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On Symmetry: Platonic Solids and Ugly Wastes, Lampblack, Coal and Carbon

by NNadir Sun Jan 7th, 2007 at 01:10:37 PM EST

(At the kind invitation of Jerome a Paris, I will be crossposting some of my recent diary entries from Daily Kos here.   Nearly all of my diary entries there are on the subject of nuclear energy and climate change.  The Original Entry at DKos can be found here.  Polls connected with this entry can be found in the original. )

The human eye is drawn to symmetry and has been so since the dawn of recorded time.   Indeed we know that symmetry was important to humanity before recorded time.   According to the Wikipedia entry on this subject, preliterate people in Scotland made models of the five platonic solids, the icosohedron, dodecahedron, the octahedron, the tetrahedron, and the cube.   That couldn't have been very easy to do with the tools of the time.  

Like the ancients, we find symmetry beautiful mostly, and associate it with positive things, both in two dimensions and in three dimensions.   We still speak of "mystical circles," "circles of friends," "the town square," even "the food pyramid."


The author of the Wikipedia entry also tells us - and I find this really interesting - that Plato's interest in the regular highly symmetrical solids that have come to bear his name was connected with his speculations about the nature of matter.

To wit:

Plato wrote about them in the dialogue Timaeus c.360 B.C. in which he associated each of the four classical elements (earth, air, water, and fire) with a regular solid. Earth was associated with the cube, air with the octahedron, water with the icosahedron, and fire with the tetrahedron. There was intuitive justification for these associations: the heat of fire feels sharp and stabbing (like little tetrahedra). Air is made of the octahedron; its minuscule components are so smooth that one can barely feel it. Water, the icosahedron, flows out of one's hand when picked up, as if it is made of tiny little balls. By contrast, a highly un-spherical solid, the hexahedron (cube) represents earth. These clumsy little solids cause dirt to crumble and breaks when picked up, in stark difference to the smooth flow of water. The fifth Platonic solid, the dodecahedron, Plato obscurely remarks, "...the god used for arranging the constellations on the whole heaven". Aristotle added a fifth element, aithêr (aether in Latin, "ether" in English) and postulated that the heavens were made of this element, but he had no interest in matching it with Plato's fifth solid.

Modern scientists of course, find the whole business of the "elements" being earth, wind, water, and fire rather quaint, but looking at the article one sees that actually the idea - given that nothing was understood about matter at the time - is in the best tradition of science.   It was an example of observing phenomena and then constructing a theory consistent with the observations.    A theory relying on observation - what Plato's speculations in fact were - may be proved wrong ultimately by other observations, experimental or otherwise, but the exercise in itself advances knowledge, which is, I guess, why Plato is still around:  His ideas mattered.

The more popularly applauded greek idea, the one that ultimately proved to be true, that matter was composed of atoms - the idea of the philosopher Democritus - was, to my knowledge at least, more mystical than observational.  The idea was not seriously connected with the actual properties of matter until at least the 18th century, beginning with the work of John Dalton and others.   The existence of atoms was not really incontrovertibly proved until Einstein proved it with his famous paper on Brownian motion in the early 20th century.  

Some of Democritus's ideas about matter, for instance the notion that atoms are immutable and everlasting, are simply false.   On the other hand, some of the ideas Plato discussed are still very important.    An example of the importance of Plato's ideas is that it turns out that geometry plays a central role in understanding matter, and the nature of platonic solids is critically involved.    The most important example of this case is what is called the "tetrahedral" nature of many, but not all, carbon compounds.    This tetrahedral symmetry is the subject of all introductory organic chemistry classes and is generally discussed in the very first meeting of the class.   The bonds of a molecule of methane all point to the corners of tetrahedron, and this fact, roughly approximated by many billions of organic carbon containing compounds, plays an vital role in understanding the chemistry of everything from life itself to the nature of diamonds to the properties of plastic toys.   Further many inorganic compounds exhibit cubic symmetry in their crystal shape, and many other inorganic compounds have octahedral symmetry.   These factors very much effect their properties.

Because symmetry - including the properties Platonic solids - plays such an important role in chemistry, research chemists have gone off on some esoteric quests involving it.    For instance, chemists have made a compound of carbon and hydrogen where all eight corners of a cube are occupied by carbon atoms.   The compound, unsurprisingly, is called "cubane."   It wasn't an easy trick.   Normally carbon, which again most often has its bonds directed at the corners of a tetrahedron, has a bond angle of 109.6 degrees.   In cubane of course, the angle must be 90 degrees.   The difference in the angle which chemists call "angle strain" gives rise to one of the few technological uses of cubane derivatives:   As an explosive.    Similarly chemists have tried, but failed, to make a compound called "tetrahedrane" where instead of being directed at the corners of the tetrahedron, the carbons are all  located at the corners of a tetrahedron.    This effort has lead to interesting innovations in chemistry and has helped the advance of the science, so on some level it's all been worth it but most people think that tetrahedrane will never be made - it will just blow up before it can be isolated.

This quest for the synthesis of highly symmetrical compounds in chemistry, which has theoretical utility as well as artistic/scientific implications  has been sort of in the news in the past.   In 1996 three chemists, Harold Kroto, Richard Smalley, and Robert Curl were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery of "buckminsterfullerene," dubbed by the media - along with all sorts of futuristic commentary about what technology they would cause to be developed - "buckyballs."   The compound is actually another allotrope - or form - of carbon, joining diamond and graphite which are also (ignoring impurities) pure carbon.    Buckyballs are not actually platonic solids - they have two different kinds of faces, hexagons and pentagons, whereas platonic solids have only one type of face.   Buckyballs represent a class of solids discovered by the man who may well have been the greatest scientist who ever lived - Archimedes.   They are known as truncated iscosohedrons, and they are very, very, very, very cool.

The synthesis of "buckyballs" was a rather elaborate quest, and involved all sorts of esoterica, things called pericyclic reactions, thermal vs photochemical rearrangements, metathesis reactions, condensations of corannulenes, blah, blah, blah.    Their were lots of failures in this quest, and probably a lot of graduate students who had to punt.   The actual discovery of buckyballs however was not actually deliberate, it was a sort of serendipitous thing that nonetheless involved elaborate instrumentation.   The discovery resulted molecular beam experiments that were not explicitly related to "buckyballs."   The scientists who discovered them were trying to do something else, and then they noticed them.   It was good that they were skilled at recognizing things, and they were justly awarded prizes and honors.

People all over the world began to study "buckyballs" and characterize their chemistry, their derivatives and their properties.  Once people learned all about these things an interesting thing happened:

People discovered that people had been making buckyballs all the time, for many thousands of years.   People had been making buckyballs before anybody knew about atomic theory, or chemistry, or the scientific method, or even about writing.

Almost all of the NNadir diary entries at DKos are about energy, usually about nuclear energy, and this one is too.   What does nuclear energy have to do with buckyballs?   I'll get to this in a minute, but first I'd like to refer to my most recent diary entries which were about  radioactive iodine and radioactive hydrogen, also known as tritium.   Over the years I've heard lots of comments from lots of people who want to tell me all about things like tritium and radioiodide.   Many people, even people with very low levels of scientific understanding, can get quite passionate about these subjects.  Routinely people curse me out for the ways in which I discuss matters like tritium and related subjects - which is almost wholly dismissive.   (For the record, there are some people who disagree with me who are scientifically sophisticated and very scientifically literate - and frankly often challenging - but 90% of the critical responses I receive to writings like this one are scientifically nonsensical.)

I'm on some kind of quest, I guess.   Many people try to assert that my quest is about money, or bribery or meaness or an inflated sense of intellectual superiority, but I claim it isn't.   I claim my quest to minimize the risks of nuclear energy is about something that has me very upset:  

Climate change.  

Whether or not I am telling lies about my motivations, I should admit that I may have very little impact.  It's not like the members of Greenpeace are going read my entries and suddenly send in their resignation letters to that silly organization.    Maybe my quest is as quixotic as trying to make buckyballs from pericyclic reactions or corranulenes.  

Let me be honest:  If you ask me whether I believe that nuclear energy will actually help to solve the vast problem of climate change, I would have to say "not really."   I believe it is now impossible to avoid very tragic consequences from climate change.   I don't believe that humanity will build enough nuclear reactors to control it.   it could, maybe, but it won't.    Moreover I believe that a great deal of the damage and tragedy related to climate change has already occurred, and a great deal more is in the immediate future and in the long term future inevitably.    In short, to put it more crudely, I think we're fucked.   On the other hand, it is my strongly felt opinion that nuclear energy is the best shot we have at mitigating any of the consequences.

So what do I find myself doing?   I find myself writing long elaborate diary entries about every damn constituent of nuclear fuel.   I must do this exhaustively, in great detail, trying to prove that trillionths of a gram of I-129 in thyroids around the world don't mean a hill of beans on the general scale of the massive problem of energy and energy waste.

So back to the buckyballs.   Yes, they are a form of carbon, and yes, carbon is an international problem of vast magnitude and yes people have been making buckyballs for thousands and thousands of years using very primitive technology.    

What is that primitive technology?   Burning things, that's what.

It turns out that buckyballs are a common constituent of soot, of lampblack.   Nobody realized this until they had made buckyballs in other ways.   Once they did, though, once they could recognize them, they found them all over the place.   They're one of the pollutants.

I certainly don't read the majority of diary entries at DKos and I am not familiar with everything that is written as this very fine website, whose value I appreciate greatly.   Still, I'm quite sure that very few people here have felt themselves compelled to write long articles here about soot, exhaustively describing the properties and risks of every single constituent.   I on the other hand will be writing long articles here about technetium and about cesium and about strontium and radioactive zirconium.   People will be very upset with me.   Some of them will secretly hope I die.   Even so, it turns out that people, even very sophisticated people who have been awarded the Nobel Prize for scientific achievement, still don't even know, in general, what soot is.   Nevertheless, billions of tons of coal, billions of tons of oil, billions of tons of biomass are burned every day, and the number of people who are calling for "soot phaseouts" with the same passion as people who are calling for "nuclear phaseouts," is vanishingly small.   There are even people who are now arguing that soot is a sort of a good thing, as poorly understood as it really is, since it helps mitigate the consequences or the other major consequence of burning things, the annual addition of billions of tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

This latter matter, carbon dioxide, has made us afraid of our own sun.  Believe it or not, we are now running around wondering to ourselves if we should try to block out the sun.

Display:
I've found your recent diaries on dKos quite fascinating, and I hope that they will trigger some interesting discussions with our crowd here, which is quite far from being in agreement on the issue of nuclear, but has so far been able to discuss issues thoughtfully. I hope this will continue...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Jan 7th, 2007 at 03:13:14 PM EST
Thanks for the welcome.   I will post others.   How do I place them in the section for nuclear energy though?
by NNadir on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 08:13:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Welcome to EuroTrib.  I think you will find the atmosphere a good deal more collegial here.  Most folks here are open to a rational argument even if they disagree with the conclusion.  But fair warning:  this crowd doesn't miss a trick.  First sign of hand-waving and they will call you in a heartbeat.

You might also want to cross-post your diary Radioactive Isotopes from French Commercial Nuclear Fuel Found In Mississippi River.  You're the only diarist I know who does the opposition's research for them, and then explains what it really means.  

We all bleed the same color.

by budr on Sun Jan 7th, 2007 at 06:27:38 PM EST
Welcome!

I look forward to asking some questions.

I am scientifically ignorant, but want to improve.

Thanks for coming.

"When the abyss stares at me, it wets its pants." Brian Hopkins

by EricC on Sun Jan 7th, 2007 at 06:40:57 PM EST
This should be fun... Anyone dissing Greenpeace has balls: it can the equivalent of admitting that your enjoy bashing the heads of kittens with a blunt axe. Respectz!!

Welcome to the Tribe. I look forward to further contributions. What you outline to regale us with sounds utterly fascinating...

Jerome, you may have done us here another great favour. Bless you.

by Nomad on Sun Jan 7th, 2007 at 07:36:57 PM EST
well...a t least you will not be alone regarding nuclear energy. Some of us support it in one way or another...

You will happy....other than double-triple-quadruple checking any data...and deconstruct five times the structure of beliefs, narrative and mythology that you have or use...  we are quite harmless, really :)

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 07:29:04 AM EST
Thanks!

I'm curious, do you contribute to wikipedia?

On the topic, I've been trying to find information on wood heating pollution (and ways to control it) but without success, so any information is highly welcomed!

(Same thing about electric car battery disposal BTW.)

by Laurent GUERBY on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 02:26:27 PM EST
Most interesting, NNadir, thanks.

I went on DKos to read your "French waste in the Mississipi" diary.

In both of your diaries, I note there is a side shot at Greenpeace, not really on topic.

A coincidence ?

by balbuz on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 03:20:30 PM EST
I've studiously avoided the topic, because they do some good things in other fields, but let's say that Greenpeace is not really reasonable in their opposition to anything nuclear. This was discussed in the comments of this diary, for instance.

(that diary could be added to the eurowiki, btw)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 03:49:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't regard side shots at Greenpeace as being off topic when the topic is nuclear energy.  

Greenpeace is a major force of ignorance in my view.   This is easily seen by going on their website and clicking on "nuclear."

I do not regard them as environmentalists in any way.   They have no credibility with me whatsoever.  

I believe that they are encouraging a kind of thinking that will lead to the collapse of the earth's atmosphere.   They may have cute pictures of whales on their website, but I assure you that if the krill population is decimated by climate change - and it may be - there will be no whales, no penguins, and probably not much of anything else.

Basically I regard Greenpeace as an organisation for middle and upper class people who want to engage in "feel good" denial and elaborate ill informed pretence.

If you look for anything I write anywhere, you should expect to see shots at Greenpeace.   I very much want to divorce the international media from the ridiculous contention that one should refer to Greenpeace for an "environmentalist view."   This media conceit is about as harmful as climate change denial.  

I extend this criticism of Greenpeace to the curiously famous Patrick Moore by the way, who - his claim to fame being a founder of Greenpeace - also has no credibility with me.

I happen to agree with some things Patrick Moore says about nuclear energy, and maybe I agree with some things that Greenpeace says about wind, but to be perfectly clear, I think for myself.  I do not respect "appeal to authority" arguments in any way and I believe both Moore and his former organisation are essentially saying useless and dangerous things and that neither have "authority," in any case.

by NNadir on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 04:01:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fair enough. Now I have some context.

It's just that if you want to convince people, you can't just call people names out of the blue - although it's certainly your privilege as the diary author to do so.

Or maybe it's just me, Old European that I am, who will always prefers a calm and polite discussion - gentlemen like - whatever.

by balbuz on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 04:33:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I'm one of those ugly Americans - sort of "in your face."

I fully admit that some of this "in your face" stuff has gotten us in big trouble and lead to one of the worst outcomes possible in the person who is often referred to as the "President of the United States."

Stereotypes become stereotypes by being true I guess, and regrettably I exhibit all the properties of being an American, including a sometimes graceless and rude approach to life.   Please be assured though that this aspect of my personality doesn't mean that I am anything but deeply ashamed of my "government."

I do, all being said, admire European grace and subtlety, but exhibiting those traits myself is not in my nature.

by NNadir on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 04:47:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
and you were too, I'd tempted to ask you for a date.

Woot. I'm in love.

 

by Nomad on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 05:01:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Basically I regard Greenpeace as an organisation for middle and upper class people who want to engage in "feel good" denial and elaborate ill informed pretence.

From the U.S. Greenpeace site.

Greenpeace has always fought - and will continue to fight - vigorously against nuclear power because it is an unacceptable risk to the environment and to humanity. The only solution is to halt the expansion of all nuclear power, and for the shutdown of existing plants.

We need an energy system that can fight climate change, based on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Nuclear power already delivers less energy globally than renewable energy, and the share will continue to decrease in the coming years.

Despite what the nuclear industry tells us, building enough nuclear power stations to make a meaningful reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would cost trillions of dollars, create tens of thousands of tons of lethal high-level radioactive waste, contribute to further proliferation of nuclear weapons materials, and result in a Chernobyl-scale accident once every decade. Perhaps most significantly, it will  squander the resources necessary to implement meaningful climate change solutions.

The arguments against Greenpeace's position are re: their facts (I take it, rather than their ideological position.)  So...

Nuclear power already delivers less energy globally than renewable energy

True False?

and the share will continue to decrease in the coming years.

Possible?  Impossible?

tens of thousands of tons of lethal high-level radioactive waste

True?  False?

contribute to further proliferation of nuclear weapons materials

False?  True?

and result in a Chernobyl-scale accident once every decade

Possible?  Impossible?

I suppose I must be middle-class in the sense you mean above, so could you run the arguments past me, without ad-hominems, just the arguments?  Maybe you'll change my mind!  Who knows?

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 06:28:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nuclear power plants will cost trillions of dollars.   I advocate a completely government funded 10 to 12 trillion dollar plant to displace all of the world's coal capacity with nuclear power.   This is easily technically achievable and would save the earth's atmosphere from immanent destruction.   I note that destruction of the atmosphere will involve considerably more money.   In fact, destruction of the earth's atmosphere will make all amounts of money worthless entirely.

I have noted at DKos, and will post here that the external cost difference between nuclear power - which is very low risk - and coal can be estimated at more than 10's of trillions of dollars just in damage to the environment and totally excluding internal costs.

Question 2:   This depends on whether you consider the burning of biomass in huts - responsible for many millions of deaths in the third and second world from air pollution.

If you simply consider electricity, renewable energy both as primary and secondary energy produces less than one exajoule of electricity and less than 2 exajoules of primary energy - not counting hydroelectricity which is tapped out and dependent on the dubious continuous existence of glaciers.

Question 3:

Nuclear energy produces close to 30 exajoules of primary energy, and 10 exajoules of electrical energy.  It is the largest single greenhouse gas free energy in the world.

If the current proposed/ordered and under construction nuclear plants are all built, the primary energy will increase to 60 exajoules, about half of what coal produces.

In Greenpeace they like to discuss percentages and substitute them for absolute numbers.   This is a form of mathematical illiteracy of the first order.   For instance "world production of solar energy has increased by 100% since 2000!" means nothing if solar electricity is the equivalent of one or two natural gas plants.

Once again Greenpeace is being a force of ignorance here.

Question 4:   Predictions about the energy future are usually nonsensical.  None have been more nonsensical than the Greenpeace prediction, now going on many decades, that nuclear energy would just go away.   A few years ago, five or ten years, no one was talking about new nuclear power.    Now everyone is talking about it.

Ralph Nader - a rather heinous idiot in the United States - ran around during the 1970's saying that solar energy would provide 100% of the world's energy by the year 2000.

Question 5:  The word "lethal" means it had killed or injured someone.    Since the storage of spent nuclear fuel has not killed anyone, the amount of "lethal" nuclear waste is zero.  

This compares very favorably with coal, oil, natural gas and even biomass waste, all of which kill continuously, in numbers measuring in the millions per year.   Greenpeace mentions this usually as an aside; they hardly care at all about air pollution or else they would demand that it be stopped.

Interestingly - familiarity with the Bateman equations would be necessary here - it is readily shown that the accumulation of fission products is governed by equilibrium.   Thus nuclear energy is the only form of energy for which there is both a theoretical and practical maximum amount of so called "nuclear wastes" that can accumulate.   In some ways this is regrettable, since many fission products are extremely valuable material.   It can be shown that it will never be possible to accumulate enough strontium-90, for instance, to make enough radioisotopic generators to displace 3 coal plants.

Question 5:

The nuclear fuel cycle does indeed increase, albeit very slightly, the probability of weapons proliferation.   However the number of nuclear weapons that has been built with commercial nuclear fuel is one - it was tested by the United States - an extremely sophisticated weapons country - in 1962.

It is easy to minimize this risk through fuel management strategies and by the fissioning of weapons grade materials in power reactors.   However whether or not nuclear weapons can be made depends in no way on commercial nuclear power.   Both Isreal and North Korea possess these weapons without commercial nuclear power.   Neither Belgium, nor France, nor Switzerland, nor Finland, nor Japan...despite very sophisticated knowledge of nuclear fuel and the possession and operation of large reactors, possess nuclear weapons.

I note that Greenpeace has not called for the banning of fossil fuels even though one of the worst military killings of all time involved the fire bombing - using the petroleum product napalm - of a number of European and Japanese cities.   In fact the firebombing of Dresden, Hamburg, Tokyo... made the nuclear war events something of an unfortunate sideshow.

The incidence of nuclear wars in the last 50 years is zero.   The incidence of fossil fuel wars in the last 50 years is much greater than zero.

Question 6:
Nuclear power has been in practice for 50 years.   There has been exactly one Chernobyl scale disaster.   This "disaster" killed far fewer people than the normal operations of coal facilities in Europe in the last month.   Moreover there is no reasonable way to prevent coal operations from continuing to kill constantly, daily and regularly, since there is no way to treat air pollution comprehensively.  By contrast, the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl was not repeated.

I really can't stomach looking at the Greenpeace site, since ignorance troubles me.   Maybe you can inform me whether Greenpeace is calling for the phase out of aircraft because of the crash of Boeing 737's?

This is experimental evidence for the frequency probability of nuclear accidents.   However the Chernobyl accident was with an RBMK type reactor with a graphite core and a positive void coefficient being operated under unauthorized experimental conditions.   The experimentally observed probability of PWR or BWR fatal accidents is thus far zero.  

Nuclear energy has produced more than 300 exajoules of primary energy since 1980, most of it from light water (and a few heavy water) moderated reactors.   Thus the fatality rate per exajoule is probably the lowest for any form of energy in the nuclear case.

If you think that repeating rhetorical - and frankly illiterate - nonsense from the Greenpeace website constitutes thinking, think again, or don't think -   It makes no difference whatsoever.

I stand 100% all of my remarks about Greenpeace and I thank you for the chance to once again make them more specific and clear.  Greenpeace is a force for ignorance, enormous ignorance.

by NNadir on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 08:05:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is an error in this post I caught on re-reading it.

France does possess nuclear weapons of course, but had developed them well before becoming the nuclear power state it is today.

By the way, I call on all nuclear weapons state to dismantle their nuclear weapons and to fission their cores in nuclear power plants.

by NNadir on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 08:25:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
10 trillion dollars!
But that's almost 10% of GWP for a year!
(Trying to work up some outrage at the size of the number...difficult, though.)

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 02:01:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If I understand this correctly, though I am having to fill in a gap in Nnadir's comment, the accumulated environmental damage due to coal exceeds 10T as of today. Assuming that is the right interpretation of the claim, Nnadir then goes on to suggest using that amount (which you point out is 5 weeks of world GDP) not to repair the damage but to prevent future damage by replacing Nuclear with coal.

Can we please have an estimate of the external environmental cost, and the internal operating cost, per GW-h for coal [cleanest technology] and nuclear [cleanest technology] as well as the cost of replacing generating capacity from coal to nuclear [per GW-h]? That way we can begin to thimk about the time scales involved.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 03:20:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]

And some stats for the EU in 2004:



In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 04:04:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure uranium mining is included in the above.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 06:27:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But you're sure coal mining is, right? Why the double standard?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 06:36:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, I was thinking of externalities. I would have to look up EU figures for the ratio of domestically produced and imported coal, but I'm certain that a significant part is not imported from coal while all of the uranium is imported.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 06:58:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So imported coal creates no externalities?

That's excellent news!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 07:45:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think including part of the externalities for one resource and none for the other is a difference you can't recognise.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 07:58:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Would you mind pointing out where such a difference in treatment is supposed to have taken place?

It seems that the externalities associated with mining are accounted for neither nuclear nor coal in the above table.

Maybe your point is that nuclear mining is a lot worse than coal mining (per kWh produced)? Or is it something else?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 08:06:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Would you mind pointing out where such a difference in treatment is supposed to have taken place?

The title of your table says "in Germany", which implies to me the evaluation of effects in Germany. It is not clear just from the table what was and what wasn't included. But from the numbers for PV, it is clear that not only the costs of the very act of electricity generation were included, but apparently manufacture too. It stands to reason that mining was included, too, especially considering the ecosystems numbers.

Maybe your point is that nuclear mining is a lot worse than coal mining (per kWh produced)? Or is it something else?

I don't know which is worse, though I suspect that coal mining in Germany is less bad than uranium mining in some source countries for Germany. But I guess my main point is that your table means little without knowing the tablemakers' basic assumptions.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 08:52:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Dodo, can you dispute this calculation by ustenzel?
Ore grades will never degrade below 4ppm uranium and 12ppm thorium.  That's the concentration in granite, and there's plenty of that.  A 1GW fast breeder[1] will need about 3 tonnes of fuel per year, which at the above concentration amounts to about 500 tonnes of granite per day.  Let's say 1000, allowing for inefficient extraction and some losses.

A coal plant of the same size requires 10 times that amount of coal, leaving a hole in the ground 10 times as large.  This environmental impact is not considered larger than that of radwaste, so the same should go for mining rocks.



Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 06:42:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
can you dispute this calculation by ustenzel?

Not without looking up my own notes, which I can only do at home in the evening.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 07:06:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On second thought though, I add that Jérôme's numbers are current figures and mine also based on projection from current technology (IIRC a projection about the energy yield of the EPR), not an as yet nonexistant 1GW thorium breeder.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 07:22:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The coal is burned with little processing cost. In contrast, I'd expect that extracting uranium and thorium from granite would be quite energy intensive. I wouldn't be greatly surprised if the energy used were comparable to the energy released in burning 10 times as much coal.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 04:21:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
replacing Nuclear with coal

I mean replacing Nuclear for coal or coal with nuclear. Ugh.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 05:35:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the accumulated environmental damage due to coal exceeds 10T as of today

And I mean the accumulated environmental damade due to coal exceeds that due to nuclear by $10T as of today.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 05:37:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What? I haven't been roasted for this?
That should be:

10 trillion dollars!
But that's over 15% of GWP for a year!

(Now I'm outraged, but by my previous number.)

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 03:10:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...save the earth's atmosphere from immanent destruction....destruction of the atmosphere....In fact, destruction of the earth's atmosphere will make all amounts of money worthless entirely.

How does one "destroy the atmosphere", or even damage it to the implied enormous extent?

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 02:12:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well let's see...how might one destroy an atmosphere?

Let me think...

Well looking at the planet Venus, which is about the size of earth and not all much that more closer to the sun, I would guess that injecting greenhouse gases, at least in theory, can create positive feedback loops that cause the planet to inordinately heat.

Now of course, I don't know that this is what happened on Venus, but that is at least one explanation for whether or not it's atmosphere was "destroyed."    I am overlooking, of course, that Venus still has an atmosphere, but it has changed.   Thus effectively anything which depended on moderate temperatures that may have existing on Venus at one time, has effectively had Venus's atmosphere "destroyed."

One of the things that is sometimes suggested is that as Venus's temperature rose and the sun got hotter - yes the sun is getting hotter, though this does not account for climate change - much of the water on that planet boiled off, except for that portion bound to sulfur trioxide that made sulfuric acid.

I am opposed to a similar experiment being performed on earth on a finer scale, but apparently I'm in a minority.

My response may seem extreme - and maybe it is - but there do seem to be some feedback loops operating on this planet, and I suggest that their capacity to "destroy" our atmosphere represents a considerable risk, possibly not one worth taking.   We have somewhat less climatic liberty than the people of Venus may enjoy.

by NNadir on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 10:18:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Venus had grossly different initial conditions -- starting with a different composition -- and never had an atmosphere resembling ours. It's geology today, to take a concrete example of the differences, lacks plate tectonics. The atmosphere of Venus is 90 times as massive as ours. It isn't at all a good model for terrestrial greenhouse warming.
------

I'm finding myself on a bit of a campaign to damp down exaggerated catastrophe scenarios. The leap from "huge negative change" to "End of the World" is taken far too easily in discussions in this end of the blogosphere. I propose that we regard climate changes that fall outside the range seen in the last 100 million years as not credible. Besides, cooling the Earth is cheap and easy (only limited guarantees on side-effects, though).

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 03:19:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Greenpeace mentions this usually as an aside; they hardly care at all about air pollution

This is either a disingenious falsehood or reflects on the local branch of Greenpeace familiar to you. In Germany, Greenpeace forms a part of a quite active movement against coal, especially the open-cast mines west of the Ruhr area.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 07:05:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Acid rain was a big issue in Germany, after all.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 07:23:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, though other issues playing a strong role was/is surface destruction (including, of course, some people's homes in villages in the way), fine dust pollution, selling of (low-grade radioactive) ash for fertilizers, and of course the subventions for coal (always a main sticking point between the Green Party and the SocDems).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 08:02:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"disingenuous"

!  Sums up how I feel about NNadir's reply to my request.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 08:17:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I will post, in due course, an analysis of what the Greenpeace inspired and supported "nuclear phase out" has meant to German energy policy.   The short answer is that Germany is neither reducing its climate impact, reducing fossil fuel use, or producing enough renewable energy to meet the claims advertised for the "nuclear phase out."   Again, more detail will follow.

Greenpeace opposes coal in the same way people oppose toy stores by suggesting that only Santa Claus should deliver Christmas gifts.   It is reasonable to ask whether or not perpetuation of the Christmas traditions and appeals to "Santa Claus" has a negative or positive impact on the number of toy stores on the planet.   Banning toy stores will, in fact, have an outcome on the possibility of fulfilling children's Christmas wishes.   (Whether Christmas itself is or is not a good thing is another question entirely.)

Greenpeace does not oppose coal by any means other than saying it opposes coal.   It, in fact, has no strategy for replacing fossil fuels other than to issue regular platitudes.   I can say lots of things, but I will be judged on my actions.

by NNadir on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 10:30:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with you. Greenpeace and its clones are promoting environmental destruction by disseminating false information about nuclear power and misleading honorable people who might sign up with these organizations because they care about the environment and want to do something.

The peculiar result of Greenpeace campaigns has been to encourage the increased burning of fossil fuels.  As you have pointed out elsewhere, Germany is on track to cut back nuclear power while expanding coal-fired power. BTW, I doubt if this scheme is going work in the long run.

Other European countries are having second thoughts about Green-party inspired plans to scrap their nuclear plants.

Please keep posting here, NNadir.

by Plan9 on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 01:47:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Nevertheless, billions of tons of coal, billions of tons of oil, billions of tons of biomass are burned every day, and the number of people who are calling for "soot phaseouts" with the same passion as people who are calling for "nuclear phaseouts," is vanishingly small.

Maybe you should write in excruciating detail some diaries on the most common components of soot and smoke, that would have more impact than your nuclear diaries.

The nuclear debates are some of the saddest I see on dKos, as nobody is convincing anybody on the other side of anything else.

But in a sense they are irrelevant. What we need are coal diaries. Unending diaries on the evil of coal as an energy.

Instead, we get diatribes against the ugly windmills that spoil the view and killed a bat, 3 years ago.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 03:53:09 PM EST
Jerome, I believe that all of my nuclear diaries are in effect coal diaries, since they insist on comparisons between the two options.

Although I am relatively new at DKos, I have posted extensively at other websites, notably Democratic Underground.   I am reasonably well satisfied that I have convinced a great many people that the anti-nuclear positions is identical with the pro-coal position.   I have received many notes both public and private over the years suggesting that my efforts have been worthwhile.

That's why I do it.

by NNadir on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 04:09:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But making viciously factual diaries about coal would thus be the best argument for nuclear (by simple symmetry...)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 05:34:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It would be nice to get some folks to visit, too, with expertise in wood-fired electric plants, alcohol-powered cars, etc:

Here is an article on two potential breakthroughs on ethanol powered cars; the inventors and the writer do not appear to be visionary fruitcakes:

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2004/0407.jaffe

Maybe we could get people like this to visit also.

"When the abyss stares at me, it wets its pants." Brian Hopkins

by EricC on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 04:29:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also as one of the extra hidden elephants for global warming - especially for the already vulnerable arctic areas.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3333493.stm

by Nomad on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 05:15:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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