It’s doable! – Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free


Richard Moore

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Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free - Executive Summary
Executive Summary
Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free
A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy1
Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D.2
July 2007
A Joint Project of the
Nuclear Policy Research Institute
and the
Institute for Energy and Environmental Research

1 This is a summary of a book of the same title, to be published in 
October 2007 by RDR Books. The book is a joint project of the Nuclear 
Policy Research Institute and the Institute for Energy and 
Environmental Research and will be available as a report at in August 2007. Full references can be found 

2 I would like to thank the Nuclear Policy Research Institute for 
having sponsored the project that will result in the book on which 
this summary is based. Helen Caldicott was the star who raised the 
funds, provided critical comments and suggestions, and had the vision 
that this study should be done because it is urgently needed. Helen's 
and S. David Freeman's presentations at NPRI's 2006 energy conference 
and our private discussions afterwards inspired me to write the book. 
Thank you to Julie Enszer for smoothly shepherding this project from 
beginning to end. I also wish to thank Hisham Zerriffi, Jenice View, 
and Paul Epstein, who, as members of the Advisory Board of the 
project (in addition to Helen and Dave and others), contributed 
valuable insights and criticisms of the draft manuscript and this 
summary. However, they may or may not agree with the recommendations 
or conclusions in this summary. The book will contain statements from 
Board members who wish to comment. Full acknowledgements will appear 
in the book. For their support of this project, NPRI and IEER wish to 
thank The Park Foundation, The Lear Family Foundation, The Lintilhac 
Foundation, and many individual donors who wish to remain anonymous.

A three-fold global energy crisis has emerged since the 1970s; it is 
now acute on all three fronts:

1. Climate disruption: Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions due to fossil 
fuel combustion are the main anthropogenic cause of severe climate 
disruption, whose continuation portends grievous, irreparable harm to 
the global economy, society, and current ecosystems.

2. Insecurity of oil supply: Rapid increases in global oil 
consumption and conflict in and about oil exporting regions make 
prices volatile and supplies insecure.

3. Nuclear proliferation: Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is 
being undermined in part by the spread of commercial nuclear power 
technology, which is being put forth as a major solution for reducing 
CO2 emissions.

After a decade of global division, the necessity for drastic action 
to reduce CO2 emissions is now widely recognized, including in the 
United States, as indicated by the April 2007 opinion by the U.S. 
Supreme Court3 that CO2 is a pollutant and by the plethora of bills 
in the U.S. Congress. Many of the solutions offered would point the 
United States in the right direction, by recognizing and codifying 
into law and regulations the need to reduce CO2 emissions. But much 
more will be needed. Moreover, most of the solutions being offered 
are likely to be inadequate to the task and some, such as the 
expansion of nuclear power or the widespread use of food crops for 
making fuel, are likely to compound the world's social, political, 
and security ills. Some, like production of biofuels from Indonesian 
palm oil, may even aggravate the emissions of CO2.

Our report, of which this is a summary, examines the technical and 
economic feasibility of achieving a U.S. economy with zero-CO2 
emissions without nuclear power. This is interpreted as an 
elimination of all but a few percent of CO2 emissions or complete 
elimination with the possibility of removing from the atmosphere some 
CO2 that has already been emitted. We set out to answer three 

* Is it possible to physically eliminate CO2 emissions from the U.S. 
energy sector without resort to nuclear power, which has serious 
security and other vulnerabilities?

* Is a zero-CO2 economy possible without purchasing offsets from 
other countries - that is, without purchasing from other countries 
the right to continue emitting CO2 in the United States?

* Is it possible to accomplish the above at reasonable cost?

3 On the Internet at 2

Central Finding

The overarching finding of this study is that a zero-CO2 U.S. economy 
can be achieved within the next thirty to fifty years without the use 
of nuclear power and without acquiring carbon credits from other 
countries. In other words, actual physical emissions of CO2 from the 
energy sector can be eliminated with technologies that are now 
available or foreseeable. This can be done at reasonable cost while 
creating a much more secure energy supply than at present. Net U.S. 
oil imports can be eliminated in about 25 years. All three 
insecurities - severe climate disruption, oil supply and price 
insecurity, and nuclear proliferation via commercial nuclear energy - 
will thereby be addressed. In addition, there will be large ancillary 
health benefits from the elimination of most regional and local air 
pollution, such as high ozone and particulate levels in cities, which 
is due to fossil fuel combustion.


The achievement of a zero-CO2 economy without nuclear power will 
require unprecedented foresight and coordination in policies from the 
local to the national, across all sectors of the energy system. Much 
of the ferment at the state and local level, as well as some of the 
proposals in Congress, are already pointed in the right direction. 
But a clear long-term goal is necessary to provide overall policy 
coherence and establish a yardstick against which progress can be 

A zero-CO2 U.S. economy without nuclear power is not only achievable 
- it is necessary for environmental protection and security. Even the 
process of the United States setting a goal of a zero-CO2, 
nuclear-free economy and taking initial firm steps towards it will 
transform global energy politics in the immediate future and 
establish the United States as a country that leads by example rather 
than one that preaches temperance from a barstool.

The tables on pages 18-22 provide a sketch of the roadmap to a 
zero-CO2 economy with estimates of dates at which technologies can be 
deployed as well as research, development, and demonstration 

Recommendations: The Clean Dozen

The 12 most critical policies that need to be enacted as urgently as 
possible for achieving a zero-CO2 economy without nuclear power are 
as follows.

         1) Enact a physical limit of CO2 emissions for all large 
users of fossil fuels (a "hard cap") that steadily declines to zero 
prior to 2060, with the time schedule being assessed periodically for 
tightening according to climate, technological, and economic 
developments. The cap should be set at the level of some year prior 
to 2007, so that early implementers of CO2 reductions benefit from 
the setting of the cap. Emission allowances would be sold by the U.S. 
government for use in the United States only. There would be no free 
allowances, no offsets and no international sale or purchase of CO2 
allowances. The estimated revenues - approximately $30 to $50 billion 
per year - would be used for demonstration plants, research and 
development, and worker and community transition.

         2) Eliminate all subsidies and tax breaks for fossil fuels 
and nuclear power (including guarantees for nuclear waste disposal 
from new power plants, loan guarantees, and subsidized insurance).

         3) Eliminate subsidies for biofuels from food crops.

         4) Build demonstration plants for key supply technologies, 
including central station solar thermal with heat storage, large- and 
intermediate-scale solar photovoltaics, and CO2 capture in microalgae 
for liquid fuel production.

         5) Leverage federal, state and local purchasing power to 
create markets for critical advanced technologies, including plug-in 

         6) Ban new coal-fired power plants that do not have carbon storage.

         7) Enact at the federal level high efficiency standards for appliances.

         8) Enact stringent building efficiency standards at the state 
and local levels, with federal incentives to adopt them.

         9) Enact stringent efficiency standards for vehicles and make 
plug-in hybrids the standard U.S. government vehicle by 2015.

         10) Put in place federal contracting procedures to reward 
early adopters of CO2 reductions.

         11) Adopt vigorous research, development, and pilot plant 
construction programs for technologies that could accelerate the 
elimination of CO2, such as direct solar hydrogen production 
(photosynthetic, photoelectrochemical, and other approaches), hot 
rock geothermal power, and integrated gasification combined cycle 
plants using biomass with a capacity to sequester the CO2.

         12) Establish a standing committee on Energy and Climate 
under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory 

Summary of Main Findings

1. A goal of a zero-CO2 economy is necessary to minimize harm related 
to climate change.

2. A hard cap on CO2 emissions -- that is, a fixed emissions limit 
that declines year by year until it reaches zero - would provide 
large users of fossil fuels with a flexible way to phase out CO2 
emissions. However, free allowances, offsets that permit emissions by 
third party reductions, or international trading of allowances, 
notably with developing countries that have no CO2 cap, would 
undermine and defeat the purpose of the system. A measurement-based 
physical limit, with appropriate enforcement, should be put into 

3. A reliable U.S. electricity sector with zero-CO2 emissions can be 
achieved without the use of nuclear power or fossil fuels.

4. The use of nuclear power entails risks of nuclear proliferation, 
terrorism, and serious accidents. It exacerbates the problem of 
nuclear waste and perpetuates vulnerabilities and insecurities in the 
energy system that are avoidable.

Summary of Main Findings (continued)

5. The use of highly efficient energy technologies and building 
design, generally available today, can greatly ease the transition to 
a zero-CO2 economy and reduce its cost. A two percent annual increase 
in efficiency per unit of Gross Domestic Product relative to recent 
trends would result in a one percent decline in energy use per year, 
while providing three percent GDP annual growth. This is well within 
the capacity of available technological performance.

6. Biofuels, broadly defined, could be crucial to the transition to a 
zero-CO2 economy without serious environmental side effects or, 
alternatively, they could produce considerable collateral damage or 
even be very harmful to the environment and increase greenhouse gas 
emissions. The outcome will depend essentially on policy choices, 
incentives, and research and development, both public and private.

7. Much of the reduction in CO2 emissions can be achieved without 
incurring any cost penalties (as, for instance, with efficient 
lighting and refrigerators). The cost of eliminating the rest of CO2 
emissions due to fossil fuel use is likely to be in the range of $10 
to $30 per metric ton of CO2.

8. The transition to a zero-CO2 system can be made in a manner 
compatible with local economic development in areas that now produce 
fossil fuels.

Main Findings

Finding 1: A goal of a zero-CO2 economy is necessary to minimize harm 
related to climate change.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global 
CO2 emissions would need to be reduced by 50 to 85 percent relative 
to the year 2000 in order to limit average global temperature 
increase to 2 to 2.4 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial 
times. A reduction of 80% in total U.S. CO2 emissions by 2050 would 
be entirely inadequate to meet this goal. It still leaves U.S. 
emissions at about 2.8 metric tons per person.

A global norm of emissions at this rate would leave worldwide CO2 
emissions almost as high as in the year 2000.4 In contrast, if a 
global norm of approximately equal per person emissions by 2050 is 
created along with a 50 percent global reduction in emissions, it 
would require an approximately 88 percent reduction in U.S. 
emissions. An 85 percent global reduction in CO2 emissions 
corresponds to a 96 percent reduction for the United States. An 
allocation of emissions by the standard of cumulative historical 
contributions would be even more stringent.

A U.S. goal of zero-CO2, defined as being a few percent on either 
side of zero relative to 2000, is both necessary and prudent for the 
protection of global climate. It is also achievable at reasonable 

Finding 2: A hard cap on CO2 emissions -- that is, a fixed emissions 
limit that declines year by year until it reaches zero - would 
provide large users of fossil fuels with a flexible way to phase out 
CO2 emissions. However, free allowances, offsets that permit 
emissions by third party reductions5, or international trading of 
allowances, notably with developing countries that have no CO2 cap, 
would undermine and defeat the purpose of the system. A 
measurement-based physical limit, with appropriate enforcement, 
should be put into place.

A hard cap on CO2 emissions is recommended for large users of fossil fuels.

The annual revenues that would be generated by the government from 
the sale of allowances would be on the order of $30 billion to $50 
billion per year through most of the period, since the price of CO2 
emission allowances would tend to increase as supply goes down. These 
revenues would be devoted to ease the transition at all levels - 
local, state and federal - as well as for demonstration projects and 
research and development.

Finding 3: A reliable U.S. electricity sector with zero-CO2 emissions 
can be achieved without the use of nuclear power or fossil fuels.

The U.S. renewable energy resource base is vast and practically 
untapped. Available wind energy resources in 12 Midwestern and Rocky 
Mountain states equal about 2.5 times the entire electricity 
production of the United States. North Dakota, Texas, Kansas, South 
Dakota, Montana, and Nebraska each have wind energy potential greater 
than the electricity produced by all 103 U.S. nuclear power plants. 
Solar energy resources on just one percent of the area of the United 
States are about three times as large as wind energy, if production 
is focused in the high insolation areas in the Southwest and West.

Just the parking lots and rooftops in the United States could provide 
most of the U.S. electricity supply. This also has the advantage of 
avoiding the need for transmission line expansion, though some 
strengthening of the distribution infrastructure may be needed. A 
start has been made. The U.S. Navy has a 750 kW installation in one 
of its parking lots in San Diego that provides shaded parking spots 
for over 400 vehicles, with plenty of room to spare for expansion of 
electricity generation (see Figure 1).

Wind energy is already more economical than nuclear power. In the 
past two years, the costs of solar cells have come down to the point 
that medium-scale installations, such as the one shown above, are 
economical in sunny areas, since they supply electricity mainly 
during peak hours.

The main problem with wind and solar energy is intermittency. This 
can be reduced by integrating wind and solar energy together into the 
grid - for instance, wind energy is often more plentiful at night. 
Geographic diversity also reduces the intermittency of each source 
and for both combined. Integration into the grid of these two sources 
up to about 15 percent of total generation (not far short of the 
contribution of nuclear electricity today) can be done without 
serious cost or technical difficulty with available technology, 
provided appropriate optimization steps are taken.

Solar and wind should also be combined with hydropower - with the 
latter being used when the wind generation is low or zero. This is 
already being done in the Northwest. Conflicts with water releases 
for fish management can be addressed by combining these three sources 
with natural gas standby. The high cost of natural gas makes it 
economical to use combined cycle power plants as standby capacity and 
spinning reserve for wind rather than for intermediate or baseload 
generation. In other words, given the high price of natural gas, 
these plants could be economically idled for some of the time and be 
available as a complement to wind power.

Compressed air can also be used for energy storage in combination 
with these sources. No new technologies are required for any of these 
generation or storage methods.

Baseload power can be provided by geothermal and biomass-fueled 
generating stations. Intermediate loads in the evening can be powered 
by solar thermal power plants which have a few hours of thermal 
energy storage built in.

Finally, new batteries can enable plug-in hybrids and electric 
vehicles owned by fleets or parked in large parking lots to provide 
relatively cheap storage. Nanotechnology-based lithium ion batteries, 
which Altairnano has begun to produce, can be deep discharged far 
more times than needed simply to operate the vehicle over its 
lifetime (10,000 to 15,000 times compared to about 2,000 times 

Since the performance of the battery is far in excess of the cycles 
of charging and discharging needed for the vehicle itself, vehicular 
batteries could become a very low-cost source of electricity storage 
that can be used in a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) system. In such a system, 
parked cars would be connected to the grid and charged and discharged 
according to the state of the requirements of the grid and the charge 
of the battery in the vehicle. Communications technology to 
accomplish this via wires or wireless means is already commercial. A 
small fraction of the total number of road vehicles (several percent) 
could provide sufficient backup capacity to stabilize a well designed 
electricity grid based on renewable energy sources (including biomass 
and geothermal).

[tables in original]


Baseload generation: A large-scale power plant designed to generate 
electricity on a continuous basis.

Biofuel: Fuel derived from biomass.
Biomass: Organic material produced by photosynthesis.

Carbon capture: Capture of carbon dioxide when fuels containing 
carbon are burned for their energy.

Carbon sequestration: Deep geologic storage of carbon for long 
periods (thousands of years) to prevent it from entering the 

CFL: Compact fluorescent lamp, which is a high-efficiency light bulb.

CHP: Combined heat and power. In this arrangement, some of the energy 
derived from burning a fuel is used as heat (as for instance in 
heating buildings or for industrial processes), and some is used for 
generating electricity.

Combined cycle power plant: Power plant in which the hot gases from 
the burning of a fuel (usually natural gas) are used to run a gas 
turbine for generating electricity. The exhaust gas from the turbine 
is still hot and is used to make steam, which is used to drive a 
steam turbine, which in turn generates more electricity.

Electrolytic hydrogen production: The use of electricity to separate 
the hydrogen and oxygen in water.

Geothermal heat pump: A heat pump that uses the relatively constant 
temperature a few feet below the earth's surface in order to increase 
the efficiency of the heat pump.

IGCC: Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle plant. This plant 
gasifies coal or biomass and then uses the gases in a combined cycle 
power plant.

LEED: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - a rating system 
used for building efficiency. The platinum level is the highest 

Microalgae: Tiny algae that grow in a variety of environments, 
including salty water.

Nanocapacitor: A capacitor that has the surface area of its 
electrodes increased greatly by the use of nanotechnology.

Photolytic hydrogen: Hydrogen produced by plants, for instance, 
algae, in the presence of sunlight.

Photoelectrochemical hydrogen: Hydrogen produced directly using 
devices similar to some solar photovoltaic cells that generate 
electricity. In this arrangement, hydrogen is produced instead of 

Pumped storage: Using electricity at off-peak times to pump water 
into a reservoir and then using a hydroelectric power plant to 
generate electricity with the stored water during peak times (or, 
when used with wind energy, when the wind is not blowing).

Solar light pipe: A fiber optic cable that conveys light from the sun 
along its length without leaking it out of the sides, much like a 
wire carries electricity. It can be used to light the interiors of 
buildings during the daytime.

Solar PV: Solar photovoltaic cells - devices that turn incident 
sunlight into electricity.

Solar thermal power plant: A power plant that uses reflectors to 
concentrate solar energy and heat liquids that are then used to 
produce steam and generate electricity.

Spinning reserve: The capacity of electric power plants that are kept 
switched on ("spinning") but idle in order to be able to meet sudden 
increases in electricity demand.

Standby capacity: Power plants that are kept on standby to meet 
increases in electric demand.

Ultracapacitor: A capacitor that can store much more electricity per 
unit volume than normal capacitors.

V2G: Vehicle to grid system. Parked cars are connected to the grid. 
When the charge on the batteries is low, the grid recharges them. 
When the charge is sufficient and the grid requires electricity, a 
signal from the grid enables the battery to supply electricity to the 

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