Natural gas marketing blitz working on PBS
This past week, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) ran a series of shows focusing on energy development in the United States. The above video is well moderated debate about the topics described in the shows featuring Robert Bryce, a senior fellow from the Manhattan Institute and the author of Power Hungry: The Myth of Green Energy, and Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
What I noticed during this segment and the ones aired earlier this week was that there was an “elephant in the room” topic that everyone avoided discussing. One of the services that PBS provides is a full transcript of each of its shows. I searched every transcript from the energy segments it aired this week. The ‘N’ word – nuclear – did not appear a single time on any of the transcripts.
That surprising lack of mention of the most promising and important ultra low emission energy technology available made me realize just how well the natural gas industry’s effort to promote the “Shale Gas Revolution” has worked – so far. Even the public broadcasting network in the US has become so dependent on corporate sponsorship – also known as advertising – that it is giving nuclear energy the silent treatment its competitors prefer.
At the end of the debate above, both Robert Bryce and Kate Sinding seemed to agree that energy efficiency and renewables have an important role to play in the energy future. Bryce says that “no one is against energy efficiency” and that he is “all for renewables.” His primary point, however, is that those do not provide the scale or the reliability that a growing economy needs without a massive contribution from natural gas. Ms. Sinding, however, seems to believe that there is a way for renewables to provide reliable power without extensive assistance from natural gas.
At least Bryce can do math, even if his prescription and mine differ considerably.
Watching that final exchange on the PBS energy series reminded me of the final stages of the recent Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Big Ideas debate titled We’ve Seen the Future and It’s Nuclear
Here is a short clip from that debate that is worth watching.
The argument that Ben Heard makes is one that bears repeating – natural gas is not a low carbon fuel. Even if you ignore the issue of methane leaks, burning natural gas produces between 50% and 60% of the CO2 per unit heat produced as burning coal. That is not a bridge to a brighter future based on the need to produce abundant energy without releasing much CO2; it is only a slight pivot on business as usual.
Shifting to a greater dependence on natural gas also keeps us all dependent on the same establishment energy suppliers that have been profitably enjoying the task of suppling industrialized society’s energy needs for the past 150 years or so.
“…burning natural gas produces between 50% and 60% of the CO2 per unit heat produced as burning coal.”
True, here are the emission factors as published by the EIA.
A mixture of bituminous and sub-bituminous coal will produce around 95 kg of CO2 per MMBTU. Natural gas, at the heat contents used in the US, is around 53 kg per MMBTU.
However, it should be recognized that today’s combined cycle gas plants (a combustion turbine coupled with a heat-recovery steam generator and steam turbine) have thermal efficiencies about twice that of today’s coal-fired power plants. This gets the amount of CO2 produced per kilowatt-hour of electricity down to maybe 30 to 35% that of coal. Nuclear is still much smaller in terms of its CO2 emissions, even including the fossil fuels burned during the mining and refining of uranium. But the high efficiencies of the combined cycle gas plants cannot be ignored. Maybe if the next generation of gas-cooled Brayton-cycle nuclear plants get going, we will be able to get thermal efficiencies up in the 50 to 60% range.
What needs to be looked at more closely are the fugitive losses of methane associated with the recovery and distribution of natural gas across the country. Methane is much worse in terms of greenhouse potential than CO2, and I have a feeling we are not being told the truth about how much is lost. At $2 per MMBTU and a supposed glut, do the gas companies have a real incentive to get the leaks down to a minimum?
This is not the first instance of nuclear energy being conspicuously absent from this sort of public discussion. The Canadian history Channel re-ran Prophets of Doom, a group of talking heads discussion how Western civilization will collapse, and nuclear was only mentioned in its role as bomb fuel.
It is transparently obvious that there is a concerted propaganda effort underway to keep the public from considering nuclear energy in any other light than another problem in and of itself, and this cannot be an accident. Fortunately there are other countries have not bought into this and development of nuclear power continues in those places.
One wonders just how long it will take before Americans realize that they are being jerked over, and what they will do when this sinks in.
We see this every day on TV; commercials by “More Energy For Ameriuca.com” or “EnergyFirst.com” or such; lots of flashes of windmills and solar farms mixed in with oil and gas derricks, but nuclear energy is AWOL.
I would just like to get PBS’s response to this on the record if the heads of the top ten nuclear blogs emailed PBS regarding this omission and see and post what the responses are. The results should be cc’ed to what pro-nuke Congresspeople there are — where ever they are.
I have sent a note to the PBS ombudsman for their lack of journalistic excellence on the series.
Here is the link:
I’ve been trying to keep an eye on energy coverage by public radio, and to a lesser extent public television.
I think part of the problem is that, I think to some extent, public broadcasting is driven partly by “citizens groups”. I know Rod likes to bang on advertiser support, and yes, I know that public broadcasters take advertising money (they’re just a bit less blatant and annoying about it than commercial broadcasters). I’m not so naive that I don’t think that factors into the equation, but. . .
Public broadcasting likes to at least think of themselves that they respond to community/public concerns.
Something I noted years ago, and which I’m still trying to find some way to remedy this problem is that there are no shortage of anti-nuclear “citizens groups”, but there really aren’t any pro-nuclear citizens groups. This allows the anti-nukers to win the “citizen’s representative” position *by default*.
Those of us who support nuclear need to start up non-industry citizen’s action groups to give us a voice – right now we are basically voiceless in this public debate. The media can present it as “Industry vs. citizens”. That’s a *big* problem.
There are at least 4 pro-nuclear citizen groups that I know of. Each of them faces a challenge of gaining sufficient support to run effective public information campaigns. Nuclear supporters are often more willing to share their passion than to share even modest amounts of their money for worthy, pro-nuclear causes.
It may be time again to write about the non-profit organizations and ask Atomic Insights readers to do what they can to help the cause.
Well, to start with, I know of Ethan Allen Institute’s Energy Education Project lead by Meredith Angwin (which I have supported), and PopAtomic Studio/Nuclear Literacy Project. Both of which I think are fantastic groups, and I hope they can grow.
I know there’s CASEnergy Coalition, but that seems to be kind of an umbrella organization, I think, which works with member organizations, but doesn’t so much directly involve the public, as far as I can tell?
Anyone else you can suggest? There was some group out in Nevada someone told me about some time ago, but when I looked into it, they seemed kind of dormant.
@Jeff S – you have two of the four I was talking about. Another one is Go Nuclear! (http://gonuclear.net/).
There is a group in New Mexico called Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy (http://www.responsiblenergy.org/nuclear.asp) that is quite supportive of nuclear.
Jeff and Rod
Thank you both for your support of the Energy Education Project!
Supporting these projects is difficult work for a variety of interconnected reasons. The opponents (both big-gas and anti-nuclear groups) are well established and well funded. Sometimes that energizes me, but sometimes it depresses me.
Very important post, Rod! Thank you for it!
Following yesterday’s email to PBS, I received an answer from the PBS ombudsman asking for more details.
I’ll keep you posted if I get any traction on this.
So I got an answer from Ray Suarez of PBS:
We did not “avoid” nuclear energy at all. There just isn’t much action in that arena. Since the disaster at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, the previously active nuclear debate, new plans for plants, policy statements about the future of nuclear in the US energy mix…all cooled down considerably.
So, we covered what is new about the energy conversation in this country, the place of natural gas. New discoveries, new wells, new requests to drill…there’s a lot that’s new in that sector, matching somewhat better the NewsHour’s definition of news. That’s what we call “half-decent journalism practices” around here. I am sure when the nuclear industry is once again part of the national debate, we will cover it.
How in the world is nuclear part of the debate? That excuse is a massive cop out, from my view.
My above should read “How in the world is nuclear NOT part of the debate?”
Ouch. What’s worse than being hated? Being irrelevant.
A bit of random appropriateness: The ‘start’ button for the first video looks like a gag over the mouth of the person who will avoid speaking about nuclear energy.
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