Nuclear energy is “not low carbon”. Well, neither is solar. Let’s oppose both!

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Jonathan Porritt has a new blog post claiming nuclear energy is not low carbon. As a result, even proponents of nuclear energy will have to accept it is not a solution to climate change.

As always, Porritt is simply cherry picking evidence from scientists who cherry pick evidence. Porritt draws his arguments purely from what he calls a “paper” by Keith Barnam.

Of course, the word “paper” implies that it is peer reviewed literature. Instead, it is just an opinion piece for the Ecologist website, an outlet which isn’t exactly known for fact checking. It was bad when Zac Goldsmith edited it, and it has somehow defied the known laws of physics to get even worse.

I don’t have time to go through Barnam’s arguments, but to call it partial or biased would be polite. Essentially, he ignores what the IPCC, CCC or any other independent body has concluded about the carbon emissions of nuclear energy, and simply tells us the conclusions of a couple of badly done reviews by anti-nuclear academics.

Any attempt to accurately convey the state of the scientific literature on the subject is abandoned. It is one thing to tell your readers that you disagree with the majority view; it is another to not tell the reader about your disagreement. Barnam, then, is acting rather like the climate change deniers/”skeptics” who go around disagreeing with the consensus on climate change, while simultaneously trying to tell us it does not exist. (This, of course, is solid evidence that these people aren’t skeptics. Skeptics of religion do not act as if most people aren’t religious.)

The story, then, is an old one. Porritt wants us to listen to the scientific consensus on climate science but ignore it on nuclear energy.

But let’s take Porritt at his word. Any source of electricity which emits more than 50 gCO2/kWh is not low carbon and therefore cannot be a solution to climate change. If this applies to nuclear, it should apply to everything else. No special pleading.

So, if 50 g CO2/kWh is too high, why does Porritt go around promoting solar energy? Most studies now indicate that solar energy has life cycle CO2 emissions of over 50 gCO2/kWh in cloudy Britain. (See this useful POST note.)

By Porritt’s own measure, he should simply accept the science and agree that solar energy has no role to play. I suspect he won’t. Rather like the opponents of wind turbines who complain about birds being killed or emissions not being reduced, his real motivations tend to be masked by a veneer of economic rationalism.

But the special pleading will go on. And I suspect a blog post by me will convince no one of nothing. In fact, the only thing this blog post might achieve is convincing some opponent or other of solar energy that it is not low carbon….