the Earth and its inhabitants is akin to believing the plastic industry is actually beavering away to make the plastic waste disappear. Repackaging their talking points out of a genuine concern for living creatures is a resource they will continue to tap so long as it flows freely. Sunkara would do better to advocate for the mass social movements that have shifted giant industries towards social welfare in the past rather than preaching that the industries themselves are saviors. Time is obviously short, wrong turns are catastrophic.

Robert (Bo) Jacobs
 is a historian at the Hiroshima Peace Institute and Graduate School of Peace Studies at Hiroshima City University. He has written and edited multiple books and articles on nuclear history and culture including, The Dragon’s Tail: Americans Face the Atomic Age, and Filling the Hole in the Nuclear Future: Art and Popular Culture Respond to the Bomb. He is a founder and a principal researcher of the Global Hibakusha Project, studying radiation exposed communities around the world. His book, Nuclear Bodies: The Global Hibakusha, will be published by Yale University Press in 2022. His Global Hibakusha blog can be found here.

Reaching net zero without nuclear

September 14, 2021

Our latest Talking Points makes the case

Not only is it possible, it’s essential

The fourth in our series of Talking Points draws on the new report by Jonathon Porritt, New Zero Without Nuclear: The Case Against Nuclear Power. Given the far-off illusory promise of new reactor designs; the enormous costs; the limited capacity for carbon reductions compared to renewables; the unsolved waste problem; and the inflexibility and outdatedness of the “always on” baseload model, nuclear power is in the way of — rather than a contributor to — climate mitigation. You can download the Net Zero Without Nuclear Talking Points here. This is the fourth in our series. You can find all four here.

By Jonathon Porritt 10 July 21

 I first took an interest in Greenpeace back in 1973, before I joined Friends of the Earth, CND and the Green Party (then the Ecology Party) a year later. I’d followed the campaigns against the testing of nuclear weapons in Amchitka (one of the Aleutian islands in Alaska), and then in the French nuclear testing area of Moruroa in the Pacific. I was 23 at the time, with zero in-depth knowledge, but it just seemed wrong, on so many different fronts.

That early history of Greenpeace seems much less relevant now, given all its achievements over the last 50 years in so many other areas of critical environmental concern. But it still matters. Greenpeace has been an ‘anti-nuclear organisation’ through all that time, sometimes fiercely engaged in front-line battles, sometimes maintaining more of a watching brief, and nuclear power plays no part in Greenpeace’s modelling of a rapid transition to a Net Zero carbon world. It’s been very supportive of my new report, ‘Net Zero Without Nuclear’.

I wrote this report partly because the nuclear industry itself is in full-on propaganda mode, and partly because that small caucus of pro-nuclear greens (that’s existed for as long as I can remember) seems to be winning new supporters.

And I can see why. The Net Zero journey we’re now starting out on for real (at long last!) is by far the most daunting challenge that humankind has ever faced. Writing in the Los Angeles Review of Books in June 2019, author and Army veteran Roy Scranton put it like this:

‘Climate change is bigger than the New Deal, bigger than the Marshall Plan, bigger than World War II, bigger than racism, sexism, inequality, slavery, the Holocaust, the end of nature, the Sixth Extinction, famine, war, and plague all put together, because the chaos it’s bringing is going to supercharge every other problem. Successfully meeting this crisis would require an abrupt, traumatic revolution in global human society; failing to meet it will be even worse.’

Not many people see it like that – as yet. But more and more will, as signals of that kind of chaos start to multiply. And we already know that the kind of radical decarbonisation on which our future depends is going to be incredibly hard. So why should we reject a potentially powerful contribution to that decarbonisation challenge?

I became Director of Friends of the Earth in 1984. The same year that my first book, ‘Seeing Green’, was published. Looking back on what I said then, I was indeed fiercely critical of nuclear power, but have to admit that my advocacy of renewables (as the principal alternative) was somewhat muted. Apart from a few visionaries in the early 1980s (including Friends of the Earth’s Amory Lovins and Walt Patterson), no-one really thought that renewables would be capable of substituting for the use of all fossil fuels and all nuclear at any point in the near future. And anyone expressing such a view in official circles was rapidly put back in their box.

Given the scale of the challenge we face, we need to have very strong grounds for keeping nuclear out of today’s low/zero-carbon portfolio. Not least as nuclear power, historically, has already made a huge contribution to low-carbon generation. Since the early 1960s, nuclear power has provided the equivalent of 18,000 reactor years of electricity generation. We’d be in a much worse place today if all that electricity had been generated from burning coal or gas.

Happily, there is no longer any doubt about the viability of that alternative. In 2020, Stanford University issued a collection of 56 peer-reviewed journal articles, from 18 independent research groups, supporting the idea that all the energy required for electricity, transport, heating and cooling, and all industrial purposes, can be supplied reliably with 100% (or near 100%) renewable energy. The solutions involve transitioning ASAP to 100% renewable wind – water – solar (WWS), efficiency and storage.

The transition is already happening. To date, 11 countries have reached or exceeded 100% renewable electricity. And a further 12 countries are intent on reaching that threshold by 2030. In the UK, the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology says we can reach 100% renewable electricity by 2032. Last year, we crossed the 40% threshold.

There is of course a world of difference between electricity and total energy consumption. But at the end of April, Carbon Tracker brought out its latest analysis of the potential for renewables, convincingly explaining why solar and wind alone could meet total world energy demand 100 times over by 2050, and that fears about the huge amount of land this would require are unfounded. The land required for solar panels to provide all global energy would be 450,000 km2, just 0.3% of global land area – significantly less than the current land footprint of fossil fuel infrastructures. As the Report says:

The technical and economic barriers have been crossed and the only impediment to change is political. Sector by sector and country by country the fossil fuel incumbency is being swamped by the rapidly rising tide of new energy technologies. Even countries where the technical potential is below 10 times energy demand. . . have devised innovative approaches to energy generation.

The fossil fuel industry cannot compete with the technology learning curves of renewables, so demand will inevitably fall as wind and solar continue to grow. At the current 15-20% growth rates of solar and wind, fossil fuels will be pushed out of the electricity sector by the mid-2030s and out of total energy supply by 2050.‘

The unlocking of energy reserves 100 times our current demand creates new possibilities for cheaper energy and more local jobs in a more equitable world with far less environmental stress.‘

Poor countries are the greatest beneficiaries. They have the largest ratio of solar and wind potential to energy demand and stand to unlock huge domestic benefits.’

Nuclear plays no part in any of these projections, whether we’re talking big reactors or small reactors, fission or fusion. The simple truth is this: we should see nuclear as another 20th century technology, with an ever-diminishing role through into the 21st century, incapable of overcoming its inherent problems of cost, construction delay, nuclear waste, decommissioning, security (both physical and cyber), let alone the small but still highly material risk of catastrophic accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima. My ‘Net Zero Without Nuclear’ report goes into all these inherent problems in some detail.

So why are the UK’s politicians (in all three major parties) still in thrall to this superannuated technology? It’s here we have to go back to Amchitka! Some environmentalists may still be taken aback to discover that the Government’s principal case for nuclear power in the UK today is driven by the need to maintain the UK’s nuclear weapons capability – to ensure a ‘talent pool’ of nuclear engineers and to support a supply chain of engineering companies capable of providing component parts for the nuclear industry, both civilian and military. The indefatigable work of Andy Stirling and Phil Johnston at Sussex University’s Science Policy Research Unit has established the depth and intensity of these interdependencies, demonstrating how the UK’s military industrial base would become unaffordable in the absence of a nuclear energy programme.

What that means is that today’s pro-nuclear greens are throwing in their lot not just with a bottomless pit of hype and fantasy, but with a world still dangerously at risk from that continuing dependence on nuclear weapons. That’s a weird place to be, 50 years on from the emergence of Greenpeace as a force for good in that world.