Future Nuclear Open Thread

Fukushima Philosophical Discussion Open Thread

It was suggested in a comment — and I agree — that the previous open threads on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident were becoming difficult to read, because they are such a mixture of technical details and philosophical discourse. That is, it’s generally a bad idea to cater to two different audiences in one comment thread. So, I will split them up.

Please keep all dialogue here to general and philosophical discussions on nuclear power, its benefits and limitations, its alternatives, history, media treatment of the FD accident, your views on how the world should work and why people should listen to you, etc., etc. Nothing technical please — leave that for the other FD open thread.

Besides the above guidelines, the other rules of the Open Threads on BNC apply. Read here for details.

To kick this discussion off, here is a recent interview I did (late last week) with Mike Worsman of “Our World Today“. The cover story is entitled:

Japan’s near meltdown – not all bad for future of nuclear

The interview goes on for 10 minutes, and there is a cover story at this link that is also worth reading.

You can also listen to me on ABC National Radio’s “Rear Vision” programme, broadcast today, talking (with along with 3 other folks) on The history of nuclear power.

Okay, let’s hear your views on what it all means…

By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

475 replies on “Fukushima Philosophical Discussion Open Thread”

Ok, John, this is a climate-change science blog so I asked about the science behind climate change.

Pick another example; how do you feel about second-hand tobacco smoke? Whooping cough? leaded gasoline? or any issue to which not everyone is equally susceptible, where avoidance isn’t practical, that the public health approach tries to manage — your choice.

Point is, adding increasing exposure within the “no known effect” limit above zero makes no detectable difference — until it does. Once effects show up they need to be balanced.

Nobody’s found a way for nuclear plants to produce only low-energy low-dose gamma radiation. That’s the source most similar to natural sources and not the main concern; the concerns are about internal emission and bioaccumulation and emitters that don’t exist in nature, like the cesium and iodine isotopes that dominate the news.

Make the distinction.

You’re trying to bring together a large enough group of people to make nuclear succeed to limit climate change, right?

Educating people about relative risk in detail and acknowledging uncertainty is how this can be done.


“Nobody’s found a way for nuclear plants to produce only low-energy low-dose gamma radiation”

Nuclear plants do not produce any prompt radiation such that the public is exposed, except in an accident. Other industrial facilities can produce toxins as well, if they are involved in an incident.

All of your examples are strawmen, because there is no moral requirement in any culture to create a zero risk environment for all. At some point personal responsibly cuts in and the individual must act accordingly.


DV8, you’ve confused “prompt” neutrons with gamma rays in your reply above.

The cobalt-60 source (that famous Taiwan apartment building) is a gamma emitter.

Those aren’t the issue around Fukushima.

While both report in ‘sievert’ terms for cumulative total, these are not the same kind of radiation

In that Taiwan apartment building “The average excess cumulative exposure was approximately 47.8 mSv (range < 1 – 2,363 mSv)."

And you know how that turned out, don't you? You can look up the health effects; click the link.

The estimated _annual_ cumulative excess exposure is the only measure available to us bystanders. We aren't the experts. You're not. I'm not. All we can do is discuss what the public get told and how it affects prospects for managing climate change with the available tools.
(Japan Broadcasting Corporation)
updated at 21:46 UTC, Apr. 11

"Radiation levels exceed permissible limit

The science ministry says the amount of radiation accumulated over about half a month in some areas of Fukushima Prefecture has exceeded the permissible level for a whole year.
Hiroshima University Professor Kiyoshi Shizuma says most of the radiation observed in Fukushima is believed to be radioactive cesium that has fallen to the ground.

Shizuma advises residents to wear masks to avoid inhaling radioactive substances mixed with dust…."

(And to reduce time spent outside; still, that's a 20-day total cumulative exposure; compare it to the annual total for the Taiwan study above).

To work toward a majority to make the political decision in favor of nuclear power to reduce the rate of climate change, you need to be convincing.

You can begin to do that by understanding the science and referring to sources that are credible and making the distinctions correctly between different sources and among different effects.

That is what you want to do — isn't it?


> DV8
> prompt radiation is defined as …

These words do not mean what you think they do.

You paraphrased, omitting the words that complete the definition on the page you linked to. It says:

“… appearing within a second or less after a nuclear explosion. The radiations from these sources are known either as prompt or instantaneous gamma rays.”

See the difference? Read it again.

Exposure around Fukushima is attributed to beta and gamma from cesium and iodine isotopes decaying. It is not “prompt” radiation. Until the plants stop leaking, they can’t set an exposure criterion for those sources — which they need to decide on ending the evacuation. That’s why they’re extending it.

The neutron sources mentioned in the leaked March 26th report are described as likely from fuel fragments scattered by the explosions (likely probably because they don’t know of any other source for that material at this time) Those are from single events, not from the ongoing releases.
That’s all we know, opinions and beliefs aside.


Fixing the Double Whammy model for radiation damage once again. The probability of morbidity at dose rate r is

p[r] = r[1-exp(-r)]/(1+r)

and has values from r = 0.1 to r = 1.0 in steps of tenths of
from which we observe an approximately quadratic increase for small r followed by an approximately linear increase.


@Hank Roberts – the phrase means exactly what I wrote it does. The term also applies to accelerators.

This conversation is over.[ad hom deleted]
The offending word still qualifies as an unnecessary insult.


@John Bennetts ,11April,9.29pm.
You have miss quoted what I said about pumped storage using Eucumbene and Blowering reservoirs, they can store up to 1000GWh using 50% of Blowerings capacity( 20% of Eucumbene). I DID NOT SAY DAILY, as this would imply 40GW capacity.
If tomorrow we suddenly replaced 30GW of existing coal fired power((20GWav) with 60GW wind(20GWav) but retained the present 15GW NG and 8GW hydro(1,5GW av) how much additional pumped storage capacity and how large total storage would be required? From a nation-wide distributed wind model we would expect wind output to range from 18-66% of capacity or 11-40GW, with demand ranging from 20 to 35GW. If only 4GW of hydro is reliable plus 2.2 GW pumped this would imply a need for 3GW additional hydro capacity or pumped hydro capacity. More would be better because less OCGT would be used, and existing pumped hydro would only supply 20GWh total storage. Nation-wide low wind can persist for several days, say allow 100hrs for safety, so would need to store 500GWh if all NG capacity was being used or 2000GWh if no NG was to be used. To use the additional wind power generated in high wind periods (40GW-20GW off-peak demand) would need 20GW pumping capacity,however it would be acceptable to shed a small amount of output above 35GW, so 15GW pumping capacity or 13GW additional pumping capacity. If this was all built at Blowering would be pumping 5000ML/h during off-peak periods to< 1000ML/h during daytime peak periods. In one day could store 160GWh (80,000ML) or about 5% of the storage volume. , In reality several additional pumped storage sites would be used, at least one in Tasmania and one in Snowy. Talbingo has daily fluctuations of 5meters due to the existing Tumut3 pumped hydro(20,000ML/day but a smaller surface area).


This comment is responding to comments posted in 
Moderator has directed me to repost here.

>In response to the person who suggested that solar power is the answer if only the government invested in that technology. I posted the math in an earlier blog – the amount of solar panels needed to supply just the US with energy would cover the earth three times
OK, as my post was deleted, readers will have to guess at it. But for your fortification, with research and development, solar is getting better all the time. What I was suggesting was that nuclear power still isn’t economically viable even after the US government poured billions of dollars into it because they wanted fuel for bombs, that no reactors are built without huge government subsidies, and that the cost of storing nuclear waste is never honestly calculated, nor is it even able to be calculated (could Thomas Jefferson had predicted what it would cost to build Montecello in 2011?). Had the resources instead have been poured into solar enegy research, then solar would have benefitted immensely. Whatever calculations you are referring to are likely taking into account solar technology as it was a few years ago, and not what it would have been today had it had the magnitude of resources that has been poured into nuclear energy. Seems like every few months there’s some new break through in solar that increases the energy density of the panels. Nuclear energy is not going to get any cheaper. Solar (and just about every other energy alternative) is getting less expensive all the time. It doesn’t take an entire government to subsidize research in solar energy, nor even to build a massive solar installation. However, because of the complexities, nuclear energy will always have huge startup construction costs, and uncalculated waste storage costs.

>Indeed, including Chernobyl, less deaths have been attributed to nuclear energy than any other energy technology.
The above statement is false. Commenter is disregarding thousands of cancer deaths related to Chernobyl.
You might like to move the first part of this comment to the Fukushima Technical Open Thread where solar and alternative technologies in general are discussed in detail.(Having said that I have just discovered that the comments are all over the shop – technical in Philosophical and vice versa – so whatever – but keep the discussions in the Open Threads please.)
The questions of radiation/ deaths at Chernobyl/ future deaths etc are being discussed on this thread – so you are right with that. Thank you for your patience while we sorted this out.


“The above statement is false. Commenter is disregarding thousands of cancer deaths related to Chernobyl.

I believe ‘false’ is a too strong word to use here. ‘debatable’ would be more appropriate. See:

“The peak body responsible for investigating Chernobyl is the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). Their 2008 report to the UN General Assembly, the work of 21 leading scientific representatives from 21 nations states that, to 2005, the death toll is 28 fatalities among emergency workers, plus 15 fatal cases of cancer. “


Some of the usual suspects in the so-called “environmentalist” community… Jim Green, Helen Caldicott, etc – are going absolutely nuts about how George Monbiot is absolutely the worst person in the world ever….

I knew this would happen, and I’m sure many of you predicted it as well. Can’t say I’m surprised.

They really, really don’t like having their anti-science ideological belief system challenged or undermined or exposed.


[comment deleted. Deliberate distortion of the facts]
Your attempt to post a link to birth defects to support your claims is not acceptable.These photographs have been dealt with previously on BNC and shown to be a false representation.


@ Gregory Meyerson:

Fin, when you did your comparative mining studies, did you factor in the mining of rare earth metals and other minerals like gallium and indium, in addition to your calculations concerning steel and concrete inputs for renewables?

Hello Gregory. Sorry to take so long to get back to you.

No, I did not. I only used the figures for concrete and steel provided by Per Peterson. Incidentally, I note that the link in my essay to Prof. Peterson’s powerpoint presentation now leads to a page which does not allow non-members to go any further. Does anyone know of another location for that presentation?

If anyone wants to check the figures, Brian Wang at NextBigFuture has a shot of the pertinent slide in an article which contains the info:


The Seligman pumped seawater proposal…/029-ProfessorPeterSeligman.doc
points out there would be less problem with erosion and turbidity compared to the Snowy Mountains. A 7km diameter plastic lined tank 20m deep atop a 90m cliff could store 200 Gwh. That’s 25 GW for 8 hours. The tank might cost $ to build without electrical equipment and transmission.

Other parts of the proposal assume long HVDC lines and geothermal baseload. That aside I wonder if some of the carbon tax revenue could be diverted towards a pilot project close to existing transmission and unfortunately NIMBYs and high coastal real estate prices. I think it is better to spend money on a long lasting energy storage project rather than fritter it away on per-Mwh subsidies such as feed-in tariffs.


Apart from fracking foibles I see that Energy Bulletin will release a report next month on general problems with the ‘gas bridge’

It will include the impact of a major shift to CNG as an oil replacement. I’ve pointed out before that oil is twice as big as gas in tonnage terms in Australia and transport fuel prices are 5-10X per energy content as what power stations want to pay.


On ABC Lateline yesterday climate change minister Greg Combet said flatly that Australia must move to gas fired baseload. Interviewer Tony Jones said that the gas industry itself says the carbon tax must be much higher at $90 to compete with brown coal for which there are centuries of reserves. Then in an item on the Latrobe Valley brown coal execs seemed to acknowledge the game is up without CCS. They don’t seem worried though.

Combet released a Top 50 list of emitters
several of which are apparently LNG train operators who want carbon tax exemption. Solve that problem by carbon taxing LNG exports as well.

Meanwhile the PM flew her entourage to look at a solar boost for a coal fired station, link in sidebar. I roughly calculate in thermal terms the trip could have used half a year’s output. So we have greenwashing from the PM and fossil fuel promotion from the climate change minister.


Barry Brook wrote,
“Fascinating: Online debate: motion – The world be better off without nuclear power. Yes vs No:

It is indeed somewhat interesting. For me, the proliferation and supply arguments do resonate. In an example scenario for the US developed by David MacKay (see, it is noted that supplying 42 kWh/day per person in the US would require 525 nuclear power plants–more than five times the current number. People worry about what to do with the waste, but personally I wonder more about supply. Five times more plants requires five times more mining and five times more refining. And when it comes to uranium contamination from mines, mills, and such, it is at present rather difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.

MacKay suggests harvesting U from the ocean, but I personally find that to be a rather glib “answer”. I also find his brief mention of (my paraphrase), “Oh by the way, these make plutonium, which is unpopular because it’s a proliferation risk” to be equally glib, if not more so.


Mike, should uranium supply for a once-through fuel cycle become an issue then fuel recycling and fast spectrum reactors would surely be adopted. For example the Integral Fast Reactor discussed extensively on this site:

There are also other very good reasons to adopt Generation IV designs in addition to fuel economy.

Then there is Thorium but a little further out on the time horizon.

Of all the objections to nuclear power, I have found assertions about the shortage of fuel to be the least compelling.


@ Mike

quokka provided a good answer about future fuel supply, but more uranium mining will be required in the near to medium term while Generation II and III plants are still being built.

I have to pick on this comment though:

And when it comes to uranium contamination from mines, mills, and such, it is at present rather difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.

How is uranium mining worse than any other type of mining? Or indeed the mining of materials for other electricity generation technologies? It’s an incredibly small amount of fuel for a lot of energy.

Renewable technologies require some 10 to 20 times more mining to produce the same amount of energy as a nuclear power plant. Obviously this is not mining for fuel, but for the great amount of infrastructure needed to harness the energy from the wind, sun etc.

And as for coal and oil…well…do we need to go there?


A tangential thought — Barry, is there a ‘Cassandra file’ anywhere in blogspace? For early warnings unheeded? Here’s one on the lithium-ion batteries used everywhere nowadays:

“August 21, 2007
Japanese experts demand change to make phones and laptops safe
Leo Lewis, Asia Business Correspondent

The fundamental technology behind the present generation of lithium-ion cells – the batteries that power nearly every laptop computer and mobile phone in the world – is inherently dangerous and must be changed to ensure safety, according to experts.

Masataka Wakihara, of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, who advises the Japanese Government on battery safety, told The Times that there must be changes to the way in which batteries are made if they are to be robust enough for everyday use.

His warnings were supported by comments from Kuniaki Tatsumi, head of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology’s battery research group, who said that “companies are less cautious about designing batteries with a focus on safety”. ….

I wonder what kind of batteries are being used in the backup systems for power plants these days?


> what kind of batteries
Here’s an answer, for the US anyhow:

“Nearly 75% of the nuclear power generating stations in the United States alone rely on AMTEK Solidstate Controls uninterruptible power supplies to provide power protection for their critical plant control systems. Each UPS system is designed and built to order….
… All backup systems are engineered for a 40-year design life.”

“All models are equally compatible with all lead acid type batteries including, lead calcium and antimony, nickel cadmium, or valve regulated for station DC systems.”


This is a follow-up to this comment
moved to this thread at the request of the moderator.

@NR99 and Hank Roberts

I stand by my remark that arsenic poisoning is a consequence to man’s industrial activity, and therefore an industrial accident. There is no difference if this industry is high tech, concentrated and dangerous because of an act of god(such as a power plant in Fukushima) or low tech, diffuse and dangerous as per normal operation(such as thousands of groundwater pump (solar powered maybe ;-) ) in the Gange Delta). Actually, most of the worst pollution on earth belong to the second category.
In both cases, something that “nobody expected” brought dreadful consequences from an human entreprise.
Incidentally, it shatters the myth spread by some militant environmentalists that “small, low tech and decentralized” automatically ensures sustainability and inocuity. Entropy is a bitch : Complexity and “unintended consequences” always lurks in the background when one tries to put several billion humans on a small planet, and all we can do is solve problems as they occur along the way. As Popper says, “Life is Problem Solving” !

Another interesting point that I noticed from that article is that , even with the consequences, nobody is considering giving up irrigation from Himalayan rivers, people are just trying to “make it right”. Why wouldn’t it be possible with nuclear energy ?
Why on one side trust agronomists to find a safe way to use this water without another set of unintended consequences, and on the other side distrust nuclear engineer who could “never find a way to make nuclear power safe enough” ?
Maybe it is an eighth “double standard” for George Monbiot !


quokka wrote,
“Of all the objections to nuclear power, I have found assertions about the shortage of fuel to be the least compelling.”

Well, I wouldn’t say it’s the _shortage_ of fuel that necessarily concerns me, it’s the issue of _how_ we supply fuel. And how we clean up the mess. And who pays for the cleanup, and when. Et cetera. Fuel shortage is one potential issue (MacKay spends a few paragraphs on it), but it’s not the _only_ supply issue.

Tom Keen wrote,
“How is uranium mining worse than any other type of mining? Or indeed the mining of materials for other electricity generation technologies? It’s an incredibly small amount of fuel for a lot of energy.”

I completely agree with your implication that uranium mining is not particularly worse than many other types of mining (with the caveat being that uranium releases as a result of mining and refining, e.g. through leaching from tailings, spills, etc. can be substantially more dangerous than releases of more benign elements, simply because uranium is pretty toxic and in oxic environments can be quite mobile in water).

Mining in general can cause some big problems (cf. acid mine drainage), but any issues with uranium (or other toxics) are in addition to that. And we kind of know how to deal with AMD, at least. Not so much, in the case of U contamination. I think it’s hard to get around the issues surrounding extraction, of anything (coal, hydrocarbons, actinides, metals, phosphorus for biofuels, etc.). That’s what makes this a hard problem, to me.

It is also true, as you say, that you need some pretty crazy stuff at present for renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar power (the now-famous “rare earth elements”, a term which recently entered the public lexicon). And you need a lot of wire, potentially. All of that has to be mined, or recycled. But I do find the key difference to be that REEs are not “fuel” as such and are therefore not consumed to generate energy. So at least the _possibility_ exists that at some point society reaches a “steady state” where the recycled supply of an already-mined substance is adequate. This just doesn’t happen with “fuels”, which are used up eventually so you have to go mine more. It’s a bit of a “tortoise and hare” scenario.

In any case, _even if_ we solve the issues of supply and, yes, disposal of waste, there are still sticky problems to be dealt with. But I have a feeling I’ll get jumped on by a rabid wolfpack if I even start down that path, so I won’t.

But anyway, I think the all-or-nothing nature of the debate is ridiculous. I find it absurd when people say, “We can’t power the world on (wind/solar/nuclear/biofuels/Druidic magic/etc.)! Therefore we should look at (preferred technology) instead!”

The question I personally ask is, “Can we do better?” and the answer is an obvious “Yes”. I certainly wouldn’t be complaining if we got to 40% or 60% “carbon neutral” energy in the global portfolio–that’s progress. If that includes nuclear, fine with me, as long as we’re progressing toward resolving the (very real) issues. If it includes wind and solar, fine with me, with the same caveat, etc. I figure, use technologies that are appropriate to both needs _and_ constraints.


@Hank Roberts
you quote : “In that Taiwan apartment building “The average excess cumulative exposure was approximately 47.8 mSv (range < 1 – 2,363 mSv).""

2.363 Sv for the most irradiated !!! Even when spreaded across 10 years, it is by no means "low dose" ! I am more than surprised that the authors reach a conclusion about low dose toxicity with such data in their sample. Or perhaps I shouldn't be, this is a great way to score higher in quotation rankings…

@Moderator : maybe we should add a requirement to link only to full papers in discussions. My experience is that most of the caveats of papers which support controversial thesis are not mentionned in abstracts. It is certainly the case for health physics but I trust that you have your fair share in climate science too…
I think that would be too demanding of contributors, particularly non-academics. Many papers are not readily available to all outside academia.


@ Mike

I agree with you that we just need to do what it takes to cut the carbon output. We shouldn’t be limiting our options by opposing any technology with the capacity to produce carbon free energy at this point – too risky.

I’ve heard a bit about limited “rare earth elements” needed for renewables, thrown around in conversation, but have never read anything to substantiate the claim that it really will have a significant impact on the viability of future renewables (but I’ve never gone searching either to be honest). Cement and steel are the big ones in renewable technologies though. Mining for iron ore has its fair share of troubles (all sorts of other heavy metals and toxic elements come up with it), and there are no viable options for cement recycling as far as I know (please correct me if I am wrong on this).


How do you spell marine ecological catastrophe?
Since you have spelt it correctly you don’t need an answer. However, we should remind you that BNC is a science blog and not an arena for snide throwaway remarks. If you don’t have anything constructive to add to the discussion, or have any serious, intelligent questions to ask the contributors, I suggest you go elsewhere. Future banalities from you will be deleted, to avoid causing you further embarrassment .


Charles, you misread my comment in the other thread.

I cited the MIT article to support you, pointing out to the other guy that “_natural_” arsenic began causing widespread poisoning after an extensive system of wells and ponds was created, 30 years ago.

Banal guy: “spell marine ecological catastrophe?”

Anthropogenic carbon and ocean pH
K Caldeira – Nature, 2003

Click to access CaldeiraWickett2003.pdf


Tom Keen wrote,
“Cement and steel are the big ones in renewable technologies though.”

If steel and concrete are the limiting factors, then I submit that that’s a great problem to have and indeed, is exactly how we should be designing for the future. We should be using the most abundant elements, not the least abundant. Iron, calcium, carbonate, and aluminosilicates are quite abundant. To me, steel and concrete are energy problems, not resource problems. If the energy source is carbonless (or less carbon, in the case of an averaged portfolio), that’s a good start. The environmental issues are tricky, but there’s no way around that–we’ll just have to find a better way (which most likely involves mining less).

I too am unfamiliar with concrete recycling (haven’t looked into it, other than reading the occasional news story here and there about airport runways and such being broken up and “recycled” in new buildings) but I wonder how much of an issue that really is given the extreme abundance of concrete materials. Sure, quarries are troublesome, but if one is looking for a “lesser evil” they’re probably better than lots of mines.

A graph of crustal abundance of the elements is here:

In my opinion, we should be designing to use things closer to the top of the graph, and minimize the use of things closer to the bottom.


I haven’t seen these mentioned, but it amounts to more unexpected costs exclusive to nuclear incidents. Not sure where they would be factored in (or if covered by insurance?).
Japanese government orders TEPCO to pay $600 million to exclusion zone evacuees.
Japanese researchers recommend collecting blood cells from plant workers.


@Tom Keen, 15 April, 7.10pm
Cement and steel are the big ones in renewable technologies though.
Hydro and to a lesser extent wind uses significant amounts of steel and cement that accounts for most energy inputs but we expect most dams and pipelines/tunnels to have a very long operating lifetimes (>100years) so the actual EROEI is high. Most steel and all concrete for new wind power is also likely to have a very long operating lifetime, and the small amounts of steel and copper and rare earths in the generators should be readily recyclable as those materials in FF or nuclear generators. If 600GW of new wind capacity was added per year, this would only use 6% of present annual steel production, but could replace all FF energy in 25 years.
Rare earths are not particularly rare, but like uranium present in low concentrations in ores requiring considerable processing.


Concrete recycling. Crush the concrete and end up with an aggregate – essentially analoguous to a crushed rock.

There is no way that bthe cement component can be reclaimed for re-use as cement, because the exothermic chemical action has already taken place.

However, there are other ways to make concrete than just via portland cement, the stuff which starts off by heating limestone. See

Alternative cements have been developed with much lower environmental footprints. These are satisfactory as an alternative to or as a supplement to portland cement in many applications. Fly ash, from the production of coal fired electricity, is the most common. High fly ash concretes contain as much as 90% fly ash to 10% cement or lime. An example of its use was the Sydney 2000 kayak course in Sydney, where CSIRO and Pacific Power supported the research and the project.

Other cements rely on the alkali reaction of a liming agent with a pozzolan, such as fly ash or some volcanoes’ lava. Billions of concrete bricks are manufactured each year in India alone using this technology.

Conclusions: By all means, crush and recycle concrete. The future world will use portland cements much more sparingly than Australian or other Western nations currently do. Alternatives with lower embodied energy and requiring less use of resources such as limestone, coal and gas are available for most applications.

Once again, third world countries do it better than Westerners do. Lesson: GOYA – Get Off Your A_se – seek out alternatives and Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. The first R is often more potent than the last. There is little to celebrate in constructing 10 times the building size with 10 percent lower energy use per square metre… it still takes 9 times as much energy.

The largest


The dollar cost is a proxy for combined material inputs. Ted Trainer takes the case of solar thermal meeting 75% (I think) of world energy needs by 2050
He says in the last dot point we’ll need to invest 17% of world GDP every year not the current 0.7%. That means for our descendants to enjoy the clean energy future we’ll need to forgo a massive amount of consumption for a generation in favour of renewable investment. No probs.

For the next decade or so it’s hard to see much change from token renewables and continued coal and gas burning. When the panic sets in after 2020 will we have the serious investment cash to do anything? That’s for both nuclear and renewables.


Neil@”Most steel and all concrete for new wind power is also likely to have a very long operating lifetime, and the small amounts of steel and copper and rare earths in the generators should be readily recyclable as those materials in FF or nuclear generators. If 600GW of new wind capacity was added per year, this would only use 6% of present annual steel production, but could replace all FF energy in 25 years.”

Do you have any research or figures to back this up? Are you assuming decommissioning / recycling for wind is free?

California Wind Rush, resulted in approximately 14,500 abandoned industrial scale wind turbines that have clearly not been recycled:

There is also a page on Master Resource which mentions the Californian abandoned turbines , but I cannot locate the link at them moment.

Where will the backup for 600GW / year of new wind come from??? I know this is a philosophical thread, but that comment is totally unsubstantiated.


@John Bennetts, on 16 April 2011 at 7:21 AM said:

Once again, third world countries do it better than Westerners

A Cement Industry Report

China now dominates world cement statistics consuming 1,851 million tonnes in 2010, almost double 2004 levels, while India, the world’s second-largest consumer registered 212 million tonnes in 2010. The United States, the third-largest consumer, saw demand fall down to 69 million tonnes.

If I multiply the US consumption by 4 to an equivalent population of 1.2 billion I would get 276 million tonnes of consumption. 30% more then India but 85% less then China.

A whole lot better then China but not as good as India.


I agree, Harrywr2. There are two sides to every coin.

China and India, despite showing how low impact techniques can be useful, in fact do use a huge percapita amount of inputs such as cement and steel as they westernise their societies and economies.

This type of mildly compex example points to the absolute futility of just hoping that demand management and efficiency will miraculously bring about reductions in global energy consumption. It never has and never will.

Any proposal for future energy supplies that does not include for growth on a massive scale in China, India, Africa South America and Asia is just optimistic nonsense. These people will not wait in poverty while Westerners continue to enjoy the good times.

Alternative, low energy concrete is available and it may well do its share, but the other 99%+ of the effort must come from elsewhere. Fission will be at the centre of sensible energy policies, just as surely as those abandoned Californian wind generators and solar fields will not miraculously recycle themselves.


@bryan do you have any research or figures to back this up
The Vestas web site has LCA figures for V112/3MW turbine;
They give 116tonnes of steel and 300 tonnes of concrete per MW capacity. The assumption is that 90% of the steel would be recycled.
The turbines and towers built in the mid 1980’s were much smaller(100kW) than modern turbines(2-5MW). Note also that some wind mills and wind pumps built 200years ago also have not been recycled. What I was implying is that most of the steel and concrete is in the foundations and tower, and these should have >100 years useful life even if turbines are replaced every 20-30 years.
where will the backup for 600GW/year of new wind come from?
I was referring to the resources needed to build enough wind power to replace FFs. All replacements of FF are going to need considerable back-up for peak demand. For example the 250GW coal-fired and 100GW nuclear “baseload” in US is backed up by 70GW hydro, 20GW pumped hydro and 400GW natural gas fired. Only CSP with thermal storage would not need a lot of back-up, and would probably reduce the need for some peak demand backup.


@John Newlands 16April 7.49am
Dollar costing is a proxy for material inputs Not really, 3kW of wind capacity has a similar cost to 1kW of nuclear, but uses much more steel and concrete but a lot less highly skilled labor and capital intensive manufacturing.
Ted Trainer made the assumption that Australia or similar sized land masses(eg China, US, Europe + N Africa, India + middle east) would have several days of almost no wind and high cloud cover. A least for Australia it appears that daily wind output across the continent(30sites) ranges from 50% to 200% average and CSP(15 sites) ranges from 50% to 150% of average.
It is true that at single locations or even regions 1500kmx 1500km(20% of continent) daily wind and solar output can occasionally decline to <5%, because this the size of major high and low pressure weather systems.
The implications of this are that considerable short term storage/backup is required for wind and CSP(about 1-2 days average output) and long distance transmission is required connecting WA and SE Australian grids. These are same implications for having most electricity generated from say 25 nuclear power stations located within 100km of the 7 major urban centers.


@Hank Roberts

You said
“You’ve misread the units.
What you quoted: mSv
What you wrote: Sv”

The abstract of the article shows a maximum dose of “2,363 mSv”. The comma is a thousands separator and the point a decimal separator. 2,363 mSv = 2.363 Sv, as I wrote.

Anyway, if your interpretation was right, how could a population with a minimum of 1 mSv and a maximum of 2.363 mSv could have a 47.8 mSv average ?

Out of curiosity, do you have access to the full paper ?


The pessimistic views shown here about the rigidity of future energy demand are not necessarily true. (John Bennetts @ 9:05AM).

What is the response from the educated, knowledgeable and strongly opinioned individuals who contribute on this site to the following question;

Is an infertility-virus the best solution for all global problems?

It is nuclear power neutral. The question was submitted to Yahoo Answers 2 years ago and pretty much died there with a grand total of 4 replies, all negative. They raised the following objections:

1) Viruses are dangerous and can have unexpected, unintended consequences. we might overshoot and go extinct.
2) Keeping people from having children causes psychological and spiritual damages.
3) we can use voluntary means to obtain a stable sustainable population.
4) we don’t have the ‘right’ to interfere with reproduction.
5) An aging population would result in economic collapse.

I don’t find any of these arguments sufficiently compelling given the known and supported damages from overpopulation; specifically habitat/biodiversity destruction, resource depletion and climate change. We’re currently at the Enrico Fermi/University of Chicago stage of organism design, but it’s coming.

There is a more severe view of genetically engineered population (energy demand) reduction; A genetically modified, vaccine resistant version of smallpox is estimated to remove large numbers of humans per relatively simple application.
“Bozzette et al. [35] calculate that there would be >50,000 deaths in a “high-impact airport attack,””
“It is almost certain that illegal stocks are in the possession of hostile states”
“Putting the IL-4 gene into a pox virus was such simple work that a grad student or summer intern could probably do it.”
“We would be let trying to fight a genetically engineered virus with a vaccine that had been invented in 1796.”

I’m not advocating this path, simply pointing it out. There is a population of (irrational) environmentalists which I could conceive of rationalizing such action. The monster won’t go away just because we put a towel over our heads.


@charles monneron, on 15 April 2011 at 5:23 PM

I am not going to argue the definition of “industrial accidents”.

Instead, I hereby modify my previous statement relating to “industrial accidents” to…

“industrial accidents unrelated to human manipulation of agricultural areas that might cause naturally occurring arsenic to seep into wells”.



Anon, on 16 April 2011 at 11:34 PM said:

What is the response from the educated, knowledgeable and strongly opinioned individuals who contribute on this site to the following question;

Is an infertility-virus the best solution for all global problems?

Fertility rates are tied strongly to the educational level of woman.

According to the CIA Factbook
India has a female literacy rate of 47% and a fertility rate of 2.61
Saudi Arabia has a female literacy rate of 70% and a fertility rate of 2.31

If woman have the option to be something else other then a baby making machine many will chose that option voluntarily.


@harrywr2 3:21AM said

“If woman have the option to be something else other then a baby making machine many will chose that option voluntarily.”

I agree that your statement is valid. However I do not grant the premise that sufficient numbers of women will receive the option and exercise it in time. Outbreeding your neighbor has been a successful strategy for cultures and religions for all of recorded history and probably for all unrecorded history as well. Settlements on the West Bank and immigration from the third world are object examples in our current time. At the end of the day, it will be the societies who hold the real estate who are represented in the next generation. The ones who feel justified in these acquisitional actions are more likely to make them. I’m not criticizing this on ethical grounds, it works. But we’ve passed the carrying capacity of the planet; “WWF Living Planet Report has put fowards population sustainability estimates of between 3 bn and 5.2 bn – still well below the present world population level.”

As much as it is possible, I would like to leave a stable planet for my offspring and am quite concerned that any gains, at substantial risk, we make in temporarily raising the planetary human carrying capacity will be paid for in the ultimate crash of a large system too complex for us to manage. Further expansion of infrastructure in the form of either FF or nuclear power generation are such temporary patches for what still looks to be a geometric increase in demand. See Figure 1:

I agree that failure to grant women equal status is foolhardy, wasteful and ethically unsupportable. I just don’t agree that it is a solution.


Anon, on 17 April 2011 at 5:29 AM said:

“I agree that your statement is valid. However I do not grant the premise that sufficient numbers of women will receive the option and exercise it in time”

Go ask General Petraeus what’s on his top 10 things to do today. One of them is keeping schools for girls open.

30 years ago the Saudi’s wanted some tanks, we(The US) extorted universal education for girls out of them as part of the deal. Today there are more Female Saudi University graduates then male. The fertility rate has been dropping life a rock. Still a bit high, but not insanely so.

It’s not the countries that have highly educated populations that are going to suffer from some future food shortage.


You are missing the point Neil. What assurances / bond agreements are in place to ensure that happens ?

Also, a statement by the manufacturer is meaningless if it is not acted upon by a developer.


harrywr2, on 17 April 2011 at 9:27 AM said:

“Go ask General Petraeus what’s on his top 10 things to do today.”

Until the sign of the slope of that population growth curve changes, I see no reason for optimism.
What is your scheme for isolating those highly educated populations from the rest of the starving world? Shoot them as they come over the border?

We’re in a closed, interdependent, resource limited system. Climate change is just one of the signs that we’ve overpopulated to a degree which significantly affects the delicate balance of life on earth. If the phytoplankton stop making oxygen because we’ve balled up the oceans sufficiently this could get bad…


I recommend Mark Lynas’ latest article on his website. He discusses the methods of British greens to cloak their claims in environmental respectability. He makes an interesting comparison with climate change deniers. The methods have become widespread across a range of issues encouraged by a scientifically illiterate and lazy media. How often do we hear “a recent study shows….” from a respectable sounding entity which in reality has been set up by an advocacy group. Ultimately this issue has the potential to be a corruption of democracy due to the influence on public policy decision
making. All sides of politics and debates are doing it. Scientists need to find a voice to put good science before politics as a foundation for good policy decisions.


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