Peter Beattie and his friends in Queensland Australia have succeeded in their mission of protecting the coal and gas industry in Queensland from having to compete with nuclear power. They did it the old fashioned way – they made it illegal to build or operate nuclear facilities in their state. According to a May 2, 2007 article titled New law bans nuclear power in Qld published by theage.com.au, the new law bans the following types of facilities in Queensland:
Banned nuclear facilities include reactors, uranium conversion and enrichment plants, fuel fabrication plants, spent fuel processing plants and facilities used to store or dispose of material associated with the nuclear fuel cycle such as radioactive waste material.
Facilities for research and medical purposes and the operation of a nuclear-powered vehicle are exempt.
Though there are some quotes in the article that show that some people would like us to believe that the action was motivated by fear of the potential hazards of nuclear power, the real motive for the ban came through loud and clear with this statement:
Mr Wilson said other countries had nuclear power because they lacked other energy resources or had to pay high prices for importing fuel.
“Here in Queensland we have access to abundant, long-term supplies of coal and gas,” he said.
“We’re confident that clean coal technology will provide a similar level of greenhouse abatement to that of nuclear generation and in a shorter timeframe.”
“Why go down a nuclear path when we don’t need to?”
As many people have noticed, “clean coal” is a fine marketing term, but it is certainly far from reality. There are no “near zero emission” plants in operation and none planned for commercial deployment. If coal fired power plants are built within the next ten-twenty years, they will be the same kinds of massive emitters of greenhouse gases as the current generation. They may have systems installed that capture or mitigate such pollutants as SOX (but where does the captured sulfur go), NOX, and fly ash, but they will not capture CO2.
A good geek friend of mine helped me with a computation that puts the challenge of clean coal into perspective. In the US we burn about 1.3 BILLION tons of coal per year. That action releases approximately 4.8 x 10e12 (1 followed by 12 zeros) kilograms of CO2. We used a wild ass guess for a reasonable maximum pressure for any geologic storage of 600 PSI (40 times atmospheric pressure). At that pressure, the volume of CO2 produced is 7.0e10 (70 BILLION) cubic meters.
Before your eyes glaze over, here is your homework assignment – compare that volume to the quantity of oil and natural gas produced in the US each year. Then determine for yourself if the assumption that we can store gas at 600 psi indefinitely is valid. Is it even wildly possible that we will be able to safely store CO2 for the foreseeable future?