Atomic Show #192 – Zero Carbon Options for South Australia
Ben Heard is one of the growing number of environmental professionals who have seriously evaluated all options for reducing mankind’s annual production rate of carbon dioxide and discovered that the best tool available is nuclear fission energy. As a part of his continuing journey of discovery, he worked with Brown and Pang to produce a report titled Zero Carbon Options: Seeking an Economic Mix for an Environmental Outcome”.
The report uses the results of a recently completed report detailing a proposed mix of wind and solar power supplies that would produce as much electricity each year as two aging coal fired power stations in South Australia to show how much less costly and more effective it would be to replace those stations with nuclear power than to attempt to achieve the same emission abatement result using an overbuilt mix of unreliable power supplies. The full report is available as a free PDF download.
Though the initial work was unfunded, a successful campaign using Pozible has provided some financial resources for distributing and promoting the report. (Disclosure: I felt strongly enough about the importance of the effort to contribute some of my own personal funds to that campaign.)
Ben and I got together on Skype on December 16 (for me) and 17 (for him) to talk about Zero Carbon options and the need to rationally evaluate the available tools for addressing a very real problem – the steady accumulation of excessive quantities of carbon dioxide (and other, more noxious waste products from fossil fuel combustion) in our shared atmosphere. I hope you enjoy the show and consider doing what you can to spread the word that we have a proven, scalable, available technology that can no longer be ignored. The elephant in the room will no longer remain quiet as more and more people discover what Ben has discovered – atomic fission energy is fully capable of replacing a major portion of our current demand for hydrocarbon fuels.
Since fission is capable of achieving that task without requiring a great deal of other societal changes or changes in individual lifestyles, it is a far more powerful and effective tool than any other alternative. Attempting to achieve what is already a very difficult task without using the best available technology is simply absurd.
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While I am also a proponent of atomic fission energy and would encourage it’s more widespread use to
1) Reduce the problem of energy scarcity – fully 2 billion people on earth today have no regular access to electricity. (This is the greater problem that has the greater impact on a larger number of lives)
2) Reduce GHG/CO2 in the atmosphere to help control global warming (This is the smaller problem, but the one that gets the current attention of governments and decision makers and receives high levels of funding and publicity)
Rod states “The elephant in the room will no longer remain quiet as more and more people discover what Ben has discovered – atomic fission energy is fully capable of replacing a major portion of our current demand for hydrocarbon fuels.”
I would say this is fine,
but why not also include other practical, cost effective and practical complementary technologies, along with atomic fission, to help do the job?
There are in fact at least two other technologies that would help solve both aforementioned problems (energy scarcity and GHG/global warming):
1) A more efficient technology for using coal that does not require burning the coal. There is an existing technology (DCFCs) that doubles the amount of energy produced from use of coal to make electricity. This laboratory proven technology directly converts the chemical energy in coal into electricity using a fuel cell. We could generate the same amount of electricity from use of only half as much coal. In the process, we would produce industrially pure, odorless, CO2 gas that creates no smoke, fly ash, or particulates to foul the local air quality. – https://www.llnl.gov/str/June01/Cooper.html
2) A Practical form of inertial confinement nuclear fusion that economically generates net energy at Gigawatt levels while producing non-radioactive helium as it’s nuclear waste.
– Dr. Ralph Moir – PACER Revisited – http://www.osti.gov/bridge/purl.cover.jsp?purl=/6718615-nhbbsq/
Why limit choices to nuclear fission if other complementary technologies could help and are cost effective, use demonstrated technology involving very low technical risk, and have fewer regulatory barriers in place preventing their use?
“we would produce industrially pure, odorless, CO2 gas ”
The idea is to stop releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. Nuclear fission is the only currently practical way to do this.
Hopefully one day nuclear fusion will also be practical.
@Don – We have allowed media fear mongers and ambitious politicians, eager to use fear of radiation and nuclear energy as one way of extending their based of political support, to drive up the cost and the level of regulatory obstacles to the building of new nuclear to the point new fission nuclear is rarely considered in the United States by communities needing power.
Until the barriers to building new fission nuclear are lowered, fission nuclear will not be a significant part of solving America’s energy and climate problems.
If the US and the world set up unwarranted levels of regulation against building safe and reliable fission nuclear, then some other form of power generation will have to be used.
There is a way of producing energy from coal that doubles the efficiency of using that fuel and makes it possible to use half as much coal to produce a given amount of energy (DCFC Fuel Cells – No smoke, No fly ash, and No fouling of the local air quality).
There is a practical form of Inertial Confinement Fusion that economically produces commercially significant amounts of energy from fusion (there is no need to wait 50 years for tokamaks and Laser Fusion to mature into commercial technologies – PACER fusion would work today and be cost effective and very safe).
Hi Rod my first post here and I would like to express some opinions as a scientifically educated layman and mechanical engineer, not to mention a member of the ordinary public.
Number one I love your sight and tell everyone I know to read the stuff here. I do this as 99% of the population have a fear of radiation born partly of ignorance but most often because of what I see as establishment propaganda.
However there is one thing that bothers me, and it’s when I read posts about using Nuclear power to help fight Global warming or Climate change. These are not factors that will ever get Nuclear Power on the path to acceptance again….ever. Why do I say this? Two reasons; one is that CO2 is most unlikely to cause all the catastrophes attributed to it, and second there is no shortage and nor will there be for centuries of hydrocarbon fuel.
When those from the nuclear industry team up with those from the environmental industry we get mixed messages. The environmental movement has become highly politicised and is not now perceived as being about protecting the environment, but more about reducing consumption and deigning progress, often at the expenses of the environment and people, biofuels being the worst case, but wind turbines and Solar farms not far behind.
As an ordinary member of the public I can state we are a bit feed up with this state of affairs, where we are being asked to bare an every greater burden for no gain in standard of living. What I can say is that it won’t last, and when we finally get representation again in our parliaments or congresses we will expect the nuclear industry to be ready to go on an economic basis.
To do this I believe you need to up the education, refine the designs so they can be built on an industrial base, and push for competing designs of both molten salt and solid fuel. Remember capitalism relies on open and clear regulation, which leads to competition, which results in innovation, the key word in human progress. You need to compete with coal and gas on an economic basis and sell the fact that you produce no atmospheric pollution; you know the good old ones such as visible smoke, particulates, nitrous oxides and un-burnt hydrocarbons as a benefit. CO2 is not a pollutant, given that without it all life would immediately cease. Any notion that we will “decarbonise” our economy is in my opinion political nonsense, and anyone following this is in for a disappointing time.
It troubles me that reality amongst the real world is the environmental or green movement along with their man-made global warming are a busted flush, but amongst experts it’s often business as usual. Have we in the general public got too high an expectation of experts? Are experts equipped to develop policy? There is no easy answer to this but the one lasting thing that climate scientists have done is remove the foundations of the public’s faith in science. This is not the legacy they would like but again it is the reality amongst the informed public. Let’s not see the nuclear industry sell out thinking that they can somehow get a leg up from the environmental movement. It will only end in tears.
There are is no national academy or scientific society or professional body of international standing that disputes the warming climate or that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are the main driver of that change.
You are right out on a limb on the science regardless of unsupported claims of what “informed” public opinion might or might not be.
As well as being wrong about the science, you are also wrong about the politics. Denial of the science of global warming coupled to pro-nuclear advocacy will just harden anti-nuclear opinion among those who understand the risks inherent in the giant geophysical experiment that humans are conducting and continue to conduct in our shared atmosphere.
Straw man. Nobody but cranks claim that there has not been a slight increase (~1 degree C) in temperatures over the past 100, 200, or even 400 years or so.
Of course, human activities (not just greenhouse gas emissions) have had some effect on this, but the question is how much. Of course, the alarmists with an agenda to push insist that greenhouse gases are the main, if not only, driving factor, but cooler heads point to other factors and have published reputable articles in the scientific literature to support their case.
Heh … this shows how little you follow public opinion. For years, Gallup has published polls that show that support for nuclear power in the US has been strong (at almost 60%, even after Fukushima) and trending steady or even upward. Meanwhile, concern over “climate change” (or “global climate disruption” or whatever the branding du jour is these days) is low and trending downward.
In the case of both anti-nuclear and “global climate disruption” alarmism, the message in the media is driven largely by small, but highly vocal, groups of fanatics. Often these groups are one and the same for both causes (e.g., Greenpeace, the Union of Corrupt Scientists, the Sierra Club, and the list goes on). Do you really think that these leopards will change their spots simply because you threw them a bone?
The best that can be done is to marginalize these groups in public policy debates. The majority of the US population already favors nuclear power and really doesn’t care about climate change. Thus, the battle is already won in terms of general public sentiment. You don’t need change public opinion on average.
The problem is that the anti-nuclear forces go around this by strategically working to cause trouble where it hurts the most. For example, stirring up trouble around vulnerable plants like Vermont Yankee or influencing key politicians to impose even more onerous regulations on nuclear power plants.
Since it’s Christmas time, I don’t want to step on anyone’s fantasies. If you want to believe that the world is going to end due to “climate change,” then please go ahead. Now is the time of believing in something.
I’m just pointing out where the real battles are being fought, and convincing everyone to jump on the “climate change” bandwagon is not going to do squat to advance the case for building more nuclear plants in this country.
I could look for more references, but it is probably a waste of time. Twice the National Academies of virtually all the developed countries in the world have stated unequivocally that the burning of fossil fuels and the rise in CO2 are causing a rise in average global temperature. They have used statements like ‘as certain as Scientific Theories get’, on a the same basis as evolution, etc.
Anyway, for all the good it will do here is the most recent summary statement:
National Academies that signed:
Why is this so difficult to accept??
And where, pray tell, does this disagree with anything that I have written here?
Unless one is a simpleton, a politician, or otherwise a foolish individual, the following questions naturally arise (in increasing importance):
(1) What is the contribution of fossil fuels relative to other plausible contributing factors — e.g., natural causes or other human-caused contributors such as changes in land use?
(2) What are the expected consequences of an increase in global temperature (whatever the cause)? Are they catastrophic (the alarmist view), manageable (the moderate view), or negligible (the contrarian view)?
(3) What are the uncertainties on the two estimates above?
(4) What is society willing to risk based on the estimates and uncertainties above?
None of these national academies have adequately addressed any of the questions above, nor have any of them performed any kind of rigorous independent assessment of claims made in the policy summaries issued by the IPCC.
But feel free to continue to cite additional resources that agree with what I write. Thank you. I’ll continue to try to encourage you to actually think instead of quoting position statements. Together, we might manage to get somewhere productive.
Academies of Science (general science)
A total of 34 national science academies have made formal declarations since 2001 confirming anthropogenic global warming and urging the nations of the world to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. This includes 33 who have signed joint science academies’ statements and the individual declaration made by the Polish Academy of Sciences made in 2007.
I’ll spare you the list of all 34 countries
Since the Scientific consensus is about as certain as Science will ever say it is about climate change and therefore CO2 is MOST likely to cause the Catastrophe associated to it along with Methane that will become released from a warming world. That pretty much invalidates your post. You should listen to Ben Heard. You say you are a Scientifically educated layman yet you ignore the science of Climate change.
OK I have followed Climate science in depth (obsessively so according to my family) for more than 15 years now, and in all that time despite numerous request for empirical data and experimental proof, the greenhouse theory of how the earth’s temperature is what it is remains just that, a theory. Informed scientific discussion has now turned to whether the greenhouse effect actually exits as everything that models have told us has NOT come to pass. Of course we have come to expect that the world’s “experts” will be amongst the last to catch-up with reality. This point was alluded to in my previous post.
The word consensus is not a scientific word, it is a political word, and meaningless in science. You could have a thousand scientists who agree on something but it only takes one to prove them all wrong, that is the essence of science. The present situation with climate science is that no one can prove anything yet, but all the real data as opposed to modelling data points to CO2 having little or no influence over H2O vapour in the atmosphere, so no forcing. Whoever provides that proof will become an instant Nobel Laureate. This lack of being able to prove or disprove radiative forcing is the entire crux of Global warming and is why so much effort has been expended arguing over the temperature record because it is something we can actually measure. If aeronautical engineers were as cavalier with their calculations as those who provide us with the “average world temperature” then no aircraft would ever get off the ground or be safe when flying. Far from being out on a limb, I am very much in touch with reality, and the panic in political circles as the “man-made catastrophe” comes apart is very real.
Now I will say it again. I want to see nuclear power, because I believe that once we get over the obsessive regulatory arrangements that cause both fear and add huge costs then nuclear power will become the cleanest and safest form of electric power we have that has the potential to last for thousands of years. It will change the politics of much of the world provided we allow the nuclear technology that doesn’t lead to weapons grade material to be universally available. Then all the innovations such as electric cars will make sense. But teaming up with the environmental movement against hydrocarbons is not going to get you support from the public, which is all that really matters. We need cheap and abundant power, not expensive and rationed as we are being forced to accept in the west.
In your self-described effort to follow climate science obsessively, did you begin with an existing position that environmentalism is bad and burning ever increasing quantities of fossil fuels is good?
I will freely admit that my preexisting lens may have provided me with a bias, but I started my reading in this topic with the position that nuclear energy is an incredibly powerful gift, that we should be good stewards of the land, water and air, and that remaining addicted to fossil fuels was a terribly unfair and destabilizing way to operate a global economy.
With those initial thoughts, I have come to the view that there is a real basis for concern about the growing rate at which we are dumping CO2 and other noxious waste products into our shared environment. I also believe that some far sighted and scientifically astute people like Alvin Weinberg and Hyman G. Rickover recognized the danger many decades ago. However, their proposed response of a shift from fossil fuel to emission-free nuclear energy – which is still the best available technology – tramped on the toes of the world’s most wealthy and politically powerful people.
The fossil fuel industry financed an effective campaign against nuclear energy starting in the 1960s by proxies who claimed to be concerned about “The Environment”. That was before very many others had awakened to the climate issue. The hydrocarbon marketers thought they had won a nearly complete victory in the US and Europe by the early 1990s.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, the world experienced a growing recognition of climate change risks that was led by scientists who were not quite as far-sighted as Weinberg, but were still able to determine reality and trends. At that point, the petroleum branch of the fossil fuel industry saw worries about climate change as beneficial to their bottom line. It was a wonderful way to market methane (natural gas) which is, in many measures, inferior to liquid or solid fuel. It may be the cleanest fossil fuel, but it is also the most difficult (expensive) to store or transport from one place to another.
Throughout the 1990s the message was that we should worry about climate, but the response should be a profitable shift from coal to natural gas – with a growing LNG fleet to move it from massive “stranded” resource locations like Qatar or Australia to build upon the core competencies of the multinational fossil fuel industry. People in finance, media and politics that were already enamored with the fossil fuel industry thought of all kinds of new ways to profit from emphasizing real worries about CO2 (spreading panic), including carbon trading schemes and “renewable” energy subsidies.
That marketing campaign was so successful that the world economy bumped into physical limitations on the rate at which gas can be extracted and moved to market, driving the price so high that investors started to think again about nuclear energy. Nuclear technologists quietly told the world that if climate change is really the big worry, we have a tool that is a lot better than cutting coal emissions in half. (Way too many nukes have been indoctrinated in the marketing techniques of the silent service.)
Of course, nuclear energy still steps on the toes of that same wealthy and powerful group, but after years of high fossil fuel prices, they have even more resources with which to battle reality. Since about 2005 or so, we have been treated to an enormous onslaught of reality-denying ads and think-tank sponsored doubt campaigns, accompanied by continued efforts to market natural gas as a bridge to an unachievable, “renewable” utopia.
While you can find numerous individuals and groups that spread fear about both climate change and nuclear energy, my assumption is that they are either witting or unwitting fronts for the petroleum industry. Their real mission is selling natural gas and other hydrocarbons.
Even if they deny that and say they want a world powered by wind and solar, I maintain that is still code for saying that they want to sell natural gas. Anyone with any facility with numbers knows it is impossible to power much of the world economy with wind and solar. At best, a huge renewable effort would result in 5-30% of our electricity from solar and wind – leaving 70-95% of a very large market available for high priced (but “clean”) gas for as long as people can be sold the notion that nuclear is too hard, too expensive or too scary to use.
In discussions about energy supplies, climate change and ocean acidification, I count the following people as being on “my side”: Jim Hansen, Barry Brook, Stewart Brand, Patrick Moore, George Monbiot, Mark Lynas, Robert Stone, Rip Anderson, Ben Heard, Tom Blees, Gwyneth Cravens, Chris Uhlik, Per Peterson, Bill Gates, Steve Aplin, Meredith Angwin, Suzy Hobbs-Baker, Kirk Sorensen, Charles Barton, and tens of thousands of others who are concerned about the long term effects of continuing to dump CO2 at an increasing rate AND who recognize that we have a terrific, but disruptive, tool with which to attack the problem.
Among the “alarmists”, count the World Bank, IEA and OECD who have all, within the last couple of years, warned of the likelihood of catastrophic climate change if current policies continue. It is clear that GHG emissions are now a major factor in policy thinking about energy both in various agencies and many national governments. Not engaging with that and pretending that GHG emissions don’t matter is folly.
Whatever the claims about what public opinion may or may not be, public opinion is not static and exists in a context. It may not be desireable, but it is no secret that extreme weather events do have a considerable influence on public perception of climate change. The US has just experienced it’s hottest year in the instrumental temperature record.
More importantly, it is widely accepted that unless global emissions start to decline by 2020, there is little chance of keeping global temperature rise to less than 2C. As emissions do continue to rise, the claims that nuclear is not needed because renewables alone can do the job, will come under extreme scrutiny as some green ideology hits the brick wall of reality. More environmentalists will be forced to confront their nuclear demons and will reach the same conclusion as people such as Monbiot and Lynas already have. Some will never be convinced, but among the general public and in paticular those that take climate change seriously, the notion that nuclear is “too risky” when there are “better” alternatives is likely to also get a big shake up.
It may be a tired old cliche, but reality does bat last and the anti-nuclear greens may be on much thinner political ice than they believe. In any case, this is the territory on which political battles over energy will be fought in the coming decade.
That must sound impressive to someone who does not understand how a random walk works. The instrumental temperature record spans much less than 200 years, practically a point in time in terms of climatological time scales.
And this influence is based on incorrect perceptions that are being fed by unscrupulous opportunists for their own purposes.
Since you seem to be so fond of Richard Muller (you seem to like him much better than Rod does), have you heard some of what he has said lately?
Here is his response in an interview earlier this month when asked, “What’s your message to climate change skeptics?”
I think that Dr. Muller might have an opinion about who is being anti-scientific here.
It’s true that no-one can point to a particular hurricane or tornado and declare “global warming is to blame for that”. That is indeed not scientific.
But it is scientific to track global temperatures averaged over ten years and observe trends, that they have indeed been warming. This longer-term averaging smooths out shorter term variations from the sunspot cycle, volcanic eruptions, ENSO cycles, and other more random/short term effects. Basic maths and statistics.
Never mind that the US this year was the hottest ever, the world overall this last ten years has been the hottest ever too, by about 0.16 Celsius more than the previous decade, which was in turn about 0.18 Celsius hotter than the decade before that. Warmer climate temperatures imply more humidity and therefore more energy stored as latent heat of vaporization, therefore, on average, more energetic weather systems. Basic physics.
As someone put it (Prof. Barry Brook?) “weather delivers the punches, but climate trains the boxer”.
Antarctic ice core samples demonstrate that current CO2 levels have increased by a third since 1850 and are now higher than they have ever been during the past million years. Furthermore, the increasing isotopic proportions of Carbon-12 versus Carbon-14 demonstrate that the new CO2 has its origin in fossil fuels, whose C-14 long ago decayed away. Basic radiophysics.
Many independent experiments and measurements whose results buttress one another show that the CO2 greenhouse effect is real and increasing. Svante Arrhenius formulated the CO2 greenhouse effect a hundred years ago. CO2 shortwave IR absorption and resultant temperature rise is readily demonstrated in the lab.
For instance, longwave infrared backscatter radiation from sky to ground has been increasing, stratosphere average temperatures have been decreasing, and shortwave IR ground emissivity as seen by satellites has been decreasing. This is wholly consistent with increased greenhouse effect.
Some claim that it’s because solar insolation has increased over the last 30 years and is now decreasing again. Perhaps, but the effect is pretty minor and is being swamped overall by increasing CO2 greenhouse effect.
Other symptoms demonstrating increased greenhouse effect as opposed to increased solar insolation:
– polar temperatures are, on average, increasing more than equator temperatures,
– night time temperatures, on average, are increasing more than daytime temperatures,
– winter temperatures are, on average, increasing more than summer temperatures.
Every square metre of Earth’s surface absorbs roughly a couple of hundred watts as an annual global day/night summer/winter average. And, every square metre of the Earth’s surface also radiates roughly a couple of hundred watts as an annual average. Unfortunately, in recent decades, there has been about half a watt more (on average) going in than coming out again. This nett heat increase has been warming and thermally expanding the oceans and melting the ice (basic physics) so that, on average, sea levels have been creeping up by 1mm or so a year and multiyear north polar sea ice (a fine indicator of multiyear average temperature) is 30% below what it was in 1979, and dropping.
The NP multi-year sea ice likely to be gone altogether by 2020 or so, and with it will go a very large thermal buffer from latent heat of melting and reflector of summer sunshine. Radiant absorption during summer months will increase from 10% to 90%. North polar warming will continue to accelerate. Basic physics.
This stuff is elegantly explained in Spencer Weart’s The Discovery of Global Warming which is readily available on the web. It is also well explained in the much-sneered-at IPCC reports, whose predictions have, generally speaking, so far proved less extreme than actual outcomes. Of course there have been mistakes and omissions, but they have been corrected as they have come to light, and have been more at the margins and have not affected the overall thrust.
Really, in the teeth of so much basic physics, the onus is on you and other skeptics to come up with scientifically sound alternative explanations that fit these facts and demonstrate that an increased man-made CO2 greenhouse effect is not involved.
If you have been following climate science, you should be aware of the BEST project. BEST was headed by Richard Muller, a very well credentialled physicist and a member of JASON, and formerly very critical of the the widely used global temperature records such as GISS and HadCrut. BEST set out to produce yet another gloabl temperature record using purportedly more rigorous methods than those used in compiling exisiting records.
Here are some of Muller’s words before the project started:
“we are bringing the spirit of science back to a subject that has become too argumentative and too contentious,” “…we are an independent, non-political, non-partisan group. We will gather the data, do the analysis, present the results and make all of it available. There will be no spin, whatever we find. We are doing this because it is the most important project in the world today. Nothing else comes close.”
And here are Mullers words after the results were in:
“Call me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.”
There are no global temperate records, even those produced by honest sceptics or former sceptics that show anything other than warming and furthermore all these records from different teams show a similar degree of warming. The evidence now is beyond reasonable doubt.
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