Ep 51: Rauli Partanen - Author / Activist, Climate Gamble
Global Natural Resources
What is your personal story and how did you get involved in the nuclear space?
Rauli Partanen originally entered the information technology industry and became interested in natural resources and how the modern world relies upon a growing flow of resources, especially oil. Peak oil is often represented as a concept that the world will run out of oil, but peak oil actually represents a plateauing of oil production, which would not be able to support global growth. Partanen started a blog focused on energy and was interested in how businesses and governments recognize and manage demand and production. New technologies such as oil extraction from shale and the tar sands postponed what was thought to be imminent peak oil. In 2013, Rauli Partanen published a book called Finland After Oil, which was nominated for best non-fiction book on both Finnish lists. After receiving new grants, Partanen connected with Janne Korhonen and the two later wrote a book called Climate Gamble which started as debunking arguments against nuclear energy.
Promoting Nuclear Energy to Anti-Nuclear People
Were the publishers afraid that your books on nuclear wouldn’t sell because they weren’t anti-nuclear?
When Rauli Partanen found the first publisher for Finland After Oil, the editor who reviewed the book was vehemently anti-nuclear, but Partanen’s book completely changed her view on nuclear. Looking forward to the Finnish parliamentary elections, Partanen created a shorter book which became Climate Gamble. Partanen and Korhonen crowdfunded a trip to Paris, for which they printed out 5,000 copies of Climate Gamble and handed them out to people around the global climate negotiations conference in Paris. Partanen aimed to get nuclear energy on the agenda, which had previously been largely ignored in climate reduction conversations. Climate Gamble has since been translated in multiple different languages and created into an audiobook. The subtitle for Climate Gamble asks the question, “Is Anti-Nuclear Activism Endangering our Future?” A lot of anti-nuclear activism is based on misconceptions or misinformation. Partanen measured his arguments against three metrics: is there data to support, is the argument logically coherent, and how can it compare to other energy systems.
Marketing and Communication of Nuclear Energy
How has the nuclear community struggled to make comparisons between dangers of other energy options that resonate with people?
Rauli Partanen puts some responsibility for the struggle of the nuclear community on anti-nuclear activists, but also puts responsibility on the nuclear community itself. The only thing the nuclear industry has communicated about its product is its increased safety, which actually creates more fear in the public, since it projects concerns with how things have been done up to that point. By adding safety features for minimal benefit at a high cost, the nuclear industry suffers. The most dangerous nuclear power plant is the one that is not built, because of the cost and time additions. The nuclear industry hasn’t put in comparable resources into marketing and communicating its product. Rauli Partanen works with industry communicators to identify what hasn’t worked in the past and how to strategically reach an audience.
New Methods of Nuclear Communication
How is the nuclear industry changing over the last year regarding communication?
Rauli Partanen sees hope in new nuclear vendors and reactor developers which do not have the baggage of 40 years of tradition as the legacy industry does. This new generation does not sell their product with safety, but will answer safety questions if they arise. In contrast, the traditional nuclear industry’s main communication point is safety, which does not reflect the product. Advocates for nuclear energy often push the nuclear industry to promote the benefits of nuclear, which is sometimes challenging for an industry that is set in its way. Heat production is also a large portion of carbon emissions, and Partanen has also talked with companies about utilizing nuclear energy for this application and also completed a study of the Helsinki metropolitan area in regards to execution of this technology.
Bringing Nuclear to Climate Change Politics
Have you seen your movement have an effect on politicians demanding a public conversation of how nuclear energy fits into the portfolio?
Rauli Partanen’s movement has had an effect on politicians demanding a public conversation of how nuclear energy fits into the portfolio. If there are not evidence-based discussions about the pros or cons of energy options, the world will never know what the technology could do for climate change. The Helsinki municipal government wrote an initiative to look at possibilities of having nuclear energy involved in district heating, which is a system of water pipes that transports heat, via hot water, produced at power plants to consumers for the purpose of heating. Current district heating in Finland is efficient, but is still based on burning fuels, creating high carbon emissions. The coal plants in Finland participate in emissions trading, meaning that it will eventually phase out, but new government laws require coal to be banned by 2029. However, biofuels, which would replace coal and also emit carbon, count as zero carbon in the emissions trading system, allowing others elsewhere to produce more carbon and overall more carbon emissions.
Nuclear Reactors for District Heating
How does nuclear fuel storage ability impact the reliability and versatility of nuclear power?
Rauli Partanen envisions the benefits of condensed nuclear fuel storage benefiting the reliability and versatility of nuclear power. The global fuel market is very stable and typically operates on 10 to 20 year contracts for production. Since heat is currently the biggest source of emissions in Finland, the country has been willing to consider nuclear as one of the solutions. A simple reactor could could produce 100 degree Celsius affordable heat for the heating network, which is currently being designed in China. Another option is to develop a combined nuclear heat and power plant which can produce one or both products in a flexible manner. Some concerns for a combined plant include the size of the pipeline that would be required to feed a large amount of hot water from the current nuclear plant to the city systems, as well as a lack of redundancy. Some concerns for small reactors include economics of locations for the reactor and how safety and evacuation zones might be affected, which the national regulator is currently considering.
Finnish Culture and Nuclear Energy
Does the Finnish culture lend itself towards a progressive stance on nuclear?
Rauli Partanen credits the high value of honesty in Finnish culture, as well as a drive for self-sufficiency, to the country’s progressive stance on nuclear energy. Energy supply is a big national topic in Finland, as they have been historically dependent on Russia for oil, gas, and coal. This drive for self-sufficiency and value for honesty, including a promise for reducing carbon emissions, encourages the Finnish people to follow up and investigate all energy options, including nuclear. Finland has had a continuous willingness to pursue nuclear energy, shown by consistent project proposals, during times when other developed countries had given up hope on the technology.
Future of Nuclear
Where can we find work that we’ve done and where do you see the future of nuclear going?
Rauli Partanen’s books, such as Climate Gamble, can be found on Google and Amazon in print or audiobook. His latest Finnish book, The Age of Energy, won the Science Book of the Year award in Finland and is coming out later in 2019. If the world can adapt the same optimistic attitude about decarbonizing and nuclear energy that Finland currently has, the possibilities are limitless. Partanen will continue to work towards integration of this technology through technical analysis and communication.