Cheap, green nuclear power?

Guest Post by Dr John Rolls. John is an adjunct Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Systems & Technology, University of South Australia. He an environmental scientist interested in global food systems and clean energy and is treasurer of the Australian Solar Energy Society (South Australian Branch).

John attended both of Tom Blees’ recent events in Adelaide, and offers this balanced commentary on the issue of how environmental groups should evaluate the role of nuclear power in a clean energy future.

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Tom Blees, author of “Prescription for the Planet”, believes that the way to a low carbon energy future is through a new form of nuclear power – that uses nuclear waste as its fuel.

Tom presented his ideas to the Royal Institute Australia (RiAus) in Adelaide on 3rd February (podcast here) and at a debate on nuclear energy hosted by Zero Carbon Network (ZCN), Sustainable Population Australia (SPA), and Australian Solar Energy Society (AuSES) on 5th February (podcast here, BNC write-up here). Both events were well publicised and delivered to packed houses.

At the RiAus presentation, Blees was interviewed by Professor Mike Young from Adelaide University’s Environment Institute, co-sponsors of the event, where he had more opportunity to describe the background to his ideas.

Blees is not a scientist, but has had a long term interest in energy. He is also concerned about social justice: he was affronted by the idea that the West has developed its wealth using fossil fuels – with the associated environmental consequences – but that people in developing nations would be denied access to cheap energy on account of concerns about greenhouse emissions. While visiting Russia several years ago he learned of US research on Integral Fast Reactors (IFRs), a power source with essentially zero GHG emissions apart from those incurred in constructing the power plant. This started him on a quest to find out everything he could about IFRs. He learned most of what he knows about nuclear power from scientists who had worked on developing IFRs.

The IFR was developed by the US Argonne National Laboratory, commencing in 1964 with construction of the EBR-II, a research breeder reactor with on-site fuel reprocessing. Work on the project was terminated by the Clinton administration in 1994, apparently for political reasons, when the next phase would have been construction of a full-scale demonstration plant.

One important feature of IFRs Tom notes is that they would be fuelled with depleted uranium, plutonium from old nuclear arms and the global accumulation of waste from existing nuclear power plants. A second is that they increase energy recovery from 0.6% of the energy contained in the fuel – typical of existing nuclear energy installations – to 100%. The IFR turns the problem of nuclear waste management into a free source of energy. He estimates that IFRs could meet likely global energy demands for several centuries without the need to mine or process any new uranium.

Blees proposes the rapid development and adoption of three technologies: (IFRs), a technology he describes as well-developed; boron as an energy carrier to replace oil-based fuels for vehicles, a technology with high promise but needing further research and development; and recycling of wastes using high temperature plasma technology, which is operating at plants in China, Japan, Poland, Italy and Australia. He also proposes a standardised modular design of IFRs to reduce costs and increase reliability, and an international system to control construction and operation of IFRs.

To promote adoption of his vision Blees has created an international NGO, the Science Council for Global Initiatives (SCGI), of which Dr Jim Hansen, the world’s most prominent climate scientist, and Barry Brook, Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change, University of Adelaide, are members. Barry Brook also took part in the ZCN/ SPA/AuSES debate, where Tom Blees described how negotiations with high level participation by the Obama administration are in progress to enable use of US IFR technology by Russia, China, India, South Korea and Japan. The most likely scenario is the construction of an IFR reactor in Russia, on account of Russia’s long development of breeder technology, and the relative ease of avoiding political opposition. An agreement with General Electric has been established to build such a plant. Among other potential applications, the Russians are interested in using IFRs to power pumps on pipelines taking Russian natural gas to the West.

The Obama administration has a clear interest in taking part in these negotiations. The fact that the US has developed the technology is known to other countries, and either alone or in cooperation some of the existing nuclear states with rapidly growing energy demands could replicate the design. It would take time, but they would get there, and this would destroy the US’s commercial interest in selling the intellectual property. At least as cogently, while the US has this strategic negotiating advantage it also has the potential to gain acceptance of an international oversight arrangement like that Tom Blees envisages. There are powerful interests in the US that might fall on opposite sides on this issue. American exceptionalists and US nuclear corporations would likely vigorously oppose an international control system. For the US fossil fuel industry, the prospect of the eventual replacement of fossil fuels by IFRs would suggest that their initial response would be to oppose IFRs under any circumstances, and if/as they became convinced that IFRs were the way of the future, they would want to ensure that they owned and operated them.

The claim that IFRs have huge potential to produce low emissions, low cost energy from waste from current generation reactors with low likelihood of contributing to nuclear proliferation, nuclear diversion and terrorism, presents the conservation movement and anti-nuclear activists with a big challenge. It would be inadequate for anti-nuclear and conservation organizations to resist the introduction of IFRs on the basis of the characteristics of past and current nuclear power technologies. Both Mark Diesendorf, Senior Lecturer and Researcher at University of New South Wales, and David Noonan, ACF Nuclear Free Campaigner largely argued along these lines at the debate. They also argued that non-nuclear alternative energy sources could provide our energy needs; the pro-nuclear side denied that this could be achieved cost-effectively. The two teams agreed that energy efficiency could easily make a major contribution to reducing emissions.

The concepts Blees promotes are more than worthy of serious consideration. If all the features of IFRs, boron power and plasma recycling are as Blees presents them, their rapid adoption would create a wholly new energy dynamic. Set in the existing economic paradigm, this would drive a rapid expansion of some environmental problems, especially in developing countries; essentially limitless cheap energy will accelerate the adoption of higher consumption western lifestyles with all the attendant resource use implications. For the next several decades the Chinese and Indians will not be building new housing, factories and infrastructure solely from materials recycled by plasma technology from their existing counterparts; there is nowhere near enough material in existing structures to achieve that. They will be using virgin materials – even if far less Australian coal!

Associated with rapidly rising real incomes based on cheap energy, there would also be a huge expansion of demand for tourist access to remote and environmentally sensitive areas. Cheap energy would be seen as a green light for those with a mystical faith in the infinite capacity of our finite Earth to support unlimited economic and population growth.

As Tom Blees would assert, we have no right to seek to deny higher living standards to people in developing countries. However the impacts of Western lifestyles unrelated to greenhouse gas emissions, (loss of biodiversity, elimination of species, marine and inland water pollution, over-use of water resources, loss of environmental services) are huge, and if the world’s current population adopted Western patterns of consumption and current technologies, we would need another 3 Earth’s to cope with the impact. In the absence of huge adjustments to our consumption patterns, production methods and attitudes to waste, these impacts will double or treble. If Tom Blees’ ideas were rapidly adopted, all of these issues would initially be expanded in scale. The West clearly needs to lead the way in dealing with them, but there is precious little evidence that Western governments recognize their scale and urgency, let alone that they are addressing them seriously.

Tom Blees’ ideas demand serious consideration, as much because these consequential issues need to be thought through now, and vigorously addressed by the West, not after they have achieved the momentum they inevitably otherwise would.

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66 Comments

  1. Great post!

    It also needs to be pointed out that the same problems of growth occur whether it is nuclear or renewables that eventually provides us with abundant cheap energy. So if some kind of super-cheap spray on nano-solar paint is developed along with a super-cheap nano-tech super-battery system makes cheap abundant solar power the cheapest, most abundant power we’ve ever had… it generates the same problem, growth!

    Now in one sense economic growth *with the right technologies* can be seen as a cure to population growth, by encouraging the demographic transition.

    In another sense, do we really have the technology or resources to enable China, India, Central Asia, Africa and South America all catch up to our consumption levels, or worse, copy our city plans?

    How we build our cities is just 1 of many technologies we need to revisit and reimagine immediately.

    EG: Putting 1 million people into suburbia requires 400 square miles, but only 10% of that if they were living in New Urbanism!
    http://www.youtube.com/user/1standMain

    That’s a WHOLE lot of agricutural land freed up to feed that 1 million people.

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  2. People, it is time for a reality check. The West is not the ascendant bloc on this planet any more, and those that are on the rise won’t be taking any White Man’s Burden posturing seriously. For all intents and purposes, the fate of this planet will be decided in China and India, and perhaps Brazil and they are not going to recognize the West’s waning ‘leadership’ in this regard.

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  3. Well, we can certainly limit damage done in our own neck of the woods if we take up the New Urbanist city design and “Cradle to Cradle” industrial design challenges. Co2 may be decided by other nations, but surely if we led by example down the nuclear / renewables / whatever works path, we’d have *some* influence, maybe even by proving that some of these things can work at scale.

    So it’s not about recognising leadership, but seeing what actually works.

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  4. Well there is some truth in assertion that we have to clean our own house first, however it should happen to improve OUR standard of living, OUR impact on the land so that it can be enjoyed by future generations. However it is arrogant to the extreme to assume that we can dictate terms to the rest of the world.

    With some effort, properly directed, we can draw on our capacity for innovation, to create technology that is adopted simply because it is the best option. But not if this effort is going to be hobbled by preconceived notions of a return to some imaginary Arcadian past, or with the idea that there will be large scale changes in human behaviour, just because everyone suddenly sees the light. Also we have to take a very hard line with the distinction between what can be done and what should be done, lest we find ourselves fiddling while Rome burns.

    We still have a role to play, we are not out of the game yet, but for sure we have to lose the tones of moral ascendency when dealing with the rest of the planet, if we still want to be taken seriously.

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  5. Intriguing. You wrote:

    “It would be inadequate for anti-nuclear and conservation organizations to resist the introduction of IFRs on the basis of the characteristics of past and current nuclear power technologies. Both Mark Diesendorf, Senior Lecturer and Researcher at University of New South Wales, and David Noonan, ACF Nuclear Free Campaigner largely argued along these lines at the debate.”

    The value of intellectual integrity is not, in my experience, commonly highly valued by anti-nuclear campaigners. I like to have this pessimism challenged, and nuclear advocates seem to be winning some battles for open minds. So, if you could clarify, did they recognize it would be “inadequate . . . to resist the introduction of IFRs on the basis of past and current nuclear technologies” or did they just reflexively do so anyway? The post was unclear in this aspect, at least to me.

    I ardently support development of Generation IV, a.s.a.p. but we have to remember, that Gen III+ plants are a significant advance and they are here now. Also Gen. II beats any alternative, from an environmental perspective. Nuclear advocates who share the values evident in Barrys blog (science, justice, environmental responsibility) should very vocally and actively support, in my view, the use and deployment of what we have while advocating further improvements to nuclear technology be developed a.s.a.p.

    Every potential “quantum leap” in the technology, such as IFR, will be cited by by anti-nuclear campaigners as a reason not to deploy what we have – – while they simultaneously oppose and undermine the development of the next step. Today on National Public Radio in the U.S. it was stated as fact that next generation nuclear is many years or decades away.

    If you think most anti-nuclear activists are going to be convinced, I would counsel thinking again. If we develop IFR in short order, they will urge waiting for fusion or whatever the next “thing” is. Arjun Makhijani already does so. I have concluded support for “some other” nuclear technology is often used by anti-nuclear advocates to create the appearance of open-mindedness and intellectual integrity where it does not actually exist. Some anti-nuclear folks will deploy any ruse, or say anything, be it true, half-true, or false, to stop nuclear. They will feel justified in doing so, because to them, nuclear is just completely unacceptable, a priori, and must be stopped, period.

    Wandered off point, sorry. Just meant to seek the clarification.

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  6. A point that is all too often forgotten is that more advanced, more efficient nuclear power is not in any way “new” technology.

    The very first nuclear reactor to generate electrical energy, EBR-I, was a fast-spectrum breeder reactor.

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  7. I share the concerns about the consequences of cheap energy.

    I have come across the view from Sustainable Population Australia that revolutions in energy supply lead to population growth. Others argue that increasing standards of living decreases population growth rates. This seems like an issue that is worthy of comprehensive consideration.

    It seems next to inconceivable that western governments would adopt Blees’ plans, given their current preoccupation with relatively trivial issues and winning votes. If there was the unlikely change overnight and there was sudden agreement, I understand that the logistics of construction would take at least a decade or two to replace the current fossil fuels. It will not be cheap energy during the construction phase if it is done at the pace required.

    Another concern is that nuclear power could be used in addition to fossil fuels, rather than as a replacement. There must be effective means of making the price of energy from fossil fuels matching the cost such as a carbon tax. The cost of melting glaciers and ice caps, the cost of rapid increase in sea level, the cost of air pollution and the cost of acidification of the ocean would put coal out of the price-range. I am not convinced governments will ever stop the coal industry from externalising the costs of its damage.

    At least if nuclear power plants use the infrastructure of existing coal power stations then there is some chance of a direct replacement.

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  8. DV8.
    All moral issues aside it would not be wise to promote cheap energy for all the reasons given.
    When you can`t reduce carbon emission you are only left with the option to use up everything (what will happen anyways.) and then adapt a lower standard of living.

    A comparable situation on a ship would eventually end in canibalism.

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  9. I cannot agree with the message in this article. There are a couple of minerals, such as phosphorus ores which are in short supply, but only in their concentrated form, and the adoption of the breeder reactor with its positive EROEI for very low grade U and Th deposits points the way to the economic processing of those sources for phosphorus and other low-grade resources. This planet has everything we need by way of mineral resources in abundance. The only valid point here is the possible impact of increased tourism on the biosphere. This is a matter for local regulation, and hardly an argument against nuclear power.

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  10. Marcus – I am all for promoting cheap energy, That is not the point I was trying to make.

    What I find somewhat ridiculous, (and this applies equally to almost all Western commentary on the subject) is the implied assumption that we are the ones that will dictate solutions to the rest of the world.

    I see this in the pronuclear side with its obsession with proliferation, I see it in the antinuclear side with its belief, that if the West turns to renewable energy the world will follow.

    The fact is that we are very soon not going to be the biggest users of the planet’s resources, (even if we keep our per capita lead)and we are in no position to dictate terms to those who will be.

    We must readjust our thinking and our planning to reflect these new realities. We will not make any headway, for example converting to a low energy civilization in the West, powered by wind and sunlight, if the aluminum we are using is smelted with power from Chinese coal, to give a fictitious example. We have not lowered our carbon footprint in that case, only shifted it.

    Just about any engineering problem can be solver with access to unlimited amounts of energy. Much of the environmental damage we are doing can be stopped, and even reversed with access to unlimited amounts of power. And all without lowering anyone’s standard of living.

    This is the direction the West must go. If it is to show any leadership in this whole issue, it must be to demonstrate that we can keep, if not improve, our standard of living through the harnessing of nuclear power. Then the world will follow. But if we are going to pour ashes on our heads, and seek to live some minimalistic ascetic, we will do it alone.

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  11. @eclipsenow – Very entertaining, but not very germane. Rebuilding cities is easier to plan, than to execute. Redesigned cities have been a regular feature of ‘forward looking’ initiatives since the late 1800’s yet few of these ideas ever came to fruition, and most that did, like the suburbs, have turned out to be short-sighted disasters, as the linked video illustrates.

    Cities are always in flux, and by the very nature of the robustness that we demand from the structures and the infrastructure, are always going to lag behind the optimum configuration for the times. Worse even if one mounts an effort to create a ‘New Model City’ from scratch, as has been done on occasion, whatever design philosophy it was built to, is quickly overcome by other changes.

    That’s why I don’t put much store on urban overhauls as solutions to anything, no mater how elegant they might seem to be at the time.

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  12. Mate: town planners already exist, but they’re currently promoting the wrong town plan. It’s not like I’m suggesting communism or anything.

    I’m not going to say that New Urbanism would usher in a new era of prosperity, guarantee the economic success of every locality, or even be the ideal solution for every region.

    Utopia is not my goal, but survivability through walkability. New Urbanism EVERYWHERE is not my goal, as I’d also love to see some even *higher* density Eco-cities, and maybe some lower density Village Town’s that incorporate their citizen’s agriculture into their town’s area. These Village Towns would be worth building just as an anthropological and business model worthy of study!

    (15 minute lecture at UNSW).

    http://www.villageforum.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=39&Itemid=58

    We’ve lived in walkable cities for the last 10 thousand years because we’ve had to. Only since cheap oil and the car have we created this driving, polluting, car-orientated society that creates ugly great structures entirely alienating that are devoted to moving the car, not people!

    As the video said, less parking garages, more parks, porches, promenades, public spaces.

    “We all sense that something has gone terribly wrong with our communities. Hamlets and cities, slums and suburbs all lack a sense of cohesion. Not only is there no centre there – there is no there there.”
    http://village-town.com/bookpage/index.html

    Barry thinks nuclear power could solve global warming by 2050, but others think we could largely redesign and retrofit existing living spaces by 2030. Imagine if we went straight into a program of building nuclear power plants AND retrofitting our cities around New Urbanism at the same time. As you said, cities are always transforming, just like the businesses and people within them. If we lay down the right guidelines and principles now, we could solve global warming by 2050 easily!

    20 years….
    http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/007800.html

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  13. eclipsenow – I live in a city that has been doing its best to implement much of what was in that video, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

    The physical size of the city is constrained because it is build on an island, and Quebec law forbids the rezoning of farmland in the Provence. The transit system has been extended and upgraded such that everyone is no more than a few minutes walk from a stop. We have a vast network of bike paths, (one of the largest in the world) and we invented the Bixi bike system so that anyone can use them.

    Frankly I haven’t seen much in the way of fewer cars, and it’s still freeze-to-death bloody cold in the Winter here, and the bikes do nothing to keep down my heating bill, and yes we all insulated like mad in the 70’s during that oil crises, so not much to gain there, and unlike the States petrol is expensive here.

    If car usage is dropping at all I suspect it’s as much due to people working at home, or the level of unemployment we are suffering from.

    But what I said still stands, even if by some political miracle you managed to pass legislation mandating all these changes, the world will move on, and much of what is implemented may well become pointless at best, or a problem at worse. Cities are just not flexible enough systems to respond quickly to change.

    Not only that, the wholesale changes that would need to be made, to so many cities, in so short a time, to have any real impact on global warming are just not feasible. Think about it: you are saying it would be easer and faster to completely change a significant number of urban areas in 40 years than it would be to build a fleet of nuclear power plants. I’m sorry. I just can’t buy into that.

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  14. Now we do have no solution at all.
    More power (whatever nuclear or renewable) will still be just aditional.
    Blees Book is just like Axel Limbergs “Plankton Manifest” just based around another resource.
    Still the growing energy demand will not be satisfied by a few changes…not nuclear, nor conservation.

    Nuclear accounts for 2% of primary energy used (shrinking).
    The world will still burn everything there is.

    Any single country is meaningless in that big picture.
    I am gonna quit thinking about it. It is a complete waste of time.

    Humans have not archived anything anyways. We have our little toys and are very good a destroying anything that comes along.
    With our little cars and little houses we are living really meaningless lives and have fun (when we don`t work for money).

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  15. You are not honestly expecting a link to something like that to be taken as reasonable evidence?

    At any rate it still doesn’t address the how this is going to be made to happen. I have a feeling that much of the public opposition to nuclear solutions would melt away, if the alternative involved giving up their cars

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  16. I wrote up thread that I am living through such changes, in my own city. It is being kept in motion by a very active group of people that are as about politically skilled as any I have seen, and the changes are real.

    The issue I have with it is that there is little in the way of substantive change, in terms of traffic, even though it is claimed that usage of these thing is high. Also we never gutted Montreal’s core of apartments and we have an underground network of foot passages that can get one all over the city centre without going outside in the winter, so it is quite possible to live here without a car. My daughter is in her mid twenties, and still hasn’t pothered to get a licence, nor have most of her friends.

    The point is that there has not been here the sort of changes that would indicate to me that such a program carried on in every First World city would have enough of an impact to make a huge difference on our energy profile, such that we could delay building NPP.

    To make matters worse, Montreal is not doing anything that hasn’t been done already, years ago in a lot of European cities, and we know there are more bikes than cars in most Chinese cities, so one has to ask just how much room there is for major gains.

    I’m not saying don’t change cities. Cities are living organisms, they will always be in flux, but to depend on urban change to be the major cure for global warming and energy management, is no more practical than looking to wind and solar to power an industrialized civilization.

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  17. To me the urban design the eclipse is talking about is not a solution to global warming, rather a solution for cities that makes them more robust and liveable and flexible should impacts of AGW be realised… from expensive fuel, less water, and so on.

    A well designed city will assist inhabitants maintain a lifestyle, where a sprawling highly automobile dependent city gives residents little option in the face of the changes.

    And DV8 – the reason you see no less traffic in Montreal is, to coin and Newman and Kenworthyism, because traffic acts as a gas and expends to fill the container. But rest assured, the container in Montreal is smaller than in Houston.

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  18. Well let’s talk about Houston.

    Here are your choices Houston: we completely rebuild the city into something that you can walk and tram around, but you must give up all of your cars, OR we build a nuclear power station just over the horizon and you keep your cars (but electric powered) and the city stays much as it is.

    We all know what the choice will be.

    Cities may change to adapt in the ways noted, to climate change and fuel shortages, but it is not a solution that will stave these off.

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  19. There incremental and compounding benefits.

    Significant advances can be made in 20 years.

    But you’re right, it probably won’t be in time to prevent fuel shortages, which is one of the reasons I think we’re in for a Greater Depression as oil shortages begin over the next 5 to 10 years.

    All oil supply had to do over the last few years was just stay roughly level for too long and the speculators jumped on board. Wait till the rationing hits! (And I think we desperately need a societal discussion about fuel rationing and prioritising).

    But I’m not a doomer, and hope to be surprised that Better Place might actually deploy *roughly* fast enough to keep up with new demand.

    My car has a sticker: “My next car will run on the wind”. Better Place have a contract with AGL to provide 100% of their EV electricity supply through renewable energy, mainly wind.

    Because the cars will be charging overnight (on coal, sadly) during the “off peak” timeslot, there only needs to be 1% per year grid increase across Australia to supply the electricity needed for a hypothetical 25% of the market in 8 years.

    IF the government legislated that all new cars had to be Better Place compliant, then my rough guestimate is that we’d need to increase the grid by 2% per year to supply half our car market as EV’s in 8 years and the whole fleet turned over in 16 years which is average fleet turnover time.

    But as cities can be retrofitted in 20 years, maybe we won’t need *all* that extra electricity? Maybe we can convince half the population to live pretty much car-free, with tax rewards due to the fact that they’re not contributing to the highway maintenance costs, etc?

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  20. Good to hear that Obama admin. is interested in IFRs. But the loan gaurantee is for gen 3. How sad.

    Cheap energy. Will that be too cheap to meter ?

    Nuclear industry has a bleak record of estimations. Let us talk about real costs after the 1st one is built.

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  21. DV8 I don’t think this is the place for a detailed discussion of sustainable cities – but certainly my interest is in providing great cities to live in, not ones that will save us from climate change. But I will say that the issues that arise from sprawling cities are far greater than simply fuel use by cars.

    my preference to your scenario would be:
    we transform the city into something that you can walk and tram around, but you can keep your cars if you want to, and we build a nuclear power station just over the horizon to power the whole thing.

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  22. Once again I agree with DV8. It’s much cheaper to build nuclear power plants, and much less disruptive, than to tell people they must invest in insulation and solar panels. The personal approach of insulation and solar panels is ok if you have the money – the nuclear power plant benefits everyone.
    At least I think that’s what Le Hab was saying – in any case that’s what I think. New Urbanism is just a little too slanted toward those with money for my taste.

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  23. “New Urbanism is just a little too slanted toward those with money for my taste.”
    That might be because:
    there’s a growing market for New Urbanism
    People like to live the “Seinfeld life”.
    But because New Urbanist districts are so few and far between, it is not long before Gentrification makes a small pocket of New Urbanism makes the district GO UP in value, which proves my point again: there’s a DEMAND for this!
    There’s heaps of evidence that New Urbanism can supply plenty of affordable accommodation even after the Gentrification stage occurs.

    For a great podcast on New Urbanism try this:

    http://kunstlercast.com/

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  24. “All oil supply had to do over the last few years was just stay roughly level for too long and the speculators jumped on board. Wait till the rationing hits! (And I think we desperately need a societal discussion about fuel rationing and prioritising).”

    Oh for ****s sake; the last time we went through this we didn’t have rationing and hence we had higher gas prices, no black markets, no shortgages and no gas lines. The US and every other place that had rationing had gas lines, black markets and shortgages.

    Rationing is how you get shortgages, lines and black markets. Black markets are the free market re-asserting itself, shortgages is the result of trying to force people to sell at a loss(or at least at insufficient profit to bother) and lines act in the same way as raising the cost of purchasing an item but the added cost does not provide a benefit to anyone or raise the incentive to produce more of the good in question. This has been the case all through history, always and everywhere. Learn from this mistake or you will repeat it.

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  25. @Soylent, AKA John Galt:

    it is interesting how in the USA, the Ayn Rand anarcho-liberal, who fetishises greed and speculation as the free market (Greed is Good) still survives. Coincidence that this fits the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny and predatory corporations hand in glove?

    And this in spite of the policies of Greenspan of the Fed Reserve, the Ayn Rand admirer, being discredited. The US economy is not the best at present; when will commercial property tank?

    Re: rationing, as you condemn it in all times and at all places: rationing is how people (USA: Joe Sixpacks) who cannot afford the high prices of the speculators you favour still get the 2,000 kcal per day during a war that they need so as to be able to fight to save the skins of said speculators.

    Look, go off and read Karl Polanyi’s “The Great Transformation” before insinuating that your free market is part of human nature rather than being an aberration of the last few centuries.

    By the way, still-legal credit default swaps, CDSs, which are actually like taking out insurance on your neighbour’s house burning down or your boss’s life (Wolfgang Münchau in the Financial Times yesterday) are free market the way bank robbery is.

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  26. @Matt Buckels – I have no difficulty with better designed urban centers, or with enhanced public transportation. However I do not see these as tools for mitigating climate change, or delaying the need for more power plants.

    I used my observations about Montreal, simply because, much was made at the beginning of these programs of the reduced traffic, and thus reduced noise, reduced pollution, etc., that was going to result from their adoption. Again, if there has been any gain in this direction, it is marginal.

    This is not to say it’s a bad idea, and I suspect that there could be secondary benefits, I’m not aware of, (since my biking in the city days are behind me) but I cannot see extending these ideas to the point where they would make a substantive difference is an economically viable option.

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  27. Good post. It poses a critical question. Can we handle cheap
    energy without trashing the planet? The 3 big trashers are
    food, housing and transport. I think transport is solvable … there is plenty
    of iron ore and with cheap energy that looks doable. Housing? Tougher. We
    better not use timber. But I don’t know what we can use. Traditionally
    the biggest trasher of the planet is animal products. Far bigger than
    housing. They multiply the resources
    required immensely and there is only one thing in animal products that
    is (possibly) essential … B12. This is now easily made and better than
    the natural stuff. So we can feed 9 billion, easily, we are producing
    far more than enough food to do that now. But we can’t feed it through
    animals first. So that really just leaves housing … ideas please …

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  28. So that really just leaves housing … ideas please …

    Verticality is the way forward. Most slums and shanty towns could house far more people in much greater comfort if they were replaced with high rises.

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  29. “Most slums and shanty towns could house far more people in much greater comfort if they were replaced with high rises”

    No doubt. However slums and shanty towns are an economic problem that cannot be solved simply by public housing. This has been tried in the recent past and with few exceptions, has been a spectacular failure.

    There is nothing new about urban poor. They have been a major factor in cities since the beginning of the Industrial Age, and are in fact surplus labour. Dealing with this issue goes far beyond the technical questions of simply warehousing them, and providing them with nourishment, and is well and truly outside the scope of this discussion.

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  30. 2% of the worlds GHG emissions result from shipping.
    The skysails propusion reduces that by 25-40%.
    It also results in increased speed and more volume for cargo. ROI in 2-3 years.
    You can go bigger with the sails. From 160m² to 600m² or more.

    Like

  31. Some hard numbers are becoming available on China and India’s growing dependence on Australian coal. See
    http://www.aspousa.org/index.php/2010/03/review-march-1-2010/
    under looming electricity shortages. Add in higher shipping costs due to Peak Oil and the low wage advantage of these countries is lost. I suggest that absent a powerful new energy source the bottom billion in China and India are not going to make it to the middle class. At the same time I see the middle classes in the West slipping into energy poverty relative to past consumption.

    Therefore with or without phoney schemes carbon dependence will soon be on the wane. Within five years we should see a confluence of Peak Oil, the Chindia coal shortage and water woes. The shameless and hypocritical Australian government will do everything in its power to keep the carbon party going but it will fail. Perhaps some other country will be able to show Australia the way ahead.

    Like

  32. The question, it seems to me, is not whether poor-country energy use should grow rapidly; that’s going to happen, regardless, as it probably should.

    The question is how damaging that energy growth will be. Coal is surely the worst possible option, followed by gas. Nuclear seems like the only practical low-impact solution, broadly speaking. In a few places other options might work well – geothermal, hydro – but overall the picture is pretty clear.

    Like

  33. I suspect those bottom billions will increasingly be using biogas together with some home-brewed wind and solar for pumping so that the biogas can run a generator to provide a most modest amount of electricity in the evening.

    Or maybe some Jatropha oil as well; I know of two such NGO sponsored projects in India.

    Like

  34. Thanks for the article, John, but I must disagree with your argument that humanity blessed with unlimited power would necessarily deplete the planet’s resources. Your concerns about species extinction and other such problems are well taken, of course, and I would be the last to argue that we can afford to keep increasing the world’s population. But as you know, rising standards of living have repeatedly correlated with smaller family size. Unless we’re prepared to kill a whole lot of people, we have to try to accommodate up to 10 billion before we turn the corner. That said, allow me to just paste a couple paragraphs from my book in here that deal with the issue at hand, bearing in mind that this is predicated on the global use of plasma converters and IFRs:

    “If you’re sitting inside somewhere reading this, take a look around at your environment. If you’re a typical resident of an industrialized country, nearly everything you see that provides the basic material comforts you enjoy is made of fabric, plastic, glass, metal, or wood. The metals are usually some form of steel or aluminum, neither of which is in short supply on our planet (aluminum is the most abundant metallic element in the Earth’s crust). Ditto for glass, since silicon comprises about 25% of the crust. Wood is an entirely renewable resource, though admittedly those resources have been poorly managed in many cases. Fabrics and plastics can be made from natural fibers or, with plasma converters, from garbage or other waste products that are in limitless supply. Even the walls of your home are built of materials that are, in every case, readily available and easily obtainable. They could easily be built with blocks made from plasma converter slag, the walls insulated with rock wool from the same source. Energy and recycling of materials have always been the main underlying limitations. But we can clearly see that, in reality, our energy resources are limitless, and with plasma converters virtually everything that we want to reuse can be recovered. We need only make the right decisions about how to utilize our resources. There are more than enough for everyone.

    “What we are seeing here is the first glimpse of a post-scarcity world, long the province of science fiction. This is a world where the basic comforts of life and the provision of unlimited energy are available to everyone on the planet. Virtually all the substances utilized by the inhabitants of the world’s most advanced societies to provide their creature comforts are plentiful enough to extend those comforts to humanity at large. While certain materials are inarguably in short supply, one would be hard-pressed to think of a single one that could be considered essential to a comfortable lifestyle. Unlimited energy and plasma recycling won’t exactly land us in a Star Trek future, but in many respects the post-scarcity era is within our grasp.”

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  35. I have to agree, that is stirring stuff! And I’m with Tom Blees in that I just don’t see any other way to turn world population growth around other than meet everyone’s needs for physical, economic, and social comforts: AKA the “Demographic Transition”. In the third world where the poor rely on children as economic security for old age, and sadly many of those children do not live through childhood, one has to have as many kids as you can to ensure someone is there to look after you.

    If Tom’s world comes to pass, we may just create a sustainable world without unsustainable population growth.

    The *shape* of that world will be interesting though, as Denmark is currently rolling out EV’s that can store all that wind that currently blows when there is no demand.

    We’ll see how that affects the grid in the future.

    Also: Not everything has to be supplied by plasma converters, as that seems an expensive technology for managing waste right now. Sometimes there are just as effective but low-tech ways to recycle rubbish, as the Earthship going mainstream demonstrates.
    http://www.lowcarbon.co.uk/files/demo.html

    Either way the key is abundant energy, but in a world of ever changing technologies and societal attitudes, I’m agnostic as to the shape of that energy… but am definitely speaking more about nuclear as *one* option than I used to, thanks to this blog. And generally, people are amazed that old nuclear waste could run the world for 500 years!

    Like

  36. Tom Blees

    “unless we’re prepared to kill a whole lot of people, we have to try to accommodate up to 10 billion before we turn the corner”

    I accept that there is no politically correct way of discussing a solution to the twin global problems of peak fossil fuels and climate change without acceptance of “demographic transition” theory. In other words, the hypothesis that increasing wealth has a causal negative correlation with fertility rate. However, I find Dr Virginia Abernethy’s alternative hypothesis to be much more evidence based and compelling. Under her scenario, one would expect that increasing wealth would initially increase fertility rate. It would subsequently drop (as it has in the case of non immigrant (indigenous) Europeans) when the population has become addicted to materialism and has to choose between more children or a bigger house, new car or foreign holiday etc (when it perceives itself as becoming poorer). I doubt that there is time or sufficient financial resource to get the whole global population addicted to “stuff”.

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  37. What sort of responses do you get, EN?
    It depends on who I am talking to.

    Global warming sceptics tend to be fans of nuclear, because they perceive wind turbines and solar as “part of that greenie craze that wants to tax us into oblivion and set up a WORLD COMMUNIST GOVERNMENT!”

    (Every time they say this I nearly get sidetracked into another favourite topic, which is that I personally would love to see a World *Democracy*… see the preview here and turn it up LOUD!
    http://worldvotenow.com/)

    A hard corps permaculture greenie softened her tone when I explained who Barry was, and that he recommended it as the best way to lower CO2 and deal with the long-lived nuclear waste in one hit.

    Oh, and my parents were very excited by the information and wanted to know when they were going to start building Gen4, they were on side straight away.

    Nearly everyone I meet is amazed when I share Barry’s line that existing nuclear waste could run the world for 500 years!

    Gosh, there’s some old peak oil doomers I’d love to rub their noses in that statistic… but they’d just answer that we’ll run out of oil before we can build all the reactors, so we’re all DOOMED anyway! (A line which seems so credible to the young because of a global deficit in peak oil discussion in official circles, which leaves young people prone to conspiracy theory and apocalyptic thinking. This has lead to the suicide of at least one young man that I know of).

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  38. @ Douglas Wise re: Demographic Transition.

    From my blog…

    Links to various quotes below at:
    http://eclipsenow.wordpress.com/solutions/reduce-population/

    *********

    3. Education and opportunity for women: Kerala, India
    Kerala district India once had a very high population growth rate in a poverty stricken area. Things have now turned around so much that Bill McKibben states on Wikipedia:

    Kerala is a bizarre anomaly among developing nations, a place that offers real hope for the future of the Third World. Consider: This small state in India, though not much larger than Maryland, has a population as big as California’s and a per capita annual income of less than $300. But its infant mortality rate is low, its literacy rate among the highest on Earth, and its birthrate below America’s and falling faster. Kerala’s citizens live nearly as long as Americans or Europeans. Though mostly a land of paddy-covered plains, statistically Kerala stands out as the Mount Everest of social development; there’s truly no place like it.[11]

    McKibben states it even more strongly on Utne Reader:

    It is, in other words, weird–like one of those places where the starship Enterprise might land that superficially resembles Earth but is slightly off. It undercuts maxims about the world we consider almost intuitive: Rich people are healthier, rich people live longer, rich people have more opportunity for education, rich people have fewer children. We know all these things to be true–and yet here is a countercase, a demographic Himalaya suddenly rising on our mental atlas. It’s as if someone demonstrated in a lab that flame didn’t necessarily need oxygen, or that water could freeze at 60 degrees. It demands a new chemistry to explain it, a whole new science.

    What could possibly be behind this exception to the rule? Once all the variables are removed, one of the main characteristics in nations that have beaten population growth is the empowerment and education of women. As Wikipedia says “Kerala’s gender relations are among the most equitable in India and the Majority World”.[73] and “Kerala’s literacy rate (91%)[75] and life expectancy (73 years)[75] are now the highest in India.”

    The United Nations Population Fund puts it this way:

    Every three years of additional education correlates with up to one less child per woman.

    But why? Sharon Astyk writes:

    The first factor, education, works in several ways. Literacy for women benefits families in a number of ways. It increases her health (a literate woman can read material about health and hygiene practices), it increases her family’s security (if her husband dies, she can get a better job), it increases her desire to see her children receive education and it increases her political power – she can read and understand national issues. Mandatory education for all children serves to remove children from the labour pool, and makes children not producers, but consumers, and thus parents are forced to view their children in that light.

    and…

    Women have high literacy rates and political power. Women are comparatively well protected from rape, and can choose their husbands. A 1994 study by Yale Economist Paul Schultz found that female literacy was perhaps the most defining factor in TFR in poor nations. In India, Kerala, with a 100% female literacy rate has a 1.7 TFR, compared to a 4.1 TFR in regions with a 30% literacy rate

    Or, as Robert Engelman said (Vice President at the Worldwatch Institute), in his new book More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want….

    “By making their own decisions based on what’s best for themselves and their children, women ultimately bring about a global good that governments could never deliver through regulation or control: a population in balance with nature’s resources.”

    Like

  39. eclipsenow:

    I read your link and found little to take issue with. Kerala does, indeed, provide a very encouraging example of what might become more generally possible. However, you admit that it is exceptional. Have you looked for counter examples? Have you read anythibng written by Virginia Abernethy (easy access by googling her)? I would be interested in your thoughts on her views. I find her arguments quite compelling. They certainly don’t suggest that population will not stabilise but I think they intimate that fertility rates will fall more slowly than some optimists anticipate.

    Economic and political management of ageing populations would also seem to create challenges that have, so far, not been satisfactorily addressed. However, the best hope seems to me to move to nuclear driven, high ERoEI energy generation which is the only way to sustain the economic growth that will be necessary to cope with food and educational demands and senescing populations.

    Like

  40. We are probably debating angels that dance on a pinhead then… as I don’t really want to debate exactly how fast population will eventually decline as long as the growth stalls, the direction changes, and then we reach some kind of Malthusian-catastrophe free sustainable future of sorts. As long as the Demographic Transition principle is clear! I was on a nutty blog recently going on about Bill Gate’s pro-nuclear TED talk where they interpreted his comments to the effect that “Vaccines that lower the population” to be about affecting 3rd world fertility! This mad blogger obviously had no idea about the Demographic Transition phenomenon.

    Anyway, my friend wrote this shortish post on how ageing populations don’t have to spell economic catastrophe:

    http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/2010/02/random-thoughts-on-population-decline.html

    But this article is from SPA themselves….
    ***snip***

    In fact, no fewer than 11 OECD nations achieved faster per-capita economic growth than Australia from 1997-2007, despite slower population growth or even in some cases no population growth or a slight decline.

    Clearly enough, experience shows us that rapid population growth is no guarantee of economic prosperity, and conversely a stable population does not doom a country to economic failure.

    The real puzzle here is why the Intergenerational Report discusses only the two worst performing countries among OECD nations on this issue, rather than looking at some of the success stories. Norway looks like an interesting case – thriving economy, despite an ageing population and much lower population growth than Australia. Or how about Slovakia, with a stable and ageing population and a booming economy?

    The Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Finland … with so many intriguing examples of countries with stable or low-growth populations that somehow continue to enjoy vibrant economies, it’s a pity the report didn’t take a more lateral approach.

    As for the significant environmental, planning and social challenges of population growth, the report acknowledges them but plays them down in a single line of optimism: “The risks in these areas are manageable provided governments take early action to plan for future needs.” Sure, but that’s a pretty big proviso. It’s a bit like saying I can win a marathon, provided I run really fast: technically true, but it really begs the question of how.

    Lindsay Tanner similarly suggests that we focus on better planning and less profligacy, rather than worrying about population. One can hardly argue against better planning and lower ecological footprints; they are desperately needed. What is beyond me is how he can be so sanguine about our ability to achieve those ambitious goals, in the face of all evidence that we’re nowhere close to the trajectories required even to reduce the ecological footprint of the present population.

    The truth is we are struggling just to catch up with the huge backlog of infrastructure, social and environmental investments for our 22 million people, let alone the 36 million that would present if we continued current migration trends.

    A better approach, again, is that provided by the National Population Council in 1991. It said that “Solutions should not be assumed for population-related problems through other policies, unless the institutional and other mechanisms required to effectively implement those solutions are in place”.

    The assumption that the impacts of population growth will be defrayed by technological and planning improvements is the opposite of a precautionary approach. It is fine to hope for the best possible outcome, but reckless to pursue policies that will increase our population on the expectation that the best possible outcome will occur. And even more reckless in the face of the facts are that Australia’s per-capita greenhouse pollution continues to increase year on year, our cities continue to push beyond urban growth boundaries, and few of the policies or practices that would signal a transition to a genuinely sustainable lifestyle are in place.

    In the end we as a nation have options about our future population. The Intergenerational Report and the government treat us as if we have none, confronting us with a false choice between rapid population growth or economic calamity. The truth is that we can care for an ageing population, enjoy economic prosperity and work towards ecological sustainability without rapid population growth. How? Just ask the Norwegians. Or the Slovaks. Or the Dutch. Or …

    http://population.org.au/index.php/population/aging/443-economic-growth-doesnt-depend-on-more-people

    Like

  41. Sorry, my bit about Bill Gates wasn’t clear. The blogger was a looney going on about eugenics conspiracies, and that Bill Gates was openly stating he was out to slowly poison the 3rd world to lower population through his “vaccines”.

    The internet is a funny place.

    Like

  42. Geoff writes: Housing? Tougher. We better not use timber. But I don’t know what we can use.

    Geoff, I’m surprised since you live in Australia that you would pose this question, since so many homes there are built of bricks, aka dirt. Glass? No shortages. Gypsum/sheetrock? Pretty common stuff, no shortages there. Aluminum window frames? Hey, if you’ve got abundant electricity aluminum is plentiful. I would reiterate what I wrote in my book quote above: The necessary components of an elevated lifestyle are not going to be a problem as long as we recycle using plasma converters. I’m happy to see that they’re finally starting to be built.

    Like

  43. An excellent perspective in this article. I am all for the star-trek style post scarcity world that Tom Blees advocates, that the critical parameter in such a world would be the environment. Particularly, there are certain areas in the world that are treasure troves of biodiversity : they are mostly scattered around the equator in rain forests, and in the shallow waters and coral reefs of oceans. The protectio n of these habitats should be the primal cause for the environmental movement. Its primality should not be taken over by the current debate about global warming, sustainability etc. The technologies that Tom advocates are a brilliant solution amongst those that are offered towards sustainable future for human civilization. But they, by themselves, are not an environmental panacea.

    The critical issue in the preservation of biodiversity is the fresh water cycle, that is extremely sensitive to human pressures and climate change. Technically, there is no shortage of fresh water on this planet, because nothing escapes out of this planet. But there are critical limits on the life-cycle of fresh water. Our industries (and more importantly, agriculture) demand a lot more fresh water than can be naturally replenished within its time constraints. We have to focus on this problem, and try to do damage control : especially on areas sensitive to biodiversity. The issue of mass-tourism to such environmentally sensitive areas is just the tip of the iceberg. Even if we people don’t physically go to these places, the impact of our industrial lifestyles will percolate there. This impact should be curbed, and these habitats protected.

    What does make a fundamental difference to this issue is urban planning. Studies after studies have proved the fact that urbanization is the most effective means for population control, not per-capita growth as some posters here have argued before. When people migrate to cities, they have less kids. This trend has been observed not only in the recent past, but also in ancient civilizations. So urban-planning happens to be the quintessential environmental issue of our time. And it is high time that our civilization graduated to the next phase of urban planning – through the use of virtual reality and satellite imagery. Meticulous planning on this scale will ensure that the environmental impacts of our lifestyle don’t percolate to sensitive areas. Right now, urban planning is almost non-existent… especially in areas where it matters the most : in rapidly developing third world countries like India and Brazil. Most of the urban expansion is happening to undisciplined growth in property development & real estate business. These business interests have penetrated the local politics, with politicians attracting capital inflows towards the regions already occupied by real-estate developers. This political corruption goes on at a monumental scale, and is scarcely studied in detail. As a result, sensitive ecosystems and rain-forests are being destroyed (due to urban expansion and also mining) and wild life is under severe threat.

    Like

  44. eclipse: I expect cuba’s stats are close to kerala’s–certainly in literacy rate and life expectancy.

    I suspect women’s rights are pretty good there too relative to the kinds of political participation that society emphasizes.

    I realize they are not free to be forced to vote for neoliberals as we are in the U.S.

    Like

  45. @ Kiran,
    I agree with your concerns about biodiversity, well said. Freshwater can be partially solved by the Seawater Greenhouse which will also green the Sahara, grow food and fibre, and even some biofuel for such applications where it may prove necessary. (But transport should quickly be electrified where possible).
    “What does make a fundamental difference to this issue is urban planning. Studies after studies have proved the fact that urbanization is the most effective means for population control, not per-capita growth as some posters here have argued before.”
    Mate, that’s a bit post-hoc-ergo-propter hoc. Which came first, the per-capita growth or Urbanism? Kerala experienced a demographic transition without so much urbanism, largely just a bit of energy and economic security in their more traditional village lifestyles. So

    “So urban-planning happens to be the quintessential environmental issue of our time.”
    I *totally* agree!
    Have you watched “Built to last” yet?

    The *real* factor, again and again, is educating women. That is the most essential tipping point for all these good factors that reduce population growth and bring on the demographic transition.
    http://www.energybulletin.net/32584.html
    “The first factor, education, works in several ways. Literacy for women benefits families in a number of ways. It increases her health (a literate woman can read material about health and hygiene practices), it increases her family’s security (if her husband dies, she can get a better job), it increases her desire to see her children receive education and it increases her political power – she can read and understand national issues. Mandatory education for all children serves to remove children from the labour pool, and makes children not producers, but consumers, and thus parents are forced to view their children in that light.”
    and…
    “Women have high literacy rates and political power. Women are comparatively well protected from rape, and can choose their husbands. A 1994 study by Yale Economist Paul Schultz found that female literacy was perhaps the most defining factor in TFR in poor nations. In India, Kerala, with a 100% female literacy rate has a 1.7 TFR, compared to a 4.1 TFR in regions with a 30% literacy rate”

    Like

  46. @eclipse..

    You are correct about female literacy and empowerment. But such things cannot be achieved within a generation. South India is generally more liberal and empowering for women than the North. And this is the reason for its low fertility rates and high literacy. I am from South India myself (from Andhra Pradesh, which incidentally has the lowest fertility rate in India) and both my parents are teachers. So I do understand the importance of what you are talking about. There were several times my mother tried in vain to dissuade parents from marrying off their young daughters before they finish school. If this is the situation in Andhra Pradesh, it is pretty easy to imagine how things are in remote regions at the north of India. Cultural prejudices stay for a long time in the mindsets of people. Pch..

    Urbanization is a far stronger force to bring about social change. People from regions of low literacy / high fertility rates like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are migrating en masse to big cities like Mumbai. It has been observed, even amongst these under-educated communities in cities, that the fertility rates are low. So urbanization holds a key potential in curtailing population growth.

    But this is not planned properly by the govt, and thus there is an explosion of cities into sprawl (for rich) and slums (for poor). This is bad news, especially for India’s extremely sensitive bio-ecosystems. Cheers for the link on new urbanization. It is good that people in the USA are trying to wake up their compatriots to the dangers of sprawl.. finally. But the gravity of the problem is MUCH higher in India, Brazil, Indonesia etc. because of their richness of biodiversity, and the dismal state of people’s awareness on these issues :(

    Like

  47. Hi all,
    do we really have a demonstrated technology to breed fuel or are the following claims true?

    “It is very unfortunate that experimental breeding gains are not given in the IAEA fast reactor data base. In absence of any detailed publication, one can assume that the required detailed and very expensive isotope analysis of the reactor fuel has not been performed or published. The theoretical hopes for fuel breeding are thus not backed up with hard experimental data. Nevertheless, already the theoretical breeding gains of the different FBR’s are revealing. Ten out of the twelve small experimental reactors were operated in a configuration not for breeding. The other two experimental reactors, listed in Table 3, are the Joyo in Japan and the Fermi in the USA. The Joyo reactor was not designed for the production of electric energy. The Fermi reactor operated for a few years and had a partial core meltdown in 1966. This reactor was the first and only effort in the USA to operate a larger scale breeder reactor and was terminated in 1972.”

    http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5929

    I’ve gone to my usual sources to try and disprove this claim…

    http://web.archive.org/web/20071009064447/www.nuc.berkeley.edu/designs/ifr/anlw.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral_fast_reactor#Efficiency_and_fuel_cycle

    … but can’t find where breeder ratios are confirmed by actual industry time, not just theory?

    Like

  48. eclipsenow – The production breeder reactors that were operating were used to make Pu for nuclear weapons, and they were very successful at doing so. For obvious reasons there is not much in the way of information on actual production output or breeding ratios.

    However these numbers are fixed by physics, and it is unlikely that a commercial breeder reactor would peform much below its theoretical potential.

    Like

  49. Adding to what DV82XL said, there are other examples where the laws of physics were sufficiently definite as to not require explicit demonstration. One example is the “Little Boy” design of the Hiroshima uranium bomb. The Manhattan Project designers were so certain of their physics, that they didn’t deem it necessary to test it before it was dropped (highly enriched U was a bugger to come by at that point!). They did test the Pu implosion bomb, the “Fat Man”, because they were keen to verify the precision timing of the radial compression explosives — not because they doubted that the lump of Pu would go hypercritical when compressed.

    Also, I’ll talk more about breeding in a later IFR FaD post.

    Like

  50. However… again I note that it *could* come across as a mentality that will accept projections from nuclear statistics and modelling, but always requires real world, industry experience for renewable energy systems. So the charge could be stated that modelling is OK for nuclear energy, but when it comes to renewables, no modelling allowed?

    Like

  51. eclipsenow – One dose not ‘model’ nuclear reactions, they are (in essence) stoichiometric, like chemical reactions, and can be predicted to a much finer degree of both accuracy and reliability than variables like average wind speed and average solar flux.

    One is a matter of hard number physics, the other an exercise in probability and statistics,

    Like

  52. No one is disputing the physics of renewable energy (W/m2, carnot efficiency, etc.) or the limits to the capacity of chemical energy storage which are defined by the energy stored in electron bonds, eclipsenow. It’s all the same science underpinning. To argue that fissile material cannot be bred from fertile material because it hasn’t been demonstrated (although it has, it’s just that most of the data on higher breeding rates was derived for weapons programmes) is more akin to saying that there is no way to verify that a new wind turbine would generate electricity because its blades are manufactured from a new form of carbon composite fibre.

    Like

  53. Both are nice replies on the science.

    (On a different tangent, the sociology and societal feedbacks to a lower energy world are also ‘models’, and these of course incorporate all that ‘hippie’ stuff I point to such as New Urbanism, ecocities, etc that might make renewables more practical for society, should we choose to go down that path. But this of course is not the kind of ‘modelling’ we were discussing above… yet can also have various projections and make interesting papers! Such as Prof Peter Newman pointing to trends in young people and inner city living, etc.)

    Anyway Barry, I await your post on breeding fuel and hope you can find some real world results… and some good analogies and discussion for us lay-people!

    Lastly, if you get a podcast going, try to get some cool intro music. While I love the information on “Beyond Zero Emissions” with Matthew Wright, the cutesy kids at the beginning drive me round the bend!

    Like

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