Insider's Guide to Energy

137 - The Role of New Nuclear for a Low-Carbon Lifestyle

August 27, 2023 Chris Sass Season 4 Episode 137
137 - The Role of New Nuclear for a Low-Carbon Lifestyle
Insider's Guide to Energy
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Insider's Guide to Energy
137 - The Role of New Nuclear for a Low-Carbon Lifestyle
Aug 27, 2023 Season 4 Episode 137
Chris Sass

Energy, growth, development and technology are the four pillars towards addressing and resolving all our climate challenges and giving everyone on earth the right to live a modern life. Join us, as we get into the intricacies of eco-modernism and discussing why a new generation of nuclear is the critical technology towards ensuring low-carbon energy, with Ted Nordhaus, Founder and Executive Director of the Breakthrough Institute. 

Hosts: Chris Sass 

Additional Reads: 

The Breakthrough Institute - https://thebreakthrough.org/  

Build Nuclear Now - https://www.buildnuclearnow.org/ 

Eco-Modernist Manifesto - https://ecomodernistmanifesto.squarespace.com/  

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Energy, growth, development and technology are the four pillars towards addressing and resolving all our climate challenges and giving everyone on earth the right to live a modern life. Join us, as we get into the intricacies of eco-modernism and discussing why a new generation of nuclear is the critical technology towards ensuring low-carbon energy, with Ted Nordhaus, Founder and Executive Director of the Breakthrough Institute. 

Hosts: Chris Sass 

Additional Reads: 

The Breakthrough Institute - https://thebreakthrough.org/  

Build Nuclear Now - https://www.buildnuclearnow.org/ 

Eco-Modernist Manifesto - https://ecomodernistmanifesto.squarespace.com/  

 04:17.20 

chrissass 

welcome to insider's guide to energy. This is your host Chris Sass broadcasting from Kenny Punkport Maine this week we have a great episode. We are going to talk to the founder and executive director of the breakthrough institute Ted Nordhaus. Ted welcome to the program I am really excited to have you breakthrough institute has done some amazing things. You're prolific writer. You've been in front congress you're all over the industry. Um. 

  

04:58.87 

Ted Nordhaus 

Thanks for having me. 

  

05:12.20 

chrissass 

Why didn't you start by telling us what is the breakthrough institute. 

  

05:17.50 

Ted Nordhaus 

So Breakthrough Institute is a think tank. We focus on technological solutions to environmental problems. We're actually based on the West Coast um in ah Berkeley California of all places. Um, and we are the world's sort of first. Um. Ah, or at least original ecomodernist think tank. Um, so ah, we believe that ah energy growth development and technology are actually the the critical solutions to addressing environmental challenges and also um. Assuring that sort of everyone on the planet gets to live a modern life. 

  

05:59.22 

chrissass 

And and you've been doing this for some time. This is not a new idea. It's not a fad. How old is the institute. 

  

06:08.22 

Ted Nordhaus 

We've been around for um, you know, really since 2007 is actually like a real kind of brick and mortar operation. A little bit longer than that if you go back to like when we first had a website and started doing some writing. Um, so we've been at this a long time. 

  

06:24.20 

chrissass 

And then how many people are engaged. It seems like there's a fairly large team that are helping deliver all that content that I. 

  

06:31.56 

Ted Nordhaus 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we got about 25 ah folks working for us now last year we opened a Washington office so we're by coastal now and. We're engaging a lot more directly in sort of policy discussions around things like nuclear energy ira implementation ah permitting reform and we also do a lot of work on um on agriculture and agricultural innovation. 

  

chrissass 

Now you you mentioned a lot of policy. I just recently saw a video of you testifying in front of congress you were talking about regulation and the nuclear industry is that what's driving you is that one of your passions here today. 

  

00:13.12 

Ted Nordhaus 

Yeah, it's um, it's not the only thing we do we work on ah on a broad set of sort of energy and environmental issues but nuclear has been ah, a longtime focus of the breakthrough institute and ah, a major passion of mine. Ah, we believe that it is a critical environmental technology critical for energy security and meeting global energy needs with low carbon. Um ah, energy production. Um, and ah, you know in the last few years, especially we've been very focused on. Nuclear regulatory reform. Um, the and Nrc is broken. It's been broken for a long time. Anyone who thinks that nuclear has a big role to play in the future needs to get focused on getting on fixing the. The nuclear regulatory commission because we're literally just not going to commercialize a new generation of advanced nuclear reactors without it. 

  

01:09.87 

chrissass 

And from watching your testimony. You know I think you had speaking notes and then you turned in some significant part that wasn't spoken how well was that received from your opinion from what you presented is do you think there's change in the air or or the good. 

  

01:25.73 

Ted Nordhaus 

Yeah there's a lot of change in the air. Um, at the congressional level so like literally the day before I testified well let me let me take a step back I'll provide a little bit of context. Um. So about a decade plus ago now we became sort of like the first even remotely well-known sort of environmental nonprofit to come out and say hey we need to rethink nuclear energy. This is um. A really important environmental technology. Um, it's it's good for the environment. It's something that we need to address climate change. It was a very very controversial position back then? Um, and since then I think you know that argument has really won the day in a lot of quarters. Um. Including in congress. Um, so in 2019 as um, sort of a lot of folks in congress and elsewhere start to realize that there really is this new generation of advanced nuclear technology and there's sort of real companies and investors that are um, ah you know, sort of ready to. Start commercializing these technologies. Um, that that that the nuclear regulatory commission is just completely unprepared to license them. Um, you know for 50 years the nuclear regulatory commission has been regulating and mostly not licensing large advanced. 

  

02:48.10 

Ted Nordhaus 

I mean large light water reactors which are yeah like your grandfather's nuclear reactor and these are quite different technologies. They're much smaller, very different. Um ah characteristics they're cooled differently. They have different fuels that power them. Um, so congress in 2019 passed a thing called the nuclear energy energy innovation and modernization act which basically directed the and nrc to significantly modernize its entire licensing framework to prepare for these advanced. Ah, next generation nuclear reactors. So um, four years later the and Nrc really um has has made a mess of it. Um, you know they were supposed to provide a modernized simplified much more efficient, technologically neutral framework to license these reactors. Instead they basically produced produced a new rule that kind of cut and paste pasted the old rule for large light water reactors sort of into the new rule. It's actually twice as long as the old rule so kind of basically everybody agrees that this is not a recipe for commercializing. And having competitive nuclear energy technologies in the future. So the day before I testified a bipartisan letter from congress which includes um the leadership ah majority and minority leadership um of the oversight committees ah for the and Nrc. 

  

04:21.12 

Ted Nordhaus 

In the senate and a full majority again bipartisan of the house energy and commerce commission which oversees the Nrc basically write a letter saying hey you guys are not on track. You need to get serious about licensing. You need to take a hard look at um. These basically insane radiological dose standards that have been written into Nrc's regulation for for really like a generation that basically you know, regulate radiological exposure down to like. In an infinitesimally low levels like below the background that you just get just walking around on a daily basis. So you know that's a pretty good sign that I think both Democrats and republicans in congress realize that we need pretty significant change and really the. You know there are sort of some some old sort of democratic kind of progressive anti-nuclear dead enders in congress still but even on the democratic side about you know, half of the members in that committee were very strong supporters of nuclear. Um. So things have really changed just over like the last decade 

  

05:33.80 

chrissass 

And then how does that work so you're probably in 1 of the more liberal places in the United States if Berkeley still considered that um, not a lot nuclear in California so your backyard how does that move. 

  

05:46.80 

Ted Nordhaus 

Yeah, yeah, well we we closed most of it down. Um and we were slated to close the last nuclear plant in California Next year of the Diablo Canyon power plant um ah but um. You know, after the whole state and the democratic establishment and the environmental community is like we're going to close it down 2 things happen. The first is that um you know a few years before Diablo. We'd closed a second plant the san and no free plant in Southern California and all all the environmentalists and the supporters of this said, no problem we can replace this all with solar and wind and of course what happened was after they closed the plant emissions went up rates went up and it was replaced with gas not solar and wind and basically. you know all of the sort of state and and you know the the California Energy Commission the puc all said well you know when we close this thing we're actually going to need to replace it with gas. Um, and then the second thing that happened in 2020 is we had a big round of blackouts and it got really really clear that it was going to be really hard to keep the lights on in California if we closed that plant. Which just produces not only low carbon electricity but just a huge amount of reliable electricity. So those 2 things together finally led the state again a bunch of us had been out for years saying do not close this plant. 

  

07:10.31 

Ted Nordhaus 

Ah, it's going to be bad for climate change the state. It's not going to be able to hit its climate goals and it's going to be really bad for electricity reliability and it's going to be replaced by gas not a bunch of solar panels. Um, and of course we were right about that. Um, and the result of it is that ah last year despite monolithic strong opposition from the entire state environmental community the most progressive legislature in the state and Gavin Newsom the very progressive democratic governor reversed course and voted to keep the diabbo plant open. So even in. Super liberal progressive California um, ah you know the the political establishment at least if not the environmental community has realized that we need these nuclear plants. 

  

07:58.10 

chrissass 

But that's not generally what you and I are going to talk about or in the future those are like you said my grandfather's plans right? So those are the plants that were built those still have life expectancy but the next generation tends to be smaller easier to deploy and in different right? And maybe you can explain that. 

  

08:13.38 

Ted Nordhaus 

Yeah, yeah, so so we have just built um 2 large reactors in Georgia. The vogel reactors. Um, they were the first new reactors deployed in the United States in about 30 years um and um you know it's an impressive technology. It also was you know, basically a first of a kind build it was way behind budget. You know way behind schedule way over budget I think we're unlikely to build any more of those so these new next generation reactors I mean ah, they're sort of 3 kind of critical things to understand about them. The first is that they're a lot smaller. Um, so you know a large light water reactor is typically about a gigawatt most of these next generation reactors will be somewhere between 50 and three hundred Megawatts um and some are even smaller than that. But that's sort of the general range that most are targeting. Um, the second is that um they tend to be um, ah, used different fuels. Um, and those fuels. Um, you know they're still they still have enriched. Radioactive material in them. But they are um for a variety of reasons um a lot less likely to melt down. They're much more resistant to um. 

  

09:43.57 

Ted Nordhaus 

You know, kind of high temperatures things like that of very high temperatures that could result in a fuel melt and a radiological release. Um, and the third thing is that they're not cooled by water. Um, they're cooled by salt ah or metals. Um, or sometimes even inert gases. Um. And um, you know that's a really really important characteristic because in most cases that means that they operate at ambient atmospheric pressures. So like large light water reactor. Um, because water. Um, um. 

  

10:21.49 

Ted Nordhaus 

You know has a relatively actually kind of low boiling point. Um, they have to be kept under high pressure and so when you have to keep your coolant under high pressure. Um, that has a lot of implications. It means you need to mechanically cool the reactor you need to force this. High pressure liquid into the reactor and around the reactor and you have to keep it under pressure and you need to have all sorts of very complicated backup systems in case you lose pressure and lose coolant and can't cool the reactor so you put these alternate coolants together with. Fuels. Um, that are much more resistant to high temperatures and then you put that in a much smaller package and the first thing you got to know about that is that it means that the risk even in like a really worst case a like accident. Is much much lower There's a lot less that can go wrong. They're smaller so there's less radiological material and a worse coat in a worst case that can be sort of released in the case of us of a major accident. Um. 

  

11:31.90 

Ted Nordhaus 

And you have a lot less sort of multiply duplicative backup systems. It's not under pressure so you don't need to build these massive containment systems. Um, so all those things are really critical in terms of sort of looking at. Very different technologies that have the potential to get a lot cheaper and then the last thing that goes along with that is because they're smaller and simpler. Um they are are likely. Ah, once they're commercialized. They're not going to be these massive. Mega public works projects that any large reactor that you would build today is they can be manufactured in a factory. You know fully or or almost entirely and then sort of essentially brought to the site where they're going to operate and installed. Um, so all of those things. Mean that these will look really really different than the reactors that we've all come to um, sort of think of as what? Ah what a nuclear reactor and what nuclear energy looks like. 

  

00:00.00 

chrissass 

What you describe makes sense to me that the modularity and being able to ship it in I guess from a power generation in the future where do you envision or how do you see these fitting in is this just industrial uses or are these going to be dotted around the countryside as base load where where do these small reactors fit in. 

  

00:18.37 

Ted Nordhaus 

Ah, sort of all of the above. Um, you know they they can do ah base load most of these new um reactors in in in one way or another are actually significantly better at load following. Um, as well as ah, baseload generation like the the new terra power reactor which is the company that bill gates is invested in that reactor actually will have sort of an onsite molten salt storage integrated in the reactor. So it will actually ah be able um to sort of basically the the reactor will operate um, you know full-time but it will be able to sort of store a lot of that energy and and ramp up and down ah very rapidly to follow variable loads on the grid. Um, and then um, you know there are um, a number of critical applications for industrial. So another of the reactors that um you know is ah going to be sort of beginning its licensing journey. Ah, very soon as the x-energy reactor which is a high-t temperature gas reactor. And its first deployment is slated for a refinery on the Gulf Coast um where it'll be you know used I mean I think it'll produce some electricity as well. But it will also be used for high temperature process heat and. 

  

01:46.62 

Ted Nordhaus 

A lot of the ah number of these designs most of them actually can operate at significantly higher temperatures than conventional reactors which means that they're well suited for a lot of industrial applications as well as generating electricity. 

  

02:03.27 

chrissass 

Now you mentioned in the intro and I I don't think we do a ah political conversation ever without talking about the ourra these days. How does that implement or how does that impact What we're talking about is is there funds in Ira for these startups and for modular nuclear. 

  

02:17.23 

Ted Nordhaus 

Yeah there's a bunch of different tax credits. Um, you know they will kind of qualify. Um the the sort of final um, ah electricity, low carbonbon electricity generation. Ah credits. Ah, we're technology neutral. Um, so um. You know, ah new reactors will qualify for that and then there are a number of different um ah credits for sort of industrial um ah heat and industrial decarbonization for hydrogen for other things that um, you know various applications will. Ah, potentially benefit from and then there's a lot of money in the loan guarantee program at Doe in an effort to move some of that money to get a bunch of the nuclear infrastructure up and running. 

  

03:06.90 

chrissass 

You mentioned something that made me think I was in Europe last summer and Edf made a big bet on nuclear but they didn't make a bet on the heat wave and rivers going down. So. So what you're saying if I understood correctly is you wouldn't have the same problems that they had last year with keeping the reactors up because they don't need the cooling from the rivers like they had in Europe last year 

  

03:30.50 

Ted Nordhaus 

Yeah, that's correct. Um, so you know water cooled Reactors. Don't require. You know a big body of water nearby to to to pull cooling water out for so you know that's another. You know in Arid regions. You know, with kind of concerns about climate change and its impact on water Resources. You know, having reactors that aren't water cooled you know makes a big difference Now you know we should be clear that like. Nuclear reactors aren't huge users of water. Um, but you know we use it for a lot of other things mostly for Agriculture. Um, also for like watering lawns and things. Um, and so there are a lot of other demands on water and you know obviously you know it. It's generally probably a good thing not to have your energy system dependent on those resources. 

  

04:28.30 

chrissass 

Do you see? The Us is a leader in this space. So if you look at the last time around when a lot of these big old plants were built a lot of it was exported from us technology around the world and funded through World Bank or funding projects and stuff like that is that this wave going to look similar or different. And is it going to happen fast enough to make an impact on carbon. 

  

04:51.30 

Ted Nordhaus 

Um, well let me take the first question first which is you know? Um there's a lot of there's a lot of global competition now. Um you know so the largest exporter of nuclear technology in the world Today is Russia um. And um, you know Russia has been very aggressively exporting nuclear as a geopolitical strategy and the russians will do something that like no one else will do right now which is they will basically come in they will build the plant they will operate it for its lifetime. Um. They will actually take the fuel back? Um, ah and you know reprocess it or store the waste or do whatever they're going to do with it. Um I I suspect that over the next couple of decades. That's what the nuclear export market in various forms is going to move to is what. People called a build own operate model. Um I think the chinese who are building a lot of nuclear plants domestically are going to move to that model as well. The chinese are also you know, arguably ahead of us. Um in deploying the first. Sort of non-light water advanced reactors so they brought a gas cooled reactor online. They're going I think they have or will soon have a salt cooled reactor operating. Um. 

  

06:19.52 

Ted Nordhaus 

Ah, so ah, but that is all very sort of state-centered and what you know remains unique about the United States is our innovation system. It's decentralized. We have these very dense networks of entrepreneurs engineers um university and national laboratories. Venture capital um, and so you know if you looked at like all of the advanced nuclear sort of startup new companies new technologies in the world. The vast majority of them are based in the United States um so um. You know I think the us is kind of well situated to sort of um you know, kind of lead the world in advanced nuclear technology. But again that is literally not going to happen if we don't fix the nuclear regulatory commission. Um, it just ah, you cannot ah innovate. Under the current regulatory regime. It takes you know a decade to 2 decades to license and commercialize a new design as a first of a kind design which you then have huge barriers to innovating on and doing sort of. Um, learning by doing as you're sort of manufacturing and deploying and and scaling up supply chains. So none of that you know which is really I think the vision for the advanced nuclear sector. None of that can happen. 

  

07:48.25 

Ted Nordhaus 

With the and nrc as it's currently set up and as it currently licenses nuclear technology that is going to have to Change. No investor is patient enough. Um, and if you kind of look at the Us being a more decentralized market driven as opposed to sort of State led. Nuclear model going into the future. Um, they're just like you literally can't do it um with sort of a very sclerotic. Um, ah you know, um, outmoded regulator like the and Nrc um. So That's really to me. That's that's that's the whole fight I don't think um, we're we're going to sort of succeed in building up and and and successfully scaling this innovative Advanced Nuclear sector over the next couple of decades without. Really pretty significant change at the nuclear Regulatory commission. 

  

08:48.54 

chrissass 

You started being a bit optimistic saying the day before you testify there was a joint resolution or a joint letter saying to the agency that needed to do better. Um, is that enough of a catalyst or does something more dramatic need to happen to change all that. 

  

09:04.62 

Ted Nordhaus 

I mean my view is that it's just um, you know, just the kind of consistent. Um, you know advocacy for the changes that we need. Um you know I think there are various ideas that well sort of there will be some sort of. Kind of aha moment where you know everyone decides that we're going to kind of do this completely differently and I don't think it's going to work like that. Um, you know what we've seen you know the fact that we have advanced companies. We've got a lot of support ah through ira and other congressional authorizations. We've got a mandate from congress for the and Nrc to significantly change. Its licensing and regulatory framework. Um, you know all of that is just the result of a kind of decade of very principled consistent advocacy. Um, at. Just the level of just making the case in public to kind of developing policy and sort of research and reports and and other things and there's now a kind of increasingly motivated and and mobilized audience. Um. If you any of your listeners want to get more involved in advocating for New Nuclear technology there's a new campaign that we've helped launch. It's called build nuclear now you can go to it. The website is buildnuclearnow.org. Um. 

  

10:31.90 

Ted Nordhaus 

And you can sort of sign up, you can get updates action alerts figure out how you let your member of congress know that you want to see reform how you write and Nrc commissioners and urge them to move faster. But that's just what it's going to look like um is just is and and it it takes time. Um. I am optimistic. We'll get there because I think that sort of the the old anti-nuclear and movement is is literally and figurally figuratively dying. Um, it's old. It's out of touch. Um. The world looks really different the challenges we're faced are really different. We're facing are really different. Um, you know, ah congress. Um, ah you know on both parties recognizes that we need these technologies. Um, we have. You know huge revolutions and computing power material science. Um, ah so the kind of ability to kind of ah really sort of innovate in a variety of different ways is is just fundamentally different than it was in like 1975 when the and Nrc was created. So all of that makes me optimistic but it won't happen without a fight. 

  

11:44.47 

chrissass 

Now we've spent majority of the time talking about nuclear energy in in 1 component but I don't think there's 1 silver bullet that that helps with the energy transition or helps us reduce carbon from our energy creation and you talk about agriculture and and other elements. What other parts of policy. Are you focused on besides just what we've talked about what else needs to be fine tuned for us to be successful and to accelerate the the change. 

  

12:14.73 

Ted Nordhaus 

Yeah I mean I'll say a couple of things I mean the first is I I think along with this sort of growing recognition that nuclear is really important. It's come along with another one which is that you know we've made a lot of progress on wind and solar. Um, you know they're going to play a significant role in the future energy system. And we are just there's just no way we are going to run. Um, ah you know, modern energy economies entirely on variable sources of renewable energy. It's just literally not going to happen. You can kind of make it work in a spreadsheet but in the real world it it literally even if you could kind of build it all. And it's really hard to build it all because of the land use footprint and all sorts of local places all over the us other places are like you know what we don't actually want to industrialize our landscape in this way. Um, at the scale at which various folks are advocating so there's a lot of local resistance. Um, ah so you know you're going to need other sources of low carbon um electricity and nuclear is a key. You know, probably the most promising one of those but then you know we also forget that like you know, um, ah electricity today. Um. You know electricity generation is is still like you know around 20% of of total global electricity most most carbon emissions are outside the electricity sector. Um you know and there's a lot of talk of electrify everything. But um, you know, ah. 

  

13:48.68 

Ted Nordhaus 

Um, we're having a hard time figuring out how to do you know that even in like the rich economies that are the most electrified and the most sort of well positioned to electrify much less sort of poor countries where you know there's very little electricity to speak of at all. Um. You know, even in the us you know where you know you look at you know about 40% of emissions are from the power sector another 40% or so are from the um are from the transportation sector. Um. And you know evs in the future is all evs um, but um, you know that is not going to happen as quickly as people think um, you know again, lot of progress on evs a lot of cool technology out there. Um, but um. You know you look at how the average you know, First of all how how car-dependent the average american household is and how they use those vehicles and it's going to be a long time before a lot of american households are ready for an ev or we have evs that have the performance characteristics in terms of range. Things like that at prices that people are willing to pay. Um, so um, you know all of that. Um, you know there's a lot of work still to do a lot of that requires innovation a lot of it requires new infrastructure. Um, you know the dirty secret that a lot of folks. 

  

15:13.41 

Ted Nordhaus 

Focused on decarbonization and reducing emissions. Don't want to talk about is that a lot of the sort of foundational 1970 s era environmental law that we pass to protect. The environment is now like an obstacle. Um. 

  

15:29.34 

chrissass 

How house you can you maybe peel back the layers of that and maybe how so is that an obstacle. 

  

15:30.70 

Ted Nordhaus 

To building a lot of the the infrastructure that we need to build. 

  

15:37.85 

Ted Nordhaus 

Um, so if you look at. For instance, the modeling um of sort of all the emissions reductions that Ira will achieve over the next Decade or so um, ah about 80% of that does not materialize. If you're not able to build transmission very large scale expansions of the transmission network at a much faster rate than we have built it over the last several decades and there's just no way you're going to do that without reforming nepa and a bunch of other environmental law. Um, national environmental policy act. Um, um, ah to do that. Which of course you know the entire environmental community is is pretty adamantly opposed to the and nrc is another example of that. Um. You know, kind of every sort of feasible least cost. We're going to get to net 0 or something close to it by the middle of the century in a sort of plausible way includes a lot of new nuclear and again, that's not going to happen unless you make pretty big changes to the nuclear regulatory commission. And you can kind of work your way down from there. You know like thirty Gigawatts of um of offshore wind by 2030 and like the Biden administration's plans to hit its climate targets. Um, well. 

  

17:00.94 

Ted Nordhaus 

You know, even if you can build that affordably and and you see um a you know a bunch of these ah firms now pulling out of their power purchase agreements because it's just proving to be a lot more expensive than a lot of people thought. But um, you know good good luck. Getting that done ah without sort of changes to the environment to the endangered species act. Um, all these local communities that don't want the offshore wind ah commercial fishing associations things like that you know are are going to sue over this because there are impacts on endangered whales. Um. And people go oh it's overblown or whatever but the fact that the risk is overblown doesn't mean that someone who doesn't want it to happen isn't going to use the esa to sort of pretty dramatically um, sort of slow the deployment and and and tie this up in court for years and it will be tied up in the courts for years so you know. You want to build all that offshore wind will come talk to me and tell me what you're willing to do with the endangered species act because it's probably not going to happen without changes. 

  

18:05.72 

chrissass 

So now you you keep getting back to things that are political and I see this in the comments when we have guests on or you know say that we're just globalists or we just want to have green energy. Um, but 1 of the lessons I think I've learned along the way is energy transition is bipartisan you you said that about bipartisan notes. Um it. Is there a bipartisan plan forward or is it so divisive. You know that that you know that each side is anti-s something because I think it's being forced on them for political reasons or is it a lot of the energy transition being forced on people politically. 

  

18:38.90 

Ted Nordhaus 

I mean it's a little bit of both. Um, you know I think one of the unfortunate things is that sort of the energy transition and clean energy has gotten sort of sucked up into the sort of culture wars um. And um, you know there's a lot of folks on the left the environmental side who are like it's all just because of the fossil fuel denying you know evil republicans. But you know time and time again and I've been at this a long time I've just sort of watched environmentalists and progressives and Democrats just kind of push. Um, really kind of implausible um sort of targets and plans. Um, ah for very rapid reductions in emissions and very rapid energy transition. Well beyond what the technology is ready to do well beyond sort of. Consumer acceptance. Um things like that. So um, you know there there was this idea back you know several decades ago. Um, and it and it's still more alive than you would think that we're sort of somehow just going to kind of like regulate our way to a low carbon economy. Um. And we were really kind of like basically the first to come out and say that's not going to happen. This is not like you know the clean air act in 1970? Um, this is not centrally a pollution control problem. It's a technology problem. 

  

20:06.68 

Ted Nordhaus 

Um, and it's going to be solved by kind of developing and deploying better technologies over many decades. Um, and that was like this very radical thing to say back when you know I first said it in like 6003 2004. It's now kind of like the conventional wisdom except that. Once you kind of peel back that layer of the onion in a lot of the sort of environmental circles and frankly a lot of the democratic circles. There's this idea that? Yeah yeah, yeah, except that. Also the epa is going to make everybody do it and so if you look at like. Administration's proposals on like power plant emissions and tailpipe emissions. These are pretty radical regulatory initiatives that they're sort of taking at the Epa now so you hear all the. You know the revolution is here. It's going to be all evs and renewable energy and it's the cheapest thing and it's inevitable and it's like well apparently you don't believe that because actually literally over on the you know, maybe that's what they're saying. That's what secretary grandhole is saying over at the doe. But if you go over to the epa the epa is literally promulgating regs that are literally going to require this? Um, ah you know in the next decade or so um, so if you want to know how this gets sort of sucked into this kind of really kind of. 

  

21:32.29 

Ted Nordhaus 

Polarized culture war politics that is why I think that going back 20 years there was a big reservoir of openness to sort of clean technology and innovation and public support for it on both sides of the aisle. Um, and kind of serially at every step of the way the sort of anti-fossil fuel campaigns the efforts to sort of kind of do this through regulatory measures at the federal level at the state level in places like California and even at the local level like in you know Berkeley. Um, where I live like you know they sort of ban gas hookups and in the minute like ah people you know it's like no like the government is going to take your pickup truck away or make you buy a heat pump or an induction thing and not be able to have a gas stove as soon as that's the sort of framing of this. Forget about it. It's going to be polarized. It's going to be deeply contested and you know I think there's a bunch of folks on the environmental side frankly who want it this way. Um, that it's not actually about sort of sustaining a sort of pluralistic kind of. Social consensus towards sort of familiarist decarbonization. It's about reorganizing society to avoid the apocalypse and we have to do it right now and our science trumps all of your. 

  

23:01.86 

Ted Nordhaus 

Sort of local social cultural. Whatever considerations, the science says um that we have to do it which is science doesn't actually say that um for for what it's worth um and again like um, you know I think that there's been. You know, kind of Coke Brothers you know fossil fuel resistance to that and funding and disinformation. But the denfer disinformation goes both ways. Um, you know the sort of environmental and climate activists just consistently misrepresent the climate science they misrepresent. Misrepresent where we really are in the energy transition. Um, ah and um, ah and like really a lot of the driver of it is just kind of constant consistent sort of apocalyptic rhetoric overreach by the environmental community and the climate advocates. Um, a sort of really compliant mainstream media that just sort of stenographs the environmental movements messages in places like the New York Times unfortunately um and ah you know unsurprisingly you get a big reaction to that in a lot of places where people are like not so fast. Um. And I'm not sure about this. Um and I don't like the idea of the government making me do this. 

  

24:23.28 

chrissass 

But I mean from from a Us perspective right? it it seems that the transition is creating lots of jobs. There's a lot of money getting put into startups. You talked about technology advancements which will create an economic upside and tend to be driven by economics. Um, we do have a ah rather large natural gas reserve in the us. So we we have a ah long long runway if we need it? Um, but I I think the impact ah generally folks globally if you look at it bigger are not worried so much about middle and up or income folks because. 

  

24:41.88 

Ted Nordhaus 

Are. 

  

24:58.53 

chrissass 

You'll probably survive it right? You'll probably get you know a new roof when when hurricane rolls through and you'll probably go build things harder and you have the economics to do it I think from more of people looking at the us they would say yeah but if you're in a poor island nation. You're going to get hit sooner than the us because I think the us. Economy and economically as long as we're in a good spot. People will generally adapt and be able to to live through a longer transition. Even if things get pumpier and whether it gets more extreme and things like that is what I'm thinking. Um and I think the transition is longer than most people are willing to admit from what I'm seeing because the more energy I do and I've been doing this podcast for about 4 years the more pragmatic I get in my approach because you start very idealistic. It's like oh of course we want to stop this and we want to do that. But as you start looking at the complexity and its it is complex which I hate when people say that but it truly is. There's no silver bullet in all the elements. Um I guess you know what I see is I do see. And get feedback in from the podcast from such various people that you know don't believe anything the other side says and I see that is whether it's it's like hey you're you know I've had a guest come on and tell me I'm absolutely wrong and we need to stop basically burning fossil fuels today which we know how that might end. Or I've had guests say you know the other thing is hey we're just not. We don't need to do anything It's much a hula. So I guess as we're coming towards time here. You know how do we bring that together. I mean you did a good job of explaining it. You know how? how are you rationalizing that and and getting the powers that be because you're lobbying and you're talking to them and things like that. 

  

26:30.36 

chrissass 

To look at things kind of holistically. 

  

26:33.12 

Ted Nordhaus 

Yeah, the um you know I mean you give up but you give a great example of the point I was just making you know which is like we got a lot and a lot of natural gas. Um, you know it's half the carbon of coal. It's it's it's accounted for. Ah, huge amount of the decarbonization we've seen in the us and a lot of other places over the last couple of decades and yet we have an environmental movement that's like gas is as bad as coal. Um, and you have to keep it in the ground and you have to stop using it even though like all the renewable energy technology that they're insisting. Is cheap and ready to scale today is totally dependent on it and so if you want to go like well why are we? Why has this gotten so polarized in culture war and whatever it's because like literally like you took a thing that literally was you know? Ah you know the largest source of emissions reduction over the last couple of decades you know. Good big economic benefits from it and you turned it into an environmental bad and which is of course the same thing that the environmental community did with nuclear. Um, you know, globally you're right like like you know like the Us is kind of going to be fine. Um, you got a lot of poor countries that are both energy poor. Um, and also in a lot of ways more vulnerable to climate extremes whether they're caused by global warming or not um, you know the dirty secret is that even at kind of still being a lot poorer than us. Um. 

  

28:02.80 

Ted Nordhaus 

You know, sort of of the human costs of climate change in terms of mortality things like that have fallen fastest over the last couple of decades in poor countries. Um, and that's because in poor countries even a little bit of economic development makes a huge difference in terms of climate resiliency. Um. And um, and you know along with that you know we've seen significant energy development globally I mean one of the things that kind of is why emissions kind of continue to rise even though they're falling in most most risk rich countries. Um. And it fallen significantly is because you got a lot of poor people who need to consume a lot more energy and fossil fuels remain um the sort of fastest um, kind of most plausible way to get there in part because it's not all dependent on electricity. Um, you know liquid fuels go a long way. Generators go a long way if you're really poor. Um and that among other things makes people a lot more resilient um to climate impacts. Um, so you know you kind of go look at like um you know death rates from extreme weather events. Um. And it's ah it's really it's a very different story than the one that you would like here in the New York Times um you know which is that everything is just a climate fuel disaster and it's like so the worst extreme thing that's ever happened and then you just look at like the body count and the body count has fallen precipitously. 

  

29:30.19 

Ted Nordhaus 

Over the last couple of decades. Um, you know I actually have a non-apocalyptic view of climate change and I still think we should take action to deal with it because I just think you know I look I can look around and be like you know what? like I don't want the next generation of. Of americans or bangladeshis to to sort of have to deal with 120 degree heat waves even if they can kind of survive and live reasonably well in those environments thanks to infrastructure technology all of that and frankly, there's a huge impact on the natural world. Humans are really really adaptive. Ecosystems are not so we're going to lose a huge amount of biodiversity. We're going to lose forests. We're going to lose wetlands. We're going to lose all sorts of species. Even if humans do pretty well so there's a lot of good reasons to want to like decarbonize without being like we have to do it in the next Decade or the world is going to end. Um, and we've been hearing those kind of sort of apocalyptic sort of deadlines for decades now and you know what we've passed a bunch of them and the world keeps not ending. Um and again that even that that kind of style of communication. It's just deeply polarizing. Um, and then we're like well why does like half the country are they literally like I'm going to get like like you get these people who like roll coal where they try to make their trucks more polluting just as a f you to environmentalists. Um, and it's just because of this stuff. 

  

31:00.65 

chrissass 

Wow! So we've gone all over the place in this conversation today. Um I I think it's interesting I'm 100 % sure we'll get some comments and feedback because I think it's inconsistent with what some of the audience is going to be expecting from an episode. Ah, but I'm a big believer in conversation and dialogue and that's how we figure things out as well. So you know putting things on the table. Add your comments please do um you know hopefully we'll get back quick responses. Um Ted. Thank you so much for coming on the program today. This is this has been a journey. I enjoyed the conversation I hope you enjoyed it and thank you for sharing your views with with our audience today. 

  

31:35.76 

Ted Nordhaus 

Yeah, yeah, happy happy to join you and hope it sparks some interesting discussion. 

  

31:41.83 

chrissass 

For our audience. We hope you've enjoyed this content I hope you like it follow us subscribe if you want more content like this don't forget to make comments and feedback because that helps drive the dialogue and we will see you again next time on the insiders guide to energy podcast bye bye. 

 

 

 

What are the core drivers that Breakthrough focuses on?
Are there winds of change in US’ opinion towards nuclear and its role in the transition?
Why are the next generation of nuclear technologies so important?
Where does new nuclear technology fit in the energy system?
How has the IRA influenced America’s political landscape to nuclear power?
What is the impact on water resources of new nuclear technologies?
Does the energy transition have a clear leader in nuclear power?
Is policy alone enough to promote change in the way we perceive nuclear?
What are the other catalysts needed to accelerate change in the global energy landscape?
Why does environmental legislation need to evolve for the energy transition to succeed?
Why can we not afford to be polarized on the topic of the energy transition?
How can we bring all this together?