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A Calculation: How Many Trillions of Dollars of Environmental Damage Will IGCC Coal Cost?

by NNadir Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 08:37:34 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. )

In 1981, the Hungarian Director Istvan Szabo released a film, Mephisto, starring Klaus Maria Brandauer, based on the novel of the same name written by Thomas Mann's son Klaus.    For those who do not know the novel, it was tightly based on the real life German actor, Gustav Grundgens, whose most famous role, ironically enough, was none other than Mephisto himself in Goethe's Faust.   Grundgens it turns out, worked closely with the Nazi pseudo aesthete, Herman Goering, and was rewarded in the Nazi era with control of German theater.

In both the film and the book, everything was rather obvious but this is to be excused on the grounds that the real life of Grundgens was also obvious.  He sold his art out, and not just to anyone, but to the Nazis, and not just the Nazis in general, but to Herman Goering in particular.   With the caveat of being obvious, it's a good film, well worth watching, especially in the original German language.


Grundgens, it turns out, had not begun his career as a Nazi but as a leftist:   He may in fact have flirted with becoming a 1920's German communist.   But in order to control the German theater, he surrendered whatever principles he may have had, and began to run a theater that served the 1930's Nazi ideas of Aryan art.

I like to begin my diary entries on tangents, even though almost all of my entries are about the same thing, energy, in particular, nuclear energy.   One may wonder therefore what on earth, Mephisto, Aryan Art, and Szabo's film have to do with nuclear energy, so I'll get on with it.

I saw the film a long time ago, and I've forgotten much about it, except a particular scene when the Grundgens character, Hendrik Hofgen, is sitting before the Goering character, Tábornagy, who is reviewing the past files on Hofgren, shaking his head more as an amused remonstrance than a threat, asking Hofgren  what on earth "his Mephisto" could have been thinking.  

I have always wondered whether Szabo might have reflected, either in writing the script or filming the scene, on a similar event that some say took place not in Europe, but in the United States, when General Leslie Groves, who headed the Manhattan Project administratively, chose Robert Oppenheimer as its scientific director.

Groves took a lot of flak for naming Oppenheimer, even in the 1940's when the Soviet Union was an American ally, because Oppenheimer and his wife Kitty had been what the Red Scare FBI of the 1950's would call " premature anti-fascists," that is, he and she were suspected of being people who were communist sympathizers.   Oppenheimer did in fact become the scientific director of the Manhattan Project although not before enduring some finger wagging from Groves about his past that must have looked very much like the scene in the Mephisto film where Tábornagy dresses down Hofgren.

Of course, Groves would have been out of luck if he pushed questions about communist sympathies and leftist attitudes.   He would have been unable to build his bomb.   Many, maybe even almost all, of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project had leftist sympathies.   They weren't building a bomb in order to advance American hegemony.   They were building it because they were afraid the Nazis would build one first.  A few Manhattan Project scientists in fact had been communists, and some still were communists.   One Manhattan Project scientist, Karl Fuchs, in fact thought that Stalin was a swell guy, and was feeding the Soviets details about the American nuclear program, including a description of Edwin Teller's ideas about the "Super," the bomb we would come to know as the hydrogen bomb.   Robert Oppenheimer's brother Frank, who would go on to found the Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco, had been a member of the American Communist Party and was, for much of the 1950's blacklisted.  (Even though, like his brother Robert, he was a world class physicist, Frank Oppenheimer would only be able to get a job as a high school science teacher in Colorado, where he was shadowed by the FBI.)

There is no evidence to suggest that Robert Oppenheimer had been a communist, but he was clearly a leftist in his outlook, and during the 1950's his security clearance was pulled on the grounds he was a threat to national security because of this.   (It cannot have helped Oppenheimer that upon meeting President Truman, he announced, "I have blood on my hands," whereupon Truman responded, "I suggest you wash them."   Later Truman told his staff that he didn't "want to see that son-of-a-bitch in my office again."   It also did not help that Oppenheimer, faithful to his liberal roots, opposed the nuclear arms race that arose after the war, including the development of the hydrogen bomb.)

Because of their obvious brilliance, the scientists on the Manhattan Project were all critical thinkers.   This reflected not only in their science, but also in their politics, as well as their moral outlook on their responsibility to their fellow humans.   Few were prone to black and white thinking, meaning that they actually weighed things and acted on the best information they had.   Of course, many of us today question their decisions, but we should know that these men and women questioned themselves constantly.

The Manhattan project actually invented two types of nuclear weapons, one that relied on the separation of isotopes from natural uranium and one that relied on the production of what was then a new element, plutonium.   The first approach actually didn't require the existence of nuclear reactors at all, but the second clearly did.   Since the scientists at the time didn't know which approach would work the fastest, they tried both.   The world's first industrial scale nuclear reactor was a weapons reactor, the B-reactor, at Hanford Washington, which operated for more than 20 years producing quite a bit of plutonium for quite a few nuclear weapons.

The B reactor had a power rating of over 250 MW for most of its tenure, but it never produced a single watt of electricity.   All of its heat was dumped as waste.   However the engineers and scientists who built and operated this plant recognized immediately that in theory the nuclear heat generated and dumped could be used to generate electricity.    They did not, in general, assume that this would necessarily prove to be a great idea, of course, and they speculated about all of the issues.   It is a reflection of there marvelous minds that all of the issues about which they speculated proved in fact to be critical issues in the development of commercial nuclear power.   Fermi and Wheeler wondered whether the public would accept the creation of vast amounts of radioactivity as a by product of power production.    Many of the scientists, including the brilliant future director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Alvin Weinberg, and others, including Hans Bethe, worried about the potential for nuclear accidents, situations in which nuclear reactors would go out of control.

Today, in fact, when you look at a nuclear power plant anywhere in the United States, and see its containment dome, you are looking at the thinking of Alvin Weinberg, his prescience.   It was his idea to put those domes there, and his idea to provide "defense in depth" nuclear strategies.   For these efforts - as well as his efforts to promote a type of nuclear reactor that could make plutonium that could never be optimal for making materials for nuclear weapons - he was fired.  Weinberg did not call for containment buildings because of any experience with out of control reactors.   He insisted they be built to address the worst conceivable case.  

One of the striking things of course, was that in spite of being fired Weinberg's ideas prevailed.   Commercial nuclear reactors in the United States and one in the Ukraine did go out of control.   No one was injured in the US, whereas thousands of people were injured and some killed, in the Ukraine.   An ordinary citizen today can have lunch within a few kilometers of the failed US reactor and be perfectly safe.   The entire city near the Ukrainian reactor has been abandoned and left to rot.

In spite of their contemplation of the safety implications, both Alvin Weinberg and Hans Bethe - Bethe was a Nobel Prize winner for explaining the workings of the sun - were both lifelong champions of nuclear energy, both working continuously up into their deaths (in both cases in their 90's - Bethe almost made it to centenarian status) to promote nuclear power as the cleanest and safest energy option for the human race.  Both men had excellent liberal credentials.   Bethe, in particular, stopped speaking to the Strangelovian Edwin Teller for many decades because of Teller's part in smearing Oppenhemimer during the red scare.  

What is interesting about these deliberations about the workability of nuclear power is not that they were prescient, but that they occurred at all.   The builders of the world's coal plants largely never wondered at all to themselves about public acceptance or the long term consequences environmental or otherwise.  With the exception of King Edward I of England, who banned the burning of coal in England in 1306 - a ban that was obviously overturned - the development of the coal industry in England or anywhere else did not occur with any real introspection about the consequences.   Only recently - long after the first coal fired plants were built - has the concept of limiting the environmental impact associated with coal even been approached - and then only tentatively.   Only now are there now beginning to be things like a containment building, generally sulfate and particulate scrubbers that have marginal success at lowering but not arresting the environmental impact of coal.

In fact, the nuclear industry is the only energy industry that had its environmental impact considered before it was built.   This was undoubtedly because the men who conceived of the industry were socially responsible, and not because they were demonic mad scientists obsessed and drunk with power and a desire for wealth.

This consideration has had a rather bizarre effect in my opinion.   It has caused people to scrutinize and magnify the risks associated with nuclear energy - and there are risks - way out of proportion.   For instance, you can have heated arguments over whether the proposed Yucca Mountain facility for the isolation of spent nuclear fuel will cause either two or two hundred deaths from cancer over the next two thousand years.    This conversation is in striking contrast to the conversation about air pollution and coal - including the conversation about climate change.   Coal plants around the world have been responsible for millions of deaths but arguments about them do not inspire many conversations about coal phase outs, or coal bans, or inspire people to participate in anti-coal protests.   Until recently people haven't offered elaborate wishful thinking schemes about how renewable energy can displace coal - or if they did - it has been largely as an afterthought.   People can wax romantic and get very passionate about estimating whether the Indian Point Nuclear plant on the Hudson River has a one in 100 million chance or a one in ten thousand chance of injuring anyone - it has actually injured zero people - but they do not even bother to look up how many air pollution deaths occur each week in New York City.    Often when people do for nuclear power what they do not do for coal - fight it - they cite, with criticism, the data inspired by men and women like Weinberg and Bethe, arguing that their work was speculative or wrong.

Be that as it may, whether the nuclear pioneers were correct in their prognostications or not, the nuclear industry exists, producing about 17% of the world's electrical energy.   Thus there is no need to speculate further.   We can point to direct experience with nuclear energy.

All of a sudden work on the external cost of energy - the cost to the environment and health - for all forms of energy is becoming available.   I often link here and elsewhere the results of the European Union on this subject:

European Report on the External Cost of Energy

The units here are "eurodollars per kwh."   The reason for the use of European currency is that the concept of calculating cost the external energy was pioneered in Europe, where, as it happens, the concepts leading to the invention of nuclear energy were aslo pioneered.    The attempt here was to quantify the destruction to human health and destruction to the environment.   When someone is hospitalized or killed by air pollution for instance - or for that matter by a nuclear accident - an economic cost is incurred.   When crops fail because of climate change induced drought - there is an economic cost.   When rivers are polluted by dumped coal ash, or by oil spills, there is a cost.

Of course, the data should not be considered precise, since to some extent determined by certain kinds of assumptions.   For instance, more than 70% of the external cost of nuclear power, which is calculated to be 0.19 eurocents per kwh, is assumed to come from radioactivity.   Of course, it makes a big difference about how you view this radioactivity.   Right now all of it is contained in the fuel rods, and in fact, has resulted in zero injury and zero environmental destruction.   It is not likely that any of this radioactivity will go anywhere in the next 50 years, since none of it has really gone anywhere in the last 50 years.   In assuming that radiation will eventually leak and eventually cause damage, one must assume that costs will accumulate over many hundreds, if not thousands of years.   This may or may not be true.  In fact, much of this cost is connected with radon, which assumes that the uranium - its half-life is measured in billions of years - will decay to this element.   Thus the external cost of nuclear energy could be lowered if one were to fission the uranium or something made from the uranium before it decays.   On the other side of the coin, the fissioning of this uranium will create fission products, which have their own set of costs.

In any case the trends are clear.   Nuclear power is much safer than coal, much safer than oil, much safer than natural gas, at least by an order of magnitude or two, maybe much more.  

It is very clear that the most dangerous fuel widely used by humanity at present is not uranium, plutonium or thorium.   The most dangerous fuel is coal.   The details may vary, but the conclusion is overwhelmingly the same.   Because the facts of the matter are so obvious, people who note that there is still lots of coal left to burn and not all that much natural gas or oil, are trying to dress up the pig.   We hear a lot these days about so called "clean coal," and there's lots of talk about new technologies.  

 For instance we hear all about sequestration, about which I've written previously.  Mind you there are no significant sequestration facilities planned.   We also hear a lot about IGCC, Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, coal, often in connection with sequestration.   From what you hear, you would think, that IGCC technology is the world standard for coal plants under construction, but that's not true.  In fact, the few companies that have any plans for IGCC coal - which is expensive and capital intensive - are usually announcing their intention to build a small demonstration plant to cover for the fact that they are actually building conventional coal plants.   This is, of course, because this is what people want to hear.

Because times have changed, because in modern times people have been more or less compelled to make the same kind of evaluations as those made by Bethe and Weinberg at the dawn of the nuclear era, the assumed external cost of IGCC plants have been theoretically considered, even though few such plants are either planned and no significant plants exist.

Here for instance is an evaluation of the external cost of various forms of energy from the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland:

Internalisation of external cost in the power generation
sector: Analysis with Global Multi-regional MARKAL Model

(It is an interesting sidelight that Paul Scherrer was a Swiss physicist who played a role in the events surrounding the Manhattan Project's understanding of the activities of the German nuclear physicist, Werner Heisenberg, and his intentions towards the development of a Nazi atomic bomb.)

Here is what the Scherrer Institute estimates for the external cost of IGCC coal, with and without sequestration, keeping in mind that no significant sequestration plants and no signficant IGCC plants, exist.

The Scherrer numbers - which are not identical with the ExternE numbers - are the numbers I will use to estimate by calculation, the cost in destruction of health and the environment, what the cost of coal is.   According to these numbers,  conventional coal costs  7.5 - 13.6 eurocents/kwh for health and environmental distruction.   Coal IGCC (CHP) without sequestration - these kinds of plants exist on a pilot, but not an industrial scale, cost 2.4 - 3.0 eurocents/kwh in environmental and health destruction.  Coal IGCC (CHP) with CO2 scrubber is estimated to cost between  1.1 - 1.4 eurocents/kwh in environmental and health destruction, and nuclear costs 0.5 cents/kwh in destruction to the environment.

Note that the external costs for coal exceed the internal costs.   If you are free to dump wastes like carbon dioxide and other noxious materials into the environment without charge, coal in the United States - ignoring any exchange rate differences between euros and dollars - runs between 2 cents/kwh and 4 cents/kwh in general.

For the purposes of these evaluations, I am going to choose, somewhat arbitrarily, a mid sized nuclear power plant, the Brunswick Nuclear Station in North Carolina Unit 2 as a "typical" nuclear power plant.   Some nuclear stations are smaller and some are bigger.   The Brunswick Nuclear Station came on line in 1974 and is licensed for a 40 year life span.  It is an 811 MWe power plant.   Unquestionably, as it is an excellent performer, as many other nuclear utilities are doing, the owners will apply and receive a 20 year extenstion on the plant's life, giving it a lifetime of 60 years.

In 2003 the Brunswick Nuclear station produced 7.0 million megawatt-hours or 7.0 billion kilowatt-hours.   We are now in a posistion with the Scherrer numbers what the cost, in environmental and health destruction would be if we were to replace it with a magical theoretical IGCC coal plant with a sequestration plant, a IGCC plant without sequestration, and with conventional coal.

If the Brunswick Nuclear station is typical, it costs $35,000,000 per year in health and environmental destruction in a year of operation like 2003.   A putative IGCC plant with sequestration on the other hand would do twice as much environmental and health damage, about $70,000,000 dollars worth.   A putative IGCC plant without sequestration - the only kind that has ever been built - would incur charges of $275,000,000.   Thus the cost in environmental destruction for replacing just one nuclear plant with an IGCC coal plant would be about $238,000,000 million dollars per year beyond the cost of the nuclear plant.

Over the sixty year lifetime of the nuclear station, these costs again for one plant to more than 16 billion dollars in environmental and health destruction..

The United States operates more than 100 nuclear plants.  If the Brunswick station is typical of them, replacing them all with IGCC coal plants without sequestration would amount to and additional cost 1.4 trillion dollars over a sixty year plant life.   With sequestration the additional cost would be "only" $210 billion dollars.   Of course no one really knows where one might sequester 60 years worth of such carbon dioxide.   The concept is pure wishful thinking.

The world operates 441 nuclear plants.   If the Brunswick Station is typcial, the replacement of these plants would cost the world 7.2 trillion dollars in additional destruction of health and the environment over and beyond the cost of the nuclear stations.

These numbers are incredible enough, but for the most part, IGCC plants are just wishful thinking nonsense.   They don't really exist on a significant scale, nor is there any intention to build them instead of conventional coal plants.   At the low end, replacing nuclear plants with conventional coal would cost 500 million dollars per year per plant, 31 billion dollars for a the lifetime (60 years) per plant, 3 trillion dollars for 100 plants and almost 14 trillion for all the world's nuclear stations.   On the high end the premium for replacing nuclear stations with conventional coal, counting only existing coal plants would amount to 24 trillion dollars.

For comparison purposes, the US GDP, the largest in the world, is reported at 12 trillion dollars.  

These numbers stun the imagination.   How big is 24 trillion?   Well, a year contains about 32 million seconds.   Thus it would take 766,000 years, at a dollar per second, without interruption, to pay for this amount of additonal damage to health and the environment with coal compared to nuclear to match the cost of 60 years in which conventional coal replaced nuclear power plants.   The numbers would be even more stark if we compared what it will cost to not ban existing coal.

Nobody will like the numbers and people will do all sorts of wiggling and posturing to pretend they aren't real.  I hear it all the time.  But the numbers are real.   The impression that nuclear energy is bad for the environment is visceral and originates not from critical thinking, but from a kind of public mythology that attempts to view nuclear energy in isolation from its alternatives.   Strangely enough this impression was created by the founders of nuclear energy, largely men who remained, throughout their lives, highly intelligent and wise advocates for the increased use of nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy is not risk free.   No form of energy is risk free, except when they are largely imaginary.   Nuclear energy is, however, risk minimized.   With six billion people living on this planet, we will not survive without it.

Regrettably we are not living in an imaginary world, but a real one.

Display:
I am sorry, but despite good writing and good research this seems to me just another strawman argument -- the case that coal is a dastardly and stupid source of energy foesn't need to be made, it's pretty self-evident.  The case that is just blankly asserted without any substantiation, is that nuclear power is "the only way for humanity to survive."  I find this, in the absence of actual energy budgets and projections, to be merely a statement of dogma or faith.  Since nuclear power comes with both social and environmental costs that make it "second most costly to coal", it seems to me far from an obvious choice, and repeatedly proving that it is "better than coal" is kind of like proving that death by lung cancer is better than death by bone cancer;  any reasonable person would still try to find the menu option labelled "Neither"  :-)

Increasingly I suspect that "the only way for humanity to survive" is a coded formula for "the only way for western elites to continue living in unparalleled luxury, for industrial and financial rentiers to continue reaping record profits, and for governments to continue maintaining centralised control over energy and hence over their populations."  I am not sure that the continuation of any of these things is desirable, let alone necessary for human survival.  Efficiency measures and demand reduction never seem to enter the picture in these repeated "nuclear vs coal" analytical exercises.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 08:53:06 PM EST
Maybe you are of the opinion that efficiency improvements and reduced demand are working somewhere on the planet?

When exactly do you propose for these magical events to occur?

Where do you expect them to occur?   Let me guess...

...in Germany.

It does not happen that nuclear energy is in a position right now to cover all of the demand for energy by either first world or third world countries.   However there is nothing else that is even close.

You may think that I am speaking in code words for rich people living in luxury, but I am not doing so at all.   On the other hand, I am not asking the citizens of Chad or Cameroon to "conserve" their way out of this matter.   They live on less continuous power than you and I are using to light our monitors.

Later I will post a diary entry here about Cameroon and its energy profile, which is connected with the destruction of some of the most important forests on earth.   When I am speaking in pro-nuclear terms, it is exactly these people I am speaking about and not the Greenpeace Coffee Klatch in Hamburg.

If you add the words "affordable for all citizens of the planet" the pro-nuclear case becomes far more obvious, and frankly it's irrefutable already.

Happily Nigeria and Vietnam are two third world nations that have announced the intention to build nuclear power.   Right now two nations with vast underclasses, China and India - where people have not been living the high life until very recently - account for most of the nuclear construction in the world.

It seems like the first world has a big problem with other people trying to live like they do.  Platitudes about efficiency and conservation - and everyone likes both efficiency and conservation - are hardly realistic under the circumstances.

The Chinese, the Indians, the Cameroonians, the Nigerians, the Chadeans are all real people and they matter just as much as you and I do.

The real environmental crisis is Malthusian.   We may choose to exterminate the mass of humanity through the agency of wholesale catastrophe or through the use of reasonably safe options like the increased use of nuclear power.

by NNadir on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 09:12:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
putting "happily" and "Nigeria (has) announced the intention to build nuclear power" in the same sentence gives me a stomach ache.  They can't keep a refinery running safely, how in hell are they going to keep a nuke up and running without Chernobyl 2?

Can you justify Nukes in the face of wind mill costs?  

by HiD on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 06:31:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nuclear can be made safe, but it can also be made very unsafe.

Safe, well regulated nuclear should be promoted, not just nuclear. Safe, well regulated nuclear seems difficult in a number of places, like Nigeria.

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 06:34:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't fear nukes.  I do fear nukes run by Homer Simpson or religious fruitcakes.
by HiD on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 07:32:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Chinese, the Indians, the Cameroonians, the Nigerians, the Chadeans are all real people and they matter just as much as you and I do.

Bophal, broken dams, unprotected workers dismantling ships with high-grade industrial waste, coal mine accidents. Your faith in Finnish-level safety in such environments seems to be GE Coffee Klatch in Atlanta.

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

by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 06:39:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It does not happen that nuclear energy is in a position right now to cover all of the demand for energy by either first world or third world countries.

That quite phantastic projection (even less likely than broad reduction of consumption, yet commonly repeated in nuke-boosterist cafee klatch) relies on illusory levels of investment and the use of reserves to such a low grade that the environmental destruction from uranium mining would outstrip that from coal. (I once made a calculation on that.)

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

by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 06:48:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would like to see that calculation.

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 06:55:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I couldn't wait so dug up some numbers from various sources in advance. For coal:

  • A 'typical' hard coal powerplant: 8.5 TWh electricity from 2.5 million tons, that's about 0.3 kg mined for 1 kWh.

  • The most recent German brown coal (lignite) powerplant: 1.3 TWh electricity from 1 million tons, that's 0.77 kg mined for 1 kWh.

For nuclear: calculating with 0.85% U in U3O8, and a ratio of feedstock and enriched uranium of 8.5,

  • With the 'current average' ore grade of 0.15%, a current modern plant extracting energy for 45,000 kWh electricity from 1 kg, we get 0.15 kg mined material for 1 kWh.

  • With the 'current average' ore grade of 0.15%, and an EPR expectation of 60,000 kWh electricity from 1 kg, we get 0.11 kg mined material for 1 kWh.

  • With current peak grade of 0.05% and the EPR, we get 0.33 kg mined for 1 kWh.

  • With a cutoff grade of 0.02% and the EPR, we get 0.83 kg mined for 1 kWh.

  • With a 0.0004% grade granite and the EPR, we get 41.7 kg mined for 1 kWh.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:21:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Are the grades of ore included in the coal calculation?

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 09:26:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Brown and hard coal. That's a grade difference.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:28:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Regrettably I can't find my file, but I think I can reproduce parts of it as addition to the above. I remember looking at actual mining figures, so I did again.

For 2004, I find total global coal production was 5.524 billion tons, of which three-quarters, around 4.1 billion tons went for the production of 39.8% of a global electricity generation of just under 15,000 TWh, that is around 6,000 TWh. This gives an average of 0.68 kilograms of coal for 1 kWh. The figure is closer to the German brown coal power plant's figure I gave not because of the dominance of low-grade borwn coal (it is less than a fourth) but that of old inefficient plants. If we expect increasing efficiency for nuclear (EPR and all), we can also safely predict increased efficiency for coal, say to 0.55 kg giving 0 kWh.

For Uranium grades, current production (which is insufficient for current needs once material from decommissioned weapons runs out 5-7 years from now) seems to go rarely below 0.1%. (The current maximum is a staggering 18% at a Canadian mine, the minimum 0.035% at a Namibian mine.) But IAEA considers recoverable proven reserves those below $135/kgU, while most production is below $50/kgU. For a greatly broadened share of nuclear, these (and probably even more expensive) reserves have to be tapped. Unfortunately, in my current search I haven't found numbers on the grade of proven reserves close to $135/kgU, only found single examples that trend to above 0.01%.

At any rate, the figures for mined tonnage for coal and greatly increased non-breeder, non-thorium nuclear are in the same range.

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

by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 05:38:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, one more figure: 2005 global average yield in nuclear plants was around 38,500 kWh from 1 kg of lightly enriched uranium.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 05:46:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]


The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 11:24:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
is our refusal to even consider using less energy.

I've said repeatedly that we should, in order of priority do:

  1. energy savings and conservation
  2. renewables
  3. nuclear
  4. hydrocarbon burning to the least extent possible.

All our governments are doing the exact opposite right now, and utilities are busy BUILDING coal-fired plants all over the place with hardly a peep. In that context, the argument that nuclear is a much better alternative to coal is actually quite relevant and urgent.

It's not the best solution, but it's a massive progress nevertheless.

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 06:33:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a real question, not rhetorical in any way.

There are right now farmers in France experimenting with burning plain unrefined sunflower oil to run their tractors. Search on 'HVP' or 'HVB' and 'tracteur', plenty of links.

A (very) rough approximation is that it takes about 1/20th of the farm surface to produce enough oil to cover the liquid fuel needs of the farm. But of course other energy 'intrants' are needed, such as nitrates, etc.

Is there anywhere a calculation showing how much energy overall is needed to produce a ton of wheat/whatever, everything considered ?

May I say sunflower oil is a 'renewable' if I don't know the net energy balance for its cultivation ?

by balbuz on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 08:48:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
a problem we face is that a lot of our processes -- in agriculture particularly, but transport and other sectors also -- were developed and encouraged specifically to promote the consumption and sale of fossil-intensive stuff, in other words to absorb overproductivity.  wastefulness customarily means profit -- either for the person selling the commodity being wasted, who sees higher sales volume, or for the person doing something in a wasteful and slipshod way in order to cut labour costs or time-to-market.

this process is documented for air travel in the book Harry S Truman and the War Scare of 1948 -- heartily disliked by Truman hagiographers -- in which much epistolatory and other documentary evidence strongly suggests the unwillingness of the aircraft industry to scale back after its mega-lucrative WWII years and the consequent creation of mass-market passenger air travel (as well as the great Soviet Fear Campaign that launched the McCarthy ear).  similar critiques have been made of the so-called Green Revolution period as one in which the affluent N Hemi made a concerted assault on traditional agricultural methods and heirloom cultivars worldwide in order to create markets for a glut of chemicals, tractors, patented seeds and the like.  Manning and others have documented the ways in which the glut of fossil-intensive maize produced in the US exercised a warping effect on the market in sweeteners and cattle feed, even pressuring the FDA to alter the definition of "grade A" beef (Pollan and others) to conform to the  fat-saturated beef from cornfed cattle... and so on.  production driving demand creation, market theory standing on its head and kicking its feet in the air.

in other words, a lot of what we now take for granted as cultural and consumption patterns are the result of market-creation specifically to absorb overproduction, overproduction goosed by massive fossil inputs.  in just a few short decades we have gone from "having so much oil they had to invent ways to get folks to buy more of it" to "ooops, it's starting to run out."

this seems like good news and bad news.  the good news is that a lot of these patterns aren't really necessary:  fertiliser is way overused and could be replace by more intelligent soil cultivation, pesticides are far less effective and more self-defeating than they were sold to be and traditional/modern IPN techniques often work better;  less tractoring is required on most farms than the vendors of tractors and fuel have been telling everyone for decades.  many consumption patterns that were engineered to absorb a crisis of overproduction, could easily (in a physics sense) be reduced/retooled without enormous changes in effectiveness and in many cases with positive results for efficiency, health, etc.  the real issue is as J describes above, cultural:  many of these behaviours and patterns have now become acculturated to the point where people will endorse violence up to and including war and occupation rather than relinquish them.

unfortunately war and occupation are themselves enormous sinkholes of energy and raw materials, so the diminishing returns effect we see in exploiting lower grade ores or oil fields also applies to the theft of higher grade resources at gunpoint...  at some point it costs more to steal the goods than the goods are worth.

the diminishing returns on lower grade ore, and the yield per kg mined, referenced above, to me have serious carbon-neutrality implications.  this kind of mining is done with fossil-fueled heavy equipment -- much of it exempt from air quality regs.  as the yield reduces towards the lower figures in the list, the carbon emissions from the mining and refining process presumably scale up linearly.  as well as "KWH yield per kg mined" and the associated environmental devastation caused by getting at those ever-multiplying kg of ore, I'd sure like to know about gallons of fuel burned and ghg emissions per tonne of ore extracted, transported, and refined.  without all these numbers in hand it is hard even to say whether nuke power is a break-even proposition in carbon emissions.


The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:12:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
sorry about the typos -- typing in haste.  obviously that was 'McCarthy era' and 'IPM' -- apologies.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 01:03:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As a typical frenchman and with the brainwashing i got , i like Nuclear plants, but 40 years ago, it was said when we built them, that in 40years time we would find a way to dismantle them.

we still dont know how to dismantle them, and it is not a small issue.

at least we know how to get rid of the IGCC plants.

btw i dont find your "compution" convincing.

by fredouil (fredouil@gmailgmailgmail.com) on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 09:04:24 PM EST
after googling a bit, i ve learnt that some reactors have been totally decommissioned and the land returned to agriculture use.

my mistake comes from the electricite de France policy to remove mechanic parts and to postpone for 50 years the dismantling.

by fredouil (fredouil@gmailgmailgmail.com) on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 09:10:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's my impression that upgrading and refurbishing are more common than decommissioning. This avoids the cost of cleaning the site to pasture or parkland quality, and provides power, too.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 02:26:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Whether or not you find my "computations" convincing, are you claiming that someone has found a way to "decomission" strip mines?

How about "decommissioning" the atmosphere?

The pH of the ocean is rapidly falling and coral reefs rapidly disappearing.   What are the plans for "decommissioning" the vanished reefs?

The Rhone glacier in Valais, Switzerland, is rapidly shrinking.   What are the plans for decommissioning the Rhone River, which originates from it?

If you are French, whether or not you know it, you are extremely lucky to have lots of nuclear plants.   Your country has the finest electrical generations system on the planet.

It is not true by the way that any coal plant, IGCC or otherwise, can be decommissioned at the same health standard applied to nuclear plants.   Simply because no one looks at the matter, doesn't mean that it is a non-issue.

by NNadir on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 09:30:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that browbeating people with rhetorical questions won't change their minds--it'll just stop them arguing with you.  The elephant in the room here is...are...the problems with nuclear power.  If you could lay those out along side the problems with other forms of energy production, then we'll be able to see...the whole picture.  All the while you say "Nuclear is the only way!  Anything else is condemning people to death!" you're advocating a position...fine...but it's not a discussion...unless you can do what you ask others to do: see the weaknesses in your own arguments, find the weak links.

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 09:39:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
NNadir's questions go directly to the heart of the problem.

With nuclear and wind, "we" somehow want all costs assessed, all risks eliminated to tolerate these production facilities. The same standards are applied to no other human activity, and in particular not to the most direct alternative to these: coal power.

These questions are absolutely fundamental.

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 06:29:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think (pace: the daily news here) that our main task is to unpick hidden assumptions, one of which is that the world just "is" this way.  I would like all costs assessed, and as many risks eliminated as possible.

In the chart you posted elsewhere, wind and hydro came out tops, there was no figure for geo-thermal.  Lignite was the most polluting, followed by coal.  Nuclear was the cleanest (on those criteria) "non-renewable", and it also beat photo-voltaic...I can't remember in which categories, but it had a lower total score.

Tony Blair is convinced that now we must build nuclear because anything else is...well...a death sentence to X number of human beings.  The assumption underlying this is...to do with industrial society, its construction, its needs, and its goals.

But yes.  We have the govts. we have, and if they feel building coal will make "green" voters happier than building nuclear powers stations...then they'll build nuclear and the nuclear lobby will be happy.

As an aside, it seems the green lobby must be growing rapidly for so much animus to be directed against it.  As DoDo mentions, the Greens were there at the beginning, arguing against all forms of ambient pollution.  So why they become the bogeyman...I dunno.  I guess they're getting stronger.  Thing is, they're anti-coal too (I think...correct me if I'm wrong.)

To state a position, I agree with what you wrote a while back, Jerome.

Do the following in the following order

Reduce consumption
Increase renewables
Increase nuclear
Increase coal/gas

I still believe (this future gazing, after all, and it worries me when the debate becomes like a law room tussle, with a victor and a loser...just the best solutions for all of us....stretching out beyond humans, please...), yes I still believe that a mix of the first two in that list are all we need.  And I mean across the planet.  Europe and the States are in the material and political position to make the move...or maybe they're not.  Certainly some american states are...and I expect them to take the renewables lead ("piddle power"!  As against huge gushes of manly piss power!)...ach...wrong debate...

The idea is that Africa, India, China, Mongolia, etc...  need nuclear to generate enough power to enjoy western lifestyles.  I argue that by offering them renewable energy and realising that where our reduced consumption and their increased consumption meet is not some definite agreed line but is undecided...

Double ach!

I would like to see the following...links if the info exists:

List of basic necessities that demand power (has an ideological edge, but surely we can agree on a basic list)

Specific number for energy needed to satisfy those basic needs (and remember: a power shower for every human may well be a basic need...the discussion...well...maybe we've had it...so give me the link and I can read and enjoy it!)

Then the question: which forms of energy can supply those needs and at the same time create fewest risks, greatest knock on opportunities, etc... for humans and beyond.

It may be that some areas will come out needing nuclear, others solar, others wind.

But the argument has to be NUCLEAR! with a capital shoutiness...and against coal, but somehow blaming the greens...or maybe I missed a load of stuff...

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 08:32:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The elephant in the room here is...are...the problems with nuclear power.  If you could lay those out along side the problems with other forms of energy production, then we'll be able to see...the whole picture.

Psst, rg, look here:

One thing I reject is the idea that one person has to write all sides of the issue. That's what we have community blogs and comment threads for.

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 06:38:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And that's why we have you, Miguel!

Thanks.

;)

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 08:18:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Laying out" the problems of all forms of energy is an exercise that has been underway for some time.

The answers are in and they are obvious.   Nuclear power is safer than all of its alternatives.

The "nuclear problem" is that it is the only form of energy that people insist must be risk free.   It is not risk free, it is just incredibly better than everything else.

I really don't care who feels I am "browbeating."   I am no way dissuaded from asserting that the failure to build nuclear plants is in effect offering a sentence of death to human beings around the planet.

by NNadir on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 07:48:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The answers are in and they are obvious.   Nuclear power is safer than all of its alternatives.

How is nuclear safer than wind or tide power?

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 08:36:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wind or tide are generally assumed to be unable to produce dependable base-load power and so aren't alternatives to nuclear power or fossil fuels for that function - back to the (as far as I know not very well justified) 30% limit for unreliable renewables.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 08:38:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I buy this for wind, and ergo for wave, but NOT tide.

You can predict hundreds of years ahead EXACTLY when tidal power is going to kick in and out, and plan around it. That seems pretty dependable (although admittedly sporadic) to me.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 08:45:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
NNader said "safer", nothing more, in the quote.

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 08:51:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(I think dependable base load power is a red herring.  It really assumes a lifestyle...sorta like "Well, everyone has to commute to work at the same time, don't they?"  Well, er, no.)

(Not to mention all the great ideas coming up about how to store energy to create a steady base.  I liked Migeru's idea of a huge spring being cranked down--or was it a huge weight on a spring being bent over?  All the technophiles should be raring to go...so much new technology! and loads more on the cusp of discovery.)

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 08:53:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think it's quite a red herring, but I find the way it's been accepted as conventional wisdom slightly strange. It works on the assumption that we can't and won't do anything different with power usage than we have been doing.

Perhaps we should add a fifth element to Jérôme's Creed: smart power usage - using and/or storing sporadic power when it's available, cutting back when it's not. Maybe we can recharge our cars and delivery vans when it's sunny, windy or when the tide's running.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 08:57:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It works on the assumption that we can't and won't do anything different

That's where the ideological edge lies, I think, both in the "can't" (a form of conservatism with a small c) and the "won't" (big business lobbying / human nature arguments)

Perhaps we should add a fifth element to Jérôme's Creed: smart power usage

Excellent.

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 09:00:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And there is a subject that has been aching and calling me for practically over a year now. The coverage on that item has been small - but I also think it's a subheader under what Jerome lists as "conservation".

The wars of coal vs nuclear and the wars between several renewables have always sparked the largest and  most intense debates.

Why has the debate on conservation remained so limited? Perhaps because no debate is needed and everyone sees it as a common wisdom? Then where can I find the plan of attack? Because I hardly can't. It's all scatter what I have found so far.

by Nomad on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:43:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because there's no "magic bullet" there - solutions will come from all of us making efforts that we are motivated to do.

The closest to a "magic bullet" is the gas tax, or carbon tax, solution, as it gives a clear price signal to everybody. But many things are more complex than that, or require other kinds of efforts

  • information on energy efficiency of appliances
  • construction standards
  • tougher recycling obligations
  • more up-to-date information on prices of things like power, road availability, etc...

so that we have the icnentive to make the right choices, and that we are able to make them.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 10:57:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The big question that has stuck with me: where and what are those efforts and how can I - as an energy consumer - quickly implement them when so motivated?

Just like the patchwork of solutions for renewables, it's clear to me that there is similarly no "magic bullet" solutions when it comes to conservation and that here too a patchwork needs to welded. I should've been clearer on that - but it's wortwhile to have you stress that point. Yet that patchwork of today is what I called scatter. There's little structure - unless a new revolution has taken place which I've completely missed.

It comes back to markets and politics. The solutions you listed are (mostly) inherently political by nature because they are regulation-driven. Market forces -will- provide more conservation techniques and als more accessible (and reliable??) information on those conservation techniques when the energy crunch is in full swing. I, however, would prefer to stay ahead of the latter development (market forces), while in the meantime continue to ply the former (politics and regulation measures).

The Energy Conservation Wiki/Platform that Migeru came up with somewhere before last year's summer is what I have in mind when writing this.

by Nomad on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 12:18:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Perhaps we should add a fifth element to Jérôme's Creed: smart power usage - using and/or storing sporadic power when it's available, cutting back when it's not. Maybe we can recharge our cars and delivery vans when it's sunny, windy or when the tide's running.

I suppose that's included in energy efficiency/conservation, but maybe it needs to be a separate item, to flag that idea that using the same energy for the same purpose in different circumstances can make quite a big difference.


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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:29:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I know people who live on a small island in the Pac NW.  their community owns a generator.  they have electricity 12 hours a day -- about 8am to 8pm iirc.  they live comfortable lives...

where is it written that except for emergency rooms and the like, we have to have 24x7 electricity on demand?  we lived w/o it for 20,000 years, and now all of a sudden it is the end of civilisation if we have to fit our electric consumption into some kind of a schedule?

this idea that every human epoch prior to our own fossil binge was unrelievedly dark, dirty, smelly, cold, miserable and stupid I find historically naif and more than a wee bit arrogant.  we can't even match the lifespans of peasant farmers in the Caucasus, and we're the all time hotshots and pinnacle of human evolution?  but I bet the Romans thought the same, between swigs of Pb contaminated drinkies...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:25:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
He says "safer than the alternatives", which implies that renewables are not considered "alternatives".

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 08:57:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
kerching!

"Because they can't generate enough power"

and round we go again...

Did we have any debates that summed this up anywhere?  I remember discussing wind turbines and railways with DoDo, there were some numbers in that.  And there was another debate where we worked out the power output of wind turbines plus geo-thermal plus solar.  Then we can add wave power (anyone got any info on that?) and there were those European Parliament translator chaps and chapesses, one of whom had a link to a site with that funky map showing PV across the sahara and down into the arabin peninsula, wind around the top left of europe, geo thermal to the centre right...

So maybe throw out the challenge:

Can someone show me the proof that renewables can't supply Europe (and by implication any other large group of countries = all humans on the planet) with enough energy to...

And there's another merry-go-round there.

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 09:05:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, because there are advantages to using fuels. If your specification includes the ability to deploy anywhere, scale arbitrarily, or provide mobility and autonomy renewables can't compete with fuels. Which goes back to Starvid's tagline "peak oil is not an energy crisis, it's a liquid fuel crisis".

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 09:14:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That sounds a set of problems at the margins rather than in the main line of day-to-day living where most of our energy usage is.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:19:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Unless you're talking about hydrocarbons and you live in suburbia. Starvid is very happy with his electric scooter feeding off nuclear.

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 09:20:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Does living in suburbia need liquid fuels for some reason?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:21:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It needs either fuels or batteries for vehicles. Note that transportation fuels need not be a source of energy but only a store of energy. Synthetic hydrocarbons would also work.

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 09:28:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Or small nuclear power plants in each vehicle. That'd be ok too.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:31:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nah, too much need for radiation protection.

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 09:35:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Think of the new markets for lead underwear though. It'd be a new industrial revolution!
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:38:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Isn't there a theory that lead poisoning brought down the Roman Empire?

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 09:41:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A theory?!? The Romans were solely responsible for boosting the atmospheric lead pollution to such levels they are recognisable as anthropolical markers in ice cores. The whole elite of Romans who drank wine (and who at that time didn't?) is suspect to have suffered of chronic and heavy lead poisoning.

The evidence, however, remains scant - because the Romans cremated when possible. And because the elite had the money to cremate their deceased - little adult bones have been preserved. But children bones have - and each analysis shows they were over the top contaminated with lead. Even although children have a larger uptake of lead into their system, the evidence that the entire Roman civilisation was high on lead is stacking.

Thanks for that. This was part of my thesis subject.

by Nomad on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:50:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Putting the whole blame of the destruction of the Roman Empire on Pb - would be a little too much credit for one element.

But contributed? Very feasible, in my mind.

by Nomad on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:53:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]

"Because they can't generate enough power"

That's emphatically not the issue. The issue is electricity that's available 24/7, instantly on demand.

renewables like wind and solar are not available when needed, but when the resource (wind, sun) is there, which makes them less useful to respond to some form of demand.

Now, there are many ways around that (storage systems, use of that power for non-time sensitive demand, etc...), but it is an issue.


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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:32:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If that is not the issue, what makes nuclear safer than wind or tide power?  (Or geo-thermal, etc...)

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 04:12:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The issue is not total capacity but intermittency and the inability to adjust production to demand.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 03:41:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...which I think is pretty much a red-herring argument (see comments elsewhere, including Jerome's link to the wind turbines --> compressed air situation in the U.S.)

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 08:17:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, it's a real source of uncertainty: we don't know if we can store enough energy to buffer the unreliability of wind etc. If we can't work out a way of doing so we need to provide base-load from somewhere else.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 08:32:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Can passive geothermal provide the baseload?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 08:34:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Some of it, at least. We know it's going to have to be a patchwork depending on local conditions.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 08:36:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess it's the sporadicity (is that a word??) that's the problem: if the tide isn't favourable during the tea-breaks in the Blair-Bush trial then you'll need something else to pick up the slack.

I'm not all that convinced by the 30% limit anyway  - last time we went looking for  justification it came down to one study somewhere that has been accepted as conventional wisdom.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 08:52:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think its the mix of "sporadicity" and "predictability". Tide is sporadic, but predictable.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:45:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One of the two Danish energy companies (no eco-freaks by any means) estimated that 50% for wind can be achieved without major changes.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:04:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's a more optimistic number than I'd seen. I'm guessing that with a bit of intelligence built into the system we can probably manage 75% or so from wind/tide/solar and small scale bio-reactor type projects. I don't know that we can do 100%, especially in places that have limited options.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:08:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Geothermal is available virtualy everywhere.

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 09:10:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Assuming it doesn't knock your cottage down.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:10:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Or cause a mud volcano.

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 09:16:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also a danger.

Though I suppose you could build mud turbines to take advantage of that.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:20:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I provided some links in my diary last year on the cost of electricity.

My understanding is that it is possible to go to at least 20% (in kWh) wind with minimal ajustments to the networks, and that it is possible to get significantly higher (say 40%) with more significant ivnestment in the network.

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:35:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Which diary was that? I'm a bit confused on this one, because I'm sure that the sourcing I've seen was limited.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:36:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nuclear power is safer than all of its alternatives.

Safer than wind? In Finland or Chad?

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

by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:02:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
several questions:

1.What is the estimate of world uranium recoverable reserves?

2.How long will they last, if hypothetically, the whole world were to go nuclear?

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

by EricC on Mon Jan 8th, 2007 at 11:03:55 PM EST
I had the same questions, though I suspect the answers are tucked in one or more of the links that Migeru provides above.

I also had another question regarding NNadir's comment above:

If you are French, whether or not you know it, you are extremely lucky to have lots of nuclear plants.   Your country has the finest electrical generations system on the planet.

What makes some countries better at building electrical generations systems than others (in particular nuclear ones)?  And why couldn't the Chinese, the Indians, the Cameroonians, the Nigerians, the Chadeans build such systems as well as the French or even the Americans, assuming that countries with more experience and know-how in nuclear power could help them to reach that level?

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 07:19:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
NNadir's comment seems to be aimed at the ratio of nuclear in French electricity generation, not so much its safety. But on your second question, the issue is not technology and knowledge, but management and oversight.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 07:25:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But on your second question, the issue is not technology and knowledge, but management and oversight.

Actually, when I wrote "experience and know-how", I was thinking primarily of "experience and know-how" in management and oversight, since these being more implicit and unarticulated than knowledge and technology, they are more easily overlooked and quite possibly the most difficult and last to be learned.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 08:44:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Then I have to emphasize that in management and oversight, the issue is not experience and know-how, but commitment, accountability, control, and legal stability. Look at worker and factory safety in existing branches of industry in a country, and shape your expectations based on that.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 08:59:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So the French have superior "commitment, accountability, control, and legal stability" for running nuclear power plants than the Chinese, the Indians, the Cameroonians, the Nigerians, the Chadeans do at present: I might buy that.  But can't these factors be improved to the same degree that France has them through learning, training, experience, and yes, increased know-how?  (I am guessing your answer will be, Yes, they can be improved to that level, but the real question is how long will it take to get to that level, and will it be soon enough for them to implement nuclear power instead of fossil fuels.)

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 12:50:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, it is in there.

At present rate a minimum of 100-200 hundred years.. probably reaching 400-500 years if reutilization of weapons and secondary products of the nuclear cycle

Subtituting only coal would put the number at roughly 100 years minimum (more porobably 200-300).

Substituting also preent oil consumption in cars through electric would put it at less than 100 years, easily extendable until 100 years.

I think I remember the numbers correctly... but the numbers are indeed in the links.

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 Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 07:28:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 08:37:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To qualify what kcurie wrote in less euphoric way, it highly depends on what you consider recoverable reserves, and what are your expectations for the energy yield achievable by reactors that can be built. Sceptics who are critical of expectations on each front estimate it wouldn't be enough for more than a couple of decades.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:01:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would say esceptics in all fronts consider that transforming all the energy to nuclear plues anual growth at 2-3% percent would put the limit at 40 years.. It was required a 5% growth of all present energy and all nuclear to get the quarter of a century (being already an skeptic in yields, reporcessing, and so on...).

So I should clarify that the 25-30 limit that Dodo explains is an skeptic not only in yields, reprocessing, mining and all nuclear things considered but also substituing all energy for nuclear and with a 5% growth scenario of energy prodcution.

This is if I do not recall it wrongly....

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 Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:31:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would say esceptics in all fronts consider that transforming all the energy to nuclear plues anual growth at 2-3% percent would put the limit at 40 years..

Could you cite sources? The lowest estimates I saw put it at that 70 years for the currently active power plant park -- though that one even I consider unrealistic. A more realistic one I have at hand calculated with only 50% share of nuclear reached by 2030 and maintained from then on, and predicted depletion in 20 to 40 years.

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

by DoDo on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:40:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You are right, if you are VERY VERY VERY pessimistic you can put the numbers in 10-20 years.

The World Nuclear association and nuclear related (no skeptics) talk about 80-100 years for sure with present reactors and present technology and present price.

They claim 3 million tones of Uranium of known reserves in well-developed and audited countries. Check any web site

http://www.world-nuclear.org/education/mining.htm

http://www.world-nuclear.org/education/mining.htm

The same mining companies claim that an increase in the uranium price  (doubling it) would put the useful reserves at 10 million tones.. with a limit of 300 years

Skeptics would probably say that  it is very optimistic..and that you could recover much more less. Being very (VERY VERY) pessimistic I would say that you have 60-80 years at present rate.

To cover gas you need to mutiply by three , which would put you at 20-30 years. Considering the huge quantities of Uranium which can be used from the weapon race.. even an skeptic would accept 10-20 more years of the diposits of weapons materials.

And then you have to recall that oil is twice coal.. so you would need anther factor three. This puts you in the 10-20 limits

An increase of 5% energy use will bring it to the 5-10 years (a standard, present 1-2% growth will put you back at 10-20 years.. but again you could be VERY VERY pessimistic about weaponry and Russia and the US not demossioning all the arsenal they claim to dismantle).

As you may know I am quite sure there are around 200 years reserves (with high degree of reliance) at present consumption all things nuclear considered (uranium,  recovery, reprocess 150+30+20 years)... so I would put the reserves in a full transition (coal and oil) at around
40 years minimum. BUt more important, since I defend only the substitution of coal, the reserves would be rouhgly 70 years.

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 Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 10:11:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry.. the link is

http://www.nuclearinfo.net/Nuclearpower/WebHomeAvailabilityOfUsableUranium

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 Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 10:12:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Since several of us favor conservation (or actual reduction) in energy and raw material use (especially in industrialized nations) it might be useful to discuss this as a separate topic.

For example, if a nation was to set a goal for reduced energy use (not energy per dollar GDP or some other misdirection) how would it be accomplished.

We had a side discussion the other day about the difficulty in getting working class people in the US to adopt compact fluorescent lamps as a replacement to incandescent bulbs. Image the resistance to real change.

  1. What are realistic goals at each point in time?
  2. What needs to be done to meet the goals?
  3. What government programs or legislation needs to be put in place?
  4. How is public attitude going to be changed?
  5. What are the consequences if the program fails or isn't undertaken?
 

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape
by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 10:26:34 AM EST
Monbiot has just written a very sober and plodding book laying out a programme for global carbon allotments.

I have not yet read the book, but I've been familiar with and supportive of the concept since Mayer Hillman among others floated it some years ago.

Here is a review and on the same page some very depressed and depressing discussion of the review.  I'll try to get the book soon -- though it seems very carbon intensive to order one from the UK :-(

from the review

Monbiot argues for a global carbon emissions cap allocated on a per capita basis. Since all of humanity shares the biosphere, which has only a limited absorptive and cleansing capacity and all humans are created equal, then each should have equal use of that capacity.

The implications of biospheric equity are so profound and so disturbing, that it is understandable why American environmentalists shy away from discussing the issue. Currently, global carbon emissions are about 7 billion tons, roughly, 1 ton per person. But the average American generates, directly and indirectly, some 10 tons per capita. Thus, to save the planet and cleanse our resource sins, Americans must go far beyond freezing greenhouse gas emissions. As a nation, we must reduce them by more than 90 percent, taking into account the sharp reductions in existing global emissions necessary to stabilize the world's climate.

justabout nothing that affluent nations have done in the last 400 years indicates that global equity is of the slightest interest to their populations or governments -- quite the reverse if anything, they have spent trillions of bux and millions of lives trying to stamp out any attempt at it.  so treating the planetary population as equally entitled to carbon credits is a just and fair solution with approx the political chances of a snowflake in a solar-heated greenhouse gas envelope -- failing some major social/cultural transformation.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 09:32:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
FYI. China is to the world's coal consumption what the US plus all of Europe are to the world's oil consumption. In 2007 China is projecting a total consumption of 2.5 billion tons of coal this year. That's over forty percent of the world's consumption. On the other hand on a per-capita basis that's still less than the US which is using roughly 40% of the coal with less than a quarter of  China's population.

China chokes on a coal fired boom

by MarekNYC on Tue Jan 9th, 2007 at 05:53:09 PM EST
Since China only produces a little over 1 billion tons a year and apparently consumes 2.5 billion, where is the shortfall coming from.

Interesting.

Somebody has one hell of an export market coralled.

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

by EricC on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 09:18:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Where are you getting that 1 billion figure from? I see roughly two billion for 2004. The industry has been expanding, so  it is certainly higher than that now.
by MarekNYC on Wed Jan 10th, 2007 at 10:41:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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