The Thorium silver bullet

A just released report of the Energy Information Administration, titled International Energy Outlook, 2009 highlights just how difficult the fight against AGW is going to be during the next 20 years. A press release which announced the publication of the report states,
World marketed energy consumption is projected to grow by 44 percent between 2006 and 2030, driven by strong long-term economic growth in the developing nations of the world, according to the reference case projection from the International Energy Outlook 2009 (IEO2009) released today by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). . . . Total world energy use rises from 472 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2006 to 552 quadrillion Btu in 2015 and then to 678 quadrillion Btu in 2030

The press release states:

Worldwide, industrial energy consumption is expected to grow from 175 quadrillion Btu in 2006 to 246 quadrillion Btu in 2030. Industrial energy demand varies across regions and countries of the world, based on levels and mixes of economic activity and technological development, among other factors. About 94 percent of the world increase in industrial sector energy consumption is projected to occur in the emerging economies, where—driven by rapid economic growth—industrial energy consumption grows at an average annual rate of 2.1 percent in the reference case. The key engines of growth in the projection are the so-called “BRIC” countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), which account for more than two-thirds of the developing world’s growth in industrial energy use through 2030.

The report contains very bad news on CO2 emissions:

n the IEO2009 reference case, which does not include specific policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are projected to rise from 29.1 billion metric tons in 2005 to 40.4 billion metric tons in 2030—an increase of 39 percent. With strong economic growth and continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels expected, much of the increase in carbon dioxide emissions is projected to occur among the developing nations of the world, especially in Asia.

The report does not ignore renewables:

supported by high prices for fossil fuels and by government incentives for the development of alternative energy sources. From 2006 to 2030, world renewable energy use for electricity generation grows by an average of 2.9 percent per year (Figure 1), and the renewable share of world electricity generation increases from 19 percent in 2006 to 21 percent in 2030. Hydropower and wind power are the major sources of incremental renewable electricity supply.

Clearly then we can expect strong economic developments which will dramatically increase carbon based energy use outside the United States during the next 20 years, and this increase in greenhouse gas emissions will not be prevented by the increasing use of renewables technology. Only the rapid emergence of a new low-cost, highly-scalable post-carbon energy technology could impact these adverse trends.

Thus given the current course of international energy demands, and the projected sources of that energy, the stress on global climate due to AGW will be increasing during the next 20 years and mitigation efforts will fail. The often cited climate tiping point of 450 CO2 PPM will come and go by 2030 without CO2 emissions still not under control.

Are there any solutions? Joe Romm recommends a world-wide authoritarian system that will impose energy goals, and will ruthlessly enforce them. Call Joe’s approach the Stalinist system. Are there any other alternatives?

Let’s talk about nuclear. The rap on nuclear is that it is too expensive, takes too long to build, cannot be built in large enough numbers, is dangerous, leaves nuclear waste, and is not sustainable. What if all of these problems of nuclear could resolved within a ten-year span of time? Impossible you say? Very possible would be my response. We just have to think of using a different nuclear technology.

We need a nuclear technology that is low-cost, scalable, with the potential for very rapid wide spread deployment, can provide most of the energy requirements of the planet, is sustainable for at least a million years, is safe, produces little waste, can be deployed anywhere, provides electricity day and night. Renewable advocates will answer with renewable energy schemes that are expensive and unreliable. With renewables our goose is cooked, and so is every goose on the planet.

The energy source has to be nuclear, and has to rely on breeding to provide sustainable low waste energy. I have repeatedly pointed to one nuclear technology, developed in Oak Ridge from 1947 into the 1970’s, the Molten Salt Reactor and in particular the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor. As I have argued on Nuclear Green for the last year and a half, the LFTR has the potential to be the low-cost, scalable, with the potential for very rapid widespread deployment. The LFTR has the potential to provide most of the energy requirements of the planet, provide that energy in a sustainable fashion for at least a million years, be safe, produce little waste, be deployed anywhere, and provide electricity under any climate conditions day and night. The LFTR then is the silver bullet.

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