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17 Comments

  1. Overall, a very solid picture painted, Rod, other than the random mentions of safeguards information that don’t fit it with the rest of the story.

    As far as I can tell, the primary items that are maintained as safeguards are information about plant security and information relating to recovering from terrorist attacks. These pieces of information should certainly be maintained as safeguarded. There is far more information about plants that IS NOT safeguarded than information that IS safeguarded.

    Added costs for maintaining nuclear plant information as safeguarded is probably money more well-spent than many other aspects of a plant’s design/beyond design.

    1. Joel – you may be thinking of the old interpretation of SGI. There are new, not yet written, interpretations that led to my comment about classifying nearly every detail of a reactor design – including many things that are not currently SGI for operating reactors.

      I think it is one more example of the opposition treating the nuclear industry like frogs in water on the stove – and the nuclear industry not recognizing the situation.

      1. A new interpretation that would include almost all aspects would definitely seem to have detrimental cost implications. For many aspects of the design, there would be completely zero benefit to this, as the information has been easily available across the internet for years. The added secrecy would do nothing but massively stoke additional fear for lay-people.

    2. The price of oil goes up if the economic news is good. But, just like interest rates, a lower oil price is directly stimulative to spending and the economy. Brent Crude oil is still trading at a significant premium to West Texas Intermediate mainly because of supply issues and the unrest inLibya. Predicting the future price of commodities is a very tough game, but I’d keep silver on your radar screen. It’s as good a bet on global economic recovery as anything.
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  2. I have sent letters to my congressmen this morning. This move is similar to the secrecy that shrouded the first part of the atomic age and will drastically affect new designs, further slowing their implementation.

  3. Rod – thanks again for all the excellent posts. Like you (but reversed), I’m deeply worried and wryly amused by the ongoing black comedy of energy and power. (I’ve just gone through the online excerpts from Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future By Robert Bryce; it’s got me thinking about both power and energy now.)

    Your continuing focus on the money flows in the energy sector is right on target IMO. And ExxonMobil’s planned capital expenditures speak loud and clear. You don’t have to read between the lines to get the message. The future they’re making is fossil BAU with nuclear kept at a safe distance thanks to well intentioned self proclaimed Greens. And hydrocarbon businesses will paint themselves virtuous thanks to their support of those self same Greens.

    “Power Hungry” opens with a quote:

    He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense. – John McCarthy, computer pioneer (Stanford University)

    1. @Andrew -have you ever considered the possibility that some of the leaders in the antinuclear movement are not well-intentioned, but instead are perfectly aware of the inevitable consequences of their actions? Perhaps they are being well compensated for promoting fossil fuel – by fighting the only technology that offers cleaner, more affordable, more reliable power.

  4. The problem with those fossil fuel people is that they go along and promote energy conservation as the solution to any environmental problems. Without nuclear power, our future will be a low energy future, in which every bit of energy consumption can be tied either to emissions, and therefore restricted by law and by “sin taxes”, or to very limited and expensive resources such as wind and solar, and priced out of our reach. As a model of things to come, google Masdar City in the UAE: it’s a zero carbon city, zero carbon without nuclear! In this city, every energy and water use of the individual is tracked and recorded in its entirety, down to filling a cup of water at a public water cooler or flushing a toilet. Showers have a built in time-limit after which they shut off whether residents like it or not, thermostats are remote controlled by authorities who centrally control distribution of scarce energy. Statistics are being run to identify non-green people and “police” them. Of course this is still luxury compared to future living conditions of average folks that can’t spend billions and billions on high-tech housing and ultra energy saving appliances.

    1. @Jerry – my problem with your interpretation is you seem to think that the fossil fuel folks actually believe their own ads. They are far more astute observers of human behavior than you give them credit for. They KNOW that no one who can afford to choose will actually choose a low energy lifestyle.

      By promoting energy efficiency as an alternative to those expensive nuclear plants that some of us want to build, they lock in their customers for more years. By mentioning pie in the sky technologies like Carbon Capture and Storage, they look like they have a way to clean up their act in the future. Heck, some industry insiders are even suggesting that the earth itself is refilling hydrocarbon reservoirs through some magical process that they might discover how to tap some day.

      http://theenergycollective.com/geoffrey-styles/56519/are-oil-and-gas-renewable

      Of course, Geoff is sharp enough not to actually voice faith that such a thing will turn out to be true, but he sure suggests that it would be really good if it was.

      “Finding gas or oil in deposits much deeper than those we already know about, or in places that aren’t consistent with our present understanding of petroleum geology, would represent an even bigger potential energy revolution than the one begun by the recent development of the means of unlocking shale gas resources. It would also shift our perspective on the nature and required speed of the energy transition on which we’ve embarked. If oil and gas weren’t finite–at least in human terms–it might alter the urgency of deploying some of the alternative energy technologies now in our repertoire. At the same time, it would have enormous implications for climate change, by greatly increasing the ultimate quantity of carbon we could eventually emit to the atmosphere.

      From my reading of the material on the Deep Carbon Observatory site, it would be extraordinarily premature either to celebrate or panic–depending on one’s perspective–over this prospect. “

      My take is that it is not likely and that it would be incredibly selfish for today’s human population to behave like it has already been proven true. Hydrocarbons are incredibly useful materials that natural processes took millions of years to store away. Let’s slow down our consumption and leave some behind for future generations!

      1. Rod – I agree with what you say, but don’t you feel sorry for (and fear) the poor dumb schmucks that actually buy into the nonsense?

        For every crafty fossil-fuel lawyer or businessman, there are thousands of well-intentioned, but critical-thinking-challenged, people who believe that what Jerry is talking about is a good idea.

        The scheming “fossil fuel folks” are not the only problem.

      2. @Rod, I fully agree that energy conservation, if it’s implemented with incentive programs and promoted with ads (like Chevron’s “leave the car at home” ad) is not going to work.
        But I see a disturbing trend that fossil fuel giants are colluding with government’s low energy utopia, and it could come simply through higher prices. An unholy alliance that will ensure unchanged profitability for fossil fuel interests while inflicting harm on the rest of the economy.
        Many people who had Smart Meters installed on their home (and were switched to a Time of Use tariff in the process) have seen their power bills double.

    2. What Brian said, especially the windbags, and the sun-worshipers. There are a lot of really thick heads out there that still think that there is a 100% renewables future if only everyone would support it.

  5. Rod,

    I’m *shocked* that the industry wouldn’t put up more of a fight against the ruling that all commercial nuclear power information get put under the “SGI” umbrella. That will have very real cost implications, as you suggest, for very little additional benefit: whom or what are they trying to protect?

    As for the natural gas replacement, it’s very odd how all the natural gas calamities don’t “stick” to the industry the way a very few (read: three in the past thirty one years) stick to the nuclear industry. I’ve posted an interesting philosophy here:

    http://www.anengineerindc.com/2011/04/earthlings-got-nuclear-power.html

    … that commercial nuclear power is still trying to crawl out from underneath the shadow of the mushroom cloud. 🙁

  6. In your March 4, 2005 post “Fusion versus Fission – Difficult versus Easy” where you mentioned you were not to call your self an “Engineer,” you brought up a sore point. My father several times disputed with Admiral Rickover during WW II, and had little respect for the gentleman. However, I, an Engineer, can plainly see that he did our energy future a grave disservice.

    I can understand his choice of heavy, pressurized water reactors for ships, where ballast weight is no great shake. However, he saddled us with a thermodynamic inefficiency (“The maximum efficiency of a heat engine is equal to the absolute temperature of the source divided by the absolute temperature of the sink.”)

    Fortunately cold fusion is a bout (this October…) to se the light of day. And the cost of inefficiency will be nil.
    And we can stop this nonsense fracting and poisoning of natural gas bed water supplies . For fusion, see http://www.journal-of-nuclear-physics.com/?p=360#comments

    1. Please forgive this doubling up…
      But in reference to your “Too cheap to meter” do not forget that the unamortized costs of existing production facilities belongs to us, the users (rate-payers) and Wall Street or PURPA would never allow a tariff structure that did not pay back existing investors. How this plays out if FOCARDI AND ROSSI can really produce reliable heat energy at 1 cent/kwh. It might take a generation or two to right off all this inefficient capital.

    2. Jim – I will not hold my breath waiting for the development.

      The thermal efficiency of light water reactors is only slightly less than that for coal fired steam plants. Since the fuel is so concentrated and so inexpensive on a per unit heat basis, it is not much of a problem.

      Many people who had pie in the sky notions disagreed with Admiral Rickover. He was a very practical man who cared more about building ships that reliably could perform their assigned mission than about science projects unlikely to ever work.

  7. Considering the fossil fuel industry is one of the best at PR, maybe we should take Tillerson’s advise at face value: “There is a big educational process that’s going to have to be undertaken by the industry and policymakers if policymakers seriously believe nuclear energy has to be part of their future energy policy…”

    Based on my observations and experience, it seems that people will accept something exceedingly dangerous, so long as they understand it; but will not accept something that they do not understand, no matter how safe it actually is. The fossil vs. nuclear problem is not all that different from people who drive a car everyday, but refuse to fly. They may actually know that driving has a much higher risk of causality, but the physics of aerodynamics are far from common sense and therefore perceived as higher risk.

    The fossil fuel industry, and natural gas in particular, have done an excellent job communicating the benefits of their products, while undermining the risks. Not that nuclear should use such a manipulative outreach plan, but we should be doing everything possible to help people understand energy is general and the risks and benefits all energy sources. It’s only when you lay it all on the table that nuclear emerges as our best option.

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