Robert Redford Talks to MSNBC About a Failed Energy Policy – Wonder What Paul Newman, the Other Star of Sundance, Would Have Said?
Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
I came across the above video on a post at The Energy Collective titled A Month after the Oil Disaster, We Need Obama to Lead. As I watched it, I could not help but nod in agreement with some of the points while wanting to cry out “what about nuclear” at other points in the discussion.
The problem with the “renewable” energy sources that have captured the hearts and minds of many people in the environmental movement is that they simply do not work. Though they produce some power some of the time, wind and solar energy are unpredictable and diffuse energy flows that require enormous collection systems impacting vast tracks of land. While it is possible to cover the roof of an apartment building, office complex or factory with solar panels, the output from those solar panels can only supply a tiny fraction of the power being used in the buildings underneath them.
There was a time when I was also enamored with the idea of using natural, renewable energy. I had just finished a 40 month tour as the Engineer Officer on a nuclear powered submarine. The memory of the stringent rules and the challenging work environment was fresh in my mind. I was on shore duty as a staff officer the U. S. Naval Academy and decided that I would take advantage of a little known opportunity to audit classes while I was there. As an undergraduate, I had majored in English, but I had developed a desire to improve my engineering knowledge after spending 10 years in various engineering assignments.
One of the courses that interested me was an alternative energy course being taught by Dr. Chih Wu, a man who had published several books (including one on ocean thermal energy conversion) and numerous papers on the subject. After many homework assignments and design projects, I had convinced myself that wind and solar energy, though well marketed, were simply too limited.
Historical Aside. I reported to the Academy in January 1991. You may recall that there was a brief run up in oil prices in 1990-1991 and an increasing interest in efforts to replace oil, coal and gas consumption. Some of my friends and former colleagues were fighting a war with a country led by a guy named Saddam Hussein who had attacked his neighbor in an attempt to establish control over more of the world’s oil resources. End Aside.
One of the eye opening moments came when I designed a solar heating system with the sole task of keeping a coastal California swimming pool at a comfortable temperature. Once I had accounted for evaporative heat loss and make up water, I calculated that the system would need collectors with a total surface area equal to the area of the pool and it would need to include a thermal blanket that would help reduce evaporation and nighttime cooling. That blanket would have to remain on the pool for 16 to 20 hours per day during much of the year. During some weather conditions, the blanket would have to remain in position for a week or more to keep from losing too much heat. The design project received an ‘A’, but in my technical opinion the technology received an ‘F’.
If Robert Redford and his friends at the Natural Resources Defense Council are truly interested in protecting wilderness areas in the west – which is one of the things that Redford discusses with Keith Olbermann in the video above – and they are interested in establishing an energy policy that may alleviate some of the economic pressure to drill for oil in increasingly challenging and environmentally sensitive areas, they should take a hard at revising their organizational opposition to expanding the use of nuclear energy.
Paul Newman, who starred with Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kidd and The Sting and became his close personal friend, might have a few words to say on the topic – if he was still alive. In his later years, Paul Newman became a strong supporter and even a promoter for nuclear energy. He often raced his cars with Go Nuclear stickers on them. I have one of those Newman-Wachs racing Go Nuclear stickers on my Jetta, which is definitely NOT a racing car.
Here is a quote from a press release from the Atlantic Racing Series dated September 26, 2008.
“This is an exciting time of growth for nuclear energy as America confronts mutual concerns of rising energy demand, environmental impact and energy independence,” explained Mike Kansler, Entergy chief nuclear officer. “That’s why Entergy feels it is crucial to talk with new entrants into the country’s labor force about the many opportunities available in the commercial nuclear power industry.”
Entergy Nuclear, the sponsor of the Swift 016 formula car, is the second largest owner and operator of nuclear power plants in the U.S. and was named to the 2007 Forbes list of America’s Most Trustworthy Companies.
Team owners Paul Newman and Eddie Wachs noted, “The objective of our partnership with Entergy and NEI is to aid overall public awareness and to promote public policy that supports the beneficial uses of nuclear energy. It’s a long road, so what better way to start at than at the race track?”
Sadly, the date on that press release is also the day that Paul Newman passed away after a long battle with lung cancer. The course of action following an eye opening incident like Deepwater Horizon, which demonstrates the hazard of reaching into ever more difficult places to extract oil, might be altered if a forward thinking leader like Newman could help his friends understand how nuclear energy can help. It can make oil and gas exploration and extraction a bit less profitable. We would be able to reduce our consumption enough so that the remaining needs could be supplied by the easy-to-reach petroleum where the potential consequences of inevitable faults are lower.
New York Times Dot Earth Blog – Burning, Baby, Burning
@rod – Could not help but chuckle over your pool heater. In 1978 I was seriously considering installing a solar collector domestic hot water heater on my house. At that time the government was giving back around 50% of the cost, so it looked like an exceptional bargain. No internet back then so I had to use Popular Science, Popular Mechanics ads and the local phonebook for dealers, information and sources. As luck would have it, one of the circulation pumps on my base-board, hot-water, furnace went bad – $250 for the pump and $75 to replace it, and it was only 5 years old. The pump in the system I thought best was made by the same manufacturer! I then looked into the individual cost for replacement of the major failure prone items and decided that even if the government gave me the solar system I would only break even if I performed all of the maintenance myself. I did not get the system. I still have a fairly thick folder of all of this information. Recently I read an article on the internet by someone who had selected the system I was looking at and is still using it. He went into quite a bit of detail of the data, good points and trials and tribulations of the system over the last 30 years. His story included how the pump failed twice, the poly tubes needed replaced (that I did not think of back then), and that the panels needed cleaning every year to maintain efficiency. He also has a graph showing that the system has steadily, but slowly, decreased in efficiency over the 30 years. This did not bother him so much now as all of his kids are out of the house now and it keeps up with him and his wife.
It looks like a redistribution of money to me – you pay the solar repairman instead of the oil/gas man or the electric company. Like you, I think a lot more work needs to be done.
@Rich – I was with you all the way until I hit the last sentence. I do not think that more work will every solve the obstacles that inhibit the use of renewable energy systems. There is an old saying that says that anything worth doing is worth doing well.
A corollary to that is that anything that you cannot do well is not worth doing. No matter how talented a designer is and no matter what kind of special materials someone invents, a solar collector will never function at night. It will never function very well on cloudy days or when covered by snow. Similar things can be said about wind energy collectors when the wind is not blowing.
In other words – why bother? There are far better ways to invest time than in trying to do something well with such lousy raw material.
For another example of the trials and tribulations of a swimming pool solar heater, check out the home-designed version by Dr. Roy Spencer. Despite the fact that he holds some views contrary to the MMGW theory, you will find his experiment and result at least entertaining. It is the April 14, 2010 posting.
In a message board that I often visit one of the posters wrote that because of the Deepwater Horizon disaster we should abandon nuclear energy. She stated that the disaster in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico shows that how events can overtake the best laid plans of man and the same thing can happen during a nuclear accident. Two of the points I made countering her thesis was that if there was a nuclear accident it would be far easier to send the necessary resources to fix the problem before it gets out of hand, unlike a gushing pipe a mile under the water. The second point I made was that if you get an sampling of unbiased and respected environmental scientists they would gladly trade the damage created by Deepwater Horizon for the nondamage caused by TMI.
She tried to bring up the Chernobyl accident but I counter that comparing Soviet era nuclear reactors to those made in the West is like comparing Yugos to a BMW 700 series sedan. Am I dating my self with that reference. 🙂
I am surprised that the nuclear industry is not using this blowout to trumpet the safety of its product from the rooftops. I am sure that if you combined all of the mishaps at all nuclear reactors in the United States since TMI they would not even be a small fraction as bad as what we are seeing in the Gulf.
I would inquire about the various failure-modes of wind and solar.
The generators are geographically distributed but at any given time there is only about 1 or 2 weather systems covering an entire grid and even within these grids long-distance transmission capacity is limited. What is the consequences of more frequent brown outs, rolling black out and black outs as compared to a TMI every few decades(overly pessimistic assumption but I don’t feel it changes anything)?
Power failures cost a lot of money, the northeastern black out is estimated to have cost between 6 and 10 billion dollars. Power failures can cost a lot of lives; the northeastern black out happened in ~30 degrees C weather in which no kind of air conditioning is essential. What if this had happened in Texas, with the wind farms all standing still during a summer heat wave or in the north during the cold of winter?
What if you bet big on wind and solar and 30 years down the road it still hasn’t down enough in price and hasn’t scaled up enough run an industrialized country? This takes a huge amount of metallurgical coal, oil and natural gas to attempt; if you’ve built a bridge to nowhere and burnt it, what are you going to do now? Are you going to deindustrialize and become an impoverished and miserable nation with life expectancies last seen in the 19th century? Are you going to hope that France, Russia, China or Japan have enough surplus fissile inventory or enough reprocessing capacity to take your “waste” and build you some breeder reactors to bail you out?
Fortunately, I’m enthusiastic, that due to the people here – as well as the efforts of others – the US is no longer in danger of choosing such an option, tilting at mirages of the sun, and windmills, which is an easy way to failure by believing that you can get something for nothing.
If you want to change everything, you have to make clean energy cheap. The easiest way to do that is through nuclear power. It doesn’t give you a little for nothing, very unreliably, like wind and solar do. It gives you a tremendous amount for a little, and most importantly, it gives it to you reliably. The reliability and the energy density is where the enduring value of nuclear power lies.
Chernobyl was a carbon pile reactor. layers of carbon (graphite), layers of pipe and layers of fuel rods. An accident waiting to happen – Think generation 0.5. Besides, recent studies has shown only minor consequences on indigenous plant and animal life. It is just “deemed” unsafe for man.
I worked for GPU Nuclear at the time of the TMI Accident, and was part of the accident investigation team and after words the accident analysis team. If nothing else, TMI has shown that the “China Syndrome” will NOT occur with/at a PWR (BWR) nuclear power plant. The plants inherent “failsafe” design (which, although adequate, is not quite as failsafe as the proposed new generation plants) protected the environment despite the actions of the operators who thought they were doing the right thing and in many cases only made the problem worse (i.e., if they had done absolutely nothing on at least three different occasions, TMI-II would now be operating.) The major reason for the “meltdown” was the fact that after a long period of natural circulation, at reduced pressure (think departure from nucleate boiling) they turned the pumps back on! This would be like throwing ice cold water onto a windshield that was in the hottest desert sun. The fuel pins shattered and the fuel pellets were swept through the system. The core was being adequately cooled on natural circulation. Yes, it was boiling, but about like a BWR boils. The pressure was below the saturation margin so, in essence, you had a fluid similar to beer foam cooling the upper half of the rods. Not as designed, but it worked. If the pumps had remained off long enough to cool the plant down they might be operating today. The plant had already tripped, so all you had was decay heat for 75% power. But since they had no idea what was going on inside the vessel and core, they could not even confirm that they had natural circulation, they made the “logical” (but incorrect – Monday morning quarterbacking) decision to turn the pumps on.
Plants now have detailed emergency plans for the most probable accidents, and combinations thereof, and even an emergency procedure that will guide you to put the plant into the safest condition possible even if you cannot tell what is going on in the core (such as loss of instrumentation, or other weird, anomalous conditions that seem impossible.) The operators practice these emergency procedures every 5 to 6 weeks, they do several major emergency exercise training practices each year and an NRC inspected drill (can be 8-10 hours long) on a regular basis (frequency depends on the plants rating).
As others have said, I would rather work at a nuclear power plant than ANY other facility that is making electricity – even an emergency diesel generator at a data server farm! The OSHA safety factor/rating is better at the worst American nuclear power plant than in the office of most CPA firms.
Comments are closed.
Recent Comments from our Readers
The Clinton Nuclear Plant also in Illinois was shutdown essentially for almost 2 years before it was taken over by…
Good Podcast – Very informative One thing that was not discussed is how to deal with a particular fear that…
Renewables people are masters in marketing. Unreliable intermittent generators whose output is all over the place, and usually badly correlated…
Looking at their lineup, Westinghouse seems bound and determined to keep Gen IV in its “place” which is apparently the…
So they are developing a scaled down version of the AP1000, which is a scaled up version of the AP600,…