28 Comments

  1. the cartoon displays their agenda perfectly: both types of energy have some risks, so the obvious “solution” is not to have any energy anymore. For anyone that suggests we need energy to maintain our standard of living, they deny the existence of a problem by citing the green utopia of conservation and renewables. By the time the utopia is exposed for what it is, it will be too late.

    1. @Jerry – you may be right about “their” agenda, but I continue to believe that it is more rational to believe that the cartoon expresses a sentiment that has been widely supported by the fossil fuel industry. They make a lot of MONEY when people fear nuclear energy enough to avoid it because they KNOW that most people who can afford to use reliable energy will use reliable energy. If nuclear is not available, then some kind of fossil fuel wins the sale that happens every single time someone turns on a light, cranks up the A/C, starts up a production line, hits the accelerator on a subway train, opens the throttle valve on steam ship, or turns on a tap to get some clean water.
      The reason I have difficulty with the idea that there is some kind of widespread “green” movement to force us all to do without is that I cannot find anyone who benefits. I know there are some isolated nut cases that simply do not like humans and their technological society. Some of them drop out and try to live off grid. However, what benefit would they gain by forcing others to do that as well?
      My explanation can at least identify a large, wealthy and powerful set of people who win when nuclear energy loses.

      1. I think it’s a combination of both: by disrupting and blocking new energy sources such as nuclear, there is less competition in the market (renewables can’t compete with reliable, more powerful energy sources). Less competiton means more profits for the establishment (OPEC, oil, coal, gas) and higher prices means average people have to cut back on their lifestyle.

      2. “The reason I have difficulty with the idea that there is some kind of widespread ‘green’ movement to force us all to do without is that I cannot find anyone who benefits.”
        Then you’re not looking very hard. Geez … when even the Mafia is getting in on the racket, you know there’s money to be made … in the most unscrupulous ways.
        Then there are other obvious schemes for just about anyone to make money, usually from wasteful government giveaways funded by taxpayer dollars.
        The “green” movement is rife with scammers, snake-oil salesmen, and parasites. Remember, “green” is the color of money.

        1. Brian – yes, there is money to be captured from taxpayers. How did those laws come into being? Who spent the cash up front to make them happen?
          In addition to the schemes that you linked to, there are also a lot of very large companies (GE, Siemens, FPL, Chevron, BP, ADM, etc) collecting massive quantities of renewable subsidies. I cannot say much for the morality of the leaders who think that they deserve to collect money from taxpayer for systems that they know are inferior.
          When it comes to the quantity of money available in the energy business, the increase in profits from just a few dollars per barrel price increase is pretty phenomenal.
          However, my question was who makes money by trying to force people to go back to a time when only renewable energy was available? There would not be much being traded in such a world. Those tax supported payments would certainly dry up.

          1. “In addition to the schemes that you linked to, there are also a lot of very large companies (GE, Siemens, FPL, Chevron, BP, ADM, etc) collecting massive quantities of renewable subsidies.”
            Well, big companies aren’t stupid. They’re willing to jump on the bandwagon late in the game, as long as they can earn a buck. Even the company that I work for — AREVA, which is French owned and about as nuclear as a company can get — is now waddling up to the renewable feeding trough. It is now investing in solar and wind, because the giveaways are just too damn tempting.
            Perhaps some history is in order.
            Did GE, Siemens, FPL, Chevron, BP, ADM, etc., originally lobby to have massive subsidies for renewables? My research says no.
            Sure they lobby now, since they have money invested in the game, but who were the original advocates?
            There were other players involved who did the early lobbying. General Electric is known today for its wind division, but where did that come from? What is now known as GE Wind used to be known as Enron Wind. GE acquired this business in the fire sale that followed in the aftermath of Enron’s meltdown almost ten years ago.
            When I look at the big picture, it is simply hard for me to conclude that companies involved in the fossil-fuel business were heavily involved in promoting the “green” movement.
            A little common sense is in order. These companies were doing well without a green movement. Why should they rock the boat and feed a movement that is ultimately going to protest coal mining, oil drilling, etc.? Why not leave well enough alone?
            The coal industry might have fueled the anti-nuclear movement of the seventies (which was rather successful in promoting coal over nuclear), but I can’t see how they would be seriously involved in the modern “green” movement of over three decades later.

            1. Brian – are you seriously suggesting that Archer Daniels Midland has not been promoting corn ethanol as a renewable fuel source worth subsidies for decades? Huh?
              Many of the subsidies for renewable require regular lobbying efforts to get them reauthorized. You may be right that the large companies did not originally lobby for them to be established, but it is pretty obvious that they work really hard to keep them in place. I wonder how many of the executives and managers at those companies are the kind of people who look down their noses at people in welfare or unemployment lines and wonder why they did not study harder in school so that they could support themselves. Can’t you see the illogic of people who work at well paying jobs that are supported by taxpayer hand outs looking down their noses at people who are just trying to eat for another day?
              The green movement is really nothing new. The oil industry spent a lot of time touting the cleanliness of its product when it was trying to capture markets from coal. The gas industry has been spending a lot of money in similar “environmental” efforts to capture markets from coal or oil (like CNG propelled vehicles).
              In any case – who receives the most financial benefits any time any protest is successful in raising the cost or delaying the entry of a new source of energy into the market even if that source is a new coal mine, a new oil well or a new natural gas field? From my analysis, the most money gets made by the existing suppliers who rarely have anyone protesting at their existing coal mines, oil wells or natural gas fields. It always seems like the protests happen at new places that are not yet in the market.

              1. “are you seriously suggesting that Archer Daniels Midland has not been promoting corn ethanol as a renewable fuel source worth subsidies for decades?”
                Oh, good point. I hadn’t noticed that you slipped ADM in among the acronyms. Touche!
                Yes, ADM is one of those companies, like Enron, who has been out to scam the consumer with the green-based nonsense for years now. That doesn’t change anything else I wrote. It only makes my case stronger.
                “I wonder how many of the executives and managers at those companies are the kind of people who look down their noses at people in welfare or unemployment lines and wonder why they did not study harder in school so that they could support themselves.”
                Excuse me, but WTF does that have to do with anything? Could you be any further in left field?
                “The green movement is really nothing new.”
                No, of course not. Movements such as this have been going on for a long time — as long as there have been nut jobs.
                The nineteenth century saw quite a few such movements, particularly in the American Northeast, which were mostly the result of the Romantic Movement, which was going on at the time and which tended to emphasize an idyllic return to a near perfect nature. Usually, these movements resulted in the formation of some sort of communal colony, which lasted only as long as it took everyone to realize that all of these idealistic souls expected somebody else in the colony to do all of the work to keep the colony going. It’s funny how history keeps repeating itself.
                Heinrich Himmler, who would later become head of the Nazi SS, was once enamored with a back-to-nature craze that is comparable to what modern Greens worship. It lead him to become a chicken farmer (free-range chicken I would suppose), which didn’t go so well, so he eventually abandoned the farm to become a top Nazi. I guess the need to tell other people what to do runs deep in some people.
                The modern Green Movement can trace its beginnings to the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. The resulting environmental degradation, which was so obvious to so many influential people, combined with the burgeoning counter-culture movement of the sixties created a perfect storm that resulted in the formation of the EPA, and still lingers today in the form of the many environmental groups that wield such heavy influence over government and international organizations.
                Do you want to claim that the oil companies were ultimately behind this?
                “In any case – who receives the most financial benefits any time any protest is successful in raising the cost or delaying the entry of a new source of energy into the market even if that source is a new coal mine, a new oil well or a new natural gas field? From my analysis, the most money gets made by the existing suppliers who rarely have anyone protesting at their existing coal mines, oil wells or natural gas fields. It always seems like the protests happen at new places that are not yet in the market.”
                Well, you should do some more research into your hero James Hansen. His criminal record comes from his arrest, along with some of his celebrity friends, during a protest at an existing coal mine.
                I guess that’s one of those “rare” protests by the Green Movement.

                1. Brian:
                  My comment about the managers at large companies like GE, FPL, Chevron, and ADM who take taxpayer funded subsidies for renewable energy projects simply because they are available – and even work hard to make sure that they remain available, sometimes focusing business units to capture them – is that they are collecting welfare from all of the rest of us. The difference is that those companies are full of people and resources that should not NEED to ask the rest of us for dole money. If they focused their efforts on making real products instead of products that are only viable because of focused political action, we would all be better off. I work around people like this all the time – they are government support contractors who talk like they just drove in to work listening to Rush but cannot see that they are also completely dependent on the taxpayers. Some of them work on projects that should have been cancelled long ago, but keep going due to political pressure and earmarks. They, too, are on welfare but would never admit it.
                  Even if you limit your view of the modern green movement to starting in 1969 – which ignores the fact that the Sierra Club was pretty powerful in California long before that – you should still recognize that the oil/gas industry is not a monolith. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, oil was trading around the world for just $2-4 per barrel. Partially as a result of pressures to halt exploration after the Santa Barbara spill, the market got tight enough that in 1973, a very brief and partial “embargo” from a few Middle East suppliers succeeded in establishing a prompt jump in oil prices to about $11-12 per barrel. That price increase faded a bit over time, but lasted for a number of years and created the famous petrodollars and sheiks.
                  I know it takes some critical thinking and a belief that some businessmen are in business solely to make as much money as they can even it requires actions that hurt others, but it seems to me that at least a few folks in the business of extracting, delivering, financing, marketing, and strategizing about oil noticed that supporting or even instigating “environmental” pressures to slow production for someone else resulted in an excellent return on investment.

                2. Brian – after posting my last response, I came across the following op-ed penned by the staff of Lew Hay III, the CEO of FPL Group, the parent company of FP&L and NextEra Energy Resources. (I am only guessing that it was written by the staff; few CEO’s (or admirals) actually write their own material.)
                  http://www.lakewalesnews.com/articles/2010/05/22/opinion/letters/doc4bf6d1552f5ed383139155.txt
                  In that op-ed, Mr. Hay, the head of one of the largest companies in the state of Florida, demands tax funded support for a transmission superhighway. He also suggests that renewable energy projects would be encouraged by a national renewable energy standard and a price on carbon.
                  He sounds just like the lefties that you love to blame. The difference is that he is talking about policies that will put BILLIONS into the pockets of his stockholders and corporate managers in the form of profit statement driven bonus payments. Some of those billions will come from people who are struggling to simply feed and educate their families.

                  1. Rod – Excuse me, the “lefties” that I love to blame?
                    Blame for what?!
                    Sorry, Rod, but you’re the one who goes around exposing vast conspiracy theories, not me. Please don’t project.
                    Let’s get back to the point, because this is going so far afield that you’re even ranting against conservative talk radio (of all things). It’s no wonder you’re projecting.
                    You said:
                    “The reason I have difficulty with the idea that there is some kind of widespread ‘green’ movement to force us all to do without is that I cannot find anyone who benefits.”
                    So who benefits?
                    The Mafia (my call)
                    ADM (your call)
                    Enron (my call)
                    GE (your call)
                    Government support contractors? (I think that was your call)
                    Let me add:
                    Carbon offset brokers
                    Environmental NGO’s
                    Politicians
                    etc.
                    The main bulk of the Green Movement is composed of True Believers, but that is perhaps better left to a less stale comment thread.

  2. Here was my reply:
    This article is absurd. You’re taking safety issues of a dangerous and explosive liquid (or gas) and applying that to its competitor. That’s like you stating that trains are dangerous because you had a car crash. It’s illogical and completely absurd.
    The main difference between fossil fuels and nuclear is that the risks of nuclear are mainly theoretical, whereas the risks of fossil fuels are very real, as we’ve seen by the natural gas plant explosion a few months ago, and the latest oil spills which have killed large amounts of plant workers, and damaged the environment. The competitor to that, Nuclear, has killed nobody (through radiation) ever(western civilian plants only) with occasional leaks measured in the picocuries. I can think of two studies off the top of my head that show Nuclear is safer than the alternatives, one, the ExternE report, and another by the Paul Scherrer Institute.
    How can you state that Nuclear is dangerous even though the demonstrated risk of our nuclear industry is extremely low, practically zero, with safety only getting better, all while accepting the risks of accidents that occur practically every day that actually do kill people? Newer plants rely on the laws of physics to keep safe, they no longer require significant operator intervention. In essence, the human has been taken out of the loop. That’s another difference, if something goes wrong when using natural gas or oil, you have an explosion that kills a bunch of people then spills huge amounts of poisonous substances into the environment. If something goes wrong with a new nuclear plant then the laws of physics keep the public safe. Perhaps the real myopia is using energy sources that are killing people every day, instead of those which has mere theoretical risks that even if realized wouldn’t be that bad.
    I think the cartoon is funny, though. The Oil industry claims they will not have accidents, then they do. The Nuclear industry claims they will not have accidents, and then they don’t. Um, maybe that is having the opposite of the intended effect? Also, Chernobyl is not comparable with a western reactor, the basic physics of the reactors are completely different. If we want to make nuclear even safer then perhaps persuing it would be the best way to go – after all that will allow us to leverage more safer designs, like the LFTR, and ESBWR to ensure that another Chernobyl type accident does not happen anywhere in the world?

  3. Rod, I remember when I lived in Palo Alto. I am a chemist, and EPRI was my first major step away from being a bench chemist. A bench chemist might use acids, bases, flammable gases, toxic solvents, or do a bit of welding when needed, etc. (I had to build special-purpose furnaces at one point.) Chemistry is not really a white collar job, no matter how many degrees you have.
    When I was in EPRI nuclear, I told my friends I would MUCH rather have my kids work in a nuclear power plant than any chemistry lab or chemical production plant. My friends thought I was nuts. But they all pretty much worked white-collar, and had no idea of a daily hazard on the job. They had no idea how safe nuclear is.

  4. The Nuclear Industry’s Defense In Depth Strategy:
    1. Small Army of Expert Personnel
    2. Reactor Protection System
    3. High Pressure EC Systems
    4. Multiple, Redundant, Depressurization Systems
    5. Multiple, Redundant, Low Pressure EC Systems
    6. Fuel Cladding
    7. 6″ Thick Stainless Steel or Inconel-Coated RPV
    8, 9, 10. Inner and Outer Containments and Reactor Shield Building w/~4 ft thick prestressed, steel-reinforced concrete
    The Oil Industry’s “Defense In Depth” Strategy
    1. Pressure Warning Systems (Ignored if profit margin insufficiently high.)
    2. Highly Overstressed Blowout Preventer (Naah, don’t worry, it’ll never happen here!)
    3. The Gulf of Mexico (Over 5000 Feet Deep!)

  5. When I read that ScienceBlogs post I was dissapointed at the same old kneejerk statements from what I thought were very intelligent people. One of the commenters linked to a PDF named “Human Health Implications of
    Uranium Mining and Nuclear Power Generation” and though I haven’t read this I know that I’m going to have to slog through it. Has anyone out there read this study and how is it they’ve been able to give such universal condemnation to anything radiological? Though I have only skimmed it there seems to be a sense of confirming a assumed result. Have any nuclear professionals read this paper and is there somewhere to find countering information. I know I have a bias, but I want to minimize my take on this information.

  6. I stopped by and dropped a comment on their blog, as well. I still have a hard time comprehending how seemingly intelligent people can simply ignore a whole population of facts and only choose to hear the information, factual or not, that supports their predetermined conclusion that nuclear energy is somehow unsafe. The worst part is, I think that the antis have chosen the weakest platform for opposition. Safety is the least plausible front on which to attack nuclear energy, yet somehow it keeps working out for them. That’s what we really need to address.

  7. Well, “science” blogs has been heading down hill for a long time now. They should just go ahead and change their name to “PC pseudo-science blogs” or “Chock Full o’Nuts.”
    What’s worse is that this “historian,” Benjamin Cohen, actually works in the engineering school of the University of Virginia. You’d think the guy would stop and talk to some of his fellow faculty members sometime before publishing nonsense such as this, wouldn’t you?
    Poor UVa. And to think that it once had a top-notch nuclear engineering program, with one of the largest university research reactors in the country. All gone!
    Sadly, UVa has been run by idiot lawyers and english professors for far too long. The rot is really starting to show, as exhibited by the blog post by one of its so-called “scholars.” This is what apparently passes for educated discussion in the dark times.

  8. “So what is the REAL problem with Yucca Mt.?”
    Harry, from Nevada. He’s the “scientist” who determined that Yucca was no longer a viable option, because we all know that the US now has an administration that is dedicated to “science-based policy.” That’s why it’s staffed full of lawyers. πŸ˜‰

    1. I am not sure that anyone has tried to say that Yucca Mountain was halted because any scientists decided that it was not safe. I may be wrong, but I think that even the Administration has explained it by saying they have reconsidered the advisability of spending a lot of money to move material to a remote location if the right thing to do is to recycle the material.
      Moving it across the country would simply add to the cost.

      1. “I am not sure that anyone has tried to say that Yucca Mountain was halted because any scientists decided that it was not safe. I may be wrong, but I think that even the Administration has explained it by saying they have reconsidered the advisability of spending a lot of money to move material to a remote location if the right thing to do is to recycle the material.”
        If the administration had come out and said that it was going to embark on an ambitious program to “recycle the material,” then you might have a point.
        It did not.
        Instead, it proposed a sham of a “blue ribbon” panel, which will issue its final set of findings sometime about when Obama is ready to leave office. Nobody knows what they will recommend, but seeing how the deck (i.e., panel) is somewhat stacked against a proposal that suggests reprocessing in the foreseeable future (i.e., sometime before I expect to be dead, which I hope is a long time from now), then I can’t see how somebody can seriously argue that the administration is considering the costs of Yucca versus recycling.
        Besides, this is not the administration’s money. This money belongs to the rate payers, who paid, in good faith, a fee of one mill per kWh for the government to take care of this material. For more than two decades, Federal law has dictated that this money should go towards a geological repository in Nevada. This law has not been changed. Is it too much to ask for the Obama administration to follow the law?!
        “Moving it across the country would simply add to the cost.”
        … versus the cost of moving it to a reprocessing facility?! Perhaps you haven’t thought this one out thoroughly. Give it a few more minutes of thought.
        Wherever this material is it will have to be moved. The real question is how much it will cost to store before it is moved.

      2. “Moving it across the country would simply add to the cost.”
        And what is the cost for the individual utilities for building, licensing, and operating their own on-site storage facilities? At some sites they cost MORE than the original power plant! These are NOT “temporary facilities” they are built to withstand all natural/man-made/terrorist disasters and require additional operators, guards, and maintenance personnel. And they are maintained after the power plant is decommissioned and the rest of the plant is returned to “as found” ecological conditions. What is the cost of the modifications and licensing actions to the “temporary” spent fuel pool that are made to prolong the time before they need to make the on-site storage facility? What is the cost of the increased man-hours dealing with a FULL spent fuel pool when performing the core refueling? What is the cost of additional dose to the fuel handling workers? What is the cost of finding the occasional leaking fuel rod stored in the spent fuel pool now that there are close to a thousand instead of just a hundred? It is more than one or two mills per kW and probably approaches 5 mills. AND, the feds still collect their fee for storing the used fuel at Yucca Mt. that we can’t send them. I wish I could dream up a scam like that.

        1. This is a valid point, that if the political reality isn’t going to allow for Yucca, the money needs to be returned with interest due. I had no idea dry storage had a high cost. And, since it is political intervention that is preventing utilities from taking action to privately dispose of the fuel, the politicians (e.g. the government) ought to pay, on top of the refunded fuel fees and interest, penalties to the nuclear industry for imposing externalities upon them, preventing them from disposing of the used fuel in an environmentally safe and responsible fashion.

        2. @Rich – I find it hard to believe that any nuclear utilities are paying 5 mills per kilowatt hour to handle and store their used fuel on site, but even if they are, that is only equivalent to an 80 cents per million BTU increase in the cost of natural gas (and that is computed by making some very generous assumptions about heat rates and the cost of natural gas).
          In other words, the expense of handling the byproducts of producing electricity is simply part of the cost of the enterprise and should be internalized. I agree that it is “unfair” for the industry to be sending money to an entity that is legally contracted to provide a service, but which is also the entity that writes the rules and allows itself to get off without providing the service. The answer to that problem is to break the contract and begin taking charge of the process instead of making the technology less popular by trying to make the solution one that has to be done by collective action that even includes agreement by your strongest competitors, the suppliers of coal, natural gas, oil, wind energy systems, and solar collectors.
          So what if the facilities are not “temporary”? Who in their right mind would plan on going back to a greenfield at a power plant site that was chosen for a variety of reasons to be a good place for a power plant? Does anyone believe that electricity is a fad that will someday no longer need to be supplied? I agree that there are a few sites around the country that still house used fuel and not a power plant, but I think that kind of decommissioning is the exception rather than the rule.
          Yucca Mountain was always the right answer to the wrong question. For whatever reason we finally stopped wasting money drilling holes there, I celebrate that decision. Keeping the used material above ground and in plain sight will encourage thinking people to figure out something useful to do with the valuable resource. Putting it out of sight and out of mind would be a terrible waste for a country that needs all of the reliable, low emission, low cost power that it can get.

          1. http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/spentfuel.pdf
            The above article fairly well explains most of the issues. It is 10 years old so double any “costs” quoted. Issues that are not discussed in enough detail in this report include: A separate license is required for spent fuel (SFSF); This license is only for 20 years; A separate License change program is required (it is similar to 50.59 but different), which means more training – annually; This article was written pre 0/11 and security is now a major concern – the NRC is afraid someone will steal this stuff that will cook you (from radiation) thus the area is surrounded by the same anti-terrorist exclusion measures/devices; The article implies that nothing needs to be done to the casks once stored – the SFSF is in no way a “store-it-and-forget-it” facility, plants have gotten big fines and put on the watch list due to “minor” failures/problems at the SFSF, e.g., loss of pressure, no pressure, inoperable pressure monitoring system, corroded vent; And, Should you select a “transportable” storage system or are you going to buy one when Yucca Mt. opens?

            1. Rich – I never said it was store it and forget it, but the cost of monitoring a facility like that can’t be more than the cost of a few full time equivalents – perhaps a million bucks a year or so. That pales compared to the savings in fuel costs compared to other sources of power.

              1. Note, I didn’t mean dispose as in “put in Yucca”. I meant dispose as in reach a final disposition, which would preferably involve reprocessing. And in terms of returning former power plant sites to “greenfield” status, I concur that this is not an efficient use of resources. Electricity ain’t going nowhere. In fact, as time goes on, electricity demand will continue to increase as electricity is a universal fuel. The coal plants of yesterday will likely become the nuclear plants of tomorrow, as in Hopf’s insightful concept of using modern modular NSSSes with the steam backends of former coal plants.
                As far as spent fuel goes, it’s far less dangerous – orders of magnitude less voluminous – and far more contained – than the fly ash piles that have turned into fly mud floods that bury entire counties at once. So I agree that spent fuel storage onsite – though not ideal – is the reality of the time we live in now. And, further, it is in no way even close to something that should slow the progress of nuclear energy.

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