Classifying ‘belief systems’ in sustainable energy and climate change

Below I reproduce a fascinating analysis, which attempts to classify people’s ‘belief systems’ in sustainable energy and climate change into four broad categories,  types A, B, C, and D. (Note that this is only an excerpt from the introduction of a larger report that Gene is currently writing)

It is written by Dr Eugene Preston, who is a highly-experienced energy transmission systems consultant and member of IEEE. He also teaches classes at the University of Texas. Gene and I correspond regularly as participants of a sustainable energy email group (this particular group is rather special, in that it has a focus on a certain type of technology — no prizes for guessing which one). I reproduce the analysis below with Gene’s permission, and I hope he’ll be able to join in with the opinionated discussion that is likely to follow.

Each person has a belief system that strongly drives them to some vision of what our future should be. Gene says he’s type C (so am I). Which one are you? Is he missing any types of beliefs? How much overlap is there between the categories?


Belief Classifications

Eugene Preston (

There are many ideas floating around today about how we should develop our future energy supply. People’s opinions are strongly shaped by what they believe to be true. Here is one example of the beliefs that shape the opinions of how our energy future should be developed.


A. Belief: Nuclear proliferation is a greater concern than climate change.

1. The world’s greatest risk is from nuclear weapons, most likely from terrorists or a rogue nation. Nuclear power should not be expanded until non-proliferation of nuclear materials can be assured on a worldwide basis.

2. Climate change is a problem we must begin to deal with, although its severe effects will not be felt until later, possibly at the end of this century.

3. Coal is a plentiful energy supply the US does not have the luxury to ignore. Capture and storage of CO2 is a technical problem that must surely have a solution.

4. Oil imports must be significantly reduced because the US cannot sustain the outflow of dollars from the US to other countries. Worldwide oil production has not yet peaked.

5. New technology will emerge in battery storage and solar cell manufacture, which will make electric cars and roof top solar power economical and solve the above #4 problem.

Do you recognize these opinions are those of President Obama? The current US energy policies are strongly shaped by these beliefs. Some of these beliefs may be true and are likely to happen, some are too expensive to implement, and some will not be technologically realized. Note that at this point I didn’t say which ones will succeed and which ones will fail. You will be able to see which ones by the end of this report. A well-engineered system can handle the uncertainties and risks. However, I can say for certain, that the above beliefs do not adequately address all the things that we need to be addressing, to insure a safe, reliable, clean, and economical power and energy supply for both electricity and transportation, as well as address the environmental cleanup challenge and also provide new energies for things such as space exploration and additional clean water supplies for the future.

A slight change in beliefs will cause a huge shift in what you think the US energy policy should be. Here are the same bullet items from a person who is completely anti-nuclear.

B. Belief: Solar-wind-conservation and no nuclear is the solution to our energy needs.

1. The world’s greatest risk is from all forms of nuclear which should be completely banned.

2. Climate change is a severe problem and can be dealt with by switching to solar, wind, bio energy, battery storage, and a greater use of conservation.

3. Coal plants should be banned because they emit CO2, which is bad for the planet.

4. Oil imports will be eliminated when all transportation is electrified, or switches to natural gas, which the US has plentiful supplies of. Worldwide oil has probably peaked.

5. Solar cell costs are dropping, new battery technologies will soon be available, and all the renewable power sources make the non-renewable forms of power unnecessary.

This group differs from the A group in that coal and nuclear power are included in the A group but not in the B group, which are opposed to coal and nuclear power. I know many people who fall into the 100% solar-wind-conservation category. The current CEO of Austin Energy and some of my personal friends are type B persons. I think that most persons in the Sierra Club and the Repower America group as well as followers of Al Gore are mostly type B believers. The type B plan will be examined in this report as an engineering exercise at these three different levels: 1) the individual homeowner, 2) an electric utility, and 3) the entire US.

Now I will give you the beliefs of persons who are extremely concerned about the climate change problem. These are concerned scientists who are driven by a rather scary vision of the future.

C. Belief: Climate change is the Earth’s greatest threat which can lead to extinction.

1. The world’s greatest risk is not nuclear weapons or nuclear power because those problems will pale in comparison to the climate change problem. Nuclear power is the only power source that can supply enough power to reverse the climate changes. Using IFR technology, the US has a several hundred year supply of fuel already on hand in the form of high level nuclear waste, which the IFR plants can use as its primary fuel. To make a complete switch off fossil fuels in the US might require 400 new IFR plants.

2. Climate change is the worst nightmare ever encountered by humans and might lead to extinction of all life on the planet once thermal positive feedback mechanisms kick in.

3. Coal plants must be completely retired as well as all sources of CO2 emission (such as petrol cars). Possibly removal of CO2 from the atmosphere will be necessary to allow the oceans to become less acidic, which is currently causing a destruction of life in the oceans. CO2 sequestration is not going to be widely applicable because of the potential environmental damage as well as the implementation costs needed to capture the CO2.

4. Oil imports will not be a problem because there will be minimal use of fossil fuels.

5. Solar power, wind, and batteries may or may not develop, and it doesn’t matter whether they do or do not, because if they don’t, we can rely on nuclear power for all our needs.

The above beliefs are those of Dr James Hansen and an increasing number of scientists. US policy will slowly move toward C if the IPCC reports increasingly support these scientist’s predictions and neither the energy ideas in A or B prove to be complete climate change solutions.

There is one other group that I need to state because they represented the ideas of the previous administration and are still strongly supported by many persons in the US, especially the Senate.

D. Belief: Climate change caused by humans is fiction.

1. Nuclear power is an economical source of power and eventually a way will be found to handle the nuclear waste problem. Nuclear weapons proliferation is adequately addressed here in the US. Rogue countries and terrorists can be dealt with through international agencies, treaties, and rules. Additional nuclear power in the US should be dictated by the economics of the free market, not a socialized system such as the French nuclear program, i.e. the US government needs to stay out of the nuclear power building business.

2. Climate change caused by humans is fiction. The CO2 amounts are far too small to cause the claimed warming. We may be in a cooling trend. A new ice age is likely to form at any time. Climate change hysteria is causing us to make bad investments.

3. Coal power is the cheapest on the planet and should be developed to meet our energy needs, including energy for transportation, to ease the nation’s oil import problem. CO2 capture costs and cap and trade program will harm the US economy and are unnecessary.

4. Oil imports will be addressed by developing new oil supplies in the Gulf, off the east and west coasts, in Alaska, in the Arctic, and from Canada’s oil and tar sands. In total there is plenty of oil to continue our current lifestyles for decades. All we have to do is go get it.

5. Solar and wind power will make some advances, although they will supply only a small amount of energy compared to gas, coal, and nuclear power supplies already operating. The energy problem is solved for now by conventional methods. There are likely to be new energy solutions in the future that can be implemented when they are needed.

These beliefs are strongly held by many persons in the electric power industry. The US Senate report strongly supports the above ideas. Many of the persons living in my neighborhood are type D believers. I have many ham radio friends who are type D believers.

However, the entire set of beliefs in D crumbles if: 1) the earth continues to warm and certain things like the melting of Greenland’s ice continues at an annual accelerated rate, 2) the acidification of the oceans continues to increase, 3) IPCC reports increasingly show the effect humans are having on the planet, and most importantly, 4) the oceans begin rising more rapidly and at a predictable rate. I will examine the possibility of an accelerating rate of Greenland’s ice in this report and then you can make the call as to whether you want to continue to support the beliefs listed above (assuming you are currently a type D believer).


There are odd relationships in the above sets of beliefs. For example, those strongly believing in climate change (C) and strongly against climate change (D) both believe in developing more nuclear power, but for different reasons. However, their ideas diverge on the use of coal.

Climate change drives those opposed to nuclear power (A and B) into believing that wind and solar power will make a significant difference, however, the strongly anti nuclear and anti coal (B) split with the moderates (A) on the future need to have coal and nuclear power.



How effective will the cap and trade be at eliminating coal plants? I recently attended the Bureau of Economic Geology seminar at the University of Texas. A handout (that was in a handbag labeled as Clean Coal Technology Information by American Electric Power) stated that cap and trade in Europe had seen market values of 30 $/ton of CO2. A 1000 MW coal plant will produce about 3 million lbs per hour of CO2.

I verified that this rate of CO2 production is correct when one of my friends said it couldn’t possibly be that much. It is a good average taking all coal plants into account, new and old, small and large. Newer plants might have slightly less CO2 production. You also have to be careful about some CCS reports that show smaller amounts of CO2 capture. The are probably capturing only a part of their CO2 emissions.

Multiplying (30$/ton)(3e6lbs/h)/(2000lbs/ton) = 45000 $/hr …. then

($45000)/(1000MWh) = 45 $/MWh = 4.5 cents/kWh, which is a very high cost, higher than the bus bar cost of a new coal plant.

The cap and trade will show that coal is not the lowest cost base load generation. Nuclear will win that battle. However, power companies move slowly. It will take several decades for existing coal plants to be retired and new nuclear plants to be constructed if we follow the traditional utility planning practices. I do not think this will work if the type C beliefs are correct. Because there are many different beliefs, the IFR will develop slowly unless we can eliminate the beliefs of the categories A, B and D by showing they are in error and will ultimately lead to failure.

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  1. Is he missing any types of beliefs?

    Type E, as exemplefied by occasional commenter Mike Stasse.

    Type E believes that all forms of technology more advanced than pre-industrial agriculture are dead ends, that humans are axiomntically bad for the environment and the less of us the better, that modern technology and the civilisation based on it are inevitably doomed to failure, that advanced technology has no part to play in adressing the economic and environmental challenges facing the world, that the vast majority of the current human population cannot be long sustained, and that the sooner the die-off occurs the sooner nature will heal.


  2. I think that there are many positions that he has missed. You can believe the main headline for C, for example, without agreeing with the second sentence in 1.) under that main headline.

    You can also not believe in the extremism of the headline while still believing that climate change is an extremely serious threat.

    Way too simplistic; insultingly so, actually.


  3. Barry,
    I think we need to acknowledge that we don’t all fit into boxes A,B, C or D.
    For example many people believe that nuclear war is a greater threat to civilization than climate change, but nuclear energy can help to prevent the worst of climate change. What box are they in?
    More specifically about Eugene’s assumptions:

    “Electrified transportation will drive up the demand for electricity and the need for new lines and power plants.
    This is not supported by evidence or is miss-leading. For example replacing the 40EJ of oil energy will probably only need 6-8EJ of electrical energy, and very
    little upgrade because charging will be during off-peak periods.

    · “Solar cell manufacture is still too expensive. It’s not clear when a low cost process will be realized.
    That’s true but we do know the the price is declining quickly and solar doesn’t have to be low cost because its providing peak power on hot summer days.

    “· T. Boone’s wind power plan will need many new transmission lines which I think will take years to implement.
    How is Picken’s plan relevant to the wind industry?, perhaps the DOE’s plan of 20% power by 2030( or other more ambitious plans by DOE) would be better bench marks since they have been researched for costs, material and industrial capacity.

    ” A power system that relies only on wind and solar will require energy storage, which is not economically available.
    We do not have and probably will not have for next 100 years a power system relying ONLY on solar and wind. Just as we will not have a system relying ONLY on nuclear. We have energy storage now that is economically available(hydro and pumped hydro) and will have EV batteries and probably other storage systems. These will be economical to use on all low carbon energy systems.

    I hope you are correct that a carbon price will be about $30/tonne, as this will make all other energy sources except coal very competitive in specific markets. I think NG will still be the lowest peak power option close to hydro/pumped hydro. It will still be cheaper to run nuclear, wind and solar flat out subject to available conditions.

    Eugene says this on this web page;
    “Dr Chu’s recient interview shows;
    1) he knows solar is currently too expensive,
    2) we need a way to dispose of nuclear waste,
    3) hydrogen fuel cell powered cars lack infrastructure, and
    4) no new nuclear plants are being seriously considered.

    Taken from interview:
    “TR: I know you’ve come out in favor of nuclear power. It’s been decades since any new plants have been constructed. What progress has been made so far in getting some new plants built?” In fact Chu talks about high energy neutron spectrum reactors destroying nuclear waste. Sounds like Chu is considering nuclear GenIV! and that’s the solution not Yucca Mt.

    Dr Chu qualities his statement about solar power
    “In the longer term, alternative energies can be a big part of the solution. But Chu noted that solar power, for one, is still far too expensive to compete with conventional power plants (except on hot summer days in some places, and with subsidies). Making solar cheap will require “transformative technologies,” equivalent to the discovery of the transistor, he said.


  4. I’d put myself in Camp C with some reservations. I neither believe that nuclear is the solution in a box that seems to be implied at (5) nor (2) because it’s likely that at some point (possibly after a catastrophic decline in biodiversity) that some life (possibly including human life) will recover. I’d sooner not push the planet into a position when someone being born in 2100 lives long enough to find out.

    The language is much too extravagant when it says “all sources of CO2 emission”. I’d settle for atmospheric CO2 concentrations must be rapidly stabilised as close to 400ppmv as possible before entering a period of sharp and continuous decline to pre-industrial levels at the earliest moment that is technically feasible and not injurious to the welfare of the poorest 3 billion on the planet even if this means the most privileged 2 billion of us don’t get to live as comfortably as now.

    I think Ted Trainer is probably in an E camp — as he claims no solutions are consistent with maintenance of consumer society. We either junk consumer society and its comforts or accept fossil fuels.

    Of the positions I don’t share, it’s this one that I find most difficult to disprove.

    Nothing in the above implies that I don’t think nuclear weapons are a serious problem which humanity must work energetically to secure from use, or that if humanity fails in this respect that the worst case scenario might not rival in harm some of the scenarios one sees with climate change.


  5. Some commentators (eg Rembrandt, AutomaticEarth) predict Peak Oil will gazump everything within 5 years. A comatose world economy will drag coal down with it, perhaps solving AGW as a bonus. Lumped with drying rivers there will be a distinct ‘lack of liquids’. We’re not just underinvesting in low carbon electricity but low carbon transport so we will be caught flat footed.

    If a Mwh from a conventional black coal plant creates a tonne of CO2 that’s 24,000 tonnes per day from a 1000 MWe station. I think of that as swathes of countryside covered with wind and solar and still not being enough. I see Anna Bligh wants new Qld coal stations to be ‘capture ready’ presumably for the short while til the miraculous advent of CCS. Meanwhile all the existing power stations are spewing their 24,000 tonnes a day or whatever.


  6. I would put myself in the B camp with one reservation:

    “1. The world’s greatest risk is from all forms of nuclear which should be completely banned.”

    I don’t think this at all. I think Climate Change and Peak Oil are our greatest threats. My objection to nuclear power is because the world has enough problems without adding another. Also I support the LFTR and would only ban nuclear power that creates elements that never existed in nature. This reduces the risk/problems of proliferation to as close to zero as I can make it.


  7. Finrod – “So what is your objection to elements that never existed in nature? Is it just the proliferation potential?”

    I suggested it before as a way to get nuclear past the Greens. To me the most compact and dangerous weapons are made from plutonium which is a created element. Restricting nuclear to only the 92 natural elements to me seems an easy way to eliminate the possibility of making deliverable nuclear weapons. I am aware that U-233 is bomb grade however the critical mass is quite large and almost impossible to make into a weapon that anyone could deliver easily.

    To me it eliminates just about all the proliferation potential of nuclear power and as the LFTR produce only ‘short’ lived waste and can eat other nuclear waste they do not leave a dangerous legacy for too many generations.


  8. I wish I could edit posts

    Terrorists possibly could make a nuclear bomb from U-233 and then put it in a ship however it would be far easier to hi-jack a LNG carrier and then cause an explosion with one of these. It would not be too far short of a nuclear explosion if done correctly.


  9. I suggested it before as a way to get nuclear past the Greens. To me the most compact and dangerous weapons are made from plutonium which is a created element. Restricting nuclear to only the 92 natural elements to me seems an easy way to eliminate the possibility of making deliverable nuclear weapons. I am aware that U-233 is bomb grade however the critical mass is quite large and almost impossible to make into a weapon that anyone could deliver easily.

    To me it eliminates just about all the proliferation potential of nuclear power and as the LFTR produce only ’short’ lived waste and can eat other nuclear waste they do not leave a dangerous legacy for too many generations.

    I see. And has this proposal yet been put to the Greens? And if so, how was it regarded?


  10. Stephen #8:

    Why do you think the LFTR is especially immune to the creation of Pu? As you know, IFR eats spend fuel and produces only short-lived fission products too, so why is this different to the LFTR? As I’ve said before, I’m a great supporter of the LFTR, but you don’t seem to understand the nature of proliferation potential of the LFTR vs IFR, hence my question.

    I agree with your point about LNG tanker bombs (and many other possible scenarios) in #9.


  11. I much prefer this layout Barry.

    A note on sequestering carbon: don’t forget biochar. Let’s not put carbon under ground where it is far too expensive, does no one any good, can leak out later, and possibly even kill people.

    Let’s instead use biochar to put it in the soil. Agriwaste & forestry waste => cooked up in low oxygen environment = fuel* & biochar fertiliser.

    *Syngas or synfuel. If we use solar collectors to run the burn, we get to use ALL the syngas to run local council trucks?

    Imagine your local council using garden waste to:-
    * permanently sequester Co2 in the form of biochar
    * sell the biochar to local gardeners and farmers
    * make a profit
    * AND claim carbon credits
    * AND be more immune to the coming oil shocks, especially especially if council trucks are hybrid electric trolley-trucks with gas engines for servicing side-streets not on the trolley lines.


  12. Barry Brook – “Why do you think the LFTR is especially immune to the creation of Pu?”

    I don’t however with transuranics banned (except of course for medical uses) any detection of them means that weapons are being made. This takes away the question of the peaceful use. The only peaceful use of nuclear power would be with natural elements.


  13. Finrod – “I see. And has this proposal yet been put to the Greens? And if so, how was it regarded?’

    Haven’t done it yet. If Jim has a look into this thread he might care to comment otherwise I will give it a go with the WA Greens. Mind you I don’t expect to convince the deep greens however there are some rational people there.


  14. Haven’t done it yet. If Jim has a look into this thread he might care to comment otherwise I will give it a go with the WA Greens. Mind you I don’t expect to convince the deep greens however there are some rational people there.

    Well you might as well give it a go, but I think you’re wasting your time. The general trend for the past few years has been for any prominent environmentalist who speaks up in favour of nuclear power to be virtually excommunicated from green circles. I don’t think they’ll go with LFTR because of any of its supposed advantages. They’ll just see nuclear and blank it out.

    So if that’s your only objection to Pu breeders, it’s probably misplaced.


  15. Of course the groups are grossly over-simplified, but they do seem to encompass broad differences in views surprisingly well. Maybe if you can agree with at least 3 or 4 points in each group, that’s where you belong. It’s a starting point anyway.

    I was an A once, but firmly C now (my amended C3 would not entirely rule out CCS as a stopgap). Several re-readings of recent posts and documents on this blog have reluctantly convinced me that technosolar can’t replace fossil fuels in any significant way (reluctant not because of any distaste of the nuclear option, but because it means there’s one less substantial fossil fuel-alternative on the table).

    Interesting, though, that such a large subgroup of nuclear advocates on here actually depart from the C5 position: “Wind/solar/batteries don’t matter”. There seems to be an idea that they do matter, because the current interest in wind/solar etc is stealing away the funds and attention needed to develop nuclear. Does anyone have any real evidence that this is so?


  16. Stephen #13: “I don’t however with transuranics banned (except of course for medical uses) any detection of them means that weapons are being made. This takes away the question of the peaceful use.”

    Doesn’t this mean that you could equally support IFR, since it could follow the same principle: the only reason to build a PUREX plant, if you only had IFR plants, would be to produce weapons material? Also, with transuranics banned, what do you propose to use in your smoke detector?

    “The only peaceful use of nuclear power would be with natural elements.”

    Does this therefore include heavy water reactors that use natural uranium, and IFRs that use natural or depleted uranium as a fuel?


  17. Neil #3: This is not supported by evidence or is miss-leading. For example replacing the 40EJ of oil energy will probably only need 6-8EJ of electrical energy, and very little upgrade because charging will be during off-peak periods.

    Where do you get the 40 EJ figure for oil? Oil currently constitutes ~33% of our energy use, and we are using ~490 EJ. Wouldn’t that make oil 160 EJ — 4 times what you state? Also, how do you arrive at the 6-8 EJ of electrical energy to replace 40 EJ of oil? I’d like to see your calculations or assumptions, as I don’t understand your statement.

    RE: your other point, I agree — Chu definitely has Gen IV on his radar screen.


  18. LFTR on thorium (the ‘T’ in the acronym) doesn’t produce much if any plutonium at all. IF you ran a MSR (the LFTR being the Th subset of same) then it would produce lot’s of Pu like the IFR, if so configured. The rule of thumb being if you use U238, you get a decay chain that includes Pu. If you use Th, you get a chain that produces U233.

    All of which, IMO, is *totally* irrelevant since the production of nuclear WMD is one of *policy* not technology. If a ‘rogue state’ (say the US? :) wants to produce WMD, they will do so and they will use *neither* the IFR or the LFTR.



  19. David, my (rhetorical) point was that if you so desired and were sufficiently committed to doing it in this way, you could put a DU breeder blanket around a MSR (even an LFTR) and then use PUREX to reprocess this. Of course you wouldn’t want do this, just like you wouldn’t build a PUREX plant to reprocess the Pu from an IFR, since you would only be undertaking online reprocessing of the fluoride salts (LFTR) or pyroprocessing without separating Pu from the other TRUs (for the IFR). In both instances, the very act of building a highly specialised, heavily shielded PUREX plant would ring the proliferation alarm bells.


  20. I agree Barry. And it’s proliferation “concerns” that, like always, are the guiding light for all this technology, *unfortunately*. I actually detest the whole issue since it’s so straw-man like in argument: my main point stands, if “they” are going to build a nuclear weapon, they wouldn’t want to use an IFR or LFTR to do it, there are so many cheaper, smaller, more hideable ways of doing it. It’s like the “well, you know, if they build this thing called an “airplane” they can crash it into buildings….”.

    But if you put the DU breeder blanket around a LFTR it’s not a LFTR, it’s a MSR. The blanket in a LFTR IS Th. It’s what defines the LFTR being what is. There would be a lot of tweaking and redesign I suspect to make Pu with a LFTR and of course anything can be done, I suppose. The waste-burner version of the LFTR, the LCTR is probably more susceptible and purposeful for Pu production.



  21. Belief: Nuclear proliferation and climate change aren’t as important as energy security. Energy security requires electrification of transportation, which in turn requires a massive expansion of electrical generation.

    1. Nuclear power development can only be used as a cover for nuclear proliferation because the existing treaties from the last century are broken. Fix the treaties and move out on generation 4 nuclear power. Nuclear waste isn’t waste, it’s incredibly valuable and should be reprocessed repeatedly.

    2. Climate change is a problem we must deal with over the next century, but the effects won’t be as bad as some alarmists claim.

    3. Coal burning causes air pollution that contributes to tens of thousands of deaths every year. Reliance on coal will not allow the world to electrify transportation.

    4. Oil imports must be significantly reduced because the US cannot sustain the outflow of dollars from the US to other countries. Worldwide oil production has not yet peaked. Every place we depend on for oil comes to hate us eventually, because our dependence requires interference in their local affairs (Iran, Iraq, the arab states, Venezuala, Texas, Canada, etc.). We must aggressively find alternatives for our main uses of fossil fuels. These replacements must not leave us dependent on some other resource of other countries.

    5. No type of solar will ever be economical in any of our lifetimes. Wind power is a scam run by methane con men like Pickens. If your answers to our problems rely on wind and solar, that just means you’re not serious about the problems.


  22. About the proliferation stuff. I’m aware that far more knowledgeable people than myself are involved in the discussion, but I want in anyway:

    No one has ever built an atomic bomb with U233, to my knowledge. No rogue state or terrorist organization ever will. The A-bomb was only invented once, and that design stolen and reproduced over and over. If I were going to build a nuclear weapons capability, I would do it using the stolen designs from A. Q. Khan that I already know to be valid – that’s hard enough already.

    No one will ever build an atomic bomb with U233 from a LFTR because it will be hopelessly contaminated with U232. You might as well worry about someone building an atomic bomb with the Neptunium from a LFTR.

    Don’t lose any sleep about the Neptunium; see the point about A. Q. Khan above.

    Anyway, if we decide the LFTR is proliferation-susceptible, we should prevent unfriendly and unstable countries from developing LFTR’s. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t develop them.


  23. Duncan, given your stated beliefs, would you countenance working with type C people even if they insisted that the transformation to an all-nuclear economy occur at a pace far in excess of what you would consider necessary, possibly even economically injurious (for a while) from your viewpoint?


  24. Finrod, perhaps I didn’t state my views well – I was trying to fit into them into Barry’s 5 topic statements.

    I want as much nuclear as possible as quickly as possible, I just don’t consider CO2 mitigation to be the only reason to go that route. If for some reason that was likely to be economically ruinous, I would push for reappraising the regulatory requirements and/or investing more heavily in newer nuclear technology that could provide power at lower costs.

    I’m less comfortable going along with plans to increase solar and wind renewables, because I don’t think either is really a viable base for a post-carbon economy.

    p.s., I’m not one of those who thinks any of the climate change legislation is going to ruin any country’s economy. I’m one of those who think that in order to not hurt the economy too much, politicians will water down those bills to the point where they won’t do much to limit CO2 emissions.


  25. Barry#19,
    (The new format is working much better than the nested format)
    I was referring to the 40EJ of oil used in US( Eugene was talking about Obama’s plans, but I should have been clearer).

    The energy replacement of oil( by nuclear or renewables generating electricity) is based on present oil use( ICE vehicles getting <20% efficiency; av <24mpg in US), the energy used to produce diesel and gasoline(av 140MJ content and 30MJ refining =170MJ per gallon or 6.9MJ/mile) compared to electric vehicles (0.20-0.4kWh/mile including recharging losses;1MJ/mile).

    The much higher quality of electrical energy whether used in replacing coal-fired plants, steel making or home heating with heat pumps or replacing diesel trains and replacing most other uses of oil means a lot less X6-7 less energy will be needed, X3 less coal energy and X2 less NG energy. Since NG is also the lowest CO2 emitting FF, is important for peak power whether for a nuclear or renewable generating system, and is used more efficiently, so this should be the last to be replaced.

    The Gorgon/Chinese and India gas deals are good news for the planet, will probably mean replacing 10Tonnes CO2 from coal for every 1tonne CO2 from NG( if include the multiplier of allowing more nuclear and renewable energy to replace coal).


  26. That could be wishful thinking that LNG exports will displace coal in China and India. They will probably want more of both so perhaps we should cut coal exports as a form of insurance. A couple of years ago LNG exports were around 20Mt and coal exports around 230 Mt, a much bigger carbon transfer.

    Since Australia is the world’s biggest coal exporter, may become the second biggest LNG exporter and has the largest uranium reserves I think we should call the shots. First we have to get our own house in order to have any moral authority. Also guarantee we will have enough gas and uranium at mates rates for domestic needs well into the future.

    The Rudd govt’s desperate sell off of energy resources goes hand in hand with the shambles of the ETS/RET and their naive belief in unproven technology.


  27. I think we can take a step back. The Israeli deployment (to my knowledge it is the largest so far) is too early to see if it will work, with like about 12 EVs in the whole country. I actually LIKE this technology, especially if they can get REAL batteries to avoid what is VERY real in the auto market place: “range anxiety”. There is an article in this weeks New Yorker magazine about Tesla that mentions this.

    My only issue is why so little power would be worth ‘selling back’ to utility if it at all depletes the battery at night. These talks and papers about this have been quite the rage for about the last 2 years. I remain unimpressed.

    Having said *that* one of my big reasons for supporting nuclear energy is the natural synergy (that’s ‘natural’ in a techie sense, folks) between it and EVs. As the French have proved with the *already in service* charging stations. It shows that nuclear can replace petroleum. So the big break though is a true 200 mile car. The shorter ranged EVs infieror to the PHEVs because of this very real range anxiety.

    For 24 years I commuted 11 miles to work each way. But I also a few times a month did a good 80 mile round trip. So I wouldn’t by a limited range EV, even with a fancy change out battery set up since…well…there are too few of these stations and unless they are ubiquitous, I ain’t buy’n one. And neither are most Aussies or Yankees. Period. So, it’s chicken or the egg I guess.

    Please not I didn’t even mention renewable energy because it’s almost wholly irrelevant to the issue of EVs since it is, at the end of the day, The Grid that will be providing the power and renewables will be only a small amount of actual MWhrs for it.

    So…nuclear EVs? Yes, please…only make them go father, longer, better than they are now.



  28. Like you David, and for much the same reasons, I quite like the V2G concept, if it can be made to work. Batteries have a definite life time, and it could well be that if the batteruies that are swappable can be types than can make significant use of recyclable materials, that even if their capital cost is high, it might be quite viable. It might be that batteries can be maintained more cost effectively than otherwise and that more intensive usage might lead to greater economies.

    One thing that gets little mentioned though is the question of air condfitioning in EVs. In a country like Australia, AC is a key part of the functionality of every vehicle. Even as far south as Melbourne, it does get stupidly hot — and last summer was a record for southern Australia, so much so that even the rail system started falling apart as the AC in trains failed.

    Nobody in their right mind is going to commute in a car without A/C or travel the family holiday or up and down the major inter-urban routes in summer without A/C … and how that kind of drain can be managed by a pure EV is a question I’m not sure admits an easy answer.


  29. Barry Brook – “Doesn’t this mean that you could equally support IFR,”

    Plutonium is part of the IFR fuel cycle so it would not be supported under the idea of only natural elements. Also the fission product of CANDUs fuelled with unenriched uranium is still plutonium.

    The LFTR as noted by others does not produce plutonium anywhere it its fuel cycle. Eating old nuclear waste is different as this would have to be allowed to get rid of this particular problem. Both the IFR and LFTR do this admirably so the IFR could get a waiver as a nuclear waste disposal facility I guess.


  30. “The range of the car running on just one battery is from about 160 kilometres (100 mi)[17] to 190 kilometres (120 mi).[18] By replacing the battery at a service station, the range is limited only by the geographical distribution of the battery-swapping infrastructure.[19], although it can be combined with a charging station.”

    Here is video, in real time, of a Better Place battery swap.

    It’s faster than filling up!

    “Then of course there is EEstor’s claims of a 300 mile / charge quick charge supercap, but until I actually see one I’m calling it sci-fi.”

    Kind of like my attitude to Gen4 really. ;-) One can hypothesise about possible technologies and costs until the cows come home, but until we actually see them coming off the line, it’s like so many 2001 L5 space stations.


  31. Plutonium is part of the IFR fuel cycle so it would not be supported under the idea of only natural elements. Also the fission product of CANDUs fuelled with unenriched uranium is still plutonium.

    Plutonium is actually a naturally occuring element on Earth… it’s just that theoriginal stock decayed away b ilions of years ago. there is still a tiny amount of natural plutonium in Earth’s rocks. The same processes which produce it in nuclear reactors also generate it in nature, albeit at a vastly slower rate.

    The idea of ‘natural elements vs. unnatural elements’ might not withstand too much scrutiny if you start talking about specific isotopes.


  32. Warren, you’ve totally missed the point. You’re suggesting the utilities have banks of batteries near the wind farms? Are you TRYING to make our electricity more expensive? No no no!

    Better Place have calculated that because the intrinsic power efficiency of electricity into forward motion is so much better than internal combustion engines, and electricity is so cheap, that they can absorb all the costs of owning and replacing the batteries.

    So you and I as drivers don’t own the batteries, the utility doesn’t own the batteries, the car company does. The price of replacing the batteries is ALREADY built into the rough price / km of oil today… and as batteries improve, this could prove CHEAPER than the price of oil / km.

    Better Place wins, as they get to sell us $/km. We win, because we get to sell some of that energy back and get a discount on our overnight off-peak charge. And the utilities win, because rather than having to own the battery capital, they just have to buy the electricity off us as they maintain the load balance.

    Try to see the beauty to the business plan side of it, not just the physics.


  33. “Nobody in their right mind is going to commute in a car without A/C or travel the family holiday or up and down the major inter-urban routes in summer without A/C … and how that kind of drain can be managed by a pure EV is a question I’m not sure admits an easy answer.”

    3% of the charge? Not a biggie.


  34. It’s not only green cars that will need AC but the ageing population sitting at home. The outer Melbourne area got to 48C just before the bushfires. Some Adelaide relatives tried to get away from 46C temps and sought refuge in the sea cliffs below the Wattle Pt wind farm; not a breath of breeze. That same day the Basslink HVDC tripped because a rectifier couldn’t cope with 35C air temps. This is why nuclear plants will have to be built on the coast not inland. After watching the show about internet security I think remote rationing of building AC in heatwaves might have to be radio frequency not internet.


  35. 3% of the charge? Not a biggie.

    My friend who looks very closely at the efficiency and green credentials of cars noted a few years ago that whenever he had the air conditioning on in his (smallish) car, it seemed to cut the available power back by about 15%. This is in a standard IC powered car.


  36. Airconditioning? Pffft! Too easy.

    Build these instead of McMansions.

    Sure these are hippie dreams now, but there are moves underway in the UK to make them more mainstream. They don’t even HAVE to be the ‘off-the-grid’ stand alone units as they are here. Just admitting that the Hobbits had home planning right would be a big move!

    Make ’em nice, put *smaller* air conditioners in them… have them on the renewable grid with the Better Place (or EEstor) EV car synergy, done.

    Again, I’m not TOTALLY against nukes, I’m just not convinced society has had the total energy emergency discussion yet, and there are some surprising ways to cut energy needs let alone increase solar thermal & geothermal & CETO & hydro & biomass & every other renewable efficiency already known.


  37. Fran – “Nobody in their right mind is going to commute in a car without A/C or travel the family holiday or up and down the major inter-urban routes in summer without A/C … and how that kind of drain can be managed by a pure EV is a question I’m not sure admits an easy answer.”

    I do agree with you however until quite recently that’s exactly what everybody did. A/C went from an expensive option on luxury cars to a standard fitting in all cars in a few short years. Again it is the same with houses. People add air-conditioners to try and make up for the deficiencies in design of their houses constructed without any thought to energy saving. Only in the last few years have Star ratings for houses been brought in.

    The latest top of the range Prius has an integral solar panel that assists the electric air-conditioner when it is heavily loaded. Also automotive air-con has come a long way and is now far more efficient. In the same way that A/C became standard equipment I guess solar assisted air-con will do the same. This will reduce the load on the vehicles batteries.

    A/C is a good fit for solar as when it is most needed it usually co-incides with the best solar conditions.


  38. Admittedly, the last time I looked at A/C in the light of EVs was about 5 years ago, but the drain at that time was about 10-20% of power, and typically you could add about 10% to fuel consumption when running the A/C

    If these A/Cs are now a lot better, then that’s a very exciting thing in itself.

    I don’t use the A/C much in my car — I feel too guilty about it and tend on hot days to open the windows of the car for a minute or two before getting in, try parking in the shade, use reflectors on the windscreen etc, driving with the windows 30% down …

    Only in absolute heat and in slow traffic does it go on and then only when there are others in the car …


  39. Naaah, burn it all! The sooner we get to peak oil the better. Your AC use is such a marginally extra use of energy to keep you cool, calm, and collected I’d rather see you driving with a clearer mind than hot and bothered and potentially dangerous. That tiny fragment of energy can be more than compensated for by paying some group to plant a few trees for you, and more importantly, buying a Better Place car when they come to a town near you.

    Did you watch the battery swap?


  40. Air conditioning is a very important subject. It is respnsible for an enormous amount of power use. The absorption chilling technology already lends itself to solar thermal power and the ANU is working on highly efficient new concepts in solar powered air conditioning.

    Here’s another couple of alternative solutions to airconditioning.

    I am no refrigeration expert but it is not a difficult technology. I have a camping fridge 30 years old which has hardly ever been turned off and still going strong. I know absorption chilling is not an efficient process but if it can harvest otherwise wasted heat then it should be further developed and used in conjunction with solar power to cool vehicles and buildings.


  41. I’m not really enthusiastic about Stephen’s concept of “banning elements that don’t exist in nature”.

    You can often see the (pretty weak) “but it’s not natural” argument applied to just about any form of science, technology or medicine that the human race has developed to our advantage.

    Firstly, there are huge stockpiles of depleted uranium in the world, and used LWR fuel. Even if we stop mining all uranium, and didn’t use IFRs, and only used LFTRs, we should still burn up all that already existing mined uranium, and yes, any reactor will transmute U-238 into Pu-239 in situ and fission the plutonium.

    Saying “we should ban plutonium” kind of reminds me of the time Greenpeace launched that worldwide campaign to ban all chlorine.

    Suggesting the banning all transuranic actinides because Pu is a transuranic actinide would be like Greenpeace calling for a ban on all halogens because Cl is a halogen.

    Should we still use Np-237 as a precursor to Pu-238 production, Am-241 in smoke detectors and neutron sources, Pu-238 in spacecraft, Cf-252 in neutron sources, etc?

    Plutonium isn’t “unnatural”. Pu, Cf, Am etc are ‘cooked’ inside stars and supernovae – those nucleosynthesis processes don’t just stop suddenly at number 92 – but since none of these elements has any nuclide with a really long half-life (billions of years, like K-40 or U-238 for example) they have all decayed away from the Earth before our time.

    As far as “unnatural” elements are concerned, what about technetium, astatine, polonium, promethium and actinium? (and francium too, but nobody seems to be able to find a good use for that, it’s just too unstable.) They don’t occur in any significant amount on Earth naturally, but can be made artificially. They’re pretty interesting and useful materials too.

    Then there’s the whole other can of worms to open up regarding the “unnatural” nuclides of “natural” elements.

    To be honest, and I’m sorry to put this bluntly, but it just sounds to me like you’re suffering from a little bit of “plutonium phobia”, which is usually bought on by concern about nuclear weapons, and the mystical, magical, supernaturally dangerous mythos that surrounds this very interesting element.

    It’s just a metal. It’s not black magic.

    To paraphrase Glen Seaborg, you don’t stop nuclear weapons proliferation by restricting nuclear science and technology of any kind – certainly not by restricting parts of the periodic table.
    You can only stop nuclear weapons proliferation by creating a world where people don’t feel like they need to arm themselves with nuclear weapons.


  42. This thread seems to have wondered away from the original topic which was belief systems and energy. There are other, social factors which I have discussed on Nuclear Green. I have pointed to the role of tribalism in shaping debate in modern society. Modern society offers the opportunity for “tribe” based social idenities. One can be a “born again Christian,” a “Green,” a “Conservative,” etc. Each of these tags carries an ideological component. The ideological component yields a set of standard words and expressions, which are tribal shibboleths. Tribe members use the Shibboleths to signal each other of their tribal membership. Thus the underlying function of energy belief systems is to regulate tribal membership.


  43. I question the 3 million pounds of CO2 per GWh number. I did a similar calculation in my blog a while back and came up with 7.4 million tons of CO2 per year for a 1000GW coal plant which only works out to less than 1.7 million pounds per hour.
    Since I was using Union of Concerned Scientists figures, I doubted they were low balling the numbers. It occurred to me that 3 million pounds was the production when the coal plant was running at full nameplate capacity. I went over to and looked up the electricity production from coal and came up with with 314,944 MW of coal generating capacity and 2,016,456 MWh of electricity produced which is 74% of capacity which is still too much.

    EIA also listed the CO2 produced from coal generated electricity as 1,979.71 million metric megatons which is 2,182 million short tons or 2.164 million pounds per GWh. So the 3 million pound number is 38% too high.

    BTW, I’ll take a mild C with a side of Thorium.


  44. Yes, but even biased cultural predispositions can be overcome by enough raw data, and we are about to have a number of different solar thermal plants built over the coming years that will provide endless comparisons and costings.

    So while breeder reactors might be technically possible, are they always economical?

    “It is known as one of the biggest government spending boondoggles in Germany. SNR-300 was to output 327 megawatts. The project ended up costing about 7 billion Deutsche Mark (about 3.5 billion euros or over 4 billion USD). Klaus Traube, then director of the executing company Interatom, is today one of the most prominent German opponents of the usage of nuclear power.”


  45. The assumption behind gas/solar hybrid power plants is that there will be natural gas for as long as there is sunshine. In Australia’s case we seem to be hellbent on sending as much gas overseas as possible. On signing the $25bn LNG export deal in China Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said Australia was an ‘energy superpower’. A few days before that he announced that a geothermal experiment in the outback was a near certainty to produce baseload power hence there was no need for nuclear (ie fission) power. That would seem to make Ferguson diametrically opposite his Whitlam era predecessor R.F.X. Connor who was a resource nationalist and I gather an early (1970s) nuclear supporter. I’d swap Ferguson for Rex.


  46. $41 billion on USD…same as $25 billion AUD? At any rate, John, good point.

    In an ‘ideal future’, meaning one where no fossil fuel is burned for generation, NG would be used for all manner of chemical feedstock, fertilizers, etc.



  47. On the THREAD…I fall between C and D. I’m not actually fully 100% convinced it’s all our fault, or that it may actually reverse itself. I hope Barry doen’t hate me for stating this but I want to be honest. I don’t think it will, however and even IF, as seems likely that we are the cause of it I’ve come to these conclusions:

    1. It may well be too late and we can’t do a damn thing about it.

    2. It would be wrong to conduct a planet wide experiment as we have been doing for over 100 years to see if we can pump CO2 into the atmosphere for as long as possible and as much as possible to see what would happen. That’s just plain dumb. I’m against dumb, so let’s find other energy solutions.

    3. ERGO: we need to rapidly roll out all forms of nuclear energy as fast as possible to alleviate above points 1 and 2.



  48. I’m under the impression that nerw coal plants (not in Inida or China) cost more like 9-10 UScents per kWh. Nukes (optimistically) priced a bit higher.

    Here in the US West there seems to be quite a bit of enthusism for wind backed up by natural gas units.


  49. Only a typical idiotic Kiwi would opine here, obviously without reading the posts about new IFR technology.
    Baseload renewables – which would they be?
    Do your homework before you comment!


  50. “are there any nuclear plants unsubsidized … anywhere?”

    I can’t speak for other countries, but there aren’t any large subsidies for nuclear power in the United States. There is supposed to be a loan guarantee program, but the DOE hasn’t actually granted one, the last time I looked. Loan guarantees don’t cost the government anything, unless the utility company defaults anyway. Since that isn’t likely if the utility actually gets an operating license from the government, that is probably why most companies are applying for the loan guarantee in the first place. No company wants to be stuck with the next Shoreham.

    The government actually imposes hundreds of millions of dollars of costs on nuclear power, that other forms of power don’t have have to pay. That is what it costs to get an operating license from the NRC. That doesn’t include the interest charges that are piling while the NRC spends years processing the application.


  51. Very great post, Barry. What about G8 or some like that to build nuclear plants near the non-nuclear countries and sell electricity at low price to those non-nuclear countries?

    No nuclear proliferation.


  52. US plants are not subsidized. Some of the early ones were and of course there was a large R&D that was dovetailing with Defense Dept. R&D for the navy.

    The current ‘subsidy’ exists for the first 6 (I think) GWs of power to be produced…or the first 4 plants. It maybe 8 GWs. This amounts to 1.8 cents a KW name plate capacity. It runs out after this first $8 billion USD goes away.

    The loan guarantee program, of which only $18 billion is guaranteed right now, is not actually a ‘my-pocket-into-your-pocket’ subsidy but just that, a guarantee to investors that if the plant goes belly up, they won’t lose their investment. It does make financing MUCH cheaper, which is good for the rate payer.


  53. Pingback: Remote solar PV vs small nuclear reactor – electricity cost comparison «

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