Friday, January 14, 2011

comment at NEI nuclear notes

Jeff Schmidt, this is from Romm's post:
"The 1 wedge of nuclear includes a half wedge of next generation nuclear post-2030"

And Romm is talking worldwide, with his 30 yucca mountains comment.


I don't completely disagree with Romm. He makes the case that to mitigate the worst effects of climate change we have to deploy technologies we have today. I think Nuclear energy will play a greater role than 1 wedge though. But that's up to the nuclear industry and governments.

There are two implications of greatly deploying nuclear. First, is that whatever 2030 (or medium term) strategy is chosen, at least initially the nuclear component will look similar in character to what is around today, perhaps scaled up even 10 or 30 times. This is just the nature of planning around big problems: plans by Joe Romm, Charles Barton, James Hansen or Barry Brook would likely not look much different in the first few years of implementation.

But, in the later years of these plans, they would diverge in the scale of deployed nuclear, and the nuclear industries in each would all look much different than today's (much the same way that the computer industry looks much different today than 30 years ago, after its huge growth. Coleco? Tandy? PowerPC desktops?).

This likely eventuality, about the changing scale and character of the nuclear industry, needs to be acknowledged and more discussed by current nuclear companies.

Areva, to pick a convenient arbitrary example, makes money today, at the size it is today. But in a world of the future, in which nuclear is 30 to 1000 times larger than today, Areva (if it even exists) would be only "Areva" in name only: it would a much different company.

So the character, scale, and pace of exansion of the future nuclear would, it seems to me, represent risks to Areva's future profitability. The industry may be much larger. The profits much greater. But the actors much different, in character if not also in name.

Is it in the interests of current nuclear companies to massively ramp up nuclear energy, if it poses threats to their current profitable and stable business model? Or would a company want slow steady growth that makes certain future profitability, but doesn't threaten its existence or current technological investments?

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