Earth911 Podcast, August 5, 2019: Carbon Removal With Nuclear Power?

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The carbon emissions generated since the Industrial Revolution wrap the Earth in a heat sponge of one trillion tons of excess CO2 and that extra heat will remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years after we achieve a net-zero economy. Brett Kugelmass, managing director of the Washington, D.C.-based Energy Impact Center recently presented a vision for a prosperous post-carbon world that achieves net-zero emissions and widespread prosperity in a speech to the American Climate Leadership Conference. The power source he advocates is a challenging one: thousands of small nuclear fission reactors. 

Brett Kugelmass, managing director, Energy Impact Center

Brett Kugelmass, managing director, Energy Impact Center

While the power source he advocates is controversial, Kugelmass’ idea of millions of new jobs in the atmospheric cleanup industry is a stark alternative to the idea that a post-carbon world must be a less prosperous one. It’s a view that we share at Earth911.com because the solution to environmental indifference must provide a positive alternative. We need to use less, reuse more, and collaborate to recycle everything at the same time that we pull the excess trillion tons of CO2 out of the air, hopefully by 2050. We can restore polar ice. And we can enjoy the kind of climate in which our species thrived.

Nuclear power is problematic, but the energy levels required to extract CO2 can be provided by a combination of solar, wind, and — as in France and at 100 nuclear plants in the United States today — fission reactors. With a long, terrible history that started with weapons, nuclear power is the least attractive option, an assumption that Kugelmass argues is built on outdated ideas. Earth911.com’s Mitch Ratcliffe discusses the issue with Kubelmass on this episode of Sustainability in Your Ear.

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