I guess the WaPo doesn't like the Sanders energy strategy
In this piece of WaPo hatchet job (NB: the WaPo has already declared Sanders the principal loser of the South Carolina debate), we are told of Bernie Sanders' besetting sins on climate change:
He would prosecute oil executives “for the destruction they have knowingly caused” (he “welcomes their hatred”) and phase out carbon-neutral nuclear power. The Vermont independent would ban the fracking of natural gas, which is — if you control the methane emissions — a useful transitional fuel from dirty coal to clean wind and solar.
Let's start with "Nookz!" Nuclear power can't really be a comprehensive solution to the world's energy and climate change woes. Carbon emissions are involved in all phases of the process of generating nuclear power. So it's not "carbon neutral." Most important, though, are the carbon emissions generated in the extraction and preparation of the nuclear fuel, the first two steps. As Keith Barnham points out:
Nuclear fuel preparation begins with the mining of uranium containing ores, followed by the crushing of the ore then extraction of the uranium from the powdered ore chemically. All three stages take a lot of energy, most of which comes from fossil fuels. The inescapable fact is that the lower the concentration of uranium in the ore, the higher the fossil fuel energy required to extract uranium.
But you might say, "couldn't we use nuclear energy to prepare nuclear fuel?" And the answer is: to a point. This last sentence of my quote of Barnham illustrates that point. As the world uses up its high-grade ores and moves on to the low-grade ones, it will encounter the problem that Ugo Bardi and others identify:
It’s true that there are large quantities of uranium in the Earth’s crust, but there are limited numbers of deposits that are concentrated enough to be profitably mined. If we tried to extract those less concentrated deposits, the mining process would require far more energy than the mined uranium could ultimately produced [negative EROI].
Extracting and refining ores does not encounter a supply problem (what they call "peak uranium") at this time. The problem will arise, however, if there is a significant ramp-up of nuclear power as part of any attempt to move the world off of the direct combustion of fossil energy. So it's easy to imagine a scenario in which a ramp-up of nuclear power causes a shortage of adequately-concentrated uranium deposits, with the extant ones requiring greater and greater investments of fossil power to use -- and meanwhile the world gets stuck with a toxic nuclear-power infrastructure it has to use fossil fuels to decommission, and a lot of ore that has uranium -- if it can be found -- but that can't be usefully mined.
Of course, both problems -- the problem of uranium ore shortage and of uranium-using infrastructure -- become less onerous if the world converts to thorium-using breeder reactors. The question remains, however, of why there are so few thorium-using breeder reactors in the world today. Anyone?
(Please note that I haven't really said anything just yet about the safety problems of nuclear power, a subject well-covered elsewhere. Suffice it to be said that the plants can't be 100% safe, which is what the public is going to want. Also, nuclear power is not a local, nor a democratically accountable, power source.)
As for the fracking of "natural gas," scientists have already linked the rise in methane emissions to a rise in fracking. Methane, as you might already know, is a far more powerful greenhouse gas per unit mass than carbon dioxide, although it dissipates from the atmosphere after only a few years. So, no, fracking is not going to magically eliminate its carbon emissions.
So, to sum up: the Washington Post uses a three-point strategy to disrespect Sanders' energy strategy:
1) Claim that Sanders relies upon "magic" to get his plan accomplished.
2) Claim that dangerous sources of energy are "necessary" or "essential components of a transition strategy."
3) Blame Sanders for not endorsing said dangerous sources of energy.
It also bears mention that Fred Hiatt has an alternative solution for weaning the world off of fossil energy. Here it is, in his own words:
Which brings us back to the plan, put forward this month by the Climate Leadership Council, that would actually work. Supported by energy companies (including Total) and environmental groups alike, it would impose a steadily rising tax on carbon. That would lead to reduced consumption and increased innovation in alternatives, including battery storage for solar and wind power. To get buy-in from industry, the plan would do away with a lot of regulation — but only so long as emissions were, in fact, going down.
The "steadily rising tax on carbon," it might be considered, will be effective to the extent to which it prohibits people from commuting to work in their fossil-burning vehicles. Are the fossil-extraction industries to provide everyone with solar-powered electric cars to get to work? And, as for magic, let's consider the magic powers of the steadily rising tax: it's going to magically promote "increased innovation in alternatives." Is that what taxes do? I had thought that taxes magically promoted the taxed industries' antipathy to being taxed, with the end result that political power is exercised, regimes change hands, and the taxes are removed.
The Australian example is a case in point: Australia had a carbon tax, from 2012 to 2014, with the end result that the carbon tax was rescinded and the Australian government is still even today against a carbon tax even though Australia just recently suffered climate-change-induced wildfires that destroyed a fifth of its forests.
Which brings me to the real path to climate change mitigation. It begins with utopian dreaming, as was pointed out in this article (password: AddletonAP2009). First we need to imagine a world in which climate change mitigation is possible, then we need to figure out how to get to that world from the world we currently inhabit. Bernie Sanders is not there yet; but he's closer than Fred Hiatt or his buddies on the Council on Foreign Relations.