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Topic: Nuclear

[Episode #209] – End of the Nuclear Age

If we genuinely need nuclear power—be it older conventional designs or new, unproven small modular designs—to make the energy transition a success, then that case has not been demonstrated. Instead, nuclear advocates have primarily used political argument to support continued investment in it. Because if we just went by the industry’s actual track record, and properly internalized its risks and high costs, we’d never build another nuclear power plant again.

Nuclear power never had a proper justification as an electricity generation technology. It is an industry built on a foundation of lies, extravagance, conceit, and failure. It always has been, and continues to be, a fig leaf for the nuclear weapons industry.

The fact is that we do not need nuclear power to make the energy transition a success. Even if we did continue to invest in it and force the public to shoulder its actual risks and excessive costs, doing so could actually hinder the energy transition, not advance it.

Our guest in this episode, Stephanie Cooke, has literally written the book on the untold history of nuclear power. As the former editor of Nuclear Intelligence Weekly and the author of In Mortal Hands: A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age, she brings over four decades of experience as a professional nuclear industry journalist. She explains why, contra the recent pro-nuclear sentiment captivating climate hawks, the nuclear power industry is not at the dawning of a new age, but rather at the end of its old age.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #203] – The Case for Climate Optimism

Why does so much media coverage of climate change emphasize the worst-case scenarios and the slow speed of the energy transition? Why don't more stories highlight how the energy transition is working and accelerating, reducing expected increases in carbon emissions and rendering the worst-case warming scenarios increasingly unlikely?

These are important questions, because reporting about the climate and the energy transition can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the media constantly asserts that climate change is unstoppable and that we’re doomed, people will feel discouraged and give up during a critical time in which we must make progress. Whereas by showing people how they can be part of the solution, they will do what they can and support leaders committed to addressing the problem.

It’s also important that we understand what’s real and likely, and what isn’t. An unfortunate number of stories about climate change have emphasized vague “tipping points” and “feedback loops” that might accelerate warming in the future. But those are unquantified and undefined terms referring to highly uncertain possibilities. Meanwhile, highly probable outcomes that would result from existing climate policies are barely mentioned.

So why is there so much media focus on the worst-case scenarios? A shred of uncertainty isn't a sufficient reason to emphasize the worst case above all else. Wouldn't it make more sense to focus on the likely outcomes of our existing policies?

In this episode, we're joined by a climate researcher and data analyst who finds reason for optimism on climate change. Hannah Ritchie is a Senior Researcher in the Programme for Global Development at the University of Oxford. She is also Deputy Editor and Lead Researcher at the online publication Our World in Data, which brings together the latest data and research on the world's largest problems and makes it accessible for a general audience. Her forthcoming book, Not the End of the World, will be published in January 2024.

In today’s conversation, Hannah explains what converted her from a climate pessimist to an optimist, and shares her insights into why stories of climate doom seem to be more popular. We explore a number of her data analyses that support her optimistic outlook. And we discuss why it’s important to give people hope that we can address the climate challenge successfully—not by merely adopting a pollyannish attitude, but by really looking at the facts, and understanding the progress that we’re actually making.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #202] – UK’s Green Day

On March 30th, in what some have dubbed its ‘Green Day,” the UK government released a package of plans to advance its action on climate and the energy transition. A centerpiece of the package detailed how the government’s plans will achieve the emissions reductions required in its sixth carbon budget.

In this episode, Dr. Simon Evans, Deputy Editor and Senior Policy Editor of Carbon Brief, rejoins us to review the highlights of the new policy package. Comprising over 3,000 pages across some 50 documents, the plans covered a wide range of incentives and objectives, including a new energy security strategy, guidelines for funding carbon capture and hydrogen projects, a revised green finance strategy, carbon border taxes, sustainable aviation fuels, mandates for clean cars and clean heat, major infrastructure projects, and much more.

After listening to this two-hour interview, you’ll know just about all there is to know about the state of climate and energy transition policy in the UK!

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #200] – ETS Retrospective

To mark the milestone of our 200th episode, we’re taking a look back at how the energy transition has progressed since we launched this podcast in 2015. We revisit the “war on coal”, the concept of the “energy transition,” advances in wind and solar power, changing perspectives about the future of natural gas, “baseload” power’s fading role, the astonishingly rapid uptake of EVs, evolving views on nuclear power, and more!

We also take a moment to reflect on the Energy Transition Show over the last seven and a half years, and take stock of what we have learned. We consider how the media landscape has changed for podcasts in general, and why we are feeling more confident than ever about our focus and our business strategy.

And since this landmark episode is presented from our point of view, we’re turning the tables so that Chris is the guest, interviewed by Jeff St. John, one of our favorite energy journalists. Jeff is currently the Director of News and Special Projects at Canary Media, and he has been following and writing about the energy transition for about as long as Chris has, so he also has a broad perspective on how the energy transition has progressed.

So join us for this special retrospective episode with two seasoned energy transition observers!

Geek rating: 4

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[Episode #188] – Getting to a 100% Clean Grid

How much of a role might wind, solar, nuclear, transmission, power plants equipped with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology, or direct air capture of CO2 play on a 100% clean power grid? Which mix of those technologies would provide the cheapest pathways to a clean grid?

And once we have met 90% of the need for grid power with clean generation, what will we need to meet the last 10% of the demand for grid power? Will it be ‘overbuilt’ wind and solar? Dispatchable geothermal, hydropower, and bioenergy generators? Seasonal storage using hydrogen or batteries? Conventional fossil-fueled plants with CO2 capture? Or might it be some mix of flexible demand technologies? Or some or all of the above?

For that matter, how certain can we even be about modeling the possible solutions years or even decades ahead? Are there solutions that might play a large role in the future but that we can’t yet model very well? How confident should we be that whatever the solutions turn out to be, we will end up with not only a grid that is completely free of carbon emissions but also one that is fully reliable?

In this episode, we speak with a senior researcher at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) who has been researching and modeling grid power for many years. In this quite technical discussion, we review two new NREL reports that address these questions and show that producing a 100% clean power grid is not only technically feasible by a variety of pathways but also commercially feasible and ultimately, cheaper than continuing to run the fossil-fueled power grid we have today.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #174] – Decarbonizing Britain’s Grid

As the energy transition proceeds and variable renewable power from wind and solar displaces conventional generators, strict operational limits for the grid's voltage, frequency, and inertia must be maintained. To do this, grid operators are increasingly procuring so-called “stability services” and making other enhancements to the grid that ensure stability.

In this episode, we take a close look at how Great Britain is undertaking this stability challenge by interviewing Julian Leslie, Head of Networks and Chief Engineer at National Grid ESO, which runs the transmission grid for the country. Not only does National Grid ESO operate the fastest-decarbonizing electricity network in the world, it has also recently achieved several important technical accomplishments for the first time in the world, including implementing cutting edge tools that allow accurate measurements of inertia across its system; using grid-forming inverters to provide synthetic inertia; and using synchronous condensers without an associated prime mover. And in another world-first achievement, the company has actually written the specification for using grid-forming inverters into its grid code.

Julian explains all of these technical concepts in today’s conversation and lays out the deliberate strategy that the company is taking to ensure that it can deliver on Great Britain’s decarbonization objectives while maintaining system stability and saving British consumers a great deal of money.

This is a highly technical episode with a Geek Rating of 9, so if you want to brush up on grid power engineering concepts first before listening to this one, you could start with our Energy Basics miniseries—in particular, Episode #126 about how power generators and the grid works—then move on to Episode #55 on voltage stability, and then Episode #153 on grid-forming inverters. Then return to this one.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #173] – IPCC AR6 Part 2

In this second part of our IPCC Sixth Assessment report (“AR6”) Working Group III coverage, we welcome back our friend and AR6 contributing author Glen Peters of the CICERO Center for International Climate Research. Longtime listeners will remember Glen from his explanation of the ‘carbon budget’ in Episode #57, and on the various scenarios for global warming, what they mean, and the current trajectory for climate change in Episode #112.

Glen was a lead author of AR6 Chapter 3, titled “Mitigation pathways compatible with long-term goals,” so in this episode, we discuss the latest figures for the remaining carbon budget; explore the probabilities for limiting warming to 1.5 and 2°C, and we consider the changing views on the role of direct carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as parts of the climate toolkit. Glen also gives us a very helpful explanation of some of the new terms and metrics used in AR6, such as the Illustrative Mitigation Pathways (IMPs), the warming Classification levels (C1-C8) and the other policy scenarios.

This is super-geeky but essential-to-understand stuff for anyone working on climate policy!

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #163] – Transition in Russia Part 2

This is the second part of our nearly four-hour interview with Professor Thane Gustafson on his new book, Klimat: Russia in the Age of Climate Change, about Russia’s attitude toward climate change, and how the nation will fare in the energy transition.

In part one of this interview, which we featured in Episode #162, we discussed Russia’s oil sector. In this second part, we talk about Russia’s other energy resources, including natural gas, coal, nuclear technology, and renewables, as well as its hopes to pivot to hydrogen production for export to Europe and how it might deal with the pending European carbon border adjustment mechanism. We’ll also discuss Russia’s perspective on climate change and its role in addressing it, and wrap up the conversation with the outlook for Russia’s fortunes and climate vulnerabilities as the global energy transition and climate action proceed.

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #158] – Global Energy Crunch

Since early July, a global energy crunch has unfolded, driving up prices for all energy fuels around the world, and then causing some power plants and manufacturing facilities to shut down. In turn, that has exacerbated problems across global supply chains, causing major delays and price increases for everything from gasoline to hard goods.

If you have been wondering why your heating bill is up, or your last tank of gasoline was so expensive, or why your local retailer is telling you that you’ll have to wait months for that new washing machine, this episode will give you at least the beginning of some answers. These are remarkable times in the energy markets, unlike anything that’s happened since the last major commodity spike of 2008.

And we are very pleased to have an analyst and editor who has been following energy and commodities since well before that last spike as our guide in this episode: Will Kennedy, executive editor for energy and commodities at Bloomberg News. Will leads us through the many, many facets of this complex picture, and then we wrap up the conversation by asking how the world’s energy leaders will respond to it as the COP 26 climate conference gets underway. This developing supply shock may give us a good clue about how the world responds to the challenges of the energy transition in the coming years.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #156] – 6-Year Anniversary Show

In this sixth-anniversary show, we welcome back energy researcher Jonathan Koomey to help us review some of the hot topics in energy transition over the past year.

Topics in this discussion include:

  • The energy elements of the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate, and how they stack up against the actual infrastructure needs of the US.
  • Highlights from the new climate assessment report from the IPCC, and the disconnect between how that modeling framework is structured, and what policymakers and journalists really need. We also try to identify how climate scientists can be more helpful in communicating the path the world is currently on.
  • The case for and against divestment and other supply-side strategies to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.
  • The zombie theory of ‘value deflation’ in solar, and why it’s mistaken.
  • Corruption in the nuclear industry, and why climate hawks must start getting more discerning about who they are backing in the struggle to take action on climate change.
  • The energy requirements of the Internet and Bitcoin mining.
  • A new tool to explore the EIA’s vast stores of data.

In the news segment, we review the ongoing efforts in Congress to electrify the US Postal Service vehicle fleet; we update two stories about corruption associated with the US nuclear industry; we hail the world’s first production of a batch of steel without using fossil fuels; we have a look at the world’s largest battery storage system; and we note a major blow to the credibility of “blue hydrogen.”

Geek rating: 8

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