James Hansen explains climate risk and proposed carbon fee – dividend tool
James Hansen has been warning the world since the 1980s about the risks we are imposing on ourselves. Unfortunately, not enough people have listened so we are continuing to increase the rate at which we are dumping CO2 into the only atmosphere we have.
In the above video [no longer available], Hansen uses clear, unemotional language and visual aids to explain how the accumulation of that normally innocuous gas increases the probability of hotter than normal seasons and increases the percentage of the earth’s surface area suffering from temperatures as much as 3-5 standard deviations above average.
Aside: I reject assertions that “the public” cannot understand the language of statistics and probability. There are far too many people in that public who frequent casinos, visit tracks, or watch sporting events for me to believe that they are not familiar with the terminology associated with measuring uncertainty and attempting to mathematically predict outcomes. End Aside.
At the end of the video, Hansen explains his favorite tool for helping to alleviate the problem. Under his proposed fee and dividend approach, hydrocarbon companies will pay a fee for every unit of material that they extract. That fee is based on the completely logical assumption that the product will end up being dumped into the atmosphere after it has performed the one time service for which it was purchased.
Since the hydrocarbon companies and their customers do not own enough of the atmosphere to store their own waste, they put that waste in someone else’s property. They have been doing this throughout history without paying for the privilege. The second part of Hansen’s proposal is the pure genius that makes me join the crowd of supporters. Instead of giving the government and the well connected control of the waste fees, Hansen advocates that 100% of the fee be returned to the atmosphere owners – “we, the people”.
Aside: I trace our ownership rights to the humanistic philosophy best expressed in statement in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence; we are endowed by our “creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Continuous, unrestricted access – otherwise known as ownership – to the atmosphere comes with the right to life. End Aside.
Hansen’s proposed tool will expose the people engaged in producing and using fossil fuels to the cost of disposing of their inevitable waste. It is important to collect the fee based on what the hydrocarbon companies take out of the ground and not on the amount that they sell. Fossil fuel companies are some of the worlds most prodigious consumers of their own product.
Under fee and dividend, energy prices will increase for everyone, but people who use less than the average amount of energy will have more money in their pockets than they did before the initiation of the program. Energy sources that do not produce CO2 or that produce less CO2 than average would become more valuable; they would finally have a monetary figure placed on their already existing quality advantage.
Of course, I have a vested interest in promoting this idea. I’m a nuclear professional. The energy from the technology I am employed to help develop and deploy will come without any need to pay the carbon waste fee. By the mid 1950s pioneers like my friend Ted Rockwell had successfully proven that nuclear power was clean enough to run inside sealed submarines and safe enough to put valuable humans within just a few feet of an operating propulsion plant.
I’m not shy about telling people that nuclear energy could use a boost right now. Our technology requires a substantial initial investment; building nuclear production facilities requires care and attention to detail with second and third checks to improve the probability of getting it right the first time. However, the cost and time investment required to build an electrical generating plant fueled by uranium, plutonium and/or thorium has been artificially increased as a result of purposeful efforts by well-organized and well-funded groups for more than 40 years.
During the past four years, our competitors have also been trying to convince American customers that they have discovered a perpetual supply of cheap natural gas. Interestingly enough, they tell their investors a rather different story about how they expect prices to increase soon to make their investments in production capacity pay off.
Though there may be some people in the nuclear opposition who are sincerely afflicted with an irrational nuclear phobia, the majority of the leadership clearly dislikes nuclear energy because they would prefer to sell something else. They might be selling a vision of an impossible utopia powered only by natural energy flows, but for the most part they are selling a continuation of business as usual, with fossil fuel retaining as much market share as possible.
Listen closely to the number of times that advocates of “anything but nuclear” mention their comfort with natural gas and then read some of the annual reports of companies that are best known as oil companies. You will find that those companies generally produce about half of their total energy in the form of natural gas and they are looking to that side of their business for future growth. That growth would not materialize without trying to capture a larger share of the same electricity market where nuclear has the potential to dominate.
Those antinuclear activists are either purposely or inadvertently carrying the water for the multinational hydrocarbon companies that want to sell as much product as they can extract at as high of a price as the market will bear. Fossil fuel companies understand that prices are higher when supplies are constrained; they prefer for the constraints to be placed on their competitors rather than be imposed on them.
Please look through the commercials that you so often see in magazines, on the billboards and on television to realize that burning hydrocarbons as fast as the major multinational companies want to you burn them is just not good for the environment, not good for the future of humanity, and is not equitable for future generations who will thank us for leaving some of the valuable coal, oil and gas for them to burn.
Hat tip to Common Dreams and to Current TV, which together provided access to The Dice are Loaded: NASA’s James Hansen Warns Escalating Climate Crisis Requires Intervention. I am well aware of the fact that both of those media outlets has a strong bias against the use of nuclear energy; maybe someday soon they will listen to what Hansen says about the importance of nuclear technology for addressing the real and pressing issues of global climate change.
PS Though James Hansen is a climate scientist who focuses on the CO2 effects on his area of expertise, there are many people who study ocean chemistry and biology who also worry about the way that dissolved CO2 becomes carbonic acid in water. Humans are putting enough CO2 into the atmosphere to affect the overall pH of the world’s oceans, which has an enormous effect on their ability to support their current populations of creatures.
Great! When can I expect my first check from all of the greenhouse gasses being dumped out by China? After all, they passed the US over half a decade ago in carbon-dioxide emissions, accounting for roughly a quarter of worldwide emissions today.
Or is it only Americans who have to “pay” for putting waste in someone else’s property? Well, we are a generous (perhaps foolhardy) country.
What you consider “pure genius,” I consider to be pure folly, because if global warming is a problem, then this problem needs to be fixed globally. Taxing the hell out of Americans, while ignoring the rest of the world, will do no good, because the fossil-fuel burning and the industries that it supports will just move overseas. None of this populist, wealth-redistributive veneer that you and Hansen choose to put on it can change that. It’s lipstick on a pig.
As for Hansen and his predictions, well, he has a well-known reputation for exaggeration, and his “science” is somewhat sketchy. For example, consider this excerpt from a recent article in the New York Times (which is not exactly a right-wing mouthpiece, and note that the article might require a registration to read):
Hansen is more of a politician than a scientist these days. His main achievement in recent years has been growing his arrest record. But hey, it allows him to hang out will cool stars like Daryl Hannah.
While that is well known, perhaps you do not know that the oceans already contain about 50 times as much carbon-dioxide as the entire atmosphere. So if we were to, say, double the current amount of carbon-dioxide in the air tomorrow, and all of it were taken up by the ocean, we would increase the amount of carbon-dioxide in the oceans by only 2%.
I realize that this is a simplistic analysis and that most of the changes are occurring in the shallow part of the oceans, but the overall measured change in pH in the oceans over time is tiny fraction of the variations in pH in ocean water throughout the world. Furthermore, there has been no convincing scientific evidence that the very slight change toward a neutral pH of 7 (the oceans are slightly alkaline, not acidic, by the way) has had any effect on marine life.
How somebody can wholeheartedly reject the LNT model for low-doses of radiation and enthusiastically embrace this “ocean acidification” scare just baffles me to no end. Both claims rely on the supposition that “something bad” might be happening without any real, hard evidence.
But then again, as with Hansen, this is about politics, not science.
Oh yes it is! Even Hansen proudly refers to it as a tax — e.g., see his testimony to Congress in 2009 (PDF).
Whatever. A sales tax is not based on one’s wealth but on one’s spending. Nevertheless, it is still a tax and it still takes money out of the economy.
You are obviously not familiar with how the PNAS works. Yes, it is a difficult journal to publish in, unless you happen to be a member of the National Academy of Sciences like Hansen. Members get to publish whatever they want in this “high-standard” journal without even the slightest bit of peer review. It’s one of the privileges of being a member of the NAS.
Sadly, that has resulted in a lot of politically based crap being published these days in what once was a prestigious journal. Hansen’s tripe of a paper is just the latest example.
You don’t want to know what I have assumed about you, but thanks for keeping it classy. 😉
Actually, I do have a PhD and I have made use of what probably would have been called a “supercomputer” (i.e., a highly parallelized cluster) back when I was funded by NASA do research on advanced numerical methods for climate/atmospheric models.
My question for you, however, is what is this obsession with computer models? I use computer models every day; it’s how I make my living. Without any validation from real-world data, a computer model is worth nothing. I don’t care how many PhD’s or how many supercomputers you have, you can’t change this basic nature of the art of numerical modeling.
I know that you have a PhD in science and that you are a really smart, technical guy, but your study of politics and government is a little less formal.
Taxes are not evil, and they do not take money out of the economy – any money that government spends is a part of the economy. Money leaves the economy when it is squirreled away in mattresses or transferred to offshore bank accounts.
In a country like the United States, taxes are the way that a free people collects enough money from themselves to pay for they things that they have decided are worth buying. Taxes pay for shared resources like roads, schools, public buildings, national parks, submarines, airports, air traffic control systems, ports, and monuments. They also pay for the people required to operate those shared resources – as an employer the government has a responsibility like any other employer. Taxes are also a result of the fact that plenty of people don’t want to allow others to starve, to grow up without the opportunity to be educates, or to have serious medical issues without assistance.
Taxes on items like gambling, liquor, and cigarettes often seem more palatable because they supposedly discourage behavior while providing resources in other directions. The CO2 tax falls into that category. I would be quite hypocritical if I came down hard against tobacco taxes, for example, since I know where some of that money has been going in recent years.
You as an individual might not like many of the things that the government spends its collected taxes on, but we have a system within which you can work to influence change.
There is one thing that is a lot worse than a “tax and spend” politician; it is one who spends freely without being willing to tax sufficiently to support the spending. I hate routine deficit spending (occasional deficits in bad times are sometimes acceptable.)
All that said, I still believe that any money collected for a carbon tax (fee) must be returned to the people who own the atmosphere because the express purpose of this tax is to alter behavior by exposing the full cost of doing business or consuming certain kinds of products.
“You don’t want to know what I have assumed about you, but thanks for keeping it classy.”
I assumed that you were not a scientist because you were so quick to impugn the integrity of another scientist, rather than respectfully disagree with the conclusions. Does this mean I didn’t “keep it classy”? I personally could not imagine standing up at a conference and saying to somebody with whom I disagreed, “Your science is sketchy and you are more of a politician than a scientist.” Those kind of ad hominem attacks don’t belong in such a discussion.
You are free to assume whatever you want about me, but I do try to keep it classy. I’m sorry if I offended you by making the stated assumption about your profession. I must have been wrong and you are in fact a scientist.
“Actually, I do have a PhD and I have made use of what probably would have been called a “supercomputer” (i.e., a highly parallelized cluster) back when I was funded by NASA do research on advanced numerical methods for climate/atmospheric models.”
Does this mean you are a climate scientist? I’m sure you are very smart, but I’m wondering if climate is your actual field of study or if you are just making inferences. I would love to read about your NASA work. Would you mind pointing me to a publication, if available? Many people, including myself, use computer clusters (although they are definitely not supercomputers). My original point stands that trite thought experiments are virtually useless when it comes to making points about complex systems.
“My question for you, however, is what is this obsession with computer models? I use computer models every day; it’s how I make my living. Without any validation from real-world data, a computer model is worth nothing.”
I am not “obsessed” with computer models (yet you yourself state you make your living with them). To understand complex systems you need computer models; it’s just that simple. You and I are in total agreement with your last statement about data, which is why I said I just put a high premium on data and the ability to calculate.
Rod – I know that your educational background is in English, and you are a really talented writer, which is why I think that your blog receives so much well-deserved traffic, but your reading compression needs a little work.
When or where did I say or even imply that taxes are evil?
Obviously, a certain amount of revenue to the government is necessary for the reasons that you mention. Nevertheless, at some point it is prudent for the person supplying the money, i.e., the taxpayer, to take a hard look at what he or she is getting for this money. Otherwise, why don’t I just give all of my money to the government, who can decide (in its “superior” wisdom) what I need and who can take care of me from cradle to grave? I think that most Americans would be opposed to such a system, or at least that’s what my less-than-formal instincts tell me.
In any case, thank you for clarifying the point that you consider a CO2 tax to be a sin tax. I’ve already written on that aspect of the proposed tax sometime earlier in the comments section of your blog. My big concern is that Hansen’s thinking follows the flawed logic that leads to the “broken window fallacy.”
But fallacies aside, you still haven’t answered my original question: when will China pay of its sins? And where’s my cut?
One of my goals here is to try to encourage leadership by those who can. Leaders don’t look around to push followers to the front before they are there themselves.
China is actually taking quite strong action that will result in turning their emissions trajectory around. They are building 25 new nuclear plants right now and have reasonably solid plans in place that will result in them having about 400 GWe of nuclear capacity by 2050. They are not allowing anyone to erect unreasonable barriers in the way of what is a difficult, but worthwhile task already.
The fee and dividend approach I recommend does not need international agreements. It’s purpose is not to continuously reward people for the fact that others are inadvertently filling their share of the atmosphere with stuff. It’s purpose is to provide a clear economic signal to the dumpers that they would be better off finding cleaner sources of power.
My unabashed goal is to try to put nuclear energy on a more equal footing with other alternatives by putting a value on its emission free characteristic. That way we do not need central planning; we can allow the normal American response of taking actions that minimize cost to take over.
When or where did I say or even imply that taxes are evil?
I’m sorry. I might have read too much into the following statement:
Nevertheless, it is still a tax and it still takes money out of the economy.
Implying that you think taxes are evil is a bit too strong, but your statement certainly provides an indication that you believe taxes are a drag on the economy rather than a necessary government tool. Taxation is the way that governments collect the money required to pay for the things it decides to do. Taxation without representation is to be avoided. In a constitutional republic, it is simply responsible behavior to ensure that taxes are high enough to balance the budget once spending levels have been determined by a similarly constitutional process.
Nick – Here’s what I mean about “classy” or not: you’ve questioned my credentials and then you complain about “ad hominem attacks” as I try to explain them. Forget about class, please just make up your mind. Do you want to know or not. If not, then please shut your mouth.
In case you haven’t noticed, we are not at a conference. We’re on a web blog. If I actually were at a conference with Dr. Hansen, then I would ask very directed, very to-the-point questions, which I hope he would answer in a similar straight-forward way. Since that is not the case, however, I am merely expressing my opinions about his behavior and the motivations behind that behavior, and I don’t need some semi-anonymous person like you trying to censor my opinion, thank you very much.
By the way, I never even commented on Hanson’s actual “science”; I merely quoted someone else’s opinion of his work. But hey, keep on attacking me if it scratches your ideological itch. I stand by what I have written. I find it amusingly ironic that you complain about “trite thought experiments” in the comments of an article about someone (Hansen) who explains complex phenomena in such pedestrian terms as “loaded dice.”
If you want to know about my work, then please give me your email address, and I’ll be happy to send you an electronic copy of my dissertation or one of the later papers I presented on this research. Unless you have a strong background in numerical methods, however, I’m afraid that you will find the material to be rather boring and difficult to understand.
Computer models can be useful tools for understanding physical phenomena, particularly complex phenomena, but that doesn’t mean that you should fall into the trap of confusing your computer model with reality.
Rod – Well, thank goodness they’re doing something! If you’re concerned about carbon-dioxide emissions and trends then China is a complete disaster.
For the past 15 years or even the past 30 years the trend in the US and Europe is that carbon-dioxide emissions per capita have been going down, even before the recent economic downturn. Meanwhile, the carbon-dioxide emissions from China have only been going up, and they have greatly accelerated since about 2003. Much of this is because most of our manufacturing infrastructure has been outsourced to that country.
The first Apple computer was built in a garage in California. When was the last time that an Apple product was manufactured in the US? I know that Apple talks about wanting to bring manufacturing back to the US (so far, it’s just talk), but now you want to slap additional fees (taxes or whatever) on their energy costs? (California gets over half of its electricity from fossil fuels, by the way.) Do you really think that any of those manufacturing jobs that the US has lost are coming back here with that kind of policy?
No, the manufacturing jobs will stay in China where energy is relatively cheap. What’s worse for your “dividend approach,” however, is that the average US citizen who was promised a cut of the money charged for dumping carbon-dioxide into “our atmosphere” won’t get a dime more, because China pays no fees.
China’s rise as a manufacturing powerhouse has certainly driven up their CO2 emissions, because they initially turned to the quick, cheap power source of coal. That choice is very similar to the one made by both Great Britain and the United States when we each took a turn as the world’s leading manufacturing company.
China’s per capita emissions are increasing rapidly, but they are still several times lower in real numbers than the per capita emissions in the United States. Their total CO2 emission rate just passed that of the US about 5 years ago, (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2007/jun/20/china.carbonemissions) yet their population is about 4 times as high as ours.
You’ve been reading this blog long enough to know that I am working hard to do what I can to bring manufacturing back to the US. My support for a carbon tax and dividend is part of that effort because I strongly believe that a strong turn towards nuclear energy will lower our energy prices in the medium to long term. Once we start building, the manufacturing base will recover and produce supply chain savings, the labor force will get the practice it needs, and the job security picture will improve to halt some of the excess costs associated with uncertainty of future employment in the field.
Nuclear fuel is REALLY CHEAP on a per unit heat basis compared to coal, oil and natural gas (even when the gas suppliers are doing everything they can to over produce and keep prices down to drive out competition).
The fossil fuel companies worked really hard to stop carbon taxes in the 1990s, pushing hard on the theme that they would increase energy prices on the most vulnerable people. The advertising influenced majority went along with that line and the taxes were never imposed. People kept buying gas guzzlers and utilities kept building natural gas plants and nothing else.
History shows what happened next. Hydrocarbon (oil and gas) prices (and oil company profits) rose at a rate far above inflation from about 2000-2008 until the cumulative transfer of wealth from the masses to the tiny fraction of the world population in the supplier role contributed to the world economic crisis. (The first mortgage defaults were concentrated in places with long commutes and large, energy guzzling homes.)
I would prefer to take a path that might help to avoid a repeat of that experience.
One more thing – one of the most constitutionally supportable taxes, by the way, is the duty. Taxes can be assessed at the border to compensate for any lack of emissions fees in other countries. We have pretty good mechanisms these days for tracking points of origin and for calculating the emissions content of manufactured materials and goods.
Of course, imposing any taxes that are aimed at effectively reducing the use of fossil fuel are going to take some real political courage. I am not optimistic, but I am persistent.
If we wait for the stars to be perfectly aligned, nothing will happen. China is doing what is right for China.
In the US, if a tax/dividend system were to be enforced then a substitution effect towards nuclear would occur for the greater good of the US and its neighbours like Canada and Mexico. (Yes Canada breathes coal fumes that are not endogenous !)
How will it be enforced and managed is something that requires ingenuity. The US has a truckload of that if I remember correctly.
Rod – Ah … so the real scheme should be called “fee, dividend, and tariff.” Is that it? Then why didn’t you say so in the first place? Well, you’ve certainly answered my original question as long as the duty paid on Chinese goods ends up the “dividend” (or handout) given out to every … well, which is it? citizen or resident or legal resident? That’s not clear either.
Oh yeah, I remember, if you are the fifth child or sixth child, etc., in a family you get nothing. I had almost forgotten that Hansen includes some Malthusian nuances into his “fee/dividend” scheme. It’s kind of old-fashioned insisting that the oldest child is the most important, isn’t it?
Of course, I assume you realize that tariffs are a touchy subject between countries, and such a policy risks sparking a trade war. But then again, this is all academic, isn’t it? We both know that Hansen’s plan (and you really should tell him about your tariff idea) will never be implemented. So please continue to persist, and I’ll continue to ask questions. It’s all in good fun.
I’ve long ago put my faith in pathological narcissists and given up on the consensus of peer-reviewed scientists. So you’re preaching to the choir.
Brian, government debt, bank profits and a some corporate debt are nothing other than a massive, regressive and hidden tax – the worst kind of tax imaginable. The government and the big banks cooperate in money printing which these days is close to 90% counterfeit. That’s a tax on everyone and part of that extraction relies on the consumption of fossil fuels.
Amazingly, you aren’t concerned about the incredibly corrupting hidden taxation but you are concerned about a small overt tax that pales in comparison… I mean, it’s almost invisible next to the mountain of counterfeit.
China this, China that… The reality on the ground is that China will copy any good technology developed in the West, that’s what they do, that’s what they are. A fact. Which means that if we create the incentives and develop nuclear, China will copy it and reduce their emissions – as they do with everything else.
I appreciate that you have a doctoral degree in your field of expertise, but you are completely deluded about economics. As in, you are completely incapable of finding you way through money, taxes and much of politics. I don’t know where and how you get so fired up to argue the wrong side, but regardless, please, please stick to your area of expertise.
Sam – The Internet is full of armchair economists. That’s nothing new. However, very few of them go so far as to claim that money these days is “close to 90% counterfeit.” That puts you into an entirely different league of semi-anonymous crazy.
Furthermore, you fail miserably to connect the dots on your claim that government debt, which is almost exclusively due to deficit spending that results from bad fiscal policy (in this case an overabundance of entitlement spending), is somehow the result of the consumption of fossil fuels. What were you thinking?
But anyhow, so let me get this straight. Your “reality on the ground” idea is that the US should weaken its economy — both domestically and in international competitive markets — by imposing a tax on 84% of its energy supply, just so that we create “incentives” to develop technology that you expect the Chinese to steal. Are you kidding me?!
If there ever was a plan to run a country’s economy into the ground, this is it!
I don’t need a doctoral degree to figure out that this is hogwash. All it requires is just a little common sense.
A significant portion of our accumulated debt is a result of our interventions into the affairs of other countries. One of the primary reasons we have chosen to be the world’s policeman and to have a defense establishment that costs more money every year than the expenditures of the rest of the world combined is to protect our access to the hydrocarbons that fuel our economy.
Pick at any nits you like. What is your plan to send a signal to the markets that there is value in pursuing emission free technology with a fuel source that does not need continuous defense of the sea lines of communication and does not require almost continuous warfare on land to defend pipelines, refineries and production areas?
If our companies were led by more far sighted individuals who could see through the temporary nature of today’s low gas prices, we might not need a carbon tax. If people managing banks were not so focused on ensuring their annual bonuses were as large as possible, we might not need a carbon tax. If the fossil fuel funded antinuclear movement had not had such a long run of unopposed public influencing, we might not need a carbon tax.
However, none of those statements are true; we are not building nuclear plants very fast at all. As a result, we have some building issues that will be come crises if we do not take action in the relatively near term to change direction. If we were building 25 new nuclear plants in the US right now, I would feel a little more sanguine.
Rod Adams wrote:
It is important to collect the fee based on what the hydrocarbon companies take out of the ground and not on the amount that they sell. Fossil fuel companies are some of the world’s most prodigious consumers of their own product.
Indeed. We would be better off using heat/energy from nuclear sources to extract and refine the fossil fuels that we really do need, e.g., fuel for aviation.
The idea of fully rebated carbon tax is interesting. I think it could work. I do see some problems. If there is a money flow somewhere, government is sure to tap into it to take a piece, which will then grow over time. Also, how would the magnitude of the carbon tax be set? Governement will want to tinker.
If a rebated carbon tax were instituted, it would need to be accompanied by a rebated tariff on the CO2 generated by the manufacture of imported goods, if the country of origin does not have a similar carbon tax. This could strain international relationships, inviting yet more government intervention in the carbon tax system.
If producers of fossil fuel are taxed, how it is dis-incentive to produce such fuels if the taxes can be passed on to the consumers…and then even the consumers get the money back anyway. I don’t get it.
I think the problem with carbon taxes is that its supposed to make the use of such fuels more expensive relative to other fuels. OK, maybe. It can really hurt a lot of people who depend on things like gasoline to get around. I don’t see how this helps.
I also think it’s another avoidance of actual energy policy. We have no national energy plan. We need to copy aspects of the Chinese who do, who look at their entire energy structure out 80 years and develop 5 and 10 year plans with serious investment and not ‘incentives’. And they go out an do it.
David – businesses in competitive commodity markets do not get to pass their costs onto their customers. If they try to do that, they will lose market share to other suppliers selling at a lower price.
People who are just barely getting by are, by default, using a lot less energy than average. They will get back a check that is larger than their increased costs.
The only way to have an effective energy policy is to allow central planning and then to make sure that the planners are competent. Both are huge stretches for the US.
The system that we have is the competitive market. All Hansen and I are advocating is that all players pay the full cost of production, which in all other businesses includes disposing of the production waste products.
How would you feel about a local dry cleaner dumping their chemicals into the air or water? What about sewage? Do you think we should go back to the days when people just dumped the raw stuff into the street?
Common dreams? Current TV? Why waste your time with that? I thought your theory was that wind and solar are just a happy face mask for the hydrocarbon industry?
Besides, you are never going to convince the vast majority of environmentalists because they don’t mind forcing everyone else in the country to pay higher energy prices. Nuclear isn’t an option since it doesn’t fit the narrative where humans must pay a penance for past environmental sins.
And that “carbon fee” might find its way to atmosphere owners (after a sizable chunk is distributed amongst bureaucrats of course) but it wont be in the US. Remember, we have to help subsidize the third world switch to renewables. Can’t have them using nukes for petes sake!
Rod, talking about CO2, I noticed that your Adams Atomic Engine uses CO2 as the primary coolant.
While I am not a nuclear engineer, I have been trying for the past few years to mobilise some support for Adams Atomic Engine type devices. My aim is to get them installed at hospitals, university complexes, airports, etc. Partly to help those facilities fullfill their CO2 reduction ambitions. Partly to help bring nuclear power back into the daily experience of people, at a scale that is more comprehensible than the massive (and hidden) scale of traditional nuclear power.
I am interested in Adams Engine type machines because they appear to be simple to comprehend and build. That is a great advantage these days, since people are almost automatically affraid of anything they don’t understand. Little Adams Engines can probably fit in most people’s imagination, helping them give these machines the benefit of the doubt. Is that a silly thing to think?
Getting to my questions now: when using CO2 as a coolant, I have read that the CO2 becomes radioactive, and also that the insides of the machine get coated with carbon, potentially leading to reduced life of the system. What is your plan to minimise or mitigate this? Also: how do you handle the CO2 during refueling and maintenance. Can it just be blown off into the atmosphere, or do you have to catch it and store it as radioactive waste?
A professor of reactor physics I talked to has prefered using helium in small HTR’s, because CO2 degrades and fouls the system and N2 also becomes radioactive and produces unwanted isotopes. But Helium is expensive and not a renewable resource. The easiest form of Adams Engine to sell would consist of abundant raw materials as much as possible.
Final question, what would be the best way to deal with the (partially) radioactive graphite in the spent fuel and moderator/reflector parts of the Adams Engine?
Thanks, sorry if you already explained all this somewhere, if so, I’d appreciate a link to it.
Finally, I read on your Adams Engine site that the Adams Engine is off the table for the time being. Is there any chance of reviving it? Let’s say a buyer is prepared to order 100 of them. Could you deliver?
All the best,
Correction – the Adams Engine uses nitrogen gas, not CO2. Our chief designer really liked the idea of using a gas whose thermodynamic properties are virtually identical to those of air. It changes the supply chain dynamic to be able to use the machines that are already well proven to operate with air and combustion products as the working fluid.
The Adams Engine is destined to remain a paper system until such time as there are TRISO based fuels available as a commodity product.
2 completely unrelated things both related to TRISO fuel.
1. Did you see the recent details of the collaboration between the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the DOE? They plan to have a research/demonstration, 2 MWt, salt-cooled, high temp Rx, I believe with TRISO fuel, operational by 2015. I haven’t had time to watch this myself yet (working 6/12’s to add 100-something emission-free, Nuclear MWs in South Florida), but here is a link to a video about it.
2. If I have anything close to enough free time in late October, I may try to make a TRISO pebble Halloween costume.
Yes, I saw the news about the Chinese collaboration on a molten salt cooled demonstration reactor. It sounds very much like the technology that Per Peterson at UC Berkeley has been studying and writing about. Thorium advocates ought to recall that two of the largest thorium fueled reactors that have supplied power to the grid were gas cooled modeles that used TRISO particle based, high temperature fuel. (Fort St. Vrain in Colorado and the Thorium High Temperature Reactor in Germany. Both produced about 300 MWe and neither one failed because of fuel performance issues.)
The molten salt version is designed to overcome some of the perceived challenges of gas cooled reactors – like their large sizes and high fluid pressures.
So, you are working on the Turkey Point power uprate project?
Close, St. Lucie.
I think Per is probably somewhat involved in the collaboration. It seems to be basically the same concept (maybe the entire same design) as what ORNL calls the small modular advanced high temperature reactor or SMAHTR.
For anyone else reading this string that may not have seen the news elsewhere, the Chinese plan to have a 2 MWt salt-cooled, TRISO-fueled reactor up and running by 2015 and a 2 MWt salt-cooled, liquid fuel reactor up and running by 2017. Following those initial research/demonstration reactors, they plan to scale up to 10 MW, then 100 MW versions.
Sorry. I grew up in South Florida and never thought of St. Lucie as being part of the megalopolis called South Florida. It is on same latitude as Sebring and Avon Park, both of which we considered to be Central Florida.
From the South Floridian point of view, anything north of Palm Beach is no longer in South Florida – despite the fact that the University of South Florida is in Tampa.
As a Tennessean, I know no better. If I’m not mistaken, there are some people that consider anything below Orlando to be South Florida, and probably anything north to be North Florida. The area around St. Lucie is definitely outside of the megalopolis though.
Please take this in the joking spirit with which it is intended:
Your thoughts about Florida geography reminds me of the way that commentators describe the political spectrum. There is right and there is left. There is no mention of the center.
Central Florida is that band that is roughly between Sebring & Gainesville. It includes Orlando and St. Lucie.
No offense taken, and the pretty decent analogy on how close-minded a lot of people are politically.
Sort of in that same over-simplification vain, it seems that far too many people are willing to lump capitalism into a single bucket and claim that capitalism equals greed. There is a greedy, value-extracting capitalism, but there is also value-adding capitalism that helps out whole economies. That’s all on that topic for now.
Thanks for the correction, please excuse me. What would it take to make TRISO a commodity?
This may be a quibble, but what about the large amount of hydrocarbons that are extracted but do not go into the atmosphere such as plastics/resins? Or am I missing something?
Also, for my fellow skeptics regarding the affects of CO2 on the atmosphere: the amount of CO2 in the air *now* may not cause any warming, but eventually it will. We can study and debate if it is 300 ppm or 3000 ppm but I think we all would agree at some point this will occur. So we should stick together in promoting nuclear power. And coal burners put plenty of other bad substances into the air, such as NOx gases, sulfates, mercury, and even uranium. Even if those substance have yet to cause problems currently, which is debatable, eventually it will. And “eventually” may be soon.
I do not have the figures handy, but when I was in the plastics business I recall being told that less than 10% of the world’s hydrocarbons go into materials including asphalt and plastics. The vast majority of production is burned to produce heat.
Trouts have disappeared in many Quebec lakes. Shellfishes are seeing their ‘protective gears’ get softer and becoming more vulnerable to predators.
Get real guys, the proof is there for acidification and its impact on marine life.
The Adirondacks are suffering from acid rain too; there just isn’t any limestone to help neutralize the acid generated from midwestern coal plants.
I’m skeptical too we could twist China’s arm to pay for dumping into the atmosphere. If we could, we’d force our own idiocy on them, insisting the natural energy flows would be the way to go. It’s so gently pastoral… uh… feeling. Personally I hate that a slightly crisp late summer evening, with the crickets and gentle breeze through my windows needs to be spoiled because my neighbors fire up their wood/pellet/corn stoves, stinkin’ up the neighborhood to high heaven.
I can’t believe that in 2012, we’re still burnin’ stuff as our primary source of energy.
Another complaint: Why is “nuclear” one catch all heading? They even describe the RTG on Curiosity as “nuclear”. They don’t even differientiate between Strong force Fission, and Weak force RTGs. That it’s all just “Nuclear” to the media and the general population needs to be fixed. Why isn’t a CCGT, and a coal plant heat engine simply described as “Combustion”?
Another complaint: What ever happened to “Spaceship Earth”? Why are we stuck now with “sustainability”? Crimony. An old childhood friend of my used to use “sustenance” as his description for his pot. It was apt. I’m reminded of the biblical admonition: “If you love your life, you’ll lose it”, which to me means we should strive rather than buzz in our “sustainability”.
I have to believe that strong force Fission can adequately impact the combustion companies at their sales and gross profit margins to keep consumption of fossil fuel down as well as prices for the consumer. Fracking won’t happen at 35 cents per Therm. We need to move competition out of the congressional lobbies, and back onto mainstreet where it belongs. That should be our single focus.
We should stick to the plan: Convince people that the careful manipulation of common minerals can genrate enough energy for billions of people forever. If we can make way for 15 billion people to live happy, health, long and actualizing lives, then 7.5 billion would be a cakewalk.
For many environmentalists, shutting down nuclear is far more important than reducing CO2 emissions. If this carbon tax is put into place in the US, I fully expect members of Congress such as Kucinich, Markey and Reid will also demand a nuclear fuel tax be put on the nuclear power industry. This is what was done in Germany. The environmentalists were afraid that nuclear might be kept for baseload generation, so they successfully got a tax put on fissile fuels. So what is happening now in Germany? Twenty-three new coal-fired power plants are being built.
Shutting down nuclear is the real priority. So be careful when calling for a tax on energy sources. The next energy source to be taxed could be your favorite.
The “Environmentalists” that you are describing are exactly the fossil advocates in green clothes that I have been talking about for years here on Atomic Insights.
Anyone who actually cares about the environment will notice that nuclear energy does not do many of the bad things that excessive fossil fuel burning can do. If they claim to be for the environment and also claim to be against nuclear energy they are either one of the tiny sliver of misanthropes that wants to return to a world population of less than a billion people, all struggling to feed themselves while using only natural energy flows OR they are part of a much larger group of people that actually likes the “business as usual” energy supply model because that is how they make their money.
Patrick Moore on the facts and fiction of climate change
Worth the read – I beleive he says it better than I can.
Good article I must say. Patrick Moore is a moderate. Here is a bit from the article I did not know about:
Not that many millions of years ago Canada’s Arctic islands were covered in sub-tropical forests. There was no ice at either pole. The sea was considerably higher. Life flourished through these times. They will say that humans are not adapted to such a warm climate, ignoring the fact that humans are a tropical species, and would not be able to live where there is frost without fire, clothing, and shelter.
Humans can certainly adapt to warm climates, but we will have to spend a great deal of our limited resources rebuilding our societal infrastructure. When people whine about the high cost of nuclear or the risk that there may someday be an accident that causes land to be abandoned, I want to ask how much it might cost to relocate Miami, New York, and Los Angeles. Will they feel any better if the reason for losing access to their home and land is because it is under water compared to it being lightly contaminated with a tiny quantity of Cs-137?
SMRs will create a paradigm shift in nuclear acceptance. I remember Al Gore short changing nuclear because it came in only one size = Extra Large.
With SMRs, economies of scale and chain production will make us compete on costs. Right now we have only been able to compete on differentiation.
I just cannot believe SMRs are not there yet in the commercial space since we’ve had the knowledge for more than 40 years. Talk about missed opportunity for an industry.
But I like your saying regarding planting trees. We missed the opportunity 20 years ago but not now. If the US does not get it done, the Russians, French, Chinese or Koreans are going to win big.
If the US misses this, it will be the first tangible sign of the decline of an empire.
Humans will adapt as they have in the past. The real question is if we do so by the traditional methods of famine and mass migration (with the attendant wars that always go along with the latter) or by applying currently available technology to deal with the situation.
Those are the real choices.
An awful lot of people blithely talk about adaptation and confidently believe that they have the capability to “improvise, adapt and overcome.”
I’m a wimp. I prefer preparation and hardship avoidance to adaptation. We have the tools at hand to avoid the most severe effects. If we would have started 30 years ago, it would have been a lot easier, but even starting today, we can do it. One thing I like about Hansen’s recent work is that I agree with him that we really should not wait much longer. Crisis is not here, but I do not like our chances if we wait another 20 years to start building new nuclear plants.
As Steve Byrne of SCANA told an AP reporter recently “…it’s a great time to be building a nuclear facility” because we have low energy prices, abundant labor, and cheap money. That combination makes it a great time to build long lasting capital assets – for people who have the vision to look through the petroleum company marketing message of “don’t worry, be happy, keep buying gas.”
Doesn’t nitrogen form C14 isotopes when irradiated? Carbon dating has already been completely stuffed up since the 50’s bomb tests, give the palaeontologists a break! More to the point, the fuel used in the German pebble bed reactor was, by some accounts, prone to much more wear than anticipated, so radioactive dust contaminated the turbines. Whether the effect was less using nitrogen than helium, or molten salt for that matter, would require experiment. As Admiral Rickover said, paper reactors never have any problems.
Paper reactors also never capture market share from fossil fuels, so there is a lot of motivation to ensure that they remain on paper. One way to do that is to keep bringing up as many challenges as possible – even if those challenges have acceptable solutions.
Nitrogen does activate to C14 in a neutron flux. The rate is not terribly high since the cross-section for absorption is rather small. Separating C14 out of the coolant stream is not hard; a purification system that includes activate charcoal does a reasonable job. There will still be some activation left, but the after shutdown dose rates would still be far lower than they are in water cooled reactors – which also have activation products and have more issues with corrosion and corrosion product activation than reactors that use a nearly inert gas for cooling.
The problems with the German pebble beds in terms of dust were also solvable or acceptable. The AVR ran for more than 20 years without dust causing any problems with helium circulators or other primary components. The THTR had some issues with fuel pebble breakage, but those were caused by a very hard to imagine design decision. For some reason, a group of very smart engineers thought that you could jam control rods into a pebble bed and the pebbles would gracefully move out of the way. There was no provision for guide tubes.
Not surprisingly, that system did not work so well. There were workable solutions developed; the plant operated for most of its licensed 1000 days. That temporary license, however, was not turned into a permanent license because of the antinuclear frenzy that resulted from Chernobyl. Since the THTR included graphite in the design “like Chernobyl” and it only had a temporary, demonstration license, it was an easy target of focused opposition. That opposition, by the way, included the water cooled reactor vendors who were working hard to tell the world how their technology was nothing like that employed at Chernobyl.
Admiral Rickover was right that paper reactors never have any problems, but he was also right when he taught us that physical reactors are never perfect and require a great deal of continuing effort. He was also right in consistently pointing out for more than 30 years that the effort was worthwhile.
I’d have been delighted if your design had made it into production. We had a container ship ground on a reef here last year, and only luck and heroic efforts prevented a thousand tons of toxic sludge from fouling the coast. Hope your current efforts have better success.
I would also have been delighted. Over the years, I am getting more worried about the anti-nuclear feeling that is permeating and solidifying across the spectrum also in my country, the Netherlands. It is going so far that some people from serious technical institutes like TNO are stating as fact that there is *no* solution for global problem of resource depletion and materials scarcity. According to this view, only individual regions can ‘survive’ resource depletion, namely by maintaining their ‘share of the dwindling pie’ – even if that means going to war to preserve it!
Imagine: anti-nuclear prejudice is leading apparently serious people to conclude that we may ‘have to go to war'(!) to preserve our quality of life as individual regions, since there is ‘no other way’ to mitigate the effect falling ore grades in the face of energy scarcity. So we are to believe that the risks of nuclear energy make it preferable that we engage in permanent global resource war!? Check this out for the details:
Note that the author – a PhD from TNO – does *not* include U and Th in his table of ‘Elements of Hope’. Note also that he lists *war* as a possible ‘solution’ to materials scarcity, or otherwise, ‘managed austerity’. ‘Managed austerity’ sounds a lot like just sitting back and watching the global economy collapse. (with the ‘haves’ doing the management (i.e. making laws against using nuclear power), and the ‘have nots’ performing the austerity.Being a ‘have not’, this worries me.)
Is it just me, or is this type of thinking among serious researchers inside serious policy research institution that actually advise government, a rather worrying situation?
Do you know of a good book that discusses the Fort St. Vrain plant in Colorado?
No. I have quite a few good papers somewhere in my dead tree library. I can also put you in contact with a guy who was one of the shift engineers at the time that the plant was shutdown for good.
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