Open Thread 22

The Open Thread 21 has passed 500 comments and is getting a little bloated, so time for a new one.

The Open Thread is a general discussion forum, where you can talk about whatever you like — there is nothing ‘off topic’ here — within reason. So get up on your soap box! The standard commenting rules of courtesy apply, and at the very least your chat should relate to the general content of this blog.

The sort of things that belong on this thread include general enquiries, soapbox philosophy, meandering trains of argument that move dynamically from one point of contention to another, and so on — as long as the comments adhere to the broad BNC themes of sustainable energy, climate change mitigation and policy, energy security, climate impacts, etc.

You can also find this thread by clicking on the Open Thread category on the cascading menu under the “Home” tab.

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There was quite a bit of discussion in the previous OT on radiation levels and the Fukushima evacuation zone. Relevant to this is the recent announcement that Japan will lift the entry ban on some cities within the prefecture. To quote:

In areas where annual radiation measurements are below 20 millisieverts per year, a government safety guideline, residents will have free access to their homes during the day and will be allowed to return permanently at the earliest opportunity post-decontamination. Where readings are between 20 to 50 millisieverts annually, evacuees will also have unrestricted access during the day although their permanent return will come later. In areas where measurements top 50 millisieverts, residents will not have free access and they will not be allowed to return for a minimum of five years.

A past BNC guest poster, engineer Chris Uhlik, analysed the situation a private email distribution list, and I thought his summary with respect to LNT (linear no-threshold hypothesis of radiation damage to living organisms) was very useful. With Chris’ permission, I reproduce it below:

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The official position of every regulatory agency & scientific body, and even the people who will tell you “we don’t know what’s going on under 50 mSv”, the weight of the evidence favors LNT.

Here’s what I think is going on:

Under 50mSv/year we can’t find any epidemiological data to support LNT. There is simply too much noise and other effects to see sub-0.5% changes in cancer rates in populations where the variations from other effects (smoking, stress, chemical exposures, etc) are in the range of 20–45%.

The rates of different kinds of cancers are affected differently by radiation. Some kinds appear to increase while others decrease. Some kinds of cancer are more treatable than others and thus result in different mortality rates, even if the occurrence rate increases. Simple statements like “cancer death rates show a LNT response to radiation exposure” are way too simplistic to be true, but such statements are easy to base regulations around. When regulators feel a need to support a regulation with some math, they’d rather choose simple math than more-correct, but difficult to understand and explain math.

We can find biological data from cell culture experiments that DNA disruptions are linearly related to exposure. However, most of these experiments are not with healthy, normal, human cell cultures. Bacteria and yeast might have different DNA repair mechanisms than humans. Some human cell culture experiments show hormesis. (example)

In the absence of unambiguous scientific evidence for a simple dose response model, regulators choose a conservative, simple model. They (and the scientists) agree that the model is simple and conservative, i.e. over-estimates the number of deaths. But what gets me riled up is that we ignore the opportunity cost of being excessively conservative. For example, we’ll spend $billions to avoid tens of theoretical deaths counted by the conservative model while not spending similar amounts on things that would much more reliably save thousands of lives. And, at the same time, we take the opposite point of view with global climate change. There, we have good models that show massive disruption, but we take business-as-usual actions because changing would be inconvenient. We are totally inconsistent about what sort of inconvenience is acceptable.

All risk-avoidance regulation should take a years-of-life-lost approach where the best available model (not simplest model) of years of productive life lost are counted against a standard value for a year of productive life. If we did this consistently, we’d spend lots of money developing cures for disease and less money treating disease because treating saves just one person’s life while a cure saves thousands or millions. Likewise, coal air pollution takes thousands (maybe millions) of years of life from asthmatic children while an accident like Fukushima requires extreme assumptions to reach ~1000 years of life lost and where the evacuation has already claimed >500 lives which is at least 5000 years of life lost.

Local optimization results are often extremely sub-optimal relative to global optimization, especially for complex systems. These piecemeal regulations that ignore the greater context can be extremely harmful. The conservative LNT assumption is one such unfortunate local optimization that protects the regulator while harming the populace.

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Footnote: More here from Depleted Cranium blog: Evacuation Policy Versus Radiation Level Measurements In Japan

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282 Comments

  1. Where I can find an estimate of what the compliance cost of the CO2 tax and ETS will be when fully implemented to the standard that will eventually be required? (I have not been able to find such an estimate, including on the Treasury, DRET or DCCEE web sites).

    Expansion of my question and some thoughts follow:

    What would be the compliance cost for the ETS once it is fully implemented and running at the level of accuracy required for trading the commodity (CO2-e) and at the level of financial security from fraud that will be expected? For example, what will be the annual cost for:

    – Public servants in DCCEE, Treasury, ATO, Australian Federal Police, state police forces, state bureaucracies, Attorneys’ General Departments, Federal Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, ABARE, BREE, the equivalent state departments of energy, resources, agriculture, forestry, environment, Prime Minister and Cabinet, State departments of Premier and Cabinet, the law courts, High Court, goals, any others I haven’t thought of?

    – The businesses that have to report their emissions – what is the cost to implement and maintain the monitoring equipment and to report? What is the cost to update and replace equipment, reporting systems and legacy data each time the rules change (as they do every few years)?

    – Farmers and all the upstream and downstream industries (farming will be included eventually if the tax and ETS remain)

    – Accountants, lawyers, accounting firms, law firms, courts?

    – Firms that use the data, analyse it and report? What is the cost for them to have to maintain and continually update their systems and legacy data?

    – What about the compliance cost for purchasing overseas carbon credits?

    I understand some of the costs involved in doing what the US legislation requires the US EPA to do (clearly we would have to move to that level of accountability and beyond it eventually), would be in the order of $21 billion per year. These two links provide some insight into the current requirements in the USA http://www.epa.gov/airmarkets/business/ecmps/docs/ECMPSEMRI2009Q2.pdf
    http://www.epa.gov/airmarkt/emissions/docs/plain_english_guide_par75_final_rule.pdf
    We can only guess what the costs would be for the businesses involved and all the organisations who take this data and analyses it. Notice that the rules have been changing (for emissions other than CO2) every few years for about the last three decades (roughly); think of the compliance cost that imposes.

    The EPA recently stated in a court submission that the cost to the EPA alone to implement and manage in accordance with the existing laws would cost $21 billion per year. That is not a typo. They estimated they would have to increase their permanent staff numbers from 17,000 to 233,000 permanent employees. The cost to business could be expected to be at least ten times the EPA’s cost, and the other departments who have a role to play would probably double the EPA’s cost.

    What does this mean for Australia? Well, initially Australia does not intend to monitor or measure its emissions. It will simply estimate them (very crudely). The system set up by AEMO to estimate electricity system emissions is very crude. It is nowhere near the standard the USA or even the Europeans are doing. I am sure we will have to get up to best practice eventually. That means big increases in compliance cost as time goes on. And this is for electricity emissions only. What happens when the compliance requirements are extended to all businesses emitting CO2 emissions, as will be required eventually.

    To repeat my question, where can I find an estimate of the compliance cost for the ETS and for emissions monitoring at the level of accuracy and accountability that will ultimately be required for trading CO2-e emissions?

  2. Gotta watch those assumptions, indeed! In fact, there’s one you might like to check on of your own. Seems that coal emissions are not at all correlated with childhood asthma, nor is air quality. Asthma has been rising while air quality improved.

    Oops! WCS!! (Wrong Cause Syndrome)
    MODERATOR
    Although not essential on the Open Thread, refs support your assertions and enable others to check out what you claim.

  3. Peter Lang compliance vigilance has been studied for the US NOx and SOx trading schemes
    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2012/03/taylor-20120319.html
    As I said in a comment federal govts are as tough as a TV wrestling referee in that they will probably look away when dodgy behaviour goes on. In fact they almost seem to invite fraud as in the case of our Carbon Farming Initiative. For example if a carbon sink woodland catches fire the offset sold for cash doesn’t have to be refunded just noted for later. It follows that they probably won’t measure Hazelwood’s CO2 emissions to the last gram. Bear in mind they just gave them a cheque for $266m. Put it this way, Hazelwood are not trembling with fear.

    A tough compliance scheme would have frequent flue stack sampling cross checked against coal tonnages. If carbon tax was underpaid serious penalties could be imposed under threat of plant closure. That seems unlikely I agree. Yet the the renewables regulator ORER apparently has no hesitation in slapping a ‘shortfall charge’ of $65 per Mwh on electricity seller who doesn’t buy enough RECs.

    The upshot of all this is that carbon tax may be in effect semi-voluntary whereby big emitters pay what they feel like. I’d put a military man like Cosgrove in charge. Another serious glitch to add to the list.

  4. According to this page there are various areas in the world with high chronic natural radiation levels, but it doesn’t lead to increased cancers.

    http://www.ecolo.org/documents/documents_in_english/ramsar-natural-radioactivity/ramsar.html

    Areas in Brazil, Ramsar and India have natural radiation rates of 35 to 260 mSv/year. According to Japan’s evacuation criterium, these areas should be evacuated. Yet that seems absurd without any evidence for bad health effects!

    People actually go to beaches in Brazil and sit right on source 265 mSv/year sand, to bask in the sun.

    http://www.degroenerekenkamer.nl/node/1663

    Amazing.

  5. More important than asthma is lung cancer. Fine particulate matter from coal combustion is the real killer. More recent findings are that nitrous oxides, which form also in high temperature combustion, increase the effect. Since coal plants produce lots of both they are very dangerous. Even with modern deNox and baghouse filters they still fling tonnes per year into the air. Brian Wang from Next Big Future keeps track of the size of the killzone:

    http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/lifetime-deaths-per-twh-from-energy.html

    Compared to burning stuff (including biomass) Fukushima is a joke. In fact compare it to road accidents death rate: 1.19 million deaths/year. Indeed pretty much anything you can imagine is more dangerous than nuclear accidents. Drinking, smoking, being fat, using stairs, cars, trains, and even eating peanut butter is more dangerous than a nuclear powerplant.

    Combusting stuff kills over a million a year – from the normal operations of such combustion. Nuclear plants can kill betwen 0 and 100 – and even that only when they have accidents. When fossil plants have accidents they can kill many more. Thousands of coal miners die every year in coal mines. Working on roofs, say to install solar panels, is more dangerous than generating electricity with nuclear plants. Mining for iron and cement and such is not safe either, and solar and wind use 5-20x more of those mined commodities than nuclear on a per kWh basis.

  6. Chris Uhlik, on 2 April 2012 at 4:48 PM said:

    Here’s a rational proposal for a very limited, voluntary exclusion zone in Fukushima

    http://depletedcranium.com/evacuation-policy-versus-radiation-level-measurements-in-japan/

    A very pragmatic approach. I wonder why the Japanese government doesn’t do something like this. It would cut costs to the government and at the same time result in a happier citizenry.

    Also, if some citizens wanted to reoccupy in a high radiation zone why not just distribute dosimeter badges??

  7. Also, if some citizens wanted to reoccupy in a high radiation zone why not just distribute dosimeter badges??

    If citizens want to remain in fossil fuel polluted Tokyo and greatly increase their risk of lung cancer and related diseases, ashtma, infections etc, they can. So why are they removed from Fukushima?

    If we were more rational we would recognize the scientific fact that there is no evidence for bad health effects from cesium-134 and cesium-137 in people that live in and around Chernobyl. And that evacuation zones for cesium make no sense.

    The most rational criterium for evacuating an area is: does letting people stay kill more than evacuating them? So far 500+ have died from the evacuation (if you are in the intensive care of a hospital and the hospital has to evacuate… you consider your chances!). Would letting people stay have killed more than 500? No. Based on the scientific evidence, it would not, if milk was banned for 3 months and people were given small doses of prophylactic iodine pills in stead of evacuating them.

  8. Sorry for off-topic post: could someone please recommend a good book on climate change? What I am looking for:
    — something objective and without agenda (from any point of view), i.e., nothing that either supports c.c.denial or has something like “Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming” in the title qualifies
    — focused on the science of climate change and its consequences, not on politics of dealing with it or the debate surrounding it
    — as technical as possible (i.e., I am not afraid of differential equations) while still self-contained

  9. Regarding the issue of the linear no threshold (LNT) adoption, here’s what I think is one of the most important errors.

    The data to support the LNT is almost exclusively based on the Japanese bomb survivors. The nature of this radiation is very prompt. You receive almost all of the radiation in 1 second, and afterwards its barely above background.

    Sure, I’m willing to believe that receiving 100 mSv in one second is not good for you.

    This does not mean 100 mSv neatly divided over the course of one year is equally bad for you. That is like saying, taking one aspirin a week gets you a dose of 52 aspirin a year, which is just as bad for you as taking 52 aspirin in one hour.

    The strange thing about LNT is that they use an anti-science fudge factor to handwave this grave error away. They call it the dose and dose rate effect factor, DDREF. Basically divide chronic exposures by 2 to compensate for the damage being healed up by the body immune system. Now apart from the fact that this is completely arbitrary and a rather pathetic attempt to frame a complex issue, there is also the point that assuming anything like a DDREF means admitting the effects are NOT linear !!!

    In the aspirin analogy, it is saying that taking 26 aspirins in one hour is just as bad for you as taking one a week for a year. Fundmentally flawed conclusion; what we see here is no arbitrary fudge factor, it is a scientific (even biologic) variable. The body has various enzyme repair mechanisms. We know how fast these can work. We know they can’t work as fast as to deal with 100 mSv in one second and damage will be done. We know that they make mistakes when pushed for speed. We know they work well if the damages per second are low. We know they can repair chronic exposure of 100 mSv a year.

    It is very much like Einstein’s cosmic constant. The bias of the time required this constant, but it was nonsense. The universe really is expanding; Einstein’s original formulae were correct. It was the bias of his time – that the universe is never growing or shrinking – that conceived the cosmic constant. Einstein later repented, and referred to the cosmic constant as his biggest mistake.

    It is time the LNT users start pondering like Einstein.

  10. @seth South Australia gets 26% of its Mwh from wind power but also 44% from gas. Their gas baseload plant (Torrens Island) is Australia’s largest gas user. Allegedly they have the world’s third highest electricity prices behind Denmark and Germany if I recall.

    The problem is that both SA’s developed coal and gas are fast running out. One estimate gave their Cooper Basin gas field 12 years production left. That was in 2009 since then the miracle of fracking promises to extend that. If there is any anxiety it is being hushed up.

    The other egregious fact about SA is that it is has huge uranium deposits with Olympic Dam mine able to produce 19,000t a year of U3O8 when expanded. Without a dispatchable power source that’s not going to happen nor will SA wind power get its needed backup.

  11. John Newlands @ 2 April 2012 at 6:42 PM

    Thank you for your comment.

    It seems that neither Treasury, DRET, DCCEE or anyone else has looked seriously at what the compliance cost for emissions monitoring will be when it is implemented to the standard that will be required for emissions trading or taxing or regulation. That is a disgrace, IMO.

    What level of precision and accuracy will ultimately be required for measuring CO2-eq emissions? Will we need to measure all emissions caused by man to a level of precision of 1 t or 1 kg (value say $50 or 5c)? If not what level will be required? And to what level of accuracy, e.g. +/- 1%, 5%, 10%? At 10% accuracy the total amount readily available for fraud would be 10% of 600 Mt/a @ $50/t = $3 billion per year.

    I am influenced by recollection of many inquiries into the petrol distribution and retailing industry. Petrol station owners and consumer groups were both concerned they were being ‘ripped off’. For example, there was concern that the petrol delivered at the petrol bowser was less dense (and therefore contained less energy per litre) than when it was loaded into the petrol tanker because it would warm up along the way. So people reckoned they were getting less than they were paying for. There were many inquiries over the years.

    This suggests to me people will become concerned about the accuracy of measuring CO2-eq emissions once trading is well established. That implies we will be forever having to tighten the regulations on emissions monitoring. That suggests ever increasing cost of compliance at a rate well above inflation.

    And all sources of emissions will eventually have to comply. It strains credulity to believe only some sources (businesses, people or organisations) would have to participate in emissions trading while other sources of emissions will not. We can foresee the fuss and cries of “Why me, but not him?” if that situation was allowed. Eventually, emissions measurement and reporting will have to apply to all sources, even down to cow farts. How can this be done sufficiently accurately from all emissions sources? What will be the total cost of compliance ultimately?

    If we assume Australia’s compliance cost would be 10% of USA EPA’s cost (eventually) that means $2.1 billion per year for DCCEE. If we assume the cost for the other government departments involved is roughly the same, we add $2.1 billion. I’d expect the total cost to all businesses and industry would be say ten times DCCEE’s costs – i.e. about $21 billion per year.

    Total about $25 billion per year.

    I realise this is a very high number. But, what is the correct number? Where has it been estimated and documented?

    Given that background, what I really want to know is whether or not there is any official estimate of what the compliance cost will be ultimately? Has anyone done the estimating properly? I am beginning to suspect it hasn’t because if it had someone would be able to point me to some official documentation.

  12. The reason I am pushing the issue of the compliance cost of CO2-eq pricing is because I believe there may be a better alternative. I believe those who follow BNC may recognise this alternative is worth serious consideration.

    CO2-eq pricing is pushed by economists, finance industry, banks, etc. The alternative is an engineering and technology alternative. Engineers do not have the same influence with policy makers as economists, financiers, banks, NGOs, etc. So the alternative does not get as much play where it counts.

    Economists genuinely believe CO2-eq pricing is the least cost way to reduce emissions. They are not being dishonest, they just genuinely believe it

    CO2-eq pricing necessarily requires accurate measurement of CO2-eq emissions and will eventually require it for all countries and all organisations that emit CO2-eq. It will be required all over the world (think of the practicalities of implementing it, to the standard required, in Eretria and Mogadishu for example).

    So what is the alternative to pricing CO2-eq emissions?

    The alternative is to remove the impediments to low-cost, low-emissions energy sources. I am particularly thinking of removing the impediments to nuclear power to allow it to be cheaper than coal.

    Once we do that, nuclear will replace coal and gas all over the world (over time of course).

    That is what needs to be done to make real progress on cutting global emissions.

    I suggest the solution is technological. It is a matter of removing the impediments we’ve placed on nuclear power as a result of 50 years of anti-nuclear scaremongering. The scaremongering has caused widespread radiation phobia. Radiation phobia is mainly a disease that inflicts rich people in western democracies. It can be fixed. Education is the key.

  13. PL I don’t know whether compliance cost will be onerous or not for CT but I suspect the public’s respect will diminish for several additional reasons. These include
    – coal export hypocrisy
    – double dipping by renewables
    – questionable offsets such as carbon farming
    – spending billions on foreign offsets
    – the manufacturing exodus and loss of jobs
    – throwing cash at big emitters
    – prohibition of nuclear.

    All predictable in my opinion so if it blows up the architects have themselves to blame. A quite plausible scenario is that CT is repealed with a change of government at the same time Blind Freddy can see low carbon is the way to go. The public will say in effect we know we should have carbon pricing just we don’t like the way it’s done.

  14. Zdenek, it’s not off topic. Try Climate Change: Science and Solutions for Australia.

    But really your best source is the IPCC. The Fourth Assessment Report and others. They’re kinda the gold standard.

    http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_and_data_reports.shtml

    tialsedov, I would imagine that asthma, cancer etc rates would be very easy to study in Victoria. All of the power plants are concentrated in one area. Traralgon and Morwell would have easily distinguishable rates compared to the general country Victorian population.

    Not saying I know where this data is, but the fact that two decent sized towns are smothered in brown coal exhausts means that if a signal exists, it would have to be found there.

  15. What Peter Lang said – “The EPA recently stated in a court submission that the cost to the EPA alone to implement and manage in accordance with the existing laws would cost $21 billion per year. That is not a typo. They estimated they would have to increase their permanent staff numbers from 17,000 to 233,000 permanent employees.”

    The actual truth – “Sources needing operating permits would jump from 14,700 to 6.1 million as a result of application of Title V to greenhouse gases, a 400-fold increase. … Hiring the 230,000 full-time employees necessary to produce the 1.4 billion work hours required to address the actual increase in permitting functions would result in an increase in the Title V administration costs of $21 billion per year.

    Based on this analysis, EPA found that applying the literal statutory thresholds (100/250 tpy [tons per year]) on January 2, 2011, would ‘overwhelm[] the resources of permitting authorities and severely impair[] the functioning of the programs …’ After considerable study and receipt of public comment, EPA determined that by phasing in the statutory thresholds, it could almost immediately achieve most of the emission benefits that would result from strict adherence to the literal 100/250 tpy threshold while avoiding the permit gridlock that unquestionably would result from the immediate application of that threshold. This phase-in process would also allow EPA time to develop streamlining measures that could eventually ease administration at the statutory thresholds. Thus, EPA promulgated the Tailoring Rule to ‘phase[] in the applicability of these programs to GHG sources, starting with the largest GHG emitters.'” [EPA brief, 9/16/11]”

    http://mediamatters.org/research/201109270014

    The actual truth is that the EPA estimated the cost of not bringing in a tailoring rule to avoid regulating each and every greenhouse gas emitter. As our carbon tax ONLY applies to large emitters then the administration charge would be in line with the estimated EPA costs with a tailoring rule.

    Peter Lang is repeating a distortions of the truth.

  16. Zdednek “Sorry for off-topic post: could someone please recommend a good book on climate change? What I am looking for:”

    Not a book however there is a tremendous series of lectures by David Archer teaching a basic class on climate:

    http://forecast.uchicago.edu/lectures.html

    I have not read the accompanying book however I have watched the lectures and while they are technical, if you have high school maths you can easily follow them.

    They are free from politics as the science is non-political it is just science. What to do about climate change is political. There is no science in majority of the denier ‘case’ as it is usually cherry-picked and distorted climate science so I cannot recommend a science book for you to read. There are a couple of fantasy books available by people like Plimer or Ball.

    In a science book there is only the science and that is clear.

  17. Clearly the administrative costs of regulating every small-scale emitter of CO2 is large. But doing it that way is unnecessary. The number of fossil carbon extraction sites is much smaller than the number of fossil carbon users/emitters. Just tax the carbon extraction at the source and let the costs flow to the users/emitters. The number of coal mining companies, oil pumping companies, gas drilling companies, and ports where these materials are imported are very small compared to the number of automobiles, stoves, industrial furnaces, home heaters, etc, etc. The EPA’s approach is stupid. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a better, much more practical way.

    If and when large scale sequestration gets going, you can use the same tax in reverse to pay for re-fossilizing carbon atoms. Until then, essentially all fossil carbon ends up in the atmosphere eventually, so the excess tax collected at the source will be an insignificant cost on things like plastic synthesis. To the extent that plastics can be made from bio-sourced carbon, they won’t have to pay the fossil carbon tax and relative to fossil carbon source plastic, they will enjoy the same advantage as carbon sequesterers.

  18. JN

    The public will say in effect we know we should have carbon pricing just we don’t like the way it’s done.

    You comments suggest you may have misunderstood the implicatiosn of a potentially high compliance cost. The latest Nielsen poll shows the public reject CO2 pricing 60% ‘against’, 39% ‘for’. If they realised what the compliance cost may grow to, I expect the proportion ‘against’ would be much greater.

    Compliance cost is a cost with any type of CO2 pricing or CO2 tax. Changing the scheme would not avoid the compliance cost (nor the many other major practical flaws in the concept).

  19. Chris Uhlik,

    GHG emissions come from many thousands of sources (or millions of sources if you count each domestic animal as a source) in a country like Australia, not just from coal mines, oil wells and gas wells.

    Eventually, we will be required to measure the emissions from all of the sources, and to a level of precision and accuracy that is good enough for trade (as pointed out in a previous comment). Furthermore, the whole world will have to doa so. Is it really practical? What is the cost?

    The costs may be very large. It is incumbent on government to have analysed this and tell us before implementing schemes based on partial analysis. We depend of governments to tell us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about what we are getting ourselves into before the legislation is passed. It appears this has not been done.

  20. PL my guess is Joe Public will want carbon pricing yesterday when we have $2 petrol and a severe El Nino. I suspect we’ll get both within 2-3 years. Carbon pricing has to be done in a way the public respects. I dread the return of the TV ads with the happy people wearing yellow hard hats walking next to solar panels. Perhaps the panels weren’t bolted down properly. It’s irrelevant and the public knows it. Alas the politicians don’t.

    It can’t be too hard to police the 500 biggest emitters. Where I think they’ll stuff up is getting the principles wrong. For example I recall a major company wanted a carbon credit for a secondary heat recovery system. If it saves emissions it saves carbon tax which is exactly how it’s meant to work. If the CO2 saving gets credited elsewhere the net effect is zero.

    The carbon cops are going to work themselves into a tizzy with all these irrelevant side issues. Meanwhile I strongly suspect genuine villains like Hazelwood will continue to spew the same 14 Mt a year of CO2. If the carbon cops are hard on them the cheque for $266m they just got from the Feds must ease the pain.

  21. JN,

    You keep repeating on thread after thread:

    It can’t be too hard to police the 500 biggest emitters.

    And I keep stating, clearly, it will not be just 500 emitters. That is the honeymoon rate to suck us in. Eventually it must expand to include all emitters. You cannot have some emitters included and others not. That is not fair. People will complain “why me, but not him/her?”.

  22. Emission trading… well let’s look at Europe’s experience.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Union_Emission_Trading_Scheme

    According to UBS Investment Research the system has cost $287 billion till 2011 with “almost zero impact” on overall emissions in European Union and the money could have result in over 40% reduction if used in targeted way, e.g. to upgrade power plants

    Almost zero impact is too kind; Europe’s EU ETS traded emissions actually INCREASED by 3%!!!

    http://www.euractiv.com/climate-environment/europes-co2-emissions-growing-economy-news-502537

    That’s what you get when people think that we can close nuclear plants and not worry about the growing economy, because “we have an emissions trading system”. Gee whiz. Don’t worry about the dirt burners, it’s traded.

    Just imagine what 287 billion dollars in nuclear plants, LED lights, building insulation and heat pumps would have bought. It would actually reduce emissions and infuse the installation and energy sector with big investments, rather than creating subprime mortgage type bubble hysteria.

  23. This reference has a nice graph (figure 1) that shows Europe’s complete standstill on CO2 emissions reduction, while Asian and South American countries rapidly increased CO2 emissions.

    http://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/part_CO2.php

    For some reason the European Comission isn’t bothered by the utter failure. In stead it keeps setting ever more ambitious CO2 reduction goals!!!

    The disconnect from reality is stark.

  24. An interesting thing to note about the early returning residents in the evacuation zone:

    In the area that has 20 msv/yr or less they are allowed total access but they CAN”T STAY OVERNIGHT. I wonder what the logic is on that.

  25. Cyril R, on 3 April 2012 at 11:54 PM said:

    “That’s what you get when people think that we can close nuclear plants and not worry about the growing economy, because “we have an emissions trading system”. Gee whiz. Don’t worry about the dirt burners, it’s traded.”

    Just imagine what 287 billion dollars in nuclear plants, LED lights, building insulation and heat pumps would have bought. It would actually reduce emissions and infuse the installation and energy sector with big investments, rather than creating subprime mortgage type bubble hysteria.

    I’m sure wall street would LOVE this system. Think of all the money they could make!!

    I’m glad we are not doing it in the USA!

  26. Cyril R I understand the poor performance of the European ETS can be attributed to the over issuance of permits and generous use of offsets. Permits were ‘grandfathered’ or given for free on the basis of historical patterns. Offsets under the questionable Clean Development Mechanism are used to ‘neutralise’ up to 50% of emissions in some EU countries. Problems easily solved by auctioning all permits and disallowing offsets.

    Of course mandates and feed-in tariffs cost more and have negligible CO2 impact. They also contravene the very point of carbon pricing of not picking winners. With carbon tax we have additional issues with partial exemptions and phase-in periods. There needs to be some kind of carbon tariff on goods imported from Asian countries that are getting a free ride on the carbon restraint of the West.

    Thus if carbon pricing fails here and isn’t fixed in Europe we have ourselves to blame for not being tough enough. Already I have major problems with giving $1bn to brown coal generators before CT has even started. While we are supposed to be ashamed of our domestic emissions of 540 Mt of CO2e for some reason we should be proud that exported coal and LNG creates 780 Mt.

    An ideal situation would be if renewables subsidies were dropped and nuclear began here as a result of carbon pricing with no giveaways. The public will see that it evolves naturally without being dictated. Until that happens we will just muddle along like Europe.

  27. I want to introduce a new topic, not yet discussed in detail in BNC.

    This is the topic of urban slums, that are growing rapidly in the 3rd world. A good reader will be the book by Mike Davis “The planet of slums”. The massive expansion of 3rd world urban population, often into poorly serviced shanty towns, is also a critical environmental problem.

    Although cities are generally good for the environment than suburbs, malfunctioning cities without infrastructure may well create severe environmental problems and health hazards – often due to poor sanitation, drinking water availability and electric power availability. Industrial pollutants like smog (very often from coal-fired power plants) severely endanger the health of the occupants of these shantytowns.

    This issue has largely escaped discussion in the global environmental circles due to the relative remoteness of the problem, but this is becoming more and more a severe issue as the world’s population is urbanizing, but without any planning.

  28. n the area that has 20 msv/yr or less they are allowed total access but they CAN”T STAY OVERNIGHT. I wonder what the logic is on that.

    There is no logic at all in the entire evacuation business. It’s not risk based, and its arbitrary (the contaminated zone is NOT shaped like a circle at all!!).

    Requiring people to not stay overnight increases car travel. Car travel is very dangerous. Much more dangerous than 20 mSv of ionizing radiation. 1.19 million people died last year from car accidents. Evacuating an area is dangerous business. It has already killed over 500 people, far more than would have died if the area hadn’t been evacuated.

    It is, sadly, another example of the radiophobia and risk-delusion. With the best of intentions, the proponents of the evacuation say – but some of the worst things in history have been done with the best intentions. I blame the Japanese government for snapping to the drum of fear in stead of using an alternative risk based model. Even today, the Japanese government and regulatory agencies are using rediculous area decontamination standards like 1 mSv a year targets – which is less than the natural variation in natural background levels, for Pete’s sake! It is currently also illegal to export ordinary granite from Fukushima region. That is because granite contains over 1000 Bq/kg of naturally occuring radioisotopes, while only 100-500 is allowed. Ordinary brick is still allowed but you must ask a radioactivity exemption from the government (!).

    http://energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=3453

    It seems that we haven’t reached the bottom of the radiophobia pit we’ve flung ourselves into.

  29. @Cyril R.

    Do you have a direct reference for the limit of 100-500 Bq/kg for materials shipped from Fukushima?

    This is all getting beyond ridiculous. The Japanese authorities are making big trouble for themselves in what could at best be described as attempting to be responsive to public concerns by setting absurd limits that will be both impossible and unreasonable to achieve.

  30. From Tom Blees:

    GE’s Eric Loewen is back in the UK pushing the PRISM, and this article in The Independent from yesterday sounds really good.
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/plans-to-build-a-nuclear-fast-reactor-at-sellafield-come-a-step-closer-7608840.html
    Here’s the money quote that I think the UK public will find hard to ignore:

    Daniel Roderick, senior vice president of GE Hitachi, said that if given the go-ahead the company will form a consortium that will build and operate the plant at no up-front cost to the UK taxpayer. “We will only charge for each kilogram or tonne of plutonium we dispose of. We’re not going to build a several billion pound plant that doesn’t work,” Mr Roderick said.

    After too many years of GE treating the PRISM like a red-headed stepchild, this is a huge step for them, for which I applaud Eric and all the guys who worked hard to put together the UK plan. This could be quite a game changer. We shall see. Certainly encouraging.

  31. It’s too early to tell if Germany can sustain this. They are currently in a GDP dip
    http://www.tradingeconomics.com/germany/gdp-growth
    Virtually the whole of 20th century economics shows strong correlation between GDP and energy consumption. A minor exception was the 70s oil price shock when people drove their gas guzzlers less but kept working away.

    Rather than GDP which is essentially the sum of all transactions new economic measures are being proposed such as ‘genuine progress’. That is you have fewer dollars but more cancer cures. My guess is that Germany will have lower total economic activity and higher energy costs. That needs another year or so to gel.

  32. Solar energy is used by nature and farmers for growing bio-mass for food and other uses. It may be useful to develop it further just like past generations did for farming. The greenhouse effect of CO2 and higher temperature can be used for higher and faster growth of bio-mass for food, fuel, fiber and other uses by selection and development of crops to match the conditions. In off-grid places, solar energy can be stored in molten salt/metal eutectics and used when required through thermo-electric devices.
    Wind energy can be used to compress air mechanically without going through electric route and used for forced ventilation with or without heat pumps for climate control. Later, pneumatic domestic devices and pumps could be developed to use compressed air. Gaint windmills and related transmission lines spoiling the environment should be avoided.

  33. Following on from my comment about the UK PRISM build, here is the press release which has more details:

    GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Signs MOU Agreement with National Nuclear Laboratory to Work on Tackling UK Plutonium Stockpile
    WORKINGTON, U.K. —April 4, 2012—With the U.K. government looking at ways to address its growing stockpile of civil plutonium, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) today signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with National Nuclear Laboratory Ltd. (NNL). NNL will provide expert technical input to the potential U.K. deployment of GEH’s innovative PRISM reactor, which would be specifically designed to disposition the U.K.’s plutonium while generating 600MW of low carbon electricity. GEH also spent the day meeting with a number of the skilled nuclear workforce in West Cumbria to learn how they could work with GEH on PRISM’s potential deployment.

    The country is currently storing more than 87 metric tons (and growing) of plutonium at the Sellafield nuclear complex in West Cumbria, England. The U.K. Government has confirmed its intention to reuse this plutonium in December 2011 declaring that it “remains open to any alternative proposals for plutonium management that offer better value to the U.K. taxpayer.” The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has recently announced in February 2012 that it is seeking proposals for alternative approaches to manage the U.K.’s plutonium stocks.

    “We are excited for the potential opportunity to utilize the expertise of NNL and help the U.K. continue to take a leadership role in the reuse of plutonium,” said Danny Roderick, senior vice president of new plant projects for GEH. “We believe that PRISM is the best way to manage the U.K.’s plutonium stockpile efficiently, securely, and safely while generating low-carbon electricity at the same time.”

    “With our recognized technical capability and long experience in fuel cycle analysis, we are pleased that GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy has looked to NNL to provide independent and authoritative input to the potential U.K. application of a PRISM reactor,” said Paul Howarth, managing director of NNL, which operates a number of research facilities in the U.K. including the flagship Central Laboratory on the Sellafield site. “We look forward to working with GEH as they develop their approach to helping the U.K. address its plutonium legacy.”

    Today, GEH along with leading U.K. engineering firms Costain, Arup and Pöyry, (GEH’s “CAP Alliance” partners), met face-to-face with the number of highly talented and experienced nuclear sector suppliers in West Cumbria at the ENERGUS centre in Lillyhall, Workington. GEH is committed, to the greatest extent possible, to utilizing U.K. companies and workers. Currently, General Electric Company, one of GEH’s parents, has approximately 18,000 U.K. employees countrywide.

    Should PRISM be approved for construction, in addition to creating about 900 permanent jobs and thousands of expected indirect jobs for the local community, this multi-billion pound investment would stand to create a range of opportunities for suppliers while continuing to develop the country’s nuclear energy skills base and reaffirming Cumbria’s position of nuclear excellence with “Britain’s energy coast.”

    GEH is convinced that its PRISM technology provides an innovative solution to the objectives set forth by the NDA – the quickest disposal of plutonium at the best value – while providing substantial environmental and economic benefits. GEH is currently working closely with the U.K. government, including NDA, to detail why it believes PRISM technology is the best choice for the U.K. taxpayer.

    About GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy
    Based in Wilmington, N.C., GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) is a world-leading provider of advanced reactors and nuclear services. Established in June 2007, GEH is a global nuclear alliance created by GE and Hitachi to serve the global nuclear industry. The nuclear alliance executes a single, strategic vision to create a broader portfolio of solutions, expanding its capabilities for new reactor and service opportunities. The alliance offers customers around the world the technological leadership required to effectively enhance reactor performance, power output and safety.

    About NNL
    NNL provides the experts and technologies to ensure the U.K. nuclear industry operates safely and cost-effectively today and for the future. The company is owned by U.K. Government and managed by an appointed contractor (a consortium of Battelle, Serco and the University of Manchester). NNL is run as a commercial business and receives no funding directly from U.K. Government. It has an annual turnover of around £80M and employs around 750 people (mostly professional scientists and engineers) across six U.K. locations. NNL’s Central Laboratory includes state-of-the-art facilities which can handle plutonium and other highly radioactive nuclear materials, and these could play an important role in future fuel cycle work on PRISM or similar systems.

    About PRISM
    PRISM is based on technology that was demonstrated in a fast reactor in the U.S. called the EBR II (Experimental Breeder Reactor) that operated successfully for 30 years. Last year, GEH completed the commercialization of PRISM, which began in 1981. Calculations have shown that PRISM technology would use practically all the stored plutonium at Sellafield. This is very different from other competing proposals, including turning the plutonium into mixed oxide fuel. Mixed oxide fuel (also known as “MOX”) simply puts the plutonium into a complex form that is highly radioactive while not actually eliminating any plutonium. In contrast, the PRISM reactor consumes much of the plutonium as a true fuel.

  34. I did a very cursory investigation of the UK’s fast reactor program at Dounreay. My principle question was : What is different technically between the IFR and UK’s fast reactor. The UK cancelled their fast reactor program………but why?? One reference http://www.dounreay.com/site-closure/heritage/history said it was because of cost.

    Is their something about prism/IFR technology that makes it superior to UK’s fast reactor design??

    There must be,, or the UK would not be considering the Prism.

  35. @Cyril R.

    Thanks for the reference.

    NEI Nuclear notes reports on the findings of a study by a NOAA survey vessel of contamination in the waters off Fukushima. The quick bottom line: No appreciable biological significance, with activity due to Cs levels in fish 10-1000 times less than from natural radionuclides. They also unexpectedly found Silver (110mAg). Any comments on that?

    http://neinuclearnotes.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/noaa-looks-at-waters-near-fukushima.html

    And the full study is here:

    http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/03/26/1120794109.full.pdf

    The true picture is slowly emerging.

  36. @ Cyril R

    I would assume, then, since you did not answer the question :

    “Is their something about prism/IFR technology that makes it superior to UK’s fast reactor design?? ?

    You do not know the answer.

    I was hoping someone here might know why the IFR /Prism design is better than UK’s fast breeder design.

  37. @GeorgeS,

    One obvious area of superiority is the use of metal fuel and passive safety in the event of complete station blackout and failure to SCRAM.

    I doubt that the UK design could match PRISM for passive safety.

    There’s lots of info under the “Sustainable Nuclear” tab here.

  38. Research in the Dounrey Fast Reactor (DFR) in the 1960s experimented with metal fuels:

    DFR was a loop-type FBR cooled by primary and secondary NaK circuits, with 24 primary coolant loops. The reactor core was initially fuelled with uranium metal fuel stabilized with molybdenum and clad in niobium. The core was later used to test oxide fuels for PFR and provide experimental space to support overseas fast reactor fuel and materials development programmes.

    However, as explained in “Plentiful Energy”, they suffered from the issue of burst cladding due to the the metal fuel swelling. They never came up with the simple (and obvious in hindsight) solution of the sodium bond — this was revolutionary for the use of metal fuels. Without that innovation, it was no wonder the DFR metal fuel research stalled. Those were the early days of FR research, when so much was unknown.

  39. @GeorgeS: I don’t know much about the Dounreay fast reactor experiments. Looks like the last reactor ran for almost 20 years. But no mention of why it was shut down; perhaps they felt the design goals were achieved. Barry mentions a technical issue they had with fuel swelling. But I think there’s something more important, which is that they used PUREX reprocessing which is difficult and expensive. Especially later on they used the more expensive MOx fuel. No way such fuel cycle – fast reactor with PUREX and MOx – could compete with simple thermal once through cycle. Too bad they switched to MOx and kept the PUREX – according to the IFR people those are fatal flaws, making the fuel cycle very uneconomic.

  40. With those sorts of articles and the attempted hatchet-job on Barry Brook, it seems like the anti-nukes may have reached a tipping point. They are now unable to casually dismiss nuclear power as a climate-change solution and now must actively try to trash it and the people that support it. As more people realise that nuclear power isn’t a big scary problem, they must make their criticism more shrill and resort to less evidence-based arguments.

    I think that BNC and other sites have made progress, if only for making the anti-nukes desperately resort to these sorts of tactics.

  41. Barry Brook, on 5 April 2012 at 11:57 AM said:
    quote from “Plentiful Energy”:

    “However, they suffered from the issue of burst cladding due to the the metal fuel swelling. They never came up with the simple (and obvious in hindsight) solution of the sodium bond — this was revolutionary for the use of metal fuels. Without that innovation, it was no wonder the DFR metal fuel research stalled. Those were the early days of FR research, when so much was unknown.”

    Also important is the air cushion that allowed for additional thermal expansion of the fuel.

    Sounds like the IFR metal fuel metal fuel design (final iteration) and the electro-refining parts are probably what makes the Prism better than the UK fast reactor….Thanks for the input!!

    I really hope the UK goes ahead with this design. It looks like GE has stepped up to the plate as far as funding goes.

  42. If a pair of PRISMs get built at Sellafield, it will be a foot in the door and serious questions are going to be asked about disposal of LWR spent fuel. Current suggestions include geological disposal at a site in the Lake District. This is bound to be highly contentious, and pyroprocessing may well get more sympathetic consideration.

  43. Max & David B. Benson. It seems like the UK PRISM once through is just to get started; the pyroprocessing being the least developed part of the system. The spent metal fuel isn’t waste; they can add the reprocessor later on when it is scaled up and tested thoroughly. Seems like a conservative way to go and still get started.

    The EBR-II has some of its fuel tested to over 10% burnup, 100 GWd/t. So you fission more than 10% of the fuel away. Possibly a once through operation would attempt an even higher burnup.

  44. I don’t know if this has been posted before but I came across a two month old video about the EBR-II (The IFR reactor) which is pretty interesting if you can get over the sometimes bad production (the music track alone is atrocious).

    Making a Contribution: The Story of EBR-II (Full Version)
    http://vimeo.com/35261457

  45. Historical reprocessing has already separated Pu in the UK. Pyroprocessing is not on agenda yet. A better solution would be a thorium-PuO2 Ceramic-metal (CERMET) fuel, for PRISM or other present AGR or future EPR reactors. It could be used for VVER design, if and when built. This will produce more power by burning some of U233 created in situ.
    https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dae.gov.in%2Fpubl%2Fglbrchth.pdf
    Building the First Of A Kind reactor just for disposing off Plutonium by once through use is not a cost effective solution.
    A more cost effective solution without anxiety of of a fast reactor built only as incinerator of Plutonium would be to outsource it to Indians. . They will use it to burn it as fuel in their fast or thermal reactors. Indians are keen to improve their skills with thorium fuel but are held up for want of sufficient fissile feed for thorium.

  46. in the light of recent events, i wanted to make a short comment on the topic of this open thread.

    I would strongly advice proponents of nuclear energy to NOT argue for any relaxation of security standards, like smaller evacuation zones. Instead, security standards should be increased after Fukushima. this is the only way to win back trust lost by the accident.

    so the new guidelines (most of them should have been in place for decades!) are a good idea, trying to rush Plants back without fulfilling them is not.

    http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory/japan-sets-safety-standards-nuclear-plants-16086644#.T38Nv9VCmkQ

    smaller evacuation zones are a no-go, while TEPCO is still leaking nuclear contaminated water into the sea, with completely unknown consequences.

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/04/05/MNGK1NVE7B.DTL

    and the way in which EDF handled the extremely serious accident in Penly will also do serious damage to public opinion about nuclear energy.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-05/edf-says-fires-at-penly-nuclear-reactor-extinguished.html

  47. @sod: That is a slippery slope. Once regulations are in place, it is very hard to get them relaxed. It is unreasonable to assume that there will be no more nuclear accidents (there will eventually be an even bigger earthquake, …), and if each time the regulations are strengthened, each time the energy gets more and more expensive. Any PR victory you get by that is a loss in long term.

    So, the question one needs to ask is where to stop. Actually, I think we have already passed that point, as the Fukushima incident shows — even under rather extreme circumstances in question, there are no casualties on the spot, few hundreds extra cancers at worst (by extremely pesimistic estimates; compare with the tens of thousands deaths by the earthquake and tsunami) and the costs of dealing with the accident being a small fraction of the costs for dealing with the natural disaster that caused it.

    Also, as far as I can tell, the “extremely serious accident in Penly” consisted of some leaked oil catching on fire, which got prompty extinguished.

  48. well, a new generation of nuclear power plants could be a reason to relax security levels. The existing plants need security plans that can handle different versions of what happened to Fukushima. and this means we need much higher security standards.

    Th japanese governments seems to agree with this and “has decided to designate the area within a 30-kilometer radius of each nuclear power plant as an urgent protective action planning zone.”

    http://www.asiaone.com/News/AsiaOne%2BNews/Asia/Story/A1Story20120405-337851.html

    We must not only look at what happened in Fukushima, but must also take into account different wind directions. And we have to consider what would have happened, if similar damage was done to a plant that was not positioned next to the pacific. Putting the same amount of radioactive contaminated water into a river would have been a disaster that would cripple countries!

    apart from that, nuclear power plants should not be positioned in zones that are prone to seeing serious quakes. I would strongly advice all these plants to be shut down and future plants to be build to a standard at least at 3 points over the biggest earthquake in the area. (a direct hit by this earthquake might have simply torn the plant apart)

  49. Sod, you´re completely wrong. Evacuation zones should be based on risk. Living in central london or tokyo is far more dangerous in air pollution risk than living anywhere in fukushima. So it is not reasonable to evacuate fukushima while not evacuating central london or tokyo. Evacuation causes stress and it kills. Evacuating hospitals kills. So far more than 500 have died from the evacuation, far more than would have died without the evacuation.

    It is people like you who are spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt that are hurting and distorting the debate. Chernobyl has proven that fear was the biggest health risk. But do you, and Greenpeace, take responsibility for the spread of fear? Are you taking responsibility for all the fossil powerplants that were built in stead of nuclear when nuclear plants were feared out of the equasion? and the 1.3 million people that die from air pollution each year. The regulations for nuclear power are so tight that it is safer than eating peanut butter. You want to increase regulations. You want to make people afraid of a picocurie, so that the nuclear plant is increased in cost and we get the fossil plant in stead. I want to make people understand that pico means nothing. I want people to understand that fossil kills. I want people to start thinking in alternatives. No nuclear plants means more fossil which is a sure killer, 1.3 million a year. Even without climate change. I want people to understand risk. You want to delude them into thinking that if there is more radiation than the laws allow it must be dangerous.

    As a result of the extreme radiophobia, Japan now has regulations that make shipping ordinary granite illegal. That require that we clean up areas to much less than background levels of radiation. The Japanese are refusing to face up with the fact that radiation is natural and chronic exposure to cesium and other nonbioaccumulating radionuclides is not detrimental to health.

    Meanwhile Japan is using more fossil fuels, and is not concerned about the alternative death toll from these fossil sources. Here is the truth we must all face.

    http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/lifetime-deaths-per-twh-from-energy.html

  50. Lol, the Penly story is especially ironic. The reactors shut down as designed after fire and smoke was detected in the building.

    Are coal plants designed to shut down when deadly particulate matter is flung from their chimneys?

    No. Indeed; coal plants are DESIGNED to spew tonnes of such deadly smoke, and store it in our lungs.

    Coal plants work as designed; killing 1 million a year with their deadly proceeds.

  51. Cyril, the problem is that it doesn t matter what I think, nor does it matter what you think. Japan is trying to restart nuclear reactors, but the local people and authorities oppose it. and even the energy minister wants to phase out nuclear power.

    http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/global-filipino/world/04/06/12/cut-nuclear-reliance-zero-japan-energy-minister

    to convince people, you need to build trust. and you don t do that, by smaller evacuation regions or with dubious statistics.

    you do gain trust by being honest, by increasing safety standards and ultimately by not having massive accidents.

    so the problem with Penly also is not the actual accident. (though a fire in the pumps of the primary cooling system is pretty serious) The problem is the reaction by EDF and the perception of that reaction.

    comment reactions on the news were interesting to read. people were already “quoting” the routine replies, before the company was using them (“there has been no danger to the population”, “everything is under control”, “no radioactivity did escape” and “this was a minor incident”).

    the reports spoke about a couple of square centimeters of oil catching fire, then we saw the pictures with pretty massive smoke.

    the leakage of contaminated water came later and we only got the information together with the message that it was contained somewhere within. the claim that no radioactivity was leaked is a guess, as simply nobody knows what was among the smoke. (obviously we couldn t measure any release) the declaration of category 1 INES was pretty fast, for the little information we have.

    don t kill the messenger. I simply doubt that this is the way to gain support for nuclear power.

  52. sod,

    The fire at Penly is a level 1 incident on the INES scale
    http://www.french-nuclear-safety.fr/index.php/English-version/News-releases/2012/Press-release-4-Information-on-Penly-NPP-event
    So it’s a low level safety risk. No one was killed, the real risk was the fire, one worker was slightly injured. Not that it’s particularly satisfying: one should always prefer a plant that runs smoothly.

    By the way, there was a fire at a coal plant in Le Havre this winter. It barely made the news here in France, despite the fact that it generated some amount of unwanted smoke. And it’s a coal station that must close by the end of 2015 because of EU pollution regulations.

  53. Anders, on 6 April 2012 at 10:11 PM said:

    I don’t know if this has been posted before but I came across a two month old video about the EBR-II (The IFR reactor) which is pretty interesting if you can get over the sometimes bad production (the music track alone is atrocious).

    Making a Contribution: The Story of EBR-II (Full Version)
    http://vimeo.com/35261457

    Great Video. I read the book and this makes the book even better!!

  54. I’m not confident the start of carbon tax in 11 weeks will go well. Already the govt has thrown a billion dollars at brown coal generators seemingly on the strength of Treasury’s prediction they will face a downturn. Maybe CT won’t make much difference to their bottom line due to lack of baseload competition. Odd they didn’t do this when asbestos was on notice. They spent nearly $17m on TV ads for CT a year or so ago. That included non-English and indigenous version. This time spare us the happy people looking as though they are about to start singing ‘Kumbaya’ because wind and solar are saving us.

    The correct message I think is that carbon restraint is a moral issue. I disagree with James Hansen that it should be a fixed price as I think FFs will get expensive regardless but too slowly. Since I now suspect China and India cannot get the coal they want without help from Australia I think our leverage is greater than we realise. No doubt FUD merchants the Institute of Public Affairs will weigh in having just mailed Plimer’s AGW denial book to schoolkids. Recall they insisted that Australia wasn’t a carbon villain because other countries had carbon intensive imports. Yairbut they didn’t get billions from carbon exports.

  55. Interesting to hear you guys discuss the carbon trading scheme.

    I am glad we don’t have this in the US.

    Looks like Obama just got a new limit on CO2 for electric plants that is just above the CCNG plant’s CO2/kwh . The wave in the US will be NG w/o a doubt.

    The electric companies are thinking they can do a CCNG plant w/ solar backup (down to 1$/wt from 5 when I bot my system).

    My guess is that this system will be lower cost than a new Ap1000.

  56. Cyril R. — Thank you. I suppose GEH will go for as much once-through consumption as is possible.

    John Newlands — Francee has a renewables commitment to the EU as NPPs are not included in the renewables scheme. I suppose these are off shore as providing better availability.

    GeorgeS — You have the backup in the wrong place. The CCGT is the balancing agent for the solar PV component. And yes, provided natgas prices remain low enough that scheme will have a lower LCOE than an AP1000. But for the NPP there is essentially no risk of price increases for the consumable and that is certainly not the case for natgas.

  57. “don t kill the messenger. I simply doubt that this is the way to gain support for nuclear power.“

    That´s because you have little understanding of the psychology of risk. It is also because you absolutely do not read my comments or others, so I suspect you are simply trolling. But I´m going to feed you one more time.

    The more stringent your regulations, the more scared people become, not less.

    Evacuating people is a travesty. It should only be done if the health effect of staying is almost certainly much worse than evacuating. At Fukushima, this was clearly NOT the case. 500 people have died from overstringent regulations. This is a fact. Many more will die due to the stress caused by the evacuation.

    Make no mistake Sod. You can always invest more in safety. One airbag in a car. 10 airbags. 100 airbags. Where does it stop. For cars these investments actually make sense since last year 1.19 million people died. For nuclear more investment makes no sense, and is in fact counterproductive.

    We need risk informed policy. If we do not evacuate Tokyo for its air pollution, we should certainly not evacuate Fukushima.

    I do believe in pushing for an honest, fact based debate. That revolves around numbers and about explaining how nuclear technology works. You seem to disagree, thinking that being fuzzy, not trying to explain how the technology and science works, and in stead taking blame for every picosievert is going to build trust. It doesn´t. It does the opposite. Most people don´t even know how a nuclear plant work so being fuzzy is counterproductive and keeps the debate as it is.

    So far my experience is that the fact based debate convinces most people, and people like Sod are the exception, not the rule.

  58. Cyril R;

    Upthread, you have discussed the proposed use of the PRISM to deal with the UK’s plutonium stockpile. I think most IFR proponents would agree that a once through approach would normally be regarded as uneconomical. Thus, ultimately, when pyroprocessing is technically ready, the reactors should change from converting to breeding mode.

    If you agree, could I raise a few questions pertaining to the economics of fuel cycle closure and pyroprocessing?

    1) Purportedly, the IFR has the potential to breed at about 1.5/1, indicating, as I understand it, that one can double one’s fissile inventory every decade or so. I also understand that a 1GW fast reactor will turn approximately 1 tonne of heavy metal/annum into non actinide fission products every year. I assume that, in converting (burning) mode, relatively more plutonium and less uranium will be destroyed than is the case in breeding mode. Questions: a) Does power generated differ between modes or is it the same? b) How does one configure the fuel or alter the operation of a reactor such that it can operate in the two different modes?

    2) I believe that the IFR typically operates with a fissile/fertile ratio of 1:4. What happens if one changes this ratio, either with relatively less or more fissile? (I appreciate 20% is top of currently allowed fissile level, but please ignore this when answering -that is, if you can be bothered to answer at all!)

    3) I understand that, to maximise breeding efficiency, fuel will have to be recycled five times on the basis that there is a burn up of 20%/cycle. Successive recycles will presumably give yields of differing composition and, before casting the metal fuels for each cycle, it will be necessary to analyse the recycled material and blend it, either with more fissile or fertile, depending upon whether one is operating in converter or breeder mode?

    4) Because of its initial higher fissile loading, I assume that fast reactor spent fuel will be much more worthwhile to pyroprocess than spent LWR fuel, given that fissile material is far more valuable than fertile? Are the possibly greater costs of reprocessing LWR spent fuel likely to be offset by savings in their disposal costs? How does spent MOX fuel relative to conventional spent fuel affect this question? Is it likely to be more expensive to pyroprocess spent oxide as opposed to spent metal fuels?

    5) What are the cost implications of separating fission products from the molten salt used in the electrorefining process? Presumably they are not left in combination to be disposed of?

    6) In the case of the UK, presumably one would construct fuel from reduced plutonium oxide powder, depleted uranium and zirconium? Jagdish has suggested using plutonium oxide/thorium as cermet fuel. If one attempted to reprocess such a fuel, would the thorium travel with the plutonium or follow the fission products? In any event,would successive recyclings result in declining levels of P239 and increasing levels of U233, such that, ultimately, one got rid of plutonium altogether and started relying on U233 as one’s main fissile?

    Sorry for all these questions – I only have a layman’s half grasp of the subject from a technical perspective and almost none at all for the economics.

  59. John Newlands:

    You ask why France is building offshore wind farms and received a partial answer from David Benson.

    Might I suggest that France is not building such farms. They are being built by energy companies, some domiciled in France, which are responding in the manner you would expect from from free market capitalists in a liberalised energy market. They are responding totally logically to the signals, subsidies and guaranteed market available to them. Who wouldn’t print their own money, given the opportunity?

    I’m sure we’d agree that construction off shore wind farms is not in the interests of the French taxpayer. However, it is inevitable, given current French Government and EU Policy, determined, supposedly, by democratic voters. I’m not sure what this tells one about the abilities of democracies to take sensible long term decisions.

  60. Hello Douglas. You ask a lot of questions. I´m no expert on IFR but here goes.

    1).A. Does power differ between burner versus breeder modes. Well this is not easy to answer. In general a higher burnup means lower power density but with an IFR you are not bothered much by fission product poisoning and have the neutrons in the fast U/Pu cycle.
    The high breeding ratios require large cores and breeding blanket fuel elements and not too high a burnup. The blanket fuel elements produce much less power than the seed fuel elements. So the breeder produces less power than a homogeneous burner core. But a burner core could also have depleted uranium blanket fuel elements, which produce more power with time.

    One of the issues with blankets is that the proliferation people will cry a lot; the blanket produces fresh Pu239, easily seperated from the U238. If it is a problem, thorium/U238 can be considered as blanket fuel elements. The U238 dilutes the U233 from thorium to low enriched uranium levels, while the Pu238 from the thorium chain denatures the Pu239 bred.
    B. How does one configure the fuel. Well that is not so hard, control rods and fuel shuffeling deal with reactivity, the burnup and linear heat rating depend on what the fuel and clad can take. From the EBRII experiments the metal bonded metal fuel can take it all, though higher burnup would probably require vented (open to coolant) fuel rods.

    2). The fissile-fertile ratio. More fissile means the reactivity goes up and some of the reactivity coefficients become positive. Also you cannot breed anymore with too much fissile; the reactor will become a plutonium destroyer. At the other side of the scale, too much fertile means the reactivity becomes lower. At some point it won´t even be critical anymore. But you do get a higher breeding ratio because there is more fertile around that can be bred into fissile. The downside of that is that you may have to increase the fissile loading to keep the other reactor parameters such as power, burnup, etc. constant.

    3. Yes, this is one of the disadvantages of the solid fuelled cycles. Especially later on the higher actinides like curium build up, these have different reactivity profiles, having too much in one fuel element would lead to excessive power production or unacceptable local reactivity coefficients. Larger batches and mixing solves some of the problems. For a converter it uses only fresh fuel of one composition so it doesn´t have this issue. For a higher burnup though there is some reactivity swing. Thorium can help, because it has a lower reactivity swing, allowing higher burnup for a given allowed reactivity swing.

    4. Valuable spent fuel from the converter IFR. Yes, absolutely. And the fuel is already in metal form that is easier to pyroprocess. If the reactor system has some extra hot cells for the future reprocessors additions, the fuel can just stay at the site. I would not worry overmuch about the cost of disposal, it is not an important part of the cost of any fuel cycle. PUREX has high capital and operating cost, and also a large cleanup cost. Easily 2 cents per kWh added if you want to do it properly, vitrify the aqueous wastes etc. Spent MOx fuel is nearly useless for a thermal reactor, because of the low fissile plutonium that is left in it, and mediocre startup fuel for a fast reactor, where plutonium of any type will do okay.

    5. I don´t know how they will remove the fission products from the molten salt processor. Having their heat is useful during operation. After that I suppose that a vitrification step will be used where the fission products are exchanged into phosphate or borosilicate glass. For myself I prefer to keep the processed wastes at the reactor, put them in casks at the bottom of the reactor pool. Just more useful heat, and the shielding and passive cooling are already present.

    6. Cermet fuels have the primary advantage of stability, that could be nice for plutonium. I don´t know if PuO2 Th fuel will work, some of the oxide may travel to the thorium. Cermet fuels can be processed in the same pyroprocessing manner, except that you have to add an oxide reduction step. Since IFRs are supposed to be able to take spent LWR fuel, that technology would then be available. Some of the lanthanides produce oxides that are more stable than PuO2 so you can add those. I don´t think you would want a lot of zirconium for thorium metal fuel. It´s not beneficial, and likely detrimental, eyeballing the system thorium zirconium. Thorium doesn´t swell much at all and has a high enough melting point without zirconium.

    If you only put in thorium as the fertile and use plutonium as the starter fissile, then yes you get more U233 as you go, and you have a Th/U233 cycle. There are also hybrids as I´ve suggested before, add a lot of depleted uranium. U238. That dilutes the U233 to low enriched uranium levels.

  61. Douglas Wise ask how to reconfigure…

    Replacing the blanket with a reflector would convert the breeder to a burner. As the proportion of uranium fissions decrease, so too does the proportion of delayed neutrons . This makes the reactor more agile, that is, with faster rise time and faster shutdown, so the control system may have to be adapted too. Burners can be designed much smaller, as they can tolerate more neutron loss. For costs, see adjacent thread.

  62. Pingback: Fukushima Daiichi Site: Cesium-137 is 85 times greater than at Chernobyl Accident - Page 2 - Christian Forums

  63. I have a couple of unrelated questions.
    1. Are we more likely to first see significant sea level rise from reversible or irreversible things? Of course significant sea level rise means something that affects the Hamptons, not Bangladesh, since it’s only when it affects the Hamptons that some globally effective response might be contemplated, since no-one in the Hamptons wants a sea wall that would spoil the view. I define reversible as sea level rise caused by thermal expansion or glacier melting, and irreversible as caused by for example the breakup of the WAIS per WALSE.
    2. Does the IFR produce any long lived waste that would need to be put in a 100,000 year repository, or can it all be reprocessed.

  64. Douglas Wise — A proper LCOE calculation for a modern NPP assumes a 60 year life (which I opine is conservaatively short). For example, the AP1000s being constructed at VC Summer have an all-in LCOE of US$0.076/kWh. The only way to obtain this figure is in a more complex LCOE calculation than is possible to easily do with the NREL simplified LCOE calculator. Assuming a 30 year loan then after that there is increased O&M but only operating expenses.

  65. http://bravenewclimate.com/2012/04/02/open-thread-22/#comment-157717
    David B. Benson, on 9 April 2012 at 11:37 AM said:
    “Lawrence — (1) Even WAIS loss is reversable; just make it globally cool again. (2) No IFR waste needs be stroed longer than about 250 years.”

    Followup clarification questions:
    1. Eventually, yes. But I thought once the sea got under the WAIS i.e. past the grounding line, it would take a long long time for making it cool again to reground the WAIS.
    2. So that means the IFR burns up absolutely everything leaving only short lived fission products? I wasn’t sure if that was so.

  66. Lawrence — A goodly portion of WAIS can, it seems, come or go in a millennium or three.

    Basically only cesium-137 has to be kept away from the environment. In principle all the actinides are fissioned and the other radioactive fission products either have a quite short halflife or else one so long that the actual radioactivity is negligible.

  67. Thanks David, but operationally, is that size difference readily detectable by the kind of equipment used in routine food inspection?

    But those decay schemes show that 94% of Cs-137 decays are followed by 0.6 MeV gamma, while 10% of the K-40 decays are 1.5 MeV gamma … so are 9 x 0.6 MeV gammas significantly worse than a single 1.5 MeV gamma? … given that most potassium containing foods are considered safe.

  68. Geoff Russell — I’m confident the Japanese can afford sufficiently high quality radiometers for food inspection. [Locally there is a crystal growing operation which makes the detectors of the very best radiometers. The bigest advance has been in the electronics; small and inexxpensive now.]

    I’m not sure just where the 9 in 9 x 0.6 MeV comes from, but to the extent I understand this low dose BEIR I suspect almost 9 times worse.

  69. Thanks David … I’ll assume they have equipment which can tell the difference but I was a bit cryptic about the rest. Let me spell it out more clearly to see if I’m making sense.

    Potassium 40 decays with 90% 1.3 MeV beta and 10% 1.5 MeV gamma.

    Cesium 137 decays with 94% 0.5 MeV beta and 85% of these is followed by a 0.66 MeV gamma release. i.e., for every 10 decay events there are 8 x 0.66 MeV gamma releases.

    So if there are two iso-becquerel samples, one of cs-137 and the other of k-40 then there will be about 1×1.5MeV gammas from the k-40 for every 8 of the 0.66 MeV cs-137 releases. So if damage is proportional to total energy, then the cs-137 is about 3.5 times more damaging than the k-40 (8*0.66/1.5). I’m assuming both samples have the same activity, which means that the k-40 amount is much, much larger than the cs-137 amount.

  70. Geoff: for internal exposure (ie food) the hard 1.3 MeV beta from Potassium 40 is much more damaging than gammas. Gammas will largely pass through your body and won’t concentrate damage to a small area like betas do.

    Neither K-40 nor Cs-137 have long biological half lives, so it isn’t even an internal exposure in the first place…

    There is no evidence whatsoever (nor factual reason to believe) that Cs-137 is dangerous, even in several hundred mSv chronic dose.

    It is just more radiophobia from Japan, in line with the absurd 100-500 Bq/kg gravel shipments limit (ordinary granite contains 1000 Bq/kg worth of uranium, thorium, daughters, and potassium).

  71. Cyril: I’m a little confused … or perhaps more than a little! On external exposure, the gammas from Cs-137 can penetrate far enough to mutate blood cells … hence the leukemia risk. If you swallow Cs-137, and it hands around for 1-4 months (Wikipedia), why doesn’t the same apply?

  72. I’ve never heard of any confirmed leukemia risk from Cs-137 in the dose rates present at Fukushima.

    Yes they can penetrate to mutate blood cells whether inside or outside the body. As can the K-40 in your body, and, being always present naturally and concentrating its energy to a few millimeters of tissue around its decay, to a greater degree than Cs-137 does, the K-40 would be expected to cause a lot of damage.

    Which is certainly not equivalent to saying it poses a leukemia risk. There’s no evidence for this, to my knowledge. If you have any empirical studies (not models) I’d like to read them.

  73. Cyril R., on 9 April 2012 at 4:31 PM said:

    Now the next step in the radiophobia of Japan could be to ban fertilizers, which are very radioactive:
    http://faculty.ksu.edu.sa/Khater/Publications/Radiation%20exposure%20due%20to%20agricultural%20uses%20of%20phosphate%20fertilizers.pdf
    Farmers will be deprived of lifelihoods and many will starve to death, but hey, we’ll have reduced the “collective dose” which LNT says is good.

    In the Punjab state in North-Western India, there are no uranium mines or Nuclear power plants. Yet a number of people, mainly childern, have been diagnosed with radio-active damage.
    http://www.punjabfoundation.org/waste.html

    The only two ways the uranium could get into their system are:-
    1. From the ash of thermal power plants.
    2. From phosphate fertilizer.
    Unfortunate company to the Japanese!

  74. Hmm, and what about this? A website called “nuclear-news”. Providing the “latest news on the uranium/nuclear industry”. Sound objective, but then… read through the articles. One massive strain of lies, propaganda, ad hominem attacks, half-truths and general falsehoods without perspective.

    http://nuclear-news.net/

    There’s an amazing number of articles. Those people must spend all day writing lies, propaganda and half-truths.

    With nuclear “news” websites like that, we don’t need enemies.

  75. Annex J of the UNSCEAR 2000 covers more than a few studies on the Chernobyl clean up workers:

    http://www.unscear.org/docs/reports/annexj.pdf

    There are certainly some leukemia increases, but real methodological difficulties preclude certainty about causes … similar to the increase in prostate cancer cases after the introduction of PSA tests. But I wouldn’t go quite so far as you in placing the risk at zero. My reading of Annex J is that the risks are tiny compared to other much bigger normal daily risks. I think that much is clear. But I’m more trying to understand the processes underlying the models and your comments have been very helpful. Thanks.

  76. The UNSCEAR gives no indication that Cs-137, or even Cs-134 is to blame for any leukemia. The cleanup workers were walking in a cloud of dozens of fission products, many of whom are bioaccumulating unlike cesium. Sr-89, a bone-seeker, comes to mind; despite its lower volatility the temperatures in Chernobyl were more than enough to throw large amounts into the air. Barium is even more volatile and bioaccumulates. Some of the noble metals have volatile oxides and bioaccumulate in (I think) the lower gastrointestinal area. Even plutonium, not normally volatile in either metallic or oxide form, is estimated to have escaped from the graphite burning/sizzling, about 2.5% of the core inventory (which is very large). Plutonium and importantly, neptunium-239 (extremely energetic) are also strongly bone and major organ seeking.

    It would be quite disingenious to blame a non bioaccumulating moderately long lived radionuclide like Cs-137 on worker leukemia, when there were so many more energetic (short lived) bioaccumulating, even alpha sources like neptunium and plutonium, and fission products that are more intensely emitting gamma sources floating all over the place. One would demand extraordinary proof for such illogical claims.

    So far we’ve established the iodine link to thyroid cancer, which makes perfect sense, since it bioaccumulates there unlike all other fission products.

  77. Cyril: My mistake. Rereading Annex J, it isn’t making such a claim … this was just a wrong inference on my part. They are using Cs-137 as a general proxy for levels of contamination for a variety of reasons. They were looking for leukemia, but not making a causal claim with regard to Cs-137 in particular.

  78. Geoff: Kirk Sorensen has a spent nuclear fuel Java applet:

    http://www.energyfromthorium.com/javaws/SpentFuelExplorer.jnlp

    Showing that cesium is really no big contributor for fresh spent fuel, and only starts to show up after weeks. Wikipedia also has a graph that shows this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:AirDoseChernobylVector.svg

    Cs-137 contributes to almost all the remaining dose today (about 99%), but at the time of the accident and the following weeks, when the cleanup workers got almost all of their dose, Cs-137 contributed only a few percent. Iodine, tellurium and barium were much more important (and all of these are volatile and bioaccumulate when breathed or ingested).

    This is important because not all radiation is equal. Fukushima is still evacuated due to legal limit of 20 mSv of cesium. But there is no evidence of such levels, even 10x such levels, being harmful. Since it’s only cesium that’s lying around the countryside, unlike Chernobyl, the evacuation of Fukushima makes no sense.

  79. John Newlands,

    you asked (some time ago) why France is building offshore wind turbines. The first part of the answer is, as was told by David Benson, that it is included in France’s stupid renewables targets. Other reasons include: less problems with neighbors and industrial hubris. France has no real onshore wind turbine industry. Yet Areva & Alstom recently bought or acquired some expertise in offshore wind turbines. Hence the need…

    In terms of costs, it is a rip off. Here are a few hints why:
    * there has been a feed in tariff of €130/MWh for offshore wind since at least 3 years. No one turned up.
    * the call for tender included scoring points up to a price of €200/MWh for certain zones
    * the prices have still not been disclosed even if the winners are known
    * a zone was left for another call for tender, as it would have been too expensive.

    In terms of reliability vs onshore, the gain appear to be questionnable as per previous experiences (especially when taking costs into account)

  80. France is roughly 10% hydro and 80% nuclear. Significant wind on such a grid makes no sense at all; it doesn’t reduce CO2 emissions and in stead has to compete with energy sources that cost 0.5-2 cents per kWh. Wind gets little capacity credit, so it’s a marginal energy source whose total levelised cost must compete with the marginal cost of running dispatchable generation.

    Of course with high enough subsidies any of these market realities can be distorted. But the French are not as gullible and deluded in their energy policy as the Germans, thank God.

  81. @Cyril R.
    I know the problems of wind power in an already low carbon electricity generation mix.

    But you are deluding yourself if you think that people in France are not as gullible as somewhere else. They are just as gullible as anywhere else, if not more. To put things in perspective, there is an anti-techno trend here in Europe and especially in France, where things like wind are seen as nice, and others including nuclear are seen as dirty. People also have beliefs. They believe that ‘the wind is always blowing somewhere’. They prefer to ignore that PV production is inversely correlated with demand here, north of 45th parallel. And they do not know how this renewable build up is paid for and how much it costs. They also think that energy conservation is always the best way to go, when in fact it is a trade off between investments in production and in conservation.

    By the way, if a referendum were to be held right now, I think nuclear power would be beaten. Hence, proposals to lower its share in the generation mix, coming from the favorite of the polls.

    One more thing: there is also a target to rise hydro production by 3TWh. It’s a small increase (0.5% of total production). Yet, the only consequence of this target — which comes with eco friendly strings attached — is the demolition of small run of mill dams. So hydro production is in fact poised to decrease by 2TWh because of this. So really, if you think that electricity generation policy is lead by reason in France, you will be disappointed.

  82. complete dependency on a single source of power is not a good idea.

    it is also possible, that France wants to move into an expanding technology and not stick to a shrinking one.

    France reactors require significant improvements after the lessons learned from Fukushima.

    finally a nuclear power plant like Fessenheim (vulnerable to both quakes and flooding) is a serious danger to the nuclear industry, and not only to the people living close to it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fessenheim_Nuclear_Power_Plant

  83. I wondered if anyone had proposed offshore wind for Australia and sure enough Diesendorf has
    http://theconversation.edu.au/europe-has-offshore-wind-farms-why-cant-australia-3574
    I see elsewhere that his no-need-for-baseload views are being quoted in the US
    http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/energy-futurist/why-baseload-power-is-doomed/445?tag=search-river

    I wonder if French company Alstom who got most of the offshore wind contract have a cosy relationship with the government perhaps akin to Siemens in Germany. Even with GE’s S-Prism I wonder if there is implied US govt backing.

  84. Cyril: On bioaccumulation. Vol II, Annex D, unscear 2008 has food figures which show more cs-137 in meat/milk than in plant foods and it also talks about radiocesium accumulation, first in ericaceaus plants and then in the animals which eat them … ruminants. It also talks
    about the distribution of the ingested cesium in the soft tissues.

  85. Proteos, @ 10 April 2012 at 4:27 AM

    Interesting stuff. Thanks. I certainly believe you are correct.

    Your comments reinforce my view that we, in the developed world, have become complacent. Public opinion is being overly driven by (those) who can afford to argue that cheap energy is not all that important.

  86. Geoff Russell — I follow what you had in mind but I don’t think the BEIR is that simple. In general one has to first convert alpha, beta and gamma into some eqivalent form based on biological damage done. Of course you were just comparing gamma of different energies and numbers so that step can be ignored. However, the BEIR might not be linearly related to the energy; maybe there is something about that in the BEIR VII report, although I don’t recall it.

  87. Cyril: On bioaccumulation. Vol II, Annex D, unscear 2008 has food figures which show more cs-137 in meat/milk than in plant foods and it also talks about radiocesium accumulation, first in ericaceaus plants and then in the animals which eat them … ruminants. It also talks about the distribution of the ingested cesium in the soft tissues.

    Of course, if cows graze on cesium contaminated grass, and continue to do so, they will accumulate a certain equilibrium amount of cesium. The point is that if you eat the meat the cesium will quickly pass from the body due to the short biological half life. To get any significant amount in your body you have to drink a lot of the milk and eat a lot of the meat every day, but that bad for your health in the first place. Eating too much red meat and drinking too much milk is one of the prime causes of several cancers. People are allowed to eat a pound of red meat a day but the government doesn’t allow them minute amounts of radiocesium in that meat. Again governments are not using a risk-based policy, which is my biggest point about the whole affair.

  88. @ proteus and peter lang: yes I agree with your assertions. Which is why I think a democratic based energy policy is a recipe for disaster, at the moment. If the public had its way, we would be attempting to power the country on Chanel # 5, sticks and chickens. We have a lot of work to do here.

  89. People in general like eating meat (and drinking alcohol, and smoking, and doing many other unhealthy things). Very few people enjoy radioactive cesium in their food. It is makes no sense to compare negative effects of substances and ignore their positive effects (where enjoyment very much counts as a positive effect).

  90. complete dependency on a single source of power is not a good idea.

    If the power source is clean, abundant & available, I see no reason to be heaviliy reliant on one such a source. So your assertion strikes me as a popular catchphrase; hollow but it sounds intelligent. Something a politician would say to make him or her sound reasonable, even though he or she has no in depth knowledge of the actual field.

  91. jagdish: It’s clear there is something horrible going on for the children described in the Observer article. But it’s certainly not quite so clear that the Uranium contamination is the problem. Have a look at the WHO paper on Uranium contamination in water:

    http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/chemicals/en/uranium.pdf

    One study in Canadians drinking from highly contaminated wells (much higher than those mentioned in the Observer article) showed signs of the start of kidney problems, but nothing remotely like the Indian problems.

    The dose required to produce fetal abnormalities in rats was 2.8 mg per kg. That’s a mega dose and way, way above anything that I saw mentioned in the article … did I miss anything?

    Prematurely blaming uranium could waste valuable time if the real culprit is something else.

  92. Geoff Russell,

    I just noticed this comment:

    One study in Canadians drinking from highly contaminated wells

    Where were the wells. Were they near Pinawa or Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba, or Lac du Bonnet Batholith?

    If so, I know a little about the background to that, and know the researchers involved in that study. They also made an inexpensive filter to remove the uranium for the drinking water (if my memory servesd me correctly). Just a small trip down nostalgia lane. :)

  93. I found this nice article by Chris Vernon that details the issue of natural gas leakage:

    http://chrisvernon.co.uk/2010/06/natural-gas-the-greener-choice/

    The graph really shows how important the lifecycle leakage rate of natural gas is to its CO2 abatement effectiveness. If there’s more than 3% leakage around the chain of drilling, transporting, and combustion, then natural gas is worse than coal in greenhouse gas emissions.

    http://www.theoildrum.com/files/TOD_CO2_CH4_0.png

  94. sod,

    let us be serious here: these offshore wind turbine will total 2GW and it’s an investment of €7bn, as stated by the winners before they start. They will have a capacity factor of about 30%, hopefully.
    All the while, the Flamanville EPR, hugely over budget, cost the same for 1.6GW, will have a capacity factor of 75% or so, judging by nuclear reactor experience in France, and is dispatchable. For about the same price of €7bn.

    Everything points to prices above €170/MWh for the offshore wind turbines, with a buying mandate. The EPR of Flamanville will have an LCOE of about €85/MWh, and EDF will only be able to sell power at the average price of €55-60/MWh, so some losses will be borne in part by the private investors who hold 15% of EDF.

    All the while, if you wish to fully decarbonize electricity generation with intermittent sources, you need storage means, which do not exist at such a scale. These storage means could also be used in tandem with nuclear power, requiring less of them, reducing the total investments cost of the system (and land use, etc.)

    So I prefer to stick to the outdated, shrinking tech if that’s the only 2 offers on the table!

    As for Fessenheim, it is in a ‘moderate’ seismic risk zone, as is much of the Rhone valley. The moderate risk zone is in orange on this map:
    http://www.planseisme.fr/La-nouvelle-carte-d-alea-sismique.html
    you can check Fessemheim position with wikipedia if you wish:
    http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fessenheim

  95. Fessenheim… come on now Sod. You know as well as any commenter here, the Fukushima plants were done in by a 15 meter tsunami. Not the earthquake – the reactors shut down as intended and the diesel generators all started and worked fine until that 15 meter wave flushed them out.

    Fessenheim is hundreds of miles from the ocean… an ocean that has zero chance of a 15 meter tsunami in the first place. Also a 9 moment magnitude quake at Fessenheim is just geologically impossible as well.

  96. Some more news about the french offshore wind farms.
    Today there is a piece in ‘Les Echos’ an economy oriented newspaper, which broke the news about the results. So it’s a priori well informed.
    http://www.lesechos.fr/entreprises-secteurs/energie-environnement/actu/0201999084068-eoliennes-en-mer-six-questions-clefs-sur-l-appel-d-offres-qui-doit-lancer-la-filiere-310725.php
    It ‘s in french, sorry.
    The bottom line: the wind farms (1928MW) require a subsidy of €1.1bn a year during 20 years. That’s the part of the price above the average price of electricity (about €55/MWh). My own calculations show that this implies a price of nearly €220/MWh for a capacity factor of 40% and more than €270/MWh for a capacity factor of 30%.

    Quite expensive…

  97. Amazing, 22 billion euros of extra subsidy in 20 years to pay for this unreliable power. 220 euros per MWh. To think that their actual market value is the nuclear fuel saved, about 10 euros per MWh.

    22 billion euros. This money would buy 6 EPRs in 20 years, each delivering twice as much average power flow than the wind farms. That’s 12x as much energy. And unlike the offshore wind turbines that fall apart after 20 years, the EPR will keep going for 60 to 80 years. And unlike the wind farms, the power is reliable and therefore valuable and effective in continuing to displace baseload coal which France has done effectively for decades.

    Feed-in tariffs are supposed to be the most clever and transparent method of subsidizing renewables. Clearly the energy policy people who push for feed-in tariffs are drinking Kool-Aid. The numbers make it obvious that it’s the most transparent method of wasting precious resources, and the least efficient way to stimulate innovation. It locks us into using what we know how to make today. Germany has not stimulated real innovation. It has deployed good old, pricey, silicon PV. Why is the world at large celebrating this complete high cost fraud and failure to innovate. We should all be shaking in our boots.

  98. In this frog vs mouse battle over renewables projects something has been overlooked, namely why have a renewables target at all? Greens Senator Christine Milne has asked the ACCC to investigate the reluctance of major energy retailers to buy 3rd party wind and solar, instead preferring their own in-house assets
    http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/opinion/political-news/accc-agrees-to-look-at-greens-energy-gripe-20120410-1wn0u.html

    Suggestion to Sen. Milne; drop the RET and the problem goes away. The RET is not something light and fluffy but actually quite draconian. In 2012 some 16,763 Gwh or about 2 Gw average has to be from large renewables, presumably excluding hydro. Any shortfall will be charged $65 per Mwh by the regulator ORER. The energy retailers are simply cutting out the middle man by doing their own compulsory chores.

    Several key figures Garnaut, the Productivity Commission and the ACCC (now being asked to investigate) have questioned why we need a RET when we have the carbon price. Because their ideas are not taking us to the happy place they want the Greens are now piling on more regulations.

  99. Yes Zdenek, many people do like eating meat and drinking booze and smoking and driving fast and all manner of unhealthy and dangerous things. But generally such things are taxed or otherwise discouraged rather than being heavily subsidised as meat is both indirectly via a bloated health and disease research infrastructure and more directly in some countries by subsidising lipid lowering drugs. Meat makes people die younger, wipes out wildlife, threatens the climate and is habitually and frequently deliberately cruel and vicious to the animals involved. When you are a smoker, its hard to imagine not smoking and not enjoying smoking, but once you quit you (eventually) find it hard to understand how you could have enjoyed it. For most people who quit, its the same with meat. Only you can decide just how much you care about wildlife and the climate, enough to reduce or eliminate an unhealthy habit or … “Well not that much … after all, its only wildlife and the future of the planet that is at steak[pun intended]“!

  100. Interesting discussion on John Quiggin’s thread, starting here: http://johnquiggin.com/2012/03/30/weekend-reflections-187/comment-page-1/#comment-171871

    John Quiggin argues in effect, the compliance cost of CO2 monitoring can be estimated based on, and limited by, the cost the of existing public servant labour force.

    If this is how economists do their estimating, we are in real trouble.

    Several commenters have pointed out on BNC in the past that the economists believe their elasticity figures can be applied for estimating how much CO2 emissions will be reduced for a given price on CO2; however, the economists do not seem to fully appreciate that there are physical constraints that prevent the elasticity from working. Put another way, the elasticity figures do not apply if there is no substitute available. This is the case with nuclear prevented from being a viable option.

    I was very disappointed by John Quiggin’s comments (as I made clear). It seems to me he went out of his way to divert and avoid answering the reasonable and genuine question I asked here: http://johnquiggin.com/2012/03/30/weekend-reflections-187/comment-page-1/#comment-171871

  101. As far as I can tell, you greatly exaggerate the health dangers of meat. I.e., there are some studies confirming it being harmful. There are many others that do not. Actually, the situation is very similar to the studies on the effects of radiation — there are well-known and understood adverse effects at large doses, but for low doses, there is a little evidence of anything. Yeah, you can measure that vegetarians live longer. On the other hand, there is a very good correlation between being a vegetarian and living a healthier life in general, so it is a bit hard to point to any single reason for that.

    As far as regulating smoking, drugs and alcohol, I do believe governments are going too far (for the record, I do not smoke, drink or use any drugs). What I do with my health is my concern, than you very much.

    I do not have much comments on the environmental effects. Yes, they should be taxed.

  102. Zdenek: Consider the following analysis, paid for by Meat and Livestock Australia in a special issue of a journal that MLA paid for.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1747-0080.2007.00208.x/pdf

    The author found 32 studies and in EVERY SINGLE STUDY, more meat produced more bowel cancer. That’s astonishing. It doesn’t happen in passive smoking studies … some show protective effects. In order to claim the results were “inconsistent” he had to fall back on the old not-all-studies-were statistically significant trick and refer to unpublished data. Of course not all studies of anything give SS results.

    With heart disease the evidence is even clearer.

  103. The discussion here about costs misses one crucial point. Capital intensive projects like the construction of nuclear power plants have a hard time raising capital because in economically uncertain times like this, capital flows into projects with small up front costs and a quick return on investment, which in the electricity sector means gas turbines.

    We wouldn’t have this problem if the electricity sector were run by a single public utility backed by significant amounts of public capital. Electricity production and distribution is a natural monopoly and planning electricity generation and distribution through a single public agency may well be the most cost effective and efficient option. We would also not have to bother with incentives like feed-in tariffs, credit guarantees or carbon taxing if plants and grid were in public ownership. Decarbonisation could simply be decreed, planned and executed. Wasn’t this how France achieved its rapid nuclear buildup in the 70s/80s?

  104. Interesting and thorough analysis of the current peak oil situation by economists and physicists, some of them big players in the oil debate.

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/guest-post-global-oil-risks-early-21st-century

    A big economic indicator is that economic tolerance for high oil prices might be decreasing, not increasing. That is, we’ll feel the pain sooner and faster. We’ll react to higher oil prices sooner. We just can’t bear the constant grind of higher oil prices.

    See below:

    ****

    Hamilton (2009b) in particular highlighted the importance of the share of energy expenditure as a percentage of total consumer expenditure. When this ratio is too high, an economic recession tends to occur. Similarly Deutsche Bank (2009) showed how each country seems to have a “threshold percentage of national income at which crude pricing meets stern resistance and demand is broken.” Deutsche Bank (2009) asserts that for American consumers this point is when energy represents 7.5% of gross domestic product. This value is close to the one calculated by Hamilton (2009b) but is based on monthly data and uses a different methodology. In a more recent report, Deutsche Bank (2010) lowered this threshold to 6.5 % because “…the last shock set in motion major behavioral and policy changes that will facilitate rapid behavioral changes when the next one comes and underemployment and weak wage growth has increased sensitivity to gasoline prices. Last time it took $4.50/gal gasoline to finally tip demand, this time it might only take $3.75/gal to $4.00/gal to do it.” However, they also highlighted that “Americans have become comfortable with paying more for gasoline, and it may take higher prices to force behavior change”.

  105. @geoff: Interesting study. I guess I will have to live with 1.4% chance of dying by colorectal cancer instead of 1.1%. Still, checking the source studies, I remain somewhat skeptical. E.g., the Health Professionals’ Study and the Nurses’ Health Study show essentially the same risk rate for colon cancer regardless how much of the red meat you eat, as long as you eat any — HPFS shows risk rate for colon cancer 1.53 for eating it =5x a week, all compared to not eating it at all. This does not seem too consistent with a hypothesis that the consumption of red meat is the cause of the increase, as one would then expect the effects to increase as well (although the risk rates are before taking confounding into account, so perhaps this is responsible for the strange result).

  106. Sorry, the data I cited in the previous comment got somehow lost when I submitted it. It should be 1.53 for eating it less than 3x a month, 1.35 for once a week, 1.44 for 2-4x a week and 1.35 for at least 5 times a week.

  107. EN interesting link on Peak Oil which I think coupled with China’s possible coal peak are the wild cards in the future economy. With extreme weather the public breathes a sigh of relief if they get through unscathed. However high food and fuel prices are insidious and will affect everybody.

    I think it’s quite possible PO could have a bigger affect on coal burning than any carbon taxes. The linked article doesn’t dwell upon the conjectured need for increasing volumes of liquid fuels to help repay high levels of debt. If that theory is true a global economic downturn will depress demand for ‘stuff’ besides food. Perhaps we’re already seeing it with declining commodity demand from China.

    The other affect of PO could be to cancel the miracle of fracking and the perceived gas glut. We’ll use gas as both a coal replacement due to carbon taxes and an oil replacement due to high oil prices. Suddenly gas won’t look like such a long term bet.

  108. Equip a fleet of NPPs with thermal stores for daytime load following. For simplicity’s sake only assume the fleet has an LCOE of 8 cents/kWh @ 90% CF. Now add enough wind farms, backed by additional thermal storaqe on the NPPs, so that the NPP fleet has CF=80% and so the LCOE is 9 cents/kWh. To balance the books, the wind farm operators must then pay the NPP operator 1 cent/kWh. Therefore the wind farms, together with the additional thermal storage which act as the short term balancing agent, can have at most LCOE=7 cents/kWh. In general the higher the penitration of wind in the grid the lower the wind farm LCOE must be. One cannot turn off any NPPs since there may be long periods with essentially no wind.

    The same applies to solar PV, taking into acccount the difference between wholesale and retail electricity rates. In any case, the solar PV owner has to pay the NPP fleet owner some amount to maintain both short term and long term balancing agents.

  109. Zdenek: I’m not quite sure how you got your percentages … dangerous to get them from that paper.

    Lifetime risk of getting bowel cancer in Australia (it can be really nasty even if you don’t actually die!) is here:

    http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=6442467673

    About 1 in 17 for males, 1 in 26 for females … (guess who eats more read meat) … 1 in 21 overall.

    So of 22 million Australians alive today, about a million will get bowel cancer and half a million of those will get it from red meat. This is the estimate of Cancer Council’s Graham Giles that 48% of bowel cancer being attributable to more than 1 red meat meal per week based on his Melbourne Cohort.

  110. DBB re intermittents paying integration fees I think we are heading that way. Even the daily connection fee of around $1 per home in Australia is a kind of insurance against the home owner going off grid. Disconnect and be unfriended. In Germany there are plans to curtail unhelpful amounts of PV in sunny weather
    http://www.smartpowergeneration.com/spg/files/library/A_case_of_sunstroke_in_Germany.pdf
    The link doesn’t say but I presume this would be done via smart meters. They say a burst of sunshine can create power surges 50% greater than the grid should have to handle.

    For some reason the default assumption is that the big ‘gentailers’ (= generator retailers) have to pay small generators. Why not the other way around? Perhaps at household level the rule should be use it or lose it.

  111. @Geoff:
    “About 1 in 17 for males, 1 in 26 for females … (guess who eats more read meat)”
    Males are also taller and drink more, both of which increase risk of colon cancer on about the same order as consumption of meat. There are also significant physiological differences between males and females. So there is really a little that can be concluded from the disparity between sexes (if it really exists — according to http://www.who.int/entity/whr/2004/annex/topic/en/annex_2_en.pdf
    the probability of dying by colorectal cancer is about the same for males and females). Sorry about being pedantic, you make a valid argument (which I choose to ignore and enjoy life :-)

  112. Rates of bowel cancer are generally the same for men and women except in high meat eating countries. Here’s some data from Japan, it shows similar rates prior to the impact of changing diets.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17059355

    The evidence on alcohol is complex … it isn’t considered a risk factor by WCRF for women and bowel cancer and only in large amounts for men.

    Tallness is generally a cancer risk, but not particularly for bowel cancer.

    From an individual view point many risks are small, but from a public health view point reducing the load from half a million cancers would be a really big deal. Your enjoyment also imposes substantial costs on the animals you eat, which you are of course, free to disregard.

  113. GR;
    Since mortality is still stubbornly stuck at 100%, there’s the issue of sequential bottlenecks. As you reduce the virulence of one threat, the next one in line surges (apparently). Actually, it’s just taking its turn.

    As for the poor animals killed for meat, they wouldn’t have been born if not for the human cultivation of large populations for that purpose. Is it better or worse to live briefly and be eaten, or never to live at all? Husbandry existentialism …

    :D

  114. Equip a fleet of NPPs with thermal stores for daytime load following. For simplicity’s sake only assume the fleet has an LCOE of 8 cents/kWh @ 90% CF. Now add enough wind farms, backed by additional thermal storaqe on the NPPs, so that the NPP fleet has CF=80% and so the LCOE is 9 cents/kWh. To balance the books, the wind farm operators must then pay the NPP operator 1 cent/kWh. Therefore the wind farms, together with the additional thermal storage which act as the short term balancing agent, can have at most LCOE=7 cents/kWh. In general the higher the penitration of wind in the grid the lower the wind farm LCOE must be. One cannot turn off any NPPs since there may be long periods with essentially no wind.

    The same applies to solar PV, taking into acccount the difference between wholesale and retail electricity rates. In any case, the solar PV owner has to pay the NPP fleet owner some amount to maintain both short term and long term balancing agents.

    David B Benson – do you think the wind and solar could compete with, say, installing a peaker steam turbine to go with that thermal store? Turbine-generators are not that expensive, and unlike the wind turbine, has an extremely good dispatch rate (perform-when-called upon of at least 99%). If you go to the bother of the thermal store with nuke, might as well go all the way and skip the wind turbines.

  115. Also, the size of the thermal store is much smaller for a peaker steam turbine – nuclear baseload setup. The thermal store with the wind facilitating idea must be much bigger for the same effective load coverage…

  116. Brian/Zdenek: Mortality pre 75 years is definitely not stuck at 100% and that’s what most figures measure … but the figure that interests me as I get older is years of healthy life. The first blood vessels to clog are the fine ones in the penis … hence the high rate of erectile dysfunction and the explosive success of viagra in big meat eating countries :)

    Is it better to live briefly and then be eaten than never at all? Watch a lame pig limping across a concrete floor or a chicken being shipped with legs broken during the catching process in a shed where it lived its last few week crippled or a bobby calf or a sheep who dies of inanition on a live export ship. I’d say the answer is pretty clear.

  117. (Deleted inflammatory comment)
    CR;
    And the thermal store for, e.g., the UK, where they routinely have a couple of weeks at a time in winter under a cold stationary high with no usable wind, is astronomical, unobtainable. Wind is a delusion. Like solar, applicable to small isolated niche applications. Poland won’t buy any more of Germany’s off-hours and unpredictable surges, even at pfennigs on the Pfund; Denmark often has to pay neighbours to take its unusable output, then pay again at full price to cover the drops during peak demand.

    Fools and their money, blowin’ in the wind.

    Germany’s success with solar is legendary, however:
    Solar park after 18 months:
    http://solarresearch.org/sk2010/images/stories/Loeschke_PVSolar_Markranstaedt_201106.jpg
    Solar park after 20 years:
    http://notrickszone.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/1989-Solar-Park.gif

    Take your pick!
    MODERATOR
    BH, GR etc – this conversation regarding meat eating/animal welfare is tending towards acrimony and inflammatory comments which are against BNC Comments Policy. Tit for tat arguments get us nowhere and nobody wins. Time to call a halt.

  118. John Newlands — With regard to residential or commercial installations of solar PV perhaps “use it or lose it” isn’t quite good enough. There is still a charge for providing the cloudy day backup.

    Cyril R. — As always you have excellent ideas. Whichever alternative is the most cost effective, which might be a mixture of technologies.

    Including a peaker would have to compete with a natgas peaker; I don’t know the relative economics well enough to draw any conclusion. My major point was that the intermittently available generatos have to pay the dispatchable generators not to generate when the intermittents are doing so.

  119. Some thoughts just having watched the ABC lunch time news
    1) resignation of Bob Brown, linchpin of the carbon tax
    2) biofuel trial by Qantas
    3) mining industry revolt against higher diesel prices.

    I think the Greens will decline in influence. BB says in retirement he will attend a Greens conference in Stuttgart Germany. I suspect they also will decline as the German economy worsens. Australia will not get a national feed in tariff. Votes will return to the major parties, noting for example the UK Conservatives are actually quite green.

    The new bio-jet-fuel is too expensive. Qantas will take some more govt money then abandon the idea. Aviation must decline when we start the peak oil downslope.

    The 18c /L diesel fuel rebate will go though perhaps not all at once. Mine trucks will convert to CNG and LNG (with shielded tanks) helping raise the average gas price.

  120. To correct what I took to be mistaken notions of the pricing of wind, both off and on shore, and NPPs I just now checked some figures. I repeat the comment here in italics: NStar’s contract with Cape Wind calls for the utility to pay US$0.187/kWh for that offshore wind farm project.

    According to avionexusa wind farm contract prices are typically 10-14 cents per kWh. The nearest to here that I know about has a 20 year contract with Idaho Power with LCOE=US$0.091/kWh.

    The Westinghouse AP1000s just now starting construction at VC Summer have in the justification documents approved by the state utility commission an LCOE of US$0.076/kWh. Those 2 NPPs will be Westinghouse’s 5th & 6th AP1000s so the chance of significant cost overrun is low.

  121. Wind and solar energy are best used in their niche, isolated places without electric grid. Storage is obviously necessary. for wind, conversion to direct and battery is not cost effective. It may be more useful to store the wind energy as compressed air directly compressed by wind energy without using costly electrification route. Compressed air can be used for ventilation/climate control with or without heat pump benefits. It could also be used for pneumatic equipment s.
    Solar energy use for lighting with battery storage is already in use.

  122. Greg Simpson’s comment is quite right, there are several decay chains and thus several half lives contributing to the heat contribution in different proportions at any geological time. Short half lives had more influence in earlier times. My authority was “Practical Handbook of physical properties of rocks and minerals by RS Carmichael, which refers to past peak production in the bulk Earth, which is much leaner in radioactives than the crust, so gives 1.40x at 2.0 Ga. The crust, richer in radioactives, was much more, and Wikipedia said (quite vaguely) that the Earth was twice as radioactive 2 billion years ago.

    My argumentglosses over an even larger variation of radioactivity — from place to place. The warm brines percolating upwards from a young granite would be expected to be particularly rich in potassium, uranium and thorium. Rich in other nutrients, such places are full of life. I imagine that if the most radioactive of these deep places were particularly selective of the organisms that evolve there, we descendants would have an extra sense that warned us of the presence of excessive radioactivity.

    But we cannot sense radioactivity, so it must have presented no threat.

  123. This paper looks at the effect of high intensity ultraviolet radiation in evolution prior to 500 million years ago
    http://www.dnva.no/geomed/solarpdf/Nr_10_Hessen.pdf
    It refers to a ‘mutation meltdown’. If I understand it correctly cyanobacteria can take most credit for converting high levels of CO2 to O2 and some UV shielding O3.

    Convincing forerunners of animals with backbones didn’t appear until about 500 m.y.a. along with pigments and gene repair mechanisms. However the article says that first life appeared 3.8 bn y.a. You’d think soil and water borne radionucliides would have largely decayed in that period 3800-500 mya before ‘our’ ancestors took shape.

  124. Story on German energy policy tonight Dateline SBS One 9.30 EST
    http://www.sbs.com.au/dateline/story/about/id/601443/n/Power-Play

    If they got 2% CO2 reductions for $130 bn in subsidies what will it take to get 5%?

    It’s even worse than that, actually.

    Official figures from the Federal Environment Agency were released yesterday, showing total greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors of 917 million tonnes for 2011, down by 20 million tonnes (2.2%) on the year before and about equal to 2009’s low when manufacturing was hit by the financial crisis.

    However, emissions from the electricity sector increased by 2-6% during 2011, the agency said, while Germany’s energy situation was supported by a mild winter that reduced demand for heating by around 9% with significant drops in demand for gas and heating oil for this purpose.

    http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/EE_Germany_escapes_emissions_rise_1304121.html

    This is appalling. $130 billion in subsidies for renewable electricity and they still get MORE electricity CO2 emissions!!! The reductions were due to the economic crisis and high electricity prices chasing away manufacturing to overseas, ironically caused by paying for the expensive renewable electricity. Hardly a commendable effort for the renewables; they don’t actually reduce CO2 emissions, they just chase away energy intensive manufacturing to overseas to that CO2 emissions appear lower. Of course many jobs are lost in the process, and the CO2 emissions are still there in the imported energy intensive stuff, as “embodied CO2 emissions” if you will.

  125. Cyril R I’ve pointed out in other forums the unlamented exodus of heavy industry is white collar abandonment of the working class.

    Some immediate recollections and jarring observations from the SBS Dateline story on Germany
    – protests against reducing FiTs by 30%
    – nuclear phaseout inevitable but may be slowed
    – Jurgen somebody said 126 Mt CO2 had been saved
    – street level windmills must interfere with various signals
    – ‘self sufficient’ town doesn’t explain what happens on windless nights
    – wind and solar remove need for petrol despite absence of EVs
    – in 2012 German nuclear got more support than renewables
    – methane producing pigs live in windowless shed
    – German example will influence India and China
    – when in doubt remember Fukushima.

    I’m not sure how to get through to these people who mean well but seem to make repeated errors of both fact and logic. If it all goes badly let’s hope they will admit their mistakes.

  126. Geoff: here’s a reference to an earlier estimate (until 2009) of the commited subsidy cost of the German PV program:

    http://uvdiv.blogspot.com/2010/04/how-much-subsidy-for-german-solar-power.html

    About 60-78 billion euros committed. However it is much larger now, because at the time of the abovementioned analysis there was only 9 GWp of PV, right now it is about three times that (and the subsidy per kWh is not that much lower for the newer systems).

    This is a horrible system, such inefficient spending. I have no idea why so many energy policy people get all excited about feed-in-tariffs. They are, “how not to reduce emissions at vast cost”.

  127. Well, the good news is that net-net energy production and use is being off-shored, where much more efficient means of returning all that trapped and sequestered CO2 from the coal beds etc. are employed. We’ve got hundreds of millions of years of over-use of atmospheric CO2 resources by mindless plants to undo!

  128. GR Bjorn Lomborg is one of the people citing $130 bn as per 2nd para here
    http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/industry-insights/energy/dark-cloud-eclipses-sunny-german-dream
    but I’ve also seen it in some sidebar articles.

    I’ve noted before I think PV is borderline at Lat 43S so Germany above Lat 47N .is even less favourable. Germany seems to be in thrall to a sun god and like ancient societies will wonder why it doesn’t always work out.

  129. If the courts rule that no compensation has to be paid to tobacco companies for asset devaluation under plain packaging laws does that affect carbon compo? The Feds say tobacco companies could have seen the new laws coming long ago. Ditto carbon constraints I would think. Suggestion to Hazelwood; don’t cash that $266m cheque but donate it to hospitals.

  130. Cyril/John/Geoff

    The net cost of feed in tariff subsidy in Germany can be found at the Federal Ministry for the Environment website

    http://www.bmu.de/english/renewable_energy/downloads/doc/5996.php

    On page 38 of the BMU brochure there is a table showing the net feed in tariff payments between 2000 and 2010. Extrapolating for 2011, the total net cost is about 53B euros or A$68B.

    Using data I saw at the Energy Collective the gross payments up to the end of 2011 are about 85B euros or A$110B with gross payment in 2011 alone of 21.4B euros or A$27B.

    With record solar to be added in 2012 these payments can only continue to rise steeply and I understand are locked in for 20 years from date of installation.

  131. DBB that website may need a reality check on its reality check. In the UK wind LCOEs are adjusted to on-demand not when-available and include subsidies. The NREL calculator doesn’t seem to allow either subsidies or carbon tax. I presume it uses capacity factor to work out average costs. To my knowledge it doesn’t rework say 30% c.f. into 100% as done by the Academy of Engineers in the UK. If this criticism is valid it’s a bit rich for them to accuse others of dishonesty.

  132. it is much better to take a look at the EEG effect on price per kWh. that was 2.05 in 2010 and 3.53 in 2011.

    http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strompreis

    calculating billions over 30 years doesn t make any sense, as the real cost depends on the cost increase of electricity.

    even today, it might pay out to use your own solar power, instead of selling it. after the latest change to the EEG, it will mostly pay out (one could call it “grid parity achieved”…)

  133. John Newlands — The data is from the State of Michigan office which oversees the ‘renewables’ effort. In the US wind is a must-take generator and the wind LCOE data is taken directly from the 20 year contracts between the wind farm operators and the utility companies.

    The NREL LCOE calculator doesn’t have a separate entry for the production tax credit. SUbstracting that from the NREL LCOE is a bit of trouble becuase the production tax credit is inflation linked. Ignoring inflaction, just now it is close to US$21/MWh.

    The NREL LCOE calculator indeed uses CF to compute the LCOE; the formula used is available by clicking on an entry in the lower right corner area.

  134. GR the graph near the end of the page shows a plunge around 1982-84. Was that when East and West Germany were unified? Maybe they not only demolished the Berlin Wall but rejigged the figures. When Howard was PM Australia gave itself an extra gold star for land use changes as well.

    DBB the UK Academy of engineers assume that wind will be brought up to 100% capacity by open cycle gas and hence cite much higher figures. I imagine this dialog
    wind farm “We have electricity for sale at $x per Mwh”
    utility “I’ll take it”
    wind farm “Sorry the wind isn’t blowing at the moment”.

    Which means the price quote is really conditional but the conditions are left unsaid. Therefore the price must be stated as $x per Mwh when available.

  135. John: Reunification was in 1990 and this LUCF emission leap was in 2000/1. It has to be a redefinition of some kind but I’d probably have to read German to find it in the official inventory reports. Australia pulled some tricks to REDUCE its LUCF emissions in Kyoto but getting “forest” suitably defined, but this German redefinition is acting to INCREASE its emissions … an unusual step!

  136. John Newlands — Even an NPP is on a when available basis; US average over the NPP fleet is just over 91%.
    But after checking likely LCOE for new build CCGT, I suppose the utility can proclaim:
    US$62/MWh when available and
    US$38/MWh when not.

  137. How do we all feel the nuclear campaign is going?

    There seem to be plenty of books on the IFR for those inclined to read technical literature with an open mind, but don’t we need something in the DVD format to convince the non-reading public? Something with sexy graphics that explores the difference between Gen2 and Gen3.5 reactors. Something akin to “The Inconvenient Truth of renewables”?

  138. I suspect real CO2 cuts are much less than we think due to fiddling the books. To paraphrase Richard Feynman we can fool ourselves but not Mother Nature.

    I recall someone pointing out that Germany was paying feed-in tariffs to methane extraction from a coal mine. Perhaps the rationale was that it was somehow sustainable or perhaps less CO2e than otherwise. Either way it was money for pollution. Having learned nothing from the Europeans we are now hellbent on repeating their mistakes plus new ones like carbon farming. At least the Europeans don’t export huge amounts of fossil fuels like we do. We both fiddle the books but they are babes in the wood when it comes to hypocrisy.

  139. it is much better to take a look at the EEG effect on price per kWh. that was 2.05 in 2010 and 3.53 in 2011.

    http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strompreis

    calculating billions over 30 years doesn t make any sense, as the real cost depends on the cost increase of electricity.

    This is such a good example of false advertising and renewables propaganda, I just couldn’t let it pass.

    Sod, the 1.5 cent per kWh increase from 2010 to 2011 is very large, considering the added renewable electricity percentage is only a few percent. Wikipedia has a table that shows that the renewable electricity in 2010 was 17.1% and in 2011 it was 20.1%.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy_in_Germany

    So an added 3% renewable electricity share adds 1.5 cents per kWh to the price of electricity. What’s, say, 60% added renewable electricity going to add to the price of electricity in Germany? Even if prices of renewables will halve and ignoring cost of storage, which is absurd, this will add 15 cent per kWh. Now add storage cost to get to a high level of grid reliability, we’re well over 30 cents per kWh added. That’s the optimistic version.

  140. even today, it might pay out to use your own solar power, instead of selling it. after the latest change to the EEG, it will mostly pay out (one could call it “grid parity achieved”…)

    This is also ludicrous. First install expensive unproductive wind and solar, increasing the cost to the ratepayer. Then use the higher cost of electricity as an argument that wind and solar have become competitive. Like I’ve said before, this is a typical sand box economy argument we get from the greens. It is in line with, “don’t worry, the new feed in tariffs are expensive per kWh, but we won’t generate much power from solar so it won’t cost much”. Gee whiz. Don’t worry about the expensive solar panels, they’re so useless and expensive, we won’t buy many anyway.

    It’s not even about households. Households here in the Netherlands for example use no more than 10% of the primary energy:

    http://www.cbs.nl/NR/rdonlyres/26EA56DA-A5C8-4DFC-8ABA-FE4480ADB8C4/0/1420g1.gif

    Because of the focus on household efficiency, household energy consumption has flattened out. All the other sectors have grown because we’ve failed to pay attention to the big numbers.

    Manufacturing is the biggest energy hog. It requires cheap energy or it will go to other countries. Then you lose the jobs, lose the ability to get high environmental standards and excise control, and still import the energy in embodied products from other countries.

    And that shows it’s not even about the higher income countries anymore. It’s about Asian countries, and they sure won’t agree to a quadrupling of electricity prices. They’ll use coal, cheap, reliable, and disgusting.

  141. This is discomforting news:

    http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/EE_More_action_needed_sooner_on_climate_change_1604121.html

    While Germany is patting itself on the back and making many pretty pictures of solar panels, reality is biting ever deeper.

    Power generation is the elephant in the room, even more if we electrify cars and home heating with heat pumps. That’s just where nuclear powerplants shine. Good that countries like Germany are showing the right example by closing down their only chance of carbon neutral electricity.

  142. Eclipse Now writes,

    How do we all feel the nuclear campaign is going?

    There seem to be plenty of books on the IFR for those inclined to read technical literature with an open mind, but don’t we need something in the DVD format to convince the non-reading public? Something with sexy graphics that explores the difference between Gen2 and Gen3.5 reactors. Something akin to “The Inconvenient Truth of renewables”?

    Um … yes, that would certainly be good …

    The first “An Inconvenient Truth” must have cost several million to make.

    This new proposed film, if similar millions somehow turn up, might well include the still frame here. Meltdown-proof americium-eating reactors are fine, but for associates of a certain antinuclear outfit, even a pair of small Russian PWRs are better than relying on sails.

  143. My question to the honourable Martin Ferguson, Federal Minister for Resources and Energy….do you even get what low carbon is about?

    I don’t think it’d be too far off the truth to say that there is not a single politician in this country who knows a) what low carbon energy is AND b) which low carbon energy sources are scalable.

  144. Would a major Latrobe Valley brown coal export scheme be another ‘game-over for the climate’ project like the Keystone XL pipeline?

    There are only two ways to export brown coal efficiently – gasify it and turn it into LNG (probably using a technique similar to the proposed HRL demonstrator IDGC plant), or turn it into briquettes.

    Both will involve burning existing reserves of brown coal for the energy to run these processes, further increasing emissions. The SECV tried both of these methods (using the Lurgi process for town gas production and a plant at Morwell for making briquettes) in an effort to get more value out of the Latrobe Valley brown coal reserves. In the end they decided it was better to burn it and export it as electricity to SA (and after the SECV was privatised, to Tasmania via Basslink).

    A far better idea would be to use SMRs that can generate process heat (such as LFTR or AHTR) to produce syngas and refine it into petrochemicals on-site for domestic consumption.

    That would be much less emissions-intensive but of course, much more pie-in-the-sky than just digging it up and dumping it into a bulk carrier ship to take it to India or China.

  145. Hi Tom,
    then how do we change that? This site often comes across as high level tech-nerdiness for professional nuclear boffins. What about attracting some non-technical but highly influential ‘Connectors’ and activists? How do we do that? What kind of posts do we need, now that the site is more than swamped with technical information? What kind of groups and activities can help? Do we need a letter writing campaign, more posters, more people putting up posters? I’m thinking quite summary posters that explain the difference in cost between renewables and nukes; provocative and well designed and painting an attractive story for our future.

    With a clear activist invitation, like “Get more posters like this at…”? Anything else that is quick, cheap, and easy that we can do?

  146. There is a new film on nuclear power and environmentalism in the late stages of production: http://robertstoneproductions.com/pandoras-promise/

    PANDORA’S PROMISE

    The recent reactor meltdowns in Japan have ignited passionate worldwide debate about energy and the future of nuclear power. PANDORA’S PROMISE is a feature-length documentary that explores how and why mankind’s most feared and controversial technological discovery is now passionately embraced by many of those who once led the charge against it. The film is anchored around the personal narratives of a growing number of leading former anti-nuclear activists and pioneering scientists who, in the face of considerable controversy, are directly challenging the anti-nuclear orthodoxy that is a founding tenet of the mainstream environmental movement. Their stories and ideas will be brought to life through a combination of incredible archival footage from 1945 to the present and original filming across the globe.

    Operating as history, cultural meditation and contemporary exploration, PANDORA’S PROMISE aims to inspire a serious and realistic debate over what is without question the most important question of our time: how do we continue to power modern civilization without destroying it?

    CAST: James Hansen, Stewart Brand, Gwyneth Cravens, Mark Lynas, Richard Rhodes, Stephen Tindale, Charles Till, Anne Lauvergeon, James Lovelock, Nathan Myhrvold, and Len Koch.

    I can’t reveal more at this stage, but I guarantee that it will be impressive.

  147. EN, you are absolutely right, and there are major changes under way to address this problem. One of the big ones will be a major overhaul of the structure and function of the BNC website, and the launch of a new direction for future communications of these issues. I plan to detail more of this when I return to Australia next week. I can’t say more now (although I want to) because I’m about to head to Moscow Airport!

  148. Ha ha ha! That’s too funny! I was playing with google translator, so I just ran this Russian back the other way to check how it worked. But I didn’t realise I had made a typo, which the translator then took and ran away with!

    This is what I entered.

    “Go well my friend! Enjoy some Russian desert for me.”

    I, of course, meant *dessert*.

    This is how the Russian translated back:

    By a friend of mine! Enjoy the Russian wilderness for me.

    In other words, just buy one of my mates and go off into the wilderness with him. OK, I’m backing away from the computer…. and will not try to do anything *clever* for a few weeks.

  149. LancedDendrite proposed putting nukes in the Latrobe Valley to refine brown coal into petrochemicals. This does offer a way to store ex-nuclear energy as transport fuels, by adding hydrogen to carbon molecules.

    If a carbon price ever made power from brown coal more expensive than from nuclear, it might make sense politically to convert the coal burning industry in the Latrobe Valley into a coal liquefaction industry. The brown coal has a favourable hydrogen-to-carbon ratio, but is still high in oxygen, sulphur and ash. More hydrogen is needed in the equations, but that need not imply piped gas.

    Oil refineries are usually limited by the amount of hydrogen available (for desulphurisation, hydrogen cracking etc), which is effectively generated by consuming more feedstock. If high-temperature electrolysis can bypass the need for reformed hydrogen, the addition of a nuke into a refinery makes even more sense. Although hydrogenation at the cathode seems an obvious benefit from electrolysing coal, it is also possible (at the anode) to remove sulphur, and presumably other nonmetals.

  150. Roger: Latrobe Valley brown coal is actually quite low in sulphur and other impurities compared to other coal sources. The big problem is the moisture content. Some people have in the past referred to burning brown coal being like burning dirt – the engineers that I’ve talked to that have experience with the Latrobe Valley plants say that it’s closer to burning water!

    My most realistic suggestion would be to use an IDGCC (Integrated Drying and Gasification, Combined-Cycle) plant similar to the one HRL is proposing to be built. However, instead of burning the syngas produced by the plant, it could be fed directly to a refinery set-up, with a set of NuScale SMRs to power the compressor and provide process steam for additional heating needed in the absence of any power being generated by the adapted IDGCC section. Hydrogen make-up can be added from electrolysis units also powered by the SMRs.

    The simplest refinery end for it would be to use the syngas as feedstock for producing LNG, with the SMRs again being used to drive the compressors. Then you can pump it wherever you need it to go.

    Of course, these sort of ideas are required to justify the existence of areas like the Latrobe Valley in a post-carbon price Australia. The sheer amount of corporate welfare being doled out to them due to the Carbon Tax/ETS system being implemented boggles me.
    They currently have two resources: lots of centralised electricity transmission infrastructure (4x 500kV and 6x 220kV transmission lines going to Melbourne at last count) and 500 year’s worth of easy to access, low impurity brown coal. It’s just about the only significant mineral resource that Victoria has now that the gold has run out.

  151. Has anyone had a look through BZE’s Port Augusta report yet (just released)?

    http://media.beyondzeroemissions.org/Repowering_PortAugusta.pdf

    I only had a brief read through, but the assumptions seem wild (7.5 MW wind turbines, 135 MW solar thermal stations, no specific LCOE projections but statements of low additional cost of electricity…), and it generally seems to lack detail. They’ve also planned to match exactly the output (GWh/year) of the existing coal plants, without explicitly acknowledging the still intermittent supply their plan entails. It’s basically a scaled down, region specific version of the ZCA plan.

  152. The discussions on Latrobe Valley Vic and Pt Augusta SA suggest that they are roughly where Australia’s first NPP should be located. Brown coal baseload is 5 GW in Victoria if I recall and Pt Augusta has the most westerly power stations in the east Australian grid. I’m not sure I agree that something has to be done with Latrobe Valley coal. Why not leave it in the ground as pre-sequestered carbon? Get the carbon for synthetic fuels from biomass.

    The problem common to both SA and Vic is that nobody knows for how much longer they can get reasonably priced natural gas. Tasmania has an underwater gas pipe from Victoria as well as the HVDC cable to Loy Yang brown coal station. The current southern gas fields will undergo fracking and horizontal drilling with unknown results. If they fail then gas replacement for coal will be off the table. Then what?

    If the southern gas outlook rapidly deteriorate that’s three States left in the lurch. Quick fixes include a carbon tax holiday for brown coal, importing LNG by ship or forcing some Queensland CSG to be piped south. I can’t see nukes large or small helping in under a decade. Some commenters (eg Keith Orchison) think the southern gas crisis could be less than 5 years away.

  153. Eclipse Now — Those are obvious points and easy to address. New NPPs could use air cooling at some cost to thermal efficiency, hardly a mjor concern as uranium oxide acquisition is but a small percentage of the cost of running an NPP. However, far better would be do run the reject heat warm water through an underground closed loop for council heating. As this is extra cost, the beneficiars need to pay a small monthly fee to the NPP operator. Such schemes already exist in some European countries.

  154. An exporting country can easily maintain its own supply position by regulating exports. However, a useful idea would be to convert coal by underground gasification and conversion to di-methyl Ether. The DME can be stored as liquid like LPG or propane at ambient temperature under a moderate pressure. It could be conveniently stored as a back up to gas or exported. For exporters it is a value-added product. For importers it is a cleaner fuel free of ash with its radio-activity, arsenic and mercury. It also burns without spewing particulate matter.

  155. David B. Benson, on 21 April 2012 at 11:47 AM

    Combined heat and power (or cogeneration, German “Fernwärme”) is a whole chapter for itself. It interests me, because that’s how I get my heating and hot water here in Germany.
    We pay more than “a small fee” for the privilege, in fact they charge us 26 eurocents/kWh or 0.26€, which is pretty exactly what we pay for electricity. Then again, they must often be burning (natural gas, I think) just for the heating, and the proportion of it which is “waste-heat” must vary considerably depending on time of year.

    In fact, the economics must be quite complex, and are probably far from being as open-and-shut as its advocates would have us believe.
    McKay and other have been pretty dismissive of it:
    http://peckhampower.org/forum/groups/steering-committee-and-general-discussion/combined-heat-and-power-versus-heat-pumps

    One thing is clear: you can’t beat the 2nd. law, and if it’s going to have any chance at all, it requires the plant to be situated close to population concentration.

    The idea of telling the Germans that not only do they need nukes, but they’ve got to be located right in the middle of town really tickles me!

  156. peterc — I certainly agree that a natgas powered CHP is not the most efficient way to provide either electricity or district heating. I also certainly agree on the superiority of ground heat pumps.

    The issue at hand is how to cool the water used to condense the used steam at the bottom temperature of a Rankine cycle. Ordinarily evaporative cooling is used but this consumes water. What I propose is an underground closed loop long enough to cool the water adequately. This loop is under the street, near the edges, and does not directly connect to any building heating system; it just warms the ground. Building operators then run their ground heat pump loop out to the edge of the property near the supply from thermal electric generator. The electricity generation proceeds as is required completely independently of building heating requirements. The extra fee required is simply because the piping and pumping is more expensive than when using an evaporator so the beneficiaries should absorb that increment of cost.

  157. That would be really very expensive. Remember that the condenser is carrying the working fluid of the turbine, very carefully chemically controlled, deionized water. Any impurities and it will dissolve the steam generators. You would not run this water through very long burried lines. The condensate is at sub-atmospheric pressure when it condenses, so any leaks would pull untreated water into the system. Also the diameter of these lines is large.

  158. Chris Uhlik — There is still a condenser. The water in the underground pipes is fairly ordinary stuff, warmed via heat exchange in the condenser. The situation is rather similar to once through cooling from river water, just closed loop.

  159. David B. Benson, on 22 April 2012 at 11:35 AM
    Thanks for the explanation, and I can see the difference now.

    I’m still haven’t convinced myself, though, that the generator won’t see variations in the cooling effect, i.e. the temperature in the return pipe, depending on time of year, of day and the weather.
    (Correction applied to last post as required)

  160. Go on ya DBB for persevering :) If anyone has a Facebook account they can log on through that and the link to the Economist poll will then also be visible on your Facebook page which will elicit more responses with any luck.

  161. Over at the Guardian I said what I often say, that the Japanese government is making millions a day on imported LNG — every gram of it that it is physically possible to de-liquefy — and its belief in the refractory irrationality of its citizens should be evaluated in that light. And I was challenged for evidence.

    So I had to find some; “its behaviour admits of no other interpretation” isn’t likely to satisfy someone who is eager to admit of just about any other interpretation. Fortunately, reality has a strong pro-nuclear bias.

  162. grlc the very high prices the Japanese are paying for LNG may distort domestic gas markets in exporting countries. An exporter can pay less than $4 a gigajoule for gas, presumably spend well under $1 liquefying it then sell it to Japan for $15 free-on-board. Major users of domestic piped gas will have to compete with that.

    On another topic I’ve noticed PV sellers are now pushing the bill saving line, not so much saving the planet. For example
    http://www.cleanenergycouncil.org.au/mediaevents/media-releases/April-2012/110413.html
    Couple of problems. If PV is for rich and poor alike then drop subsidies so everybody pays directly. The other problem is that nobody seems to have asked the utilities whether this arrangement suits them. In Germany PV power surges in the middle of sunny days are said to be 50% faster than the grid can cope with. There is talk of curtailment presumably done through smart meters.

    If every house had PV the grid could get swamped with surplus electricity in sunny weather. In Australia I’m thinking 12m homes each putting out say 1 kw surplus at 1pm Sydney time 11am Perth time, albeit in different grids. Smart meters will need centralised instructions to restrict grid export. That means bill savings won’t be so large. It also adds another layer of cost and complexity to what is already a costly business.

  163. peterc — A few meters underground the temperature is close to 10 degrees Celcius all year long. Dirt and rock are good thermal insulators. Thermal generators which use once-through river water for cooling have to cope with varying temperatures of the river water over the year; at about, say, 3 meters underground that minor variation will not occur.

  164. As far as I’m concerned nuclear is the second worst energy source. That is how I address the anti-nuke folks. “If you have a choice between the two, which would you choose?” Kind of puts them on the spot. I also advocate nuclear phase out but only after fossil fuel phase out. Ultimately we need sustainable communities with technologies that scale appropriately to their size. Nuclear is not a good fit, it implies in its existence a perpetual growth economy in a super mega-state. I think simpler self-sustaining communities are the answer at a much lower population level. I see nukes as a transition level technology until we get off fossil fuel.

  165. Nuclear does NOT imply “in its existence a perpetual growth economy in a super mega state.” It is perfectly compatible with “enough energy” to meet human needs, assuming it is not a human need to need exponentially growing amounts of energy.

    No vision of society follows from the properties of nuclear power: foremost among them, energy density.

    Even small is beautiful proponents could recommend nuclear power. In fact, they should since SMRs would have a much smaller footprint than “renewables.”

  166. A couple of news items that suggest energy users have locked themselves into dead ends but perhaps they haven’t realised it yet.

    This article came out on the BBC website a month ago
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17423877
    It is saying that the amount of gas required in the UK energy mix will make it impossible to achieve the target of 80% emissions cuts by 2030. That is despite a heavy wind component which in another article the BBC say is favoured by the public. Most of the rise in power bills is due to gas price increases. It seems seems odd that the public supports an electricity mix that can never be truly low carbon and must keep dramatically rising in price.

    In this neck of the woods is a proposal for an Asia-Pacific ETS
    http://www.news.com.au/business/breaking-news/combet-flags-regional-ets/story-e6frfkur-1226336621430
    To my thinking that must mean we stop exporting coal to China and perhaps India. The central notion of an ETS is a CO2 cap which means if somebody burns more somebody else gets to burn less. It should mean Clive Palmer’s ‘China First’ coal mine never gets built since we’re all using less. Is that seriously likely? I think the rules will be tinkered with to prolong business as usual ie Aussies emit 0.5 Gt of CO2 while China emits 8.2 Gt. I suspect we will make tiny cuts but the Chinese will burn as much coal as ever with more and more of that coal (perhaps even pelleted brown coal) coming from Australia.

  167. Ultimately we need sustainable communities with technologies that scale appropriately to their size. Nuclear is not a good fit, it implies in its existence a perpetual growth economy in a super mega-state. I think simpler self-sustaining communities are the answer at a much lower population level. I see nukes as a transition level technology until we get off fossil fuel.

    The gaping hole in this well intented but naïve and unrealistic ideology is, of course, HOW?

    How are we going to convince people to live in a tent, be cold all winter and sit in the dark, not have coffee, not have any tropical juicy fruits, not being mobile, not having access to advanced medical technology, not buying anything from stores, not using the internet, cellphones, smartphones, indeed any electronic gizmo?

    All of these require a high degree of sophistication and globalization of communities.

    It’s easy for people like David M. to explain their ideologies, using this globalization tool called the Internet, maybe having some coffee, sitting warm and cozy in a house built with, and full of, materials from all over the globe… I could go on, but the point is made.

  168. Nuclear does NOT imply “in its existence a perpetual growth economy in a super mega state.” It is perfectly compatible with “enough energy” to meet human needs, assuming it is not a human need to need exponentially growing amounts of energy.

    No vision of society follows from the properties of nuclear power: foremost among them, energy density.

    Even small is beautiful proponents could recommend nuclear power. In fact, they should since SMRs would have a much smaller footprint than “renewables.”

    The problem is that while nuclear doesn’t imply such a thing it does make it possible and the people who want us to use less and go back to nature want it for everyone, whether everyone else wants it or not (while those who advocate for increased energy usage are quite willing for those who want it to opt out and use less energy themselves).

    The only hope the people who don’t want anyone using a lot of energy have is to get nuclear off the table because otherwise it will be used to power a perpetually growing economy.

    I’ve commented a similar theme at http://www.popatomic.org/2011/07/place-for-nuclear-energy-postgreenhouse-world/#comment-289 (though the article that’s replying to and the other comments are worth reading as well).

  169. Interesting. What I took to be a rather straight forward comment about the coming age of self-sustaining communities gets met with fear and apples and oranges misdirections. Basically I’m inclined to leave the responses as exhibit 1, 2, and 3. To a serious person without a hard ideological agenda they would seem to underline the rationality of what I am saying.

    I will offer one thought. Historically who has displaced who, the state or the small independent community? To turn it around and make the state the potential victim is funny and simply underlines the odd desperation and denial one experiences with folks who stand in fear of a simple rendoring of a likely future. That future is steeped in our evolutionary history. So if one applies the Occam filter linked to the highly likely occurrence of major environmental break downs* a modern version of self-sustaining mainly small communites seems likely.some generations in our future. Objecting to the goodies you would be giving up is a pretty weak argument. We’re talking survival.

    *My understanding is even BB doesn’t see full fossil fuel replacement under the best of circumstances until 2100.

  170. [quote]Interesting. What I took to be a rather straight forward comment about the coming age of self-sustaining communities gets met with fear and apples and oranges misdirections.[/quote]No, it got met with reasons why it we shouldn’t let it happen and why we don’t need to do what you want us to.

    [quote]That future is steeped in our evolutionary history.[/quote]Evidence? If anything our history is of trying to escape where you want us to go.

    [quote]So if one applies the Occam filter linked to the highly likely occurrence of major environmental break downs* a modern version of self-sustaining mainly small communites seems likely.some generations in our future.[/quote]Abandoning high techology (which is what you are proposing) is guranteeing that we will go extinct, say when the next asteroid or comet ends up on a collision course with our planet.

    [quote]Objecting to the goodies you would be giving up is a pretty weak argument. We’re talking survival.[/quote]Yet earlier you said that we need a much lower population level so that begs the question, survival for who?

    On the issue of people giving up their goodies, if that was a plausible solution to global warming it would’ve already happened (people have been telling us that for long enough), the fact is that the majority of the population would rather whatever problems fossil fuels cause (including global warming) than do without their stuff and if you try to solve global warming in a way which won’t let them have their goodies then you are doomed to fail (and forcing the simple life on everyone is almost certainly going to be worse than global warming).

  171. What David M fails to realise is that people don’t like this view. They don’t want to live in a tent. Small and self sufficient means inherently low tech. People won’t go that way freely.

    This matters because the fallback alternative is fossil fuels. We have plenty of fossil fuel left, and we can find much more still, to ruin the planet.

    David M’s position is one of a stern parent, lecturing his child that using energy is bad, high technology is bad, etc. This is not appealing to most people. So we won’t have it David’s way. We’ll have coal, coal, coal. When oil peaks we’ll have more coal, coal, coal. Environmentalists have been like this for decades, and the result is not a smaller self sufficient community. It is ever more globalizing, ever more consuming, and largely based on fossil fuels.

    David, don’t you see your ideology is doing more harm than good?

    Providing the nuclear alternative offers a means out of this disaster trajectory.

    The problem with nuclear is very simple. People are afraid of it and want to avoid it, because people don’t understand it. But we need it.

  172. I really don’t know where the historical driver for small self-sustaining communities is supposed to come from. The global trend is overwhelmingly towards greater urbanization and very large cities

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c8/Percentage_of_World_Population_Urban_Rural.PNG

    It doesn’t matter if one likes it or not. It just is, and very likely to remain so for several decades at the very least. If one has any ambitions to constrain the climate problem to anything resembling safe bounds, then that is the context in which it must occur. What happens a hundred years in the future is something for our descendants to sort out. We must deal with our reality in the here and now.

    There is also probably a case to be made that large high population density cities put less pressure on land use in a world where natural habitat is disappearing at a frightening rate. I remain unconvinced that dispersing population over many smaller communities would bring environmental benefits. It may make matters worse.

  173. Before I knew about GenIV reactors I was worried. Very worried. My most optimistic dream was some sort of hippie ‘Powerdown’ a bit like Ted Trainer’s “Simpler Way” but my nightmares were haunted by the very real possibility that we would not make it. That terrorists would figure out that it only took “a few pounds of plastic explosive and a CAMEL” to take out an oil refinery. That, in an age of peak oil, attacking refineries would make sense.

    That it might not even take terrorists. That we might just start competing for the world’s oil reserves, and the Carter Doctrine of the 1970’s might catapult us into conflict at the drop of a hat. Or the drop of a tanker.

    I convinced myself that we had a good chance if we just pumped money into solar thermal and New Urbanism and cycling programs and local agriculture programs. We could “Powerdown” because people wouldn’t want ANARCHY! It’s just, deep down, I knew we were all too selfish to really go there. Let some other country go first. We need our oil. And so the Carter Doctrine loomed large again. Add in some nasty global warming surprises and the ever tighter oil situation, and while detesting Doomerism, those who actually look FORWARD to some kind of Mad Max collapse, I was very, very convinced of the potential.

    The new nukes have given me some hope, but now I think we need to move in the other direction. World standards for nuclear safety and fuel and systems. World bodies that can inspect all regimes. Basically, a Democratic United Nations Parliament or other system of … dare I say those two words, “World Government?”

    Think Global, act local.

  174. “”I remain unconvinced that dispersing population over many smaller communities would bring environmental benefits. It may make matters worse.””
    Great point quokka! I was just listening to an awesome talk on “Why Cities Grow and Corporations Die and Life Gets Faster.”

    It compares the sub-linear growth of living systems to the super-linear growth of cities. That is, if a city has a certain population it produces a certain amount of goods and services and universities and discoveries. But if you double the population, the production doesn’t just double, it goes up 115%! You get an EXTRA 15% efficiency gains. So a city of a million here and a city of a million there both independently produce a similar amount. But put them together, and they produce an extra 15% just by the efficiencies of a lager city population.

    http://fora.tv/2011/07/25/Why_Cities_Grow_Corporations_Die_and_Life_Gets_Faster

    So I would rather see the world population as a whole stabilise and decline. But I can see exactly why we live in big cities!

  175. Cyril R. says,

    People are afraid of it and want to avoid it, because people don’t understand it.

    and is not talking about flat-panel display technology.

    But then, there isn’t an alternative to them that is vastly more lucrative, for the tax man, than they are.

    See what you’re looking at, Cyril. How do you know that people are afraid of it? Because when governments want to do something they know is wrong, but which will protect their cathode-ray-tube income, they assert that the fear exists?

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/docs/Debunking_Handbook.pdf

  176. I agree with quokka’s sentiments concerning small is beautiful. My point was simply that nuclear power and decentralization were not necessarily incompatible. Whether decentralization etc. is a good idea is another question. the idea of getting off grid is very unappealing, whether the power is coming from smrs or some other source. Urbanization can promote a more efficient use of space and energy. They go together.

  177. I’ll give anon credit for the best argument I’ve heard for maintaining the industrial mega-state.

    [quote]So if one applies the Occam filter linked to the highly likely occurrence of major environmental break downs* a modern version of self-sustaining mainly small communites seems likely.some generations in our future.[/quote]Abandoning high techology (which is what you are proposing) is guranteeing that we will go extinct, say when the next asteroid or comet ends up on a collision course with our planet.

    Now that’s a serious argument. We need high tech to destroy that killer asteroid that’s going to put our lights out 10 million years from now.

    My point is pretty simple. We are in the process of destroying life as we know it on the planet and seem to be headed toward a 6th extinction event. For at least 250 years fossil fuel gave us the energy slaves(a Bucky expression) to dominate the landscape. For a variety of reasons that’s coming to an end. We will be moving from the luxury side of things back to the survival side of things. Nuclear, the second worst energy technology, can buy us some time to transition out of the worst energy technology, fossil fuel. But we still have the earth exploitive characteristics of a large scale industrial system.

    The solution is to go back to what worked for us for millions of years, self-sustaining communities, updated of course but essentially the same model.

    I know you folks are enamored of this recent 250 year window but the window is closing and we know from history what works.

    I think civilization is a fragile thing. Changing the environment changes your world and it will drastically. Ask the Mayans who had to step back from their city states to sustainable communities again. Our challenges will be far greater.

    And no I’m not trying to impose anything on anybody. Mother Nature dictates the game. I’m just trying to be real about what that game will require of us.

    PS. I love camping.

  178. Eclipse Now:

    The new nukes have given me some hope, but now I think we need to move in the other direction. World standards for nuclear safety and fuel and systems. World bodies that can inspect all regimes. Basically, a Democratic United Nations Parliament or other system of … dare I say those two words, “World Government?”

    Without politically independent space colonies of some sort I would have to oppose world government (besides, we still have a bunch of dictatorships left) because of the risk of stagnation.

    gregory meyerson:

    My point was simply that nuclear power and decentralization were not necessarily incompatible.

    At a purely technical level they aren’t, but the options opened up and the options the majority would prefer would prevent the kind of world that many of the decentralisation advocates want.

    gregory meyerson:

    Whether decentralization etc. is a good idea is another question. the idea of getting off grid is very unappealing, whether the power is coming from smrs or some other source.

    I actually find the idea of an SMR in the basement of a house to be somewhat appealing (though a grid connection probably makes more sense).

    David M:

    I’ll give anon credit for the best argument I’ve heard for maintaining the industrial mega-state.
    Abandoning high techology (which is what you are proposing) is guranteeing that we will go extinct, say when the next asteroid or comet ends up on a collision course with our planet.

    Now that’s a serious argument. We need high tech to destroy that killer asteroid that’s going to put our lights out 10 million years from now.

    Of course that’s just one example, there are plenty of other things that could do us in, though not all are necessarily global in scale (and a comet could appear from anywhere with only a few months warning, whether we could deflect one in time if one were heading for us is debatable (not so with asteroids we we’ll have decades of warning)).

    Large civilisations also have more resources to spare to deal with any catastrophes that occur so even the local problems are more survivable when you aren’t a bunch of small self-sufficient communities without any surplus.

    David M:

    My point is pretty simple. We are in the process of destroying life as we know it on the planet and seem to be headed toward a 6th extinction event.

    We’re destroying a lot of life but we ourselves will likely pull through pretty well and so will a lot of other life (some of them with our help), nature is more robust than most people give it credit for (of course we are changing the climate at a rate that hasn’t happened naturally without mass extinction, though those events tended to have other things going on and also didn’t have humans around breeding animals in captivity).

    David M:

    For at least 250 years fossil fuel gave us the energy slaves(a Bucky expression) to dominate the landscape. For a variety of reasons that’s coming to an end.

    Fossil fuels allowed us to transcend the limits of renewable energy and build up enough infrastructure to be able to use nuclear fission (and maybe fusion eventually) and we could use fission for quite a bit more time (using breeders you get answers in the millions of years) before we run out even with 10 billion people at a much higher per capita energy usage than today’s first world usage.

    The ultimate limit on energy usage for an Earth based civilisation will probably be when we start to produce a significant percentage of the energy we get from the sun as waste heat but by that time we’ll probably have the majority of our species living in space with most heavy industry in orbit with the entire planet Earth a national park.

    David M:

    We will be moving from the luxury side of things back to the survival side of things.

    If that were true then environmentalism will die because concern for the environment for its own sake is a luxury good.

    For you see, if the choice is between hunting a species into extinction and starvation people will hunt species into extinction.

    David M:

    Nuclear, the second worst energy technology, can buy us some time to transition out of the worst energy technology, fossil fuel.

    Actually nuclear is the least worst energy technology we have right now and it is in no way a bridge to a renewable energy future*, in fact coal and other fossil fuels were a bridge away from renewables and towards nuclear.

    David M:

    But we still have the earth exploitive characteristics of a large scale industrial system.

    As people become wealthier they start to care about the environment for its own sake (and also because environmental problems start to actually have an effect on them) so the best way to deal with that would actually be to increase the standard of living.

    David M:

    The solution is to go back to what worked for us for millions of years, self-sustaining communities, updated of course but essentially the same model.

    I know you folks are enamored of this recent 250 year window but the window is closing and we know from history what works.

    Millions of years with every human being on the edge of starvation, one bad hunt away from death, with short life expectancy, a third of the males killed through violence (and the females raped), etc.

    Doesn’t sound like a good idea to me, I’d much rather an improvement of what we’ve got now (but if you want to go live like people used to live that’s fine by me).

    David M:

    Changing the environment changes your world and it will drastically. Ask the Mayans who had to step back from their city states to sustainable communities again. Our challenges will be far greater.

    We’re still not sure what did the Mayans in though if it was an intense long lasting drought as has been proposed our civilisation would be able to survive it through the use of irrigation (nuclear desalination could get us the water if no other method were available), hydroponics, more use of water recycling, changing to crops which use need less water, genetic engineering, less meat, more use of aquaculture, etc. If we got really desperate we could even increase the amount of land we use for food production (at the cost of the environment).

    The larger size of our civilisation means that we could survive things past civilisations wouldn’t have been able to (and those small self-sufficient communities would not be well placed to survive an extended drought without deaths from starvation).

    David M:

    And no I’m not trying to impose anything on anybody. Mother Nature dictates the game. I’m just trying to be real about what that game will require of us.

    Our technology determines what options are available to us (and our technology is largely about freeing us from the dictates of nature). It’s also worth looking up the definition of energy and its relationship to work.

    Oh and there’s no way you’ll get the majority of people to live the way you say they should without forcing them (and if you try you’ll probably have a revolt on your hands).

    *Though I do think space solar holds significant promise I don’t think it’d actually cause many nuclear power plants to be shut down even if it ends up taking over new orders since I doubt saving the operating costs of a nuclear plant could be enough to justify building an SPS, I also hold the same view of fusion replacing fission in the electricity generation field (rocketry is another matter and is where fusion would really end up dominating when we can get it to work).

  179. A friend just asked about Co2 emissions from the Plasma Arc burner, so I contributed the following.

    ….
    I’ve read that *all* the rubbish in the vast, landfill ridden United States would only equate to about 25 nuclear power stations if burned for electricity.

    If I had my way we would not burn syngas for electricity but use it to supply the petrochemical industry to make all the glues and varnishes and paints and chemicals and plastics and sunglasses and joggers and disposable nappies and toothbrushes and motor lubricants we needed.

    If I had my way 90% of our transport would be electric, not petroleum based. We’d prioritise this complex syngas to the petrochemical industry and maybe only use some of it as liquid fuels. There are other ways to generate liquid fuels for construction and farming and harvesters *IF* we have enough high ERoEI baseload energy to start with.

    Remember, a lot of landfill hydrocarbons were carbon neutral to start with. I don’t have any figures to hand, but think about how many American councils don’t have a green-waste bin as we do here in Sydney. So all garden and lawn clippings are hydrocarbons that *first* sucked their Co2 out of the atmosphere, not from fossil sources. Then there’s fibres and fabrics grown off a sheep’s back. Wood in various stages of decomposition, whether chip bark or MDF or furniture grade wood.

    But yes, the fraction of all this waste that is plastic was first sucked out of the ground from an oil field. That part *is* fossil Co2. And, if I had my way, we’d use Syngas to *completely* replace fossil oil for the petrochemical industry. Syngas from waste would probably struggle to meet the demand! Petrochemicals are what, about 12% of the ‘other uses’ of oil from refineries? So that’s 12% of today’s 86mbd of oil.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petroleum_product

    I don’t think much of the council waste would end up being burned as fuel. It would have enough trouble fuelling the demands of the petrochemical industry. Instead of being burned back into the air it would get trapped into the next generation of disposable nappies and synthetic fibres and colourful paints and toothbrushes and new joggers and varnishes and sunglasses.

    The Co2 emissions from this are no ‘biggie’.

  180. @ David M,
    I completely agree with your concern for what Industrial Civilisation has done to this planet and the multitude of ways we are paving over, ploughing up, polluting, preying on and overpopulating this planet! But the only *attractive* way out of this, other than nuking ourselves back to the stone age, is to transform Industrial Civilisation into an Industrial Ecosystem.

    A nuclear war or similar disaster might cull our population and destroy industrial civilisation — for a while. But we would claw our way back. It might only delay the same crisis by a few generations!

    The high-tech genie is out of the bottle. We have to learn how to use it sustainabily this time around, and as far as I can tell that involves sustainable New Urban cities that only use 10% of the land of suburban sprawl, Plasma Arc Burners that transform ordinary household waste into the next generation of petrochemical products and building materials, and ABUNDANT clean nuclear power. Sure nuclear power might see some areas of Australia turned into uranium mines. But that’s a TINY land area compared to coal mining, and VASTLY cleaner and a TINY price to pay to run the whole PLANET on clean electricity.

    The Mayans didn’t have the modern scientific method or free press or exponential learning curve we are on now. They didn’t have democracy. They had an elite ruling class and lack of communication between the people and the powers. These are all ingredients in a collapse scenario as drawn up by Dr Jared Diamond in “Collapse”. We have the right mix so that we have a chance of making it. We have a scientific enterprise and information feedback loops the Mayans couldn’t have imagined. We can make it, and probably will. We’ll just have to.

  181. @ ANON:

    I just had to say how much the Sci-Fi kid in me loved the following paragraph! I’m not being patronising, just saying “Awesome!” Love your work.

    ///The ultimate limit on energy usage for an Earth based civilisation will probably be when we start to produce a significant percentage of the energy we get from the sun as waste heat but by that time we’ll probably have the majority of our species living in space with most heavy industry in orbit with the entire planet Earth a national park.///

  182. @ ANON
    Just a short post on your space civilisation.

    I’ve often wondered what it would take to get into space like that. Probably 2 things: Super advanced AI and robotics ( or cybernetics or biomorphic cybernanotech. Whatever ‘robotics’ ends up being called in the future as nano tech and genetic tech start merging into similar systems).

    If we could shoot one rocket towards the asteroid field loaded with sufficiently advanced AI + super-robotics, it could start self-replicating (assuming an energy source like uranium in the asteroids). After the self-replicating phase reaches a critical mass of worker drones all building more of themselves and heavy industries, they could start firing gifts back towards the earth. We’d literally have gifts raining down from the skies, aerobraking and parachuting down to safe locations. Maybe some of it will be parked in orbit as space-based solar power. Maybe one particularly huge gift will be a space-elevator. Who knows?

    The point is that with higher technology AI + robotics, it only takes one rocket. Then instead of us trying to climb out of the gravity well ourselves, maybe we’ll get a hand reaching down to help.

  183. “”Eclipse Now — There are already standards for NPPs set by IAEA.””

    Are they enforceable?
    What do we do about Regimes that decide to turn their uranium feedstock from peaceful purposes to producing bombs?
    How can we improve on decision making processes at the world level to *really* understand a nation’s compliance or non-compliance in these matters?
    Remember how sure John Howard was before invading Iraq that the UN weapons inspectors were being blown and mirrors? How did that turn out? How much money did the West waste on that war?

    What if we’d pumped that $2000 000 000 000 into IFR’s instead?
    As I say on my world government page:

    “Save trillions through increased security:
    Imagine the governments of the world feeling more relaxed about their own security. Imagine the money that would be freed up for more noble purposes if the military could cut their spending in half! All right, maybe half is a bit ambitious at first. What about 5%? According to Professor Ian Lowe of the Australian Conservation Foundation, 5% of the global military budget is enough to meet all the basic needs of every man woman and child on earth. It could provide all the fresh water and nutrition, adequate shelter, education, health care, and family planning to ensure every human being reached their potential. This would not only help the poor and create a safer, more prosperous, healthier planet, but it would also stabilise population growth.”

    http://eclipsenow.wordpress.com/reform-world/

  184. Eclipse Now:

    Just a short post on your space civilisation.

    I’ve often wondered what it would take to get into space like that. Probably 2 things: Super advanced AI and robotics ( or cybernetics or biomorphic cybernanotech. Whatever ‘robotics’ ends up being called in the future as nano tech and genetic tech start merging into similar systems).

    I don’t think we’d need AI for that (though it could help), just a cheaper way to send stuff into orbit and we could have people living permanently in space within a few decades (it would of course take longer for the majority of the population to end up in space).

    Eclipse Now:

    If we could shoot one rocket towards the asteroid field loaded with sufficiently advanced AI + super-robotics, it could start self-replicating (assuming an energy source like uranium in the asteroids).

    In space solar power actually works pretty well and is likely to be the choice basically anywhere that isn’t regularly eclipsed by a large object. Nuclear will probably dominate on planets and moons as well as high Δv rocketry.

    Also I’d target near earth asteroids before the main belt.

    Eclipse Now:

    After the self-replicating phase reaches a critical mass of worker drones all building more of themselves and heavy industries, they could start firing gifts back towards the earth. We’d literally have gifts raining down from the skies, aerobraking and parachuting down to safe locations. Maybe some of it will be parked in orbit as space-based solar power. Maybe one particularly huge gift will be a space-elevator. Who knows?

    I suspect that kind of self-replicating AI isn’t something we’ll be getting soon and that we’ll just have to do things with telepresence (though some limited autonomy would help) and a few on site operators.

    If we could just figure out how to stop the astronauts from getting cataracts.

    Eclipse Now:

    [on IAEA standards]Are they enforceable?

    Sure, just go to war over it (which in practice means not usually).

    Still, to actually get any such standards to become binding on rogue nations you’d pretty much have to go to war with them anyway.

    Eclipse Now:

    What do we do about Regimes that decide to turn their uranium feedstock from peaceful purposes to producing bombs?

    Ask them to stop, impose sanctions, go to war, coverty overthrow their government, just let them.

    Those are the options I think of off the top of my head.

  185. I know people are afraid of it, from my own experience in discussions. Even one of my friends, a mechanical engineer, who often does hot cell equipment replacement jobs, says he always goes quickly in and quickly out, and he doesn’t like the job. Despite the fact he’s got a dosimeter on him all the time and knows full well the dose he receives on the repair jobs is less than eating a banana. He would rather go to steel mills, with disgusting lung cancer causing particulate matter floating all over the place.

    And it is my experience that most people generally don’t think about nuclear power to any in depth level. They don’t want to check the facts and figures. Nuclear power is an avoidable demon to them, or an easy scapegoat. They lump nuclear in with coal in vileness. Coal and nuclear bad, solar good. That’s the shallow, incorrect, biased, but prevalent worldview.

    When I ask them questions about the problems they raise in attack to nuclear power, it is clear they haven’t a clue how a reactor works, what a fission product is, etc. I’ve made a presenation about this. I’ll try to upgrade it with the tips and tricks in your link.

  186. David M,

    Now that’s a serious argument. We need high tech to destroy that killer asteroid that’s going to put our lights out 10 million years from now.

    The fundamental truth is that the Earth’s biosphere is doomed. The only way to stay the execution – at least temporarily – is to expand beyond Earth, and, meanwhile, prevent planet-killing cosmic catastrophes to the extent possible.

    These require very high tech, very high energy societies.

    I see no reason to fret for the future of the planet otherwise. Life will prevail, no matter what we humans do, until some cosmic catastrophe sterilizes the planet. At worst, we humans can cause the sixth mass extinction event in the planet’s history. I’d like to point out what that implies: that life has survived five extinction events before and blossomed again. There is no reason whatsoever to believe this time would be any different.

    Life will go on. Even after a full-scale thermonuclear war, a few million years without humans – a blink in geological timescale – would be enough for the Earth to teem with life again.

    But unless a sentient species exists, it seems very likely that life will be doomed to exist only very temporarily. It’s likely that multicellular life has no more than a billion years or so on Earth; that’s a short moment in astronomical timescale. Especially since we have no evidence of life outside Earth, failing to protect and extent life when we have the opportunity would constitute the most monstrous failure of conservation ever. Even if (or perhaps when) extraterrestrial life is found, Earth-derived life will still be valuable addition to the diversity of life.

    What’s more, intelligent life seems to be quite rare. Thus, just as we focus our efforts on protecting rare and not abundant elements of the biosphere, we should also consider intelligence especially worthy of protection.

    Therefore, I have only this to say: even if transition to a low-energy, return-to-nature society would be possible – which I find hard to believe – it would be coward’s choice. Yes, humanity might then be able to scrape by for some centuries, perhaps millennia, but it would be an evolutionary dead end, ultimately just as doomed as all life on Earth would then be. (And the humanity of such a society, if you catch my drift, might not be what we’d like it to be: historical examples of low-energy societies are not encouraging in this regard.)

    What we need is real long-term thinking, not temporary solutions that might be viable for a few centuries or a few million years at best. We need a pathway that enables life to prevail over billions of years. Otherwise, I see no pressing need to worry about the planet’s future: Earthborn life has had a good run, and if it ends tomorrow or in fifteen million years from now, I don’t really see much difference.

  187. You guys are all having a nice philosophical discussion.

    What’s missing, of course, is HOW do you achieve a low energy low tech society. Burn technology like the Nazi’s burned books? Ban the construction industry, ban the mining industry, ban the energy industry, ban electrics industry? Some minority groups might find it appealing, but most wouldn’t agree. Most wouldn’t even notice such stone age primate grumbling, and many that do would probably find it quite amusingly backward fringe culture.

    There are simply boundary conditions that you have to work with. For example, there is a trend towards democratization, towards globalization, towards urbanization, towards higher and higher levels of technology, etc. This cannot be stopped because it would require draconian measures that very few – too few – will accept.

    Make no mistake. We will not power down willingly. We will burn our furniture before we let that happen. We will certainly liquify and burn coal if in a pinch, and there certainly is enough coal to ruin the planet.

    David’s argument sounds to me like, the earth should be flat. It would be better that way. Gee. Now, that was funny. Let’s burn some more coal, my internet server demands it to send this message.

    Meanwhile the earth is still round, and we burn more coal. Nothing changes David.

    I very much understand David’s viewpoint. I worry about the human impact on ecosystems a lot. I cannot understand how people can be so unrealistic, so naïve. It’s a kind of desperation infused unrealism. If you are desperate, why push for solutions no one will accept? It’s very dangerous, because it won’t be accepted; David is pushing for either continued fossil fuel use, or if that is impossible, mass disasters on a planetary scale blasting people back into the stone age.

  188. I’d guess I’m about the most pronuclear guy you’ll find who ultimately doesn’t believe in a nuclear solution. Let’s build some IFR’s, your holy grail to save the planet and keep modern civilization intact. At least we can hopefully start displacing coal plants.

    However I think this high tech is the wave of the future is being a little overplayed. Neither the highly heralded Jesus or Buddha were high tech folks. Who knows but that folks like the Amish might reflect the future better.

    Interesting that the early reports from European explorers in much of the New World before they wrecked it all spoke of happy natives in an Edenish world, not your poor desperate Hobbesian characters that some on this commentarium wish to believe. Reports that came back led to Rousseau characterization of them as “The Noble Savage.” As contrasted with the degradation and corruption of European society. This then turned into the noble peasant led I guess by folks like Tolstoy. My understanding is that peasant worship became so chic at one point among the aristocracy that Marie Antonette used to set aside a time to dress as a milk maid and milk a specially cleaned up cow, I guess to experience the nobility of it all. From there it appears we went to Marx and the noble proletariat.

    Sure we have a bias toward the familiar but our dna is tribal and primitive. Our natural drift is to Balkanize if you follow history. Folks are always trying to break away. We join the Moose Club not the Financier’s Club. And the often admired guerrilla revolutionary is known for living simply and doing a lot with very little.

    We’re addicted to civilization but with the help of Mother Nature and certain pre-existing propensities we can kick it.

    I also think modern civilization is an environmental ponzi scheme. We’re growing but eating up the seed corn of human existence. I understand that now something like 40% of the biosphere is devoted to our civilization. And of course most of the environmental indices are down. It’s the story of the killing of the goose that laid the golden eggs.

    Ethically the Mother Ship of all serious moral systems is the Golden Rule, particularly the negative – Don’t do unto others ……
    How does that translate out in the modern context? I’d say sustainable communities that don’t intrude on others. What could be more intrusive than the modern industrial mega-state.

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  190. J. M. Korhonen:

    But unless a sentient species exists,

    You mean sapient?

    J. M. Korhonen:

    it seems very likely that life will be doomed to exist only very temporarily. It’s likely that multicellular life has no more than a billion years or so on Earth; that’s a short moment in astronomical timescale.

    About a billion years if we don’t do anything, maybe some extremeophile bacteria can hang on longer but even so they’d still be doomed eventually.

    J. M. Korhonen:

    Especially since we have no evidence of life outside Earth, failing to protect and extent life when we have the opportunity would constitute the most monstrous failure of conservation ever. Even if (or perhaps when) extraterrestrial life is found, Earth-derived life will still be valuable addition to the diversity of life.

    I personally suspect that there is other life out there just that none of it is intelligent (or if any is intelligent it is not technological).

    J. M. Korhonen:

    What’s more, intelligent life seems to be quite rare. Thus, just as we focus our efforts on protecting rare and not abundant elements of the biosphere, we should also consider intelligence especially worthy of protection.

    Yes, the Fermi paradox does need explaining and at the moment us being alone is pretty much the only explanation which doesn’t fall to requiring uniformity of motive from every civilisation (our civilisation certainly doesn’t have it or even come close to having it and it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting it ever, a good thing if you ask me).

    J. M. Korhonen:

    Therefore, I have only this to say: even if transition to a low-energy, return-to-nature society would be possible – which I find hard to believe – it would be coward’s choice.

    You’d need to commit mass murder to do it.

    J. M. Korhonen:

    Yes, humanity might then be able to scrape by for some centuries, perhaps millennia, but it would be an evolutionary dead end, ultimately just as doomed as all life on Earth would then be.

    Scraping by was what most societies throughout history did.

    Of course whether such ha low energy society would actually stay low energy is another matter, all it would take is one group of people with enough of a surplus to spare some people to do things not directly related to survival and the desire for a better life.

    J. M. Korhonen:

    What we need is real long-term thinking, not temporary solutions that might be viable for a few centuries or a few million years at best.

    I would tend to say that a temporary solution which would only last for a century would be viable provided it leaves open the option of a more permanent solution, though returning to a low energy society does fail on this criteria.

    J. M. Korhonen:

    We need a pathway that enables life to prevail over billions of years. Otherwise, I see no pressing need to worry about the planet’s future: Earthborn life has had a good run, and if it ends tomorrow or in fifteen million years from now, I don’t really see much difference.

    Exactly how long the universe could support life is open to question but is probably at least in the trillions of years (it’s also worth noting that the universe is horribly inefficient so the actions of intelligent life could extend that time quite significantly (that we haven’t seen any signs of anyone doing that is one of the main reasons I believe we’re alone)).

    Cyril R.

    What’s missing, of course, is HOW do you achieve a low energy low tech society.

    You can start by creating a global dictatorship and you’d better make it oppressive. There is one society of the 20th century which managed to do it to one country for about 4 years.

    Cyril R.

    Burn technology like the Nazi’s burned books? Ban the construction industry, ban the mining industry, ban the energy industry, ban electrics industry? Some minority groups might find it appealing, but most wouldn’t agree. Most wouldn’t even notice such stone age primate grumbling, and many that do would probably find it quite amusingly backward fringe culture.

    That’s why you’d need lots of guns and more powerful weapons along with the willingness to use them and to use excessive force publicly.

    Cyril R.

    There are simply boundary conditions that you have to work with. For example, there is a trend towards democratization, towards globalization, towards urbanization, towards higher and higher levels of technology, etc. This cannot be stopped because it would require draconian measures that very few – too few – will accept.

    Any such attempt would have to be done through massive amounts of violence.

    Cyril R.

    I very much understand David’s viewpoint. I worry about the human impact on ecosystems a lot. I cannot understand how people can be so unrealistic, so naïve. It’s a kind of desperation infused unrealism. If you are desperate, why push for solutions no one will accept?

    Some of them I suspect just want the low energy future and are merely using global warming as a way to get what they know the public would never accept otherwise (never mind that the public would rather global warming to poverty).

    Of course some people more concerned with global warming may have been convinced by those who are pushing for a low energy society that it is needed to solve global warming.

    David M:

    However I think this high tech is the wave of the future is being a little overplayed.

    How else are we going to feed the ≈10 billion people the world is going to have?

    David M:

    Neither the highly heralded Jesus or Buddha were high tech folks.

    Living in a society which didn’t have high technology tends to do that to people, and the Jesus character was not a good example of morality.

    David M:

    Who knows but that folks like the Amish might reflect the future better.

    You don’t, you don’t even understand why the Amish reject *some* technology.

    But the Amish are instructive in another way in that they show that it is possible for a group which doesn’t like technology to still live in a high tech society.

    David M:

    Interesting that the early reports from European explorers in much of the New World before they wrecked it all spoke of happy natives in an Edenish world, not your poor desperate Hobbesian characters that some on this commentarium wish to believe.

    Because the European explorers didn’t study them very well, instead they only saw a small amount of their culture, not the wars and other violence which killed ⅓ of the male population.

    David M:

    Reports that came back led to Rousseau characterization of them as “The Noble Savage.”

    The idea of the noble savage has been pretty well discredited, pretty much everywhere that skeletons from primitive societies are found about a third were killed by violence.

    David M:

    We’re addicted to civilization but with the help of Mother Nature and certain pre-existing propensities we can kick it.

    Living short lives one bad growing season away from famine is not a form of freedom, in fact civilisation is partly about becoming free of nature.

    David M:

    I also think modern civilization is an environmental ponzi scheme. We’re growing but eating up the seed corn of human existence. I understand that now something like 40% of the biosphere is devoted to our civilization. And of course most of the environmental indices are down. It’s the story of the killing of the goose that laid the golden eggs.

    Actually in a lot of ways the environment is better than it was, we don’t use leaded petrol for cars anymore (and have been tightening emissions standards for engines).

    It’s also worth noting that the amount of land used for agriculture in the developed world has actually been reducing while food production increased at a greater rate than the population.

    David M:

    Ethically the Mother Ship of all serious moral systems is the Golden Rule, particularly the negative – Don’t do unto others ……

    No it isn’t, the golden rule tends to be break down a lot (especially when the other person doesn’t want to treated how you do). Serious moral systems put more emphasis on the Bronze rule though reduction of suffering is something considered to be important.

    David M:

    How does that translate out in the modern context? I’d say sustainable communities that don’t intrude on others. What could be more intrusive than the modern industrial mega-state.

    How intrusive it is to nature is largely irrelevant to whether it is better for the people who live in it, it is how much suffering it reduces or causes that matters and the modern industrial mega-state through increasing life expectancy, providing food security, etc reduces a lot more suffering than it causes (it also doesn’t hurt that such a state has a lower murder rate than primitive societies).

    I’d also have to ask what you think your idea low energy society should do to those of us who think that the industrial mega-state should be recreated?

  191. Anon, above, refers to the Fermi Paradox (“Where are they?”)

    A fiction work by David Pellegrino (Flying to Valhalla) offers this explanation (co-developed with Asimov):

    In a nutshell, at least some, or one, predatory space-going species would consider all other such to be competitors to be destroyed. Such a species would probably set up factories of near-C missiles around their star, and launch at any potential rival.

    Other races, not so aggressive, must consider that someone out there thinks like that. The only rational self-preservation strategy is pre-emptive: do it first. So every technological species is reluctantly obliged to destroy all others as soon as they are detected. Even potential life-bearing planets must be taken out, since the lightspeed lag is so long.

    That’s why there’s a Big Silence out there. Knowing the above, the only way to survive, additional to setting up your own automated missile factories, is to be very quiet, and migrate to an unlikely locale around some other star, dig in, and hide.

    About the missiles: a .92C shuttle-sized object would blow a hundred mile hole in the atmosphere and crust, and wipe out all advanced life. At that speed, you get to see its gamma wake at about 12X its actual distance from you. If it seems 1 light-month away, it’s actually about 4 days out.

    Time enough to bend over and kiss your bippy goodbye.

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  193. Barry’s video suggests one more reason for focusing on local sustainable systems, the need for integrated agriculture as discussed in this link. http://www.nyu.edu/sustainability/pdf/Fossil%20Fuel%20and%20Energy%20Use%202%20FCSummit-HO-20091207.pdf

    The biggest culprit of fossil fuel usage in industrial farming is not transporting food or fueling machinery; it’s chemicals. As much as forty percent of energy used in the food system goes towards the production of artificial fertilizers and pesticides.

    Fertilizers are synthesized from atmospheric nitrogen and natural gas, a process that takes a significant amount of energy. Producing and distributing them requires an average of 5.5 gallons of fossil fuels per acre.

    Manure could be a more energy-efficient alternative to synthetic
    fertilizers, but because it is heavy this applies only when it can be
    used a short distance from where it is produced — and our industrial
    system precludes this option.

    The problem is over-consolidation: We raise large numbers of livestock in one place and raise the grain they eat in other places. This means that the livestock produce an excess of manure where there’s no cropland for it to be spread on, making it a pollutant rather than a tool. Meanwhile, the fields that grow feed must draw their fertility from synthetic sources.

    We end up with concentrations of unusable manure in one place, and concentrations of chemical fertilizers in the other — and a whole lot of
    fuel wasted trucking feed and fertilizer around the country. The extent of this waste is underscored by the fact that it’s largely unnecessary.

    Small, pasture-based livestock farms take advantage of natural cycles: the animals feed themselves on grass and distribute their manure themselves, fertilizing the pasture as they go. Rather than fossil fuels, they need only rain and sun to make the system work.

    A strange but from what I’ve seen persistent type question.
    Anon.

    what [do] you think your idea[l] low energy society should do to those of us who think that the industrial mega-state should be recreated?

    I think you have the wrong question. More appropriately once Mother Nature essentially dictates a local sustainable approach what should the remaining rational inhabitants do when a bunch of reactionary power hungry fanatics try to unreasonably recreate an industrial mega-state and in the process inevitably commit aggression against the locals.

    I’d say cooperate and resist. The Anthropocene era simply won’t have the rich surpluses gifted by the Holocene era to sustain empire.

  194. Document quoted by David M.

    Fertilizers are synthesized from atmospheric nitrogen and natural gas, a process that takes a significant amount of energy.

    Not that again.

    There is no requirement to use natural gas for the hydrogen needed to make ammonia, in fact electrolysis has in the past been used to produce the hydrogen needed for artificial fertiliser on quite a large scale (and at acceptable economics, though not quite as cheap as steam reforming of methane).

    Besides, nature doesn’t fix enough nitrogen for us to do things the natural way so unless you want mass starvation you must use the Haber-Bosch process (eventually we’ll probably be able to genetically engineer plants to fix their own nitrogen, but we don’t have such crops right now).

    David M.

    I think you have the wrong question. More appropriately once Mother Nature essentially dictates a local sustainable approach what should the remaining rational inhabitants do when a bunch of reactionary power hungry fanatics try to unreasonably recreate an industrial mega-state and in the process inevitably commit aggression against the locals.

    I’d say cooperate and resist. The Anthropocene era simply won’t have the rich surpluses gifted by the Holocene era to sustain empire.

    I’m not quite sure exactly what you propose you’d do and how far you’d go to stop us (and also deter others from trying).

  195. Just keep diverting into playing the victim and insisting on your us and them world Anon, then you won’t have to face the implications of looming environmental break down.

    Your paranoia kind of reminds of the climate change denialists. You try to explain to them what’s happening and they can only see a socialist conspiracy to take away their private property.

    People who live in sustainable communities are not the ones who initiate conflicts with the empire builders, as much as you and others would like to imagine otherwise. If Mother Nature ultimately won’t support an automobile culture due to human environmental overshoot that isn’t a conspiracy of nature loving fanatics trying to take away your SUV.

  196. There is no good technical reason that everyone on earth can’t have a sustainable PHEV. We have plenty of fertile material (U238 and Th232) to provide 10 kW of electricity to 10 billion people for over a million years. Battery technology and overhead electrical deliver technology are already sufficient to use electricity for ~90% of transport. We can synthesize liquid hydrocarbon fuels for the remainder (long trips and air transport). This can be accomplished with zero CO2 impact using atmospheric CO2 capture (municipal solid waste, biomass and adsorbtion).

    Only ignorance will put us on a low energy path.

  197. Ultimately it’s a growth problem and nuclear, which itself requires considerable fossil fuel if you want to consider the entire end to end nuclear cycle, can only really play a temporary mitigating role as long as perpetual growth is in the saddle. Malthus still rules. Here is an edited version of something I wrote last year that addresses that.

    There is a theory running around here that innovation will keep the economy growing indefinitely. I mean they have since Malthus predicted the imminent limit of growth by humans, didn’t they? The doom and gloomers have been caught with their pants down over and over right?

    I told a version of this story before but I’ll tell it again. A rat couple shows up at a full corn silo that has been abandoned. It’s rat heaven. Generation after generation of rats multiply losing the memory of scarcity limits and come to think this cornucopia is the natural order of things(Kind of seems familiar, doesn’t it?), that is until the corn runs out. Then they are in for a teeth chattering bath in reality. Science turned nature into a full silo to exploit at our pleasure for some few hundred years. Now the silo is starting to run dry(And in our case contaminated) and at least one result is a bunch of people running around looking for scapegoats or ersatz solutions as the scarcity wolf approaches their door.

    If you consider the matter it is a bit extraordinary to think that a rule of limits that applies to and has applied to every other species that ever existed doesn’t apply to us. Have we increased the 2% of fresh water that was available to our paleolithic ancestors? No, but we use more and more of it and we are maxing out on that and in the process polluting it. More usable agriculture space? Only by chopping down the forests thereby destroying thousands of species and eliminating a critical carbon sink. In the mean time we are paving and building over agricultural land, losing much of our important topsoil blanket along with the buffer of plant diversity. And of course there are the rising oceans intruding on formerly productive land and over drafted fresh water supplies leading to water wars.

    As far as the oceans it looks like we have maxed out on the fish and most of the eating fish are in decline. Kind of hard for the salmon to swim upstream when the rivers are diverted to agriculture and drinking and cleaning water. To add to this happy story the coral are degrading and much of the phytoplankton that stands at the base of our food chain is disappearing.

    The Malthusian principle is working just fine, it’s just that we have shunted it over to a whole bunch of other species, generating a condition of accelerated die-off, to provide us with a window of biosphere exploitation that can’t last forever. The earth is finite don’t you know and there is no evidence that we have the ability to manage spaceship earth in a sustaining way in a growth scenario. We wouldn’t be downgrading practically every eco-system if we could.

    Beside our proliferation of WMDs we have environmental degradation coming at us from all sides, not the least of these being AGW but all driven by a growth mentality. On top of that we have a whole world full of denialists ready to take us off the cliff. That might be called the psychological side of the coming train wreck.

    A final thought, once growth no longer becomes the central economic agenda then the rationale for the modern industrial mega-state with its consumerist obsessions would seem to cease to exist. The more steady state based self-sustaining low tech community with its integrity based environmental feed backs would then naturally step forward and reassert itself. And we know for millions of years various versions of it have worked.

  198. David writes:
    >Ultimately it’s a growth problem and nuclear, which itself requires considerable fossil fuel if you want to consider the entire end to end nuclear cycle, can only really play a temporary mitigating role as long as perpetual growth is in the saddle.

    This is nonsense. Modern mining is already largely electrically powered. Nuclear fuel enrichment is electrically powered. Iron refining can use electric arc and induction heating and hydrogen rather than carbon-based reduction. There are no serious technical obstacles to a fossil-carbon-free, end-to-end nuclear power cycle. What little hydrocarbon-fuel is necessary / difficult-to-eliminate can be synthesized from air-captured CO2. And perfect carbon neutrality isn’t necessary either, a 90% reduction should be fine for a while.

    Yes of course endless exponential growth obviously eventually reaches limits in any closed system. But the universe is pretty big and it will be a long time before we humans exhaust the energy and material capacities of this planet, this solar system, this galaxy, etc. Saying that growth is fundamentally bad ignores basically everything that is good about your life: food, shelter, transport, communication, health, etc. You aren’t going to convince many people to go backwards. Especially here, where most people actually think.

  199. Evolutionary biologist Eugene Koonen, in his “Logic of Chance”, estimaters the probability of life forming at least once in the entire visible universe. He very seriously overestimates the number of potentially habitable planets. Nonetheless, his estimate is around 10^(-4500), based primarily on the minimum complexity needed for reproduction.

    Summary: Fermi was wrong to even assume that there was ‘anybody’ out there.

  200. Chris, the last time I read figures comparing various forms of alternative energy and the fossil fuel input per unit of energy output, nuclear energy came out way the heaviest user of fossil fuel when you considered the full end to end cycle. Perhaps that’s changed. I’d be interested in seeing your new figures if you have them or perhaps you are projecting more your version of the future.

    The fact that you see the solar system and the galaxy as breaking the log jam of terrestrial limits, which you nevertheless find a long ways away, is sort of space agegee if I do say. You no doubt have talents in a number of areas regarding nuclear matters but as far as the business of environmental limits I’m not inclined to take you very seriously, as smart as you undoubtedly are.

    By the way, as I’ve said before, I am for investing in nuclear energy at the present time including developing the IFR as a mitigating technology both for fossil fuel substitution and for nuclear waste recycling. I just am skeptical of nuclear’s long term prospects.

    I do hope there are a few nuke folks around who understand the critical importance of turning around population growth and the problems of economic growth in general as opposed to finding an appropriate steady state as modeled by nature, otherwise it’s going to be even harder to take the pronuclear energy movement seriously.

  201. Saying that an industrial process that uses electricity is a heavy user of fossil fuel ignores the fact that electricity is not fundamentally fossil sourced. If your windmill factory or nuclear reactor factory is powered by electricity, then as the electricity generation sector progresses to non-fossil sources, so does the “usage of fossil fuel” embodied in the windmill or nuclear reactor. In a future when we’ve decarbonized our electricity supply (e.g. by using nuclear), nuclear will no longer embody any significant fossil content. In the USA, the average current electricity supply in 2010 emits 2.271 GT of CO2/year for about 12.71 Quads/year of electricity (from LLNL publications at https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/). Converting to SI units, that’s 0.610 grams of CO2 per kWh of electricity produced. Note that this is down slightly from 0.635 kg/kWh in 2008, probably due to the decreased price of natural gas. Looking at figure https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/content/carbon/carbon_emissions_2010/LLNL_US_Carbon_2010.png one can easily imagine how replacing coal and gas fired electricity generation with nuclear could bring these numbers way down.

    OK, what is reasonable growth, how much energy does it demand, and how much fertile material do we have?

    The world currently uses about 16 TW of primary energy. If the average person in the world used 2/3 of what a American uses today (roughly what a European uses today) and the population grew to 10B people, we’d need 70 TW of primary energy. That’s a growth of about 400%. I think we will get there in about 65 years (2.25% global average growth rate). To produce 70 TW you need to fission about 1 kg/second of heavy metal. Incidentally, this is very close to the rate at which Uranium is being washed into the oceans (which I’ve seen estimated at 32,000,000 kg/year). So, with IFR and extraction of uranium from sea water, we’ve got many millions of years of assured supply at this rate. This analysis ignores Thorium which is more plentiful than Uranium, but less soluble in water, so perhaps less accessible.

    I’m confident that the Earth can support >20B people in a comfortable, higher standard of living than USA people enjoy today, and with minimal impact on the environment. We have the technology already to make it so. Whether our governance systems are up to the task is another matter.

  202. David M.

    Just keep diverting into playing the victim and insisting on your us and them world Anon,

    Why aren’t you answering the question? How far would you go to stop me?

    David M.

    then you won’t have to face the implications of looming environmental break down.

    If we had just ignored the anti-nuclear movement in the ’70s we wouldn’t be having any global warming problems (it would still be in the future).

    David M.

    Your paranoia kind of reminds of the climate change denialists. You try to explain to them what’s happening and they can only see a socialist conspiracy to take away their private property.

    You do realise that the low energy society dream is likely causing global warming denialism?

    Read http://www.culturalcognition.net/projects/second-national-risk-culture-study.html which quotes:

    Individuals’ expectations about the policy solution to global warming strongly influences their willingness to credit information about climate change. When told the solution to global warming is increased antipollution measures, persons of individualistic and hierarchic worldviews become less willing to credit information suggesting that global warming exists, is caused by humans, and poses significant societal dangers. Persons with such outlooks are more willing to credit the same information when told the solution to global warming is increased reliance on nuclear power generation.

    David M.

    People who live in sustainable communities are not the ones who initiate conflicts with the empire builders, as much as you and others would like to imagine otherwise.

    So even if I have no intention of using any of your land and are willing to move to an area no one is using it is still me who would start the conflict?

    David M.

    If Mother Nature ultimately won’t support an automobile culture due to human environmental overshoot that isn’t a conspiracy of nature loving fanatics trying to take away your SUV.

    I don’t have an SUV (prefer not to be upside down).

    But electric cars could probably do well enough and you can also use nuclear power to make carbon neutral synthetic fuels so there isn’t any intrinsic environmental problem with car culture (and more public transport could also help, not to mention being easier to electrify).

    David M.

    Ultimately it’s a growth problem and nuclear, which itself requires considerable fossil fuel if you want to consider the entire end to end nuclear cycle,Nuclear has close to the lowest life cycle energy usage of any power source (provided you use reputable sources).

    Oh and fossil fuels can be removed from the nuclear fuel cycle if you use electric vehicles at the mine, electric trains to get the Uranium to port and nuclear powered ships to transport it, then have your conversion, enrichment and fabrication plants run on nuclear electricity.

    David M.

    can only really play a temporary mitigating role as long as perpetual growth is in the saddle.

    So? It can last us long enough to eventually be replaced by whatever comes after, maybe fusion, maybe space solar, maybe something else (for all I know we’ll have ZPMs by then).

    David M.

    Malthus still rules.

    People like you have been saying that for more than a century and every time they have been wrong, why should I expect that to change any time soon?

    David M.

    Here is an edited version of something I wrote last year that addresses that.

    Except that it doesn’t.

    David M.

    There is a theory running around here that innovation will keep the economy growing indefinitely.

    That part hasn’t been proven but we’re along way from whatever ultimate limit may stop us (the universe is very big).

    David M.

    I mean they have since Malthus predicted the imminent limit of growth by humans, didn’t they? The doom and gloomers have been caught with their pants down over and over right?

    Indeed they have.

    David M.

    I told a version of this story before but I’ll tell it again. A rat couple shows up at a full corn silo that has been abandoned. It’s rat heaven. Generation after generation of rats multiply losing the memory of scarcity limits and come to think this cornucopia is the natural order of things(Kind of seems familiar, doesn’t it?), that is until the corn runs out. Then they are in for a teeth chattering bath in reality.

    Rats aren’t intelligent, they can’t create new technology to increase production of food and also can’t create a new silo.

    David M.

    Science turned nature into a full silo to exploit at our pleasure for some few hundred years.

    Actually science is allowing us to use the silo more efficiently to the point at which we’re actually using less of it to produce more.

    David M.

    Now the silo is starting to run dry(And in our case contaminated) and at least one result is a bunch of people running around looking for scapegoats or ersatz solutions as the scarcity wolf approaches their door.

    Malthusians always pooh-pooh the proposed solutions right before they solve the problem, I don’t see this being any different.

    David M.

    If you consider the matter it is a bit extraordinary to think that a rule of limits that applies to and has applied to every other species that ever existed doesn’t apply to us.

    Considering we’re the only intelligent species I don’t think it that big a stretch, besides, if Malthus had been right we’d have starved long ago.

    David M.

    Have we increased the 2% of fresh water that was available to our paleolithic ancestors?

    Yes, we have built desalination plants which can turn salt water into fresh, we’re also getting into water recycling to allow us to use what fresh water we have more efficiently.

    David M.

    No, but we use more and more of it and we are maxing out on that and in the process polluting it.

    Yet we have the technology to turn salt water into fresh already proven and available so we aren’t going to be having any problem with running out of water (we do live on a planet that is covered by ≈75% water).

    David M.

    More usable agriculture space? Only by chopping down the forests thereby destroying thousands of species and eliminating a critical carbon sink.

    Actually we’ve been reducing the amount of land we devote to growing crops (thereby returning that land to forests) even while we’ve been increasing food production and genetic engineering promises to allow us to get even further gains (no till farming which really requires genetically modified crops to do well also shows great potential).

    David M.

    In the mean time we are paving and building over agricultural land, losing much of our important topsoil blanket along with the buffer of plant diversity.

    Cities are expanding but we still aren’t paving over all that much agricultural land (not to mention that most of the really productive agricultural land is not right next to a large city).

    David M.

    And of course there are the rising oceans intruding on formerly productive land

    The sea level rise global warming is going to cause will be nasty but we have a lot of farm land which won’t be flooded (I suspect most) and with genetic engineering we can more easily adapt crops to grow under the new climate (the earth has historically had more biomass when the climate was warmer so once we’ve adapted to the changes a warmer planet might actually give us higher agricultural productivity in the end).

    David M.

    and over drafted fresh water supplies leading to water wars.

    nuclear desalination can fix that problem.

    David M.

    As far as the oceans it looks like we have maxed out on the fish and most of the eating fish are in decline.

    Then we switch to aquaculture, just as we switched from hunting and gathering to grazing and farming.

    David M.

    Kind of hard for the salmon to swim upstream when the rivers are diverted to agriculture and drinking and cleaning water.

    Nuclear desalination would remove the need for that, I’m of the opinion that we should only be building dams for flood control (but if we do need them for flood control we should get as much use out of them as possible so those dams would supply water and electricity as well as their primary purpose).

    Aquaculture would also prevent us from running out of salmon (aquaculture can also provide better tasting fish as well).

    David M.

    The Malthusian principle is working just fine,

    No one has actually demonstrated a real limit to growth which we are even coming close to reaching, that isn’t working just fine.

    David M.

    it’s just that we have shunted it over to a whole bunch of other species, generating a condition of accelerated die-off, to provide us with a window of biosphere exploitation that can’t last forever.

    Then why are many parts of the environment getting better? Why are some endangered species coming back and starting to thrive?

    David M.

    The earth is finite don’t you know

    The universe most likely isn’t and we still aren’t even close to using all the resources of the Earth (by the time we do get there I expect us to have most of our population living in space with the Earth as a planet wide national park).

    David M.

    and there is no evidence that we have the ability to manage spaceship earth in a sustaining way in a growth scenario. We wouldn’t be downgrading practically every eco-system if we could.

    Well we aren’t downgrading practically every eco-system so maybe we can after all (and we are still learning).

    David M.

    Beside our proliferation of WMDs we have environmental degradation coming at us from all sides, not the least of these being AGW but all driven by a growth mentality.

    Without growth (i.e. in the low energy society you want for us) there wouldn’t be environmentalism (and the problem with global warming isn’t growth, but lack of nuclear power).

    David M.

    On top of that we have a whole world full of denialists ready to take us off the cliff. That might be called the psychological side of the coming train wreck.

    Partly because people like you are telling them that they have to give up a life they like, it is in large part the fault of the anti-nuclear movement that we have global warming denialists.

    David M.

    A final thought, once growth no longer becomes the central economic agenda then the rationale for the modern industrial mega-state with its consumerist obsessions would seem to cease to exist.

    That would require either everyone to agree with you (which is not going to happen, at least not unless you give me a frontal lobotomy) or for the use of force against those who disagree with the end of growth.

    David M.

    The more steady state based self-sustaining low tech community with its integrity based environmental feed backs would then naturally step forward and reassert itself.

    Would you prefer this to an industrial mega-state which wouldn’t destroy the environment.

    David M.

    And we know for millions of years various versions of it have worked.

    We also know from millions of years of such societies existing what they are like and personally I’d rather do a lot more damage to the environment than live in such a society and I’m not the only one (in fact if I weren’t in the majority you’d have already got your way).

    David B. Benson:

    Evolutionary biologist Eugene Koonen, in his “Logic of Chance”, estimaters the probability of life forming at least once in the entire visible universe.

    His estimate is almost certainly wrong, just as everyone else’s estimate is almost certainly wrong (you can’t extrapolate from just one data point).

    David B. Benson:

    He very seriously overestimates the number of potentially habitable planets.

    Our estimate for how many habitable planets are out out there isn’t much better than our estimate that one of them will develop life so he may have underestimated it.

    David B. Benson:

    Nonetheless, his estimate is around 10^(-4500), based primarily on the minimum complexity needed for reproduction.

    Then the estimate ignores the possibility of simpler self-replicating chemicals.

    David M.

    the last time I read figures comparing various forms of alternative energy and the fossil fuel input per unit of energy output, nuclear energy came out way the heaviest user of fossil fuel when you considered the full end to end cycle. Perhaps that’s changed. I’d be interested in seeing your new figures if you have them or perhaps you are projecting more your version of the future.

    You were probably looking at a discredited study which was in a sense rigged to show nuclear energy having higher CO₂ emissions.

    David M.

    By the way, as I’ve said before, I am for investing in nuclear energy at the present time including developing the IFR as a mitigating technology both for fossil fuel substitution and for nuclear waste recycling. I just am skeptical of nuclear’s long term prospects.

    So what do you think we’ll be using long term?

    David M.

    I do hope there are a few nuke folks around who understand the critical importance of turning around population growth

    I understand the critical importance of not focusing on population growth for actually stabilising the population (you’re better off putting the resources into raising the standard of living so that people have fewer children, higher standard of living tends to move humans more towards K selection).

    David M.

    and the problems of economic growth in general as opposed to finding an appropriate steady state as modeled by nature,

    I’d be more worried if the economy stopped growing forever, for a steady state is economy is likely impossible, if an economy isn’t growing it’ll shrink which is much worse.

    David M.

    otherwise it’s going to be even harder to take the pronuclear energy movement seriously.

    Those of us in the reality based community don’t find it hard to take the pro nuclear movement seriously.

    Chris Uhlik:

    I’m confident that the Earth can support >20B people in a comfortable, higher standard of living than USA people enjoy today, and with minimal impact on the environment. We have the technology already to make it so. Whether our governance systems are up to the task is another matter.

    So far we seem to have been managing all right, we’d probably muddle through (even if not as well as we could have done).

    MODERATOR
    This is the very type of exchange which should now be taking place on the new BNF Forum which will have more relaxed commenting rules. However, it will still require that commenters remain civil in their exchanges and avoid inciting acrimony. Your comment (and those of some of your interlocutors)is tracking in that direction.
    Please move over, register and continue. I suggest the following board is suitable for your exchange:
    http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=sustainability
    but you may choose to suggest another board/sub-board which you feel would be more specific to your arguments.

  203. This Open Thread is getting unwieldy and, as the BNC Forum has boards and folders for several of the topics being discussed here, it would make sense to switch over now. Under the SUSTAINABILITY ISSUES board you will find three sub-boards:
    Anthropocene Extinction
    Behavioural Mitigation Strategies
    Population Limits

    Topics on other boards include:
    Policy Interventions
    Fission Q&A
    Nuclear Advocacy
    to name a few.

    Commenting on this new forum allows you to more easily follow discussion on topics which interest you or suggest a new topic.
    Go to http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com and complete a one-off registration for a deeper, richer comments experience where more detailed personal input is possible and encouraged.
    Suggest new topic boards/sub-boards for the site here:
    SUGGESTIONS ON BNC FORUM STRUCTURE http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=general&action=display&thread=2

  204. Yes, I agree with the moderator — it is much better to shift these discussions over to the new forum (trust me guys, it really is a much nicer venue for posting!). This will be the last Open Thread on BNC (with the new forum these have become redundant), and I might close this off shortly.

    Also on the new forums, don’t forget to register (one off). In particular, I see David Benson continues to post over there as “Guest” – c’mon David, sign up! :)

  205. I do appreciate Anon taking the time to offer his often faith based responses. What does trouble me a bit is what appears to me a kind of indifference by nuclear folks to the challenges of population and economic growth. It suggests to me that the nuclear solution has evolved into something magical. Leave it to nuclear and heaven will be ours.

    Take if from a not completely unsympathetic outsider, some of what I’m reading is coming off as seriously weird.

    PS. I am planning to shift forums. Just maintaining a little continuity for the moment.
    MODERATOR
    This is what I said to Anon and it also applies to you:
    “This is the very type of exchange which should now be taking place on the new BNC Forum http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/index.cgi which will have more relaxed commenting rules. However, it will still require that commenters remain civil in their exchanges and avoid inciting acrimony. Your comment (and those of some of your interlocutors)is tracking in that direction.”
    The stricter BNC Comments Policy has been violated by all in this current exchange but we are allowing a little leeway while the move to the new forum takes place.

  206. David – I didn’t get any email?

    Also note that you could make your username “davidbbenson” or similar, and then, once your account is established, you can edit (modify) your profile and change your “Display Name” (different to username, which is for login) to “David B. Benson”). Easy to do, and that is what I’ve done – my user name is different to my screen name.

    See here for more info:
    http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=general&action=display&thread=16

  207. David M,
    1. Population growth can only be prevented by adequately meeting everyone’s needs for education, empowerment, employment, and a decent retirement in old age. (That is, when you stop farming you won’t starve to death.) Only good state sponsored education for the poor can educate enough people fast enough to help prevent population growth. The United Nations has concluded that for every 3 years of education a girl receives, she is likely to have 1 less child as an adult.

    2. “A final thought, once growth no longer becomes the central economic agenda then the rationale for the modern industrial mega-state with its consumerist obsessions would seem to cease to exist. The more steady state based self-sustaining low tech community with its integrity based environmental feed backs would then naturally step forward and reassert itself. And we know for millions of years various versions of it have worked.”
    This sentence has so many presuppositions in its circular logic system that responding to everything adequately would take a few papers. For now I will simply point you to Japan, that hasn’t *really* grown as an economy for over a decade and yet hasn’t collapsed back into anarchy. The American economy has been stagnant for years, and as a result of the GFC uses a quarter less oil! That is, they *stopped* burning 5mbd, which is 5 times the amount of oil Australia use! That’s an awesome statistic, and shows that while they have some pressures, they too have avoided crumbling into complete anarchy.
    MODERATOR
    EN – head over to the new BNC Forum where David M has switched (as suggested) and has started a new thread on this topic:
    http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=general&action=display&thread=17 This Open Thread will be the last and will be closing soon.

  208. Moderator by your leave may I complete the exchange with EN which has a slightly different focus than my new thread and I don’t have to suffer eye strain.

    EN, Japan and the US are growth focused industrial mega-states. It’s in their dna. The fact that they may be exhibiting some contraction due to economic,political or environmental circumstances is nothing new historically and has nothing to do with their essential economic focus. Clearly they are not striving to be steady state, environmentally integrated economies. A rising GDP is their measure of good times.
    MODERATOR
    That’s fine – this is a phase in period and things are flexible but I would encourage all to go over to the BNC Forum,register and have a look. There are nearly 100 posts there already with a variety of subject areas.

  209. @Moderator… please don’t shut down this Open Thread until the new webpage has been debugged. I think you would have to admit that its occasional switching to white text on a white background means it is not ready for visitors. (That bug could be bypassed by a “plain text” option)
    MODERATOR
    Don’t worry – we will keep both going for the phase-in period during which we hope to iron out the format and any bugs. Please all be patient.

  210. Head over to BNC Discussion forum to comment on these new threads

    Can eating less meat solve climate change

    People have strong opinions about a vegetarian lifestyle but are we all prepared to cut our meat/dairy intake substantially to assist in the fight against climate change and would it actually also benefit our health and have an impact on cancer statistics.

    Read more: http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=miti&action=display&thread=38#ixzz1tQDcasTS

    Global Water Cycle doubles in intensity

    Recent research by the CSIRO indicates an increase in ocean salinity has shown a strong intensification of the global water cycle over the period 1959-2000. In fact it is double the previously predicted rate.

    Read more: http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=science&action=display&thread=39#ixzz1tQEZsdFd

  211. Just to let you know – I think the Discussion Forum is great!
    It is a good idea which allows anyone to start a topic that interests them, instead of waiting for a blog post to comment on. BNC is even better! Thankyou.

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