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Open Thread 25

Time for a fresh open thread! (the old one being weighed down by over 1000 comments).

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

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

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.

590 replies on “Open Thread 25”

Peter Davies — A search for
Nuscale sales offices
quickly finds the London office. You could likely arrange a presentation at a University of London venue scheduled for a suitable time during term. If so, you would then know more than I about Nuscale power modules.


Frank asks, “Will any of these small modular reactors be able to burn current “waste” as fuel?

The NuScale SMR is rated to burn MOX fuel, that is, recycled plutonium from used fuel. However, it is a slow-spectrum reactor, so the degree of certain recycling is limited to burning up 239. Efficient use of U238 and its neutron-added progeny requires fast-spectrum reactors. Toshiba’s 4S is a fast spectrum reactor but is not currently in the running for a mass rollout, unlike the NuScale SMR.

A mass rollout of SMRs outside of the current nuclear countries is likely to consist of a slow-spectrum reactors, burning only uranium enriched in U235.


As I see it, there is no simple Yes/No answer to Eclipse Now’s question.

Non-technical guidance can be found at

IMHO, it probably depends on the answers to two questions:
1. Is the reactor pre-assembled in a factory?
2. Can the factory-assembled components be transported to the site? Obviously, large barges are likely to be able to carry larger, heavier loads than either roads or rail, thus favoring coastal and river sites.

If the answer to both questions is Yes, then the fast reactor under consideration would appear to be a SMR. If not, there are a range of smaller contenders, although few will be available in the near future.


I think it is important for us to avoid using the word “waste” at all, because we would be reinforcing the paradigm that the only good thing to do with unwanted stuff is to send it up into the atmosphere. After all, the good thing about fission products is that they can be kept on the ground. One gram of fission products per man per year is nothing compared to ten tonnes of CO2 sent up into the greenhouse. And if someone is silly enough to believe that they can keep ten tonnes of gas buried deep underground forever, one gram should be a cinch.


Frank says, “It will be important to have fast spectrum reactors to use the (used fuel) generated by the SMRs”.

Once a fast reactor has been started, it doesn’t need much fuel topping up at all. However, starting it up takes a lot more fissile fuel than it takes to start up a slow neutron reactor. Inevitably, a major expansion of nuclear power production will start off with slow neutron reactors, using up what little U235-enriched production is initially available. That implies stockpiling used fuel, potentially for eventual reprocessing into fast fuel at some unknown date in the future. That stuff is too valuable to be called “waste”.

Rather than expand enrichment facilities on an uncertain supply of raw uranium, the Chinese plan appears to rely on separation of plutonium from the reliable supply of used fuel from their slow reactor fleet. Their plan is to firstly roll out 200 GW of slow reactors by 2050, then increasingly start up fast reactors on their byproduct plutonium to a total of 1400 GW by 2100.


Eclipse Now — The GE-Hitachi PRISM consists of two modules each rated as 311 MWe. The DoE states that an SMR is 300 MWe or less so the PRISM just misses. However, GE-Hitachi claims that the PRISM is factory constructable so by that criterion, yes.

I must point out that the only potential customer at this time is the British government, considering one, maybe two, to consume excess weapons plutonium. The idea is to quickly denature the plutonium, maybe 6 years, and then run on the result for maybe 60 years.

I see no other current interest in this design as it is rather expensive to operate. Also, NRC stated they don’t know how to license the design, quenching interest.


The DoE is essentially only a bureaucracy, a bunch of chair-polishing onlookers.

If PRISM misses the DoE’s arbitrary definition of an upper limit by 3.75% and is thus barred from consideration, there is something wrong with the DoE and not necessarily the proposal.

If, on the other hand, cost, transport, constructability or operating cost are issues, then so be it. The essential feature, it seems to me, is the factory build, not a hard 300MW upper limit on a figure stamped on a nameplate.

Are the Chinese and the Indians, etc, interested in arbitrary definitions set by an American regulator? If not, then why are the citizens of the other 200+ countries of the world?

The same can be said of inflated safety requirements, glacially slow design and site approval processes and so forth.

It seems to me that more than half of the problems which beset the global nuclear power industry are entirely the result of over-enthusiastic American regulators, the majority of whom are trained in exactly the same universities as the designers, constructors and maintainers of the American NPP fleet, but then I wouldn’t know, would I? I am an Australian and thus a citizen of an even sillier nation, one that has both federal and state legislation prohibiting nuclear power in any form.

Blaming this state of affairs on the Greens or Friends of the Earth or other external campaigners, it seems to me, has been a cop-out that dates back to the mid-1960’s. Fifty years should be more than sufficient to turn this around, but where have the designers, manufacturers, constructors and operators been all that time? I suspect that these good engineers have been either too lazy or too afraid to demand rational analysis and the accountants and politicians followed suit, thus leaving the decision making to noise-makers such as my fellow Australian, Helen Caldicott. That’s working out well, isn’t it?

A comparison might be the wind turbine industry, which seems to continually reach beyond 4MW to 6, 8, now (GE) 10MW, with hopes beyond that within a decade, doubling and redoubling.

But by all means, allow the DoE and its 13,341 federal (2013) 93,094 contract (2008) staff and an annual budget of $US30.6 billion (2012) to erect fictitious barriers between designs of 300MW and 311MW and to argue how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but remember that progress is not thereby being achieved.


singletonengineer — At least the NRC, the world’s foremost regulator, has called for suggestions as to how to license advanced nuclear power plant designs. I agree that they are very slow about this.

In any case the Indians and the Chinese are doing it their own way.


DBB states that the NRC is “the world’s foremost regulator”. If it cannot lift its game, it will soon be “the world’s former regulator”.

“In China, now with 32 operating reactors on the mainland, the country is well into the growth phase of its nuclear power programme. There were eight new grid connections in 2015. Over 20 more reactors are under construction, including the world’s first Westinghouse AP1000 units, and a demonstration high-temperature gas-cooled reactor plant. Many more units are planned, including two largely indigenous designs – the Hualong One and CAP1400. China aims to more than double its nuclear capacity by 2020.”

“India has 21 reactors in operation, and six under construction. This includes two large Russian reactors and a large prototype fast breeder reactor as part of its strategy to develop a fuel cycle which can utilise thorium. Over 20 further units are planned. 18 further units are planned, and proposals for more – including western and Russian designs – are taking shape following the lifting of trade restrictions.”

Plus, of course, those pesky Russians.

In the USA, reactors are closing faster than new ones are being built.

The above quotes are from

How are the Mandarin and Russian language classes working out for the NRC staff who want a future in their fields?

Seriously, I am convinced that the steep decline in USA’s position in the nuclear power game is substantially due to the lack of proactive regulators. The current DoE and NRC, appear to be obstructing progress, rather than facilitating it. The regulators and the industry itself give the appearance of sleepwalking towards their own graves while not accepting responsibility for their own futures.

How many more majors must be sold off to overseas interests before the realization bites? Westinghouse Electric Corp is now majority-owned by Toshiba. Names like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, State Nuclear Power Technical Corporation (SNPTC, China) and China First Heavy Industries are becoming common.

Traditional American corporations are being bought or squeezed out of the nuclear power business. China is reducing the gold-plating of safety, eg by reducing the cost of the containment structure of the locally constructed AP-1000’s.

Meanwhile, the western world appears to have stopped trying to deal with the challenges from the Friends of the Earth and others, whose clear goals are for nuclear power to become history.

Under attack from within by regulators and from without by foreigners and do-gooders, while concurrently gaining less actual experience than some competitors, the Western nuclear industry is being eaten alive.

It seems to me that the world’s foremost regulator is doing a pretty good job of regulating the industry and itself out of existence. The role may well pass to the Chinese.

Then what?


I certainly respect anyone who undertakes to learn Chinese. Surely the written language would not be an easy thing to learn.

Interestingly, the two main spoken Chinese languages, Mandarin and Cantonese, both use the same written language.


It may be that the Three Mile Island incident was blamed on the NRC, so that they have been dotting their I’s and crossing their T’s ever since. One consequence is that in the US, nuclear industry is benefiting by competing only with bug-free designs ever since.

In a recent change of direction, NRC have been focusing explicitly on SMR designs.


Given that China’s energy and environmental policy is such a big swinger for climate change, Chinese is indeed a good language to learn. In fact, one of our college’s Energy Future’s Lab PhD projects mentioned recently involves working with a Chinese company and is only open to those who speak Mandarin Chinese or will commit to learning it.

I have been learning Mandarin for a year and it is much harder than French or German. The spoken form is OK though it uses four tones, and maps directly to the phonetic language called pinyin. However, the traditional and simplified Chinese characters give little clue as to the pronunciation. They may contain clues to the meaning as they often contain radicals or symbols representing heart, mouth/speech, sun, water, wood, metal, disease etc. There are simplifying things too – the same word is used for all forms of the verb and often for the associated noun and adjective too.

Regrettably, those of us over 60 do not learn vocabulary as fast as the young things in their 20s, so I have to put in considerably more effort to keep up with them.

If you are young and working internationally in energy then learning Mandarin Chinese should be a good investment.


Look what the Nuclear Rejection Commission did to nuclear power: How the NRC stopped the US nuclear power Industry

Note the rapidly accelerating deployment rates before the NRC (note that the halt began before the NRC started because the industry and utilities knew full well what was coming).

Consider: where would the world be now if the anti-nukes and NRC had not effectively blocked nuclear power development?

Here’s some clues to help answer that question:


At least Fiends of the Earth, misspelling intentional, is up front on their website about their opposition to nuclear.


Lovering etc wrote this classic paper.

“Our new findings suggest that there is no inherent cost escalation trend associated with nuclear technology.”

But then this critique came out, and anti’s are pushing it hard.

Hitting me with it over at The Conversation.

Anyone know if Lovering has replied to this, or if there are other, better papers on the real costs?


Lovering, Nordhaus and Yip submitted an excellent response. It’s very informative. I don’t know whether it’s been published yet. The title is: “Apples and Oranges: Comparing Nuclear Construction Costs Across Nations, Time Periods, and Technologies


Eclipse Now — Your link to the comment only brings forth the article and that without any link to comments. But I doubt it matters much.

More central is to look at the South Korean experience and note that they are repeating the same on time and in budget behavior for the 4 reactor build in the UAE.

Also Rosatom makes quite a bit of money building and often operating their VVER designs, now up to 1400 MWe I think. A recent comment, somewhere, was from Rosatom stating that domestic units returned their costs 3 fold over the reactor life and 2 fold for foreign units.


Thanks guys. I found the following quote from the Council of Foreign Relations interesting.

Nuclear power’s cost advantage is even clearer when compared with renewable forms of energy such as wind, solar, and tidal power. According to one researcher at the Korea Energy Economics Institute, the wholesale cost of power from alternative sources in South Korea is six times higher than that of nuclear power.43 The green growth strategy sets out a goal of increasing the share of renewables to 11 percent of total primary energy supply by 2030 (though it is unclear how much of that share is intended for the electricity sector versus other sectors, such as transportation).44 South Korea has a long way to go on this score. Renewable energy sources currently make up a meager 1.5 percent of the country’s electricity generation, with the bulk of that supply coming from biofuels and renewable waste.45 Although solar and wind power are growing in South Korea, they still account for only a tiny share of renewable energy.46 Moreover, as is widely noted, “their intermittent and variable supply make them poorly suited for large-scale use in the absence of an affordable way to store electricity.47 In addition, as the IEA has noted, South Korea’s climate and geography present a steeper challenge for the development of renewable energy compared with other IEA countries. 48*Nuclear power is the only major energy source that South Korea can rely on for wide-scale, zero-carbon electricity in the near term as more costly renewable energy sources struggle to gain a foothold.* Han Seung-soo, former prime minister of South Korea and then chairman of the Seoul-based Global Green Growth Institute, acknowledged this in 2011 when he said, *”If we pursue clean energy, we need to accept nuclear power as a reality until we have better options readily available.”*49


Back to colonizing Mars: would the plasma burner Tom Blees discusses in Prescription for the Planet convert regolith or the waste from a TBM into concrete lining for the TBM’s new tunnels? Would Martian colonists really want to build domes, or just have a nuclear powered underground base that ran on thorium and constantly grew by a series of TBM’s munching away underground and converting the waste into more building structures for future tunnels?


I hope everyone here will help stamp out “carbon tax”. Somehow the chattering classes, including journalists and economists, fail to understand the difference between carbon dioxide and carbon. I suppose they didn’t take chemistry in high school, failing to understand the difference between carbon and carbon dioxide.

Carbon is a solid, as graphite used as pencil leads and for carbon fiber to make Boeing Dreamliners, etc. Carbon also exists as diamond, industrially highly important for saws.

Carbon dioxide is a gas. There is too much in the atmosphere so a fee on excess carbon dioxide emissions seems wise.

It is an Excess Carbon Dioxide Emissions Tax that is being discussed. Kindly help correct the chatterers whenever you can.


Exactly DBB, but ‘No carbon tax’ or ‘axe the tax’ were Tony Abbott’s 3 word summaries, so we’re stuck with them in the Aussie vernacular. We heard them that many times. Everyone understands the tax to be about CO2. There were arguments about where to tax it, whether taxing the corporations that extracted the solid or gaseous or liquid carbon out of the ground, or at the tailpipe or smokestack, or on every single product that involves carbon dioxide. So it just became shorter to say ‘carbon tax’. Aussies are lazy. It’s a thing. But I’d be prepared to bypass any discussion on any ‘tax’ if other economic models were being considered. Like the French solution, and just plain nationalising energy and rolling out the nukes. The user pays. Eventually.


Eclipse Now — Not everyone understands the difference between carbon and carbon dioxide. It is wise to always use the correct term and not follow the lead offered by the lazy and the ignorati.


DBB says, that a carbon tax should be rephrased as “a fee on excess carbon dioxide emissions”, but I would take a much harder line.

We are surrounded by immense forces intent on cheating any rescue of the greenhouse that undermines their consumption of hydrocarbons. By using the word “excess”, we lay ourselves open to arguments that there is a tolerable level of carbon emissions. We, and the advisors to government, know that that is false. After all, the reason that we now have a dangerous excess in the greenhouse is precisely because the biosphere has been unable to handle all emissions to date. I would replace the word “excess” with the word “any”. Any at all!

Sure, damage to the greenhouse is measured in equivalent CO2. However the enemy is fossil carbon, in any chemical form that might end up as gas in the greenhouse. Fossil carbon overwhelmingly comprises coal, oil and gas. Gas – methane – would be excluded from condemnation, if we let them claim it is not an oxide. Yet its leakages from pipelines threaten the greenhouse more than its emissions when burnt.

Measuring the flow of carbon through the industrial economy is difficult particularly because anyone handling the stuff is motivated to conceal its volume, especially if it is to be taxed. However it can be readily measured at the point it is extracted from the ground: the mine gate, the wellhead. At ports of entry, the implied fossil carbon content of imported goods can be estimated and taxed, a procedure already conceded by the World Trade Organisation. Exporters could be rebated the carbon tax content of their goods leaving the country. In this case, every bean counter whose job is to minimise tax liability would be motivated to maximise the measure of fossil carbon released by their industry.

Releasing fossil carbon is a communal “bad”, an offence against the commons. Any release at all should invoke a tax in proportion to the carbon released. A Carbon Tax.


Hey Roger,
Preach it bro! Ewww, yeah, maybe not the best phrase, but I’m with you: whatever we call the tax, and if that’s the best way to compensate towards the solutions, the simpler the measurement and collection system, the better!


The phrase Fossil Carbon is acceptable except that it doesn’t include a great deal of the methane which is mined as natural gas. Further, recent analysis shows that so-called biofuels in the form of wood are only around 70% carbon dioxide emissions neutral.

I’m certainly willing to remove the word “excess”, despite the difficulty this causes for some biofuels. But the physics shows that it is the carbon dioxide emissions which matter. Whatever the source.

Call it a CO2 fee.


DBB, I read you as saying that some methane extracted from the ground is not of fossil origin. That could be tested by finding whether it had significant carbon-14 content.

Whereas organic matter in the pre-industrial environment contained a certain proportion of carbon-14 (half life 5700 years, continuously created in the upper atmosphere), hydrocarbons buried for any geological length of time would have no carbon-14 left in it. Such stuff is continuously decaying to methane, but no matter how recently it has decayed, the methane is still composed of fossil carbon. As far as I can see, any “mined methane” would have to be composed of fossil carbon and consequently should be taxed as such.

Although I say we are surrounded by the rationalisations of those who wish to burn hydrocarbons, I think this is particularly true of gas, that is, methane. Even leftist environmentalists want us to believe that methane is innocent, because they need it to keep the power going when the wind stops blowing. The Australian Greens Party promises voters that it will stamp out coal usage, not “coal and gas”, so it is quite clear what would replace coal. Anyone who wants to protect the greenhouse has no one to vote for.


FYI copied from RealClimate

12 Dan Greisch says:
2 Sep 2016 at 9:18 AM
My cousin, Edward Greisch, who wrote several editorials and commented on the articles in Real Climate has passed away after a short illness.

Ed devoted much of his life to the cause of Climate change reversal. He was a highly educated retired scientist.

I have never heard this fact that Ed often wrote about, something he had calculated, and I hope doesn’t die with him. I hope I get this right.

Wind and Solar energy can only go so far, because of the irregularities in wind speed and the sun doesn’t shine at night, large batteries would be required to have a constant source of power. The problem is, there is not enough material on the planet to build these batteries. The answer is nuclear power and the only problem with that is the public’s fear of it. It is my hope that someone will carry this idea forward.


All sufficiently old sources of carbon have essentially no C14 left. The way one determines biological origin of the carbon is by the C12/C13 ratio as the lighter form is preferred during fixation by photosynthesis.

Associated natural gas is that produced when pumping crude petroleum. That is surely of biological origin, hence fossil fuel. Natural gas from other wells is likely to be from geochemical processes, hence not fossil fuel. However, it is an equally bad source of excess CO2 in the atmosphere and so should equally be taxed.


I believe the term, “fossil fuel” is meant to imply that it has come out of a hole, (L., fossa) and comes to us as the to-be-deplored antithesis of “renewable energy”.

Wind-believers do not want concerned citizens using the more accurate term, “non-carbon energy” because that would include uranium and exclude wind-backed-by-gas.

In conversations about AGW, if we substitute the more logical terms “non-carbon” and “fossil carbon”, we refocus the conversation, both towards the problem and to its solution.


Oxford English Dictionary:

fossil — The remains or impression of a prehistoric organism preserved in petrified form or as a mold or cast in rock.


Oxford English Dictionary:

fossil fuel — A natural fuels such as coal or gas formed in the geologic past from the remains of living organisms.


DBB, you are quite right. The conventional meaning for “fossil fuel” is that it is hydrocarbon formed from ancient organisms. (eg, EIA)

My concern is for its useage in debate with Green bigots (I referring to the people who would rather our descendants fry in a hell on earth rather convert to nuclear. Do we have a better name for these guys?). They believe that the Earth is finite and limited, a premise not to be questioned. With that as an undoubted tenet of faith, it follows logically that digging and drilling would eventually extract all the planet’s contents and consume all the minerals therein. It follows (intuitively) that we must stop digging forthwith and revert instead to “renewable energy” as the only alternative. In that useage, the two terms are antitheses as surely as “sacrosanct” and “desecrated”. Here is an example (ref), saying “Uranium is a fossil fuel without the carbon dioxide emissions, but the important question is how long it will last … supplies may be shorter than we think.Also.

To me the most shocking example of such religious distortion was when the UN Sec-Gen., Ban Kee Moon, was persuaded to say that because fossil fuels are wrecking the greenhouse, we must therefore convert to renewable energy (his work is now labelled better as “sustainable”). RE! Yet we have discussed how RE almost inevitably is little more than a cover for gas turbines, and even Germany’s renewable energy revolution has failed to reduce its average CO2 emissions to below 700 g/kWh.

Vigilance only requires us to rephrase a fossil-vs-renewable question in terms of carbon-based versus non-carbon based energy. Problem versus solution.



I’m sorry about your cousin. I don’t doubt that what he said about the material necessary to make enough batteries for wind and solar power to do the job. However, I’m wondering if you have the calculations available so that I could use them to counter arguments in favor of wind and solar power.

Frank R. Eggers Albuquerque, NM U.S.A.

On Sun, Sep 4, 2016 at 10:41 PM, Brave New Climate wrote:

> Thomas commented: “repeat? Copied from realclimate Dan Greisch says: 2 Sep > 2016 at 9:18 AM My cousin, Edward Greisch, who wrote several editorials and > commented on the articles in Real Climate has passed away after a short > illness. Ed devoted much of his life to the cause” >


@ freggersjr:

Edward Greisch made a great contribution to this site. He displayed great impatience with lazy thinkers, while simultaneously demonstrating his clarity of understanding of man’s impact on the environment.

He is an irreplaceable treasure.

You asked about the physical limits of materials for batteries and for solar and wind power generally.Perhaps you will choose to start here:

The energy storage discussion thread is here:


The EIA is technically wrong, more than just sloppy, once again. While uranium might be classified as nonrenewable as we have learned here on Brave New Climate it is always available from seawater as more dissolves from matter in runoff. Worse, not all sources of methane, including mined natural gas, is biogenic in origin. Such sources are not fossil fuels. See the abstract for
The Many Origins of Natural Gas
Gordon J. Macdonald
J. Petroleum Geology vol. 5, 1983.

I suppose the methane in biogas is then “unnatural” gas although it is certainly a source increasingly put to beneficial uses, for example to power waste water facilities. This is a use of a recently obtained methane of biogenic origin which does not result in excess carbon dioxide emissions as the carbon came from the atmosphere via recent photosynthesis.

So the issue is not carbon based heating versus non carbon. It is simply a question of excess carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. All sources of natural gas, biogenic or abiogenic, provide excess carbon dioxide emissions. In this, biogas isn’t natural. Coal gas is. While not a methane source burning wood is considered about 30% excess carbon dioxide emissions producing under the best of circumstances and 100% under the worst.

The classification into bad and good is not as simple as the usual slogans and sound bites make it appear.


Hi Dan

I am startled by the news that Edward has died. He was feisty to the end, captors on our toes. I raise my glass!


@DBB. I hope that future global agreements will use the carbon-14 measurement to make the distinction between carbon that is to stay below the ground surface, and carbon that is already above it. For one thing, it is measurable. Measurement will certainly be needed if and when extraction of carbon (from below the ground surface!) is made illegal, and smuggling it must be policed.

As you point out, the use of the adjective “fossil” would allow for some old carbon to escape a legal definition that uses the word, “fossil”. As Edward might have put it, with a crack in the door, that army of lawyers would be able to drive an LNG tanker through it.

The Paris agreement for “net zero emissions” by 2100 allows the recycling of atmospheric carbon (captured CO2 being hydrogenated into fuel hydrocarbons) through any remaining internal combustion engines, such as aircraft. Policing the traffic in synthetic hydrocarbons would require a measurement such as carbon-14 to ensure that no more old carbon is being smuggled out of the ground and into the greenhouse.


Roger Clifton — Even measuring carbon-14 isn’t good enough as whole forests can be consumed via a simple recency measure. It is necessary but not sufficient.

I still don’t have an enforceable way to state “excess carbon dioxide emissions” other than an exceedingly long description of what is allowed, what is allowed with the payment of a fee of what size, and what is forbidden.

Remember we don’t want to tax, additionally, the 1.1 megatonnes of graphite mined each year, see Wikipedia, or diamond mining. Etc.


@DBB – considering that the trading price of graphite exceeds $1000-$2000 a tonne, I suspect that a carbon tax of $100 per tonne would not greatly affect world trade in graphite. And diamonds? Apply the tax anyway!

However, a carbon tax applied to limestone would amount to a price pressure on extraction, which may be exactly what we need. Users of limestone might protest that the carbon would not reach the atmosphere, but I wouldn’t know how one would police the distinction between building stone and lime kilns.

The new OCO2 satellite allows remote detection of CO2 releases, which would help monitoring other countries’ emissions and burning of forests too.

As you point out, the misuse of forests to provide carbon for synfuel could not be monitored with the C-14 test, because of course the C-14 is there naturally. I am inclined to leave the protection of the forests to the people who are trying to protect habitats, rather than include them in the emissions budget. Even if the entire mass of the biosphere were burnt, it would still be less than the fossil carbon we have already released.

When the cost of synfuel (i.e. capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and hydrogenating it back into synthetic fuel) becomes similar to the modern cost of diesel (~600$/t), the profitability of a black market would begin to fade.


Renewables are Harming the Electricity Grid
Gail Tverberg
2016 Sep 02
OilPrice . com

does well in explaining why at around 10–15% renewables generation the grid begins to become unmanageable with the current cost structure in which renewables are subsidized. Note this is only around half the capacity factor for typical wind installations.


I’d be very careful quoting Gail Tverberg. She’s a bit of a peak oil doomer nutter that completely denies ANY technical fix for climate change and wants us all to dieoff and the remainder to go live in caves. Or maybe, if she’s feeling generous, live at a Middle Ages standard. She censors any kind of eco-modernist optimism that nuclear power might be able to do the job!

Just ask Engineer Poet.


That’s a strong statement from E.N. without any attempt at justification.

Perhaps a few examples?

Did E.N. bother to read Gail Tverberg’s article? It hangs together fairly well from my point of view, although I do accept that some would find Euan Mearns, whose work she quoted, strays into climate denialism occasionally – but not in the referenced article.


EP, tell them about her censorship. Or was it oil drum censorship on her behalf? I can’t remember.

She’s not an engineer, but from finance circles. She’s in love with doomerism. Her brand of doomerism (amongst others) killed a kid I know of. He lost hope on the wrong forum, and committed suicide. , She’s one of my least favourite people on the internet.


OK Singleton,

To make nuclear seem scary, she just assumes a Mad Max style drop out of nationwide electricity and condemns nuclear waste.

I don’t think anyone is even thinking about the issue of loss of availability of electrical generation and its impact on our ability to maintain spent nuclear fuel pools. Everyone assumes that we will continue to have our current system forever. We know that this cannot be true, but I doubt that anyone is willing to face this issue and plan for it.

She just assumes nuclear power is going to decrease.

The question going forward is whether we can continue to ramp up electrical production by 2% or more a year, if the contribution from nuclear is declining. It may be that if nuclear production needs to be scaled back, we will need to do a major downshift in our expectations regarding future electricity consumption. This could be a real “downer,” because one of our current approaches to reducing petroleum use is to substitute electricity use for diesel or gasoline. If both electricity and petroleum consumption are constrained, then there are fewer options for substitution, and we may need to plan for a real reduction in standard of living.

She just hates it, because it doesn’t fit with her depletionist, doomer paradigms. It offers abundant energy for all, and there’s nothing Gail hates more!


She’s not an engineer, but from finance circles. She’s in love with doomerism.

She’s an actuary.  She’s good with numbers, probabilities and stuff.  Why she hasn’t applied that expertise to the actual risks and rewards of nuclear, I can only put down to deeper proclivities.

She just hates it, because it doesn’t fit with her depletionist, doomer paradigms.

Actually, she appears to think that the collision with the debtberg and the collapse of the world’s fiat currencies will get us first.  She didn’t recognize that Russia’s nukes ran through the collapse of the ruble even while college professors tended truck gardens to avoid starvation.

Can you imagine a bunch of nuclear workers diverting some of the cooling water from their plant to heat a greenhouse that grows fresh vegetables in the dead of winter at 45 degrees north?  Gail can’t.  That’s one limitation I don’t have.


I don’t know if anyone did, but that is the sort of thing I would expect Americans to do if only because if I can conceive of it, the odds are 99% that someone in a group of 50 STEM workers will either come up with it alone or hit on it in a bull session at work.


Russia’s nukes continued to run through the collapse of the ruble

If there is to be a mass rollout of reactors throughout the nuclear and non-nuclear world across just a few years, there will be a corresponding shortage of nuclear engineers competent to obey the whims of reactor designs that need immediate human attention. At the same time, we want these reactors to go into and run reliably in places distracted by a collapsing economy, civil war, strikes, pandemics and revolution. The reactor itself might be isolated by floods, storms, wildfires and boys with guns.

Presumably the upcoming SMR designs are largely autonomous and failsafe. However there must be routines such as diagnostic checks that need a remote engineer’s scrutiny. Remote monitoring should be feasible because every instrument display that is visible in a control room would be equally visible in a web link or sat phone link.

Assuming the local regulator does not require a man to walk in front of the reactor waving a red flag, it would seem that reactors could and should be built to run with no humans present at all. But will they?


Hmm, interesting and depressing thoughts Roger. What if there were a truly monumental effort from government? If (magically, overnight) a nation decided that they were going into nuclear BIG time, surely that would create a massive draw towards nuclear engineering courses as the whole industry ramped up? How long does it take to train up a nuclear engineer?


I fancy the idea of a human-less unit humming to itself in the wilderness, rising up and down as demand shifts. If the units were designed to run — and respond — unattended, they could be installed in small sizes in more and more remote locations (eg). Grids could be increasingly robust, with alternative generation everywhere.

Engineers might be monitoring from a city in another country. A community of specialists would only be on call to respond to beyond-design problems in one or two of their widespread flock of lonely generators. True, a phone call might be needed to ask an electrician (visiting the turbine or switchyard) to bang on valve #123, or remove a sparrow’s nest from an emergency vent. But routine maintenance such as treating the water supply could be left to wait for a routine visit by a technician.


Running a nuclear power plant ought to be much easier than driving an automobile. Computers do the latter now.

Just have to design all the computer programs.


NREL: Integrating 30% of Wind and PV is “Technically Feasible”
Sonal Patel
2016 Sep 01

NREL specifically notes that they are not considering the design of a market which would accomplish 30% integration. Does such a market exist? From Gail Tverberg’s analysis it certainly is not any of the current ones.


Link for DBB’s reference:

(Click through to read the second page.)

The article suggests upper limits of 30% CF on an annualised basis and 50% on an instantaneous basis for renewables in the Eastern US grid, with a number of provisos. I have not yet read the NREL report on which the article is founded. It is available here:


Subsidizing Nuclear Power from Cradle to Grave
Peter Bradford
2016 Sep 06

is quite disappointing from a former NRC commissioner and current law professor. It is full of illogic. What happened?


What happened was that Prof Bradford has long operated far outside his professional field for many years. As a non-scientist and non-engineer, he is vice chair of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Whether he made a positive contribution during his years on the NRC I do not know, but it is a bit rich for one who sat at the helm of the NRC and thus participated in setting of mandatory safety standards for the nuclear power industry which are far tighter than those achieved by other power industries and industry generally to now complain that the comparative costs are not favourable.

Many actual engineers one third of his age would agree that the article lacks logic. Presuming that the author, at 74, no longer needs to work for the money, it is probable that he is motivated not by logic but by passion aligned with the policies of the organization of which he is vice-chair.


I recently attended a meeting of MOSSA (Mothers for a Sustainable South Australia!). This was a chance to see the anti-nuke fraternity in full flight. Their theme was the proposed repository in SA. Watching these five women spouting so many lies and concocted arguments with smiles on their faces was more than flesh and blood could bear, so I stood up at the end of the session and told them so. I was the only pro-nuke in attendance, the rest were happy clappers. It is easy to get angry when confronted by this type of nonsense, but that can be counterproductive.
On a more optimistic note, I came across a US website run by a group of pro-nuke women who are trying to save the Diablo Canyon power plant from premature closure. Their site contains an article by Christine Brook, Barry Brook’s mother. (Who is pro-nuke you’ll be relieved to hear.)
They look like tireless fighters in the pro-nuclear fight. I’ll be watching their website for ideas that might be useful in getting the nuclear message across.
The Conservation Council of SA has a pamphlet which shows that the state will lose $128B if it goes ahead with the fuel repository. Their explanation is inventive, but requires someone with knowledge of finance to refute it properly. Are any of you able to do this? This is important, because it is the current lack of countering arguments that are giving the anti-nuclear lobby oxygen.
Recently there was an interview on ABC breakfast radio with Professor Andrew Blakers of ANU, a 100% ‘renewables’ man in the Mark Diesendorf mould. I emailed him about his ideas and he came back with his theory of wind/solar/pumped storage hydro etc (they no longer talk about battery storage) which he is convinced will save the world. He will be publishing shortly. These giant pea and thimble tricks are a problem because they look good on paper and have popular appeal. Again, does anyone know someone who could forensically dissect this type of stuff to provide the counter view? I know Barry Brook rebutted some of the Mark Diesendorf argument, but a lot more detailed work is needed to prevent them from becoming mainstream.


Hi, Robert. If you send me a scanned copy or a link to the pamphlet I will have a go.

Email to

Others might fashion their own responses. Several different ones won’t hurt.

Indeed, and in the spirit of a comment above, possibly this is worth its own discussion area on the forum, about which I know nothing.


Lacking is a quantative report which would clearly show that renewables, even with storage, could come nowhere near providing adequate and reliable power. Such a report could change minds.

How about an careful quantitive analysis of what it would take for renewables to enable a homeowner to get off of the grid with no subsidies? Include all the costs, i.e., the PV panels, inverters, batteries (do the analysis with multiple battery technologies), etc. Also take into consideration battery life. Calculate the internal rate of return taking all factors into consideration. Internal rate of return is THE proper way to evaluate the investment because it makes it possible to compare different investments. And, because many people lack the financial acumen to understand internal rate of return, also include payback.

If the above analysis shows that the cost of disconnecting from the grid would be so high that no homeowner would consider it based only on financial considerations, extrapolate to show what the cost would be on a country or global basis. Of course there could be economies of scale which could make the actual country or global cost less than the extrapolation would indicate; that should be admitted. But I suspect that the cost would be so extreme that economies of scale would be meaningless. Also include the amount of raw material required, including materials to manufacture the various battery types. That would include the amount of lithium, lead, etc., for various battery types.

If there has been such a report published, it has not received wide-spread distribution. Also, it is important for it to be based on actual verifiable numbers rather than guesses and opinions.

Frank R. Eggers Albuquerque, NM U.S.A.

On Fri, Sep 9, 2016 at 12:16 AM, Brave New Climate wrote:

> singletonengineer commented: “Here is a link to a solid rebuttal of the > argument that suggests that large quantities of renewables are having a > significant effect on global CO2e. The truth is otherwise, at least that is > so for G20 nations during the past decade or three. Figures 8 a” >


The Conversation, which apparently is supported primarily by Australian universities, is also full of nonsense when it comes to sun-and-wind puffery. Who are the editors?

Here is an example from the University of Newcastle, NSW, from which I gained my first degree. Their PhD qualified teaching staff need additional training in numeracy, literature review and logical thinking if this is an example of current standards.

The general public’s opinions seem to have pretty much confronted the antiscience “No climate warming” dudes, who have not produced any new arguments for 5 or 10 years. It is very sad to now contemplate the need for a similar effort to address the intellectual shallowness (intellectual dishonesty?) which comes from the “don’t worry … the sun’s still shining somewhere” group.


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