Does the end of cheap, easy oil really mean the end of cheap, reliable energy?
A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash (2/2) (PL) by DobrySamarytanin
Part 2 of A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash adds more stark images and historical footage that shows the importance of energy in the form of readily accessible oil, but it also illustrates some of the toxic hazards and armed conflicts that we have accepted as a price of benefits that oil has provided. The images of derelict pumpers and drilling rigs, petroleum covered workers, soldiers, tanks and occasional fires should help people remember that “cheap” oil has not been without some risk and cost.
Earlier this week, there was another dramatic incident that illustrates the importance that people place on improving their access to useful energy. A gasoline carrying pipeline in Nairobi, Kenya sprung a leak in a ghetto where people live in cardboard shacks. The better off there actually have a tin roof.
When the gas started coming out, instead of backing away and warning others as would happen in countries where we take access to energy almost for granted, the people in Nairobi grabbed whatever containers they could find and ran toward the leaking gasoline. They are so desperate for a little heat that they would risk their lives for the several thousand BTUs worth of gasoline that they would be able to fit into a container.
The tragic, but not surprising result was that something sparked and caused an inferno that incinerated at least 100 people and cause burns that will likely be fatal for another 100, many of whom were children. I highly recommend reading John Wheeler’s thought and action provoking commentary titled Only the Energy Impoverished Run Towards a Gasoline Spill.
One aspect of the stark picture painted by A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash should jump out at anyone who pays attention to world economic news. The video, produced in time for documentary film festivals in 2007, includes segments in which a component of the interview subject’s concern about oil supplies comes from his or her assumption that the economic good times would continue, driving demand ever higher. Seen from a viewpoint from 2011, those predictions of growth were optimistically wrong – oil production and consumption since 2007 has been essentially flat.
As we learned in the 1970s, all we need to do to be able to stop our growth in oil consumption is to endure a terrible economy with few job prospects and a series of financial crises. When oil prices are high, people conserve by traveling less, eating out less, buying fewer power boats, buying fewer new cars, flying less, and buying fewer homes. Not surprisingly, the economy in oil and gas producing regions like Texas experiences a different trajectory when oil prices are high.
If we really are near or past the peak in oil production AND we do not develop a reliable alternative, the future will create an ever growing number of energy impoverished people who will run towards a gasoline spill or who will willingly go to war to protect access to dwindling supplies. That depressing fate seems to be the prediction of the producers of A Crude Awakening.
The 1 minute clip below offers an interesting point of departure for a conversation. The music is ominous but the footage used as a visual representation belies that music. After all of the scenes of devastation caused by extracting, transporting and distribution oil, I find it refreshing to see a picture of Diablo Canyon. I know that it produces the energy equivalent of about 100,000 barrels of oil per day in emission free electricity from its idyllic seaside location. It creates that magical resource in a facility that does not even need a smokestack and transports it to customers over quiet transmission lines that are a lot less dangerous than petroleum filled trucks.
When the David L. Goodstein, a physics professor from the California Institute of Technology, makes the dramatic statement that building 10 terrawatts worth of nuclear power plants would require 10,000 of the largest type of plant, I guess that is supposed to be an overwhelming challenge. However, I had just watched a video that stated there are more than 700 million internal combustion engines in the world.
If we start now and really focus on maintaining the momentum, we could soon be completing several dozen new plants every year around the world. If we start building them in the same kind of factories now produce ships, tanks, and aircraft there is almost no limit to how many we could be completing after a period of building the infrastructure, including the required training academies.
He said that building those units using the same technology that we have usually used would provide a resource that might only last a decade or two. However, the way we’ve always done it only consumes U-235, which represents about 0.2% of the potential fission fuel since it ignores both U-238 and Th-232. My immediate response was “well, we won’t do that” since we have several proven alternatives already.
Besides, we do not have to totally replace all fossil fuels to make a substantial impact.
OK, but oil is used for transportation. Nukes are not (with the exception of military ships of course). So unless we can get electric cars that people want or synthetic fuels produced by nuclear energy, there still going to be problems.
This is being thrashed out in the comment thread for End of era of cheap combustion energy; beginning of era of cheap fission energy.
I assume you think we can’t. Why?
If we were to bring the cost of electricity DOWN, make it even more readily available (e.g. at every parking garage, every supermarket etc.), in the same way that internet fees came down to basically zero, THEN many people would absolutely move to electric cars, even with the high cost of batteries.
If however we are going to run the cost up, like Europe has done already, through feed-in-tariffs for solar and other mindless waste of ratepayer money, and then try to introduce electric cars, which guzzle 10 kwh every 40 miles, then the idea will fail because, while electric cars CAN pull their own weight in a free market environment with nuclear and/or coal power, they CAN’T pull the failed green energy agenda at the same time.
The cars will come first. Then, people will be even more interested in cheap electricity than they are today.
I know I’m going to sound like a cracked vinyl record, but the key words to this talk of getting nuclear (uranium, thorium, salt, what have you) reactors a new life in our energy policy is; Public Acceptance, Public Acceptance, Public Acceptence. I just am not seeing the nuclear education put out there to lay any foundation to mollify public frets of having any new nukes anywhere. To my knowledge, what new nukes in the pipeline will be situated at relatively politically safe current nuclear plant sites, not any virgin territory and even that would stll be iffy thing in this Fukushima climate (Think — how many pols have even mentioned nukes since then??). You can talk blue about Thorium+ till the cows come home but to Mr – Ms Layperson, it’s still the same old nuclear song to them! Nuclear is still bad old nuclear no matter what color stripes it is. Shift out of geek mode and comprehend the lay mindset/perceptions out there! Public education to create public nuclear acceptance MUST cover current and planned nuclear plant types and not muddy the effort with favoritism detours of reactor type preferences. I PROMISE you, if we can’t get the public to understand and accept _current_ fission plants you can forget convincing them that Thorium or any other is any more safe! A nuke horse is a nuke horse! I speakth from the grass roots! If you want Thorium Plus to see daylight you help the effort to rebutt and overwhelm every anti-nuclear darling who gets their day in the media to smear and poison nuclear’s image in general, and that means expousing the merits and records of the current crop of reactors and not any spectulative or future tech that will feel like hollow promises to an already nuclear skeptical public. The Nuclear Carnival might well start passing the plate around to fund ads of its features in major newspapers since it appears the mainstream video media isn’t going to give nuclear energy an even break.
(Was going to tack this to the other cheap energy/oil topic, so hopefully it speaks for both)
I remember people with anti-nuclear sentiment telling me “wait for fusion” – that was 15 years ago, and we’re still “waiting” while we’re getting more dependent on oil/gas/coal.
Public acceptance is important today where we have politicians exert near total control over which power plants can be built and which can’t. We should emphasize the advantages of the current nuclear fleet and counteract hysterical hype and fear of nuclear accidents.
In the long term however, we should get back to a freer market with less government control. We don’t ask for democratic approval when we buy a car, and in the same way companies shouldn’t need a democratic majority to build and operate a nuclear plant. It is their constitutionally guaranteed right to pursue their dreams so long as they don’t restrict other people’s rights – and that’s what regulations are for.
@Jerry – did you happen to see the recent smoking gun post about the way that the coal lobby felt about research on breeder reactors in the early 1960s? They quietly accepted that research while fighting against anything that would support light water reactors. The main reason was that breeders were seen to be far in the distance from a 1963 perspective, but light water reactors were already winning lots of new business and displacing coal burning power plants in the market. Oyster Creek and other “turnkey” plants had started to capture significant market share and the coal lobbyists were complaining that the federal government was being unfair by subsidizing any research that would enable light water to make additional inroads into their business.
I tell you this because I thoroughly believe that the very distant mirage of fusion has been the source of its widespread political support and incredibly generous budgets for the past 30-40 years. The fossil fuel folks and their supporters in government and banking love fusion because it does not affect their current or reasonably near term business models.
I stopped working on fusion related science 35 years ago when it became obvious that it was a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
I sometimes wonder how many small nuke projects could have been completed with the money that was (is) being blown on inertial confinement and Tokamaks.
Certainly there would have been enough to get the IFR finished and maybe the LFTR as well.
Speaking of breeder reactors, earlier today I spent some three hours in France visiting the site of the SuperPhenix sodium-cooled breeder reactor, which is now in D&D phase due to political decisions.
Great idea, bad timing, and bad bad size. IFRs and similar next-generation reactors must be small and modular. There is no other way to make them rapidly enough, if we keep building plants the way we are doing it now.
Tom Blees’ “Prescritpion for the Plant” devotes a large part of his book to why IFR would be the best choice for a nuclear reactor moving forward. Though I am not 100% convinced about all the concept that Tom Blees highlights in his book, the IFR is very well covered and given the right emphasis.
@James – in my mind the key to public acceptance is public excitement. We need to communicate a vision of the future that is so darned tantalizing that people are willing to put up with some near term sacrifices to get there. They might even manage to overcome residual fears if they think there is real benefit.
One of the reasons that I think it is worth pointing out the disadvantages of the unreliables (my newly coined word for “renewables”) is that some people believe in a solartopia where we can get all the energy we need from the sun. That MAY be true, but I think it is worth point out that what we NEED and what we WANT are dramatically different things. We should also help people understand that they should have no guilt about WANTING more.
My parents were products of the depression. They scrimped and saved and made us feel almost guilty about leaving any food on our plates or throwing away any leftovers in the serving dishes. They were great people, but they never liked the way I spent money, even though I rarely spent more than I made (there were times when my income was way less than what we wanted, so we accepted some temporary debt or spend down some savings).
Perhaps I am generalizing too much, but the appeal of the conservation message should be failing among those people who do not have an ingrained guilt about living well. I am not talking about extravagance – a 2500 square foot home is very comfortable for a couple but it is not something that will wow anyone at the yacht or golf club.
There is no way that solar or wind can provide the energy that we WANT to use to live comfortable, generous, productive lives. That is my message and one that I think should play rather well. Nuclear enables the life we want to have for a far larger portion of the world’s population.
Nuclear’s slogan should be “Use all the energy you want. It’s clean and we can make more.”
The idea to have our energy consumption decided for us by some central planning bureaucracy is being justified with carbon emissions. In my view that’s another *extremely important* problem with natural gas plants: Even if those have just 50% of carbon emissions per kilowatt as coal plants, there’s still enough emissions to associate environmental “guilt” and justify the need to control our energy down to the lightbulbs we use.
Nuclear power would free us of this – perceived or real – environmental guilt and let us have as much energy as we can afford to buy/to produce, and basically reach for the stars.
– Can those people that promote natural gas as cheaper than nuclear give us a written guarantee that there won’t be any climate legislation in the next 20 years and there won’t be personal carbon budgets, emission permits, carbon credits etc.? In other words, can they guarantee us that the natural gas path is not a trap?
After watching the video, I think David Goodstein is worried that we will only have 20 years of U-245 (?!) and then goes on to say that our grandchildren will never fly an airplane.
Even in this video, the energy ‘experts’ are way off on nuclear.
I’ll trust Cohen and go go zillions of year of U-235 supplies.
I think the “U-245” was a typo by the person doing the Polish subtitles — it seemed to be U-235 in the narration.
Incidentally, this “uranium is running out” claim will be useful for a little project of mine which I’m working on…
Dr Cohen is a knowledgeable ‘carbon unit’ on the subject of U supplies.
One conclusion from this video is that world leaders from all over the place have no vision.
I cannot recall who exactly, but on the GOP presidential candidates debate of 2 days ago, Wolf asked this question:
What will be the first thing you do upon entering the White House?
That candidate said : I will put back Winston Churchill’s bust.
There you go.
Nuclear freeze heats up LNG markets
“For Japan in particular, LNG is now vital. According to figures recently released by the Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPC), Japanese regional power authorities imported 5.28Mt of LNG in August 2011, an increase of 23.5% over the same month in 2010. And the desire and necessity of LNG imports for Japan is unlikely to cease anytime soon as more nuclear plants are taken offline.”
“… the International Energy Authority (IEA) senior gas analyst, Anne-Sophie Corbeau [wrote] fascinating take on LNG’s immediate future, published on the IEA website. Referring to the IEA’s “Oil Market Report” in August 2011, Corbeau said that the IEA looked at two scenarios for nuclear power generation for 2011-12. Following the Fukushima disaster in Japan, one scenario paints nuclear reactors coming back online after approximately six months, while the other sees all of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors offline by May 2012. In the best-case scenario, writes Corbeau, the demand for LNG in Japan would increase by 18bnm3 compared to 2010. In the worst-case scenario, Corbeau says that the country’s demand for LNG would rise to 30bnm3. In the latter case, according to Corbeau, Japan’s appetite for LNG would take almost all of the global output of LNG that is expected to come online between 2010 and 2012.”
The article goes on to say the second scenario was most likely the new Japanese minister of trade and industry, Yoshio Hachiro recently told reporters that Japan’s future was to have “zero” nuclear reactors.
One guess where NG prices are going with that sort of demand pressure.
DV82XL, you’re talking about the former Japanese minister of trade and industry, luckily. He was so stupid to make very stupid remarks about Fukushima and its citizen, talking about them in way unacceptable to the public opinion, so he did the right thing and stepped down some 8 days after taking office:
The new minister is Yukio Edano, who has served very well as Chief of Cabinet in the former government, handling the hot potato of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant accident. He surely will not be as stupid as Hachiro. And hopefully he will do the right thing and will push to have nuclear reactors restarted soon in Japan.
If Yukio Edano did such a great job, then why is it that 20 km evacuation zones are still enforced when the IAEA has a standard of 5 KM?
And why are people kept from their homes that are perfectly safe and still in good condition and surrounded by ridiculously low levels of radiation.
That guy did no good the first time around and has not shown any leadership. If I were him, I would set my permanent office in Fukushima somewhere on the 5 KM radius from the plant.
I doubt that a chief of cabinet can express much leadership when his prime minister is doing all he can to shut down nuclear in his country.
Maybe the situation will not be much different under Noda, we shall see, surely left-leaning governments are often very much anti-nuclear. But that much we knew already.
Let’s see what happens this winter in Germany first, and in Japan too if they don’t take proper action to quickly restart their fleet of reactors. I have a hunch that things might be a little more complicated than a lot of people think.
It looks like we might have a new Rome-Berlin-Tokyo axis, this time united under the no nukes agenda. In Italy we have been paying the consequences of this for the last 25 years, let’s see what happens in the two other countries now.
Dr Cohen says that we have Uranium supplies that will outlast the sun. (4 billion years)
DV2XL and Brian says that this is hyperboling
David L. Goodstein on the short video on this post says that we have 20 years.
Dr Cowley says 100 years max.
Whats is your position on Uranium supplies ?
We have plenty to last at least several centuries, probably several millennia
Thus far we have been burning Uranium for only 60 years. As with the early days of oil we are discovering new reserves much faster than we are burning them. Then recognize that current technology is wickedly inefficient, burning only 0.6% of the Uranium.
Even if we scale up nuclear power generation by orders of magnitude there should be plenty of Uranium to last millennia even without processing sea water. After that there is even more Thorium………
If you want sustainable power generation, look no further than fission.
Nuclear power can very easily be used to liquify coal or even reform Natural gas. Using a Brayton cycle heat pump a mid temperature nuke say (S-PRISM a IFR close to commercialization) can liquify coal very easily. If you replace 1000 MW(e) coal plant with 1000 MW(e) IFR, it takes about 120 MW(e) or 315 MW(th) from the reactor to liquify the coal.
I think the fear that the other producers of primary energy (coal, oil and gas) see is that nuclear will beat them out of the market. In electricity generation they have no competition with nuclear unless the game is rigged. If nuclear is expanded into process heat generation, then all of the other sources of primary energy become chemical feedstocks. The energy distributors will see no change in what they sell, the producers will see little change in what they produce, it is just what we do with it in between that is different.
The side effect of this approach is that prices for all forms of energy go down.
Rod has it right our motto should be, “Use all the energy you want. It’s clean and we can make more.”
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