In February, 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published the report Climate Change 2007 which gave further evidence that (a) the climate is warming, and (b) human activities are part of the cause. Most of the press coverage focuses on the warming, the shrinking glaciers, starving polar bears, and rising oceans. The evidence that man-made greenhouse gasses actually cause the global warming is harder to communicate. The report quantitatively models the contributions of various human-caused components, such as CO2, N2O, and CH4, of which CO2 is the largest.
To my mind, the clearest evidence is the above chart, published by NASA. Over the last 170,000 years atmospheric CO2 levels and global average temperatures have changed in tandem. The two graphs are too similar to be attributed to chance. The frightening aspect, at the top right, is the sudden increase in CO2 levels of the last decades. This portends a similar increase in temperatures. Pebble bed reactors can decrease future CO2 emissions. Here's how.
Quads of fossil fuels burned annually in the US
One quad is one quadrillion [10^15] BTU per year. The first post in this blog has a DOE energy flow chart indicating consumption of 55 quads of US fossil fuel plus 29 quads of imported petroleum. These 84 quads are burned, producing CO2. US coal, primarily for electric power, accounts for 23 quads of this. We can begin to cut CO2 emissions by replacing coal electric power with nuclear electric power.
The previous post showed how pebble bed reactors can be built in factories, much as Boeing builds airliners. Boeing builds at least one airliner per day. Let's suppose we build just one PBR module each week to replace coal-burning electric power. The thermal efficiency of a coal power plant is about 33%, so it takes 3 times as much energy in as it sends out. Here's how many quads of fossil fuel one 100 megawatt PBR module can save.
100 x 10^6 watt [1 megawatt = 106 watts]So building one PBR module per week displaces 0.0089 x 52 = 0.46 quads of fossil fuel energy every year thereafter. The bar chart above illustrates the concept. The displaced quads can be from coal, crude oil, or natural gas.
x 3.4 BTU / watt hour
x 24 hours / day
x 365 days / year
x 3 [to account for 33% efficiency]
x 1 quad / 10^15 BTU / year
= 0.0089 quad
Deploying pebble bed reactors can reduce the US-produced CO2 that contributes to global warming, by half, in this century.