Atomic Show #258 – Energy and the Modern State With Professor George Gonzales
Dr. George Gonzales is an energy-focused political scientist and professor at the University of Miami. He has written a number of books about the relationships between energy, the environment, international relations, and political decision making. His upcoming work is titled Energy and the Modern State; it is scheduled to be published in 2018.
On this podcast, George and I discuss the way that the United States continues to use its ability to influence and dominate the world’s oil markets to maintain its position as a global superpower. Part of the underlying strategy includes focused efforts to discourage the use of energy sources like plutonium that are capable of supplying enough additional energy to the world markets to reduce the importance and value of petroleum, natural gas and coal.
I hope you enjoy the discussion, even if it is lengthy, sometimes passionate, and a bit contentious.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 1:40:37 — 92.1MB)
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Rod: You are forgiven (blog readers – listen to the podcast to understand why I say this) And welcome back. I have really missed all your posts.
FYI- I had problems getting iTunes to automatically download this podcast. Had to go into the iTunes store to download it manually.
Thank you for the feedback. I wonder if anyone else has had similar issues? As far as I can tell, my version of iTunes didn’t have any trouble downloading the episode automatically.
“Part of the underlying strategy includes focused efforts to discourage the use of energy sources like plutonium that are capable of supplying enough additional energy to the world markets to reduce the importance and value of petroleum, natural gas and coal.”
Bearing in mind that I have not yet watched the podcast, could someone explain how stifling MOX efforts has any effect on how nuclear competes with fossil fuels? There are pragmatic reasons to hold back on recycling outside of the usual proliferation concerns; spent fuel is a really robust package that can be dry stored safely and indefinitely, uranium is abundant (therefore cheap), and payroll (as opposed to fuel costs) is what is killing nuke plant economics.
MOX is not equal to plutonium, though plutonium is a few percent of MOX.
The efforts we discuss date back to the late 1960s / early 1970s. They include the Ford Administration decision to defer fuel recycling pending more study and the Carter decision to outlaw it while trying to pressure our allies to follow the same course of action.
At that time, the US had been pursuing fast breeder reactor technology and a demonstration of that technology at Clinch River for more than 5 years. This was the highest priority reactor technology program at the Atomic Energy Commission and the idea was to prove that there was plenty of fission fuel to support a widespread adoption of nuclear energy technologies. The US wasn’t the only nation that was interested in fast breeders or in fuel recycling. As we discuss on the podcast, one of the stimulants for our leaders’ decision to halt progress was the fact that nations like Germany were selling complete fuel cycle packages to countries like Brazil.
The vision of some was the creation of a plutonium economy as a logical, gradual replacement for the hydrocarbon economy that had dominated human society for well over 150 years (as of 1965.)
Even today, conclusively proving that “spent fuel” is actually future fuel for properly designed reactors would have substantial value for those who advocate for nuclear energy and huge costs for those whose wealth and power depends on the false premise that modern society would collapse if we phase out fossil fuels.
Spent fuel is indeed future fuel.
An anti-nuke special interest could easily call attention to the fact that reprocessing increases the total volume of high-level waste compared to indefinite dry storage. Perhaps this is minimized in the simple melt reprocessing method used for metallic EBR-II fuel, but this fuel type is not suitable for most reactor types. Point is that reprocessing isn’t easy. It is nasty.
Better to leave the spent fuel alone. Casks are so over built that they likely have an infinite functional lifetime so long as they aren’t immersed in salt water. Engrave a bill of materials with best-estimate isotopics and dates onto a nameplate and stack them up like we saw on Disney’s WALL-E.
I don’t completely disagree. I’m confident that future generations will be smart enough to both look after the casks as long as necessary and to eventually begin beneficially reusing the material. We aren’t leaving a burden so much as a stockpile or a valuable legacy.
By the way, it appears that there is no unbreakable link between metallic fuel and sodium cooled fast reactors. Lightbridge/Areva have developed a metal alloy fuel for light water reactors that has a number of useful advantages over the 1950s vintage standard of UO2 pellets in zircalloy cladding tubes.
Disclosure: I own Lightbridge stock in my personal portfolio.
No kidding, Scaryjello. That is EXACTLY what we should do.
The really “low hanging fruit” for spent fuel reuse seems to be DUPIC, but that really hasn’t gone anywhere (at least not into the CANDU reactors’ channels).
“Why haven’t we seen DUPIC used yet?” is an interesting question.
Re-packaging SNF for DUPIC use might be an issue, and would definitely take some coin; the additional care required in handling before fueling is an issue too. If it costs more than manufacturing SEU fuel, and this cost isn’t offset by the reduced volume of fuel consumed and requiring disposal, that would explain it right there.
The other reason I can think of is politics. Anything that empties spent fuel pools and sends SNF out of the country takes away one of the biggest fear issues pushed by the anti-nukes. The publicity of SNF going elsewhere and actually being useful would expose their contradictions and cut their narrative off at the knees. They’d (hypocritically) oppose any sale of SNF to CANDU operators just to keep the issue alive.
@E-P and Rick Armkenecht
It’s also worth remembering that the uranium market is currently so well supplied that spot market prices have been hovering near $20 per pound for several years. In nominal dollar terms, that is less than half of the price level achieved in the early 1970s.
When oil prices rose from $3 per barrel to $12 per barrel in 1973, uranium prices rose from $6 per pound to >$40 per pound. There is no financial incentive to create a bulk recycling industry today when it is easier and cheaper to simply stockpile the material for the future. One of the most logical and well advanced DUPIC research efforts was being pursued in South Korea; Moon Jae-in’s election has put that on hold for now.
“I’m confident that future generations will be smart enough to both look after the casks as long as necessary and to eventually begin beneficially reusing the material.”
With the current direction that deregulation is going with this administration, one hopes that a precedent is not being set, to be followed by subsequent administrations. If so, your optimism about future storage practices is probably naive.
Even setting aside the issue of unwise deregulation, the past behaviours and policies practiced by corporate America in regards to our environment renders your optimism unfounded, unjustified, and irrational.
If you operate under the assumption that EPA regulations are based on sound science and an informed balance between costs and benefits, I can see how you would take that position.
Since I reject both of those assumptions about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as constituted under the reorganization plans conceived by the Nixon Administration and habituated during the past 40 years of bureaucratic growth and sustainment, I think there is plenty of rationality in my assertion.
True to your form Rod, you attack the EPA and regulations, while ignoring the issue of corporate irresponsibility, and the long history of it in tegards to our environment. Thats what makes your optimism naive and irrational, at best. I wonder, had we of not had an EPA this last half century, what would be the state of the water we drink and the air we breathe. You have children, and profess to be a responsible and caring family man. So, if Trump’s trend of denying science, and dismantling environmental protections, as well as worker’s protections, proceeds unimpeded, and is repeated by subsequent administrations, you should probably take a moment and ponder what that portends for your children’s future. And spare the indignation I am sure is your first gut reaction to this comment. “But I’m a great daddy” doesn’t cut it. Supporting this abomination of an administration has become an irresponsible act of political cowardice, a betrayal of our values, or simply the mindset of a fool. Take your choice.
True to your form, you put corporations into the category of evil doers and EPA bureaucrats into the category of saviors of the environment.
The real world is less binary than that. Many corporations, though generally focused on making a profit, act responsibly and recognize the fact that dirty air and water are bad for business. In addition, many also recognize that processes that create useless and harmful waste need to be improved so that they turn waste into a revenue stream and eliminate the unpredictable, often open-ended liability associated with harmful discharges.
Before the EPA, there were dozens of government agencies that handled various aspects of environmental protection and health and safety regulation. Claiming that the EPA is responsible for the generally positive effects of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act is like claiming that the formation of the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for the generally successful effort to protect the United States from major terror attacks.
Also, while I am no Trump fan, I can point out aspects of current policy that seem to make sense to me and explain why I think it is wrong to resist everything.
I agree strongly with the view that SNF should be dry stored as SacryJello and Engineer Poet set out.
Seeking to place SNF 1KM below the surface in geological repositories sends the wrong message to the public – i.e. This stuff’s so nasty we have to put it way down there ,,,, ,,
I’m a newcomer to the show. I love the discussions that are being had here. I was wondering if you could re-open commenting on previous discussions. I had wanted to talk about your last one (Brayton Cycle Gas Turbines) but it wasn’t open for discussion.
Welcome to the discussion. I reopened the comment thread on the Brayton Cycle gas turbine post.
This podcast lasted 1 hour 40 minutes! Maximum 50 minutes should be enough for a panel discussion, and 20 minutes should be enough for a 1 guest discussion. If you can’t plug your book and hit the main points in 10 minutes per person, then you’re going to lose most people long before the end.
The problem with opinionated people who like to talk, is they soon illustrate how little they really know, and how willing they are to push their agendas anyway. I give “victory” to Rod for appearing more restrained, factual, and reasonable in comparison with this guest.
I can’t summarize my review much better than by quoting this goodreads review of the guest’s The Politics of Star Trek: Justice, War, and the Future:
1 star: “Mildly entertaining, but most Star Trek fans will realize that the author is way off-base on a number of topics. Writing style is pretentious and much of the subtext is poorly defended and seems to be the author grasping at straws. An interesting and curious library read but anyone genuinely interested in politics or a fan of Star Trek will wince while reading.”
> Disclosure: I own Lightbridge stock in my personal portfolio.
They seem to be surviving mostly on sales of stock, but who knows, France (Areva) might buy up the 10 million shares and it could skyrocket back up to 50’ish or beyond. Maybe.
> “Hummer” is an environmental crime. A military vehicle…
Made me spit-take! It was an SUV much like many others in its class, and had higher mpg and smaller engines than some. Even the real Humvees are surprisingly “good” on fuel.
> Why don’t we have trains like China?
Why don’t we have air pollution like China? (see the top 500 list, where the US does not appear).
> Envy of Paris
Google Paris air pollution one time.
> Never been to LA, and don’t ever intend to go.
Almost 4 million people living in LA couldn’t care less.
You should always mention project Gasbuggy, etc., to complete the nuclear-natural-gas-fracking connection. If you’re going to frack, then frack big!
“This podcast lasted 1 hour 40 minutes! Maximum 50 minutes should be enough for a panel discussion, and 20 minutes should be enough for a 1 guest discussion. If you can’t plug your book and hit the main points in 10 minutes per person, then you’re going to lose most people long before the end.”
I would respectfully submit that any book that can be effectively summarized 10 minutes isn’t worth reading.
Just remember, the Atomic Show is not an entertainment product designed for people with short attention spans. Professor Gonzales and I did not decided to talk in order to provide a brief, easily digested promotion for his book.
A podcast like the Atomic Show provides a mechanism for a thoughtful, informative discussion designed to stimulate other thinkers and doers. If you don’t like it, don’t listen.
With regard to Lightbridge, they are surviving on sales of stock now because they are focusing all of their resources on completing the development of a product that requires an excruciatingly slow testing and regulatory approval process. At one time in the company’s history, they obtained substantial revenues from consulting fees. That was at a time when they had hired some key experts whose skills were being underused at that stage of product testing.
Those experts are now fully engaged in the final stages of bringing their revolutionary product to market with solid IP protections and full regulatory approvals.
I’m pretty okay with innovative companies that survive by raising capital from public issuances of stock instead of depending on debt or small groups of very wealthy investors. I don’t recommend putting too large a portion of any portfolio in shares of such companies. I also do not recommend any such investment unless you have a better than average understanding of the business plan and the target market.
>> 1 hour 40 minutes!
>> in 10 minutes per person
> any book that can be effectively summarized 10 minutes isn’t worth reading.
2×10=20. 20 minutes is plenty of time, if you get to the points.
A 200 page book shouldn’t take much more than 3 hours to read. Over half that for an interview/discussion is far too long.
> a thoughtful, informative discussion
It’s constructive feedback, listen or don’t, compare with professionals or don’t.
( http://www.npr.org/sections/author-interviews/archive – Rarely over 40 minutes)
( http://www.c-span.org/series/?bookTv )
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