John Holdren nuclear energy’s importance as ultra low carbon power source – White House Summit on Nuclear Energy (WHSNE)
John Holdren holds what might be the longest complete title available in the current Administration. He serves as Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).
In his role as an academic, a scientist and appointed government official in several previous administrations, he is a long time observer and participant in U.S. national energy policy. He has been featured on Atomic Insights several times in the past.
His general attitude towards nuclear energy for the past 40 years can best be described as cautiously skeptical; he has always recognized the potential of unlocking the incredibly dense energy that is locked up inside atomic nuclei, but he has also expressed concern about the possibility of harm from adding a little bit of additional radioactive material to our environment.
He has also been worried about the risks associated with allowing more entities to gain access to fissionable materials. Like many in the non-proliferation community, he believes there is a worrisome potential that other entities will be tempted to invest the substantial resources required to assemble those materials into a nuclear bomb.
In recent years, he has also consistently said that more research needs to be done aimed at finding ways to reduce the initial costs of nuclear power plants and to develop a publicly acceptable long term plan for used nuclear fuel. He has, in the past, published papers that were skeptical about the economic viability of recycling used nuclear fuel.
Knowing a bit about Dr. Holdren’s opinions about nuclear energy, I enjoyed hearing what he had to say as the opening speaker at Friday’s historically important White House Summit on Nuclear Energy.
I’m cautiously encouraged. It seems that Dr. Holdren has been listening to people like Ken Caldeira, James Hansen, and the International Panel on Climate Change about the near impossibility of addressing climate change if nuclear energy is marginalized or kept off the table altogether. He has also been listening to his boss’s public statements about nuclear energy, which have been consistently expressed since at least 2007 when he began running for President.
My interpretation of his talk [a full transcript of which is below] is that Dr. Holdren has fully accepted the fact that there is no way to reach stated energy and climate goals without a strong and growing contribution from nuclear energy, both in the United States and around the world. He still has a ways to go in recognizing the fact that many of his most pressing concerns have been well mitigated by steady advances in technology and operational understanding.
He also needs to begin hearing more from people who have solid proposals for rule or policy changes that can change the cost and reduce the schedule uncertainty of developing and deploying nuclear energy while providing improved safety and security.
Dr. Holdren, as a direct representative of the President, has also subtly issued a challenge to people who think nuclear energy is already important and ready now to make additional contributions to the safety, reliability, security and cleanliness of our energy system.
The Administration needs our help to sell this message to the American public. They have proven that they are willing to be at our side, but we cannot expect them to be our marketing arm.
We cannot expect elected politicians or appointed government employees to carry the whole burden of convincing skeptics that building increasing numbers of new nuclear facilities in a wide range of sizes and locations is an important and productive investment. They need us to get the people excited and supportive of the reality that making the investments will provide the wide-ranging improvements that many of us believe are possible.
The Administration’s decision to host a wide ranging discussion on nuclear energy in the White House sends a powerful message of support; we must work hard, with wide open eyes, to take full advantage of that step forward.
Now, I need to get on the road so that I can participate in some of the Sunday afternoon events at the American Nuclear Society Winter Meeting in Washington, DC. I look forward to seeing some of you there.
Transcript of John Holdren’s opening remarks at the White House Summit on Nuclear Energy, held Friday, November 6, 2015
Thank you very much Jason. And on behalf of President Obama, thanks to you all of you for coming. This is an amazing crowd. I have been entertaining myself by reading the list of participants and your affiliations. And I have to extend a particular note of thanks to Kirsten Cutler from OSTP [Assistant Director, Nuclear Energy and Nonproliferation] for all the work that she put in organizing this meeting and helping us recruit such an amazing collection of leaders in this field.
As everybody is aware, President Obama considers addressing the global climate change challenge to be a top priority. At the end of August, at the Glacier Conference in Alaska, he said the following, “I am convinced that no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a change in climate. This is one of those rare issues, because of its magnitude, of its scope, that if we don’t get it right, we may not be able to reverse and we may not be able to adapt sufficiently. There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change.” The challenge of acting in time, and ultimately acting adequately, is daunting for both the United States and for the world. Let me take a look at the numbers. Most of the world’s nations have embraced the goal of holding the increase in the globally and annually averaged near-surface air temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial level. Today we’re pushing through 0.9 degrees Celsius and still rising. The middle of the road estimates by the climate science community are that achieving a high likelihood of keeping the ultimate increase below 2 degrees C will require global reductions in the offending emissions, principally greenhouse gases, but also particulate black carbon, by something in the range of 50% below 1990 levels by 2050 all the way to 0 by or before 2100.
Under the widely shared assumption that the industrialized countries, having contributed the larger part of cumulative atmospheric buildup of greenhouse gases to date should go first, and initially fastest in emissions reductions, the United States and other industrialized nations have agreed to aim for something like 80% reductions from 1990 levels by 2050, 80 per cent.
Now in terms of heat trapping potential, on a 100 year time scale, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use have lately accounted for about 55% of total greenhouse gas emissions world wide. And carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants have accounted for about 40% of that or 22% of the global total.
In the United States, CO2 emissions from fossil fuels are three quarters of national greenhouse gas emissions, with power generation, as it does world wide, accounting for about 40% of the CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use in total. Thus in this country, CO2 from power generation is 30% of national emissions of all greenhouse gas, all types.
Both for the United States and for the world, the electric power sector is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases among all sectors of human activity. It’s bigger than transportation, it’s bigger than agriculture, it’s bigger than non-electric uses of energy in industry and it’s bigger than non-electric uses of energy in residential and commercial buildings.
That means that national and global goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions can only be met with the help of significant reductions in the electric power sector. Indeed, probably larger than proportionate cuts, given the leverage that comes from the degree to which both emissions and decisions in the electric power sector are concentrated in large facilities and large organizations.
But achieving reductions in the magnitude required is going to be a huge challenge. Both in the United States and world wide, two thirds of electricity generation still comes from burning coal, oil and natural gas. And virtually all of that without any capture of the carbon dioxide combustion product. Two billions tons per year from fossil fuel power plants in the United States, 13 billion tons worldwide. I might add that over 70% of that global power sector total is from coal fired power plants, more than 70%.
Of the 1/3 of global electricity generation currently coming from non-fossil sources, about half is coming from hydro power, a third is coming from nuclear and a sixth is coming from non hydro renewables. In the United States, in round numbers, 60% of the non fossil generation is nuclear, 20% is hydro and the last 20% is non-hydro renewables.
But nuclear generation, as everyone in this room knows, I think, has been more or less flat in gigawatt-hours generated for a decade, and hydro for far longer than that, fluctuating mainly with differences in runoff. Only the non-hydro renewables have been growing recently and very dramatically at that. In the case of wind, it increased more than three-fold between 2008 and 2014, solar electricity generation increased more than 20-fold between 2008 and 2014.
The most conspicuous greenhouse gas relevant trend on the fossil generation side in the United States has, of course, been the rising prominence of natural gas, which went from 16% of generation in 2000 to 27% in 2014, while coal fell from 52% in 2000 to 39% in 2014.
So looking ahead, what are the options for achieving the deep cuts in greenhouse gas reductions from the power sector that are needed? I’m sure everyone in this room can recite the list; it’s not that long. Increased efficiency in electricity end use, more switching from coal to natural gas, advanced fossil fuel power plants with higher efficiency and, much more important, but also more difficult and costly the capacity to capture, use and store carbon dioxide; more renewables for electricity generation, particularly some of the non-hydro renewables, particularly wind and solar that have large potential for further expansion; more nuclear fission and ultimately, maybe, nuclear fusion if it can be made practical and affordable.
All of these options have attractions all of them have shortcomings, including for some, hurdles to overcome in terms of practicality, economics, or public acceptance, with the prospects for overcoming these hurdles subject to considerable uncertainty.
Increased end-use efficiency is at least arguably, the largest and cheapest option. After all, from 1975 to 2010, the United States reduced the amount of primary energy needed to yield a real dollar of GDP at modest and sometimes negative costs. Every respectable study shows that there is much more potential where that came from.
But still, efficiency has limits. One still needs supply. And in the case of electricity, there’s reason to think that demand will be driven up by such rapidly expanding end-uses as the increasing electrification of transportation and perhaps desalination of sea water.
As for the supply side, again I think we all pretty much know where the challenges lie. Burning Natural gas still releases a lot of CO2, much less than coal, and careful attention must be paid to methane leaks in production and transport to avoid off-setting even that advantage.
Carbon capture, utilization and storage for fossil fueled power plants is still at an early stage of development, with costs that are highly uncertain, but in no event, likely to be attractive unless there is a substantial actual or virtual price on carbon.
Intermittent renewables, such as wind and solar, become more challenging with respect to integration with other sources the larger their share becomes and their cost goes up substantially in circumstances where storage is required.
Growing biofuels for electricity generation is demanding of land and water and may compete with food production as well as entailing high costs in transporting the fuel to centralized power plants.
Nuclear fusion doesn’t work yet, and we can’t be sure it will or what it will cost if it does.
And as for nuclear fission, the focus of this meeting, I’ll come to its challenges in just a moment, but the point I want to make first is that this litany of challenges facing our options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector is not a reason for taking any of them off the table.
Given the importance, indeed the imperative of electricity supply that is adequate, affordable, reliable, secure and far more climate-friendly than today’s, the only sensible strategy is to do everything we reasonably can do through research, development, innovation and public-private partnership to master the challenges that each option presents to give the best chance of being able to fashion a deployed mix of electricity supply options that meets all of these criteria and one other, a high degree of portfolio diversity as a hedge against inevitable uncertainty and surprises.
And that, precisely, is this Administration’s strategy.
Let me turn finally to the challenges facing the nuclear fission option. The challenges that we must count on research, development, innovation and public-private partnerships to address. Again, I think we all know what they are.
They are to reduce capital costs, to maximize safety against malfunction, mistakes, malevolence, and natural disasters, to manage radioactive wastes in ways that are not merely technically sound, but can gain the confidence of the public, and to minimize the pathways by which nuclear energy technology contributes to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
What today’s meeting is precisely about is how ingenuity and innovation and partnership can contribute to overcoming these challenges and thus to making nuclear energy everything that it can be, and thus a major contributor in this country and worldwide to minimizing the risks from climate change.
I look forward to hearing the terrific ideas I’m sure will materialize from this discussion. Thank you very much.
Efficiency is great, but to count on it to reduce emissions has proven to be foolish, time and time again. Since the days of Javon, the paradox is that increased efficiency doesn’t equate to reduced usage as much as it “should”.
Actually, Jevons’ Paradox is that, in absence of price increase, increased efficiency equates not to as much reduced usage as it “should”, but rather actually leads to increased usage, and more rapid depletion of the resource.
Jevons addressed The Coal Question, and predicted Britain would begin to run dry by the turn of the century. She did, and fought a nasty little skirmish over access to its replacement in the Caspian.
Global energy efficiency market ‘an invisible powerhouse’ worth at least USD 310 billion per year …
IEA report sees energy efficiency finance becoming established market segment in its own right …
“Energy efficiency is the invisible powerhouse in IEA countries and beyond, working behind the scenes to improve our energy security, lower our energy bills and move us closer to reaching our climate goals,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said at the Verona Efficiency Summit as she launched the IEA’s Energy Efficiency Market Report 2014.
Energy efficiency represents the most important plank in efforts to decarbonise the global energy system and achieve the world’s climate objectives: in the IEA scenario consistent with limiting the long-term increase in global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, the biggest share of emissions reductions – 40% – comes from energy efficiency.
Thanks for the links, Jaagu. Efficiency is good, and I’m (almost) all in favor of it. But I fear James’ point still stands. In the U.S. Deep Decarbonization Pathways 2050 Report cited below, per capita energy use is expected to drop 43% by 2050. After population growth, that becomes a 22% net drop under 2014 values in the most energy-efficient scenario considered in the high-level summary.
That’ll help, and perhaps that per capita 43% is indeed the largest single contributor. But 22% net isn’t going to do much beyond pushing the chairs a few yard further up the deck. To achieve 80% – 90% societal decarbonization by 2050, the Deep D. models call for nearly double 2014’s electricity generation, all of which — not just the incremental — must be essentially carbon free.
Left unsaid is utter necessity of carbon fee-and-dividend to either drive all this, or at minimum to ratchet fossil prices to prevent back sliding. In a supply-constrained economy, marginal fuel prices are set by the most costly marginal producer. In a demand-constrained economy its just the opposite: its the least costly marginal producer that sets the market price. We see that today in the U.S. with our glut of fracked gas, resulting from unbelievable efficiency increase in production and baseload generation. The thermodynamics of CCGT are truly impressive, and at half the CO2 emission appears a big improvement over coal. But in the overall scheme of things really amounts to no more than an additional foot or two up the deck. Yet it is today’s low marginal rate of gas energy generation that is setting U.S. energy policy for the next forty years, and driving out of that market the one technology proven to effectively lower nation-wide carbon emission.
Temporary capacity credit prop-ups to domestic nuclear generation, even if they were to happen, would amount to no more than a band-aid on the problem, and I long ago gave up on peak coal or peak oil or peak gas or peak anything else to solve it for us.
I watched the entire Summit live on Friday. What I find interesting is that when I first heard these comments I wondered, “Why is he spending so much time talking about renewables?” Now that I go back and read the transcript, it seems a lot more balanced.
Agreed, James. Here’s a graph that pretty much tells that story, including debunking the population excuse. If we’re talking about energy egalitarianism on a global scale (and shouldn’t we?), we’re just going to need a vast amount of generation compared to what we have today. And to be fair, this graph doesn’t really take into account the prodigious amounts of energy that are going to be required to provide water for an estimated 3 billion more people on the planet by 2050. Heretofore unimagined amounts of desalination along with the energy to move that water to where it’s needed is going to create a huge energy demand in and of itself. You can see the graph here: tinyurl.com/nobswma
Thanks, Tom. I’ve included your graphic in a just-completed hot-off-the-wordpress review, United States Deep Decarbonization Pathways 2050, of a report prepared by Lawrence-Berkeley and Pacific Northwest National Laboratories. Your graphic nicely replaces one similar prepared a few years ago by Robert Hargraves, now a bit dated.
Thanks for all the fish!
@Ed – Look at the train car load of coal on the first page of the link you provided. Do the people pushing CCS realize that two trains like that will be needed to remove the CCS material if, and only if, in the most compact form and less any other material, i.e. other elements, chemicals, compounds, materials etc. to “capture” the CO2. Even dry-ice would be about 3 times the size and then require insulation and refrigeration. A more realistic estimate is that it will be no less than 4 trains of CCS material for each load of coal burnt and captured.
Where, how, can this CCS material be disposed of and what new EPA regulations will be needed to allow this.
Surprised at how cheap your scenario make CCS, second cheapest, only a bit more than nuclear.
How can a technology that doesn’t exist and can physically not be scaled to the required size be reported to be that cheap ?
I did condense Rich’s ice train analogy, but held the thermodynamics. Spelling “magical thinking” is left as exercise for the reader.
The days of the Mile Long Coal Trains are over. NOW they are two miles long. A good friend works at UP and has seen them. They are real. Will need them to haul the solid CCS waste and to build new mountains.
There’s more truism in that “Homegrown Energy” nuclear power logo than even its sponsors likely know since unlike any other energy source whose first kindlers and burners are lost in the mists of pre-history, the U.S. can, via the first human-kindled chain reaction, lay claim to the title that nuclear energy is as American as Apple Pie — and likely even more so than that! (not to mention it’s harmed light-years far less life and humans than its rivals — a lost PR op).
Please join my email responses to this report and to Governnor Comuo in New York:
The price of Natural Gas is too low at the present time to open up the New York portion of the Marcellus shale. They need to increase the market for natural gas to get the price up where the profitability for local sales and New England directed pipelines become viable.
They’re almost there now that VT Yankee, Pilgrim, and FitzPatrick are gone. Shut down Indian Point, and the benefactors of Coumo, Bobby Kennedy Junior, Eddie Markey and Joey Kennedy Junior, Junior. will nicely positioned to maintain wealth and power without any scramble to keep and capture market share in the energy sector.
So we all know: The scramble to keep and capture market share increases the middle class. Keeping a current state of affairs allows for the trimming of expenses, and the shrinking of the middle class.
All irrelevent. The boo factor increases exponentially, in a very timely manner for those whose goals benefit. The justification is provided, heaped on top of a cowering public’s adrenal rush. Security over freedom, war over peace.
Swat the nest to prompt the stings. Policy based on incitement. Cause and effect. Blowback.
When does it become a policy of eradication? When the Pope says its ok?
It would be a terrible time to be a Palestinian, as the world’s eye is on France. Besides, see what “they’ve” done? They deserve it, don’t they?
Energy? Who cares? We’ve got some killing to do.
Cheney smiles. Mission accomplished.
I want some of what you’re smokin’.
Smoking? Quit pot over 34 years ago. Quit tobacco over 18 years ago.
We created ISIS. The truth is plastered all over the internet, and in the historical record. Educate yourself.
We created a monster around which we can justify unspeakable international crimes against humanity. This is just beginning. Wise up.
My apologies, at first glance I thought you were avoiding making sense, for fun, but at 2nd glance (before your response) I saw your opinion to be valid. I don’t, however, see it as useful. No mater how widely held such a caustic view could ever be, (within reason) can you parlay such a view into positive change.
Here is what China thinks of Climate Change, or whatever the latest PC term for it is.
They are building more coal plants than we are shutting down.
This statement from your link was sort of interesting:
“Utility contracts guarantee that coal-fired plants operate a minimum number of hours to sell power to the grid, while renewable sources have no such guarantee.”
This looks to be the reverse of what is the situation in the US where the renewables reign.
With the anticipated glut of coal powered power plants, they will have less economic incentive to develop advanced nuclear plants. If they don’t develop and build them in China, where else will they ever get built? It may be another generation before we see molten salt reactors and more high temperature gas cooled reactors. On the other hand, the air is so bad there that they may be building them anyway.
It’s technically possible to replace the coal furnaces in modern steam power plants with high temperature reactor heat sources. A well designed regulatory system can enable a smooth transition from dirty to clean energy once the advanced reactors have been fully tested. This path puts economic development in the right perspective and sequence; it should happen first in order to pay for the transition.
Yes, it is possible, however, the coal fired steam plants use turbines that were designed for higher pressure steam. What they will probably be doing is removing the smaller high pressure turbine from the shaft and then the steam will enter the turbine at the point that steam would have exited from the re-heaters and then entered the larger, low pressure turbine. Efficiency will be less than the average nuclear power plant. You will also no longer get the rated electric generator capacity.
Dig out the B&W “Steam” manual I think it has the steam pressures at the High pressure and Low pressure turbine stages for nuclear and coal fires plants. Chapter 2, Figure 8, is a good description and the text provides a good explanation that may help. Been to long to even think about doing the math.
Typical coal plants are designed for 1500 – 3500 psi at the turbine throttle with reheat temperatures 950 – 1000 DF. Nuclear plants only provide 600 psi and the only NPP with appreciable superheat is the B&W OTSG units (TMI, Oconee, etc.) and even they only have 10 – 20 DF “superheat.” Have no idea what the new designs will provide. This is much lower than the typical coal fired second stage reheat pressure/temperature. Thus, even if only using the low pressure stage, the turbine will need to be redesigned/replaced with one designed for lower pressure and lower temperature (wetter) steam.
Control systems are no problem. The B&W “Integrated Control System” (ICS) used on the NPPs was exactly the same as the ICS used a the B&W “critical” temperature coal plants of the 1970’s. Only difference was that the signal that controlled the speed of the coal feed instead went to the “Rod Drive” system at NPPs.
As you note, the direct coal furnace replacements I mentioned cannot be done with light water reactor technology. They require successful development of high temperature reactors. More than one path is possible and being pursued.
The 200 MWe Chinese HTR-PM, which uses 2 high temperature pebble bed reactors as the heat source, is designed to produce supercritical steam with parameters that are well within the range that you specify for typical coal plants.
567 C (1052 F)
13.25 MPa (1922 psi)
See page 5 – https://www.iaea.org/NuclearPower/Downloadable/Meetings/2015/2015-02-25-02-27-NPTDS/Day1/01-China-DONG_V2.pdf
That first of a kind project began construction before Fukushima. Though delayed by that event, it appears to be moving forward at a revived pace.
Various molten salt projects anticipate the ability to create similar steam conditions. Liquid metal cooled reactors are also striving in the same direction. The Chinese have active projects in all three main high temperature pathways.
That sounds workable. The lack of superheat is a big problem with NPPs. The wet steam cuts the blades and eats away at the turbine shortening its life. The 10 – 20 degrees SH provided by the B&W OTSG makes a difference. The added SH from the pebble beds should also raise the efficiency.
It may be possible to have a combined cycle plant like modern gas turbines. These can have an efficiency of 50 percent or better. However, I think they’d want to pay off the investment in all of those new coal plants before retrofitting them. The construction of a boiler is a major endeavor as can also be seen from the B&W book.
From John Holdren’s speech.
The good news is the French have already proved significant emissions reduction for the electricity sector using nuclear power is possible, all that is required for other counties to achieve this is the community and political will to make it happen.
In 2014 French electricity generation CO2 emissions were just 40g/kWh, more than 20 times less than India or Australia and more than 10 times less than Germany, China, USA, UK, Korea, Japan or Russia.
I put the words in but when it posted they disappeared. I will try again, see below.
Both for the United States and for the world, the electric power sector is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases among all sectors of human activity. It’s bigger than transportation, it’s bigger than agriculture, it’s bigger than non-electric uses of energy in industry and it’s bigger than non-electric uses of energy in residential and commercial buildings.
All the more reason to make ALL electricity from a Nuclear Power Plant, and thus make ZERO CO2.
Contained in your statement, but hidden, is the fact that transportation, depends upon and uses electricity (electric trains, etc.), Residential and commercial heating and air-conditioning, Industrial manufacturing equipment (the electric bill is one of the largest expenses of most manufacturing facilities – from a small machine shop, to an auto plant). Aluminum manufacturers have their own electric generators to cut the costs.
How are commercial, industrial, residential facilities going to cut CO2 if they continue to burn fossil fuel? How is conversion to Electric Vehicles (EV) going to help recuce CO@ without ALL nuclear power?
I have a heat pump. I keep a table of power used, gas used, and convert to therms when not on the bill. Even though my insulation only meets standards 15 years old it is still cheaper and I still use less therms than burning gas to heat my home. Why is conversion to Heat-pumps and especially geo-source (called ground-source in some areas) heat pumps not mandatory? If I am using fewer therms I am emitting less CO2. With ALL Nuclear power I would be emitting ZERO CO2.
Maybe my eyes are failing me, but I can’t find the words you put in your comment within the transcript of Holdren’s speech.
I’d appreciate a correction and get a jolt of positive energy if anyone can show that I simply overlooked them.
RE: “…Tom Bond …in 2014 French electricity generation CO2 emissions were just 40g/kWh, more than 20 times less than India or Australia and more than 10 times less than Germany, China, USA, UK, Korea, Japan or Russia.”
This makes it even harder to understand France’s rational to cut back such an enviable acheivement by reducing nuclear. I just plain don’t get it. Does FUD sway even winners so well??
France’s decision to follow the German renewable energy path shows just how political ideology and beliefs are driving the climate change/CO2 mitigation issue.
40g/kWh should be the lead story from COP21 and headlined by every media outlet in the world as it give humanity hope.
But COP21 delegates, the French Government and the world media have no interest in this amazing achievement.
Instead all want to follow the German renewable path to emissions reduction.
Yet while German renewable generation has dramatically increased, CO2 emissions from electricity generation are virtually unchanged since 1997 at about 365Mt per year.
Also German electricity prices are almost twice as high as France.
Unfortunately almost every pledge to COP21 plans to use renewable energy to reduce emissions and if the result is the same as Germany, then BAU will continue for decades to come.
Yes. These “emissions reduction” schemes are all frauds. Part of the fraud is the provision of “ROCs” for “renewable” generation, which are sold separately from the power. A wind farm can get £50/MWh for its generation, and another £80;/MWh for its ROCs which are sold to “offset” other fossil emissions.
… Then generation to fill the gaps, left when intermittent sources are at a lull will be filled under the same financial template as load following sources. I’ll be load following…. On steroids. Cha-Ching!
Does anyone know why Holden said this in March 2011?
“”We are now looking, as you’ve probably surmised from information available publicly, at a high likelihood of releases as large as Chernobyl or even larger,” Holdren wrote in an email to a fellow scientist on March 16, 2011, citing the possibility of a spent-fuel fire.”
– Slate, Sep. 26, 2013
“High likelihood” — once an alarmist, always an alarmist.
Because this administration’s record for competence — while not spectacular — is at least consistent. Consistently poor, that is.
Read this article. It should answer your questions.
Written by John Holdren in 1975 when he was was assistant professor of energy and resources at the University of California, Berkeley.
Written by John Holdren in 1975 when he was Assistant Professor of Energy and Resources at the University of California, Berkeley.
“The hazards of too much, which have been as widely underestimated as the liabilities of too little have been exaggerated, include diverting financial resources from compelling social needs, making hasty commitments to approved technologies, and generating environmental and social costs that harm human welfare more than the extra energy improves it.
The idea that slower growth of energy use is better follows from several lines of reasoning – all supported by an accumulating volume of evidence.
First, rapid growth of energy use fosters expensive mistakes. The pressure of growth encourages the nation to seize any and all sources of supply that seem available. Some of these sources seized in haste are overpriced, some will prove unreliable and hence even more expensive than anticipated. Some will produce unexpected environmental and social burdens.
Second, even at slower growth rates, a point exists beyond which more energy can do more harm than good.
The relation of energy to well-being, in other words, is two-sided. Through its productive application in economic-technological systems energy fosters well-being: but the environmental and social effects of mobilizing and using energy can undermine well-being by means of direct damage to health, property, and human values, and by disrupting indispensable “public-service” functions of natural systems (climate regulation, fertility maintenance, waste disposal, controls on pests and disease organisms).
The higher the level of energy use already attained, the more likely it is that the economic-technological benefits of an additional unit of energy will be outweighed by the social and environmental costs. Mounting evidence suggests that the United States is approaching (if not beyond) the level where further energy growth costs more than it is worth.
Third, conservation of energy can mean doing better, not doing without. The essence of conservation is the art of extracting more well-being from pound automobiles for half-mile round trips to the market to fetch a six-pack of beer, consumes the beer in buildings that are overcooled in summer and overheated in winter and then throws the aluminum cans away at an energy loss equivalent to a third of a gallon of gasoline per six-pack, this “primitive existence” argument strikes me as the most offensive kind of nonsense.
Fourth, saving a barrel of oil is generally cheaper than producing a barrel. Reducing waste through higher efficiency makes more energy available for genuine needs, but at smaller economic cost than the alternatives of more mining, more drilling, and more power plants. In this sense, conservation is the cheapest new energy source.
Finally, less energy can mean more employment. The energy-producing industries comprise the most capital-intensive and least labor-intensive major sector of the economy. Accordingly, each dollar of investment capital taken out of energy production and invested in something else, and each personal-consumption dollar saved by reducing energy use and spent elsewhere in the economy, will create more jobs than are lost.
The notion of a one-to-one link between energy use and well-being is the most dangerous delusions in the energy-policy arena. Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland all produced more gross national product in 1974 than did the United States despite energy use per capital of less than half that in the United States.
It is time we studied how the frugal Europeans get so much prosperity from so little energy. By carving the fat from our energy budget and wisely applying these savings, we probably could hold United States energy growth between now and the year 2000 to one per cent per year, instead of the three to four percent so widely forecast.
If our goal is to maximize human well-being, accounting both for the benefits of energy use and likely costs, we should not aim at more energy growth than this. And I believe it possible we should even aim at less.”
Todd in Japan November 18, 2015 at 8:01 PM
“Does anyone know why Holden said this in March 2011?”
Yes, because this man started a panic; once it was “out of the bag”, people felt compelled to “what if” and follow up on his error:
Note his statement: ““I’m ever more convinced that there’s nothing there. … And I just have to stake my career on it.” So did he have to stake his career on this error? Nope, in fact he got a hero award.
He’s the guy who convinced Jaczko the U4 SFP was dry.
A total repeat of the erroneous TMI2 H2 bubble exploding fiasco 30+ years later. Exact same type of error is repeated! Shooting his mouth off when he doesn’t know what he is talking about, but believed because he is an “expert.” Why did this happen?
It happened because there was never any accountability for the error in the TMI2 case, or identification that single error turned the TMI2 Industrial Accident into a press generated, NRC error caused nuclear nightmare Media Fiasco. So history repeats; and with about the same impact on the US nuke industry as the first error.
The statement referred to was made by Chuck Casto, an NRC empoyee
sent over to Japan, not Holdren. Mr. Casto retired a year or two later.
I have talked to Casto and believe it was an honest mistake made under duress.
The name was in my reference. Unless there is criminal intent or mental issues (which was not the case here), all mistakes are “honest” mistakes. But that has nothing to do with my stated opinion. His mistake triggered the reaction, by all parties concerned (which was the question I was answering; what triggered Holdren), especially the Japan government, and all the press attention to “what if.” It was the direct source for the Jaczko recommendation for evac of American citizens and all the ensuing panic. An extremely damaging “honest mistake” for nuclear power. And I will repeat, it is the exact same type of mistake that triggered the panic over TMI2 with the H2 bubble could explode and take out the Containment. And we all know how that one turned out. One of the lessons learned from TMI2 was about the damage and panic that can be caused by “honest mistakes” in press releases.
My point was, it is an exact repeat type of a TMI2 – NRC Staff mistake that turned the public opinion about the TMI2 Industrial Accident into a Media Event nuclear nightmare. So why wasn’t the lesson learned? And the same behavior is repeated at Fukushima? That is what should bother you, not any particular individual. But rather an organizational structure that allowed this type of extremely damaging “honest mistake” to make world headlines, again. If you don’t understand how this played out at TMI2, then you don’t understand TMI2. So you won’t get my correlation to the repeat at Fukushima. But the public opinion damage to nuclear power is exactly the same. And much of the post-Fukushima NRC response for the US nuke plants is responding to the public and congressional opinion caused by this “honest mistake.” It will have the same long term impact on US nuke power as the NRC “honest mistakes” at TMI2 had on the nuke power future.
When root causes are not identified, mistakes get repeated.
Its a bit disheartening to observe the gymnastics you just went through trying to excuse your attributing a statement to an individual that did not actually make the statement.
poa – Huh?
I read this:
It was pretty clear to me that “this man” does not refer to Holden (and perfectly clear after following the link). If mjd had meant Holden, he would have said “Holden” or perhaps “he.” Besides mjd was talking about mistakes by “experts” at the NRC. Holden has never worked for the NRC.
Reading comprehension counts.
“Reading comprehension counts”
Correct you are, Brian!! Doncha just love it when you get these gotcha moments, when you can catch me in my mistakes!
Yep, surely, I did not check the name of the original culprit who misapplied a quote, so I made the mistake of convicting mjd. Interesting that you didn’t enjoy a little gotcha moment with that misquoting commenter, todd, as well. But, then, you couldn’t have made a following comment that furthered the misquote, could you have? If it hadn’t of been for Jack’s contribution,you woulda been perfectly content with a fallacy remaining here, unchallenged, because it fits your political mindset. I wonder, what other BS have you been instrumental in passing off as truth at this blogsite?
poa – Huh? Who “misapplied a quote”?
Certainly, Todd did not. He repeated verbatim what was published in Slate.
Perhaps you meant to criticize Slate?
“Perhaps you meant to criticize Slate?”
No, Brian, what I mean to criticize is the untruth, no matter who advances it. See, thats the problem with you folks that choose to educate yourselves in a media tunnel. Not checking the “facts” as represented by your favorite media entity, these untruths become truths, such as demonstrated on this thread until Jack jumped in. One wonders how many here, in the future, would have falsely put those words in Holden’s mouth in future conversations, had Jack had not jumped in. Certainly, you showed no inertia towards correcting the record. Gee, what a suprise.
(By the way, mjd, my apologies)
In this case the “media entity” in question is Slate.
My point is that a science adviser who was not fundamental an alarmist as Holdren has demonstrated that he has been for the past 45 years would not have ever thought that the plants at Fukushima could have possibly released as much radiation as Chernobyl.
Todd in Japan November 20, 2015 at 8:27 AM
“……….would not have ever thought that the plants at Fukushima could have possibly released as much radiation as Chernobyl.”
O contraire, when a trained nuke plant operator like myself hears the NRC experts announce the Fukushima U4 SFP is dry (and possibly on fire), and knowing it contains used FAs from a full core off load plus several years of used fuel, and also knowing what little containment it had left after the H2 explosion, I’m thinking it’s at least “Chernoblyesque” (at the time of the announcement). Sorry. I’m not defending Holdren, nor am I castigating the NRC experts. The process of “experts” interacting with the press during these events is flawed. And that lesson was “learned” at TMI2. Yet it happened again.
The press IS GOING TO stick a mic in your face and ask “What’s the worst that can happen”. And a trained nuclear safety expert IS GOING TO fall back on what they know about Licensing Safety Analysis and parrot back some worst (dose) case, non-mechanistic, non-plausible, etc. analysis that was done during the plant licensing.
The press guy is doing his job, the expert is trying to answer the question as best he can with what they know about analysis (not the facts of the event). Neither of these normal human behaviors has anything to do with the situation at hand. That’s the problem. The speculation gets turned into “possible” in the press and it causes panic on all who hear it. The negative outcome of this flawed process is clearly documented for this event. And it must stop.
Sometimes the most correct answer is “I don’t know, and I don’t want to speculate.” This is apparently not an acceptable answer anymore for nuke power. But it is still the correct way to handle these situations.
In light of the damage and panic known to be caused at TMI2 by announcing wrong information and speculation, continuing this same process is not an honest mistake by the organization responsible. It is an extreme judgmental error. It indicates the lesson was not learned, and also apparently no sensitivity to the possible outcomes of wrong speculation.
This problem/process never received enough attention in the post-TMI2 autopsy reports to get corrective action to prevent recurrence, because it happened again. And it will keep repeating until the problem is acknowledged and addressed.
“Sometimes the most correct answer is “I don’t know, and I don’t want to speculate.” ”
Uh uh. Can’t do that, because then what will you fill the news hour with? Besides, that wonderful speculation is what enables ya to put a biased political spin on whatever it is you’re asked to speculate about.
I’d offer more on this, but I’m headed down to my local little market, owned by a syrian, to get some milk. While I’m there I’d like to assure him we ain’t gonna be tattooing a number on his arm before we march him back behind the barbed wire. But it ain’t lookin’ good, and I really don’t wanna give him false hope.
Unreal. Lately on the (Shoreham killing) local media front burners here in NYC, if accusations of thermal fish kills weren’t enough, they’re using the “peril” of constructing a gas pipeline near Indian Point to shut it. Unreal FUD.
Indian point kills a million innocent, minding their own business… “larvae”…. C’mon.. That’s Funny!
What about the seeds that never get the life bringing opportunity to germinate under solar panels or because of windmill pads…. I’ll bet it is in the billions! And they call it “green”.
And don’t forget their effect of the panels on the animals, microorganisms, fungi, and even percolation effect on the underground moisture providing water to the trillions of ground dwelling organisms.
It is encouraging that John Holdren mentions managing radioactive waste. However, this administration has not managed to dispose of a single ounce of nuclear waste or even moved it to the licensed interim storage site on the Goshute reservation in Utah. It has blocked opening of the Yucca Mountain repository but has not started a search for another repository or repositories. Even a pilot interim storage site is stalled.
Actually, I was referring to spent fuel (used fuel) from nuclear reactors. Some radioactive waste from other sources has been moved around.
Even a Chrenobyl shouldn’t have caused the panic that week, but it did. It would have been far better if the U.S. just stayed out of it. Fukushima had nothing to do with the U.S. Can ou imagine the U.S. reacting the same way if France had the same accident?
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