Atomic Show #220 - Atoms for California 1


  1. Very Good Interview! Andrew would make a good mainstay here!!

    Even though my personal view is the barely nuclear-tolerant horse has long left the barn in California whose FUD-baked denizens would sooner purchase gas from Mexico than go nuke again, the state can serve as a warning sigh to others (too late for Vermont tho!). Andrew’s horrible desert-razing picture ought horrify people from the Wilderness Society to the Audubon Society and every naturalist and conservationist in between. Why isn’t such?? This is the stuff to make folks second-think wind and solar! Andrew, have you sent it to them for their comments? You have far better credentials to get their attention and respect than I! Let’s watch eco hypocrisy in action! I think Andrew would make a fine head of a mass media nuclear education Ad campaign for a nuclear community without a PR helm much less any leader!

    James Greenidge
    Queens New York

    1. Thanks, James! Glad you enjoyed it. I have made a few comments here and there on Rod’s website, so hopefully you’ll see more in the future.

      I would like to challenge your personal view that:

      “the barely nuclear-tolerant horse has long left the barn in California whose FUD-baked denizens would sooner purchase gas from Mexico than go nuke again”

      What I am increasingly finding is that the vast majority of average Californians actually don’t have strong feelings about nuclear power either way. Most people’s default position is: “Isn’t nuclear bad? What, with the waste and the meltdowns and everything.” This position has been spoon-fed to them by politicians in the Democratic Party (of which I am a registered member, for the record), who in turn had their views shaped by the activism of anti-nuclear “fruits and nuts.” But if you can engage an average Californian for just two or three minutes to explain how the dangers are overhyped and maybe get in a bit about how nuclear energy has attributes that renewables can’t match (reliability, minimal land use, flexibility in siting), then eyes begin to open to the other side of the issue. I have had a few successes in a one-on-one basis, but I need to perfect outreach methods that scale and reach larger audiences.

      The problem is that nuclear power has never had vociferous proponents in California, and the discussion has always been confined to nuke-owning utilities all by their lonesome vs. politicians, bureaucrats, and environmental activists, all of them whose power rests upon implicit (but fundamentally weak) public support. The utilities are easily construed as greedy and unconcerned for safety when they are the only one speaking up for nuclear power. If we can get more regular people speaking up in favor of nuclear power, the whole frame of this debate will shift. I think it’s possible and “the horse has left the barn metaphor” is incorrect.

      As for the impacts of wind and solar development, I’m afraid I don’t have enough contacts with people active in naturalist and conservation societies to really make an impact. I do know that those sort of people (for whom protecting scenic beauty and natural ecosystems is their true passion, rather than advancing a broader political agenda) are very aware of the issue. But I will try to my best to reach out to them. Here’s a good example of a website very concerned about renewable energy development in California’s desert:

      And of course, thanks for your compliments at the end there. Truth be told, I would like to get into politics some day. But that is for a distant future.

  2. I’ve listened to this podcast and #218. Both are packed with information and are worth taking the time to listen.

    I was reminded of the effectiveness of wind power last week while driving through West Kansas and Eastern Colorado. Two extremely large windfarms near I70 are certainly quite a site. There are hundreds of large turbines for miles, most of which were idle when I went through. points to the Google satellite view of the one in Colorado. The one in Kansas is even larger.

    One could argue that there’s not much to see out there anyway, and it’s not like the land isn’t already “damaged” by mega farming. But the wind farms are hundreds of miles away from population centers. This means hundreds of miles of transmission lines, and a non-trivial loss given up to line resistance. That’s when they’re actually producing power. And there’s something a little awe-inspiring about looking at nothing but sky and flat as far as the eye can see. I’m not sure I’d call it beautiful, but when you live in a valley or canyon it is a nice change of pace.

    But the real tragedy, as we all know, is what is not seen. The captial taken up by these massive installations is gone. Instead of the marketplace deciding the most efficient use of capital, rent seekers, playing on the public’s FUD, created boondogles on the prairie. Frédéric Bastiat figured it out 100 years ago.

    1. I was reminded of the effectiveness of wind power last week while driving through West Kansas and Eastern Colorado.


      Kansas wind farms get a CF of around 37.4% on an annual basis (with many farms in excess of 40%). Cedar Point (252 MW in eastern Colorado) was completed ahead of schedule in 2011, and had a CF of 39.3% in 2012 (here). You should’t have to worry about the low cost benefits to consumers of this energy, or the distributed economic benefits to developers, employees, and rural land owners as well. PPA prices have never been lower for onshore wind, $25/MWh (average levelized price on a national basis). Compares favorably to projected gas fired generation prices to 2040 (page ix).

      Think you may have driven by on a slow day?

      1. @EL

        I suspect that Eric G simply drove through on a fairly normal day. The plains tend to have windier nights than days due to the nocturnal wind sheer. The high speed winds available at a reasonable elevation (50 M) results in good average CF, but not such a good match between electricity production and the time when electricity is in high demand.

  3. Glad you enjoyed it!

    I’ve heard of Bastiat’s parable of the broken window, but thanks for the link! I’ve never read the original text. It should be mandatory reading for any politician. The “green energy creates jobs!” argument is thrown around way too carelessly.

    1. I had forgotten that I took a picture of the Kansas wind farm:

      The one thing that the picture doesn’t capture is the true scale of this wind farm. The picture was near the western edge of the farm looking north and east. Prior to this for the last few miles westbound I was surrounded by wind turbines in all directions, out to the horizon.

      I had come through this stretch of highway at night a week earlier. Every turbine has an aircraft warning beacon on top. Every one of them was synchronized to flash together. It was extremely distracting while driving to see all these red lights, all around you, flashing on and off every 2 seconds or so. Certainly didn’t feel “natural.”

  4. In regard to land destruction, a recent study led by Mark Z. Jacobson proposed to power California with 100% renewable energy. The plan would install wind turbines, solar CSP and solar PV on 3,426 square miles of land. That’s more than seven times the size of the city of Los Angeles. In addition to that, the plan would occupy 1,406 square miles of ocean.

    Jacobson says siting decisions should take biodiversity and wildlife into account, but concern for nature protection should not be allowed to slow or stop the construction of renewables in any way.

    I am sensing a bit of a double standard here.

    Environmental journalist Chris Clark has more details:

    1. I almost had the opportunity to see Mark Jacobson deliver a lecture at my work, but I missed it because I had a pressing deadline for an assignment. I would have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to question his assumptions and logic.

    2. In regard to land destruction …

      @Laurence Aurbach

      What proportion of these development zones include agricultural and grazing lands (or are these lands not yet “destroyed” in your view)? The same could also be said of California marine terminals, offshore drilling platforms, and shipping lanes (ocean areas have multiple industrial uses, except otherwise designated).

      Delay, Jacobson, et. al., suggest “… would allow fossil fuel plants to persist and cause greater damage to human and animal life.”

      1. Unfortunately, very few of California’s best areas for wind coincide with agricultural/ranching land: Most of the wind potential is in the Tehachapi mountains and the Mojave desert. The one region where wind turbines can be co-sited with farm lands would be Solano County, in northern California near the delta.

        As for shipping lanes/marine terminals, those are not really appropriate for either wind or solar. California’s offshore wind is weak, except for the very northern portions of the coast: However, in that region, I have heard it is unlikely that the wind resource could be developed because of transmission constraints between Eureka and Redding. New lines would have to be build directly through protected coastal redwood forests.

        As for solar, California’s weather is not amenable to placing solar panels anywhere near the ocean. The San Francisco Bay Area is famously foggy, and Southern California has a phenomenon called “June Gloom.” A thick, gray layer of clouds will roll in from the ocean in the morning up to a mile or two inland, only to “burn off” later in the day. This does not happen every day, nor does it persist through the whole summer. But the economics of solar are very sensitive to maximizing insolation. Compared to the deserts, near (let alone on the ocean) is not a good place to put solar panels in California.

        I think everyone here, regardless of whether they prefer nuclear or renewables, agrees that “allow[ing] fossil fuel plants to persist” would indeed “cause greater damage to human and animal life.” However, Jacobson, Delucchi, et. al are operating on a wide variety of fallacious assumptions about nuclear power that cause them to assume that renewables are the only acceptable alternative to fossil fuels.

        1. Unfortunately, very few of California’s best areas for wind coincide with agricultural/ranching land.

          @Andrew Benson

          The high wind resource areas north of LA look to be grazing lands (here). Also lands in NE corner of state, NE of Riverside, many coastal areas, and Solano County (as you discuss).

          Jacobson appears to be directly referencing wind resources offshore of Bay Area in deep water (close to demand centers) and Cape Mendocino. Trinity Mountains already have two transmission corridors, and also a southern line from Humboldt County to Ukiah and Bay Area (here). I’m not sure why you are ruling out transmission expansion as an option in northern California looking at existing transmission corridors, multi use national forest (already utilized for forestry), possible expansion of redwood old growth protected areas (and other conservation initiatives as mitigation options), and co-benefits of early efforts to develop tidal and offshore wind resources in northern California?

          Central Valley and southern part of State have excellent insolation values. Your own Commission reports: “… PV can be deployed beneficially almost anywhere in California” (here). NREL ranks California #1 for rooftop PV potential: “California has the highest technical potential of 106 TWh due to its mix of high population and relatively good solar resource” (here). Texas and California are also the top ranked for utility scale PV close to demand centers.

  5. It’s good to see a fellow Cali person actively involved in promoting nuclear energy. I assume Andrew is in SoCal (I’m in NorCal). I’m hoping (as in the metaphysical concept of really, really wishing…) that some company or entity will come in an buy SONGs, install new steam generators, and restart the plant.

    David Walters
    Pacifica, Ca

    1. Unfortunately, SCE already surrendered their operating license, so even if someone did want to buy, it would be a big uphill battle.

      As Rod notes, I currently live in Sacramento but I am from San Diego (county). I visited home for a week to attend the tour of SONGS.

      Thanks, David!

  6. Living in Tehachapi now for over a decade, I have been able to watch the excavation involved in installing wind towers and turbines, as well as the aftermath of that excavation. Vegetation returns, and the alleged bird kill is much like the FUD against nuclear power; overplayed and exaggerated. Personally, comparing the Standard Oil field in Oildale, outside of Bakersfield, I find the windfarms not nearly as destructive and environmentally obtrusive as the devastation of an oilfield.

    As I’ve stated here before, technology evolves through its application. I support ANY alternative to fossil fuel, in the belief that we will hone the effectiveness of these alternative energy sources as their use increases and the technologies evolve.

    Would I prefer a source, such as NE, that has a much smaller footprint, if it could safely supply our energy needs and lessen our usage of coal and oil?? Of course. But so far, I have not seen a narrative from the pro-nuke side that is effectively convincing of the safety of this technology. Both sides, pro and con, cite science and numbers that are beyond the abilities of John Q to verify or understand, so it comes down to a matter of trust rather than science. Unfortunately, the past events, such as Chernobyl or Fukushima, have shattered that trust for the average uninformed energy consumer. The “antis” understand this, and have a much simpler and easier task. And the pro nuke community citing science that is above the head of the energy consumer is not going to restore that trust. Nor is waging a constant attack on the so called “green” energy sources.

    I still have not formed a concrete opinion in regards to the safety of NE. I suspect, like most debates, the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremist opposing arguments, pro and anti. But I have formed a opinion about the argument itself. The pros are using a losing strategy, and shooting themselves in the foot. They can’t seem to keep animosity and derision out of the debate, and they aren’t sinking the amount of money and creative energy into the kind of effective PR campaign that will restore the public’s trust. As laudable as Rod’s efforts are, they cannot match the sensational and tittilating “end of time” natterings of the anti fanatics, nor can they match the financial might of Shell Oil, BP, GE, etc.. Until some NE heavy hitters pony up with the funds and the creative talent to lodge a long term positive narrative that rivals that of their foes, the NE proponents are just emitting a barely audible squeak.

    1. @poa

      It’s possible for even moderately informed people with average memories to list the major nuclear power plant accidents of the last 40 years – TMI, Chernobyl and Fukushima. Only one of the three resulted in any measurable deaths — the kind where there is an identifiable corpse. The total number for that one was less than 50.

      What more convincing do you need about the safety of the technology? This is not a complex, scientific argument.

      I’m a believer in Murphy’s law – if something bad can happen, it will. The logical, but often overlooked, inverse of that law is also generally true. If nothing really bad does happen, perhaps that is because it can’t happen, despite all scary scenarios to the contrary.

      If you want a detailed, scientific explanation of why nuclear power plants that have been licensed to operate have such an admirable safety record — even if they were licensed under the more developmentally interested Atomic Energy Commission, I highly recommend reading the final report of the NRC’s State of the Art Reactor, Consequences Analysis (SOARCA) published in November 2012very quietly, I must add.

    2. “[Pro-nuclear folks] can’t seem to keep animosity and derision out of the debate…”

      Critical Masses provides documented historical evidence that show conclusively who originally put all the animosity and derision into this debate: people who made it their mission to spread lies and FUD about nuclear power because they decided that they didn’t like it.

      It’s not our fault that animosity and derision is still a part of the debate. It continues to be regularly practiced by the most vocal anti-nuclear crowd. If we were to show no emotion when deconstructing the lies and FUD, our words would have no resonance with the public and the anti-arguments would stick in their minds. Pro-nuclear folks are well within their rights to register their objections to absurd and false claims with emotional language. I try to remain civil, but not at the expense of letting anti’s off the hook for spewing lies and baseless FUD.

      “They aren’t sinking the amount of money and creative energy into the kind of effective PR campaign that will restore the public’s trust.”

      There are good reasons why the nuclear industry doesn’t have large sums of money like fossil fuels to sink into the debate:

      1. Uranium mining, enrichment, and fuel fabrication is not a very large industry, as nuclear fuel is extremely cheap fuel (50 cents per mmbtu) compared to fossil fuels ($2 per mmbtu for coal, $4.5 for natural gas, $30 for oil). Cheaper fuel means a smaller revenue stream.

      2. Most companies in the reactor design business (with perhaps the exception of Areva) have their only a small fraction of business in nuclear, and the rest diversified across a wide variety of energy sources and sectors.

      3. Utilities don’t really care what energy source is used, so long as their can earn a guaranteed rate of return on it. They used to want lots of nuclear, because it was so capital intensive and fuel cheap (fuel being a simple pass-through cost). But now that many electricity markets are deregulated, leaving utilities with only T&D assets to earn fixed returns on, they don’t really have a stake in the choice of energy source.

      If you have some idea as to how we can find large financial interests who would be willing to dump large amounts of money in advertising for nuclear power, please let us know, we could really use it.

      1. “It’s not our fault that animosity and derision is still a part of the debate. It continues to be regularly practiced by the most vocal anti-nuclear crowd.”

        Actually, I don’t accept that excuse, as many times here I have seen opening civil comments by so called “antis” countered with sarcasm and ad hominem by some here. It just seems to me, after spending some time here, that that kind of response is unnecessary, because your arguments are more credible sans the crap. When your derision is countered with civil argument, as EL often offers, it only makes you seem overbearing and buffoonish. As someone who arrived here sitting on the anti side of the fence, it is the reasoned and civil arguments offered by the NE advocates that has swayed my opinion and opened my mind. The animosity has slowed that process, I can assure you.

    3. “As laudable as Rod’s efforts are, they cannot match the sensational and tittilating “end of time” natterings of the anti fanatics,…”

      @poa; quite right! Boring, humdrum facts can’t compete with the fantastic, campy sci-fi dis-information which anti-nukes spread – especially since several have come to actually believe what they are saying. And when there’s a nuclear concern, it’s these same folks who quickly volunteer to *speak truth* with the media (sometimes reimbursed by those corporations or their investors), while the actual experts are busy working to correct the problem. The nuclear experts do need knowledgeable PR folks, which is a hat both Rod and Andrew are trying to wear – as time allows.

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