Out of control fire at Australian coal mine
Ben Heard at DecarboniseSA posted an article titled The Silent Fire that describes a fire in a worked-out portion of a coal mine just outside of Morwell, Victoria, Australia. That fire has been burning since Feb 9.
The town near the mine has been blanketed by the ash and smoke produced by the fire. The current (as of Feb 24, 2014 9:00-10:00 pm local time) air quality index reading for the town of Morwell ranges from 220 to 400 on a scale where any reading above 150 qualifies as “very poor.”
Officials have considered evacuating the town, but decided that measured levels of contaminants were not high enough to take such a drastic measure. Instead, they have been issuing warnings to the elderly, people with respiratory difficulty, small children and pregnant women to restrict outside activity. In some cases, people have been counseled to leave town for the weekend to get a break from the smoke, but that advice includes the presumption that people should return home at the end of the weekend and continue as normal even if the fire has not be put out.
The fire and its effects on the local town have been well covered in local media, but there has been little or no attention paid to the situation outside of Australia. Though smoke and fine particles, especially those that are less than 2.5 micometers in size, cause immediate symptoms that are familiar to most of us – burning eyes, difficulty breathing, headaches, coughing – and are known to have long term health implications, fires are not subjects for sustained international media attention.
They are simply too familiar to be news. Though the gases produced get distributed on exactly the same air currents as those that have been blamed for distributing small amounts of radioactive materials from Fukushima all the way to the west coast of the United States, there is nothing distinctive about the material that would allow it to be measured and traced back to its source.
The health effects from the fire are becoming a bit of a political controversy, with the Greens calling for a declaration of a state of emergency and the sitting Health Minister issuing statements aimed at calming people and discouraging overreaction.
It will be great for the people of Morwell when the hard-working, frustrated firefighters complete their task of extinguishing the source of the town’s irritating air. Morwell’s residents will be able to get back to their normal way of life and will not spend much time worrying about the impact to their health from several weeks worth of continuous exposure to a potentially dangerous level of fine particles and other trace contaminants.
This event illustrates one of the many differences in public communications challenges between burning fossil fuels and using nuclear fission energy sources.
When burning fossil fuels, we must constantly release combustion reaction products into the environment, usually through a smokestack and perhaps some filters and other pollution control devices. Without dilution, the routine waste product discharges are immediately hazardous. The dangers and immediate effects of uncontrolled releases, even at lower concentrations, are visible and easily sensed. They are common enough to be well understood and grudgingly accepted. Everyone knows what it feels like to breathe smoke, though not everyone knows what it would be like to have to do so continuously for weeks at a time.
When using nuclear fission, we design our systems to contain reaction products. We tell the public and the regulatory bodies that we will not release any material. Uncontrolled releases of reaction products are uncommon enough to be newsworthy. The reaction products can, at certain levels, cause immediate harm. The materials are unique and give off distinctive signatures that can be detected at levels far below the levels that cause any visible effects.
In both cases, reaction products can cause negative health effects, some of which take many years to become evident and some of which will affect a small portion of the exposed population.
We have built our modern society around the power provided by fire and combustible fuels. Most well-informed people understand that we cannot eliminate their associated hazards; we can work to minimize them, but avoidance is not a viable option because we like the benefits that come from using fossil fuel-enabled power. We do not have an equivalent level of dependence on nuclear energy, so some people believe that we can turn away from it to eliminate the hazard.
The problem with that idea, however, is that eliminating all hazards related to radiation and nuclear energy means forgoing any of the potential benefits associated with an inexhaustible fuel source that does not require routine waste product releases to our common environment.
It also puts populations who avoid fission at a disadvantage compared to those who have properly evaluated the risk versus the reward and decided to move forward with appropriate levels of control and caution.
You don’t have to go to Australia to see this problem or what it can lead to for the folks living there.
Its weird these days in other forums when you say something pro nuclear and they respond with “what about the waste.” Its hard to explain that I am overjoyed with a industry that contains its waste and would be even happier if they also recycled it too now, but there will be time for that later.
I dont know how to put it in worlds but people seem to not have any perspective when it comes to the size of the earth and the comparative land uses of other means of power generation. Its like a distortion or something that occurs from fixating on issues involving places. I do it to sometimes I suppose, but in relation to NP they act like its close to wall to wall spent fuel or something completely kooky. Im sure there is some correct terminology for the psychology.
Anti-nukes have spent a lot of time, for decades, exaggerating the nuclear waste problem. In reality, nuclear power is the *only* energy technology that is bound to fully account for its waste, right across it’s life-cycle. Talk about irony!
Another misunderstanding is the difference between waste and pollution. Waste is contained outside of the environment, whereas pollution is waste that is free to circulate in the environment. Fossil fuels burning produced massive amounts of pollution, whereas nuclear power only produces waste, and very little of it at that. That makes all the difference. I believe Ben Heard had a nice write-up of this conceptual difference between waste and pollution in one of his older articles IIRC, or come to think of it, it might have been in one of his presentations …?
Nice post. The pollution is being stored as waste in my tissues and lung.
It was a good one, I hadn’t thought of it that way and then of course much of it probably isnt even technically “waste” as its totally recyclable. Usable spent fuel really.
“I dont know how to put it in worlds but people seem to not have any perspective when it comes to the size of the earth and the comparative land uses of other means of power generation.”
People do not have any perspective. This is partly (or wholly?) because they are largely innumerate and even the ones who can do some math do not understand that it is a thing they should use in their daily lives the same way reading and writing is.
Watch movies which touch on issues of logistics or land or population sizes and they never get it right. I wish I could think of some examples, but my mind is a blank at the moment.
If one has a few facts on tap, like rough population numbers and basic geography, it’s easy enough to do a little back of the envelop reality check when presented with these types of claims, whether in a political debate or in a film. Most people either aren’t so equipped or it never occurs to them to bother.
Take a cold look at what Brazil is doing to the Amazon forest with their mammoth Hydro projects.
Makes you want to vomit.
10 nuclear plants on a few square miles would have suffice.
That is a tragedy
Four rivers in Sweden saved due to Nuclear power. Not something that the greens acknowledges.
Way back when, I believe the Sierra Club advocated for nuclear power as a way of preventing hydrodams from being built, which they saw as environmentally damaging. Those were the days …
Crows can’t count above 5. People are similarly limited, so long as they refuse to apply any mathematical discipline. If they weren’t so limited, Lottery ticket sales couldn’t exist.
At some point, probably about 100 or so, all quantities simply become “many”.
Kinda off topic but relevant – a new Fuku radiation study is out and being thrown around in various forms. Here is the full link to the actual reference:
Radiation dose rates now and in the future for residents neighboring restricted areas of the
Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant ( http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/02/19/1315684111.full.pdf )
It looks like it uses a modified linear model that adjusts for age, sex, etc.
hey john, you read that report? at first i thought it was some good work. here’s my take with some soak time, and a re-read. it’s like the old lawyer joke…. info is 100% accurate, but totally useless. so their methodology required looking at folks living normally in unrestricted access areas. and they conclude everything is A-OK. surprise? not exactly, if it twern’t OK, they’d be evac’d. looks like a case of “we got some grant $, let’s use it.” i could have saved some effort, instead of all the calcs and justifying the methodology, just hang a dosimeter on the necks of those folks, and whole body count every couple months for the internal dose. they’d get an actual dose, not an estimated calc dose. so what did they prove? they proved to me the estimated dose rates in Tamano Town, totally outside of any current concern envelope, were twice the levels of the other 2 places. that shows exactly what? maybe nobody’s looking in the right place? this thing could have picked 3 towns in the USA and done the same thing. this “study” is irrelevant, the important point is what are the estimated long-range dose estimates in the soon to be released areas for unrestricted access (coming april 1). i can’t “original source” that report, can you? it looks like an anti nuke propaganda god-send. the thing is just begging to be blown apart. doesn’t even matter that the calc’d doses are insignificant, focus will totally be on the bottom line of Table 4. Tamano Town is a risky place because it’s twice the dose of the other 2, and it’s outside the concern area. mjd.
Im not a big fan of the sources of that report also doses that low are not proven to have a cancer outcome at all. So speculating from them is not reasonable IMHO.
I think its conclusion is closer to what we will probably see.
They even got a iPhone dosimeter app over there! How does that work??
Coal seam fires are a common problem.
Has anyone studied the radioactivity, besides other pollution, due to these fires? How would it compare with Fukushima?
Up to 3 percent of emissions and up to 40 tons of mercury a year from these things!
Its not just the toxins and particulate mater in the smoke. A anemic paramedic in a staging area close to the fire fell ill from what looks like carbon monoxide poisoning and had to be hospitalized.
Union warns of health risks posed by Hazelwood mine fire
And now for something completely different. 10 prefectures in Japan are on high particles alerts.
Hey. They do not need nuclear…
Here is the link:
But I don’t understand. They closed their nuclear plants and are building coal plants and burning methane. How can that be ?
I think it’s time for some discussion about causality and inferences.
The Japanese public should have been asked whether they prefer knowing for sure that many of them will be killed by largely unavoidable air pollution due to routine fossil fuel power generation, or whether they prefer knowing that there is a theoretical risk that some of them might die from radiation exposure after a freak, once-in-a-lifetime, largely avoidable nuclear accident, such as Fukushima.
… too many italics …
Joris, that comment should be framed and signed and sent to the Japanese and German media and governments and our own Congress.
I hope to quote that a lot. It’s a FUD-breaker.
Ya might wanna double check your placement of the words “avoidable” and “unavoidable” before you turn that little ditty into an advertizing jingle.
>> John T Tucker
February 26, 2014 at 4:05 AM
Up to 3 percent of emissions and up to 40 tons of mercury a year from these things!
Its not just the toxins and particulate mater in the smoke. A anemic paramedic in a staging area close to the fire fell ill from what looks like carbon monoxide poisoning and had to be hospitalized.
Union warns of health risks posed by Hazelwood mine fire
February 26, 2014 at 10:36 AM
And now for something completely different. 10 prefectures in Japan are on high particles alerts.
Hey. They do not need nuclear…
Here is the link:
John & Daniel, is the Japanese public getting any clue of this stuff or they so radiophobic they are just ignoring it and putting up with polluting their lungs? Aren't their moms concerned over being more scared of something that ain't there than something that is and going inside their kids lungs every day?? There any Japanese Ben Heards announcing this stuff? Crazy!
If the Prime Minister Abe is smart, he will use this to push the restart of the nukes.
A no brainer.
And now China reaching dangerous levels for a 7 th day. Civil unrest to come.
I bet you that China will announce a ‘mad’ shift to nuclear.
Here is the link:
Nuclear Fission: Inexhaustible, Inaccessible, and its products are Nondisposable
Therefore who cares if its Inexhaustible. What could a municipal do with natural uranium, or thorium, or plutonium, or depleted uranium…even if it was readily available in size for free?
Answer: Absolutely nothing. Joe Schmoe can’t do nothing with 2 tonnes of natural uranium. And the municipal/provincial corporate is small fry in the world of power structures…they can’t do anything nuclear without being labelled North Korea nutcase status by the world power elites.
Even the state backed corporate is a weakling now because it has been bankrupted by private banking elites.
So whats the point of this article or website again? We ,the taxpayer suckers, are supposed to phone up our phoney representatives and demand some sort of change for the 50 millionth time? The Old_Nuke (I just fell off a turnip truck) fairy tale of “responsible voters” doing their job? Oh my, keep the articles coming now, the apathetic working poor will soon be very interested. Prosperity is just around the corner!
What is the point of letting you post the same garbage here over and over.
So you are terrified of nuclear power as the ultimate in destructive complex weapons becasue of its ease of accessibility and energy potential even to impoverished nations but also feel that energy is technically and economically unaccessible.
Perfectly reasonable that.
Here is the next comedy stint for the Nuclear “industry”.
State backed Areva going belly up. Why?
Because they have no fossil fuels to finance any further reactor builds and their so-called “nuclear technology leadership” is a dry hole. Their R&D is completely aimless, a bunch of phds writing worthless papers at this point in time.
I wonder what the nuclear cheerleaders will say about this reality when it happens.
Lol, yea. Troll.
Areva Loss Widens On Provisions, Renewable Energy Losses – Quick Facts
For the first time since 2005, cash generated by the company’s operations allowed it to fully fund strategic capital expenditures essential to growth.
two projects launched in the previous decade (OL3 and a power plant modernization) and the Renewable Energies business impacted negatively profit in 2013 net income
Areva expects positive free operating cash flow before tax in 2014 and upsignificantly in 2015-2016, despite uncertain short-term environment.
To bad they got caught up in the “renewables” scam and considering the artificial environment of incentives and the pro solar and wind regulation in Europe its surprising they can make it at all.
On that note:
Germany approves solar self-consumption levy
Those using their own solar generated electricity will be required to pay a €0.044kWh (US$0.060kWh) charge. The levy will only apply to new rooftop installations above 10kWp fitted from August this year.
It is calculated as 70% of the 6.24kWh charge applied to customers drawing power from the network that self consumers have been exempt from.
So now a company and larger co ops have to pay for solar power from systems it buys if it decided to go it alone. So failure on yet another front of the German renewable mess.
lol sorry thats extremely annoying ( http://www.pv-tech.org/news/germany_approves_solar_self_consumption_levy )
Please check your link Mr. Tucker. It appears to circle the wagon unless my PC is hosed again.
The eyes do play tricks on one. For example:
I guess one could expect a starving lion to have a cynical defeated attitude at times.
I put the correct link below it.
The Starvington thing is intentional. Hopefully somewhat domesticating. Less mixed letters to type too. Someone else thought of though.
I find it strange that they would put that tax on private solar users. I can’t imagine why they would have done that. Are they now trying to discourage solar installations because they have too much?
How would they even know what an individual homeowner used unless they required the installation of a meter? To my way of thinking if a person uses the sunshine that falls on their land to produce power for themselves, it is not the government’s affair. They are not harming their neighbors. I guess Germans look at things rather differently.
Maybe they have too many banker and lawyers.
Its for larger installations. Spain did something similar but requires everyone. I guess it may be because of all the incentives they put into solar and they dont want many to go off the grid then draw electricity out of the blue when the renewables are not working.
If they are connected to the grid, which they are, unless they’re only using electricity during the day and/or have a backup generator, then they are using the grid’s infrastructure as a storage device for their energy generation and use. If that is the case, then no matter how much solar electricity they generate, they should pay to maintain and install the grid infrastructure.
Ha! I’m the grandest nuclear cheerleader of them all. I advocate the elimination of the NRC and every other regulation of industrial processes. I’d love nothing more than watching a bunch of useless lawyers and bankers shoveling cow manure.
On another board a anti nuclear social butterfly posted this in response to one of my comments:
Brought to you by the nuclear industry who sends people to try to embarrass others into silence. Don’t even bother.
Which is of course a joke – and its not like that would be any kind accomplishment for people so embarrassingly ignorant. But it struck me how ive noticed people almost always accuse you first of things they are most guilty of, and how you starvington attack only the people you think are industry professionals on this board with your kookly posts and ignore the non A listers.
So do I think that some anti nukes probably try to harass and intimidate professionals that advocate for nuclear power ? Perhaps. I think I should start looking out for it more.
Patterns to look for include:
1) An argumentative style which resembles a compulsive liar. They argue vehemently, when confronted on one topic, shift seemlessly to another topic which seems to be related, but probably isn’t and by the time you get back to the original topic, they pretend as if your earlier refutation never happened. Their shifting is all amongst the standard items we’ve come to think of as the anti-playbook. I’m pretty sure there is an actual list of talking points, with an occasional update of what it emphasize.
2) There is usually only one of them on any web site. If they disappear, another will immediately take his/her place. The one that disappeared will reappear on some other related forum. Someone is assigning them to various fora. They always use anonymous handles rather than revealing their actual identity. Not dispositive, but EL was missing for the most part while BAS did his thing. When BAS departed for Forbes, EL returned.
3) If they can’t win the argument from the standard anti- playbook, they will spew a huge volume of FUD instead. This is meant to “win” the argument by guaranteeing that it is too much work for any casual lurker to extract useful pro-nuclear information from the discussion, because there is too much FUD cluttering up the conversation. And it is the casual lurkers that we are really trying to persuade.
Now that I’ve publicly explained how you can spot the paid shills, I would not be surprised if they insert some small delays or overlaps when switching assignments or start changing handles when changing fora. Still, their individual styles are pretty identifiable.
I think the best remedy is to post calm recitations citing the benefits of nuclear power as refutations. In other words, if the anti posts that nuclear is expensive, rather than address this point on his terms, usually with EIA COL numbers, instead point out the relative experiences in Germany and France and the difference in costs to the consumer. That allows one to get a much more positive illustration into the argument, rather than a boring numbers contest. It also makes our side of the argument more real to the lurkers.
Similarly, point out that nukes contain all their waste and pay in advance for spent fuel disposal and decommissioning in response to waste and similar environmental responsibility arguments. Do wind and solar pay for their decommissioning?
In other words, post a mini-article which doesn’t necessarily refute the anti- point by point, but does illustrates the tremendous benefits and the tremendous ecological responsibility of the nuclear industry for any casual lurkers to easily read and digest.
My pet peeve is when the discussion of the posted topic gets captured, and changed, by a particular commenter. The add a second commenter who’s hot button has been pushed by the first commenter. I have to scroll past endless comments looking for “on topic” discussion that i come here to see; including honest alternative differences.
I can tolerate most any differing opinion. But “yes”, “no” continuous posts off topic waste my time. I don’t much believe it is the administrators job to censor, unless the reason is especially obvious.
There are “plug-ins” that can be added to the cookbook blog software. For example on Facebook I can block seeing just the posts from one ID. Everyone else can still see them, but I don’t. If I felt a particular commenter was there just to capture the thread off topic; have a nice day, bye.
You’re spending way too much time thinking about this.
Translation: “You’ve got my number, and I don’t like it.”
Huh? You think I’m coordinating something with BAS.
Just reply to the substantive issues, EP, you’ll find the conversation (and your own peace of mind) will be a lot more interesting.
Yeah, EP, the substantive issues. Besides, EL wears glasses and parts his hair on the right, whereas Bas doesn’t wear glasses and parts his hair on the left. It’s just a coincidence that they’re never seen in the same place at the same time.
Or your ignorance. It’s not the first time faulty logic or wild conjecture has led you astray. I’m sure it won’t be the last.
The kind of mindless “its a conspiracy” crap we see, above, discredits this site.
If you can make a convincing argument, in your efforts at advocacy, discussion, and debate, then do so.
But this constant insinuation of people being some sort of cabal clandestine internet agents is assinine to the extreme. You are making idiots of yourselves. I’m astounded you can’t recognize that fact.
Tucker, on another thread, insinuates that I am some sort of troll with an agenda. He makes a jackass of himself in so doing.
My name is Jon Hall, I’m here to seek answers and knowledge so I can form an INFORMED opinion about nuclear energy and the Fukushima event.
I’m a finish carpenter, I live in Tehachapi California, I’m 62 years of age, and if this CRAP continues I am certainly willing to have Rod contact me via email and we’ll figure out a way to verify my identity and my agenda. I am posting, querying, and participating here SOLELY for my own enlightenment.
My suggestion, not that it matters to you, (obviously), is to stop the ignorant braying and rebut EL, and others, such as myself, with science, sourcing, and civil argument and debate.
Rod deserves better than you’re giving him.
The kind of mindless “its a conspiracy” crap we see, above, discredits this site.
I’m curious. Is it true that comments have the ability to discredit Atomic Insights? I’ve always run this site with the goal of using the blog articles to inform and allowing commenters to post their personal reaction and thoughts to that information. I’ve assumed that visitors can tell the difference between the material that is provided by “the site” and the material that is personal opinion. On occasion, I have pulled comments that seem particularly enlightening or well researched into a main article.
Do I need to modify my moderating philosophy? Should I consider turning off comments or deleting those that might “discredit” this site?
Rod….Its your blog. There is no way i would presume to tell you how top run it, or what your moderation policy should be.
But two thoughts come to mind. First, when someone posts an assertion here, and offers flimsy or lame excuses for not being able to provide substantiation, it does damage the credibility of the blog as a whole when the blog community seems to circle thier wagons around the unsubstantiated claim. And yes, it causes one to wonder about the “integrity” of the information offered here.
Secondly, lets assume that EL is some sort of “troll” sent here by the sinister forces of fossil fuel evil, OK? So what? Does that change the ability of your commenters to offer legitimate and honest debate? What good has come from this constant accusation and banter about the alleged nefarious motives of commenters such as EL, or myself. I beseech you to read through the recent threads, and ask yourself whose “delivery” deserves the impression of credibility. EL is, excuse the expression, kicking butt here, if only with his delivery, never mind science. And many here don’t seem to understand that delivery IS important, as is offering credible argument buttressed with sourcing. Has this constant mewling about EL motives gotten rid of him? Has it improved or enhanced the comment section? Whats it add to the debate?
I came here with a bad attitude, and subsequently apologized. It was a mistake to bring my anger here, when really I should have just brought my questions. I regret that. But this constant animosity and abrasive BS that two or three commenters here seem to think they have to dish out ad nauseum is tiresome and destructive. It is counter productive, and invites a negative response.
Too bad. Some of us really are simply seeking answers.
Thank you. That is a valuable perspective worth considering and I hope that some of the commenters here will engage in some introspection to recognize the truth that aggressive attack is an inappropriate and fruitless response to a questioning attitude. Pronuclear advocates have valuable information to share, but it doesn’t do any good to try to share it with an attitude that assumes rejection. If we close people’s ears through our efforts, we have failed.
“Good and honest debate” presumes honesty on both sides. The trolls, online FUD-meisters and other purveyors of propaganda have no interest in honest discussion; they leap in with their talking points and change the subject whenever one of them is refuted, always coming back with the same ones over and over.
There’s no way to honestly “debate” in such an environment. The only thing to do is to note the pattern of behavior and shun its practitioners.
I make every endeavor to provide substantive comments on the site. And I am very honest in my appraisal of nuclear power (and other energy related issues). If you feel differently, let’s have a thoughtful and serious debate about it. There is plenty to discuss. I don’t call you names. And maybe you should start with the same (if this is your intention with the above comment).
If changing the topic bothers you so much, why not stick to the substantive issues. It’s really that simple!
@EL : You have an astonishing double standard. It’s just like you physically had blinkers in front of your eyes : If it’s renewable, it’s got to be good, if it’s nuclear it’s got to be bad.
At some stage, it gets so ridiculous that it can’t be honest. You can’t simultaneously sincerely believe nuclear is not competitive on the market, so we should get rid of it, and honestly claim you think Ivanpah is an economically competitive and useful way of getting energy.
We could have a disagreement on facts, and the exchange would be interesting to determine who has the facts right, but more and more you’re appearing completely blind to facts. Having to go down to excruciating detail every time to try to show you’re making claims that are mutually exclusive, but seeing you then still denying and trying to dodge having to reconsider anything you said becomes too exhausting and unattractive to continue.
This is the part where you’re not substantive at all. When confronted with facts which inconveniently contradict what you claim, you begin to claim that’s not reliable enough in your eyes so you’ll just ignore them, demand that we bring more proof because “it’s not sufficient, you still doubt it”.
In a real exchange, that’s the part where you should be doing your homework, and if you doubt a claim, bring the materials elements that contradict it and show it not to come from a reliable source.
Yes I do … and I’ve posted many entirely honest reasons for this in numerous discussions on the site. Nuclear costs are rising (not falling), baseload is not particularly “valuable” energy, financing nuclear is very difficult and expensive (because of such large up front costs, time horizon, risks of overruns, availability of more affordable alternatives, etc.), it has large legacy costs which continue to be uncertain (open fuel cycle and decommissioning), nuclear has a public relations and siting problem, global security challenges, a botched upgrade can mothball your plant (Crystal River and SONGS), a large percentage of plants never reach their operating lifetimes (all of which impacts their underlying economic and non-competitive risks), and more.
And Ivanpah doesn’t really have much to do with anything. It’s a novel plant that will make money for it’s investors, and will likely help gain valuable operating and engineering experience in an advancing technology. The worst that can be said is that a few birds fly into it. Costs are dropping very quickly for solar (not increasing). Solar is already very competitive (without subsidies) in many locations, especially so against peak energy rates. It’s easy and quick to finance and scale. What’s entirely dishonest in your description is to compare one energy technology that has 50 years experience in commercial development (and many remaining obstacles) with another that has 5 or 10 (which is the case with CSP). You’re making some pretty significant accusations about honesty, facts, blindness, dodging, exhausting and unattractive disagreements, inconvenience, doubts, and a great deal more. When in truth of fact (and with significant insincerity and irony to it), what you consider to be significant has no substance or merit to it. The comparison is faulty from the start. Could we at least start with that, and then see where an honest discussion gets us?
I find it amusing when people talk about nuclear energy as a technology with 50 years experience in commercial development – even though we did not build any new plants for more than 30 years – and then imply that there is something brand new about concentrating the sun’s rays and using the resulting energy.
The only real differences between Ivanpah and devices that were used in ancient times to perform tasks like drying grain or extracting salt from sea water are scale and automation. Sure, there are 3400 acres of mirrors that automatically track the sun and maximize the portion of the sun’s rays pointing at the item where heat is desirable, but how different is that from similar applications from several thousand years ago?
On the nuclear side, since we are building essentially first of a kind models that use mostly newly designed parts and supporting technologies (sensors, control rooms, etc) it is not really true that nuclear costs are “rising.” I’d love to get my hands on some data from the Chinese building projects, but even there it is too early to determine if costs will inevitably rise or if they have figured out how to make nuclear projects conform to a more typical learning curve of progressively lower costs with increasing cumulative unit volume.
There are valid reasons to question the past cost performance of nuclear energy projects, but your tendency to avoid acknowledging the impact of well-organized and powerful opposition plus forced regulatory uncertainty on costs tends to make your arguments less than completely honest.
Solar is already very competitive (without subsidies) in many locations, especially so against peak energy rates.
I’m curious. Can you point to any solar developments — other than some remote communications charging stations — that are being built without subsidies or mandates? Do solar systems produce much power at the same time as peak energy rates or is there often a reasonably significant time difference between peak energy rates and peak solar insolation?
Read your comment again … and this is not what I believe (this is what you think I am saying … and I am not). I’ve stated my position very clearly on the site. If nuclear can’t scale and provide value, what I think should happen to it is entirely beside the point. What we have now (I am fairly certain) isn’t working too well. And on some of these points, even Rod agrees with me (in his criticism of “the industry” per se). Our solutions, however, are quite different.
If you want to continue reading into my posts stuff that isn’t there … I can’t stop you. But I can try and correct the record (and this is what I attempt to do in all of my posts). I abhor bad information on the site. And there is plenty of it that is pretty easy and important to clear up (particularly with respect to renewables). Also with respect to radiation risks.
My position is actually pretty mainstream (as I see it), and I frequently link to well researched and independent academic sources (which are not outliers). I’m interested in finding solutions. I know it sounds strange to you … I can only make sense of this as a reflection of the rather strong and dogmatic group-think that is present on the site. The fact that you mimic the ad hominem public peer pressure against me (without really taking the time to understand what I am saying in my posts) is a pretty clear indication of this to me.
I’m not a true believer. Any effort on behalf of other people on the site to make me one just isn’t going to work. I’ll let you know that FAR in advance. I don’t conform to peer pressure, I conform to solid and well presented independent research. It’s my training. I think I have shown as much on the site (even if you chose to minimize or ignore it).
Solar, wind, oil, natural gas, coal … they all have opposition groups and critics. Many of them are mobilizing PR campaigns on your site (even if it’s just social media where they seek to have an impact). There is nothing unique about nuclear in this regard. I don’t “avoid acknowledging it” as you suggest. I just don’t make excuses because of it, or inflate the importance of a relatively small group of ideologues (often misinformed and noisy) soliciting donations and organizing in the margins. This makes me relatively objective and a realist (not less than honest), and perhaps a great deal less prone to conspiratorial thinking than others on the site. You seem to forget that nuclear is a part of the establishment. It has been so for a long time. To suggest they don’t have lobbying power, and can’t get their will done in DC, is disingenuous at best (naive or ignorant at worst).
And yes … I don’t think nuclear gets ahead or makes any progress by lowering safety or regulatory standards. I just don’t. That’s my honest opinion. It’s not some blind faith that informs it (or confidence in invisible hands of the market or corporate self-interest), but I am pretty confident history bears this out (whether it’s plant reliability, availability of low cost financing, public acceptance, political steadfastness, ease of siting, or other factors that are involved). Power industries have regulators. This isn’t going to change. There are many ways for an industry to have an impact on this process (and create better rules and standards). Creating uncertainty about standards and animus towards regulators, while it may feel good in the moment (especially among like minded folks), I’m not sure is the best strategy to advance this cause. Again, my honest opinion.
I don’t think nuclear gets ahead or makes any progress by lowering safety or regulatory standards.
There is a difference between “lowering” safety standards and making them logical, cost-effective, and risk-informed. I advocate sensible regulations, not regulations that seem almost specifically designed to eliminate innovation and halt progress. Some of the offensive regulations, by the way, have been suggested by people who can claim to be part of the “nuclear industry”; as I think we will both acknowledge, established players in many realms have often been known to suggest rules that raise the barriers to entry to new competitors with new ideas.
Creating uncertainty about standards and animus towards regulators, while it may feel good in the moment (especially among like minded folks), I’m not sure is the best strategy to advance this cause.
My efforts to point out the political ties and motivations of specific regulators is not intended to create animus towards regulators in general, but to clearly identify those people who are misusing their positions of responsibility and authority to advance interests that are not more generally aimed at improving health, safety and welfare of the public they are supposed to be serving.
You seem to forget that nuclear is a part of the establishment. It has been so for a long time. To suggest they don’t have lobbying power, and can’t get their will done in DC, is disingenuous at best (naive or ignorant at worst).
Many parts of “the nuclear industry” are certainly part of the establishment, but nuclear technology itself is a very new entrant into the energy field. Please name one other energy supply where the basic physical phenomenon that enables it to be an energy source was discovered within the lifetime of many who still walk on this planet.
The only one I can think of is atomic fission. Perhaps you can improve my level of knowledge.
Solar, wind, oil, natural gas, coal … they all have opposition groups and critics.
Do any of them have entire library shelves full of books about the opposition group activities? Do any of them even have a wikipedia page with anything like the details available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-nuclear_movement?
Heck, have any of those other technologies been subjected to such an organized opposition campaign that it qualifies to be called a “movement”?
Perhaps the current war on coal comes close.
This is clearly a matter of some consideration and debate:
100 mSv/month (featured as a tolerance dose in 1934) is not a sensible standard for chronic doses. I believe even the most zealous on the site know this and are entirely confident of it.
“Not consistent with LNT” in low dose range under 100 mSv (lifetime) is not the same as no risk (or a “healthful” effect). Many people regularly confuse this on the site (and there is little effort to correct them). Only a single minded smear campaign to recognize LNT as incorrect. Regular and routine (confidence building) radiation protection standards are undermined by this.
Fukushima should be seen as a case study in regulatory failure, and well documented for lessons learned (best practices and how to improve the industry). Design basis, training, management, regulatory capture, and safety reforms need to be thoroughly examined and discussed. Very little of that is done on the site (most people here spend their time being apologists for TEPCO and suggesting tougher standards in Japan are delaying restarts and are not needed).
Early plant closures in US (Crystal River, SONGS, Vermont Yankee, Kewaunee, Oyster Creek): however you decide to explain this and seek remedies (typically high burden of regulation, radio phobia, environmental interest groups, leverage and power of natural gas interests, poor PR campaigns) it’s clearly not working very well. More plants are slated for early closure in the short run. Do you think fair market competition on new starts has anything to do with it? Nuclear might be capable of holding it’s own (at best), but it’s not anywhere close to changing the game. Long range planning doesn’t happen in an environment of regulatory uncertainty. Stable, consistent, and reliable rules advance innovation and progress (not hold it back as you suggest). Those with money on the table know this (although you suggest they are doing this to leverage their interests against other nuclear competitors). I beg to differ, an honest appraisal on my part.
New reactor prototypes: we should be very practical and “honest” about development timelines and licensing requirements for such advanced reactor models. I found the discussion of NRC’s role in this, and other regulatory issues, by Old Nuke in another thread an informative and useful contribution (here and here). The site would be better suited discussing these kinds of issues in a similar way (constructive rather than hyperbolic and combative). Engineers too have their part to play and being constructive in their appraisal of the fit for service basis of these designs (and what is needed in terms of development support to get them off the ground). I find these discussions very abstract on the site (and largely aspirational). Naive might be one word to describe this. Dishonest (or intentionally misleading) could be another.
Renewables: it’s difficult to know where to start with this one. Nobody’s lights are going out because of renewables. They are scaling very quickly and in a predictable and reliable fashion. Variability has been with us from the first days of the grid, and it is easily managed. Costs are not terribly high (when compared to the subsidized cost of alternatives), and costs are dropping. It is entirely dishonest to describe modern day renewables, on an industrial scale, as a technology comparable to ancient tasks of drying grain or evaporating sea salt. You should really stop doing so (it makes you sound archaic and out to lunch). Renewable generation “is expected to surpass that from natural gas and double that from nuclear power by 2016,” with new markets for non-hydro renewables scaling rapidly in non-OECD regions (here, here, and here). There is a lot of misinformation on the site about renewables. I try and rebut these with substantive and well defended comments when I am able. Particularly with respect to what I see (in all honesty) are some of the fundamental and inherent limits and challenges of available alternatives.
These (and others) are all relatively straightforward and conventional topics that are entirely fair and legitimate to debate on an honest basis. People debate them all the time in academic settings, trade conferences, investor meetings, boardrooms, social media, editorial meetings, popular press, and more. By going after me, and writing me off as dishonest for bring them up, you are failing your audience Rod. You are basically saying non-supportive or unconventional views (no matter how well substantiated or documented) are not welcome on your site. You only wish to welcome unconventional views when they can be used as a foil for something else (a platform for your unconditional commitment to nuclear power). So yes … honesty might be an important consideration here. But I’d like to see far more of it (and not less).
I know of no energy resources that are not subsidized in one form or another.
You were the one who wrote “Solar is already very competitive (without subsidies).” I simply asked you to provide examples.
There may be subsidies associated with certain portions of the fossil fuel value chain, but it would be pretty hard to claim that the fossil fuel industry does not pay far more in taxes than it receives in subsidies. The same statement cannot be made about solar or wind yet, even though both technologies have had several tens of thousand years in which to develop equipment for profitable capture.
Please do keep accusing me of being archaic by pointing out the length of time that humans have known that the sun and the wind are sources of potentially useful energy for limited tasks. I kind of like being demeaned by someone with your eminent grasp of the ease with which unreliability can be accommodated on a grid with plenty of controllable power sources.
EL: “Renewables: it’s difficult to know where to start with this one. Nobody’s lights are going out because of renewables.”
Tell that to the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of folks in Germany who can’t afford to pay their electric bills any more.
Or tell it to the people in Austin, TX, whose electric bills went up 20% last year, at a time of record low natural gas prices, because the city has squandered so much money subscribing to expensive, unreliable renewables.
Tell it to all the folks in any area where the utility has subscribed to unreliables. Every last one of them has seen substantial and disproportionate increases in their energy bills after unreliables have been added to the mix.
With little reactive power compensation, the paper you cite is modeling an energy system that is already dated and obsolete. As they report: “by adopting and improving the various mitigating strategies, it is understandable that some of the integration challenges can be alleviated and higher integration level achieved.”
They then detail what these may be: geographic dispersion, grid enhancements, energy storage technologies, improved forecasting, regulatory improvement, etc. With respect to storage, Moniz was bullish in recent comments: “Batteries May Vie with US Oil Boom as an Energy Changer.”
It is dishonest to say so? Folk here like to say so. All energy resources face challenges. I don’t see nuclear capturing much of the market for broad reform and energy transformation. Neither does anybody else (EIA, IEA), etc. Clearing the baseload hurdle is simply too difficult and hard (among other challenges). Hansen, Robert Stone, and their ilk to the contrary. They need to keep making their case, and as strongly and effectively as they are able. I don’t presume they are dishonest for doing so. They need to join the conversation, and everyone needs to get busy.
There are organized campaigns against fracking (equivalent to anything that nuclear faces). Wind opponents aren’t particularly skilled or savvy. I don’t know why. Presumably because they are just irate local landowners with too much time on their hands, and looking to protect aesthetic values (which doesn’t get people that excited given the scope of other environmental concerns). There is very effective and strong opposition against new transmission lines. They are very skilled, and wield the law as a weapon to delay projects and exact concessions. Have you been paying any attention to Keystone XL (pipelines are a dime a dozen). This action surpasses that of any anti-nuclear group (IMHO).
I don’t know why you think nuclear is so separate … and the lobby (and intreats groups who are in a position to support it) so feckless. Areva, Cameco, EdF, GE, Exelon, Westinghouse, E.ON, BHP Billiton … feckless? I have a hard time believing this. And I a hard time believing anybody else really thinks this either (unless it’s misdirection and scapegoats that are the goal). This is a who’s who of power brokers.
It’s time to stop complaining, accusing other people of being dishonest, and get busy. Nuclear has a lot of work to do! I’d say many of us are even counting on it. More debate is needed (and excitement) not less. It is a mystery to me why people on this site don’t get this!
Sorry to break this to you. But your bills are going up regardless of whether renewables are being added to the grid. Nuclear isn’t going to change this.
Any sources for your claim that Germans can’t pay their bills (their economy is booming), or the rise in energy prices in Austin is exclusively the cause of renewables?
It is quite obvious that the development of cost-effective electricity storage would be transformative to our economy and modern ways of living.
The problem, as I and many other observers see it, is that the technology that would enable that development is not yet visible, even on a laboratory scale.
We might be able to achieve a 2 or 3 times improvement over technology available today, but it seems pretty obvious that such an improvement is going to be a stretch considering the extensive experience and technological development cycles that have already been invested in batteries over the past 160 years or so.
There are cost, safety, and chemistry limits that reduce options to a rather constrained set of options, the Secretary’s optimism not withstanding.
Do you really expect anyone to believe that GE has much interest in promoting nuclear energy when it is a $1 billion part of a $160 billion per year company and that company is doing pretty well in selling combustion gas turbines, wind turbines, smart grid technology and natural gas drilling equipment?
I’ll agree that Areva, Cameco, EdF and Westinghouse (plus Bruce Power) have substantial interests in expanding nuclear energy. You might have noticed that I have posted a number of articles pointing to their efforts and encouraging them to do more.
Comparing a few years worth of organizing against fracking against 40 years worth of sustained, often professional, effort to build opposition to nuclear energy development is a little on the ludicrous side. However, feel free to keep making the comparison.
Extensive? Why work on advanced battery chemistries and designs when historical price of oil was under $40/bbl for much of it’s history. To be quite plain and direct about it, it doesn’t seem like you understand much about what is happening in energy markets and what is driving innovation. The competitive price point is entirely achievable for batteries (in many configurations and applications). Moniz seems to think so (you’re claiming he hasn’t looked at this or is being dishonest in making these comments). That GE, Tesla, Argonne, Total, Bill Gates, General Atomics, EPRI, National Energy Labs, AES, Hitachi, Aquion, A123, EOS, American Vanadium, NRG, and numerous other developers haven’t looked at it either. There are many technological roadmaps to reference. I highly encourage you to look at them (and stop sounding so old and out of touch with any current market trends or engineering advances outside of nuclear power).
What does the price of oil have to do with producing grid scale batteries?
I’m impressed by Tesla’s technology; they have taken an approach that takes advantage of the most dynamic and motivated sector of the battery enterprise. By using the cells developed for high powered laptops and ganging them together in a safe configuration, they have produced a power storage device that just might be competitive for high end automobiles that don’t have to carry too many passengers. That trajectory may very well have enough legs to make it competitive for more modest priced cars, certain trucks, and maybe a short duration UPS for a large server farm or similar customer where reliability has substantial value.
It remains a very open question about whether or not batteries are going to play much of a role on the power grid where the competitive sources include cheap coal, cheap natural gas and cheap uranium or thorium.
Diesel generators are widely used in locations where a battery (and a renewable energy resource) might be a far better solution. And now on a cost effective basis. With innovation and scale comes lower costs.
Natural gas is another high marginal cost fuel. Coal is not advancing (only in countries that don’t want to regulate it). By cheap uranium, I take it you mean baseload and LWRs (and high capital risk projects).
I caught a Democracy Now interview on the car’s wireless radio device in which Edwin Lyman and Susan Stranahan were hawking a new book they wrote: “Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster.”
In the interview they draw a direct line from TMI, to Fukushima to New Mexico.
Ironically in that no one was injured by radiation and they were hyped as major radiological events I guess there is a connection. That, of course didn’t come up, neither did pollution acidification or climate change. Just FUD. The book should be named the “Joy of FUD.”
Its pretty unreal:
Japan, U.S. Move to Expand Nuclear Power Programs Despite Contamination at Fukushima & New Mexico ( http://www.democracynow.org/2014/2/26/japan_us_move_to_expand_nuclear ).
Part of the irony is also the focus on TMI.
Objectively TMI was a non event. If we were to exhaustively sort the nuclear accidents by the amount of radioactivity the public received, TMI might be out of the top ten.
Windscale was many times worse, but who talks about it ?
In the criticality incident of Tokaimura, while there was no material releases, it may be also that in terms of man.sievert more people have been exposed to gamma ray radioactivity than in TMI.
The two French accidents at Saint Laurent des Eaux were also very likely worse than TMI. It’s not yet really clear what really happened, but we know now that in both case several hundred people were used to clean the contaminated area to retrieve the melted uranium and plutonium with hand tools, and their exposure had to be limited to a few minutes. A measurement campaign recently has found plutonium from the accident in the Loire river.
And then there’s Mayak about which there’s almost as little talking as it is massive. The worst is that the release before the accident appear to have been larger than the accident. Russians were just throwing massive amount of highly radioactive waste to the river.
How many am I ignoring myself ?
While Fuku doesnt even rate in threat to people or species of animals the pacific is really being ravaged by global warming and acidification, and to a lesser extent heavy metals as we speak:
10 MILLION Scallops Dead In B.C. Waters
Rising acidity in the sea water around Qualicum Beach has led to the death of 10 million scallops ( http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/02/26/scallops-dead-vancouver-island_n_4859868.html?ir=Canada+British+Columbia )
Coral off WA suffers shocking damage from marine heatwaves, scientists say
An extreme “bleaching event” in 2011 was known to have caused significant damage to the reef. But the study found another marine heatwave, in the summer of 2012-13, also caused trauma to the reef, including to its massive, 400-year old porites corals. ( http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/feb/13/coral-western-australia-damage-marine-heatwaves )
This is a serious issue. I kept marine aquariums for about a decade. One gorgeous species of anemone I tried to keep a few times never thrived and insisted on dying on me every time. After two or three tries I gave up. One day I was at a public aquarium where I saw one thriving very nicely. A touch to the glass revealed that the water temperature was well below 70F. I had been keeping my tanks at tropical temperatures.
Many sea creatures just can live well above 70F or even colder and things like anemones and scallops have limited mobility. They really can’t migrate to colder waters — although their larval forms might drift a good ways.
Sadly, the public and our leadership is still either misinformed or corrupted about nuclear electricity generation, and nuclear electricity generation is the **only** source that will reduce our CO2 emissions. I see some nuclear advocates try to be placating by mouthing “all of the above” but the evidence demonstrates that money spent on wind and solar is just money wasted or spent vastly less efficiently than spending it on nuclear.
Oh, forgot to mention, additionally, an increasing amount of “renewable” energy is wood burning or other “biofuels”. It is important to note that of Germany’s 22 – 24% “renewable” energy sourcing, the largest single component is actually “biofuels”, not wind, nor solar.
There doesn’t seem to be much wiggle room when it comes to temperature and Ph with some species. Of course there are microbes/pathogens that can thrive at incremental differences too.
A few of us have come upon the revelation that Germany and much of Europe are using biofuels/forest pellets as a major component of their “green revolution.” It has the potential for horrific land use/food price/air pollution/deforestation issues.
“There doesn’t seem to be much wiggle room when it comes to temperature and Ph with some species.”
Might be a lot of good trout streams disappearing in the coming global warmup.
I dont believe we have the moral authority when it comes to deciding what whole species make it or not. I dont want anyone in my future thinking I believed we did.
Ive failed at many things and been wrong may times, but once I realize what was going on I want to say, I never wanted to let any of this just happen. I am sorry I was not prepared to advocate more effectively.
Thanks to Rod and EL for an interesting and informative exchange, with minimal barbs. That kind of exchange, from two opposing schools of thought, compliments this site.
BTW, just as an aside….
Still on a remodel In Bev Hills, and I’m amazed at the number of Tesla Model S’s I see in that area. Seems they’ve got a winner. Hope it trickles down to more affordable vehicles in the near future.
When I was last in the Bay area, the official badge of membership appeared to be a Prius.
That was before the Volt and the Tesla. I wonder what it is now?
“…..official badge of membership…….”
I really don’t understand the contempt that some exhibit towards those of us that are attempting to take personal responsibility for our environmental footprint. Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t one of them. In the trades, I drive a truck, and having some sort of “green vehicle” is just not practical for me.
But I am really perplexed by the partisan sarcasm many on the right exhibit towards people that buy automobiles designed to have minimal environmental impact. I remember some time back listening to that worthless partisan hag, Ann Coulter, drooling out some sacrcastic and demeaning oration about the “left” buying these “ridiculous clown cars”.
Seeing as how attempting to minimize your environmental footprint is actually a laudible action, one can only assume that sputter such as Coulter’s has but one purpose, and that is to advance the interests of the status quo dependence transportation has on the fossil fuel industry.
Whats wrong with buying a Prius, or a Tesla, if you do so with the impression that you are actually contributing to the effort to preserve the environment? Why the sarcasm? All technologies undergo birthing pains, and certainly the Tesla Model S is demonstrating that the electric car, and battery development, is evolving. This is bad thing deserving of disdain?
The political will seeking to demonize and derail the so called “greens” certainly, at least in my opinion, is little more than an effort to maintain the global dependence on fossil fuels and the multi-national corporate interests whose only interests and loyalties are the pursuit of obscene profits for an elite few.
Its too bad that you nuclear folks can’t stop seeing the greens as “the opposition”, and instead compose a plan to meld efforts and marketing in a manner that effectively counters the fossil fuel grip on Washington and the media. It seems your effort to portray the nuclear energy sector as besieged on all sides by “the enemy” is a self-fulfilling dynamic, that plays right into the hands of the global fossil fuel machine.
You’re the one who leapt to the conclusion that there was something wrong with driving a Prius. Far from it. It’s just that they were so common as to be one of the defining elements of Bay area traffic, just as Mustangs were of Las Vegas. I didn’t see that anywhere else.
Thanks for blaming the victim. The UCS, Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Institute, and Greenpeace STILL have anti-nuclearism in their essential platform planks. Friends of the Earth was FOUNDED to be the anti-nuclear answer to the Sierra Club. You cannot do outreach to people who want you abolished. Maybe “Pandora’s Promise” and the climatologists’ letter will change enough minds to re-orient one or more of these groups. I’m not betting on it.
“The UCS, Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Institute, and Greenpeace STILL have anti-nuclearism in their essential platform planks. Friends of the Earth was FOUNDED to be the anti-nuclear answer to the Sierra Club”
And do they advocate for oil and coal? Find a way to stop bickering with those who fight the giants.
And do they advocate for oil and coal? Find a way to stop bickering with those who fight the giants.
Surprisingly enough, they sometimes do.
I’ve written quite a bit about the way the Chief Scientist at Rocky Mountain Institute has advocated for coal, oil and gas over nuclear energy. Here’s one example of post I wrote using his own words from his famous 1976 Foreign Affairs article:
While Carl Pope was in charge at the Sierra Club, they famously engaged in a long term relationship with Chesapeake Energy, one of the fracking pioneers.
FOE’s first check came from the CEO of Atlantic Richfield.
Money makes for some strange bedfellows.
Perhaps you’re misreading Lovins and his critique? It’s basically an article about rising consumption, and the exhaustibility of fossil fuels. He argues against a wasteful use of coal, and in favor of “wise” and “intelligent” resource utilization (using practical and imminent technologies) that minimizes coal consumption, and keeps open available options for alternatives (a “bridge” as he terms it) in the future. If consumption gets too far ahead of us, there is no catching up. This leads to “insuperable” outcomes when fossil fuels run out or get very expensive. It also leads to a more dangerous world (as he understands it), with an increase in nuclear proliferation risks. The choices are exclusive not because of preferences, but because of the inevitable nature of market forces and failing to keep to a sustainable energy budget. With fossil fuels in some abundance at the time, we haven’t yet exhausted our choices (or reached fundamental resource constraints), he suggests. This doesn’t mean we should be rushing headlong to meet them as quickly as possible (where our choices will be more limited).
“The second path combines a prompt and serious commitment to efficient use of energy, rapid development of renewable energy sources matched in scale and in energy quality to end-use needs, and special transitional fossil-fuel technologies.” All well and good. Fossil fuels are contained in this approach (and energy options are left open in the future). I’m not sure I see where he is advocating on behalf of a future that belongs to fossil fuels. He seems to be writing a paper about a future that belongs to something else, and recommends we keep our options open (and not let human exigency and contingency make our choices for us). Our greatest natural resource (he might very well have said) is our free will, and not some material dug up from the ground (and burned inefficiently in power plants). He seems to be writing about the profit motive (and not fossil fuel advocacy), and the tenet of tailoring resource utilization to end use needs (expanding our choices for the future, rather than limiting them).
Why is it you place so much faith in the humans who fight nuclear energy and so little in those who support it?
As a guy who studied “man’s inhumanity to man” as an undergraduate and who devoted his senior project to comparing how Joseph Heller and Jonathan Swift both used satire to attempt to expose the machinations of the rich and powerful, I have a somewhat skeptical view of the leaders in both camps. That is especially true when I detect people who seem to be more motivated by money and power than by truth.
I’ve met Lovins and spoken with him a couple of times. I’ve read his history and many of his works. I’ve written about him numerous times. The best brief summary I can provide comes in his own words – taking into account the fact that he has been openly advocating the “soft energy path” since the early 1970s. This comes from an off-hand comment that he made during a 2008 Democracy Now! interview.
“You know, I’ve worked for major oil companies for about thirty-five years, and they understand how expensive it is to drill for oil.”
Of course, there are many ways to interpret that, but knowing how well the man lives, how much he likes to travel, how much he enjoys being in the spotlight, I interpret it to mean that he works for the major oil companies because they pay him well. My interpretation of his motives tends to add a different perspective to his prescriptions, especially given the fact that I have no faith in the ability of unreliable power systems to significantly reduce the necessary production from reliable power systems.
I also know it is completely feasible for nuclear fission based power systems to eliminate the need to burn oil, coal and natural gas in specific applications.
While I was an analyst working on the Navy’s annual fuel budget, I learned a few interesting tidbits. Before it was retired, the USS Kitty Hawk, the last oil fired carrier, consumed about 30% of the navy’s surface ship fuel budget all by itself. The other ten carriers, all powered by uranium, consumed essentially no oil for their own propulsion.
Think about that for a little while and you can see why I believe there has been a focused effort to discourage the use of fission and why Amory Lovins was employed to be a part of that effort.
Well … I have little interest defending Lovins (who I don’t know much about), but simply wanted to highlight that your summary of his paper left out a great deal of the actual argument.
He’s clearly been an “advisor” and consultant to anybody who will ask him (here). And he regularly states he has worked for oil companies for decades. He doesn’t oppose use of oil and gas as transitional fuels, as I have stated. Or centralized energy resources for industrial processes that meet important end use goals. He’s kind of a pragmatist about these things (the best that I can tell). He does wish to have the ear of decision makers and the industry. I don’t find this all that odd. Hofmeister was the same, and others too. One could even say it’s fundamental part of their job description … to think of the future and make informed strategic choices in both the short and long run.
I take it you are aware of the public exchanges (and friendship as both have stated) between Amory Lovins and Alvin Weinberg. In his review of “Soft Energy Paths,” Weinberg writes: “Amory Lovins is surely the most articulate writer on energy in the world today. In his most recent book, he displays a capacity for synthesis, a felicity of phrase, and a command of detail that is a true wonder. So persuasive is his mellifluous prose that I found myself carried away and all but convinced of his arguments … Energy policy analysts cannot ignore Lovins — they must examine his position both in detail and in the large” (p. 85). Their exchange between the two goes on for several rebuttals.
Harkens to a day when the environmental movement and nuclear advocates still talked to each other (and had something to say). The arguments may not have changed much (glancing over it), but the social character of their engagement (or lack of it today) certainly has. Not sure who struck the first blow, but the relationship needs repairing. Pandora’s Promise is just one instance of this (and the collapse of public culture about energy issues, particularly when it comes to nuclear).
I take it you are aware of the public exchanges (and friendship as both have stated) between Amory Lovins and Alvin Weinberg. In his review of “Soft Energy Paths,” Weinberg…
For some odd reason, I’d prefer not to pay $19.95 for a two page review of a book published in 1978. Maybe someday soon I’ll figure out how to get library access or the open publishing movement will have more success. However, you provided a quote with which I can work, thank you.
It’s not at all surprising that Weinberg would compliment Lovins on his “felicity of phrase and command of detail.”
Lovins is famous for being able to give a good talk. The times when I personally encountered him he was holding the rapt attention of several hundred people associated with a DOD-sponsored series of talks called the “Energy Conversation” that were a big deal in DC in the period between about 2006-2009. He was almost poetic in his recitation of how carbon fiber composites would revolutionize the automobile industry by lightweighting cars.
He passed around a bowl made of the material to wow the audience. He also talked about how wonderful it would be to send solar panels to distant outposts that had been supplied with super efficient tents instead of sending trucks through combat zones, putting soldiers lives at risk.
Of course, he’s been making similar talks since about 1975.
As you quoted Weinberg “I found myself carried away and all but convinced of his arguments … Energy policy analysts cannot ignore Lovins — they must examine his position both in detail and in the large”
“…all but convinced…” Lovins is very persuasive — like many salesmen — if you don’t examine the details of his arguments and think about the implementation too hard. I’ve never ignored Lovins and I have examined his position in detail, I started reading his works about 1990. Do a search on Atomic Insights on “Lovins” to see some of what I’ve discovered.
I still have a draft of a post that I never got around to completing that describes how I kind of agree with Lovins description of a distributed energy system as long as it is built by realists who recognize that the distributed generators should be systems that do not depend on a reliable grid spread out over tens of thousands of square miles.
Many commenters here have shared my experience of living completely off the grid in vessels with single power plants (with moderate, nearly unused emergency back-up systems) that provided reliable power indefinitely. It’s fuel tank contained about 14 years worth of fuel.
Modern versions of that same engine have a 33 year fuel tank.
In other words, if Lovins wasn’t so opposed to the use of nuclear energy – dating all the way back to his entry into the energy discussion as one of David Brower’s first hires as a campaigner for the fossil fuel-funded Friends of the Earth – he could be selling a vision that would actually function to reduce the overall consumption of fossil fuel.
By the way – I talk to people in the environmental movement as often as possible.
I completely reject Steve Milloy’s argument http://www.foxnews.com/story/2008/08/14/environmentalists-prompt-nuclear-power-wake-up-call/ about why nuclear advocates should avoid talking to our natural allies. We should be forming strong alliances with the people who honestly prefer not to use fossil fuels forever and want them to be a transition to something that can actually reduce their use while providing even better opportunities to provide abundant energy to a mostly energy-starved human population.
Lovins would be a valuable ally if he was not such a “pragmatist” and willing to work for anyone who will pay him. He’s chosen well for himself for more than four decades by following the
DillingerWillie Sutton mantra of going “where the money is.”
PS – Lovins is a talented speaker – http://www.bigspeak.com/amory-lovins.html – but his prescriptions have proven to be difficult to implement. His consulting clients should be pleased with the resulting effect of maintaining their market dominance and solid profits.
A bit dated, but this one was posted on Reddit this morning. Solar in Minnesota wins out in an open a bidding process against natural gas (and other options). No State or utility subsidies, only a federal investment tax credit.
Story from Minneapolis Star Tribune.
A few points from the Judge’s Ruling:
In the debate between Lovins and Weinberg, this comment is made by Weinberg: “At some cost increment, solar is surely better than nuclear. Can that increment be decided now, and our whole future pre-empted, on the basis of Lovins’ projections of the cost of solar energy” [emphasis in original]” (here). We aren’t there yet (since project costs already include connection to adequate transmission resources and an investment tax credit is involved), but an interesting question nonetheless, which we appear to getting closer to answering in Minnesota (and elsewhere). At the time, Weinberg already envisioned a future where distributed soft energy co-existed with nuclear (in 1978). 36 years later, and with newer cost drivers in the mix, I find little reason to question his statements.
At the time, Weinberg already envisioned a future where distributed soft energy co-existed with nuclear (in 1978).
I might have been guilty of overstating my case – I do not disagree with a present (or a future) where distributed soft energy co-exists with nuclear. I just don’t think massive centralized solar makes much sense and I don’t like it when well to do homeowners get paid from sources provided by everyone else to put panels on their roofs where the bigger the roof, the bigger the system and the bigger the subsidy (or Investment Tax Credit).
BTW- What was the investment tax credit for the Minnesota project? Are you certain there were no other incentives involved – like an RPS or modified accelerated depreciation?
PS … and few recent stories this week about storage developments in the news. With prohibitive FERC rules revised over the last couple of years, things are just now starting to heat up. The scramble is on for start up funds and new expansion opportunities.
Sadoway is always a favorite …
“‘If we can get liquid-metal batteries down to $500 a kilowatt-hour, we’ll change the world’ … Sadoway expects Ambri’s liquid-metal batteries to be competitive with pumped-hydropower systems … Ambri batteries, which can be delivered on a truck, will be an alternative to pumped-hydro systems, which require a hill, a nearby hydropower plant and plenty of water to run it, Sadoway said. “Ours won’t have any geographical constraint.”
AES grid level batteries at 500 MW (large enough to replace a natural gas peaker) …
“‘Advancion systems, which can supply power for as long as four hours, will cost about $1,000 a kilowatt, compared to about $1,350 a kilowatt for a recently built gas peaker plant, he said.'”
And Musk Gigafactory (not to be underestimated) …
“The scale of production at the planned factory would be so immense that Tesla estimates it would drive down lithium-ion battery costs by at least 30 percent … Tesla, he said, would essentially become a power storage company. That would benefit SolarCity Corp., which is partly owned by Musk and may be a partner in the factory.”
Financing for $5 billion facility looks attractive (although details not yet published). Sure helps when you’re a darling of Wall Street (and have already made regular investors grin with absurdly large amounts of windfalls and profits).
Yes, Minnesota has RPS … and project goes towards meeting those goals. But it’s my understanding, PUC evaluation was an open process, and project is only receiving Federal 30% tax credit, and no other subsidy support (according to Betsy Engelking, Germonimo’s VP for development). Developer bears “all of interconnection and network upgrade costs associated with project.” Information comes from press coverage and PUC decision. If there’s anything else out there, I haven’t seen it.
@EL : Lovins is a dyed in the whool anti-nuclear, that’s the limit of his “pragmatism” and you have been here again diverting the discussion to completely different subjects. He can work for almost anybody but only *as* *long* *as* it’s not a nuclear organization. Lovins was born anti-nuclear in the early 70’s, his views were built as an attack weapon against nuclear, and he just tried to reframe himself as a generic energy analyst later on without changing them in any way.
There’s a very different take of the review of Lovins by Weinberg here :
– “For them, energy itself is a villain: less energy is better than more energy, not merely because the environment can absorb only a limited energy load, But because society cannot handle it!”
– Weinberg found Lovins articulate, but “so wrong headed”. Weinberg thought Lovins “longed for a simpler world”
– When Jimmy Carter chose coal over nuclear power, Lovins did not utter a word of protest. Weinberg : “The major risk in the coal path is the possible CO catastrophe”.
This statement of Weinberg can be sourced here http://www.osti.gov/scitech/biblio/5364269 “Some long-range speculations about coal”
Weinberg had a clear view of why nuclear was a safer choice than coal, Lovins not.
Also according to Richard Rhodes in that 1975 book Lovins made the claim too that it was realistic to assume in 2000 39% of the US primary energy would come from solar in direct or indirect form. And he’s the one accusing nuclear of unrealistic propects ?
Most of the arguments Lovins still uses today against nuclear are things he framed back then. In 1975, with a barely 60% load factor and frequent unexpected shut down, there was some truth to the accusations of unreliability of nuclear. But he never changed one word of it when the load factors reached above 90%, most of the remaining down time being planned shutdowns, and the reliability became much better than the fossil alternatives.
On the other hand the battery subject is interesting, but I’m not sure there room here deep in the comment here to make an interesting analysis.
The trouble with battery is that their cost is *added* to the initial cost of energy. 1000$/MW may seem very competitive to create energy, nothing says that it is when the concern is to store it and that the value is added the initial cost this energy had. The economic logic is to make the investment profitable by using it as frequently as possible, and if it’s there only for very infrequent peak, then it won’t be.
I might have said it here already, pumped-hydro systems work very well with nuclear, much less with renewable because opposite to nuclear where it’s easy to predict when the extra energy will be available and for how long it will be needed, it’s not the case for renewable. The same will apply for large scale batteries that are competitive with pumped-hydro.
Lithium-ion batteries, as envisioned by AES, age. Your typical laptop battery has already lost much of it’s capacity after 2 years, whether or not you use it. Industrial scale one will have a much better chemistry but they will age too.
Batteries are a consumable, not an assets, and this strongly change their economy.
Way too expensive to make an all-RE grid remotely feasible*. EOS Energy is claiming $160/kWh. Even THAT is far too expensive to be viable. Sadoway’s $500/kWh figure appears to be greater than Tesla’s cost for a 25 kWh pack expansion. He’s going to have to hit $100/kWh to be serious.
The numbers touted for the Gigafactory are 30-50 GWh/yr in finished battery packs.
Let me put this number in perspective for you. 30 GWh of packs is enough to build 500,000 Model S’s with 60 kWh packs. Half a million cars a year isn’t too bad; if they replaced vehicles getting 25 MPG and were driven the average 13,000 mi/yr, they’d eliminate 520 gal/yr/unit or 260 million GPY of fuel consumption†. Add that up over 5 years and you get 1.3 billion GPY… or about 1% of US LDV fuel consumption. At the 50 GWh/yr figure you can make that in 3 years. At that pace, you can drop gasoline consumption to zero in just a few hundred years! </sarcasm>
How about as grid storage? The USA consumes an average of about 450 GW. 30 GWh of storage can supply 450 GW for a whole… 4 minutes. 15 years of factory output will give you a whole hour.
Conclusion: Musk’s Gigafactory is not going to make the US petroleum-independent or free the US grid from conventional generation. It’s a beginning… and not a very big one either.
* An all-nuclear plus battery grid works with the EOS batteries, and may with the Sadoway batteries. The economics work if you are storing excess base load for peaks, but not if you need to carry daytime peak generation for overnight power.
† The fuel consumption would be improved immensely by using the packs in PHEVs. If 12 kWh of storage can raise the average fuel economy from 25 MPG to 75 MPG (plus electricity), 30 GWh of packs goes into 2.5 million vehicles and saves 347 gal/unit/yr or 867 million GPY. Total fuel consumption would fall by about .64%/year, roughly 3 times as fast as the EV route.
You think Tesla is the only company doing this … and he’s not going to be growing his energy storage business in year 3 or 5. What is your evidence for this (looking at current history of company … and other car companies and their EV divisions).
And his numbers are comparable to Sadoway (at $400 kWh). You don’t think there is a market for his vehicles at this energy storage cost?
I could add a bunch of “sarcasm” here to your seemingly ahistorical and atemporal reflections. But it doesn’t seem like it is needed.
This doesn’t make any sense. You seem confused about the business model for energy storage companies. There’s a demand peak at least once every 24 hours.
This doesn’t make any sense. You seem confused about the business model for energy storage companies. There’s a demand peak at least once every 24 hours.
If the business model for energy storage companies is based on having a demand peak with profitably high electricity prices every 24 hours, investors would be wise to ask harder questions.
For most of the days in the year, especially for days throughout the spring and fall, the daily peak in electricity demand is comfortably within the capacity of the installed base of efficient generators. The fast-starting, fuel inefficient, peakers often run just a couple of hundred hours per year to meet peak demands on the hottest and coldest days of the year.
Your leaving out marginal and avoided costs in market clearing rules, and role energy storage may have (and pushing resources like natural gas and other high marginal cost energy resources off the grid). These initiatives save ratepayers costs, and also provide better management of non-renewable resources over the long run and through seasonal demand cycles.
We can certainly revise retail ratemaking policies and strategies. But right now, there looks to be a clear and definite role for energy storage. And this is likely to increase and expand in the future (not disappear). Investors, gearing up for the future and changing circumstances in energy markets (and developers putting up billions) seem to be anticipating this, and looking to provide a service that is beneficial to consumers and developers (especially with broadly anticipated recent and future market trends).
@EL – We’re way off track. Perhaps we can continue the discussion when I get around to posting about the topic.
Straw man. I’ve already written about EOS Energy. But EOS and Musk are aiming at very different markets.
Thank you for proving yourself innumerate. Musk isn’t going to expand his business unless and until he can sell what he makes. From the viewpoint of cost-effectiveness and energy security, cars are the best use of those battery packs. Half a million vehicles is but a small fraction of the 15.6 million sold in the US in 2013; just to fit all 15.6 million out as PHEVs would require a goodly fraction of a Terafactory. It makes far more sense to use batteries to replace gasoline energy at 30¢/kWh at the crankshaft than to buffer grid power at a fraction of that price.
In the interest of historical accuracy, that’s credited to Willie Sutton.
Again, kudos to Rod and EL.
That was a fascinating and informative exchange.
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