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Just Science: Global Warming and Fission Power

Many people don’t understand the logic behind the concerns that CO2 is heating the planet. Others don’t perceive how nuclear power can safely provide emission free energy to solve the problem. Here are the concise logical arguments, side by side.

Climate Science

CO2 in the atmosphere acts as an insulating blanket.

Sunlight passes through CO2 transparently, heating Earth. Warm objects cool by radiating away heat energy. Earth’s radiated infra-red light is partly absorbed by CO2 in the atmosphere. Adding more CO2 adds more insulation, slowing the cooling and warming Earth a bit to transfer through the atmosphere all the heat absorbed as sunlight energy.

There are also other, varying causes of climate change, but the CO2 insulation effect is consistent and persistent as CO2 dissolves slowly in the ocean over centuries.

The atmosphere already holds 2000 gigatons (Gt) of CO2 insulation. Doubling this will add 1.5°C to world temperatures.

The world is adding 51 Gt/year, set to increase to 59 Gt/y, so CO2 will double by 2050. Thus temperatures will rise by 1.5°C, then continue rising as more CO2 is added.

Limiting the rise to 2°C by 2100 requires big CO2 emissions reductions, from 51 Gt/y now, to 42 Gt/y by 2030, to 25 Gt/y by 2050. The Paris pledges reduce emissions by just
 6 Gt/y, not nearly enough.

Cutting CO2 emissions requires stopping burning carbon fuels, which importantly provide 80% of world energy. Developing nations are rapidly increasing energy use. For electric power they choose burning coal, the most cost-effective route to prosperity. Alternative energy sources must be cheaper than coal to dissuade them.

Alternatives include wind, solar, hydro, and uranium fission. Hydro sources are too limited. Wind and solar sources are too intermittent, and energy storage solutions are way too expensive. We can’t power up our world on 100% renewables.

Fission power is essential for checking CO2 emissions driving global warming.

Fission Energy Science

Nature trapped lots of energy in each uranium atom created when 235 protons and neutrons were compressed together during supernovas 6 billion years ago. Some of that cosmic dust was incorporated into the solar system as it condensed and Earth formed.

Fissioning uranium into two smaller atoms releases that bound-up energy and a few neutrons. Fission power plants use the neutrons to fission even more uranium, making enough heat to make steam to run an electric turbine-generator.

Uranium fuel is a million times more energy dense than coal. So it makes a million times less waste, and it’s energetically cheaper.

Many people fear radiation, though uranium fission is the safest power source in history. Comparing energy produced to lives lost, fission is 2X as safe as solar or hydro, 4X wind, 500X natural gas, 5000X coal.

Moderate levels of radiation are harmless. Radiation fear is a holdover from 1940s science errors and misconduct. The fear arose before scientists understood the human immune system and ongoing cellular repair. Evolution adapted life to assaults from radiation, disease, cancer, and metabolism.

Nobody was hurt by radiation at Fukushima. The max dose to anyone was 40X a year’s typical natural background radiation from rocks and cosmic rays. Cancers have never been observed below such a dose.

Daily radiation at 365X background rate does not overwhelm immune system protection. US nuclear and emergency workers are safely allowed 20X a year’s background dose. People in Ramsar, Iran, live with radiation 100X the typical background rate.

Fear and over-regulation have made building new fission power plants too expensive. New, simpler technologies like liquid fuel fission will provide developing nations with the economic, ample, zero-emission energy they need for prosperity.

 

Many conservatives supporting nuclear power don’t understand the left column science logic. Many liberals concerned about global warming don’t realize the right column science facts. Let’s all use science justly. It’s just science.

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