Is Nuclear Renewable? – Michael Eckhart, President of American Council On Renewable Energy Says NO!
During the period from August 19-22, 2010, AREDAY hosted the 7th Annual American Renewable Energy Day in Aspen Co. CSPAN published a series of videos of the speeches and presentations, including one panel that is of particular interest to Atomic Insights readers titled Is Nuclear Renewable?.
That panel included talks by four people, Mr. Tom Blees, Dr. Yoon Chang, Dr. Eric Loewen, and Mr. Amory Lovins. Blees, Chang and Loewen shared their visions of technology developments that can enable an abundant future. They talked about systems that provide human energy needs cleanly and affordably by using natural atomic energy in plants where the fuel is continuously being recycled through fast spectrum reactors.
Fast neutron systems, some of which have been extensively demonstrated, enable humans to use the energy that nature packed into both U-235, which fissions easily and into the far more abundant U-238, which makes up 99.3% of the world’s uranium resource endowment. Using fast neutrons requires some design sophistication and engineering effort, but even the very first nuclear reactor that provided heat for electrical power, Experimental Breeder Reactor Number 1 (EBR-1), could accomplish that feat safely.
Amory provided his usual message by advising us to reduce our energy use and lower our expectations of prosperity. In his view, “negawatts” are the the way to stretch the fossil fuels that we are currently using for 87% of our energy needs until such time as we can fit our needs into the limitations of traditionally accepted renewable sources like wind, solar, biomass and geothermal.
At the end of the panel discussion, something quite unusual happened. I have attended many conferences during the past 20 years and I have never seen anything like it. Mike Eckhart, the President of the Council On Renewable Energy, ACORE, whose member list includes some of the largest companies in the establishment energy business, took control of the microphone and forcefully asked people to sit down to hear his response to the panel’s discussions. Eckhart was not a member of the panel and is not a member of the group that is hosting the event, though he is the head of a major sponsoring organization.
Here is a quote from Eckhart’s interjection:
Eckhart: Just a brief statement, if you would.
Session organizer: Just a second, I have to tell them. We’re going to have only a ten minute break. So, if you need to run to the rest room or grab a coffee, please be back promptly in ten minutes. Thank you.
Eckhart: Not a Q&A, but a brief and important statement from the American Council on Renewable Energy to the question on the panel because the question did not get answered.
(Eckhart then interrupted his own statement to wave at a man who was trying to dash out for his brief break and said “Sir, sir. This is very important. Excuse me. Hello.”)
Eckhart: (continues) And to Eric, I want you to know that I was the strategic planner of GE’s power business, the whole (emphasis in original) business in 1981, approving PRISM. I was there.
But, the point is, to the question that was raised, the American Council On Renewable Energy has the following position, and we’ve discussed it at length. There’s apples and there’s oranges. Alright? We’re oranges and you’re apples. If oranges start selling well, it’s unfair (emphasis added) for apples to say, I want to be called an orange. Alright?
So, the answer is no. The renewable energy community will not accept nuclear power to be called renewable. However, however, however, that does not mean that we are against nuclear power. What we do demand, is that you allow renewable energy to be renewable, and we know what that is (emphasis added), and secondly, that you stand up as nuclear power and don’t change any words and defend and promote yourselves on that basis. And we are not against you for doing that, but you are not crossing over. With all due respect.
I captured this clip several days ago and never got around to sharing it with the world. I was reminded that I had it when I noticed a discussion on Energy from Thorium’s Facebook page talking about how to get legislative wording altered to expand the definition of the word “renewable”, so I decided to share what at least one official gatekeeper of that word had to say.
I want to encourage people to take a hard look at the membership of the American Council on Renewable Energy and to listen closely to Mike Eckhart’s statement. Also pay attention to his background – he is not some kind of crunchy, sandal-wearing, back-to-nature, kind of guy. He was the strategic planner for the entire power business of one of the world’s largest conglomerates by the time I was staring my professional career. He has formed a very powerful group of interests to SELL renewable energy systems and to capture resources from taxpayers around the world to try to ensure that those sales are profitable.
I hesitate to say this, but Eckhart’s rant sounds almost like the way that a Special Olympics organizer might react if Randy Moss or Shaquille O’Neill tried to get themselves redefined as people with special needs because they are differently abled. Mike is completely correct in stating that it would not be “fair” if nuclear energy was redefined as renewable if that meant that it could compete in the same game as the far less capable energy sources that now fit the government approved definition.
The nukes would dominate the game by providing reliable, affordable, abundant energy with no emissions. They would push out wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, ocean, and whatever else anyone wants to build with significant help from taxpayers and forced contributions from electric power customers. Atomic power systems would also gain sufficient strength to make a huge impact on the other business lines that now make most of the profits for many of the members of ACORE. No wonder their official position is that nuclear energy must remain out of the “renewable” game and be forced to play in a sandbox where others get to choose the language that has already been reinforced to make nuclear an unspeakable ‘n’ word that creates discomfort, loathing and rejection.
Aside: If you are interested in the identity of the organizations that control the club that does not want to allow nuclear to become a member, you can dig through the ACORE member list. I have just done that. There are nearly 500 member organizations and companies. Here are some of the more intriguing members, at least from my point of view. (I got tired of cutting and pasting, so I stopped after just the first 10 letters of the alphabet.) End Aside.
American Electric Power, American Public Power Association, Areva, Arizona Public Service, Austin Energy, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Black & Veatch Corporation, BP Solar, California Energy Commission, Carlyle Capital Markets Inc., Citigroup, CMEA Capital, Deutsche Bank, Duke Energy, DuPont Biofuels, EDF Inc., Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, Exelon Corporation, GE Energy Financial Services, Goldman Sachs, Google, Hartford Financial Services Group, Hunt Power, L.P., J.P. Morgan
Why doesn’t Mike share with us the definition of “renewable”? Is it perhaps because it’s a useless and illdefined marketing word?
Is it because nothing is renewed, as per the second law of thermodynamics ? The sun has been ever so slowly dying from the day it was born and will eventually just be nuclear ash and a small neutron star. Yes, you don’t have to do any work to make sunshine, just like you didn’t have to do any work to make uranium; you “just” dig it out of the ground, just like you “just” capture solar energy.
Is it because ‘renewable’ might have to be defined as a stricter form of sustainability, and wind and solar fails the most common test of sustainability? Meeting the needs of today, without compromising the needs of tomorrow; well, it is neither capable of meeting the needs of today, nor doing so without compromising the needs of tomorrow(energy starvation and in particular expensive electricity in the present hurts the transition away from fossil fuels).
It’s because everything that today is branded as “renewable” (except for hydroelectric) is a scam. They are simply not capable of producing anything significant other than tax breaks, and they require huge handouts from the government to even be constructed. For example, “renewable” energy in Europe has become a huge moneymaker for the Mafia (links 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
It is well known that the Mafia does not like competitors “muscling in” on their business. Why would you think that American “renewable” scammers would be any different?
I think we should phase out the term “renewable energy” in favour of “ambient energy”.
Oh, and the Sun will ultimately end up as a black dwarf, not a neutron star (it’s too small to go supernova).
That’s embarassing, I should have remembered that a star has to have at least 1.44 solar masses or so(Chandrasekhar limit) in order to overcome electron-degeneracy pressure.
What if we have enough uranium/thorium right now for the next 500 years, and in 500 years from now, we’ll get more from other planets? Humanity’s quest for energy is in itself very sustainable, as history has shown, while a static fixation on solar and wind power is not.
The term ‘renewable energy’ apparently means ‘Any power source which is fundamentally incapable of replacing fossil fuels for any application’. Under that de facto definition, nuclear power is certainly not ‘renewable’. I rather prefer the term ‘sustainable’, which I take to mean economically and thermodynamically self-supporting, ecologically acceptable, and capable of remaining viable for the foreseeable future.
So is nuclear power sustainable? I’m so glad you asked:
Finrod: ‘Sustainable’ is definitely the right word. As in David MacKay’s book, ‘Sustainable Energy, without the hot air’.
Mike Eckhart: What a dick!
Sorry, but somebody had to say it.
I second that assessment.
My first response was made before I watched the petulant sandbox whiner make his “informed” declaration. So there!
Rod, thanks for pointing out this rant. The irony is that the title for our panel
Aye!! And I’ll drink to that … a Fosters? It’s Australian for ‘beer’, right?
My comment got cut off there. I was saying, the irony is that the title for our panel was chosen by the organizer of the event, not by us. And when I took the microphone after the rant they cut the mike so I couldn’t respond. But then, this whole shindig was in Amory’s backyard, so it’s hardly surprising.
The reason this is such a big deal to these guys is because of RPS requirements in many states. If nuclear is excluded, they can have dibs on loads of subsidies for wind and solar, since the utilities will be forced to use them. If nuclear gets classed as a renewable, then utility companies would be able to fulfill their RPS mandates with nuclear plants, and many of them likely would (or could already, of course) rather than dump money into wind and solar projects.
Geothermal power is not “renewable” because it increases the cooling of the earth’s interior. While some of this heat is replenished by radioactive decay, it still does cause more heat to be pulled from the earth and thus a greater degree of cooling. It can (and does) most definitely deplete the heat from local hotspot areas in the crust. If widely used, it would render the shallow areas of the earth too cold to use and we’d eventually have to dig deeper and deeper. If enough was taken the earth’s mantel would be cooled faster than decay could reheat it.
Tidal power is also not renewable. If you build tide dams and tidal turbines, you increase the resistance to the movement of the oceans from tidal forces and ultimately extract energy from the tidal fluctuation. This energy is coming primarily from the orbit of the moon. To a lesser degree, it comes from the orbit of the earth around the sun. There is a lot of kinetic energy in these orbital bodies, but it’s not absolutely unlimited.
One could argue that any effort to extract energy from the tides is not “sustainable” because of the orbital degradation it causes.
One small quibble Steve.
Tital energy is sustainable in that the earth and moon will have nearly as much kinetic energy when the sun becomes a red giant as they do today. Just like nuclear; it is powered by a resource that will last longer than the time humanity has remaining on earth. If tidal is renewable, then nuclear surely is too.
That’s not my point. Yes, it has plenty of energy but if you want to be precise the amount of energy is not really “unlimited”
Just like nuclear.
Thus it should not be considered renewable.
@drbuzzO – likewise, one can make the argument that the available wind energy will drop as more turbines get installed. After all, those turbines take energy out of the wind, so other consumers of wind have less to use each day. The forces that create the wind are not infinite and do not increase as humans take more and more of the available wind.
Of course, some humans are rather selfish creatures that do not recognize soaring raptors as wind energy consumers and do not recognize people who are “downwind” as wind energy consumers who depend on certain velocities over many hundreds of miles to carry such useful products as rainwater, pollen and seeds.
They also many not recognize all of the neighbors who enjoy cooling breezes as wind energy consumers, they fail to recall that mountains that have been shaped by millions of years worth of wind energy, and they certainly fail to understand that recreational sailors off of Cape Cod are existing wind energy consumers whose natural endowment of wind is being literally taken by selfish corporate consumers who are erecting massive collectors to capture “free” energy and taxpayer subsidies.
There is only so much wind energy – nothing is renewing the rate at which it is produced to account for the new consumers. The inevitable result is a shifting of wind wealth into the pockets of the politically well endowed.
I think to many people renewable is a synonym for not using fossil fuels; however, I do not think these people realize that fossil fuels are used extensively in the production of all energy sources.
Current production techniques for wind and solar devices require extensive use of fossil fuels – just as the production of nuclear devices does.
I’d be interested in seeing a comparison of how many barrels of oil a kilowatt of solar uses compares to how many barrels of oil the production of a kilowatt of nuclear requires.
I think the goal ought to be minimizing how much oil we use to produce our power.
A better comparison is how many kilowatt hours you could expect to ultimately generate from your given unit of FF investment. I believe you’ll find nuclear winning hands down.
Please read this article:
I think that in the next 100 years we will be able to extract thousands if not hundreds of thousands times more energy from fission, and by then we will figure out how fusion works.
Glad you linked that article. It was first posted here by Marje Hecht a few months ago and, despite many here who object to the stance the site takes on AGW, there are several excellent articles on nuclear, the economy, DDT and malaria, etc.
I look at it like a buffet: take what I like and leave what I don’t.
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