RSS feed for entries
 

 

Gently shout disaster

I don’t envy the IPCC. The International Panel on Climate Change studies looming calamity, and has to talk about it in polite, soft, encouraging tones. Otherwise they’re called “alarmist.” “Unrealistic.” Or (eeeek) “pessimists.”

So we’re facing flooding over coasts where billions of people live, people who won’t be able to farm any more so they and others will starve, people who will move to higher ground where nobody will want them and will try to push them out. We’re facing droughts and floods and freezes and fires due to climate forcing. We’re facing pests and diseases moving into new areas where there’s no resistance to them. We’re facing the triggering of feedback loops like the release of greenhouse gases from the formerly frozen Arctic and the release of methane from icy deposits on continental shelves. At that point we can push our puny human contribution down to zero and it won’t matter. The build-up will continue and there will be exactly nothing we can do about it. And that’s only the beginning of what we’re facing. Our grandchildren, your grandchildren, are the ones who’ll find out just what it is that we’ve done.

But God help you if you say that THIS IS A FREAKING DISASTER AND OUR LIVES DEPEND ON DEALING WITH IT.

That would be rude. And depressing. Unless you have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. If you don’t have a solution, stop being a problem. Oh, and don’t tell us to change anything.

(That’s why it’s also rude to point out the real world evidence: we could be using 100% sustainable renewables by 2050(pdf) with less dislocation than the Great Recession. Or take it from the IPCC itself. Also a summary of options in 2011, before recent improvements.)

So the IPCC is doing its best. They’ve said, “Um. I hate to interrupt or anything but, uh, we really, really, really, really, really need to do something. But, ah, if that’s too harsh, you can also tell yourself you’ll try geoengineering.”

There aren’t enough swear words in the English language to do justice to the idiots who want that kind of “optimism.” As I said in one of my many earlier posts on this topic, we’ve been so good at controlling planetary processes, our best alternative is to mess with them.

    Print This Post Print This Post

If you’re calm, you have no clue

I can’t stop boggling about an article I just read in the NYTimes. Its gist is that how much we want to spend now to stop climate change depends on how much we think it’ll cost in the future. You guess about that part. And then you get super-precise about which interest rate you’ll accept on it.

Think of it this way: Demanding a 5 percent return means that a dollar invested today should become at least $1.05 next year after inflation, and a little more than $1.10 the year after that. In 200 years it should be worth at least $17,292.58. Turn the logic around and we should spend $1 today to prevent climate-related damage only if it prevents damages of at least $17,292.58 two centuries down the road.

[If a lower return is acceptable, at] 2.5 percent, spending $1 today would be justified if it prevented merely $139.56 worth of damage in 200 years.

I’m just floored. Sitting here, opening and closing my mouth like a fish out of water.

Are you telling me that people capable of putting on their own socks in the morning honestly think they can figure out all the expected and unexpected consequences of global warming? The costs of the water wars, the costs of cracked foundations due to drought, the costs of new pests, new molds, new diseases, the costs of acid oceans wiping out world fisheries, the cost of runaway feedback loops that dump more and more greenhouse gases into the air no matter what we puny humans do at that point. And that list barely scratches the surface of what will happen on a warming Earth.

But these beaks sit there and think they can make a fine and dandy accounting of the complete unknown? That their only problem is deciding which interest rate to slap on it?

What is wrong with these people?

 

(Illustration: Punch, Oct. 4, 1884)

 
    Print This Post Print This Post

Patent filing claims solar energy ‘breakthrough’

I shall watch his future progress with considerable interest. Seriously. No snark there at all.

Inventor Ronald Ace said that his flat-panel “Solar Traps,” which can be mounted on rooftops or used in electric power plants, will shatter decades-old scientific and technological barriers that have stymied efforts to make solar energy a cheap, clean and reliable alternative. …

His claimed discoveries, which exist only on paper so far, would represent such a leap forward that they are sure to draw deep skepticism from solar energy experts. But a recently retired congressional energy adviser, who has reviewed the invention’s still-secret design, said it’s “a no brainer” that the device would vastly outperform all other known solar technology. …

But John Darnell, a scientist and the former congressional aide who has monitored Ace’s dogged research for more than three years and has reviewed his complex calculations, has no doubts.“Anybody who is skilled in the art and understands what he’s proposing is going to have this dumbfounding reaction: ‘Oh, well it’s obvious it’ll work,’” said Darnell, a biochemist with an extensive background in thermodynamics. …

A major stumbling block for solar thermal energy devices invented to date has been that, as temperatures rise, increasing amounts of energy escapes, or radiates away, from their receivers. At 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit, currently designed receivers would radiate as much energy as they collect, sinking their efficiency to zero, solar experts say.

In his patent application, Ace wrote that his invention amounts to “a high-temperature blackbody absorber” that is “similar in some ways to an astronomical black hole.”

The key, he said, is his trap’s ability to absorb nearly 100 percent of the sunshine that hits it, while allowing only a tiny percentage of energy to escape, even at ultra-high temperatures.

Such a feat would astound many solar experts, who have had little success combating radiation losses in pilot solar plants, which use fields of mirrors to redirect and concentrate sunlight on common receivers.

    Print This Post Print This Post

If it costs money, it’s dumb


Even more so if it costs anyone who’s already comfortable.

From Krugman, this priceless proof They are always, always, trotting out the same claptrap. Spending anything for the common good is weak, namby-pamby, woolly-minded unwillingness to face hard choices.

[W]hat The Economist said, in 1848, about proposals for a London sewer system:

Suffering and evil are nature’s admonitions; they cannot be got rid of; and the impatient efforts of benevolence to banish them from the world by legislation, before benevolence has learned their object and their end, have always been more productive of evil than good.

Sewers are socialism!

It wasn’t until the Great Stink made the Houses of Parliament uninhabitable that the sewer system was created.

The sad thing is our modern Great Stinks and Great Warmings will be so bad by the time they reach our well-insulated elites that we’ll be neck-deep in the Big Muddy and there’ll be nothing to do but hope we float.

    Print This Post Print This Post

Too much power from the sun

In some ways, Hawaii has nice problems. The LATimes wants to know whether the rapid growth of solar power there is Too much of a good thing? “[P]ower generated by homeowners … exceeded output from power plants in some areas.”

photographer unknown: renewableenergy.com

Solar power in Hawaii

Energy from the sun is the only kind which could give us more power than we know what to do with, even if we got our act together and grabbed as much as we could.

But in Hawaii’s particular case, the problem is due to the fact that the utilities literally don’t know what to do with it. They’ve been hanging onto old fossilized business models and haven’t upgraded their distribution and storage facilities to handle their real business. Which should be load balancing.

We’re always going to need public utilities to wheel the power to where it’s needed, to store the excess, to stop spikes and surges and brownouts.

Instead of acknowledging their stupid lack of planning, what does Hawaiian Electric do? “[P]roposed a moratorium on solar installations, a plan that met with immediate outrage and was quickly withdrawn. But utilities are requiring expensive “interconnection” studies[.]”

The studies are needed to prevent surges, but the company should be the one paying since its lack of planning caused the problem. Instead, it’s doing everything it can to slow down energy independence.

Happily, they haven’t been as successful as they’d like. Yet, anyway.

The state has set a goal of obtaining 40% of its power from locally generated renewable sources by 2030. Already, the Big Island has jumped ahead and is producing 44% of its power from renewable sources, and it could hit 100% by the end of the decade.

Kauai announced earlier this month that it would build its third large-scale solar plant and expected to generate half the island’s power by the sun soon.

Go Hawaii!

    Print This Post Print This Post

Okay. Now it’s a heat wave

The interior of Southern California has been slow-roasting, like everybody else in the U. S. of A. It’s so bad, people are being told to use their A/C less, to let their houses go all the way up to 78°F (25°C). The utilities have been moaning about having barely enough power to meet needs

They’ve been bewailing the temporary shutdown of the San Onofre nuke like the loss of the last drop of drinking water. (The thing has cracks in hundreds of steam pipes due to design flaws.) It provides 2200 Megawatts. It’s loss is terrible. We’re all dying out here.

A complete load of horsefeathers. I live near two natural gas power stations, and they’re barely ever even on. If it’s as bad as all that, you’d think they’d have to use them, yes? One produces 560 Megawatts, the other 1516MW. But they don’t. Especially the 1516MW one. If I see it running two days out of the year, that’s a lot. Admittedly, I don’t spend my life staring at it, so I might miss a day or two, but not much more than that. The other one seems to run maybe 14 days out of the year.

Then, yesterday I went for a hike and saw this:

view of Pt. Mugu

Nice, you say? What are you complaining about, you say? Well, look at those two wisps coming out of the two power plants. They’re running! They’re producing power!

Ormond Beach Generating Station

Half of it is down right now due to a fire, so it’s only producing about 730MW. (Notice also that line of photochemical smog.)

Mandalay Generating Station

The neat thing about natural gas plants is the utlities get pollution credits for them because they’re so (relatively) clean. So — this is just a wild guess — by not running them, they can use those credits for dirtier plants of theirs. Or sell them to other needy utilities.

Meanwhile, they can weep and wail and gnash their teeth over how we must turn the nukes back on now now now! Or else we might have to turn the A/C all the way to 79°F.

    Print This Post Print This Post

Climate Change Bozos

Remember the folks who said warming wasn’t a problem because plants use more CO2 when it’s hot?

Corn field drying up in southern Wisconsin, USA, July 16th, 2012. (wxmom on flickr)

How’s that working out for you?
 
 

    Print This Post Print This Post

Humans are the only thing we can’t fix

So this is not actually good news:

The Fukushima nuclear disaster was the result of “man-made” failures before and after last year’s earthquake, according to a report from an independent parliamentary investigation.

A technical glitch, an unforeseen cascade of technical glitches, an accident exceeding design parameters, all those things can be dealt with, assuming money is no object.

But even if money can be spent like water (and if you have to, why use nukes to begin with when there are cheaper, better, cleaner alternatives?), but if you can spend no end of money, you still can never fix the fallibility of human beings.

We will always make mistakes.

It’s therefore insane to depend on a technology that must have perfection or else it kills us.

It’s unspeakably more insane when there are cheaper, healthier, and more effective alternatives out there. You don’t have to take my word for it. The evidence just keeps piling up (pdf).

    Print This Post Print This Post

Everything wrong summarized in one picture

tractor using fuel to vacuum grass clippings on a sod farm

Vacuuming grass clippings at a sod farm

 

A sod farm grows lawns for people who can’t be bothered with the whole grass-seed-and-careful-watering effort. It takes tons of fossil fuel. It takes huge quantities of water. You see farmworkers carefully moving the irrigation pipes every few days so that none of the sod gets marred by having a pipe on it too long.

You also see farmworkers walking the fields in formation, plastic bags on their belts, gently using a screwdriver-like tool to remove any weed trying to invade the living astroturf.

And, of course, the new grass has to be cut regularly for the sod to form a nice even carpet. More fossil fuel. Also, grass clippings. The clippings can’t be allowed to matt down. So they are vacuumed up.

We’re living in a world where it’s worth building huge wells drilling thousands of meters down to bring up ancient decomposed bacteria that are refined in enormous factories and then trucked everywhere while releasing their carbon to cook the planet so that fuel can be put into tractors to vacuum grass clippings.

Insanity.

    Print This Post Print This Post

The Bombs Fall Elsewhere


There’s a bit of a flap over Iran, nukes, Israel, the US, etc., etc., etc. Discussion of sanctions, unexpected strikes, war. In other words, no biggie.

But, this just in, as they say, from Reuters:

But Israel, in weighing military action, faces the risk of a backlash from Congress and the American public if oil prices spike during a still-fragile economic recovery ….

“It’s the law of unintended consequences,” said an outside expert who advises the White House on national security. “This could lead to the first real reassessment in a generation of how America and Americans feel about Israel.”

If gas prices go up, that’s different. That changes everything.

    Print This Post Print This Post

The only thing worse than running out of oil


Is not running out of oil.

This headline today is not good news: Does shale oil boom mean U.S. energy independence is near? Neither is this one that the US has a “200-year-supply” of coal. Nor these about all the fuel available in the Marcellus Shale, or the Canadian tar sands, or the Green River oil shale.

At this point it’s obvious to the meanest intelligence that burning fossil fuels adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, which causes climate change, which causes floods, fire, famine, pestilence, and war. It will kill billions of humans. I’ll repeat that. It will kill us. And I do mean “us.” Anybody who thinks they’ll be unaffected by the social consequences of global disasters is too dumb to last long in the hard new world. We are committing suicide.

We’re doing it right now. Not tomorrow. Not if things get worse. All we have to do is keep on doing what we’re doing.

Can I tell you a secret? Apparently, a lot of people don’t know this. Earth is the only planet we have.

Greenhouse gases are a gun pointed at our own heads. We have pulled the trigger.

But now comes the only good news: Planets work very slowly. The bullet has decades to travel. It’s already been traveling for about two centuries. Who knows how much more time we have? Probably minutes, but at least we’re not dead yet. If we did it very fast, we could move our heads out of the way.

Instead people write pleased headlines that more ways have been found to keep the bullet on track.

The whole species is headed for a Darwin Award. Except in this case it’ll be the planet whose survival is improved after we eliminate ourselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner.

    Print This Post Print This Post

Solar Power: Take Two


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: solar energy and efficient use could solve all our energy problems. Nothing else can. And nuclear energy is worse than useless.

The intervening three years since the earlier posts have brought new technologies that make solar cheaper, faster, and better (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11). They’ve brought more tragic proof that nukes can never be the answer (12, 13, 14, 15, 16). They’ve brought more data showing the worsening of climate change (17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23), the mushrooming of oil wars, and the hideous hidden price of fossil fuels.

Just a couple of examples:

Rooftop solar could supply around 780 GWh of energy every day, over 280TWh per year. That estimate does not include advances that allow window surfaces (11 above), roadways and parking lots (6 above), to be turned into photovoltaic generators. It uses restrictive assumptions for solar: only 4 hours useful sunlight per day, 15% efficiency of panels, and a very narrow definition of usable space. The whole southern half of the US, from California to Virginia, gets more like 6 usable hours of sunlight per day, and in the desert Southwest, it’s closer to 9 hours.

And then there’s the image below, showing that 55% of energy produced is lost before use. (“Rejected” energy in the graph.) That’s mainly heat loss during production and transmission losses, both of which are much, much, much, much lower in distributed sources close to the end-use point. (End use suffers from its own inefficiencies. Their elimination would reduce the need for power even more, but that’s a different topic.)
chart showing proportion of fuel coming from mainly fossil sources, and 55% loss before use

The years have also brought new calculations of transition costs and feasibility. The Stanford study by Jacobson and Delucchi (2011) shows just how straightforward it would be, technically and financially, to switch to a rational energy policy.

The only real hangup is that Big Oil and Big Nuke own the government.

    Print This Post Print This Post

Nuclear Insanity

It’s insanity to try the same failed thing and expect a different outcome. So the pro-nuclear crowd seems to be trying a variant. They’re not crazy, calling nukes a success, because Fukushima’s reactors aren’t failures.

I’m seeing stuff like: “Oh, but it’s only in earthquake zones that nuclear can be a bit of a problem — and then only a teeny tiny one!” “Oh, stop bellyaching about radiation. There’s less of it than flying cross-country.” “Oh, yes, some of the fuel melted, but it was only a teeny tiny bit. And look! It didn’t turn into the worst disaster imaginable! Nuclear energy is a success!”

Um, how should I put this politely? If nuclear energy is so disaster-prone that an absence of catastrophic failure can be construed as success, then we really, really, really don’t want to use nuclear energy.

Anti-nuclear as I am, I would set the bar for success higher than that. If everything goes right, nukes can produce energy for a few decades without blowing up. It’s also true that if everything goes right, little radiation escapes.

If everything goes right.

Reactors are hugely complex technology with hundreds of potential failure points. Whether it’s an earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, rust, power failure, human error, terrorist smuggling, or poor interface design — there are hundreds of different cascades of events that can destroy multiply redundant backup systems and end in disaster. What will fail in any given case will be different.

The important issue is not whether there could be an earthquake here or an erroring human being there. The important issue is that such a hugely complex system has hundreds of ways to fail. It can never be safe.

Sometimes, when there’s no other way to do something vital or fascinating, it’s worth doing despite the risk. The space program is one example.

Nuclear energy, on the other hand, is an expensive way to run vast risks that are totally unnecessary.

There’s an expanded list of the points below, but here’s the summary. ■ Useful uranium stocks will run out about the same time as or shortly after oil. ■ The plants take so long to build, it’s physically impossible for them to be an actual solution to energy shortages. ■ They will, however, provide a waste problem forever.

These things are all facts of the simple, do-the-math variety. Uranium is finite. Plants take ±five years to build. Half-lives of radioactive elements are known to the femtosecond.

And then comes the biggest fact of all: NUCLEAR ENERGY IS NOT OUR ONLY CHOICE.

For 2% of global GDP (pdf) we could switch over, by 2050 (pdf), to efficiency, solar, wind, and other sustainable, renewable, and clean energies. And that’s for ALL our energy needs. (Nuclear, in contrast, has no realistic chance of even maintaining it’s current contribution, as you can see in the details below.)

Two percent of your income, if you make a median per capita US income of about $24,000, is $480. That’s less than many people in the US spend on phone bills.

For less than the yearly cost of a phone, we could have a world that’s not going to hell in a handbasket. So the choice is obvious, right?

Let’s all pile into the handbasket.

If you’re like me, you boggle that anyone supports a total loser proposition like nuclear power. What is wrong with these people? Are they nuts?

Well, yes and no. Remember that it costs some $10 billion to build a reactor. That gets paid to somebody. That somebody is getting that huge pile of money, risk-free, courtesy of taxpayers. What’s not to like?

The radioactivity? The waste? The unnecessary risks? The small amount of actual power produced? Somebody else’s problem. The billionaires pushing the boondoggle don’t plan to live downwind.

For the sake of raking in megabucks now, everybody else in time and space can be damned.

Is that insane?

Yes.

+ + +

This repeats what I keep pointing out (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Although newer information shows that nukes are more expensive than I’d read before, and the Stanford and UN studies linked above provide even more proof that a rational energy policy is both doable and affordable.

  • Nuclear reactors don’t get built unless taxpayers pick up the financial risk and the accident risk. That should tell you something about how safe reactors are, financially and physically.
  • It takes about five years to build a gigawatt reactor, and costs some $10,000,000,000 — ten billion — each.
  • To replace the current US stock of aging reactors, all 104 of which will need to be phased out before 2050 means a new reactor has to be built every four to five months for the next fifty years.
  • To get more energy via nukes than they provide now, more plants must be built. To get just one seventh of the energy needed in 2050 from nukes means a new gigawatt reactor would have to be built every month.
  • If we actually ramped up nuclear energy production to that extent, we’d run out of recoverable uranium in fifty to one hundred years. (In what universe is trading one expensive, polluting, nonrenewable resource for another one a sane idea?)
  • No, breeder reactors are not a solution, including the new ones that go by cuter names. They generate more total waste, and much more dangerous waste. And they’re much more vulnerable to weapons proliferation issues. How many Pakistans do we want in exchange for radioactive, non-renewable, and insufficient power?
  • No, fusion is not a practical or current solution. It’s not even working sustainably in labs yet, forget production facilities. It has its own radioactive waste problems.
  • The waste from reactors needs to be carefully stored and avoided for many times longer than all of human history. Somebody will be paying that price in wealth or health long after nuclear power isn’t producing any usable energy.
  • The worst reactor waste, the spent fuel rods, is now stored in “temporary” pools on site because nobody wants the permanent storage anywhere nearby.
  • None but the very smallest and earliest plants, those that could be disposed without taking apart the reactor vessel, have been decommissioned. Estimates (when not from the nuclear industry) are that decommissioning may cost even more than building the things in the first place. There’s also nowhere to store that waste. (See previous point.)
  • And, finally, nuclear is not our only choice. We don’t have to suffer. There are alternatives. The alternatives are cleaner and cheaper. The only ones who lose are the billionaires deprived of short-term taxpayer-funded pork.
    Print This Post Print This Post

Drilling through Plagiarism

You’ve probably seen this McClatchy report by now.

Gulf spill raises questions about role of oil consultants

The names, locations and geographical coordinates are different. Otherwise the drilling plans for three oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico contain identical fonts, footnotes, overly optimistic projections and even typographical errors. [emphasis added] …

Department of Interior officials said that federal regulators didn’t oversee third-party consultants and oil companies were “ultimately responsible for the information they submit.” …

Three of the plans that R.E.M. [one of the consulting firms] prepared — for Rooster Petroleum, Tana Exploration and Marathon Oil, all of Houston — used the same language to say that the risk of a major oil spill was minimal, the companies were equipped to respond to a disaster and drilling activities posed little or no risk to marine life or fisheries. …

Reached by phone, Goers [R.E.M. founder] declined to answer questions about her company or the plans it had prepared and referred a McClatchy reporter to her clients. “You’ll have to talk to the operators,” she said. …

The American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group that represents oil and gas companies, said it wasn’t familiar with the consultants’ work … . “Of course, the documents they help prepare are ultimately reviewed by regulators whose responsibility is to judge their adequacy,” said Bill Bush, a spokesman for the group.

There’s something there, I’m not sure what, that gives me the sense that the oil industry and their buddies in government don’t care about the environment.

No, wait. That’s not right. They don’t even see it. It’s just a heap of annoying rocks and water standing between you and your money.

    Print This Post Print This Post

Out Of Big Oil And Into Big Nuke

The oil gusher in the Gulf is bad. It’s turning people away from fossil fuel, which could be good. If it turned the powers-that-be to clean, sustainable energy, that would be very good.

But here’s what I bet will happen.

Once the weeping and gnashing of teeth has subsided to a numbed realization that we need to do something next, that’s when the real problems will start. That’s when the nuclear lobby will be back.

[Well, that didn't take long. That was written around May 15th. This was on Marketwatch, May 21st.: "Nuclear Option Back on the Table." ]

They’ll say we need energy, lots of energy, which we can get only from a large, serious energy source, like nuclear. So let’s go over just a few points related to getting energy from nuclear reactors. (I’m repeating myself. There’s a lot more information and links in those long posts.)

By 2050, North America is projected to need some 7.8 terawatts (pdf) of total primary energy under a business-as-usual scenario. The pro-nuclear argument is that it will provide for business as usual without the sacrifices required by trying to make do with renewable, sustainable, distributed energy which can only provide a fraction of what’s needed.

Take them at their word. Let’s say the weak sisters can’t provide more than about 25% of the projected amount. (I’m setting it higher than pro-nuke scenarios usually do out of kindness. Why it’s a kindness will be clear in a moment.)

Since nuclear plants don’t safely last longer than their operating life of 30 years, if that, all the ones needed in 2050 will have to be built between now and then.

We have forty years (or 2080 weeks) in which to build 75% of 7.8 TW, which is 5,850 gigawatts of capacity. The large reactors built now are on the order of 1GW, The number of fully operational 1GW reactors needed to provide 75% of energy in four decades is 5850.

So about one fully operational 1GW reactor has to be completed every day, except Sundays, starting five months ago. If there are technological breakthroughs so that, say, 5GW commercial reactors can be built, then only a bit more than one per week needs to be finished.

That doesn’t include permitting or siting. Just physical construction. With no delays, large reactors take about five years to build, so there would need to be hundreds of reactors under construction at any one time.

Keep firmly in mind that it is renewable, distributed energy that is unrealistic.

Think about it. You’d need about 21,000 square miles of photovoltaic panels to generate 7.8TWh of power per year at the insolation near Chicago or New England, where it’s 0.3kWh per square foot per day, using 12% efficient solar panels. That’s a square 145 miles on each side. The built-up area in the US is about 125,000 square miles (and some of that’s in Arizona and California, not Chicago). So, worst case, if 15% of built-up areas is roofs, parking lots, windows, and roadways which could have photovoltaics installed, then 100% of US energy needs would be met. That’s without using wind, geothermal, tidal, or any other clean energy. That could be added. Production of photovoltaic materials would have to be ramped up to where the stuff could just roll off the presses. There’s also the fact that you and I can install PV panels if we put our minds to it. You and I aren’t ever going to be installing nukes. That takes rare and highly trained experts, so it’s a much more serious option.

Moving right along, the next item is construction time and costs for nuclear reactors. Costs are in the billions and time to completion in years, so the business risks are immense.

Note: these aren’t the risks of operation. Liability for those is limited by the Price Andersen Act, which makes the taxpayer the insurer of last resort for the nuclear power industry. In current terms, if they lose too much money, you bail them out.

Companies normally carry insurance for projects with business risks too large for them to absorb, but the professional actuaries at insurance companies consider the business risks of reactors (not the radiation risks, just the business risks during construction) to be too large. So, once again, the taxpayers step in to provide guarantees so that construction can go ahead.

For instance, Obama recently tripled the Federal loan guarantees from $18 billion to $54 billion. The guarantees are intended to cover about 80% of costs, so suddenly instead of only being able to build three nukes, we can build thirteen or so. That’s about two weeks’ worth of the necessary number of reactors if nukes are the solution to the end of oil.

It’s a start. And this way that $54 billion can’t be wasted on funding efficiency retrofits of old buildings or a cash for clunkers program.

The third point about using nuclear energy to replace fossil fuels, is that nuclear fuel is a limited nonrenewable resource. If reactors operated on the scale I’m talking about, the practically recoverable uranium would be depleted in a matter of decades.

(New designs don’t change that equation. Commercial fusion energy, or mining seawater or asteroids are not practical solutions on the necessary timescales. Breeder reactors, sometimes called renewable nuclear energy, solve energy problems the same way decapitation solves brain cancer. So-called advanced designs that share the dubious features of breeders, like fast neutron fluxes and exotic coolants, are just more attempts to sell people on the same failed pig in a new poke.)

Insofar as nuclear energy is a real world option, it is not renewable and its fuel would be gone in decades if it was a major energy source.

So. Nukes can’t be built fast enough to replace oil. They’re uninsurable. Uranium is a depletable resource. None of that even considers the usual roster of health, environmental, and waste problems. So, why do nukes ever come up? How can it be that anyone wastes valuable brain cells on such a total loss of an option?

Well, there’s a lot of money to be made for a few people in any big construction project. Highway money pork is nothing compared nuke pork. Roads to nowhere have been built for the pork of it, and nukes will be, too, if the recipients have much to say about it. (One day after I wrote that, I came across this report from January 31st:

Rather than try to propose a similar project that, like Yucca, might take decade [sic] of grueling planning only to be shot down at the end, the administration’s solution is to commission a panel of experts that includes academics, politicians and businessmen like Exelon CEO John Rowe.

The panel will consider fixes like making some easy changes to waste handling laws, but will doubtless also look at some ideas that have gotten little play in the U.S., like breeder reactors that can reprocess old waste into new, usable fuel. [Emphasis added]

The other good thing is that reactors keep the energy monopoly right where it is now. Backyard mini-nukes get, ahem, glowing reviews full of that old time optimism, but it’s not an option many people would choose for their kids’ playground. So there aren’t any real worries about any of that distributed energy, profit-draining hokum. That makes this nonrenewable polluting energy source a real solution to the problems caused by the other nonrenewable polluting energy source.

Get ready for the serious, correctly dressed people telling you so.

    Print This Post Print This Post

I told you so: negawatts work

Not only have I told you so, repeatedly, but so did everybody else who’s capable of coming up with four when adding two plus two, going right back to Amory Lovins and the DFHs.

US’ best source of carbon-free energy is efficiency. Not just the US of course. The laws of physics are the same all over the planet.

The McKinsey report [pdf] arrived at [its] figures by performing a fairly simple economic analysis: what measures, if rolled out on a large scale starting in the near future, would have a positive return on investment by 2020. Those are fairly conservative conditions, since many efficiency projects require a substantial up-front investment that’s only paid back gradually; time horizons longer than a decade aren’t uncommon when it comes to payback. Nevertheless, the numbers were staggering. $520 billion worth of investments would produce a total of $1.2 trillion in savings by 2020. Presumably, the numbers would look even better later into the century.

At 2020, we’d be avoiding using that 9.1 quadrillion BTUs. That would be enough to knock 23 percent off the expected demand, dropping it below the current national usage. It’s worth pointing out that there’s a bit of a multiplier effect of efficiency efforts, as well—by not producing the energy in the first place, all the losses that occur during generation and transport never come into play. The net result would be over a gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions avoided as well.

As far as the National Academies is concerned, the McKinsey report might just as well have been a chapter in its own publication. “The deployment of existing energy-efficiency technologies,” it has concluded, “is the nearest-term and lowest-cost option for moderating our nation’s demand for energy, especially over the next decade.” [emphasis added]

So could we now get with the program and stop chasing more pollution with less power? Crap like “clean coal” and nukes. And, environmentally less appalling but socially more so: food-sourced biofuels. Here’s yet one more repeat of what’s wrong with them.

“Clean” coal produces all the same destruction and pollution — and energy costs! — during mining as dirty coal. And another not-so-minor data point: the industrial-scale process to do it has not been invented yet (pdf, eg p. 31).

Nuclear energy: Produces pollution, environmental destruction, and uses energy during mining. Uranium is a finite resource. A finite resource. It will . . . wait for it . . . run out. (Am I frustrated that some people don’t get this yet? Yes, I’m frustrated.) It will run out in about a century if used to produce most of our energy. It takes time to build plants. One plant would have to be built every six weeks, starting yesterday, going on until the uranium runs out, to produce most of our energy. Nuclear energy creates radioactive waste. We have no viable method of dealing with current waste, forget the amount of waste that would be generated by a bigger nuclear program. Decommissioning costs are huge and underfunded. Companies are mothballing old plants to delay the day of reckoning when people are presented with the price tag. All that money spent on nuclear energy to get a fraction of the power needed cannot be spent on real solutions.

Biofuel produced from corn and other food sources: Destruction of habitat to grow monocultures of energy crops (a problem with any biofuel not generated from waste). Increased food prices in a world where around one billion people are living on around one dollar a day. That leads to even worse mass starvation than we already have. That leads to even more mass migration, social dislocation, riots, and wars. Just in case I’m not being clear, this is Not Good.

Now that we have yet more studies all saying the same thing, how about we all get on the same page and DO THE OBVIOUS!

energy, efficiency, NAS, McKinsey

    Print This Post Print This Post