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Brunsbüttel, Krümmel (German nuclear controversy)

by DoDo Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 06:13:37 AM EST

Nuclear energy is again in the news in Germany.

On one hand, breakdowns at two nuclear plants in Northern Germany exposed a pattern of denial by Swedish operator Vattenfall.

On the other hand, proponents of nuclear energy started another push to stop the German nuclear phaseout in the wake of a study on how Germany's ambitious goal of 40% CO2 reduction can be achieved.


The two nuclear plants

The Brunsbüttel (771 MW netto) and Krümmel (1345 MW netto) plants are two of the three nuclear plants operating near Hamburg, since 2000 Swedish energy giant Vattenfall owns the first and has a 50% share in the second. Both are single-block boiling water reactors (BWR), active since 1977 resp. 1984, tabled for decommissioning in 2009 resp. 2016. Krümmel is the world's most powerful BWR since an upgrade in 2005-6 -- but only nominally, the extra heat in the cooling water release was too much for the river Elbe, so it often runs at 80% power.

Already in the nineties, both plants have featured strongly in criticisms of the German nuclear industry, especially for information politics.

Brunsbüttel's operation was plagued by many accidents and faulty subsystems from the start, it even had a three-year shut-down. But the accident that drew most attention was a hydrogen explosion in 2001.

The explosion was in a pipe on top of the reactor's pressurized tank, led to a cooling water loss, worse could only be averted by closing a still intact valve. What really got critics going however was that the details only came to light thanks to leaks to the media, while the operator classified it as a non-reportable "spontaneous leakage"(!) in a non-critical part(!), and continued operation without an investigation. They chose to act so despite automatic monitoring of the systems by the government authority, who forced an investigation two months after the fact. The investigation revealed not only the cause and the seriousness (potential for meltdown), but that the collection of hydrogen gas was missing from the safety evaluations.

Krümmel is at the centre of a leukemia cluster (50 times above background level) that emerged in 1989, leading to an on-going long controversy. There is material evidence: radioactive material found on the rivershore, but its source is debated, it may also be from a nearby nuclear research facility. Krümmel had many problems with the fuel rod handling system, pumps, and a leak of the primary circle was discovered only after years.

The last minor scandal was after the accident in Forsmark nuclear plant in Sweden (also see askod's update). In that accident, an electrical failure also shut down two emergency generators that are supposed to keep cooling water circulating during power-off.

Operators in Germany, including Vattenfall, claimed that accidents of the Forsmark type aren't possible in their plants due to different technology. However, after a week, they have been forced to admit that indeed that type of accident is possible in multiple plants, and Brunsbüttel's system is even worse than Forsmark's was. Still, at first Vattenfall claimed it's no problem, only to announce later the addition of extra/replacement emergency generators.

The current failures

On 28 June 2007, both plants were shut down due to major accidents. Information about both accidents was handled scandalously.

In the Brunsbüttel plant, after repairs, a switcher short-circuited for still unknown reasons, forcing a power-down. Then during power-up two days later, the water purifying system blocked; according to Vattenfall, due to improper operation by staff. The new accidents don't seem to have been serious, however, when the oversight authority asked about what happened (these incidents were of the kind whose reporting is obligatory), the operator first denied everything, admission came only with five days delay on 6 July. The oversight authority says that hydrogen collected in the reactor water level measuring system (remember what happened in 2001).

In the Krümmel plant, one hour forty minutes after the Brunsbüttel emergency shutdown, a transformer caught fire, a fire that couldn't be estinguished for three days. The reactor was affected, too: smoke intruded the operation room and people had to work in gas masks, two safety valves opened and one pump shut down, which was enough to cause a rapid fall of water level and pressure in the core, only stopped by the activation of a second safety system.

But for the public, the operator and the oversight authority first only told that the fire didn't reach the reactor core. The authority was forced to detail the less direct consequences days later. Vattenfall manager Bruno Thomauske had the audacity to claim that they only failed to inform the public because they "misjudged the level of public interest" in the case, after "lack of media attention" for a 2005 shutdown...

According to the preliminary investigation of the Krümmel incident, presented by Thomauske also on 6 July, the Krümmel transformer fire was probably caused by the Brunsbüttel shutdown. A series of human errors during the shutdown process were also admitted, and also the loss of important data in the control computers (hmmm khm). The plant remains shut down during the summer.

The top overseeing official, Schleswig-Holstein state social minister Gitta Trauernicht (SPD), was on one hand under pressure in the Krümmel case, on the other hand, outraged when learning of Vattenfall's stonewalling in the Brunsbüttel case, which got her on Sunday to publicly threaten the withdrawal of Vattenfall's operating permit.

It is no wonder that according to the latest poll by Forsa, made before 6 July, 31% want to accelerate the nuclear phaseout (24% want to continue it as planned, 18% want to slow it down, just 22% want to turn the decision around).

Intermission: electricity generation and flows in Germany

Take a close look at the changes in five years (based on the electricity supply & use and production according to generating modes tables of the German Ministry of Economics):

Note: (a) use of oil-fired power plants is usually for balancing and fluctuates, (2) the figures for photovoltaic are surplus electricity fed into the grid, i.e. excluding unmetered own use from roof-mounted solar cells.

  • First observation: the combined growth in the four renewables listed adds up exactly to the growth in consuption.
  • Second observation: growth in gas, the only of the four big traditional modes to grow, is almost as much as growth in net exports.

It is also useful to show the exports/imports in detail:

It is a common spin to concentrate only on the flows across the Franco-German border, and claim Germany needs cheap French nuclear energy import. In truth, that big inflow only transits Germany en route to the Netherlands and (via Austria & Switzerland) Italy, while Germany had moderate net export most years in the nineties -- and then that grew significantly in this decade.

Power generation in (West) Germany used to be the job of large private companies with regional monopoly, and to a large extent they still rule the market the same way post-liberalisation. The most significant breach on their power was the feed-in law, which obligates grid owners to purchase from renewable producers at fixed above-market prices. These renewables are distributed power, which also means distributed ownership, thus a loss of market share would be inevitable for the majors. But, notwithstanting some naive views of market mechanisms on the pro-renewables side, the majors of course try to keep power (in both senses). So it comes that the practical result is that instead of closing older power plants, they run them for export.

Greenhouse games

In (West and later unified) Germany, for historical reasons, there are marked political connections according to generating mode. The big picture is: SPD (Social Democrats) for coal, CDU (Christian Democrats) for nuclear, Greens for renewables. The detailed picture is more complex, with pro-gas and pro-wind regional leaders of SPD, and pro-brown-coal regional CDU leaders (there was a big tussle over brown vs. black coal recently).

I note that current chancellor Angela Merkel is also close to nuclear power. She used to be a physicist, first came into Helmut Kohl's conservative government to oversee R&D, and was then environment minister. It was during the latter time that the big scandal of nuclear waste transport containers (named Castor) blew, e.g. that contamination was found on their outside with radiation levels that were orders of magnitude above the limit (up to 3000 times). In the run-up to the scandal, Merkel rejected all doubts. once it blew big, she made a stand against the companies, acting all outraged. A cunning and cynical move foreshadowing a great tactician: wasn't it her ministry, as oversight authority, that should have caught this at home, or pressed the French authorities for better information flow?

So back to the present, there are some cynical games played in the current Grand Coalition federal government.

Environment minister Sigmar Gabriel, SPD, wants to allow the construction of dozens of new-generation coal plants, ostly black coal, claiming both the 'need' to replace old units and the 'need' to replace nuclear, and arguing that their higher efficiency can result in no overall growth of emissions.

Economy minister Michael Glos, of the Bavarian CSU, and some CDU leaders have repeatedly called for either an extension of running times or an end to the end of nuclear power altogether, arguing with climate change.

Both choices would fix the market for 40 years (long amortisation times).

The latest overture in this game were claims that planned greenhouse gas cuts can't be achieved without nuclear, based on a government-sponsored study. Jérôme reported it in Will the next German election be a referendum on nuclear energy?, via Germany to stay nuclear in Merkel U-turn | International News | News | Telegraph:

Mrs Merkel's dramatic change of heart surfaced at an energy summit attended by government and industry heads in Berlin last week...

A government-commissioned study unveiled at the summit showed that Mrs Merkel's targets were not feasible without nuclear power.

...Under Germany's recent European Presidency, Mrs Merkel set the target of a 20 per cent reduction of CO2 emissions within the EU by 2020. For Germany, she has set a 40 per cent target.

The new study showed that Germany would need to maintain its use of nuclear power if it was to hit those targets.

Spin, spin, spin, and sloppy journalism.

Actually, this study said something else completely, it was released already in May, and the energy summit ended without any changes to policy (though Merkel said that the feasibility of reaching the goals shall be reviewed with the industry annually from 2010). With the row over Krümmel and Brunsbüttel (and now the latest scandalous taboo-breaking by an interior minister demanding targeted assassinations), discussion of the study went completely under, but I will talk about it.

The study was prepared by the Prognos Institute and Cologne University's Energy Economy Institute (Germany shorthand: ewi). They calculated CO2 emissions and costs in 2020 for three scenarios. What the study actually claimed was that replacing nuclear and reducing CO2 40%, by using renewables and increased efficiency, is possible, but keeping the existing nuclear plants would be cheaper (by €4.5 billion) and get a bit further (current policies: 39% reduction, extra renewables push: 41% reduction, keeping the 17 nuclear plants: 45% reduction).

If that's not enough, when that study was released early in early May, it was instantly criticised for being behind the times in its assumptions, for example calculating with constant gas prices and crude oil price stabilising at $65/barrel. One also wonders how the nuclear cost estimate holds up if aging plants are run like Brunsbüttel.

I stress again that the ability of renewables do deliver the needed capacity wasn't really called into doubt. In fact on the energy summit, the naysayers focused their ire on energy efficiency goals.

To bolster the case for renewables potential, I add that according to another study from last October, prepared by renewable energy experts under the leadership of Dr. Hermann Scheer (president of EUROSOLAR, EARE and WCRE) and the participation of Prof. Klaus Traube (who used to work on the design of the German fast-breeder prototype but 'changed sides'), a renewables growth that exceeds the needed replacement of nuclear generating capacity is possible even without a further push to increase the installation rate. Here is their projection of un-boosted growth in renewables production, overlaid on nuclear production according to the planned phaseout:

Some general words

On the narrower issue of the safety of nuclear reactors, I note again that a lot of failures are of types the safety evaluators haven't thought of, making risk calculations of questionable value. In a system as complex and integrated as a nuclear plant, such failures can become cascading failures, and part of these cascades was again not foreseen by the safety evaluators.

A new angle to human error discussed in the German media concerns aged plants: currently the second generation of operators are taking over, people who don't know the nifty details and special troubles of the plants.

Beyond health safety, there is also supply security, and the quick shutdown of two gigawatts is a major thing, demanding significant short-order balancing capacity.

Regarding secrecy and stonewalling accident investigations, what I have to wonder about is how exactly Germany is special: are there really more accidents and fudge, or are companies more stupid in their media relations, or are companies under more vigorous public scrunity?

Display:
In other German nuclear lobby spin news, the nice site kernfragen.de ("Nuclear energy for young people") asks the kids how many 1.5 MW wind turbines would be needed to replace German nuclear power plants -- giving 88,000 as the right answer. One wonders what that should prove at all, but they even spun the numbers.  They calculated with a waay too low capacity factor (14.5%, one I have seen them use before), especially if one considers future off-shore expansion, and ignore that larger turbines are on the march.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 01:28:03 PM EST
If you take my most recent project, with 5MW turbines running at (conservatively, I don't want to give real numbers) 40%, that's ten times fewer turbines already - and much less than the current number of turbines currently erected in Germany alone.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 04:44:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The size and number of turbines is irrelevant: bigger turbines have to be spaced further apart, so no gain in average power output per sq km of wind farm.  Onshore wind farms have average output of about 2 MW/sq km, so to replace a 1.5 GW nuclear plant (occupying about 1 sq km) with wind farms you need about 750 sq km of land without trees or buildings.  This doesn't allow for the extra generating capacity and pumped storage in mountain reservoirs that you'd require to maintain baseload on calm days.  
by paulm on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 09:10:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
750 Km^2 is a circle of about 15km radius.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 09:43:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ok, but germany needs at least 150 GW of carbon-neutral electricity to replace fossil fuels (including transport and heating without fossil fuels). doing that with wind requires 75,000 sq km of land without trees or buildings - something like 22 percent of germany's land surface.  And there's not much scope for offshore wind: look at a map and see how much offshore water is less than 30 m deep.  
by paulm on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 12:38:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Alternatively, you need to put 22% of Germany's trees or buildings within 15 Km of a nuclear reactor.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 12:40:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Or you can have a few sites with 5-10 reactors per site.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 01:12:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes you'd 'need' that kind of land, but it's not like that land is unusable for anything else - you can still farm it, have roads, facilities, etc...

As to offshore, you'd be surprised by how much "scope" there is, even with such depth limitation. And 30m is only a limit right now at current power prices and in the face of current subsidy regimes for coal, gas et al.

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Jul 14th, 2007 at 10:57:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I polished the text and replaced the wrong German exports/imports graph (I first put up the 2004 one).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 06:44:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We have NOT tried yet to boost renewables massively. They are taking off because they are competitive enough with what little help is provided.

There's a great economic reason to boost wind and solar - they provide an absolute cap to the price of electricity, i.e. a guarantee that prices will go no higher than the level necessary to build that capacity. At a time when energy prices are going up, up, up, it should be valued.

And, additionally, as the Economist notes this week:


adding wind power to the grid can reduce the overall cost of electricity. The marginal cost of producing wind power is almost nothing, since the fuel--wind--is free. So on a windy day, the cheapest power comes from wind turbines. That power, in turn, displaces generation from sources with higher fuel costs, such as gas-fired plants. So power prices tend to fall when the wind is blowing. Nuon, a Dutch utility, calculates that in 2005 the average power price on the local spot market was over €45 ($56) per megawatt hour when there was no wind, but under €30 when the average wind-speed topped 13 metres per second.

Researchers in Denmark have gone a step further and put a value on this effect. They believe that wind power shaved 1 billion kroner ($167m) off Danish electricity bills in 2005. On the other hand, Danish consumers also paid 1.4 billion kroner in subsidies for wind power. But this year, reckons Rune Moesgaard of the Danish Wind Industry Association, wind power will actually save consumers money for the first time, as the benefits resulting from lower power prices outweigh the falling cost of the subsidy.

Even without carbon tax, and without killing all the subsidies going to coal and other traditional power sources, wind is a winning proposal today - for society, if not for business.

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 04:56:10 PM EST
I just wonder what the costs would be if we used a "Not for Loss" model rather than a "For Rentier Profit" model.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 05:40:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Already in the nineties, both plants have featured strongly in criticisms of the German nuclear industry, especially for information politics.

Where they owned by Vattenfall back then? Or to rephrase the question, is this a Vattenfall problem or a Brunsbüttel + Krümmel problem?

Because information politics has not really been a strong side for Vattenfall at Forsmark either...

currently the second generation of operators are taking over, people who don't know the nifty details and special troubles of the plants.

This is a problem not only in Germany, but all over the world. But ironically it is especially bad in Germany and Sweden where young and bright people have been deterred from entering the nuclear industry due to the more or less mad machinations of leading politicians.

Now ladies and gentlemen, the mistake of having almost as many plant designs as there are plants (and hence lots of "nifty details and special troubles") won't be made again. As we enter the second part of the atomic age, only about half a dozen standardized reactor designs are bound to be deployed, worldwide.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 05:18:57 PM EST
Vattenfall took over HEW in 2000. So it was a Vattenfall problem at the time of the 2001 hydrogen incident already.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 06:18:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As a Swede I'm appalled at how two-faced Vattenfall is. At home it's all about hydroelectricity, renewable, yada yada. In reality there's increasing amounts of coal in the mix.

(Perhaps someone can explain why "brown coal" is worse than "coal"? Extraction methods?)

It's interesting to listen to the way this company uses the words "Europe" and "European" - in many ways it's similar to the way they are used in the USA when talking about early US history: old-fashioned, bad, unenlightened and certainly not our responsibility.

(Wikipedia links to an article here - in Swedish, sorry - that sadly I don't have time to translate right now.)

by Number 6 on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 08:04:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Brown Coal (lignite) is the lowest grade of coal. Lower density of carbon in the mix, and more impurities (pollutants) than bituminous coal or than anthracite.

That there is a renaissance of lignite is nothing short of amazing. It's like the tar sands being renamed oil sands.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 08:24:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nomad might tear his hairs out, but it appears there is a langage difference in terminology here, too. Lignite is the lowest grade of coal in all languages, but while it appears to be synonymous with brown coal in English, it is the youngest, shale-like form of Braunkohle in German -- and a separate, third grade in Hungarian...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 09:08:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting to compare languages by comparing the corresponding the grades and their heat content:

German:

wood: 17-20 MJ/kg
Lignit: 20-25 MJ/kg
'soft' Braunkohle: 25.1-26.8 MJ/kg
'hard' Braunkohle: -28500 kJ/kg
'flame' Steinkohle ( = stone coal): -32.85 MJ/kg
'gas flame' Steinkohle: -33.9 MJ/kg
'gas' Steinkohle: -35.0 MJ/kg
'fat' Steinkohle: -35.4 MJ/kg
'eating' Steinkohle: -35.4 MJ/kg
'lean' Steinkohle: -35.6 MJ/kg
anthracite: -36.0 MJ/kg

English:

lignite/brown coal: 10-20 MJ/kg
sub-bituminous coal: 20-28 MJ/kg (with most sold in the US near the lower limit)
bituminous coal: 24-35 MJ/kg
anthracite: 26-33(?) MJ/kg

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

by DoDo on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 09:33:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So apparently the main the difference is what brown coal refers to. While trawling Wikipedia for the English numbers, I also found that 'stone coal' in English is a less-used synonym for anthracite, "not to be confused with German Steinkohle"... (I'm seeing Nomad balding)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 09:36:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
another reason why I don't want to work with coal.

I think that should be my next sig-line.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 10:43:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Lignit: 20-25 MJ/kg

10-25 MJ/kg.

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

by DoDo on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 09:38:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Let's see if I understand correctly: we are extracting from the earth something that potentially gives less energy than wood?
by Number 6 on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 11:39:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, tar sands are supposed to have the energy density of potatoes.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 12:16:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Biofuel!

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 12:52:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey, totally OT, but have you gotten my e-mails?  Our system is all berzerk at work and nothing's working properly.  Just want to know that you got them (and that I had the right address.)

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 01:56:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I did get them. Thanks!

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 05:30:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
and killing trees to do it...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 01:19:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now ladies and gentlemen, the mistake of having almost as many plant designs as there are plants (and hence lots of "nifty details and special troubles") won't be made again. As we enter the second part of the atomic age, only about half a dozen standardized reactor designs are bound to be deployed, worldwide.

It's not a mistake, it's an evolutionary radiation.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 06:25:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Secrecy, denials, fudging, delays, and (let's be blunt) outright lying about safety violations and "incidents," by owner/operators and inspectors of nuke facilities. are unfortunately common throughout the world.

I think there are several factors involved.  One is the enormous liability that the facilities represent -- which is why no insurance underwriter wants to write a policy on one.  Another is the technocratic culture which originated and still owns the technology;  it tends to breed a condescending/paternalistic attitude to the "ignorant public" --  an attitude almost of outrage if that public is not docile and blindly trusting.  Yet another is that the extreme lethality of the technology requires a strong-security culture (and close ties to the weapons industry only reinforce this) which is also authoritarian per se and offers good "patriotic" and "safety" excuses for secrecy, coverups, etc.

Bring private profiteering into the picture and you have the trifecta for embezzlement and incompetence:  a very high-budget operation, subsidised with guarantees by the public purse, that is also very complicated and technical (easy to snow-job the public by either dumb-down oversimplification or overwhelming technobabble) and high-security -- the perfect cosy dark juicy corner in the social fabric for cost-cutting and skimming without oversight.  Very similar to military contracts and arms deals, which are an ongoing scandal in several of the industrial powers.

All organisations tend to close ranks and emit a squidlike jet of protective disinfo when they make a major error or one of their own goes bad -- note the difficulty of getting cops to testify against corrupt or brutal "brother officers," or the difficulty of getting to the bottom of most any scandal in business of political life 'cos no one wants to rat out their buddies (or lose their job for whistleblowing).  But the sense of technical superiority and elitism, the authoritarian culture and the security/secrecy environment, can only amplify this tendency and lead to an endless series of coverups, stonewalls, and -- worst of all -- failure to take timely remedial action, when the taking of such action might draw attention to serious design or operational flaws, or a barely-averted or concealed incident.

High-lethality, centralised, heavy technologies have a warping effect on the social fabric of the subculture that designs, builds and maintains them, as well as on the culture surrounding their installations.  As I have argued before, they are inherently nonconvivial.

Technology in other words is not neutral.  It has preconditions and implications.  As Jerry Mander wrote many years ago,

If you accept nuclear power plants, you also accept a techno-scientific-industrial-military elite. Without these people in charge, you could not have nuclear power. You and I getting together with a few friends could not make use of nuclear power. We could not build such a plant, nor could we make personal use of its output, nor handle or store the radioactive waste products which remain dangerous to life for thousands of years. The wastes, in turn, determine that future societies will have to maintain a technological capacity to deal with the problem, and the military capability to protect the wastes. So the existence of the technology determines many aspects of the society.

Some "gifts" come with very long and heavy strings attached.  Secrecy and lying are part of the culture of high-toxicity/high-risk technologies, from industrial "farming" (liquidationist agriculture) and industrial food to bio-weapons and GMO, to nuke power.  All these practises concentrate control (and profit) into the hands of a small elite, and inevitably foster up a command/control business culture of "shut up, we know what is good for you, move along, nothing to see here, how dare you question us."  Not to mention a culture of passive "I'm sure they know best dear" dependency among consumers.  That paternalistic culture in turn is the perfect breeding ground for delusions of grandeur, Straussian contempt for the masses, disinfo campaigns, and just plain ordinary lying and cheating.  People tend to grow into the forms provided by their institutional cultures, like jello into a mould.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 08:10:43 PM EST
If you accept nuclear power plants, you also accept a techno-scientific-industrial-military elite.

I'm ok with a techno-scientific-industrial elite.

I don't know why Mander wants to throw the military in there. It really lowers the level :>

by Francois in Paris on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 08:30:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm ok with a techno-scientific-industrial elite.

I think that's a fundamental point of disagreement, then, and worth clarification;  I'm not OK with rule from above by any elite, regardless of their academic credentials :-)  for engineering/design reasons and also for political/ethical reasons I much prefer decentralisation, distribution, redundancy, short supply lines, autarky (technology that can be installed and serviced by locals for local use), direct democracy, and so on.

Mander was writing from the US where it is nearly impossible to separate "military" from the rest of the hyphenated string.  the US military/weapons nexus is about 25+ percent of the US economy and has a presence in almost all big science.  it's hard to be part of the technical elite w/o taking military money, sharing facilities with military projects, etc.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 03:51:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
you're in a nest of eager French technocrats on the site... ;-)

The fact that Polytechnique is a military school, funded by the Ministry of Defense, shall not be lost on you, of course, although you might consider it as a useful early vaccine...(not that I know that anyone but me has actually gone to Polytechnique)

As with all elites, what makes it credible and effective is whether (i) it delivers to the wide community whatever was promised and (ii) it has internal checks to limit excesses by individuals or cabals.

That still does not make it democratic, but if it is effective, it might be an acceptable trade-off. Real accountability to internal rules is still better than no effective accountability.

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 07:22:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Confused:  If "effective = non-democratic", what´s the value of effective?

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 08:55:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That it produce valuable services. When you are in a car accident, would you prefer a democratically elected surgeon or one educated at an elite university?

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 09:59:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Neither, nor.  Non-exclusive.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 01:42:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
how about not being in the car in the first place, hence not being in the accident, hence not needing the highly-credentialled expert services?

expert and credentialled elites tend to foster and create -- no surprise -- a social structure that is fragile and heavily dependent on expert and credentialled elites.  it's called job security.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 05:53:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
breeds specialisation.

How far would we go without complexity or specialisation?

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 06:48:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
there's -- at least in my mind -- a world of difference between specialisation and elite.

specialisation becomes pathological when it turns into the Enclosure of information, restrictive credentialling processes that focus more on obedience, rote learning and loyalty to elite values/codes than on effective action or critical thinking, etc.  but we're getting back into Illich-land (and actually J Jacobs was working on some of the same turf towards the end of her writing life).

specialisation plus elitism leads to the cult of complexity for its own sake, complexity as a form of mystification and Enclosure.  and having been a technocrat most of my working life, it's a vice I know and understand all too well :-)  the hardest thing to do right is to put the power of the technology in the hands of the users, instead of keeping it in the hands of the expert cadres and doling out results like throwing bread to the ducks.  o what a thrill of appreciation for our own genius and benificence we get as the dependent clients say Thankyou Thankyou...

in an ideal world, the goal of doctors and other specialists is to put themselves out of business by fostering a popular culture so healthy, so intelligent, so ingenious and resourceful and well-equipped, that people are not, for the most part, dependent on arcane expertise.  the goal of GUI designers should be to make consultants obsolete :-) so that people can use the technology without the permission or control of a mediating layer of elite technocrats.

at one time I needed an arcane expert -- a computer room tender -- to read my card deck into the cores and start my job on the mainframe.  it is a better world -- informationally speaking -- in which that gatekeeper doesn't stand between me and the computational resource.

the old saying is that if you want to feed a person for one day you hand them a fish;  if you want to feed them for life, you teach them to fish.  what's omitted from the parable is that the last thing authoritarians want is to teach anyone to fish!  they want everyone to be dependent on regular fish handouts, to ensure obedience and conformity... and/or to go on feeling assured of their own importance and necessity in the scheme of things.  heck, we all like to be needed.  but as parents learn over and over again with each generation, the fine line between caring and wanting to feel needed, and being an overbearing control freak, can be pretty darned fuzzy :-)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jul 14th, 2007 at 01:50:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There will be an elite, as a strucutral result of complexity and the need for complex organisation and coordination. The trick is to make that elite accountable, and its actions as transparent as possible, not to make it disappear.

Which is a political issue, again.

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Jul 14th, 2007 at 11:00:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
will require a new label for what we know as elites and whatever they are called should not be limited to law and/or science because it would preclude the real wisdom and leadership the world is missing right now.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Sat Jul 14th, 2007 at 11:53:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
hmmm

a bus/train needs a driver who understands how to operate the bus/train, but we don't call him/her an "elite"... to get the most out of a patch of land sustainably requires years of experience and deep knowledge of the local bioregion, but do we ever call farmers "elite"?  I've heard it said that it takes a lifetime to learn how to grow really good varietal garlic, or to make proper versions of certain wines and cheeses.  are those artisans an "elite"?

it's time we took a closer look at why some people's specialised knowledge makes them "elite" and other people's specialised knowledge makes them, well, less important and more expendable.

in general, specialised knowledge is called "elite" when the owners of that knowledge are able to enforce or encourage other people's dependence on that knowledge.  there was a time when people who understood programming were an elite (ah, I remember it well);  now, teenagers write code in their spare time that 50 years ago would only have been attempted by serious men (yup, almost exclusively) in ties, with college degrees.  some of those teenagers now imagine themselves to be an elite, but that day is passing real fast also.  and that's a good thing imho, no matter how much fun it was when I was younger to be one of the arcane order of wizards.

imho the whole concept of Professional vs other skilled trades [and is there any such thing as an unskilled trade?  certainly the demoralisation of deskilled workers suggests that if there is, there shouldn't be] needs to be re-evaluated and deconstructed.  it has too many overtones of both priesthood and aristocracy, and we all know the Meslier quote, yes?

call me a Caste Traitor, but speakin' as a highly paid senior professional, I have serious doubts about Professionalism and the whole concept of credentialled elites.


The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jul 14th, 2007 at 07:54:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a topic I think about a lot, whenever I try to untangle my value added in the deals I work on. I'm probably the best paid person working on these, but does that reflect the work done. At times, I feel like I'm just watching others work and signing off on that work. The power to get a EUR 100M check signed is "worth" something to others, typical gatekeeper power, right? And yet... On some deals I know that someone else could have done it fairly easily; on others, I do believe that I created something worthwhile. The first offshore wind farm I worked on would not have been built without the financing, and I essentially invented big parts of the whole financial structure, with a couple of other people, to make it acceptable to all the relevant entities that signed off on it. So how much is that "worth", beyond the fact that having the hand on the till, I can heavily influence the price paid for it?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Jul 15th, 2007 at 05:39:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, human nature is such that you'll always have an elite. I prefer mine rational and meritocratic.
by Francois in Paris on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 08:21:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Rational?  You dream.  

The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 09:53:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
AND military?  It is part of the deal.  You do not get to pick and choose.  

If you are okay with that I don't have much to add.  Except that no, I am not okay with fascism in any of its forms.  

And that is what you get, with complete inevitability.  

This alone contra-indicates nuclear power.  

The destruction of health and life are just--how do we say it--overkill.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 09:48:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nope, I don't want the military.

I know the military well enough to know I don't want military types in charge of anything, the military itself above all.

And yes, I get to choose. It's called democracy. You get to choose your elites. In the end, that's what democracy is about. Picking which elites you like best or, at least, dislike least.

When it goes right, you get someone like Gore.

Though, when it goes wrong, you get Bush. That's when you know your democracy is fucked...

by Francois in Paris on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 12:11:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
they should have an olympics for liars whose lies affect the public health in vast, disastrous ways.

let's all guess together which industry would win the gold medal, hands down, year after blessed year....

the nuclear industry... sent by the saints to make politicians seem like they have integrity in comparison.

i shudder to think, how nefarious governments have been in colluding with this repellent cadre.

poisoning whole slews of people, without any compunction whatsoever.

assholes

thanks dodo, great diary, says it all...

ps. i admire your dispassionate way of laying it out there

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Jul 10th, 2007 at 08:17:52 PM EST
that's harsh speaking for a guy[?] called 'melo' -- whether it means "mellow" or not...

me, I don't really believe that people in the nuke industry are any more dishonest or craven or wicked than any other group of insiders in a corporate subculture that conditions their behaviour.  as far as number of victims per year, their score is hard to ascertain [obligatory ref to 'Thank You for Smoking' and the M.O.D. Squad] -- because of the long incubation time of radiation-related damage and disease and the contested relevance of small doses.  

what I mean is, it's fairly easy to point out the 400K+ Americans who die prematurely each year (!) from the effects of tobacco consumption or the 120K who die prematurely from  incompetence, overprescription, neglect, poor record keeping etc. by the med mafia.  it's much harder to count and name the victims of slow poisoning [btw the Edwardians considered this one of the most loathesome of crimes]:  how many people's diseases and premature demises are due to the adulteration, contamination and general warping of our food supply by the corporate ag nexus?  how many people die prematurely from cancers whose root cause is environmental -- be it chemical or radiation pollution?  we just don't know.  we have no idea what we're doing to ourselves. J Adams in his interesting book Risk pointed out that we've released over 5000 industrial chemicals into our air and water and food supplies, only about 400 of which have ever been rigorously tested for health effects -- and those 400 only in isolation, not in the staggering number of  combinations with the other 4400 and each other.  [don't quote me on those numbers:  the proportions are about right but I don't have the book to hand.]

what we do know from an increasing number of studies is that notions of a linear dosage effect are, to say the least, quaint.  the human body is not a simple mechanism, it's a complex living system (like the climate) and has nonlinearities, critical paths, and tipping points.  a toxic exposure that would be nearly harmless at week N of fetal development may be nearly guaranteed to cause serious damage at week N+1.  people can survive higher doses of some toxins than we think, and yet succumb to far lower doses of other toxins than are conventionally held to be "dangerous."  and individuals vary widely.  the world of living things is not reductionist: it is synergistic, symbiotic, complex, entangled, nonlinear.  and we don't have the tools or the knowledge or the political or scientific will to attempt to understand such subtleties and complexities.  we want simple linear rules and one-size-fits-all.

if we really understood low-dosage radiation exposure in combination with all the other toxic stressors to which we are currently exposed, we might understand better what cancer clusters mean, exactly by what mechanisms they occur, why they are more defined in one location than another, why one genotype or culture or individual might have greater resistance than another.  but as with climate destabilisation, it is not at all difficult to understand the fundamental meaning of a cancer cluster:  it means we're doing something wrong, something stupid, something that is injuring people -- in a very horrible way.  and we should stop.  

we don't know exactly, at the finest level of detail, how climate change is happening or how much worse it can get before it reaches a tipping point, but we know enough to know that dumping even more CO2 into the atmosphere is a stupid thing to do, and we should stop.  we don't know exactly how toxicity interacts with diet and genotype and radiation exposure to produce maladaptive mutation, hormonal and developmental disorders, early- and late-onset diseases of many kinds;  but we know enough to know that dumping poisonous substances into our bodies is a bad idea, and irradiating ourselves any more than necessary is a bad idea.  in a sense we are, as a culture, like a patient dying of hepatitis who refuses to take any preventive or curative steps because he still doesn't fully understand the workings of his own liver down to the last enzyme and endocrine reaction.

as the old joke goes, "Doctor, it hurts when I do that." -- "So don't do that."

I think what can be said about the nuke industry is that the consequences of malfeasance and incompetence in their operations has the potential to be far greater, more devastating, more permanent, more irrevocable than most other corporate/industrial actors -- other than the weapons industry to which they are so intimately wedded.  and their operating environment, their institutional culture, is even more conducive to malfeasance, secrecy, the covering-up of incompetence, than most.  and they have a documented track record of living up to that promise.  they are a ripe source of deniable slow poisoning as well as major catastrophe, and they have this perfect institutional culture -- as in Petri dish -- for lying, denying, and taxpayer-subsidised risk displacement.

the nuke industry -- along with selected sectors of the chem industry -- has a further solid asset in its candidacy for the gold medal:  its toxic emissions can produce multigenerational damage, can damage a person's DNA in a way that passes deformity or disease down to our offspring.  this, along with the enormous lifetime of that toxicity, lends it a "risk in depth" (the opposite of "defence in depth") aspect which I think quite rightly frightens and horrifies people.  to strike at the viability and health of our unborn children is to strike at the heart of our mammalian existence.  it is a chilly whisper of the threat of personal and cultural extinction:  the use of DU shell casings (profitably disposing of nuclear waste) in the Balkans and Iraq was/is a form of slow genocide, there really is no other word for it.  yep, there are chemical compounds with mutagenic effects, but the average person is unlikely to be caught up in a mass exposure to one of these (though their permeation of the background chemistry of our water, food, etc. is food for grim thought).

in the end the gene vandals may turn out to be the death of us all, with their cynically planned contamination of the world's flora including our most  important cultivars...  or it may be the fossil fools, determined to go on dumping CO2 ad lib and selling cheap air tickets to a clueless public...  maybe it'll be  the reckless release of CFCs that tipped the balance, or the endless migration of POPs through the global food chain...  or a wave of happy prions, liberated by our insane ag practises...  or a smart and peppy new bacterium mutated via our industrial effluents or our mad ag practises -- or even deliberately tailored by our bio-warfare criminals.  all we know is that these practises are mad, a kind of monstrous Russian Roulette played by our elite for private profit, with the complicity of our technomanagers, and with very little understanding, let alone influence, for the average person whose health and future are being gambled with.   we're told repeatedly that it's all worth it, we should be grateful for all the toys and goodies with which the Filth Industries distract and beguile us;  but were we ever given a chance to say, "No, it is not worth it to me and I don't wish to play, I would rather have fewer toys and healthier children"?  that option is not even on the table.

but I digress as usual.

the nuclear industry does seem well positioned to compete for a gold medal among the great criminal enterprises of this fraught chapter, the endgame of C19 industrial capitalism...  they have what every serious competitor needs:  muscle, will, and Attitude.

I guess I personally see nuke power plants as the ultimate evolutionary development of the age of heavy, centralised, elite-controlled, dangerous, "finger trap" technology (once you'be bought it, it's bought you):  like T Rex or the giant Airbus or the Hummer (or those wonderfully bizarre finned monster cars of the late 50's), a kind of evolutionary excursus to an extreme that (from where I sit) doesn't look adaptive.  when the elk's antlers get too big to fit between the trees, what was an advantageous display of fitness suddenly becomes a fatal error...  imho it's way past time to leapfrog -- skip the land lines and leapfrog to cell phones.  skip the nukes and leapfrog to non (or least) toxic power generation, less lethal, more distributed, and more opensource.  ontology doesn't have to recapitulate phylogeny... we could ffwd through the deadends.  

also we might reflect that bigger, more expensive, more technologically gee-wow isn't always more effective, as the Yanks learned in Viet Nam and are learning all over again in Iraq.  small fast mammals who network, that's the model :-)  it's served us well, we of the Mammalia -- why pin our hopes on the stegosaurus model?  distributed, ubiquitous, light, and not a chain  around our necks and the necks of our descendants for millennia to come:  that's the power generation model I want to see.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 07:35:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm going to offer just one interesting little tidbit about unintended consequences of toxicity:
"I began with the city that was the crime capital of America," Giuliani, now a candidate for president, recently told Fox's Chris Wallace. "When I left, it was the safest large city in America. I reduced homicides by 67 percent. I reduced overall crime by 57 percent."

    Although crime did fall dramatically in New York during Giuliani's tenure, a broad range of scientific research has emerged in recent years to show that the mayor deserves only a fraction of the credit that he claims. The most compelling information has come from an economist in Fairfax who has argued in a series of little-noticed papers that the "New York miracle" was caused by local and federal efforts decades earlier to reduce lead poisoning.

    The theory offered by the economist, Rick Nevin, is that lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States. It offers a unifying new neurochemical theory for fluctuations in the crime rate, and it is based on studies linking children's exposure to lead with violent behavior later in their lives.

    What makes Nevin's work persuasive is that he has shown an identical, decades-long association between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries.

    "It is stunning how strong the association is," Nevin said in an interview. "Sixty-five to ninety percent or more of the substantial variation in violent crime in all these countries was explained by lead."

[...]
Nevin says his data not only explain the decline in crime in the 1990s, but the rise in crime in the 1980s and other fluctuations going back a century. His data from multiple countries, which have different abortion rates, police strategies, demographics and economic conditions, indicate that lead is the only explanation that can account for international trends.

    Because the countries phased out lead at different points, they provide a rigorous test: In each instance, the violent crime rate tracks lead poisoning levels two decades earlier.

[...]

The centerpiece of Nevin's research is an analysis of crime rates and lead poisoning levels across a century. The United States has had two spikes of lead poisoning: one at the turn of the 20th century, linked to lead in household paint, and one after World War II, when the use of leaded gasoline increased sharply. Both times, the violent crime rate went up and down in concert, with the violent crime peaks coming two decades after the lead poisoning peaks.

    Other evidence has accumulated in recent years that lead is a neurotoxin that causes impulsivity and aggression, but these studies have also drawn little attention. In 2001, sociologist Paul B. Stretesky and criminologist Michael Lynch showed that U.S. counties with high lead levels had four times the murder rate of counties with low lead levels, after controlling for multiple environmental and socioeconomic factors.

    In 2002, Herbert Needleman, a psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh, compared lead levels of 194 adolescents arrested in Pittsburgh with lead levels of 146 high school adolescents: The arrested youths had lead levels that were four times higher.

    "Impulsivity means you ignore the consequences of what you do," said Needleman, one of the country's foremost experts on lead poisoning, explaining why Nevin's theory is plausible. Lead decreases the ability to tell yourself, "If I do this, I will go to jail."

    Nevin's work has been published mainly in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research. Within the field of neurotoxicology, Nevin's findings are unsurprising, said Ellen Silbergeld, professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins University and the editor of Environmental Research.

    "There is a strong literature on lead and sociopathic behavior among adolescents and young adults with a previous history of lead exposure," she said.

[...]

Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes, for example, were built over the Dan Ryan Expressway, with 150,000 cars going by each day. Eighteen years after the project opened in 1962, one study found that its residents were 22 times more likely to be murderers than people living elsewhere in Chicago.

    Nevin's finding implies a double tragedy for America's inner cities: Thousands of children in these neighborhoods were poisoned by lead in the first three quarters of the last century. Large numbers of them then became the targets, in the last quarter, of Giuliani-style [draconian, zero-tolerance]law enforcement policies.

I'm not specifically endorsing this guy's theory, just pointing out that the effects of just one environmental toxin may take years to manifest, it may take several dispersal and reduction cycles in different environments to provide any convincing correlation, etc.   It would be a lot cheaper -- not to mention socially more just, ethically more sensible -- to conclude that a policy of slow poisoning (allowing industries license to emit toxins so long as they remain below the exposure level where people actually keel over on hour-to-year timescales) is a bad idea.  The precautionary principle, and all that...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 09:28:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Two fantastics in a row!

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 08:56:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
that's gotta be the most concise, precise, summary of the human condition i ever read in a blog comment....wow...amazing, thanks.

that's harsh speaking for a guy[?] called 'melo' -- whether it means "mellow" or not...

some days it does, some days it's more of an affirmation, such as when i read this diary!
mostly, it's italian for 'apple tree', but i like the connection to 'melograno' (pomegranate, favourite fruit juice) too, and as perhaps you all have noticed by now, an occasional irascible penchant for melodrama, lol!

working on that...dalai lama, help me attain the supreme calm cheerfulness that is true compassion.

years in california, oregon and hawaii, have given me a deeper understanding of 'mellow' than the average europerson, though.
one person's 'chilled' is another's 'spaced', is another's 'out to pranzo'; next to hawaiians, europe hums along powered by a low-level angst (half guilt, half restless escapism!)

there is a joyful curiosity too of course, principally in the young ...

i am mostly male, btw.

what we do know from an increasing number of studies is that notions of a linear dosage effect are, to say the least, quaint.  the human body is not a simple mechanism, it's a complex living system (like the climate) and has nonlinearities, critical paths, and tipping points.  a toxic exposure that would be nearly harmless at week N of fetal development may be nearly guaranteed to cause serious damage at week N+1.  people can survive higher doses of some toxins than we think, and yet succumb to far lower doses of other toxins than are conventionally held to be "dangerous."  and individuals vary widely.  the world of living things is not reductionist: it is synergistic, symbiotic, complex, entangled, nonlinear.  and we don't have the tools or the knowledge or the political or scientific will to attempt to understand such subtleties and complexities.  we want simple linear rules and one-size-fits-all.

you are some writer, madame...

it is not at all difficult to understand the fundamental meaning of a cancer cluster:  it means we're doing something wrong, something stupid, something that is injuring people -- in a very horrible way.  and we should stop.

it appears to be well above the level of intelligence required to arrest it, though the media's doing its best to ensure our continuing to be dumbed down, egged on by right-wingers, who never met a central-control model they didn't envy and/or abuse.

I think what can be said about the nuke industry is that the consequences of malfeasance and incompetence in their operations has the potential to be far greater, more devastating, more permanent, more irrevocable than most other corporate/industrial actors -- other than the weapons industry to which they are so intimately wedded.  and their operating environment, their institutional culture, is even more conducive to malfeasance, secrecy, the covering-up of incompetence, than most.  and they have a documented track record of living up to that promise.  they are a ripe source of deniable slow poisoning as well as major catastrophe, and they have this perfect institutional culture -- as in Petri dish -- for lying, denying, and taxpayer-subsidised risk displacement.

you can say that again, so i did! 

the nuclear industry does seem well positioned to compete for a gold medal among the great criminal enterprises of this fraught chapter, the endgame of C19 industrial capitalism...  they have what every serious competitor needs:  muscle, will, and Attitude.

..., possibly most important of all, private CONNECTIONS.
 

imho it's way past time to leapfrog -- skip the land lines and leapfrog to cell phones.  skip the nukes and leapfrog to non (or least) toxic power generation, less lethal, more distributed, and more opensource.  ontology doesn't have to recapitulate phylogeny... we could ffwd through the deadends.
 

maybe we are the mutated generation, turning, singed, to say 'that way be dragons', to those younger and less informed.
if so, and only, then it was worth it.

those 'dragons' are really 'drags'-... on evolution

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 09:11:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great post, and a strong case against the nuclear industry, but I'd like to come back on one notion you touched upon, that of cancer clusters.

Cancer clusters will happen naturally, from basic rules of randomness that simply state that any phenomenon that is caused by random factors will not happen in a neat, regular repartition but will be randomly spread out, which includes apparently unnatural clusters that are in fact statistically normal.

I do think that with onur current entitlement culture, any such cluster, once identified, will be seen as a magnet for damage seeking parasites, and they will waste no time in identifying a credibly dangerous industrial facility nearby to blame for such cluster - there will always be one, whether a power plant, chemical factory, waste treatment facility or other.

It is easy to create the apparence of causality out of purely random factors, and people will leap on it, and the media will lap it up. That does not mean, of course, that all clusters are random, of course, but this should certainly be taken into account whenever cluster do not reach uncontestable order of magnitude of unusual concentration.

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 11:16:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Cancer clusters will happen naturally, from basic rules of randomness that simply state that any phenomenon that is caused by random factors will not happen in a neat, regular repartition but will be randomly spread out, which includes apparently unnatural clusters that are in fact statistically normal.

It can easily be shown that a "random" distribution of points does not appear random to us. Conversely, if asked to scatter points "at random", people will usually avoid putting points close together compared with what happens in a random distribution.

[Technically: I take "random" to mean that the position of each point is independent from the position of the previous point; this can be done assuming a uniform probability per unit volume, but not necessarily. When people manufacture a "random" distribution they usually do somethin akin to what physicists call a "hard-sphere gas", that is, there is a minimum distance below which a new point won't be added, but otherwise the distribution is "random"]

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 11:22:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is this random?

And this?

What kind of statistical test can tell the difference?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 06:50:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
N°1 is random, N°2 is hand sprayed. (but I already had that kind of quiz long ago)

Pierre
by Pierre on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 03:48:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not everyone on the site is an engineer, you know? This is (sadly) not a well-known fact.

[What's the point of teaching people calculus if they never encounter this kind of stuff?]

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 05:29:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I do think that with onur current entitlement culture, any such cluster, once identified, will be seen as a magnet for damage seeking parasites, and they will waste no time in identifying a credibly dangerous industrial facility nearby to blame for such cluster - there will always be one, whether a power plant, chemical factory, waste treatment facility or other.

I have a very simple solution to this problem.  All such facilities should be located in upperclass neighbourhoods, gated communities, and the Financial Districts of the industrial metropoles.  Luxury condos should by law be located in clusters around potentially toxic industrial facilities -- golf courses too (of course, most golf courses are already toxic industrial facilities but that is material for a different diary).  That way, if there is significant toxic leakage, those affected will be well able to bear the cost of treatment and mitigation;  their well-known attentiveness to property value and neighbourhood amenity will ensure minute and scrupulous monitoring;  and should injury or illness ensue, at least those who benefit the most handsomely from the industrial entropy game will pay the price of their affluence, instead of shuffling it off willynilly onto lower income people.

In fact, I will promise to withdraw my objections to nuclear power on the day that the following conditions are met:

  • every senior engineer, every CEO, every financier, every upper-level manager and honcho involved in a nuke plant project is required to live -- with their families, if any -- within 10 miles downwind of the facility.  their children are required to attend schools w/in 20 miles downwind of the facility.   ditto for any politician who lobbied to approve the facility.

  • every senior engineer, CEO, board member, financier, holder of more than X $ of stock [pick a threshold around 1/2 year of wages for the lowest paid plant employee]  in said operation, is required to put in one month of paid time per annum working in the immediate operations of a uranium mine, sharing living quarters, meals, protective gear etc with the miners.  failure to report for this shift punishable by summary dismissal and stripping of assets.

the same should be required for all such operations -- I pick on nukes first because they are the hot topic of this thread.

then we might find out what a "true cost accounting" of the worth of a human life really is, and how safe the investors and rentiers really believe their facility is.  after all, if a chef will not eat in his own restaurant, or a carny barker will not ride on his own ferris wheel, then I would be wary of eating there (or riding on it) myself.

shortly after these laws are passed, mandatory military service for the children of all politicians will be enacted.  and doctors will be required to seek medical treatment for themselves and families at their own hospitals.

most people know enough not to sh*t where they eat, but alas most are all too willing to sh*t where someone else eats.  they shouldn't be allowed to.  localised and decentralised technology brings the "externalities" back inside, where they belong.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 06:17:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
it is not really an answer to mine.

And as far as I can tell, the managers of French nuclear plants do live with their families nearby the nuclear plants they run.

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 06:46:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
your point is well made, and we should also include the obligatory nod to Fooled by Randomness :-)  and there's a lot of research on pattern-recognition as a cognitive predisposition, etc.

however, a few false positives don't discredit all pattern recognition, and there's an noncoincidental history of failure to do thorough epidemiology in most of these cases...  I'll concede the likelihood of some overaggressive pattern id on one side, but I think we have plenty of documentation of [my gut feeling is more, and better funded] coverup and denial on the other side.

I'm posting at a disadvantage here being in the midst of downsizing and packing, short on sleep and free time and with half my reference library packed or disarranged so I can't find anything.  in about 4 months, I hope, I'll be able to come back with something more substantive on epidemiology and geomapping of toxic plumes of various kinds...

my fundamental point remains that distance or decoupling, whether geo or chrono, has an obfuscating effect on cost, cause/effect, and a warping effect on ethics.  zBs plastics plants in the SE US are contributing to cancer in beluga whales in the Arctic, but the delay factor and the physical distance contribute not just to deniability, but to a kind of conceptual difficulty in grasping the connection.  as the global commons becomes increasingly saturated with industrial "externalities" refusing to remain theoretical and external, this problem of distance or detachment and its skewing effect on operational ethics becomes more and more urgent;  and imho localisation is far cheaper, more robust and straightforward than micromanagement and totalising surveillance...

btw I am glad the French managers live near their plants.  it's a good policy and s/b law.  for one thing, a manager is far more likely to blow the whistle on a safety vio (even if his job is on the line) if it's his own family in the plume path.  but imho their neighbours should be the designers, the safety inspectors, and the investors...

I will happily live next to any wind or solar farm of any size.  you couldn't pay me enough to live next to a nuke...  maybe if I lived in France I'd be less definite about that, but not in the US.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 07:06:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Since we're getting technical, and to address Jerome's point. Consider
  • Type I error: false positive - attributing a cause to a random event
  • Type II error: false negative - attributing a real effect to chance
And now perform a cost-benefit analysis
  • Effect of a type I error: an innocent organisation pays a settlement [cost] is paid to people as compensation [benefit] for a condition which is the result of chance, and to their ambulance-chasing lawyer [cost], and safety regulations are strengthened [benefit] unnecessarily [cost].
  • Effect of a type II error: people damaged by a criminally negligent (or worse) organisation fail to get compensation and safety regulations are not strengthened as would be necessary.

There is no benefit to a type II error, only costs, and manifest moral iniquity to boot. The type I error is a mixed bag.

Therefore, the probability of a type II error should be minimised, with a limit to the expected cost of type I errors.

In other words, the false positives should be turned into an estimated "expected cost of doing business", and the compensation possibly capped by statute, and then the probability of false negatives should be minimised.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 07:17:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
thanks for making that point, which I was also considering but ran short of time.

I'll also point out that accurate epidemiology gets harder and harder as the potency (lethality), mobility, incubation time and longevity of the toxic material increase.  in other words an oil spill into a harbour is nasty, but it's visible, the immediate kill effect is visible, it's visually detectible and remedial efforts are, if not perfect, at least feasible (booms, absorbent barriers, dispersal with surfactants, pump-n-filter etc).  and eventually -- maybe in years or decades -- that oil will settle or break down.  a plume of fine particulate or aerosol isotopes from a nuke plant is a far tougher nut to crack:  invisible for a start, and depending on the isotope, possibly toxic for millennia rather than a decade or two.  toxic  effect can occur from minimal inhalation or ingestion (i.e. high lethality) with a long delay (incubation), and it's highly mobile (can travel far and wide in a short time depending on wind conditions or river volume and speed).

containment is impossible, you can't put the genie back into the bottle, not even in a half-assed way like an oil spill.  figuring out who is exposed and who is not is nearly impossible, as no one may be immediately symptomatic and the amount of contaminant needed to do mortal harm may be too small to detect.  with a 20-30 year incubation and current standards of mobility, the exposed population may be anywhere by the time they are finally symptomatic.

dimethyl mercury is about as close as the non-radioactive world gets to this kind of bad scariness.  it is lethal in tiny quantities, incubation is fairly long (months/years though not decades, ahd a distinctive neurological trauma signature which makes it a bit easier to trace).  the response of the chemistry labs of the academic research world to a high profile case of death by dimethyl mercury was, in effect, to stop using it -- to phase it out -- because the properties of the substance mean that there is no safe way to use it.

one response to methods or substances which are highly lethal and present intractable epidemiology is to shrug and say "nothing can be proven, we are doing the best we can, it is unreasonable to expect more, no one can show conclusively that these deaths are really related."  another is to conclude that it's inherently unethical to use methods and substances which present so intractable an epidemiology problem that they create a de facto culture of impunity, in which "nothing can be proven."


The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 08:05:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When arguing with French technocrats you have to use cost-benefit analysis. I know you'd rather bring the discussion to your frame, but that won't convince them ;-)

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 05:30:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Paris is downwind of Paluel, La Hague, Penly, Flamanville. 8 PWR, 1 repro plant, and the future EPR. And the Riviera is downwind of all the plants along the Rhone (probably 1/3rd of all 59 reactors, and the enrichment plant). France is only about 700 miles x 700 miles. With 59 power reactors, a couple of plants, a couple of research site, there are few places in France that are not with 100 miles of a nuclear plant (Auvergne, Mayenne...



Pierre

by Pierre on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 03:56:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Cancel Le Tour!

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 08:22:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wow..

speechless seriously Dodo.. huge.

You know my point of view.. keep the nuclear while they substitute all the coal for wind.... and then reduce consumption to elimiante the nculear..

In any case.. the diary is.. well at leas super-mega informative.

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 Wed Jul 11th, 2007 at 12:48:21 PM EST
All these energy policy questions are just horribly complicated. I heard Gabriel saying that - all things considered (uranium extraction etc.) - nuclear plants actually produce more CO2 than coal plants. I mean, really?
Maybe we just need that fusion reactor thing going.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 03:28:01 AM EST
iirc the biggest nuke fuel enrichment plant in the US is powered by two giant coal plants.  meanwhile, iirc, the Canadians were gonna build a nuke plant to facilitate the extraction of oil from the low-grade Alberta tar sands.  (jeez did they actually do that?  I must go look it up when I'm awake.)

go figure.

it all makes money for the contractors.  doesn't matter if it makes EROEI sense, so long as the big fact cost-plus projects keep rolling in...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 03:54:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nuclear heat for tars sands is not a bad idea, as all is not about EROEI. We aren't struggling with energy, there's plenty of it, but with liquid fuels.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 04:00:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know whether they actually are going to build it, but it was (French) Total, not the Canadians, that was considering building a nuclear power plant to extract ultraheavy oil from the vast oil-sand fields of western Canada.

Of course, the nuclear reactors would be provided by (French) Areva, so everything remains with the family.

And notice that they would be getting ultraheavy oil (also known as tar) from the oil sands (formerly known as tar sands).

The real issue is that we have a lot of infrastructure built on gasoline that cannot be replaced overnight.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 05:18:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Apart from the diary by Jerome that I link to above, there's Oil Giants Turn Sludge into Gold by wchurchill on March 27th, 2006.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 05:21:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
AECL has been talking about deploying CANDU's too.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 06:09:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Areva is rolling out a new enrichment technology that divides by 20 (or more, maybe one of our nuclear experts can be more precise) the energy cost of enrichment. This will actually free up one or two existing nuclear tranches in Cadarache.

They have recently asked for (or obtained?) a license to build such a plant in the US.

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 07:25:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not really a new technology.

They are deploying centrifuge plants based on Urenco technology (the company Pakistan spied on to build their bomb).

But, yes, they are retiring the Georges Besse gaseous diffusion cascade and cutting their electricity bill by 20 or so. Also, they are going to be able to rev up the use of reprocessed uranium.

by Francois in Paris on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 08:17:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mr. Gabriel is just completely out of touch them. No surprise there. All credible studies no nuclear life-cycle emissions puts it at a tiny fraction of coal plants, at about the same level as wind power and below solar power.

A quick googling gives:

And energy issues are not that complicated, really. It's just common sense and lots of little details. As it is fundamentally based on nature and material flows it's inherently more simple than some of the absurdly complex things things humans have invented, like the capitalist economy.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 03:58:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"more simple than some of the absurdly complex things things humans have invented, like the capitalist economy."
If you think of it in these terms, you're right. I just thought that it must be much, much easier to determine what kind of energy use had what effects at what costs (before I began reading about the issues).
Thanks for the graphs, I already thought that Gabriel must be wrong. The SPD is obviously still very fond of the idea that coal might still play an important role in the 21. century.
On the other hand, uranium is also slowly depleting. We really need to focus more on the demand side, IMHO.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 04:25:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Coal will play a huge role in the 21st century, albeit a far smaller role than many people think as it seems we are approaching peak coal far faster than anyone thought just a few years ago.

The upside being that climate change will be a far smaller issue than for example the gentlemen at the IPCC thinks. I for one don't worry that much about it anymore.

I wouldn't worry much about uranium either. The new prospecting increased reserves by 50 % in 2003-2005. If we could do that with oil and coal no one would be talking about peak oil or peak coal.

But I definitely think we must look very closely at the demand side.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 06:15:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Coal will play a huge role in the 21st century
I was thinking more of the German coal lobby's waning grip on the SPD than the global role of coal. If you consider China, it sure looks different.

On uranium, I found this graph:  
Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
But from what I read on wikipedia, it's really not so bad.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu

by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 12:54:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, peak uranium is not relevant for a number of reasons, the most obvious that new prospecting is massively increasing reserves.

Then we have lots of more or less working technologies to massively extend the resource base (increased enrichment, reprocessing, breeding, sea water extraction, thorium etc).

According to peak oil guru Kenneth Deffeyes ("World Uranium Resources", by Kenneth S. Deffeyes and Ian D. MacGregor, Scientific American, January, 1980), an increase in the price of uranium by ten times will increase the supply of uranium that can be economically mined by 300 times.

The nuclear industry can pretty easily afford such prices as fuel is such a small part of total costs. In 1980 the inflation-adjusted uranium price was about $40 current per pound (and I guess this is the price Deffeyes reers too) compared to $135 today after the recent massive run-up in prices, from about $6-7 per pound at the turn of the century. To realise the 300 times potential of Deffeyes, prices must triple from current levels. Not that we really need 300 times larger reserves of uranium.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 03:55:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but on the very short term (next two years), we now have a scarcity of uranium: during 1Q07, there has been catastrophic flooding in two separate U mines (cigar lake in canada, and one in australia). In my view, and at a time when a huge inventory of above-ground U is in the hands of hedge funds, this is not a coincidence. Basically, some new plant will delay start-up simply because they cannot secure the fuel, being auctioned out of the market (initial loading is the biggest ones, and new players don't have the long-term contracts already signed).

Pierre
by Pierre on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 04:01:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sure, but in the long run...

Still, the extreme lack of price elasticity of uranium makes oil look like a joke.

The only short term (less than 5-10 years) substitute for uranium ore is more SWU's (more intense enrichment). But I think enrichment capacity is pretty much running full bore, which is why they are building Geroges Besse II, USEC's American Centrifuge and Urenco's US centrifuge (and either AREVA is part of that or planning it's own US enrichment facility).

On top of that, the old gasseous diffusion facilities are horribly energy inefficient. Tricastin use something like 2700 MW while the replacement is going to be about 5 % of that.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 06:37:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Something kcurie and I were wondering about: what is the price elasticity of oil, and (while we're at it) of uranium?

Defined as

(Price elasticity of demand) = (price / demand) * [(change in demand) / (change in price)]

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 06:39:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You can't compare because the oil market is spot and liquid, whereas the U market is mostly legacy multi-decade contracts, the spot is new and marginal.

In both cases, the spot exhibits near zero elasticity. But in the case of oil, it tells much of the true story, where as in the case of U, it may not be significant on the long term.

Pierre

by Pierre on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 07:07:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think GBII will give a lot of room for tail reprocessing in Europe. But the market remains cornered: who owns basically all the tails in Europe, close to half the tails in the world ? Areva...

They are on the same side as the hedge funds and the U exploration company, to fuck the newcomers. And it puts Areva in a strong selling position in Europe: buy my EPR, my price, cos' if you buy Toshiba, I won't procure you rods, and I'm the only guy in town with rods. Screw you.

Pierre

by Pierre on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 07:04:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
By the way, are there any French legal obstacles to accepting foreign spent fuel? That would make nuclear power far more attractive from a political point of view for small nations who don't feel the political cost of a small nuclear program can be justified.

Buy Areva EPR= get fuel and we'll take your waste, either permanently or put in int the reprocessing backlog, effectively storing it at La Hague for decades.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 07:44:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is precisely forbidden. Reprocessed fuel (either into MOX or long term storage containers) must be sent back to its producer. There is even a treaty against it (I think its Basel).

Pierre
by Pierre on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 08:00:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's illegal here too, but I didn't know there was a treaty.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 08:40:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
According to peak oil guru Kenneth Deffeyes ("World Uranium Resources", by Kenneth S. Deffeyes and Ian D. MacGregor, Scientific American, January, 1980), an increase in the price of uranium by ten times will increase the supply of uranium that can be economically mined by 300 times.

Strange thing an oil guru says such blind things.

Think of peak oil, think of oil sands specifically. Even if the recoverable supply increases dramatically, what matters is the level of production -- and that can't be run up as fast for the lower-grade supplies. (Note that even today, recovery focuses on the very highest grades among what is characterised as recoverable.)

Another point is that once you go for lower grades, the amount of Easrth moved and the CO2 emissions associated will blow up, too.

Realistically, I think nuclear will continue stuck with modest growth, thus use the highest grades for a little longer, while industry advocates will continue to argue for their technology with the opposed claims of little environmental impact and potential expansion.

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

by DoDo on Sat Jul 14th, 2007 at 12:01:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Those low figures for nuclear are debated by others, but even I haven't heard of any study claiming that nuclear would be anywhere near coal. I will check what Gabriel referred to.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 09:37:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
After a first search, I think you mis-remember what you heard. I find Gabriel argued with higher CO2 emissions in the debate over Steinkohle vs. Braunkohle in the distribution of 2008-2012 emission certificates -- correctly saying that sub-bitumenous coal has higher CO2 emissions per electricity generated.

But I search further, maybe he did say it about nuclear, too.

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

by DoDo on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 09:52:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm pretty sure that it was nuclear vs. coal. He said it on some TV show, probably "Sabine Christiansen". Just a small sentence, but it stuck in my head.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 12:31:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Checking further, I found two different things.

On one hand, there really was an SPD politician who made that claim, but it was current party chairman Kurt Beck.

On the other hand, I find that the below referenced Öko-Institut numbers come from a study asked for by Gabriel's ministerium (the full study is here (pdf!)), which looked separately at CO2 per 1 kW electricity production and combined 2kW heat and 1kW electricity production. Only the latter comparison shows only block heating gas as better than German nuclear+oil heating, so I think Gabriel shouldn1t be the person arguing for coal beating nuclear.

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

by DoDo on Sat Jul 14th, 2007 at 01:22:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I told Turambar that there are other numbers than those; I didn't have much time for searching, here is just one, which isn't that different -- the GEMIS numbers by the Öko-Institut:

Specific lifecycle CO2 emissions in g/kWh = t/GWh:

Subbituminous coal power plant: 1153
Bituminous coal power plant with imported coal: 949
Subbituminous coal heating plant: 729
Bituminous coal heating plant with imported coal: 622
Natural gas combined cycle power plant: 428
Natural gas combined cycle heating plant: 148
Nuclear power plant (uranium imported only from South Africa), without spent fuel storage: 126
Multicristalline solar cell (with current energy supply for manufacturing): 101
Natural gas block heating power plant: 49
Hydroelectric power: 40
Nuclear power plant (present resource use in Germany), without spent fuel storage: 32
Solar electricity import from Spain: 27
On-shore wind: 24
Off-shore wind: 23
Biogas block heating power plant: -409[Typo?]

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

by DoDo on Sat Jul 14th, 2007 at 12:42:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
-409[Typo?]

No, not a typo.

That's an actual number coming out from a completely fucked-up model meant to give the desired numbers, in that case, extol the virtues of heat/power cogeneration, using an argument I just cannot understand. Makes no fucking sense. See the explanatory paper

When comparing electricity-only options like nuclear, wind etc. with combined heat and power (CHP) generation (i.e. cogeneration), one must deal with the additional non-electric - but still useful - heat output supplied by the cogeneration system. To do so, first the total CO2 emissions of the cogeneration system (i.e. the emissions from generating both electricity and heat) are determined. Then, the emissions of a heating system delivering the same amount of heat are subtracted ("credited"), because the cogeneration system not only generates electricity, but also replaces heat supply from another system - say, an oil heater - and, hence, replaces also its emissions.

For example, the production of 1 kWh of electricity in a gas-fired internal combustion engine (ICE) cogenerator substitutes about 2 kWh of heat which does not have to be produced separately. The CO2 emissions thus saved are credited to the cogeneration system.

How do they compute that credit for the heat? Compared to burning coal to generate the same heat?

If they want to compared on a CHP basis, they need to compare the total output of a biomass cogeneration to the output other sources would require in electricity to also generate that heat. It will probably make the biomass cogen look extra double plus good but, fuck, going negative on CO2 emission is an amazing "methodology". Nothing is CO2 negative unless it collects CO2 in the atmosphere and buries it in the ground. Nice way to spin numbers. This is gold-plated bullshit of the first order.

For what it's worth (no details either), a UK parliamentary report gives nuclear at parity with wind.

About the figure for nuclear power, as the Öko-Institut doesn't give the break-down in the explanatory paper, I would assume it's the same joke as the very entertaining Wise Uranium numbers which, for enrichment, assume both the most energy-expensive enrichment process (gaseous diffusion) and the worst way of supplying that energy (low efficiency coal plant).

The coal assumption has a veneer of validity for the USEC plant in Paducah, Ky as it's powered by TVA electricity which is in part, generated by coal, the rest coming from hydro (Hoover Dam, etc) and nuclear. But, an other example, the EURODIF gaseous plant uses off-peak electricity from the 4 Tricastin PWR reactors. That demonstrates that the enrichment phase can be CO2 free and that nothing specifically requires the use of fossil fuel for it, as opposed to, for instance, open pit mining where the trucks are fueled with diesel (yet shaft mining machines run mostly on electricity so ...).

And anyway, USEC and EURODIF are moving to centrifuge so those CO2 numbers are obsolete in any case and at least a 20x factor off not matter how the energy is produced.

As I'm cross-checking the Wise numbers, I note that the Wise slide has this comment:

The CO2 emissions increase considerably with decreasing ore grades, but are still by far lower than from electricity generation in fossil plants.

These figures cover only the operation of the fuel cycle facilities. The situation may change, if CO2 emissions from construction and decommissioning also are taken into account.

Emphasis mine. I love the ominous "caveat" about construction and decommissioning. "The situation may change..." Yeah, really? Can they show a credible scenario where building and destroying a nuclear plant would significantly alter the CO2 balance?

For reference, a 1,600 MW EPR reactor requires 250,000 m3 of concrete, about 200,000 t of cement if it's all high compressive strength concrete, that is 250,000 t CO2 (1.25 t CO2 for 1 t cement on bad days).

There are other sources for CO2 building a plant - transporting all the stuff on and off site, etc. - but, at least, that quick calculation gives an order of magnitude for the most obvious CO2 suspect - concrete in the plant. If the life cycle of an EPR plant emits more than 2 million ton of CO2 excluding the fuel cycle itself, someone needs to show me a detailed, fully sourced analysis.

And an EPR will produce 80 to 100 GWa_e over its lifetime, so reducing those hypothetical 2 million ton of CO2 to each GWa_e, that's a 25,000 t CO2 increment to the 300,000 t to 600,000 t CO2 per GWa_e numbers given by Wise for the front-end fuel cycle.

In other words, their little innuendo is 100% bullshit. They can't demonstrate their point so they punt to an unevaluated issue, knowing most will swallow it without asking questions.

For the rest of the slide, I don't know where their numbers are coming from but given what shows up when I look at the enrichment numbers, I'm entitled to have my doubts.

There's no direct URL for the slide I refer to. Watch the whole slide show for yourself. If you select all chapters, the slide in question is #67, next to last.

-

Dodo, that's the problem with all those "green" think tanks. They tweak and spin the numbers to match the goal. Everywhere you peek, you find enormous claims, gross obfuscation and numerical hierophancy at every corner and when you cross-check, the balloon pops invariably.

And compared to other offenders like Greenpeace, Wise is positively tame. Given the bull they pull on CHP, I suspect that Öko-Institut is more in the Greenpeace league.

by Francois in Paris on Sun Jul 15th, 2007 at 04:35:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Update: now there is open hostility between Vattenfall and federal environment minister Sigmar Gabriel: Gabriel declared in a press conference that Vattenfall was only cooperative on technical issues, but didn't want to provide for a questioning of the workers by the overseeing authority. (One of the accidents involved mis-communication between technicians during shutdown.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 10:06:26 AM EST
WaPo:  Sting Reveals Security Gap at Nuclear Agency
http://tinyurl.com/ywte2c

Undercover congressional investigators posing as West Virginia businessmen obtained a license with almost no scrutiny from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that enabled them to buy enough radioactive material from U.S. suppliers to build a "dirty bomb," a new government report says.
...
Using a post-office box at Mail Boxes Etc., a telephone and a fax machine, the undercover investigators from the GAO obtained the license "without ever leaving their desks," the report says.

This is about govt. ineptitude/negligence, without even looking into the private sector.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Thu Jul 12th, 2007 at 01:50:22 PM EST
Could not have happened at a better time. Vattenfall is running a big campaign right now on nuclear power.

As you mentioned the differing regional connections between the parties and energy interests, I'll point to the programme the SPD has in Hessen, which is pretty damn good. Could have been taken directly from the greens. Read the PDF here.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 09:07:23 AM EST
Fascinating. I am sure they would have run it even if we hadn't changed to a more pro-nuke government in Sweden. And the German nukes were bought during a soc dem government.

The government forces Vattenfall to close reactors in Sweden, then sends the very same stateowned company shopping for German nukes.

Politics are just awful.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Fri Jul 13th, 2007 at 01:13:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, very interesting! Now I wish Ypsilanti even more to beat Koch...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jul 14th, 2007 at 12:07:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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