former nuclear engineer’s opposite views on climate

At the age of 69, when he retired as a consultant, Jean-Louis Gaussen delved into all the available reports to offer another reading of global warming: the Academy of Sciences, the High Planning Commission, the Agency for Environment and Energy Management (Ademe) and, of course, Climate Change of the Intergovernmental Panel on (IPCC). In a book published in November 2022 (1), he compares the effects of nuclear power and so-called renewable energy at the risk of making some environmentalists cough.

How do you see the nuclear situation in France?

For years, nuclear power has made it possible to produce carbon-free electricity. Back in the 1990s, EDF said it needed to renew its aging nuclear fleet. The accidents at Chernobyl and then Fukushima power plants shook us. In Europe, nuclear energy has become a symbol of absolute evil. Governments have not made a decision and we are deprived of this know-how. We want to electrify everything and reduce production while increasing our consumption. Today we want to restart nuclear power in France. We still know how to make the small reactors that power our aircraft carriers and submarines. It takes twenty years from study to construction. In the meantime, we must develop photovoltaic and wind power and extend the life of current reactors.

Does nuclear power have a future with other technologies?

I regret that in France we have abandoned the nuclear sector of fast neutron reactors. We have the Phénix and Superphenix and the Astrid prototype suspended by CEA to make promises to environmentalists. There is nothing commercially oriented in the world right now. But in some countries it will be before the middle of the 21st century. In France, we shot ourselves in the foot by rejecting this technology. Its performance is much higher than conventional reactors.

Why do you say nuclear is more virtuous than renewables?

In people’s minds, wind power and photovoltaics represent goodness. They make sense in countries where electricity generation is very carbon intensive. It is the opposite for us. France’s nuclear energy produces six grams of CO² per kWh, wind 14, photovoltaics 44 and gas 400, coal 1000. I think the French energy transition program is a fiasco from all points of view: climate, economic and strategic.

Is it your background in the nuclear industry that makes you critical of solar and wind power?

The problem with solar and wind power is that they are intermittent. Foggy, windless days or nights do not produce. When you install one megawatt of renewable energy, that’s how much gas or oil you need to produce. This is not good for global warming. And we consume a lot of natural space. A megawatt of photovoltaics requires one hectare. French nuclear power produces 19 megawatts per hectare. You should also know that we produce greenhouse gases to produce these materials, even if it happens in China. We only have one planet.

How do you see the behavior of citizens regarding the climate?

I divide the French into four main categories: climate skeptics, climate alarmists, climate hypocrites and climate apathetic. Me, I’m in the last two categories because I keep using my car and I don’t want to downsize.

Can we still be skeptical about everything we see about climate change?

In this category there are long-term conspirators and well-intentioned people. Looking at climate over the long term, there have been several warmings throughout history, not just due to human activity. We should see an increase in extreme events: heat waves, temperature peaks, heavy rains and floods, storms and wildfires. In the scientific literature I consulted between 1980 and 2019, I did not find their acceleration trends.

Why do you say our governments are schizophrenic?

Without growth, there is no progress, especially with the production of greenhouse gases. Our governments therefore find themselves in a state of schizophrenia. There are only four possible solutions to this: declining birth rates, recession, technological progress, and political compromise. Who is ready to accept the growth of their children? My scientific culture tells me that the solution will come from technology. For energy, we must continue working on nuclear fusion. It will take another fifty years of research to use it.

Explain to us the paradox of pollution preventing global warming?

People think that anything good for reducing environmental impact is good for reducing global warming. This is not true. Human activity produces fine particles [NDLR : néfastes sur la santé] has a cooling effect on the climate almost as great as the warming effect of greenhouse gases. A study by Météo-France on the impact of reduced emissions shows that it has caused the atmosphere to become lighter and therefore warmer! This is paradoxical. What is good for our health is not necessarily good for the climate.

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