European Climate Foundation Has a Dangerous Blind Spot Regarding Nuclear Energy

The European Energy Review (free subscription required) recently published an interview with Arne Mogren, Director of the Power Programme of the European Climate Foundation (ECF) titled Everyone agrees on where we need to be in 2050, but not on how to get there. The ECF is billed as one of the more influential climate lobby groups in the EU because it collects about $23 million per year in contributions that it then distributes among other groups working to influence policies on the climate issue. As provider of funds, it has a great deal of say in the specific issues pursued by others.

Fukushima was a wake up call, but not because it was a true disaster in the sense of causing much physical harm.

The interview revealed a dangerous blind spot in the group’s strategy for addressing the challenging reality that burning fossil fuels and dumping their waste products into the atmosphere is a risky activity that must be slowed. The accepted position among European lobby groups seeking to take advantage of concerns about CO2 as a tool to encourage support for policies that will provide favorable results for their funding sources is to support large scale investments in unreliable power systems backed up by equipment that burns natural gas. Arne Mogren is apparently one of the more influential pushers of this doomed strategy.

I frequently admit that I worry about the long term effects of dumping CO2 into the atmosphere and about the political destabilization effects of continuing to burn fossil fuels as fast as we can pull them out of the ground. I do not want to leave my children and grandchildren the world that will inevitably result if we continue on our present course and speed. That does not make me a friend to stupid policies like emissions trading, investments in wind and solar, or policies that seek to get rid of reliable, modern coal plants in favor of fracking enabled new supplies of natural gas.

Here are three questions and answers from the EER interview with Arne Mogren that motivated me to respond to the interview both in the associated comment thread and here on Atomic Insights. I believe that Mogren’s responses reveal a dangerous attitude and demonstrate that the European Climate Foundation is really more interested in promoting natural gas and transmission infrastructure investments than in taking effective actions that will reduce CO2 emissions and fossil fuel consumption. Though I need to do some more digging into the funding sources, I am tentatively labeling this as a smoking gun.

Q: How much “grid” do we need? Does micro-generation alleviate some of the need?

A: You will need a lot of grids. If you want the same sort of quality in your supply with solar or wind capacity you still need to have some sort of backup. It’s not a choice between a grid or not, it’s where you invest in the grid. In general I would say a decarbonised system will be much more visible. Look at Germany, you see wind farms everywhere. And you will see cables too. Power has for a long time been a very abstract thing – something somewhere far away – but that’s going to change.

(Emphasis added.)

Q: How important do you see the traditional sources of power – gas, coal and nuclear – going forward?

A: Gas I think will be very important. It will be more and more important in the power system up to 2030 because the more renewables you have in the system the more flexible thermal generation capacity has to be. The problem today is that the carbon price is low and gas price high in relation to coal so gas-fired plants are hard to run. I think today it’s very hard to establish new coal-fired plants – you have health issue and other things – but it depends on the carbon price, fuel price and market structure.

The problem with gas has been that it has a very rigid market structure. We have seen spot trading start to develop but the short-term effect of Fukushima has been to push gas prices up. I think – also with shale gas – prices can go down and the market structure can evolve.

(Emphasis added.)

Aside: Notice that Mogren did not even mention nuclear energy in that response. End Aside.

Q: What about carbon capture and storage (CCS)?

A: I think it’s clear that on a global scale it will be very hard to do without CCS. Because if you look at China and India, you have an enormous amount of coal. In Europe I think it will not make a huge difference before 2030. In the end it also has to do with where you can find public acceptance.

For nuclear too you have an always present acceptance risk. I think from an investor’s perspective it seems quite risky.

(Emphasis added.)

Mogren’s vision of a power grid that is more visible and intrusive, has a far greater dependence on natural gas and has faith in not-yet-invented CCS infrastructure is a strategic approach that is vulnerable to attack. Those attacks should be focused on the unworkable nature of the vision, while accepting the truth that effective policies should be implemented to reduce fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emission rates. Here is a slightly improved version of the comment that I posted on the EER web site.

Does Mogren believe that public acceptance risks for nuclear are really harder to solve than the enormous technical AND public acceptance challenges associated with Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS)?

Fukushima was a wake up call, but not because it was a true disaster in the sense of causing much physical harm. Instead, the event – hopefully – has awakened the rational people in the world who KNOW that nuclear is safe, clean and affordable but who have seen how the fossil fuel and “renewable” energy lobbies have been far more successful at marketing their products by spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about their only real competitor in the market.

I’m a former nuclear submarine engineer officer who was taught the importance of “remaining undetected”. I believe that is a good motto for the electrical power industry. People, also known as customers, do not WANT their electrical power system to become “more visible” or intrusive. Mogren admits that more visibility is absolutely required if you want to have a system that is trying to be dependent on low energy density, weather controlled power systems like wind and solar energy.

Collectors for natural energy flows HAVE to be massive and will be idle much of the time. The average solar power system only produces about 15-20% of the total energy it would produce if operating at advertised capacity 100% of the time.

The transmission grids HAVE to be massive and intrusive in order to move power from where it might be windy to where it is predictably dark or from where it might be sunny to where a high pressure area has settled in and there is NO WIND available for days at a time. If it happens to be cold, still and dark. or hot, still and dark at the same time – both combinations happen quite regularly – the gas companies will loving life and selling millions of tons of product.

Nuclear energy is different. It is incredibly concentrated with fuel that contains between 10,000 and 2,000,000 times as much energy per unit mass as oil, allowing fuel supply systems to virtually disappear. (The vast range depends on the efficiency of fuel use, not on the fuel itself. All uranium and thorium has 2,000,000 times as much energy as oil does.)

Nuclear energy is clean enough and safe to operate inside sealed submarines or on aircraft carriers carrying thousands of valuable people within a few hundred meters of a powerful nuclear energy source. That means that power plants can be located close to the loads and in key areas of the existing grid system. They do not need vast swaths of currently pristine land to be cleared to add new pylons and transmission paths to low population places that happen to have a bit more wind than average (offshore in Baltic) or a sunny, dry climate (Sahara)

Never forget – Fukushima did not result in a single injury due to radiation. NOT one! Routine accidents in the natural gas infrastructure often kill several people; bad accidents can cause hundreds of painful, lingering deaths caused by explosions, loss of limbs or internal injury and burns over large portions of the skin.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast

About Rod Adams

9 Responses to “European Climate Foundation Has a Dangerous Blind Spot Regarding Nuclear Energy”

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  1. Brian Mays says:

    Seriously, is anyone surprised at this?

    Rod – Did you read his bio?

    Arne Mogren, Programme Director, Power

    Arne is a Swedish national and holds a M. Sc. Degree in Mechanical engineering and a B.A. in Philosophy, Mathematics and Economics. During the 1980s he researched energy futures at the Swedish Defence Research Institute. In 1989, he started as a policy analyst with Vattenfall in their strategic planning department. Arne established Vattenfall’s Brussels office in 1992 and headed their Brussels activities until 1995. Arne then worked until 2000 handling energy policy issues such as deregulation, nuclear phase out and energy taxation in Sweden. From 2001-2006 Arne was responsible for Public Affairs, and led work on climate change policy, including publication of Vattenfall’s books such as the influential Curbing Climate Change (January 2006), the Global Greenhouse Gas Abatement Cost Curve (January 2007), and A One Tonne Future: A Guide to the Low-Carbon Century (June 2009).

    Can anyone point me to a single, influential “climate foundation” that vigorously promotes nuclear power?

    All of these “climate foundation” people are either crazy, hopelessly naive, corrupt, or some combination of these three.

    • Cal Abel says:

      Brian,
      I don’t think the climate foundations’ purpose is to promote solutions to AGW. If it was then things like the recent UN publications would have more discussion about it. I also do not think that it is about preserving the environment as the solutions the propose are very destructive, insanely expensive and woefully inadequate.

      Their objective has to be something other than the stated objective in order to have some form of consistency. If there is not consistency then they represent white noise. So for the time being let’s assume they are reasoning from a consistent ideological base. Through the AGW debate and now into the sustainability debate the consistent aim has been to make energy production very expensive and inadequate to meet industrial needs. As the energy supply provides the power needed to make the economy function, I think these groups are attacking the fundamental nature of the modern economy.

      Invested capital is brought into productivity through the consumption of exergy, thus by attacking the energy supply they are attacking the productivity of capital. This fundamental approach of attacking the productivity of capital was laid out by Marx and Engles. By making capital less productive, the marginal rate of substitution of labor to capital goes up. Unfortunately, this approach lowers the marginal utility of labor, making labor less productive and the overall economy less efficient.

      If you have any other insight into this I’d love to hear it. Of course another option is to take them to be nothing more than random noise and avoid attribution of some overall goal of societal deconstruction.

      • Brian Mays says:

        Cal – I really don’t have anything to add right now. If I think of something, I’ll be sure to offer it.

        You’ve just stated explicitly some of the things that I’ve been hinting at for quite a while.

        • Jon says:

          I second that.

          Cal, it’s probably both. There are those with good intentions who are primarily motivated by fear, this is probably the white noise. But there are others who, I feel, have the very intentions that you laid out. Fear is the new opiate of the masses and those who seek power will use it. Sometimes I wonder if followers are just too naive to realize they will most likely be the peasants threshing the wheat, or are so prideful that they believe they will be one of the elites in charge. I can’t help but recall images from Animal Farm.

          There is no arguing against the ability of cheap and abundant energy to lift nations and people groups out of poverty. Nuclear has the ability to do this now and for the duration of humanity, while being cleaner and safer than any alternative (barring a substantial and unexpected development from some other energy source).

      • David says:

        Cal,

        Yep, the goal is not climate preservation. They are piggy backing on the real concerns of people and using “consensus” science to drive a political goal. I have understood the political goal for some time. I guess I really got my dander up the day I was with a group training for emergency response in a poor Asian country. Good people, and a friend of mine was presenting. We had a resource person come from a closely associated group. The resource person talked about global warming and in front of these people struggling with poverty basically told them that every single type of technology that would be helpful for them was “bad” for the climate. I really got upset at the presenter saying that fertilizer was a green house gas. This tendency to nip at the edges of what they say is the problem while raising the cost of energy, and food just reinforces my conviction that CO2 is an excuse not a focus.

        Nuclear energy fixes this problem by replacing Coal and Diesel in ships. Bingo, problem solved.

  2. DV82XL says:

    I wonder how much of that $23 million per year in contributions this group collects smells of Russian methane?

  3. Friakel Wippans says:

    Uh, oh. BS alert

    This thing is starting to make the rounds.

    “36 Percent Of Fukushima Children Have Abnormal Growths From Radiation Exposure”

    http://www.businessinsider.com/a-stunning-36-percent-of-fukushima-children-have-abnormal-growths-from-radiation-exposure-2012-7

  4. Proteos says:

    Well, I think you should look at the European context with different eyes from those you use for the US. In Europe, Green group are mighty lobbies. And they have an agenda which is not using more fossil fuels, even if it is the consequence they get.

    No, their platform is basically no to nuclear, no to GMOs, put on the energy hair shirt, use the energy sources we like (wind, solar, biomass — but only from organic farms, mind you). Gas is useful for them as the less dirty fossil fuel.

    If you read the interview with open eyes, Mr Mogren is telling us his plan is not working. First, gas is not taking the place of coal. Because — guess what? — wind and solar are ruining the business case of gas plants. Gas has the 2d worst place in the merit order after fuel oil in the EU. So it’s pushed out by fatal sources like wind & solar. This is very real: I read here in France that some CCGTs are near brankrupcy because of this. German newspapers say this openly too! Consequence: governments are now ready to subsidize gas plants in large numbers to ensure network stability [example: Germany] and to wait till coal gets forbidden by other environmental regulations. So the short term economics of the transition plan is botched. We have to pay for renewables and then to have gas plant stay here waiting to become profitable again. And for the grid expansion.

    Today, champions of renewables have the highest consumer prices for electricity, but have only disappointing results on the GHG front compared to Sweden, Switzerland & France. He says it openly when he says a big part of the electricity prices is tax: it’s only true of renewables champions. Here in France, I’m paying as much for the grid as for the production! And the tax to fund the renewables is taking an increasing part of the bill.

    Transmission is a spot which is not blind at all. I do not know if you have read the 100% renewables plans that are published — sometimes with governmental approval. If you don’t, you should, it would give a sense of how crazy this is. You can start with the page of the german environment ministry:
    http://www.bmu.de/energiewende/szenarien_und_prognosen/doc/47897.php

    So to put things into context, final electricity consumption is forecast to decrease in absolute terms. So Mogren is misleading here: electricity will grow only as a share of final consumption. That’s what I call the ‘put on the hait shirt’ argument: everything has to come from efficiency and rationning.
    But even with that, the grid must expand because of renewables. The magnitude of the expansion is crazy. Just look at this scenario:
    http://www.umweltrat.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/EN/02_Special_Reports/2011_10_Special_Report_Pathways_renewables.pdf?__blob=publicationFile
    The main scenario proposes between 45GW and 70GW of transmission capacity between Norway and Germany. And p139 it gets worse: with a grid including North Africa, values go even higher. To put things in perspective, since 1994, an expansion of the transmission capacity between France and Spain has been planned. It will open in 2014 and put the transmission capacity to 4GW. So in a nutshell, high voltage lines are among the most difficult things to build because of popular opposition. All full renewables scenarios are like this because they have to produce when conditions are favorable, and store for bad days. In the end, you have to have a grid made for a 200GW consumption when real consumption by people never gets above 100GW. And you have to allow some juice to pass through your territory so that needy countries can satisfy their demand.

    To summarize, you don’t need to think of green european NGOs as puppets of fossil fuels lobbies. They have a momentum of their own. But their ideology is apparent if you start scratching the surface. And opposition to nuclear is central. But they have to make proposal that appear to be technically serious. Hence the 100% renewables scenarios with crazy grids.

    • jmdesp says:

      I’m not sure that the Europeans green aren’t in effect quite acting a puppet of fossil fuels lobbies. It’s true that some of the gas plans failed, but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

      Some things to consider :
      – After former German chancellor Schröder signed a bill to stop all Nuclear in Germany, he next leaved the government to become the chairman of the board of the Nord Stream AG gas pipeline
      – Than plan more or less failed since lignite is winning the electricity generation war in Germany currently, but still in cold winter Russia has more clients for it’s gas in Germany than it can supply. Heating in Germany is almost all gas, and is facing strictly no risk of being replaced by electricity at the current price
      – Both the green presidential candidate and the green party leader adamantly said during the last French presidential election that they favored, and were personally using, gas for heating rather than electricity. They swallowed hook, line, and sinker the memo saying that electric heating generates more CO2 than gas, even in 80% nuclear France.
      – Who wrote that memo ? I found an early 2008 document where the French gas association writes exactly that, and pretends gas is the way to reduce CO2 emission by 4. What they say there, is word for word what the French green have been repeating since there.
      – The mechanisms that resulted into the new French construction regulation RT2012 favoring so much gas over electricity than more than 60% of newly build house now use gas, in a complete reversal of what was the case before where almost all new construction was electric and gas was slowly losing ground, are still not clear to me.
      But it’s completely in line with the attitude of the greens of stumblingly accusing electric heating to be fully responsible of the winter demand spike, and demanding the use of fossil power for heating instead.

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