Benjamin Sovacool takes issue with Lorenzini’s criticism of his work
Editorial note: I received an interesting note in my inbox from Dr. Benjamin Sovacool.
Hi Rod/Atomic Insights, I believe you already know me as I see
multiple posts attacking my research. One of the most recent ones is
from Paul Lorenzini. Given that this post has a number of factual
errors in it (and it misrepresents both my data and that of others),
would you permit me to write a response? I realize we’re on
different “sides” of this issue, if you can even call it that, but
hopefully that won’t prevent you from letting me correct misstatements.
The post to which he is referring is Nukes kill more birds than wind?.
Benjamin’s note and the subsequent email exchange led to my acceptance of the following guest post. I have published it without modification in hopes of generating continued worthwhile conversation. All opinions expressed in this post belong to the author, not to me or Atomic Insights. End editorial note.
By Benjamin Sovacool
Nukes, Birds, and Better Arguments
As the author of these two studies http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2009.02.011 and http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1943815X.2012.746993, I wanted to the engage the discussion taking place on Atomic Insights—especially to correct some errors and half-truths in Paul’s piece, to explain the methods used in mine, and to point everyone to newer analysis that reflects some of shortcomings inherent in my initial 2009 article.
First, and most important: Paul has misstated the actual conclusion from my original study. It never advances the conclusion, as he claims, that “nuclear power causes more bird kills than wind.” Instead, the article has three conclusions, one primary, and two secondary.
The primary conclusion was to highlight the need for better data and analysis on the issue of avian deaths and energy technology—inclusive of not only nuclear energy but also wind turbines and fossil fuels. This conclusion is something I think Paul and most readers would agree with. Here is one of the paragraphs straight from that section of the article:
Far more detailed, rigorous, and sophisticated analysis is called for that takes into account the complexities of the wind, fossil-fueled, and nuclear energy fuel cycles. The shortcomings of this preliminary study are as obvious as they are numerous: a focus on bird deaths but not bird births; a small sample size for wind, coal, and nuclear facilities that may not be representative; a focus on individual species such as the wood thrush or waterfowl to produce overall estimates of avian mortality that are definitely not representative (and undoubtedly conservative); a presumption that coal was only mined using mountaintop removal (thereby excluding the impacts from other types of coal mining); fatalities that happened on particular days and weeks that were then presumed to be the only ones throughout the year (also resulting in conservative estimates); an assumption that only carbon dioxide emissions from power plants contribute to climate change (again conservative for excluding other greenhouse gases); highly uncertain deaths attributed to climate change that may be prevented if future greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced.
Despite the unnecessarily vitriolic nature of Paul’s commentary, my own study was intended to start a discussion and lead to better research.
So imagine my surprise when Paul argues we need better numbers and analysis, when this is exactly the point I make after collecting hundreds of studies in the academic literature on the topic and finding most of them deficient in some way. It is also somewhat disingenuous to attack me for the “numbers being wrong” when the study already tells you the numbers are very rough estimates that need to be improved. I even explicitly state this, as well, in the conclusion: “the rudimentary numbers presented here are intended to provoke further research and discussion,” in the abstract “this paper should be respected as a preliminary assessment,” and in the title of the study, which has the word “preliminary” in it.
One secondary conclusion is that visible impacts for a given energy system may not be the most important—we can see birds crashing into wind turbines, but we often don’t see their nests degraded by the manufacturing plant that made the blades, witness them crashing into the fossil-fueled smokestack, or picture them drinking contaminated water near a uranium mine or mill. This challenges us to make “visible” previously “invisible” parts of our energy infrastructure. While we can disagree about the precise numbers—and I hedge this by underscoring that the numbers in my study are preliminary, first-order guesses that need followed through with other research—those impacts are nonetheless there.
A final secondary conclusion is that if there is a real “bird killer,” it is neither wind energy nor nuclear power but coal and fossil fuels, especially if you factor in climate change. As I state in the conclusion, again, “fossil-fueled facilities are about 17 times more dangerous to birds on a per GWh basis than wind and nuclear power stations.” I’m grouping in nuclear and renewables here together; I’m not saying we need to phase out one in lieu of the other just for the sake of birds. This secondary conclusion is also consistent with how I rank preferred energy options: I believe first in energy efficiency, then with renewables, then nuclear, moving up (to lower preferences) to natural gas, oil, and coal. This is very similar to the idea of “climate stabilization wedges” advocated here http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1100103.
So, contrary to those who label me some fierce anti-nuclear zealot, my position is more complex than simply “pro” or “anti,” which readers would know if they take the time to read my recent book from MIT Press entitled Global Energy Security (which also argues in favor of a moderate role for nuclear power, you can order it here http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/climate-change-and-global-energy-security). I am not entirely against all forms of nuclear energy in all circumstances, either, just critical of doing it in centralized power plants susceptible to cost overruns, in ways that threaten the energy security of countries (think Fukushima or Chernobyl), and in ways that fail to adequately handle the issue of nuclear waste and future generations. In this way, I am also critical of poorly sited wind farms (see http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tej.2011.09.019), of placing hydroelectric dams in rainforests (see http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2011.06.035), and of large-scale solar energy projects that displace nomadic herdsman (see http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2012.07.027 and http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2012.07.039).
The biggest criticism I therefore have of Paul’s piece is that it misstates my findings, its motives and intentions, and the way that it contextualizes its numbers as highly uncertain.
However, there are a few other problems with Paul’s article.
As one example, he writes that that I confuse a uranium mining operator in Colorado with one in Wyoming. This is false: on p. 2245, I clearly state that the Canon City mill is in Colorado: “Uranium milling and mining can poison and kill hundreds of birds per facility per year. Indeed, in early 2008 the Cotter Corporation was fined $40,000 for the death of 40 geese and ducks at the Canon City Uranium Mill in Colorado.”
Furthermore, as for the claim about mines in Wyoming, Paul slightly misrepresents what both my study and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) state. I never claimed Berkeley pit was a uranium mine, I instead said that open pit mines, similar to those at Berkeley, can kill ~300 birds per year because selenium can leech into water supplies. The US Fish & Wildlife Service clearly makes this argument linking mines like Berkeley with uranium mines, as readers can check for themselves at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/contaminants/contaminants8.html. Here’s a most relevant paragraph:
Abandoned open pit uranium mines in Wyoming also have formed pit lakes. Uranium-bearing formations are usually associated with strata containing high concentrations of selenium. Pit lakes formed in open pit uranium mines can contain very high levels of selenium in the water. One pit lake in Wyoming contains over 100 parts per million (microgram per Liter [µg/L]) of selenium. Waterborne selenium concentrations greater than 2µg/L are known to impair the reproduction and survival of aquatic birds due to the high potential for dietary toxicity through food chain bioaccumulation.
Now, it is true the ~300 number is a rough guess and a proxy, but I admit this in the article—and I was unaware of any other data looking at bird deaths and open-pit mines.
Moreover, readers should not presume that uranium mines in the USA always strictly adhere to environmental, air, and water regulations, nor should they pretend that mines in places like Namibia or Kazakhstan adhere to strict regulations at all (so globally, there is some evidence that the frontend of the nuclear fuelcycle is worse for birds than in places like the United States).
Now, why did I produce different numbers in 2012? This is admittedly a legitimate question from Paul. The answer is that feedback from the peer-reviewers—yes, it was peer-reviewed by three anonymous referees for the Journal of Integrative Environmental Science—suggested that the Canon City mill estimate was a “one-off” event, an accident, whereas the issue of water contamination at mines (noted in the FWS article above) was more chronic. So they instructed me to remove the Canon City estimate, which left me only with Wyoming.
Upon reflection, for my 2009 study, I probably should have added the numbers from Colorado and Wyoming together because they reflect different parts of the nuclear fuel cycle—mining, and milling/enrichment—instead of taking the average between them. So in that regard, both of my studies underestimate potential deaths from the frontend of the nuclear lifecycle, even though, again, I admit the numbers are very rough.
As for the issue with Florida Power Corporation’s Crystal River Generating Facility, here I admit the data is sketchy and thank Paul and Rod for pointing out a likely error: Florida Power Corporation’s Crystal River Generating Facility did indeed used to be (or perhaps still is) a mix of coal and nuclear units, and when I read that 3,000 bird deaths occurred from colliding with smoke stacks, I presumed that it was the same as if they were hitting nuclear cooling towers. After reading what Paul and Rod have written, this looks to be false. I was working with the best data I could find from the library at the National University of Singapore, and I’ve never visited the Florida facility, so this was an honest mistake, but it was a mistake. These bird deaths should, instead, be attributed to fossil-fuels, and subtracted from the nuclear numbers.
Same with the issue that a reader—Laurence Aurbach—pointed out indicating that Biewald gives different numbers later in his testimony. This was not in the printed version of the testimony I had available to me—that version ends five pages earlier than the one that Aurbach was able to find online. The new figures from Biewald should also be averaged with his earlier, higher numbers, again, lowering the ultimate numbers for nuclear power.
However, this does not mean that cooling towers pose no threat to birds. The attributes of smoke stacks that draw birds to them hold true for cooling towers: both are tall and large (the smoke stacks in question were 152 to 183 meters tall, whereas nuclear cooling towers are 100 to 200 meters tall), and far more important than height is lighting. The Maehr study from Florida, for instance, argues that “lighting appears to attract migrating birds under overcast conditions,” thus contradicting Biewald’s claim that lighting allows birds to avoid towers. Crystal River’s nuclear cooling towers would have lighting, as would practically every other unit in the USA, and most towers are even wider than the narrow smokestacks, so it’s fair to say they could attract birds in the same manner.
Turning to the “critique” from Willis et al., and their number of 1.46 deaths per GWh (let’s not add bats into the mix, because none of my estimates for fossil fuels or nuclear include bats—we need to compare apples to apples), Paul ignores some serious flaws with their analysis, which have also be rebutted in the peer-reviewed literature by me here http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2009.08.052. (He must have missed this rebuttal even though it was published side-by-side the Willis et al. article). Here is an excerpt from the rebuttal:
[Willis et al.] present adjusted fatality estimates for wind energy but not for nuclear power and fossil fuels, [and] confuse installed capacity with actual electricity generation … the adjusted fatality estimates for wind energy offered by Willis et al. create a distorted picture when compared with the unadjusted fatality estimates for these other sources.
For instance, Willis et al. confuse MW (installed capacity) with MWh (energy), which means they do not take into account the improved capacity factor of wind turbines, which is why their number cannot be trusted. They also, among other mistakes, ignore possible flaws with carcass reinsertion—when predators around a wind farm wishing to shelter there can bring birds into it that were killed elsewhere.
Also, and highly relevant here, is that newer research that I have undertaken with Donald McCubbin using modeling tools from the U.S. EPA, and looking at wind farms in California and Idaho, shows that bird deaths are not static (see here http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2012.11.004). They change over time. For instance, looking at the Altamont pass in California, assuming production of roughly 1,000 GWh/year, we posit a bird mortality rate due to collisions at 2.5 to 13.8 deaths/GWh per year during the period 1987-2006. These numbers are much higher than even Willis et al.’s and my earlier studies, which used data from 6 wind farms but none in California. But from 2012 to 2031, we predict a range of 0.5 to 1.0 deaths/GWh per year for Altamont, lower figures due to the improved efficiency of newer wind turbines. And in Sawtooth, Idaho, the range is 0.1 to 0.5 deaths/GWh, due to smaller turbines and even better siting.
Thus, neither my original studies nor the new one with McCubbin are “junk science.” If they were, they never would have passed peer-review. They are, instead, admittedly preliminary estimates, and they are upfront about bracketing their findings with a number of caveats and calling for better research. In that regard, this discussion on Atomic Insights is proof that I have succeeded, though perhaps not in the way I had imagined.
But I am after the truth here: I did my initial study in 2009 from a desk in Singapore. If readers have better data on the impacts of uranium mining, enrichment, construction, operation, etc. and birds and bats, send it to me. Let’s improve the numbers so we can all make better informed decisions about energy options, which is what the piece was intended to contribute towards.
In closing, however, I find it ironic that Paul attacks me for being lazy and having “ulterior” motives, but then commits a number of distortions that, while I would not call them “malicious” and “dishonest,” are certainly selective in how they portray my article and its findings. Could it be that because Paul works (or did work) for a nuclear energy company, he also has an incentive to skew the numbers?
I am also struck by both the ferocious tone and inaccuracy of the assertions presented in a number of comments in the section below the article. Here is a small sample of false assertions:
- that “UVM must be proud” (I work for the Vermont Law School, which isn’t part of UVM);
- that nobody could confirm if the article was peer-reviewed (you can easily confirm this by emailing the author or the editor);
- that I am funded by some shadowy group of “501(c)(3) organizations” (I’m not);
- that I am a “fraud” (this would require me being convicted of some type of scientific misconduct, something that absolutely hasn’t happened);
- that if I “get my way, any surviving raptors will find the planet nuclear-free, but having to dodge the industrial (sic) sprawl from legions of lethal diffuse-energy harvesting structures” (where do either of the studies ever say anything close to this?);
- that my greenhouse gas numbers from another study are baseless (I can point to two follow up peer-reviewed studies, available http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2009.06.073 and http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1530-9290.2012.00472.x, that give mean numbers almost identical to mine).
These statements from Atomic Insights readers are all untrue, and could easily have been checked. It is sardonic that so many readers throw around baseless claims in an article from Paul trying to prove somebody else is making baseless claims. I ask that you each hold yourselves to the same standard you held my article to: having high standards means they have to cut both ways. Think, and check the facts, before you post.
In the future, if anybody, Paul included, has questions about this study or any study of mine, email me – my email address is right there in both articles, and my profile is readily available for all to see on the Vermont Law School faculty page. Perhaps if I had emailed Paul or Rod before publishing my article, I would have caught the mistakes relating to Crystal River and Biewald. And if Paul or Rod had emailed me, I could have explained how I was using the FWS numbers, pointed out the flaws with the Willis et al. study, and directed them to more careful, follow-up research. Sometimes collaboration is most important with those you disagree with.
Ultimately, maybe the central lesson here is that we need to start working together—you “nuclear” folks and us “renewables” folks—if we’re not only to catch errors and mistakes, but also to tackle the culprit we all seem to be after, which is fossil fuels.
Associate Professor of Law
Vermont Law School
So what does this all boil down to? Do nukes kill more birds than windfarms, or not? It would have been nice if Mr. Sovacool had clearly either confirmed that interpretation or recommended against it, because frankly I can’t be bothered revisiting this issue again to find out for myself, since it appears rather credible to me that wind farms are likely to kill more birds than nuke plants at the outset. Moreover, the ‘bird slicer’ reputation of wind turbines is taken quite seriously in my country – also by the pro-wind lobby – so it seems there is little doubt that wind farms do in fact pose a particular threat to birds. For example, off-shore wind farms in my country are deliberately sited at significant distance from the coast, in order to reduce the acknowledged risk to birds, since coastal birds tend to fly, well, near the coast. Clearly, bird death is *an* issue with wind farms, whatever the ‘poor data’ on this issue may or may not suggest.
Still it remains the case of course that human-caused bird death would intuitively seem to have far more important causes than either nukes, fossil power plants or wind farms, namely pet cats and biodiversity/habitat loss. So one could argue that even if windfarms kill more birds than other energy options, it doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things.
A question now. Could someone comment on how the original study by Mr. Sovacool has been received by the pro/anti nuke community? Has it been waved about by anti-nukes as ‘proof’ that nuclear is “a bad thing”? That’s really all that matters here IMO. Throughout the years, I’ve corresponded with various authors of various studies that have been waved in my face by anti-nukes as ‘proof’ that nuclear energy should be eliminated, only to have the authors tell me that “if you read our report carefully, our conclusion doesn’t actually recommend that nuclear energy should be eliminated .” or similar responses. It seems very convenient, and when I ask these authors to then consider providing an addendum or follow-up to their report that would help stop anti-nukes from (apparently unjustly) waving the so-called ‘nuke neutral’ paper in my face, I’ve never gotten what I ask for. I am either referred to the employer or sponsor of the particular paper, or I’m told that it is not up to the author to care about how their paper is interpreted (incorrectly) by the reader (kind-of a lame excuse IMO).
Furthermore, when considering that other titles by the same authors in the past are often also a fond part of the anti-nuke literature, the suspicion remains that the original intent of the authors was indeed specifically to suggest that nuclear is “a bad thing”, even while carefully injecting off-hand statements and notes in the papers that allow them to shirk responsibility for creating any such “suggestion” when pressed. Again, it’s all very convenient. Too convenient IMO.
Hi Joris, after reading Paul’s post and some of Rod’s comments, I don’t think we have enough data to say either way “nukes kill more birds than windfarms, or not?” Arguments in favor of wind come from the newest research I did when McCubbin that suggests fatalities as low as 0.1 to 0.5 deaths/GWh, but this is extremely site/technology specific. Arguments against are that we’re talking only birds here, not bats, and not all wind turbines will be the newest or best sited models. Arguments against nuclear are that so far we’ve got sketchy data from one mine (not even a uranium one), one accident, and some collisions with cooling towers. We don’t have any data for other parts of the lifecycle, e.g. transportation of fuel, temporary storage, permanent storage, etc. Arguments for are that nuclear units take up much less land per GWh produced and have larger volumes of energy. I’m afraid until more research is done, we don’t have a definitive answer to your question.
As for how my work (and that of other authors) is used, I’m more complex than most because some of my work – in particular this piece, and the MIT book – is scholarship, which takes (or tries to take) a more careful, balanced view. Other work, like invited testimony, has been advocacy, where I do take a stance against particular energy projects, like the Jaitapur nuclear power plant in India, for what I believe are good reasons. So I blur the line more than most; some of it is considered “research,” some is considered “advocacy and service.”
Ben – I guess most nuclear professionals don’t really understand why papers like yours get through peer review and published if the data is so sketchy.
We generally do not think that numbers that are admittedly rough guesses based on little or no experimental information are actually “numbers”; they are just wild assertions. They certainly cannot be honestly used for statements like “fossil-fueled facilities are about 17 times more dangerous to birds on a per GWh basis than wind and nuclear power stations.” How the heck can you know that one number is 17 times higher than another number when you have no idea what either number really is?
Why do you think it is valid to place 100-150 meter tall wind turbines whose blade tips could be moving as fast as 230 MPH (http://www.aweo.org/windmodels.html) in the same category as nuclear power stations that might not have any structures taller than 100 feet on site?
Your comments about using papers “available to you” in a Singapore library in 2009 are just bizarre. I’m pretty sure that Singapore is one of the most connected nations in the world, with some of the highest speed internet “pipes” available anywhere.
Within 30 seconds, you should have been able to find several reliable sources of useful information about nuclear power stations like Crystal River. Why would you defend your sketchy research by implying that you did the best you could with the limited resources you had available? That kind of work would not fly in a technical document produced under an NQA-1 quality assurance program.
Please continue to participate in the discussion. I hope you learn a little more about how nuclear professionals think and why we are so confident that our technology is a boon to humanity.
Rod – OK. Let’s call it 17 ± 100. 😉
Rod. It doesn’t seem like you (or Brian who is most noisy about it) understand much about peer review. The goal is not to validate findings as definitive, say it has “passed muster” (because “peers” say so), and no further debate on topic is needed. The aim is to advance knowledge, which is relatively open ended and always open to challenge and revision, and offer findings that have general interest or significance (however speculative or provisional). Peers do review work for factual errors and to ensure that an article meets established standards of journal or publication, but they are not “fact checkers” per se. At some point, the scientific community at large has to take up this significant and important task (at a level of independent judgement and assessment of each individual researcher, or more likely in further research on the topic adding to initial findings, revision of methodology, assumptions, or contribution of new facts). Sovacool has been entirely transparent and descriptive about where the data falls short. He has also been informed by the work of others who have added to and revised his initial findings (and even acknowledged errors that needed to be corrected). All of this is indication of a peer review process that appears to be working (and not one that is flawed). I’m not sure why you want to find fault and seek to discredit a process that appears to be working, and adding significantly to the general interest and to knowledge (however previsionary and speculative). If you don’t agree with the findings of the article, and think there is better research out there to confirm a different result, sounds to me like you might want to publish and have a good idea for a paper and rebuttal. If it adheres to the same standards of scholarship and general interest as the Sovacool piece, I have no doubt that it will also pass peer review (and similarly be available to debate and be open to scrutiny and independent assessment).
I find it a little distracting that people want to make this personal … suggesting that Sovacool has ulterior motives, his scientific peers too, or the journal no less. If you think someone got something wrong, make your case. This is how science works. If there are better facts out there, then present them. I don’t know how this has anything to do with anything personal (or the suggestion that there is something wrong with publishing provisional findings as a catalyst and invitation to provide better data and better results in the future that lead to more detailed and conclusive results). The author is very clear that this is his aim, and he welcomes any revision of his findings. I am not sure by what other means you are suggesting we proceed … only by pre-established facts and a coterie of peers who assure that each study adheres to a litmus test of pre-approved conclusions and findings. I think they tried that somewhere (and it proved to be a very poor way to do science). Here, science is independent and open-ended, and peers assess whether an article adheres to common standards of practice, objective evidence, and makes a substantive contribution to general interest and knowledge (not whether it’s findings are correct or not). If you can think of another way to proceed, or define an important field of inquiry where the initial data may be incomplete or partial, please offer it. And thankfully, most of us (the author in particular) even welcomes and encourages such a contribution. One could say it is even the most explicit purpose and aim of the paper (as is clearly and directly described by the author).
@ Rod. Sure, I plan to keep discussing, though I suspect I don’t have as much time as everyone making comments. I meant what I said at the end of the article about “renewables” people not talking enough with “nuclear” people, and vice versa. You ask “How the heck can you know that one number is 17 times higher than another number when you have no idea what either number really is,” and the answer is that the “17x” number has a huge “within the uncertainties of the data collected” limitation before it, which I did try to make clear with how I titled the article and with the actual, stated conclusions in it (which are not the same as what the Wikipedia folks use it for). How did I make the mistake about Crystal River? Honestly, because, much to my chagrin, I’m not perfect, and in this case the peer-review system in place for Elsevier (publisher of Energy Policy) didn’t catch it, either. Now, contrary to those that ascribe to me ulterior motives, this was not an intentional mistake. And if I was the type of guy to truly fudge the numbers (I’m not), my bias would lean harder against fossil fuels, not nuclear. And keep in mind both you and Paul (and some of your readers) have made mistakes too, in your very comments to the piece. That’s why I view it as so important our two “communities” keep engaging each other.
@EL, I agree it’s best to try and keep things professional, and not personal, but as you know people get invested in their technological preferences. I guess the key is to be as transparent about it as possible, and also realize that all of us have the potential to be wrong just as much as we may be right.
@Benjamin K Sovacool
Ben, I did not ask how you made the mistake. We all make mistakes, especially in verbal discussions or in written discussions where we are trying to remain close to real time. I hope that long term readers will testify that I often go back and correct errors and admit mistakes.
What I questioned was your explanation for the mistake and your failure to correct it during the four years between the paper’s publication and Paul’s critique. I was questioning how you could claim that you did the best with the sources that you had available in an era where careful researchers have a reasonably large portion of the world’s accumulated knowledge available to them with a few keystrokes in a search engine.
Can you help me to understand why you depend on sketchy papers as sources for published work – presumably worth a substantial time investment – when better sources are so easy to obtain?
EL – Of course I understand about peer review. My wife and I are both researchers who regularly participate in the peer-review process, both as authors and reviewers.
It is because I understand about how peer review works that I am critical, and it is why I chastised Sovacool (and anyone who makes similar statements) for claiming that passing peer review somehow meant something significant. I was mocking his claim when I questioned whether the reviewers should have caught his obvious mistakes. You have no sense of irony or sarcasm.
As you point out, peer review means almost nothing about the accuracy of the methods or results of the paper. I completely agree. Since your irony-challenged mind was unable to understand it first time around, at the risk of repeating myself, let me explain again: any author relying on the value of “peer review” to justify the validity of their research is someone who does not have much confidence in the quality of their paper. This should be the first rule of thumb to use when reading blog-published defenses of flawed research.
Recent failures of the peer review process to catch not only mistakes, but blatant scientific fraud, are notorious and well known to anyone who follows the academic publishing world (hint: google “Retraction Watch”). However, Sovacool — always playing to the peanut gallery and the ignorant layman or journalist — would have you believe that, because his paper was “passed peer-review,” it is not “junk science.”
Sorry, Ben, but junk science passes the low bar of peer review every day of the year.
Huh? Perhaps you need to look at the statement more closely. It seems to me his comment was volunteered not to substantiate the paper, but to clarify an issue raised by Lorenzini in his critique (i.e., was the paper “peer reviewed” or not).
Are you seriously suggesting the author respond to a critique by not responding to any issues raised by the critique? In your over-exuberance to find fault with the paper, and splatter your opinion all over the site on the matter, you appear to have made a pretty fundamental mistake and error of your own. That of seeing things that aren’t actually there.
He even included a bullet point specifically highlighting the charge from
Lorenzini that was a matter deserving closer attention and a specific response. Unlike Sovacool, however, something tells me you are unlikely to admit to any mistake on the matter (intentional or not). Perhaps you are even unaware of making one, and are simply making sport of arguing for the sake of arguing (which seems to come so naturally to you).
I’m pretty sure that you and I are going to spend a little time talking past each other on this issue. Please understand my point of view; I am NOT a scientist and I am not particularly interested in fields of study where answers are inconclusive and numbers are fuzzy and indeterminate. I’m not even an engineer, though I have had a pretty good career history that includes a number of jobs with the word “engineer” in the title.
My interest is in energy, a field where the numbers are pretty solid and the conclusions can be verified (and are often legally REQUIRED to be verified) by peer reviewers who sign their name to be legally responsible for the completeness, adequacy and correctness of the work that they have reviewed. That does not stop some of the work from being amazingly creative or advancing the state of the art in a field that provides an important service to humanity.
I am not interested in academic publishing; I tried that for a short period of time. When I received a bill from the publisher for each page of my work, I decided it was an incredibly DUMB system that would never put food on my family’s table. Most of the academic journals I’ve ever read are full of stuff that is often read by a mere handful of people. It has little or no influence or relevance to the way that most people live their lives.
I blog because it is a low cost endeavor that just might influence the thinking of enough people to make a difference in the way the world works. I’ve be at it a long time, and it seems to me that there is some evidence that my efforts (and yours too) are paying off in starting the kind of conversations I believe are absolutely required as part of an effort to make a large turn in the direction human society is heading.
PS – everyone who takes the time to write anything has motives. Some of them are open and some are less open. Some are hidden enough to qualify for the pejorative “ulterior”.
Why do you think that scholarship should take a balanced view rather than attempting to discover truth? Balance is what journalists try to do, not scholars.
By the way, I realize that anecdotes are not science, but what did you think about the recent, well-witnessed collision between one of the world’s fastest and most rare birds and a fast moving wind turbine blade?
Rod – You should have linked to an article with a picture of the dead bird. Example:
Brian – thank you. By the way, I am pretty sure I saw a video clip of the actual event from a local UK news outlet, but cannot seem to locate it. I would be shocked if the collision was NOT caught on camera; after all, the swift had attracted quite a crowd of birders who are well known for their photographic interests.
Is it possible that the video has been suppressed? The pr-wind cabal is pretty powerful and certainly media savvy.
I think the video is striking, but it commits the fallacy I mention above, mainly, that it sort of suggests that “what you see” is really “what is biggest” in terms of environmental impact. That means two things. One, avian deaths won’t occur just at the wind farm. They will occur throughout wind’s lifecycle: construction, transport, operation, and decommissioning. Two, they will occur throughout nuclear’s fuel cycle, which I think we would all agree is more environmentally hazardous, at least outside of the USA (think about the uranium mines of Australia or Niger, or the failing nuclear waste facilities near the Caspian Basin). It’s the things we don’t see in videos on youtube that are probably killing far more birds, and other forms of biodiversity.
@Benjamin K Sovacool
Please do not use the rhetorical technique of ASSUMING that “we would all agree”, especially when you imply that Australian uranium mines are somehow hazardous. Do you have any evidence to back up the assertion? Have there been any reliable studies that ascribe ANY health issues for any species to mining uranium in Australia during the past two or three decades?
@ Rod, you ask “I was questioning how you could claim that you did the best with the sources that you had available in an era where careful researchers have a reasonably large portion of the world’s accumulated knowledge available to them with a few keystrokes in a search engine.” This is a fair question, and the only answer I have is that (at the time) I was of course managing multiple research projects and made a sloppy mistake. What’s interesting, though, is that I can throw the same question back at you and Paul: “In an era where careful researchers have a reasonably large portion of the world’s accumulated knowledge available to them with a few keystrokes in a search engine, how did you both miss the critique of the Willis et al. article?” I’m not ascribing ulterior motives here, I think you both, like me, just missed it. It happens, especially when, today, there is so much data out there on a topic, no one has the ability to keep informed about it all.
I have no idea what you are talking about in the following statement:
“What’s interesting, though, is that I can throw the same question back at you and Paul: “In an era where careful researchers have a reasonably large portion of the world’s accumulated knowledge available to them with a few keystrokes in a search engine, how did you both miss the critique of the Willis et al. article?”
What critique are you talking about? I’m aware of Willis’s paper in Energy Policy that took you to task for confusing birds and bats, but I haven’t spent a lot of time tracing any academic arguments on the topic.
I am far more worried about the negative effects from dumping 35 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year and trying to fight efforts that discourage one of the most powerful tools humans have for changing that situation to get too focused on birds and bats.
@ Rod, I am referring to the rebuttal of Willis et al – the study that Paul uses to “discredit” my avian numbers. There was a published response to it; Willis et al. published their critique in Energy Policy 38 (2010) 2067–2069; on the very next page is a response to their critique, “Megawatts are Not Megawatt-Hours and Other Responses to Willis et al.,” Energy Policy 38(4) (April, 2010), pp. 2070-2073. Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2009.08.052.
You’re sort of proving my point that it’s very easy to unintentionally “miss” key reports/items in the literature when one is doing research. I missed the stuff about Crystal River, you and Paul missed the response to Willis et al., even though it was on the next page …
People that are not academics generally do not have subscriptions to journals like Energy Policy and do not have convenient access to libraries that subscribe to them. As a result we do not read them from cover to cover. We generally find individual papers by using search engines.
Though I do not expect you to tackle the very sticky issue of outrageous costs for academic journal articles, the link you provided offers to sell me your rebuttal for a mere $19.95, which is the price for a good hard cover best seller at Amazon. I would bet that your rebuttal is just a couple of pages long.
@ Rod, as the author of the rebuttal, trust me, it’s not worth $20 to read. However, let me give you (and other readers here) a little tip, revealing what is perhaps not well known outside of academia: whenever you see a study behind a firewall, nine times out of ten if you email the author, they can/will send it to you for free. Authors are permitted to distribute such articles via email, they just cannot upload them to websites. So this “personal distribution via email” is an exception to most of the copyright rules. This is why (a) I emailed you those studies from Beerten et al. and Yale in our other discussion, because I am “allowed to,” and (b) in my original post to Paul, I suggested that any readers wishing to read copies of any of the studies I mention need only email me, and I will send them a copy.
Does this take an extra minute to find the author’s email address? Yes, though it is often on the very page of the firewall. Will some authors ignore requests? Absolutely. But most of the time, professors will respond and get back to you in a few days. It’s also in their interest to distribute their work, and I’ve found they “process” requests much faster than the interlibrary loan departments at most universities (meaning the first step I often take in trying to get an article is to email the author, rather than bog down our library staff).
So, to repeat, if you ever want anything I’ve written behind a paywall, just email me. And try doing the same if you see other articles you want to read.
Please email me the rebuttal.
Also please understand why I “missed it” in an online discussion. I’m no fan of the way access to information is controlled by academic publishers.
On this issue, I’m with George Monbiot whose activism against academic publishing can be illustrated by articles like The Lairds of Learning
@Rod, I just sent you the response to Willis et al. In terms of the whole debate over academic publishing, think of both sides here. Peer review does introduce at least some level of quality control (though this can and does vary), and journals can’t publish everything for free or they wouldn’t be able to cover their overhead. Open access journals are often good for folks like you that don’t have access to all of these online databases behind firewalls, but it’s expensive for us authors. Most of the time, if I want to make my article open access, I have to pay a staggering $3,000, and that comes out of my pocket. I think we can agree that the best peer-reviewed journals, along the lines of Nature or Science, still have a quality of publishing that surpasses almost anything else. Society needs those sorts of publishing outlets.
Collisions with cooling towers… come on now Benjamin. You’ve got a PhD, surely you can calculate the surface area of cooling tower per lifecycle kWh, and compare it to the surface area per lifecycle kWh for wind turbine swept area. Even ignoring the fact that wind turbine blades are moving FAST, and cooling towers are stationary, this puts wind at an orders of magnitude disadvantage, a priori.
It’s the same with other parts of the lifecycle. The byproduct uranium of a copper mine in Australia can power a small country. With wind, you’re talking a factor of 5 to 10 more concrete and metals than nuclear power, per lifecycle kWh. Consider the fact that all the steel to make those wind turbines is produced with coal, in an environmentally insulting process, as all coal usage is. Consider the pollution from that coal, how many birds, beasts and humans will be harmed? How many will be harmed by transporting all that wind turbine equipment over entire continents? How many will be harmed by the pollution caused by fossil fuel backup for unreliable wind turbines? Or how many will be harmed by all the energy storage, and it’s resulting mining, transportation, etc. that is needed for wind?
If you’ve got no new research, then don’t produce peer reviewed work. Don’t just criticise, that’s weak. Do that on blogs. For peer reviewed work, do real research. Run numbers. Make a start. Show others how it’s done, rather than telling everyone how sketchy they are.
I’m sure that if you look at the numbers, you’ll quickly discover that lifecycle analysis, combined with systemic analysis (eg battery backup or fossil fuel burning for wind backup) favors nuclear on almost every front over wind.
Cyril – I don’t think that problem often appears in the comprehensive exams for a doctorate in Science and Technology Studies. Although it’s an interdisciplinary program, it’s more of a social science than anything else.
@Cyril, take a look at the second study I did in the Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences. You’d be (perhaps) amazed at how many birds die from stationary communications towers and, yes, office buildings. (Cats are another major source of bird deaths). So yes, things like buildings/cooling towers have the potential to kill far more birds and bats than any wind farm. It’s not so much the moving blades (though they don’t help), as the towers, at least for birds. I’ve been told for bats it’s different, and the turning blades disorient them more because of the low frequency hum of the turbine and the sonar the bat’s use. So there, you’re right – (perhaps) no bats hitting cooling towers, but I that’s why I’m careful to only argue birds. And as for the lifecycle studies, the most I’ve seen suggest that wind is much better (from a carbon standpoint) than nuclear, and mine al come from the peer-reviewed literature. Which ones are you reading?
@ Brian, hey now, don’t knock a program you know nothing about.
@ Rod (uranium mines), for Australia specifically, I was referring to the work of Galvin Mudd: G.M. Mudd, “Uranium mining in Australia: Environmental impact, radiation releases and rehabilitation,” In Protection of the Environment from Ionizing Radiation: The Development and Application of a System of Radiation Protection for the Environment (Vienna: International Atomic Energy Agency, 2003), pp. 179-189. There’s also this report that I suspect you’ll find less credible, but it does raise serious concerns: Roxby Action Collective and Friends of the Earth, Uranium Mining: How it Affects You (Sydney: Friends of the Earth, 2004).
There is nothing in Mudd’s paper that documents any negative health effects for any species. It is simply a litany of radionuclide releases from naturally occurring materials.
It makes the following scientifically unsupportable assertion:
It is well documented that radionuclide uptake and internal exposure to ionizing radiation is dangerous.
That is simply not a true statement without dose and dose rate numbers.
“As for how my work (and that of other authors) is used, I’m more complex than most because some of my work – in particular this piece, and the MIT book – is scholarship, which takes (or tries to take) a more careful, balanced view. Other work, like invited testimony, has been advocacy, where I do take a stance against particular energy projects, like the Jaitapur nuclear power plant in India, for what I believe are good reasons. So I blur the line more than most; some of it is considered “research,” some is considered “advocacy and service.””
I appreciate that this is how lawyers work. I’ve got a friend who was a university mate way back when, who dropped out and joined another university to pursue a career in law, while I continued to become an engineer. We still see each other regularly and he is one of my prime sparring partners in the ‘nuclear debate’ such as it is. I am pro-nuke, he is anti-nuke.
Why do I mention this? Because of this point about ‘balance’. As a lawyer, my friend is trained and experienced in producing arguments for or against a particular viewpoint or desired result. Truth is used in his work only as a constraint at best, but not in any way as a source of direction. In other words: one day he may get a job to argue for a particular issue, and the next day he could be asked to argue against that same issue. My friend is equally capable of doing either thing. It changes nothing in the way he approaches and completes his tasks. Arguing for a viewpoint that is true rather than false, makes no difference at all. Concerning nuclear, he is against it because he now works for an oil major. He freely admits that if he was working for a nuclear company, then he would be for nuclear, but as it is, he is against it.
Mr. Sovacool, you are also a lawyer. You are also someone who professionally is not interested in the truth, but only in what can plausibly be argued to be true in a particular situation. Let’s say you were employed by a nuclear company. I assume that you would be pro-nuke then as a good lawyer would need to be. Now, as a thought experiment, could you explain how – in your hypothetical new job at the nuclear company – you would go about discrediting your own previous work against nuclear power, assuming it was written by someone else and you got the job to write a solid counterargument? Would it be difficult or easy to do? Which line of argument would follow? Which weaknesses would you exploit? Merely as en exercise. I think this would help clear up a lot of things so we can get to a resolution.
Correction: Law professor, not a lawyer. As far as I know, Dr. Sovacool does not have a degree from any accredited law school and he has not been admitted to the bar in any jurisdiction.
@ Brian, yes, thank you, I’m not a lawyer. But, @ Joris, that doesn’t matter: the training for a PhD does teach you to see both sides of things, so one doesn’t necessarily need a JD, LLM, or law degree. As for arguing against myself, this has actually happened, not because I’m an idiot, but because there have been cases where I realized I was wrong with research I had done early on, and I later had to acknowledge this. Best example has nothing to do with nuclear; it has to do with believing that the “resource curse” existed in Southeast Asia for countries like Indonesia and Myanmar, doing a closer examination, and finding out that, nope, it doesn’t. See this http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09512741003624484.
According to Dr. Sovacool’s biography, you are correct. “He received his PhD in science and technology studies from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University in Blacksburg, Virginia”.
That biography also contains an interesting sentence that seems to me to expose the untruth of Dr. Sovacool’s claim to not be “antinuke”.
“Furthermore, he was part of a U.S. National Academies of Science team looking at how to displace the use of nuclear power in New York through the use of energy efficiency practices and distributed solar energy.”
If he truly ranks energy sources in the order that he claimed, his work would have first focused on displacing coal and then natural gas in the New York power grid before trying to displace nuclear. I also find it disturbing (but not surprising) to learn that there was a “National Academies of Science” team assigned to complete that study. It is certainly not an effort that is based on any actual science that I am aware of; at best would have been a political effort based on “controversial” power sources.
Mr Sovacool, I’m shocked that you could oppose the Jaitapur nuclear power plant in India.
In not other location in the world, can a nuclear plant have a better benefits/inconveniences ratio than a nuclear plant in India.
India is a growing country that is desperate for energy.
They have blackout almost constantly that severely disrupt the economy, The blackout that lasted for three full days made the news internationally but they also have small ones almost constantly.
Because of that, all companies needs to run backup generators at their own expense, but this is very expensive for the kind of money they have in India. And also small generators like that are very polluting just right inside the cities.
Because they need energy so much, they have built as much coal plant as they were able to, but those plants are the most polluting in the world. Whilst the Chinese plants received much criticism, they are actually significantly better both for pollutants emissions and efficiency than the Indian ones. And even with complete disregard for these pollution concerns, India hardly produces enough coal for it’s current plants so that mines send it with stones to appear to have reached to required volume (see http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2013-04-03/news/38248567_1_coal-india-ltd-gross-calorific-value-domestic-coal )
Opposite to a coal plant, you can not build a poorly performing, highly polluting nuclear plant, the Russian VVER might not be the very best available today but they still actually have security enhancements over most of the reactors of the 80’s currently running in large numbers in the US and in France, and which have been vetted as safe by the local security agencies.
There’s no place where it’s as obvious as India that opposing nuclear means more poverty, more deadly air pollution, therefore ultimately more deaths.
We could note that Sovacool himself published a comment on his study explaining how it demonstrate wind is better for bird than fossil, and slightly better than nuclear :
We could also remark that Sovacool published a further study in june 2012 (I didn’t read the content yet) that unambiguously states :
“This article highlights that nuclear power and fossil-fuelled power systems have a host of environmental and wildlife costs as well, particularly for birds. Therefore, […] the wider use of wind energy can save wildlife and birds as it displaces these more harmful sources of electricity”
One major issue I have with the Sovacool study, and also with your comment actually, is that it makes no distinction in the *type* of bird killed.
I have read the original “domestic cats kill an awful lot of birds” study by Dr Thomas, so can confidently state it does not go into the finer points of identifying if the kind of catch actually has an impact.
However as this page from RPSB identifies http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/gardening/unwantedvisitors/cats/birddeclines.aspx “Are cats causing bird declines?” if the birds the cats manage to catch are mostly the weak and sickly ones, it may actually change very little to the global survival rate (or even have some positive influence by also limiting the competition on food sources to the strongest individuals who have the highest probability of contributing to the species survival).
The RPSB concludes that most of the species cats are most likely to encounter and catch actually have an increasing population currently, and the ones that are most endangered are rarely encountering cats.
Meanwhile some (and I’m not saying all) wind farms are clearly identified as impacting specific endangered bird of preys, that have few or no predators and a low reproduction rate, so that each individual kill has a significant impact. With a species has a life span of several decade, a single individual less counts, especially if the turbines kill adult specimens in the middle of their reproductive life.
This of course is compounded by the fact detailed analysis clearly show wind farm do not and can not, except in exceptional situations where a very large hydraulic capacity is also available, really displace other form of electricity generation in the meaning of getting any individual unit shut down. They can just lower the profitability margin of coal and nuclear power, pushing for their replacement by gas, but as the German case very clearly demonstrates, the opposite may also happen, wind making gas unprofitable and triggering instead it’s replacement by coal.
Actually above in his guest post, Mr Sovacool claims he is critical of the badly placed wind farms I referred. As a proof, he provides a link to a study that is behind a paywall and which abstract states : “Based on an analysis comparing the 580 MW Altamont Pass wind farm in California and the 22 MW Sawtooth wind farm in Idaho with natural gas-fired generation, this article finds that wind energy provides significant and quantifiable human health, wildlife, and climate change benefits not normally considered by energy planners and utility operators”
This doesn’t look like much of criticism of the specific impact the Altamont Pass wind farm has on the golden eagles population (2300 have been estimated to have been killed in it’s 23 first years of operation). I do find strange to reference as a critic of Altamont a study that most would interpret as an unconditional approval of it, except if they pay for the paper, read it fully, and ferret out the text Socacool implies is there and say it’s less good than the Sawtooth wind farm.
Additionally, as much as I know, industry results are not showing the large and reliable improved efficiency Mr Sovacool hopes for until 2030. The most reliable recently used way to increase the load factor has been to increase the diameter of turbine blades whilst keeping the same capacity of the turbine. However, whilst this allows to get a higher load ratio from each individual turbine, the distance required between turbine is fixed by the size of the blades, as well as the surface they cover.
Whilst having a better load factor, they will extract less of the wind power than could theoretically be possible with a more powerful turbine.
This enhances the economy of the turbine, as the blades and tower are much cheaper than the turbine, but this is not likely to increase the power extracted per unit of surface, and to lower the risk for birds with regard to each MWh produced.
I don’t believe that the bird kills are really the largest problem with wind turbines.
But the data got me convinced some of the farm have a large effect on the population of very fragile prey birds like the golden eagles, bald Eagle, griffon vulture, whooping crane, and some other. And studies like the Sovacool one get used as a reason to do nothing by a wind industry that is at risk of some significant financial losses if those risks are acknowledged and it is asked to shut down some of those farms, or renounce promising spots where the risks are too high.
jmdesp, you’re absolutely right: we’re not making distinctions about the types of birds, and that does matter. If you scroll to the middle of the JIES study, you can see these three paragraphs, which also admit other issues you didn’t even raise:
At least three meaningful limitations concerning these estimates deserve to be mentioned. First, none of them account for avian species diversity. That is, they assume that “a bird is a bird is a bird.” Biological differences between species is not accounted for, essentially meaning a dead raptor has the same significance as a dead sparrow or starling, even though the former is larger, longer-lived, and higher up the trophic level.
Second, for simplicity, the estimates apply to birds but not to bats—excluded in part because bats are mammals (Sovacool 2010), and also because the author was unaware of any reliable studies that looked specifically at the impact of coal, natural gas, oil, and nuclear power facilities on bats. Wind turbines do, however, have bat related mortalities (Willis et al. 2010; Arnett et al. 2008; Kunz et al. 2007), and the author wholeheartedly encourages research comparing bat fatalities across various energy sources. Indeed, evidence from Barclay et al. (2007) compiled from 21 separate wind energy sites suggests that bat deaths may be as high as 1.46 per GWh.
Third, calculating the relationship between avian fatalities and climate change is admittedly simplistic. The role of climate change on bird extinctions, although indeed worrying, is not conclusive and as such should be approached with extreme caution. Studies looking at the expansion and contraction of ranges, shifts in migratory patterns, cumulative effects with other environmental threats, and predictions of “winners” and “losers” are only recently surfacing (See Møller et al. 2004; Crick 2004; Schwartz et al. 2006; Jetz et al. 2007; Sekercioglu et al. 2008; Gilman et al. 2010 for a sample). Moreover, the author has presumed that Thomas et al.’s (2004) estimate of bird species extinctions can be extrapolated to the number of individuals that will perish, and that those deaths will occur at a constant rate year-to-year. Instead, the avian species most affected by climate change might be those with the smallest populations, and rates of decrease will probably vary, with most deaths occurring closer to 2050. The author is unaware of any reliable technique for how to account for these complexities within existing models.
Now, as for writing shorter op-ed pieces, you’re right there too: occasionally Project Syndicate or Scitizen will invite me to write a piece, and then, it’s done in an entirely different style. But I always try to provide a link to the original study so readers can see the actual data.
@ Rod, yes, I was indeed part of the National Academies study looking at how to displace Indian Point with energy efficiency. It was good science, and my two coauthors were Marilyn Brown (a Nobel Laureate) and Dan Arvisu, the actual head of NREL. We didn’t set out to bash nuclear, we just found that one could cost-effectively use solar PV and energy efficiency/DSM to offset the 2 GW of power needed. There’s no bias in that study, trust me – the National Academies stuff (as you may know) is almost always very, very good, on whatever topic they look at.
The birdslicing conundrum of windfarms is a fairly moot point. Yes windfarms kills a lot of birds/bats/flying insects, nuke plants kill the occasional bird/duck but not so many as to warrant any extraordinary measures.
The fact that BS (very aptly picked initials) just provides further references to publications that come up with the same numbers as he does instead of actually defending his (shoddy in the extreme) method of deriving those numbers, is rather telling.
BS is BS even if BS want it to be anything else but BS…
PS. Benjamin, your morals and ethics are reprehensible, but I guess they are better than the “science” you produce. DS.
Matte, did you even read the second half of my post? Before you call my study with McCubbin “shoddy in the extreme,” don’t you think you should read it first? It may be easier to judge me without actually reading my work, but it’s probably not very accurate.
My question is whether he jumped on any anti-nukes for touting his study as “proof” that nuke=bad.
Somewhat – in my nuclear study on greenhouse gas emissions (another one that has been criticized by folks including Rod) the last paragraph attacks both nuclear vendors and environmental groups for exaggerating emissions either way (too low, too high) when the average is more, well, in the middle. And I have just started engaging people on Wikipedia to try and correct distortions of my research, which have gone both ways.
The Wikipedia entry for “Life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions of energy sources” now includes some well deserved criticism of the methodology that you used.
However even if we take your numbers at face value, how can you possibly suggest that the nuclear figure is “in the middle”.
The “average” for nuclear emissions, according to you, is 66g/kWh.
Coal (your highest) is 1050g/kWh
Wind (your lowest) is 9g/kWh
How is 66g in the “middle”?
Clearly even following your analysis (which is skewed upwards, by multiple references to van Leeuwen’s high figures) it is clear that nuclear is at the low-carbon end of the range of energy technologies.
>I have just started engaging people on Wikipedia to try and correct distortions of my research, which have gone both ways.
Out of interest, in what way has your research been distorted in favour of nuclear power?
What a weird discussion. I understand the author’s desire to set the record straight vis-a-vis his initial study that came under attack here. But so what? Out side of endangered species, there are 300 million birds in the United States. As many birds as people. A few 10s of thousands of dead ones are replaced.
I want to note that on various lists, it was nuclear advocates who argued that using bird kills as bullet item against wind turbines was simply silly, at least at the level of wind penetration that exists today and for the immediate future. Again, *I do not care*.
Secondly…the overwhelming majority of smoke stacks are NOT from thermal generating stations. They are from the thousands of other factories that have stacks of varying height and girth. Why single out smoke stacks from coal, gas and nuclear with regards to bird kills when it is simply not an issue? If birds are flying “into cooling towers” (Really? Seriously?) the they are flying to office buildings, tree trunks and the broad side of a barn.
@ David, you’d perhaps be amazed at how many environmentalists or even ordinary people love and cherish birds. I do not count myself as an avian enthusiast or bird watcher (I like dogs much more), but I would bet that the National Audubon Society has far more serious members than any pro-nuclear group. Heck, I haven’t checked, but they may have more people than even the entire U.S. Department of Energy … People love birds.
Heck…starling deaths would be a good thing. Golden eagle and endangered bat species, not a good thing.
Dogs are domesticated animals. Some more thoughts on that:
I think this boils down to a few key factors…
1. Regardless of wind turbines effects on birds the fact that they are an intermittent generator and difficult to scale usually means that natural gas or coal will be used to generate the back up power needed to ensure a stable grid and fossil fuels have the largest detrimental effect on (wild) life of all kinds.
2. Cooling systems at nuclear power plants can take different forms from tall parabolic natural draft (TMI type) cooling towers to much smaller mechanical draft cooling towers (like vermont yankee) or even NO* cooling towers at all (Seabrook, Diablo Canyon, San Onofre (rip), etc…) instead using a cooling water loop from the ocean or other large body of water as the ultimate heat sink.
*Yes, these plants do usually have back up (defense in depth) mechanical draft cooling towers to provide a second U.H.S. in the event an earth quake takes out the piping to the ocean or the pump houses are disabled but they are typically never used except for surveilance purposes.
3. More nuclear generation will mean less fossil generation which would have far less environmental impacts overall.
There’s a lot of words here and I am short of time.
As far as I can tell, Sovocal compares bird mortality from the entire nuclear energy life cycle to bird mortality from in-place wind turbines. To me, it sounds like he has something to prove, and he’s proving it, in his own cherry-picking way.
Where’s the bird mortality from coal mining and ash ponds and where’s the bird mortality from mud ponds at drill sites and where’s the bird mortality from toxic effluent from the people making the complex magnets in the wind turbines and as a matter of fact, where’s the bird mortality from mining the rare-earths needed for solar and wind?
Has he got data on the other energy cycles and bird mortality? I think not. If he does, let him cite it.
Here’s my list:
Coal mining run-off
Coal ash ponds
Mud ponds at drill sites
Mining rare earths
Making magnets for wind turbines
Making solar panels.
I look forward to his response on bird mortality for all the above. With references.
If he has this in one or two of his papers, please link to those exact papers. I have no time to review a plethora of links, most of which won’t answer my question.
@ Meredith, take the time to read the 2009 study, which is available online for free with the links Paul provided. You ask “Where’s the bird mortality from coal mining and ash ponds and where’s the bird mortality from mud ponds at drill sites and where’s the bird mortality from toxic effluent from the people making the complex magnets in the wind turbines and as a matter of fact, ….” Well, they are actually in the study!
Oops, let me clarify – the coal mining, ash ponds, acid rain, etc. are in the study. Not the magnets stuff because I haven’t seen any reliable data on that …
Pretty much everything in a wind farm came from a mine of one kind or another, the concrete, all metals etc etc.
Rare earths are not “needed” for wind generation. Some of the largest turbines in the world use wound field rotors. One company builds them exclusively, and it is the most visible turbine in Europe. Permanent magnets are a convenience, allowing for a lighter turbine, but they are not a necessity.
I can say the same thing about enriched uranium, but nuclear lifecycle emissions studies – especially slanted ones like those derived from Storm-Smith – insist on using old data from the most energy inefficient methods of uranium enrichment.
As I have said on several occasions; we all have motives and we all choose both our words and the subjects we decide to discuss. It is reasonable to assert that all information has at least a little slant or point of view.
It should be obvious to everyone here that you believe to the core of your being that industrial wind is worth the effort being invested in it. I hope people understand that I love the wind and the sun, but think they are both fundamentally flawed power sources for a modern economy. ALL of the public money being spent to try to change those fundamentals is wasted. I couldn’t care less if private people wanted to spend their own money, but that isn’t what is happening.
Permanent magnet generators are not just a convenience; they are a technological innovation that reduces the cost of building and operating wind turbines – as long as only some of the costs of mining the materials are included.
@EL, actually, I think there are some rare earths used in wind and solar, and also batteries and newer designs for nuclear reactors. Check this fascinating 2011 report out: http://energy.gov/pi/office-policy-and-international-affairs/initiatives/department-energy-s-critical-materials.
Thanks for the link to the 2011 report.
It seems to highlight the claim I was making that the use of permanent magnets in wind turbine generators is a design choice (and not the only one available to wind manufacturers).
In fact, one developer has decided to build their wind turbine models (all of them) without the use of rare earths (neodymium) in permanent magnets. Enercon has 7.9% of the world market (5th largest), 26.1% in Europe, and “the lion’s share of the German market” (here). Their market share has been increasing and not shrinking (despite being blocked from the US market for much of their history due to patent dispute over direct drive models, which they helped to pioneer). Saying neodymium is a given in the industry seems to be defied by their current and expanding market position and success in the industry.
But Enercon does very little offshore turbines, and most manufacturers have gone back to permanent magnets for offshore turbines, as maintenance is a large part of their cost, and permanent magnets allow to lower it.
Agreed. I never said they were a major player offshore. This doesn’t mean they aren’t likely to participate in this market in the future (it doesn’t appear to be a part of their marketing strategy for now).
For offshore applications, superconducting electromagnets may prove to be a better approach over time. Weight is significantly improved for the cost in a larger turbine (in 8 to 10 MW range), and has the added benefit of reducing the need for REEs.
Okay. So I should have said: “used in the majority of wind turbines.” I stand corrected.
However. Are you claiming that there’s not much of an industry using rare earths for wind turbines, or are you just saying that my word “needs”(for all wind turbines) should have been “usually” (used in most turbines)?
Lighter is just a “convenience,” huh? Compared to wound rotors, magnets are not smaller, lighter, more cost-effective, more efficient or some other silly reason that most wind turbines use magnets.
“Convenient” is an odd word to describe engineering decision making. It’s a put-down word (they are just doing that because it is convenient.) It is not an engineering word, in my opinion.
I stand corrected, the direct drive generator with wound field rotors is heavier. It appears current lower costs (with low cost rare earths from China) is the main driver of the engineering choice (and any associated trade-offs … environmental being the major one).
Enercon claims their commitment to the wound field generators is dictated by both environmental and technical advantages (primarily having to do with controllability).
Thank you for your reply. I appreciate the information and the clarification. Most wind turbines use magnets. Magnets as “convenient” wasn’t cutting it for me. In contrast, this discussion of trade-offs has been interesting.
I would just like to point out one glaring piece of misinformation that still has not been resolved:
The Crystal River Energy Complex is comprised of five power plants: 4 coal units (Units 1, 2, 4, 5) and 1 nuclear unit (Unit 3, to be decommissioned). Units 4 & 5 (coal) are the ONLY units to use cooling towers. Units 1, 2, & 3 only use intake/discharge canals for cooling water. The cooling towers are NOT associated with the nuclear plant.
I know this is mind-boggling for some, even local residents share the same misconception. But I just hope my comment clarifies this one bit of information that seems to be lacking actual facts.
No, actually Sovacool admitted above he got it wrong for Crystal River and should correct his numbers about it.
BTW and until I forget to mention it, whilst trying to locate a document that would definitively confirm there was no kill from Davis-Besse after the corrective action mentioned by Donald Kosloff, former NRC inspector of D-B, I found out that avoiding bird kill is part of the Generic Environmental Impact Statement for all reactors (“126.96.36.199 Bird Collisions with Cooling Towers”), and that Davis-Besse is *the* case used as reference about it.
I found out that the risk for birds was an initial concern identified during the construction and operating licensing stages of that plant, because of it’s proximity with a large marsh complex that’s an important refuge for migrating birds.
This left me with the very strong feeling that Davis-Besse is the only nuclear plant in the US that has actually been proven, before an effective counter-measure was found, to cause significant bird kills, and that the procedure used by the NRC would guarantee the problem should be identified for any other potentially affected plant.
For example, in this document about the Oyster Creek plant http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0607/ML060720129.pdf , the fact it’s near an important migratory pathway was used as a ground against considering a cooling tower as an alternative for it’s cooling.
Ideally the NRC would be by far in the best position to publish a report of what the estimate of the impact of nuclear plant, and their cooling towers, on bird is.
Although stated that he knew his information was “sketchy,” some statements made would incline an uninformed reader to think that the cooling towers at Crystal River were associated with the nuclear plant, which is still misinformation. I was making a point of clarification.
On the other point you make, I definitely agree that the NRC would be a good starting place to find information for any environmental impact nuclear plants make. Often, impacts on endangered species, sea/aquatic life, etc. by a nuclear plant are reported to the NRC, and the public can access these reports through the NRC website.
The main cause of species loss has to be Habitat loss from the ever increasing footprint of humanity. We need to learn to do “more with less“, which indicates power densities greater than the standard fossil fuel methods are required. Pretty clearly, unreliable / quasi-renewables, are a way of doing “less with more“, needing even greater infrastructure per reliable joule, which is absolutely a move backwards.
Not necessarily, John – there are good energy payback ratio studies from folks like Luc Gagnon, and they find that it’s actually hydro and wind that have the best ratio – doing “the most” with less. Nuclear is in the middle. It’s oil, gas, and coal at the bottom. See this http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CCoQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Ftc4.iec.ch%2FFactSheetPayback.pdf&ei=w8TgUZ6UG7ij4AP8iYCYDQ&usg=AFQjCNHyxs8FJYgCkaRhd44ZFmzL9pLfJQ&sig2=cTcoQZTJDx4HjeGIHjFvCw.
Actually, there are better energy-returned-on-energy-invested studies out there. Here is a new one. I recommend studying it, because it blows some common mythology out of the water. The following is a review of it.
Excellent find. Where is part I? I looked all over the place, but can’t find a link to Part I.
I can’t find it either.
My feeling about renewable energy are complicated, or perhaps more accurately my feeling about solar pv and wind are complicated (renewable energy is too poorly defined in my opinion because eventually even that giant unshielded nuclear reactor in the sky will burn its self out). I don’t really thing solar or wind power is useless, but at the same time it isn’t the white knight that some people make it out to be (i.e. I don’t think that those two things by themselves will save this highly populated technology reliant world). From this perspective pointing out the flaws of solar pv and wind makes a lot of sense (even though I don’t think they are completely useless) because as long as people think that those two things are th white knight coming to save us all they wont move forward with real solutions.
That said, bird kills don’t really factor into my thinking very much, but since it’s been brought up I might as well give my two cents on it. Intuitively I can’t help think that giant spinning blades is a significant hazard for birds, but since intuition isn’t really worth much in this kind of discussion I’ll try and make a few points more objectively.
Wind power has poor power density. Maybe a lot lower than people have previous estimates.
“Keith’s research has shown that the generating capacity of very large wind power installations (larger than 100 square kilometers) may peak at between 0.5 and 1 watts per square meter.”
That means that the danger too birds will be spread out over a larger area which I think is a factor worth considering.
Another thing worth considering. You described the hight of cooling towers and their lighting as reasons why they are hazardous to birds. Wind turbines are also tall (up to 442 feet), and they require lighting as well.
In 2011 there where More than 39 ,000 utility scale wind turbines installed in the U.S., and they produced around 3% of the electricity generated. In that same year there where 104 nuclear power plants and they produced around 19% of the electricity generated. From this some simple math tells us that one nuclear reactor is worth around 2,400 utility scale wind turbines (Someone please correct me if I’m making a mistake here). 2,400 tall wind turbines with spinning blades and lights to protect aircraft. Something worth considering I think.
Lastly, every study of the type you carried out has too set boundaries, and those boundaries allow for a certain amount of bias to creep in. 2,400 utility scale wind turbines is a lot of material (a lot more than a nuclear power plant at least). That material needs to be mined, processed and moved around; all of which has the potential for bird losses. Also, wind power requires additional transmission lines which is probably something that should be taken into account as well.
In conclusion I think the biggest difference in our thinking is this. You believe first in energy efficiency, then with renewables, then nuclear, moving up (to lower preferences) to natural gas, oil, and coal. I believe first in nuclear, then energy efficiency, then renewables, moving up (to lower preferences) to natural gas, oil, and coal (P.S. sorry for borrowing your words without quotation marks, but it seemed like the easiest way show what I think is the difference between our point of views).
EZ, your points about materials are good ones – yes, I believe that wind and solar do need more material inputs per unit of energy produced, though I’m not sure about rare earth minerals. Nuclear units need some pretty special materials, too, like zirconium alloy. Notice, too, that while we disagree about the precise ordering, nuclear, efficiency, and renewables are all in the first “half” of our decision calculus. We’re both against the latter stuff (gas, oil, coal).
Ok, leaving aside rare earth metals for now lets talk about copper. The open pit mine referenced was actually a copper mine so this seems appropriate. Copper comprises 35 percent of the wind turbine’s generator, 14 percent of the Nacelle as a whole and around 4 to 6 percent of the turbine’s weight as a whole. Now remember that in 2011 on average one nuclear power plant produced as much electricity as around 2,400 utility scale wind turbines. This ratio is of course subject to changes in technology and weather patterns , but I think it’s safe to say that wind power needs more copper than nuclear. Also, I think it’s important to remember that as the best copper ore deposits are used up people will be forced to move to lower grade ore which means greater environmental impacts for the same amount of material.
Ultimately I think that the low power density, and the intermittency problems with wind and solar pv means that the part they can play in getting us off fossil fuels in minimal. I’ve examine and considered the proposed solutions for these problems (for example smart grids, demand side management and energy storage) and I remain unconvinced. A lot of people seem to believe that a combination of both improvising technology and social economic changes will bring about the world they desire, but after examining the relevant facts in detail the conclusion I’ve reached is that the using nuclear power for the majority of our energy needs is both needed and desirable.
EZ, you’re right about copper – there would be externalities associated with wind energy from any associated copper production. But I believe nuclear power needs copper as well. Any sense for how much, compared to wind turbines? Just curious.
Because wind farms tend to be more remotely located, one could hypothesize that they consume more copper in the form of power lines than nuclear power, which could be used to replace coal power plants at existing sites, requiring no new power lines.
“…yes, I believe that wind and solar do need more material inputs per unit of energy produced…”
Then how do you conclude that mining for materials for nuclear energy would be worse than for wind farms?
If the federal government prosecutes an oil company that lets eagles or waterfowl drown in oily waste pits, or if the government fines an electric utility when another eagle gets electrocuted on a high voltage transmission tower, then I think that same government should also prosecute wind farm operators who let birds and bats get killed by their power generators. The law should be applied evenly, but it isn’t.
From the link:
But the administration has never fined or prosecuted a wind-energy company, even those that flout the law repeatedly. Instead, the government is shielding the industry from liability and helping keep the scope of the deaths secret.
So … uh … the point of this rebuttal is to defend a paper against attacks that it’s a piece of crap by pointing out that it’s a piece of crap?
Wow! I guess I’ve now seen everything!
Please tell me this is a joke, right? If not, then all I can conclude is that, if one’s job is to write crappy papers with poor sources and assumptions, then one has a lot of spare time on one’s hands to write nonsense like this defending these papers on Internet blogs. I wonder how well that pays.
Here’s an important tip for weeding out the rubbish, folks. If an author, in defending his paper, has to rely on, or even mention, that it “passed peer-review,” then it must not have been much of a paper to begin with. For example, the author writes:
Er … Excuse me, Dr. Sovacool, but shouldn’t the reviewers have caught that? It’s only their job, after all. Nobody gave Paul or Rod the responsibility of double-checking this.
So much for the value of “peer-review.”
It’s hard to believe, but reading this rebuttal actually reinforces many of the original criticisms made by Lorenzini. If one has misapplied numbers, it doesn’t matter whether one has been honest about where the numbers came from — the numbers still have been misapplied. Thus, if one uses statistics from one type of mine to make estimates about another type of mine, it doesn’t matter whether you correctly labeled the mines in the fine print. All that matters is whether this is appropriate, which is not at all clear. The results are likely worthless, unless a good argument can be made otherwise.
Since even the author admits that his papers are filled with “preliminary,” sketchy data leading to even more dubious results, one has to ask: what’s the point? Stepping back, however, it’s impossible not to notice that this incredibly sloppy, “preliminary” reference has already managed to make it into Wikipedia. And so, Wikipedia visitors, who are, in general, ill-equipped to judge these sources based on their own merits, naively accept them as being completely true. And this, I believe, was the whole point of this exercise from the beginning.
Huh? So by the same token we should see your contributions to the site as an indication of the sub-quality of the discussion, wasteful use of your time, and low personal income and poor financial alternatives?
I was not aware you had such a low opinion of the site and the quality of the discussion here (and the types of people who participate). Thank you very much for making this (and your distain for everyone else on the site) so abundantly clear.
No, EL. Of course not. I have a day job. Although, apparently, explaining how crappy … sorry … “preliminary” his papers are is part of Dr. Sovacool’s job.
Thanks to Bill Rodgers’s comment, now I understand. He just wants to sell a book. I can’t believe I missed that. It’s not a joke, it’s a commercial.
Here’s my question: if Ben really wants to keep things totally “professional,” is he paying Rod some sort of fee for allowing him to advertise his book? That’s what professional authors and booksellers do.
Though I understand and sometimes share your frustration with people who are adamantly opposed to nuclear energy, it is past time for me to remind you that my goal at Atomic Insights is to provide a place for honest disagreement and discussion that does not turn disagreeable.
I know you are a highly educated scientist/engineer who has earned a PhD and holds down a responsible job, but please understand that many of the people who are engaged in this discussion can also claim to be highly educated and have the right to put Dr. in front of their name or PhD behind it. As the site owner and moderator, I get to know some things about people, even those who choose to remain anonymous or known by just first name or initials.
EL, for example, is one of those highly educated people who could honestly call himself “Dr. EL”.
Please stop lowering the level of conversation. Pretend that you are in a university setting and engaged in discussion with colleagues from around the campus, not all of whom are engineers, but most of whom have valuable reservoirs of knowledge in a wide variety of fields of endeavor.
@ Brian Mays, trust me, most academics don’t write books for money – we make pennies on every copy, and most academic books (get this) sell only 100 to 1,000 copies. The “value” of the time I have taken blogging on Atomic Insights is also worth far more (in terms of my hourly salary) than I would get by selling 10 books. I engaged this post because it’s part of what professors are supposed to do, reach out to the public. Do I like everything that you say? Of course not. But as a professor, part of the job description is engaging people like you, even if I don’t like your opinions. As for Bill’s comments, see below, where I will respond to them.
Wind turbines / wind power kills birds and bats by the fast motion of the blades. In this respect, wind power is unique. No other power source, other than an airplane jet or propeller (not a power source though), kills birds while it functioning as it was designed.
A fair number of birds are killed by airplanes, some by buildings due to window reflections, some by cats or other predators, but an alarming number of predator & scavenger bird species – hawks, falcons, eagles, condors, buzzards – are killed by wind power. These turbines are often sited in locations where these types of birds like to nest or hunt – ridge-lines, the plains, and even coast lines.
One need look no further than one of the worst offending wind farms, Altamont Pass, where up to 5 thousand dead raptors are discovered each year some distance or directly under the turbines. These wind farms have further violated the spirit and intent of environmental law by the fact that they are never charged or fined for these killings. If I was to go out and shoot certain eagle species and law enforcement was aware of my actions, I could fully expect to be arrested, tried, fined and possibly jailed. This discrepancy of adherence to the spirit of environmental law is outrageous.
I am not so concerned about the occasional robin that gets snared by some cat. I’m concerned about the great birds which have a delicate reproduction cycle. If the mother bird is killed by a wind turbine, her chicks die as well. If we have enough of these turbines at the level suggested by some, I’m sure we can expect extinction of several raptor species as population crashes can jeopardize them very quickly. We’ve seen many great bird species perish within a few decades in the past 100-150 years.
All this wanton killing of birds is done in the name of the environment and for what amounts to a piddly amount of power that has dubious efficacy of abstaining any CO2 from the atmosphere. People who defend wind power out to be ashamed of themselves. They do nothing more than endorse the slicing slaughter of our most precious birds (and bats too).
Jason, just a short comment that I appreciate this perspective, read above for a few comments for people who simply “don’t care” about birds, one way or the other. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, just pointing out that people here hold some very different views on the matter.
I suspect that people like Sovacool want to focus on marginally important issues, in order to divert the attention from the real whoppers, such as how do we power a future society without ruining the planet and without great increases in the cost of energy and resulting energy impoverishment. So they focus on bird kills, a niche subject, rather than on how unreliable and low power density wind is and how expensive and impractical energy storage is.
My further observation is that these people, most are really just anti-nuclear advocates playing at being real researchers, further conflate and confuse the issue by trying to appear balanced and factual, when in fact they are neither. Now it appears another distortion technique is witnessed: criticise methodology rather than doing proper research.
Look for these things in the discussions: the focus on sideshows rather than the main course; internal contradictions in reasoning; explicit mention of trying to be balanced and factual (researchers that are these things are almost never explicit about it); cherry picking data; the “magic playing field”; criticising others without own research to further the debate; these are the hallmarks of the anti-nuclear camp.
Cyril – Well, notice that Sovacool was careful to include a bit about how he is not “simply ‘pro’ or ‘anti'” nuclear.
It reads almost as if it were part of an interview for a job at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Hey, maybe he’s looking to relocate from Vermont to D.C. 😉
What amuses me in this back and forth over bird deaths is how many of Sovocool’s numbers rely on dead geese. Why geese?
I don’t know whether Rod reads the Op-Eds in his local paper or watches the local TV news, but currently there is a bit of a controversy these days in our locality about a home-owner’s association’s decision to round up and slaughter a rather large number of geese that have become a real problem in their neighborhood. The darned birds are a nuisance and a significant public health concern. They crap all over everything.
Besides, it’s not as if geese are endangered. Humans slaughter geese all of the time — it’s how fois gras is made.
Given the somewhat creative methodologies that Sovacool has been known to employ, I’m surprised he didn’t try to calculate the amount of fois gras consumed by French nuclear workers and include these “bird kills” in with the rest as part of the cost of keeping nuclear power going.
Oh drat! I think that I might have given Sovacool an idea for his next paper.
I see … I’m afraid we have to deduce from this that the recent replacement of the French environment&energy minister by a fois gras defender, elected from the main fois gras producing area in France, was actually nothing but as a mischievous pro-nuclear maneuver !
I’m aware of the local geese controversy and amused by the whole idea that killing the geese that have been attracted to a manmade lake is going to do a thing about the long term population of geese around that lake. I’m no expert, but I think that geese are migratory birds that tend to stop in groups to feed and rest. They LIKE lakes and corn fields; they also like mowed pastures or factory backyards that look like pastures (we have quite number stopping in the Linchpin Commercial Park).
The HOA is off base, but you’re right, geese are not terribly endangered.
@ Brian Mays and Rod, I don’t know nearly enough about biology, but perhaps because Geese are waterfowls, and “higher” in the food chain because they are so big, meaning they accumulate more toxins, they are more susceptible to environmental damage. In that way they could be “bellwethers” for other species. As for the Union of Concerned Scientists or even the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, it’s a fallacy to presume that because you don’t like them they can’t, or don’t, still do good work. The studies I have seen from them rival the quality and analysis from anything put out by the NEI, NEA, or IAEA, in my opinion.
One suspects that Dr. Sovacool is a little raw around the edges from the wonderful way that Jim Hansen eviscerated him in Environmental Science and Technology recently.
It was delicious: Hansen pointed out that among other things, Sovacool confused the impact of a nuclear power plant with a nuclear war.
Environ. Sci. Technol., 2013, 47 (12), pp 6718–6719
I read this journal all the time, and I can’t recall another time that a response to a commentary on a paper was quite so savage, although “politely” so. Hansen, it would seem had little patience with his selective attention, noting that Sovacool assigned the environmental impact of fossil fuel plants to nuclear power based on the time it takes a nuclear plant to be built during which fossil fuel plants operate
It’s funny that he didn’t make the same assignation to the expensive and failed “renewables” industry, which despite 50 years of cheering, didn’t manage shut a single gas or coal plant on the face of the planet.
Maybe now Sovacool is confusing coal smokestacks, which are the same as nuclear cooling towers apparently, with the bird flu which kills ducks in China. China is building new nuclear power plants, and therefore nuclear power causes bird flu. Am I right?
However, China also mines lanthanides for wind farms – making an awful mess of it too while doing so – so lanthanide mining must be good for ducks, um…um…um…I think.
@NNadir, whoa now, slow down there. I’m guessing you didn’t even read my commentary in ES&T. If you did, you would have known that firstly, it wasn’t written by just me, but a team of academics from places like Princeton and Stanford, including a physicist. Secondly, you’d know that we don’t confuse nuclear war with nuclear power, only that one of our references (not even “me,” but one of our citations) includes the risk of war as an “opportunity cost” to nuclear power, given the situation in places like Iran and North Korea, a defensible view. I’m also not sure of this statement “despite 50 years of cheering, [the renewables industry] didn’t manage shut a single gas or coal plant on the face of the planet.” Huh? Where in the world did you get that idea? Big hydro is already as large a source of global electricity as nuclear, and that’s just one example of where renewables are supply GWs of electricity, to say nothing of wind, solar, geothermal, etc. I realize it’s easy to get caught up in emotion, I guess, when you write, but read the final part of my post above. High standards cut both ways, and check the facts before you post.
@Benjamin K Sovacool
Big hydro is already as large a source of global electricity as nuclear, and that’s just one example of where renewables are supply GWs of electricity, to say nothing of wind, solar, geothermal, etc.
One of the problems I have with the term “renewable” energy is that its definition seems to shift in ways that seem convenient for debate rather than based on any objective standard. For example, Amory Lovins, generally does not include large hydro in his definition of “renewable”. The Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) that have been passed in many states also exclude that well-proven, economical, and reasonably reliable source of power. (I say “reasonably” reliable, because droughts have occasionally threatened hydro resources and required huge sacrifices in places like Brazil and Egypt.)
In many ways, nuclear fission energy using fast breeder reactors should qualify. After all, the Energy Information Agency classifies “municipal solid waste” as a renewable energy source. If that is true, why wouldn’t a reactor that produced heat energy from materials that would otherwise be called “nuclear waste” qualify as renewable. However, the mere suggestion of making that logical connection was enough to cause the president of the American Council on Nuclear Energy to have a public “fit” a few years ago at a renewable energy conference.
NNadir’s point was that wind and solar might reduce coal or gas consumption, but they do not allow electric utility companies to actually close down coal or gas plants because they are needed at night and during still periods that might last for several days and be spread over many thousands of square miles.
Geothermal remains a very marginal and localized source of power requiring a rare combination of geologic features in order to make it reliable and reasonably economic. There was a lot of excitement about “hot rock” geothermal a couple of years back, but many attempts to economically drill deep holes and run water and steam pipe have fizzled as the cost per unit of energy produced became apparent.
For all of those reasons, I generally like to replace the term “renewables” with “unreliables” to more accurately describe what most advocates are really promoting. They don’t like hydro or biomass; they do like sources that are inherently unreliable and require massive infrastructure that is often idle.
@ Rod, you’re right that the definition of “renewables” can shift depending on the person or the debate. I can only say that I try to use it myself consistently – I certainly count “big hydro” as renewable along with the other major “four” of wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass/waste to energy. The definition of “nuclear” and “clean” energy is subject to the same types of complexities. As just a few examples off the top of my head, consider the current debate over how to define an SMR, or precisely what reactors are “Gen IV” compared to “Gen III+” or just “Gen III.”
But to your point: in the late 1990s I would have agreed with you that wind and solar aren’t really displacing baseload, but the past decade that has started to change. I don’t have the precise numbers in front of me, but I recall something like Germany’s 20 GW of solar enabling them to close down and retire 5 coal-fired power plants. You have nuclear shutdowns in California now being (purportedly) offset by solar (if you trust the numbers from Paul Gipe) and countries like Germany and Denmark planning on using a mix of renewables to displace future coal, nuclear, and even gas units. And then you have, as you pointed out, the massive potential for biomass (landfill gas capture, waste to energy, biomass fired cogeneration) and geothermal which has only begun to be tapped. All of these sources can both enable utilities to retire older fossil fueled capacity, and to offset the need to build new facilities.
Like I said, I’m a regular reader of Environmental Science and Technology and in fact read the literature regularly.
It’s true that I assign far more credibility to Jim Hansen, than the rote stuff out of nuclear opponents, including garbage about nuclear war being a “defensible” criticism of nuclear power. I note that anyone with even a remote familiarity with history would be able to define the fact that the first nuclear weapon ever used in war was made ultimately from uranium ores, and not a nuclear power plant. I also note that the only nuclear war ever observed started, at least from the US perspective, as an oil war, since the attack on Pearl Harbor was designed to protect the Japanese flank for their drive on the (now) Indonesian oil fields.
When was the last time that you or any other anti-nuke called for the phase out of oil because of its diversion to war purposes? How many people have died in oil wars since 1940? Do you even care?
3.3 million people die each year from air pollution each year according to the World Health Organization. How would the total number of deaths from air pollution compare to the total numbers of deaths since 1945 from the nuclear war you and your paranoid pals continuously evoke? Why does your “what if” imagination outweigh the 33 million who died in the last ten years from air pollution?
If you would like to identify a single gas, coal or diesel plant shut – now get this, I’m talking about the wind and solar and geothermal schemes you want to bet the planetary atmosphere on and not hydroelectricity – do so.
By the way, the hydroelectric disaster at Banqiao was pretty exigent, close to 5 orders of magnitude greater, in a single event, greater than all the deaths associated with nuclear energy in a half a century of operations worldwide, when one considers the number of deaths.
Since you apparently have little interest in the dead from air pollution, equivalent to another World War II (all deaths) every 15 years, I’ll assume you’re not interested in Banqiao, or maybe you’re hear to tell us that they don’t matter, since fear of radiation is not involved.
Thanks for listing educational institutions. It means nothing to me at all; I couldn’t care less. Timothy Leary was at Harvard, but that does not make LSD a great boon to humanity. As for Stanford, I note that the Nobel Laureate Burton Richter is also at Stanford, and he had a pretty amusing slap down of Jacobson’s (Energy Environ. Sci., 2012, 5, DOI:10.1039/c2ee22658h) continuing fear mongering. So citing an institution and representing it as a “truth” or an “official” position is intellectually, and I might add, morally weak.
As an environmentalist, I note that the planet is dying without a nuclear war. You’re position is like that of a person dying of a heart condition who refuses a Tc-99 scan for fear of cancer. It’s absurd, and it’s deadly. It seems you haven’t noticed the condition of the planet, since you continue to attack the world’s largest, by far, source of expandable climate change gas free primary energy in an atmosphere of selective attention.
Good luck though, in your quixotic quest to demonstrate that the solar and wind industry, despite it’s continuing and expensive failure to produce even 3 exajoules of the 530 exajoules that humanity now consumes – this with a huge percentage of its numbers living in dire poverty – still deserve to suck more money out of our children’s and grandchildren’s futures.
After letting this article sit for about a day I am still struggling on the purpose for the supposed rebuttal.
Why take the time to rebut a blog article that discusses Dr. Sovacool’s article from 2009 just because it correctly noted that the paper should not be used as a reference article for Wikipedia when Dr. Sovacool himself admits he had some facts incorrect?
Secondly why come onto a pro-nuclear site to defend his work knowing that many of us are going to poke holes into the original research as well as any response he may provide? Also many of us are going to research current work, current papers, professional associations and collaborations, etc. to back up our points.
The original study was a poor one from a nuclear professional standpoint as Rod discusses in his post above. It even has errors as Dr. Sovacool admits. I echo Rod’s point in that I continue to be perplexed at the low quality of the papers that make it through the infamous “peer review” process that the people who must “publish or perish” stake their professional credibility on.
It was a white paper prepared, in my opinion, as a means to outline Dr. Sovacool’s dislike of centralized nuclear power generation which he openly admits. It was written within the context of 2009 at a time when nuclear power was beginning to come to the forefront in developed and undeveloped countries.
Since then what has happened? China now has a large nuclear build-out in process and the US is following Germany into high retail power rates due to an almost religious belief that wind and solar will save us from ourselves provided the taxpayers continue to fund various “green energy” subsidy programs.
Meredith points out in her post the other fundamental weakness, and I would say hypocrisy, of the study as it compares the bird kills for the entire nuclear life cycle to only those bird kills associated with operating industrial wind facilities. The study is not a comprehensive overview of the effects of all power generation sources on the local avian population. These two points make this paper, and any follow up paper, yet more agenda driven “research” that is trying to stand behind the auspices of a questionable peer review process.
I dispute Dr. Sovacool’s statement: Despite the unnecessarily vitriolic nature of Paul’s commentary, my own study was intended to start a discussion and lead to better research..
If the original intent of the white paper was to kick off better research into avian deaths caused power generation sources then why single out nuclear power as if it is somehow comparable to wind generation when that comparison is invalid? Why not show scientific integrity and do a survey of all power generation sources if the true purpose is to push for better, deeper research into bird mortality rates?
Oh wait let me answer my own question. If the word “nuclear” had not been in the white paper then it would have received very little traction. The word “nuclear” probably ensured it received a “peer-review” process leading to publication.
So we are back to the purpose of the rebuttal of blog entry about an article published in 2009 where the author himself admits errors.
Could it be that since Dr. Sovacool is moving into a new role at the Vermont Law School and has a book to sell that this is a case of any publicity is good publicity? So, contrary to those who label me some fierce anti-nuclear zealot, my position is more complex than simply “pro” or “anti,” which readers would know if they take the time to read my recent book from MIT Press entitled Global Energy Security (which also argues in favor of a moderate role for nuclear power, you can order it here (emphasis is mine)
Dr. Sovacool’s book could have been written by Amory Lovins and RMI based on the Table of Contents. It was written in conjunction with the Dr. Marliyn Brown as a continuation of their collaboration that appears to have started with the book Energy and American Society – Thirteen Myths.. By the way the Thirteen Myths book has a chapter written by Amory Lovins which speaks volumes about Dr. Sovacool’s professional and personal opinion regarding nuclear power.
Not once is the word nuclear mentioned as a possible technology for mitigating climate change in the TOC of the new book by the two authors or for that matter in their previous collaboration. So we will have to take Dr. Sovacool’s word that he discusses nuclear as a possible solution to climate change. I am not shelling out $31 for a book appreantly filled with unproven beliefs about how the continued use of taxpayer funded subsidies for intermittent generation sources is an adequate, long-term solution for battling climate change.
Dr. Sovacool’s position is not that complex as he suggests. It mirrors the public position of the Union of Concerned Scientists: Once nuclear power is deemed “perfect” and its wastes products are “perfectly” safe based on the anti-nuclear definitions of “perfect” then he will grudgingly greenlight nuclear power. That position ensures more fossil fuels are burned which puts more pollution into the earth’s environment. So not such a complex position to understand.
So unless Dr. Sovacool copies that passage from his book in its entirety proving me wrong, I will continue to dispute Dr. Sovacool’s sincerity about his “complex” position regarding nuclear power.
Dr. Sovacool is an advocate of the anti-nuclear, pro-wind and solar, pro-distributed generation (i.e. every house, commercial building and industrial facility can be its own power generator – which is not the case on a 24/7/365 basis); and biomass approach to energy generation. Therefore, just like with Mark Jacobson, any paper Dr. Sovacool publishes will always look to take a swipe at nuclear power while pushing for more wind and solar.
@ Bill, I suspect that you’re writing, and taking the time to read the commentary and blog about it, for the same reason I am: it’s important to have public discourse in the marketplace of ideas. That’s why I’ve taken the effort to engage Atomic Insights, though I admit it is an ongoing experiment – some of the comments I’ve found thoughtful and professional, so far, others less so. Moreover, it’s good for all of us to “poke holes” at each other. While certainly unpleasant, how else am I to learn what people on this “side” of the nuclear debate think? How am I to learn to their motivations and assumptions? By doing this.
As for peer-review, I realize that you, Rod, and others bemoan the process, but by and large most peer-reviewed studies are darn good and much better than other types of analysis. The process doesn’t always work, but it is there for a reason, and it produces better scholarship as a result (in my opinion).
Moving to the point about hypocrisy, your argument cuts both ways. Yes, there were parts of wind’s lifecycle that were excluded, but there were also parts of nuclear’s lifecycle that were excluded (such as nuclear waste storage, both temporary and permanent). I am all for trying to get numbers or studies on these topics so that we can arrive at a better understanding of how energy systems – all of them – impact birds. Note that despite my call to this group for studies and sources of data, nobody has forwarded me anything. So if it’s “agenda driven research,” whose agenda is at work here?
You ask “Why not show scientific integrity and do a survey of all power generation sources if the true purpose is to push for better, deeper research into bird mortality rates?” I say “YES!” Let’s do that sort of study, though it would likely take a long time and a team of researchers. My study was limited to fossil fuels, nuclear power plants, and wind energy, so in a sense it still tried to cover as many power generation sources as possible, but I am a lone researcher here, and I did the 2009 study without a grant, in my spare time. I fully support an interdisciplinary, large research project surveying all power generation sources and all of their lifecycles/fuelcycles. I just don’t have the time, skills, or funding to do it by myself.
Two final points. First, don’t be selective in your reading of my work and books. Have I edited books with Amory Lovins? Definitely – I find Amory a brilliant thinker and was thankful for his contribution. But there are chapters throughout the Myths book that I don’t necessarily agree with: a chapter pro biofuels, a chapter from the CATO institute (I’m not a libertarian), and so on. And if you’d taken the time to actually look closely at my full bibliography, you’d see The Routledge Handbook of Energy Security which has multiple chapters arguing in favor of nuclear energy (I didn’t alter their findings one bit) and another forthcoming volume from Sage (called “Energy Security”) that will have two arguably “pro” nuclear chapters. It’s bad logic to presume that because I included one chapter from Amory Lovins that I am somehow biased.
Second, people/institutions like Amory Lovins/RMI, Mark Jacobson, Marilyn Brown, and UCS do good work. They don’t always get things right, but they are very smart people and their research is generally solid. Again, don’t make the mistake of presuming that simply because you don’t like the views of these folks, they are automatically “wrong.” If you think their studies or arguments are wrong, point out how. Don’t make hasty, unproven generalizations, and dismiss them out of hand.
@Benjamin K Sovacool
Yes, there were parts of wind’s lifecycle that were excluded, but there were also parts of nuclear’s lifecycle that were excluded (such as nuclear waste storage, both temporary and permanent).
Can you please explain the physical situations that you envision in which nuclear waste handling and storage processes threaten birds or any other species?
I would bet a large sum of money that the number of birds killed by waste stored indoors in spent fuel pools is an incredibly tiny number and that dry cask storage is about as threatening to a bird as a windowless, one story shed. It is also quite reasonable to assert that deep geologic repositories would pose little threat to the world’s avian species (or any other species for that matter.)
@ Rod, you ask “Can you please explain the physical situations that you envision in which nuclear waste handling and storage processes threaten birds or any other species?”
I can explain some of the risks but I admit I have seen no studies or data to either confirm or refute them. One would be the admittedly minor impacts that would exist due to these facilities operating normally, occupying land, require transport, etc. These impacts, as you point out, would be very, very small (and probably on the same order of magnitude as those coming from wind blade manufacturing facilities). However, they could become quite large during accidents, like spent pool fires (think about Fukushima), where they could contaminate larger areas of land and therefore birds. Lastly, permanent repositories have a whole host of risks associated with them. Their construction, operation, and accidents at them could also produce environmental damage. While I admit, here, that the risk may be low, the timeframe involved (thousands of years) means even low probability events could result in very real impacts.
Thank you for continuing to participate in the conversation. You are obviously spending a lot of time in responding to so many challenges; perhaps you should call in some reinforcements from your colleagues at the Vermont Law School to help out. I’m going to try giving you a break and not respond to each of your statements of opinion in a way that would add more burden to your effort to share what you think you know.
I have to push back rather forcefully, however, when there is an outright falsehood included.
In the years before Fukushima, there were a lot of citable “studies” done about the danger of spent fuel pool fires and their envisioned implications. In the years since Fukushima, there have been a lot of lies told about what happened; some of those lies were in sworn testimony in front of Congress. However, the reality is that NONE of the used fuel pools experienced any damage, none of them boiled dry, and no radioactive materials were released into the environment as a result of a reaction between zirconium cladding and water.
We learned some valuable lessons from the Fukushima experience that should result in an even better performance in the future. We learned that trying to put water into a pool from a helicopter is really, really DUMB. (On March 17, 2011, I tried to tell the idiots who made that choice they were wrong https://atomicinsights.com/focus-on-food-water-shelter-dr-greg-jaczko-is-wrong-and-giving-dangerously-bad-advice/, but who listens to bloggers?) We also learned that if you need to put water into an elevated pool that has already lost a dozen or more feet of water due to evaporation, a run of the mill concrete pumper truck does a bang up job. If the pool is not elevated a few garden hoses might be sufficient.
Please understand, I am not accusing you of lying in the sense of knowingly making a false statement, and I am sure that you can cite a number of sources that may seem credible for the “fact” but facts are funny things. It does not matter how many sources you have, there is only a single set of facts that actually reflect reality.
@Rod, I didn’t even realize that the issue of a spent fuel fire was under debate. The stuff I’ve read from Robert Alvarez, former Senior Policy Adviser to the Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary for National Security and the Environment at the U.S. Department of Energy, and others makes this sound like a “fact.” See here http://www.ips-dc.org/files/3200/ for one of his recent reports.
Putting the issue of Fukushima aside, I have seen some good studies (or what I have assumed are good studies) talking about the environmental risk from spent pool fires. I’m not sure if these are online, but they are Edwin S. Lyman, “Revisiting Nuclear Power Plant Safety,” Science 299 (January 10, 2003), pp. 201-203; and Robert Alvarez, Jan Beyea, Klaus Janberg, Jungmin Kang, Ed Lyman, Allison Macfarlane, Gordon Thompson, Frank N. von Hippel, “Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power-Reactor Fuel in the United States,” Science and Global Security 11 (2003), pp. 1-51. To be fair, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission responded in “Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Review of ‘Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power-Reactor Fuel in the United States,” Science and Global Security 11 (2003), pp. 203–211, that the study 1) Exaggerated the probability of a spent-fuel-pool fire; 2) overestimated the release of 30-year half-life cesium-137; 3) overestimated the damage from the release; and 4) underestimated the costs of moving to dry-storage casks a large fraction of the older spent fuel currently in spent-fuel pools.
Alvarez et al. responded in Robert Alvarez, Jan Beyea, Klaus Janberg, Jungmin Kang, Ed Lyman, Allison MacFarlane, Gordon Thompson, Frank von Hippel, “Response by the Authors to the NRC Review of Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power-Reactor Fuel in the United States,” Science and Global Security 11 (2003), pp. 213-223. They retorted that the NRC’s critique in each of those four areas evaporates upon detailed inspection: 1) On probabilities, they restated some of our observations as if we had said the opposite; 2) On cesium-137 releases from a spent-fuel fire, they noted they had adopted the lower end of our uncertainty range by simply assuming that a fire would not spread from recently-discharged to older spent fuel; 3) On damage, they asserted that projections of the future population density around U.S. reactors used in a 1997 study done for it were unrealistically high without offering an alternative; and 4) on costs, they argued incorrectly that we have neglected certain costs of removing 80 percent of the spent fuel currently in spent-fuel pools and ignores lower-cost options that we urged it to examine as well.
So, there is at least some rigorous debate, and a factual basis, for my claims about the risks arising from spent fuel fires, even if one did (or did not) occur at Fukushima.
Maybe you’ve seen them before, but check out these studies here
Though “ad hominem” attacks are generally not a good debating strategy, I think that it is justifiable to use facts about a person’s education and experience in rebuttal to an obvious appeal to authority.
Robert Alvarez holds a position titled “senior scholar” at a think tank with a positions that are often opposed to nuclear energy. Interestingly enough, he never earned a degree and when he was in college he studied music.
He was a political appointee during the Clinton Administration and was in a position of trust until his own daughter turned him and his wife, Kitty Tucker, into the local police department for growing commercial quantities of marijuana in their basement. Though he managed to escape the charges, the event resulted in him being removed from his position of responsibility due to a demonstrated lack of integrity and respect for the law.
Just in case you only read the first paragraph or two and believe the assertion that the consumption was personal and medical related, please do not overlook the following statement:
At the stated consumption rate of 3 joints per day, why would Ms. Tucker have 69 plants?
I’ve written a number of articles about Mr. Alvarez and his inaccurate antinuclear publications.
Alvarez is no authority on nuclear energy. He has demonstrated that he does not have a great deal of respect for the law or the truth, and should not be a primary source of information about technical issues like spent fuel pool risks.
I’m not sure why this has become such a meme in the pro-nuclear advocate community? Presumably to point a finger of blame and recrimination at NRC Chairman Jaczko, who highlighted the potential risk of zirconium oxidation in empty fuel pools, and say he wrong (over and over and over again).
When the truth of the matter, we had an unexplained release of hydrogen in Unit 4 (leading to an explosion in that unit), and a great deal of uncertainty about the cause of the release. As we later learned, the build-up of hydrogen in Unit 4 was most likely the result of a venting failure from Unit 3 (and not a cladding fire in SFP that was empty of shielding and cooling).
I recall many people feeling vindicated that Jaczko was incorrect (and celebrating his erring on the side of caution as unnecessary and overly reactive … and by extension problematical). But I don’t recall anybody proposing an alternative explanation for the leak and explosion at the time (and being vindicated on their correct assessment of the problem). Plainly stated, there was no correct assessment of the problem at the time, including from those on these pages (only a certainty that when you use a blow torch on zirconium cladding, it doesn’t burn like a block of birch).
I take it Rod would admit if there was a draining of the pool (especially one containing recent fuel assemblies) a “cladding fire” is a reasonable risk (as fully documented in the scientific and engineering literature).
Telling the accurate story of what happened to the spent fuel pools at Fukushima Dai-ichi is not a “meme”. It is an effort that requires repetition because there are many people – including Arnie Gundersen, Robert Alvarez, Allison Macfarlane and Greg Jaczko – that even more often and with greater media amplification spread the WRONG information. It would not be so bad that they are spreading the wrong information if it was not for the fact that they are attempting to use that wrong information to heap additional costs onto both current and future nuclear power plants to continue their so far successful effort to make the technology less competitive.
As Benjamin indicated in his response, he was not even aware that he was making a false statement by pointing to Fukushima as evidence supporting the fantasy that spent fuel pool fires was a risk worth any concern at all.
I have a very personal reason for continuing to set the record straight. On March 17, 2011, the day that Jaczko testified in front of Congress that he was recommending the decidedly DANGEROUS and NON-CONSERVATIVE action of spreading panic and distrust of responsible people by ordering Americans (not Japanese, mind you) citizens within 50 miles of Fukushima to evacuate, Matt Wald of the New York Times was in the hearing room and contacted me to ask if Jaczko was correct.
I had taken time off of work (it turned out to be more than a week before I went back to work after Fukushima) because I thought that there was some value in providing a calming voice at a time when far too many people were panicking and scaring vulnerable people so I was able to answer Matt’s request almost immediately. I contacted two friends who had been at the NRC for a long time; one of them was a guy I knew from school who had made the transition soon after completing his obligated service in the submarine force. Both of those sources confirmed that Jaczko had NO inside technical information; that he was just guessing based on the fact that there were no level indications being reported from Japan.
They confirmed for me that there had been level indications in all of the spent fuel pools reported in the period immediately following the earthquake, so there was NO reason to suspect that the water in the pool had leaked out – the only possible water loss path was through evaporation.
Using very simple math that Oak Ridge researchers later confirmed and knowing that Unit 4 had been SHUT DOWN since at least November 2010, I was able to prove to myself and to many other knowledgeable people that there was NO WAY that the pool could be “empty” or even close to exposing the tops of the used fuel assemblies.
I did not keep that information, my calculations or my methods secret. I did not wait for a lengthy peer review process that would not help anyone who was already being put at risk from the evacuation order. You can go to the articles that I wrote and see exactly what I did with the information. Here is a link to the 38 articles that I wrote in March 2011. https://atomicinsights.com/2011/03/
During that month, daily traffic on Atomic Insights was ten times higher than it had ever been.
You and Benjamin have constantly asked those of us who support nuclear energy to accept your statements at face value and to stop ascribing ulterior motives. You have asked us to trust that you have good intentions.
I ask you to do the same for those of us who have spent our careers learning as much as we could about the way that physical systems associated with nuclear power plants work and understand that we are advocates for the technology because we have a deep and abiding understanding of its intricacies. We are sometimes arrogant and dismissive of those who question our statements, especially when we KNOW that those people have little or no education or training that gives them the right to think they know what the heck they are talking about.
Greg Jaczko may be a smart man, but he earned his PhD in theoretical physics, a field that has NOTHING to do with operating a light water cooled nuclear power plant. I have a good friend who was active in the student chapter of the University of Wisconsin American Nuclear Society at the same time that Greg Jaczko was working on his PhD. She knew Jaczko as a “go-to” antinuclear activist who could be called on whenever the chapter wanted to hold a debate on nuclear energy. I know several others who were members of that same ANS chapter at the same time; not one of them ever took a nuclear energy related class with Jaczko; his mind was apparently already made up that nuclear energy was bad.
He spent his career inside the beltway in political offices, again, a place where there is no training or experience that can help anyone begin to understand how a nuclear power plant works. He did not even listen to his knowledgable advisors at the NRC; instead, he hand-picked people that he had good reasons to believe would not challenge his authority or question his actions.
You are not correct in your assumption about my position. There is never a “reasonable risk” of a “cladding fire” no matter how recently the fuel has been removed. There is a remote risk under almost inconceivable physical circumstances that accelerated zirconium corrosion MIGHT happen. That is what the paper that you linked to documents. It ASSUMES a pool full of high burn-up fuel with between 40,000 and 60,000 MW-days/ton of burn-up AND a complete core off-load of fuel with that has also been fully consumed AND a complete draining of a pool just 12 days after the reactor has shut down AND no action by any operator to add water or take any other action to cool down the fuel.
@ Dr. Sovacool,
First let me say that I appreciate the forthrightness as I came at you fairly hard and you are coming into the lion’s den. Also Charles Barton raises several points in his response that are valid for me to consider. However, as I hope to explain, I have come to my opinions based on years of experience in the energy generation trenches.
I would like to start by somewhat reframing our respective professional positions. I would classify your position as a policy advisor who looks to develop various policies that advocate certain solutions. I am on the other end. I am on the policy implementation side who must find engineered solutions to the laws that are enacted which are heavily influenced by advisors such as yourself. I have also undertaken the personal challenge as has everyone of us that post publically about nuclear power to work to educate the general public as well as politicians that there are more solutions than just the wind, solar and energy efficiency options to power generation issues in relation to climate change concerns.
I (and any design teams I am a member of) put our names, PE licenses and future earnings on the line when we sign a design drawing or calculation that is then used by a customer. Those designs meet a need for our customer to allow them to continue to generate electricity at a fair price to their rate payers while meeting whatever legal requirements must be met. Fair price is meant in the sense that long term system costs, O&M expense and other aspects of running a utility company such as HR concerns of retaining and hiring the best personnel available are covered. However in today’s world, hiring the best available is becoming more difficult due to a transformational shift in the job market and job preferences. But that is another discussion for another day.
The nuclear design arena is somewhat unique even in the power generation design world in that any major design is open to NRC oversight and “intervenor” review before it can be implemented. The word intervenor is an interesting choice by the NRC since it has legal connotations. Additionally most intevenors are actually professional anti-nuclear individuals or groups who have an agenda to stop nuclear designs at all costs. Alternately as in the case of the UCS, if it is not the intervenor’s preferred solution being discussed then they will file formal protests which adds to the cost of the final solution to whatever problem is being discussed.
So every time those of us in the nuclear design arena sign a calc, design drawing, licensing document, etc. we must be aware that those documents will receive some level of outside review from people who are looking to invalidate the findings. Case in point, documents from 2003 are being pulled out of the files regarding SCE’s decision on their steam generator replacement project. There have been formal discussions down to the level of debating individual words that the design team used back in 2003 within the context of events of 2102/2013. This is the world that many of us have chosen to work. It is challenging on many levels but can be individually rewarding when all parts come together.
Personally, I am in a somewhat unique situation since I moved from nuclear to hydro for a period of years due to an unexpected career shift. So I have design, licensing and operational experience in both the hydro and nuclear worlds. I am back in nuclear at this time so am able to bring both sides of the discussion to the table at times like this.
But back to a primary reason I have been hard with my criticism on you and your reports. In my world, unverified assumptions must, repeat must, be kept to a minimum and must be defined as to why they are being used. Every unverified assumption is an open door for an intervenor to criticize leading to a design change or even force a work stoppage. Therefore if it looks like there will be unverified assumptions that require test data from field tests or surveys to resolve then that is what we must do.
Now is that a perfect system? No it is not. Unverified assumptions get through, inaccruacte models are used etc which is why the public review process is used by the NRC. Even scale models that cost millions to build can fail to resolve initial assumptions when actual real-life operators start operating the equipment as I’m sure you are aware. Or the costs of field tests are prohibitive so engineering judgment must be used but judgment based on sound engineering principles that must be able to be defended and not create a situation where work is stopped.
I would agree there are parallels between our respective worlds in social science compared to engineering design as far as how documents are produced since engineers and scientists must learn the same initial process. However, the difference is that nuclear designs and calcs are almost automatically reviewed unfavorable by people who have legal options available to them to stop the work that engineers in the nuclear design field have been contracted to perform. Whereas any review your documents receive are performed within the halls of policy makers and academia so unverified assumptions are accepted on face value, left out of the debates or their significance is not understood. Additionally studies like your bird study are now being used to justify many positions that favor wind over nuclear when nuclear and wind are not comparable from a utility operations standpoint.
That is probably why I am quick to pull the hypocrisy trigger. And yes I will admit I am too quick sometimes with that charge. But if I am too quick to invoke that word it comes within the context and understanding that many documents I am a part of producing may face a legal, possibly a courtroom, challenge while documents you produce will not. And yes I concur there is hypocrisy on both sides of the debate.
I commend you for attempting to have Wikipedia correct their entry but in some sense it is a little too late at this point since the study is now taking a life of its own which was the point of Dr. Lorenzini’s initial article about pointing out the weaknesses. Now I also recognize you can’t control how people will use your studies and do not fault you for those that take what you write out of context. However I would remind you that everyone of us who publishes either science articles or design calculations need to consider how that document might be used once it is released from our hands. That is one of the tenents I mentor other design engineers as it was a point that was drilled home to me.
At this point though my response is going incredibly long so let me conclude with several reasons why I respectfully disagree with your list of very smart people.
My opinion of relying on energy efficiency as a solution to a problem that stretches into hundreds of years is best explained by the following Breakthrough Institute article which also encompasses my own impressions of Amory Lovins:
Additionally I find Mr. Lovins’ benefit projections of his Reinventing Fire proposal significantly overly optimistic regarding the full cost of societal dislocations, economic benefits and financial gains if we were to follow his plan as a blueprint. My lens that I use to make that statement is based on years of working on the policy implementation side not the policy advocacy side.
My cynicism of solar and wind advocates is best addressed by concerning the RPS issues regarding hydro. RPS legal limits for hydro facilities are set at 30 MW in every state in the US that has an RPS enacted. Anything below counts towards a utility’s renewable portfolio, anything above does not – even 1MW above is not allowed a waiver. There have been attempts to remove this restriction in California and Washington but the most vocal groups who oppose changing this restriction are solar and wind lobbying groups. So is this debate about climate change or their preferred energy generation source?
Additionally at the utility I worked the state RPS allowed a natural gas co-gen plant that was rated below 30MW’s to meet the renewable portfolio formula. So we were asked to begin to prepare a cost estimate about mothballing perfectly good hydro facility that was slightly over 30MW’s and install a co-gen plant run by natural gas just to meet an arbitrary legal requirement. Thankfully for the rate payers, the management decided to begin to educate the politicians about how there were other solutions that could achieve the same goals without decommissioning hydro facilities.
If the 30MW restriction was removed from all the hydro facilities in the Western US, then there wouldn’t be a need for any new wind, solar, geothermal or biomass for about the next 7-10 years to meet the 20-30% RPS goal based on some initial assessments I was able to review before I moved to my new position. That point was raised this past year when California began to reconsider the hydro restriction.
Finally these discussions regarding wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and distributed generation are like a Yogi Berra moment for me: It’s like deja-vu all over again. I was discussing these very same subjects about 30 years ago during my first trip through college before I joined the Navy.
So as to my supposed hasty criticisms of the various groups that you believe are sources of good info; I think by this time I have provided adequate reasoning on why I do not concur with your assessment and why I have not arrived at my opinions or conclusions in a knee-jerk fashion.
With your permission, I would like to elevate your post to the front page. You put a lot of care into its preparation and the position that you describe is an important one to share more widely.
@ Bill, thanks for your thoughtful post – I agree with many (though not all) of its points in the first half. Yes, the type of social science research that I do is both more difficult, and less precise, than the work that you do. I have had the pleasure (or displeasure) of doing legal testimony before, and then it was as you said: every fact is double checked, every word examined, every paragraph edited, and usually in a team process. If social science had to hold up to that scrutiny I’d bet most (maybe even more than 90 percent) wouldn’t cut it. Why? Well, for one, the methods used are often qualitative, not quantitative, and my own favorite method is not meta-analysis (what I’d call this avian study and my greenhouse gas study) but field research, which is messier still. Second, doing testimony and fact checking it your way is expensive and very time consuming. Most universities and departments wouldn’t be able to afford it, after all we’re in the public sector, not the private. Third, in some ways designing and engineering are “simpler” than trying to decipher why the US fails to transition away from fossil fuels, or to understand some paradox involving what we think society should be doing, but that it isn’t. This is why I often tell my students that doing social science research is like trying to nail jelly to the wall.
That said, I appreciate your professional position, and I understand that much of my (and the research of others) wouldn’t “cut it,” so to speak, under your standards. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since social science is usually judged according to different standards. For instance, the motivation for my avian study in the first place was a sort of “Everyone talks about birds and wind energy, but I wonder if other energy systems have similar impacts that nobody has talked about …” It started with that simple puzzle, or question, and it led me to look into it as best I could (perhaps not as good as others like yourself could have done). But I love that about social science: I identified a problem, put together a method (however narrow or flawed it may have been), collected the data, wrote up what I found, and contributed to the discussion. I think having this type of “experimental” method where anybody can do research has its merits, and as long as one is explicit in its limitations and assumptions, as I try hard to be, we end up learning more (as a community) than we otherwise would. For example, before my study nobody even thought about birds and other energy systems. Now, this discussion and its 80+ posts are proof that they are.
I can also respect that you have not “arrived at my opinions or conclusions in a knee-jerk fashion.” I agree with some of your arguments; big hydro, in my opinion, should “count” for state RPSs, and Amory Lovins I find incredibly gifted as a thinker and writer, but he is not always right. The only serious substantive point where we disagree is energy efficiency. Despite the “rebound effect” and the Breakthrough Institute, everything I’ve seen has led me to believe energy efficiency is still the best option we should pursue, first. It is, even if Reinventing Fire got it wrong, still the “Holy Grail.” Let me point you to just a few authoritative studies, whose methods I find sound, to see if I can convince you. The first is from the IEA and reviews global energy efficiency programs, finding that they save energy more cheaply than any other source of electricity. The second is from ORNL classifying the savings (financial and energy) of state energy efficiency programs. The third is from the National Academies on the value of the Energy Star program. These along document pretty massive EE savings that are not prone to the rebound effect. These links should work for all three, email me if they don’t and I can send you PDFs:
http://weatherization.ornl.gov/publications.shtml (you want Schweitzer, Martin and Tonn, Bruce, An Evaluation of State Energy Program Accomplishments 2002 Program Year)
I know we’re all busy, but these may, just may, change your mind about efficiency.
@ Dr. Sovacool,
First let me just state that I am not against designing energy efficiency into new devices or attempting to retrofit older situations as long as the financial and technical numbers work out. I am a mechanical engineer by trade and have experience with welding, hydraulics and an overview in tribology where system designs that take into account energy efficiency do save resources and money. Also being on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where land can be a thousand miles away has a tendency to focus one’s thoughts on how to ensure the available resources on hand are efficiently used.
Where I have problems with energy efficiency as a long term solution to climate change is the idea that a “soft” solution can replace a “hard” solution.
Energy efficiency has many uncontrollable and hidden expensive outlying variables that must be resolved before it truly has any significant lasting effect in my viewpoint. And then there are the rebound issues. How to define them, how to quantify them and what offsets do they present thereby reducing any original gains.
When I hear statements like we can replace a million light bulbs with LED’s and then we can decommission Indian Point I put my mechanical engineering hat on (I am oversimplifying here due to work week time issues but I think you understand what I mean). I start doing mental calculations about actual MTBF of light bulbs versus LED’s, how many new bulbs will burn out due to old electrical systems since the new bulbs seem anecdotally to be more sensitive to frequency variations; what was the original price of the replacement bulbs; what is the current price; what is the current inflation rate to determine comparable dollar value for a present value/future value evaluation; the quality of the lighting (lumens) now versus the original system, etc.
That is just the light bulb side of the equation. Then we would need to discuss the avoided cost analysis of not having a power plant selling power to the users who want power 24/7/365 within a system of power generators. Then factor in long term economic analysis regarding electricity demand issues as well as other significant factors such as population demographics. That type analysis that might rely on a Monte Carlo type model or something similar to fully develop a solution.
(As a side note I see Europe will force light bulb manufacturers to label their bulbs based on lumens instead of watts consumed. Was not aware of that legal requirement and not sure why that policy directive is deemed better than listing the power consumed. End aside.)
By walking that path I reach a point fairly quickly where the numbers just don’t work for me on a long term basis. There are too many variables in that matrix to definitively state that energy efficiency is a panacea for future generations, thereby invalidating nuclear power as an option. Additionally, new, reliable and predictable power generation will be needed at the very minimum to replace aging baseload fossil fuel facilities even if energy efficiency methods prove me wrong. That is why I continue to come back to nuclear.
Now I understand that for every point I raised above about energy efficiency, you probably have a counter argument regarding nuclear. But for me it comes back to the idea of a “soft” solution to resolve climate issues knowing that there is no such thing as a perfectly economically rationale human being which is what energy efficiency also must lean on to be successful.
For example, there is a series of TV commercials that is teaching people to buy consumer goods with money they have saved by buying less expensive car insurance. Now apply that commercial message to this issue of energy efficiency. What do I believe will happen? The rebound effect will kick in which brings in a large uncertainty factor into the energy efficiency equations.
Now with SMR’s are finally seeing the light of day, the nuclear cost issues will become more manageable for smaller utilities. Which is another factor on why I continue to support nuclear power as a “hard” solution. As a person who has lived and worked around two SMR’s on a ship approximately 600ft long, I can attest-as can any other former Navy Nuke-that the technology is proven, sound, safe and is able to meet variable demand curves.
Should we be pursuing energy efficiency? Yes by all means, but for me the reasoning goes to doing more with less to conserve natural resources not as a primary means to battle climate change. I also have a hard time when certain groups push energy efficiency more from a wish to return to some contorted version of an idyllic world that has no basis in reality. Energy usage on a per-person basis was incredibly low 100 years ago but it isn’t a time I would want to return to.
Now I acknowledge I am just shooting from the hip on some of this without hard numbers or verifications for this comment due in part to work week time issues. And I am simplifying my analogies for the brevity of the comments here. However I think you can see the gist of my concerns regarding an almost faith based approach towards energy efficiency solutions that I have seen from many.
Saying all that though, I will take a look at your links with an open mind since it is an area of technical interest.
@ Bill, like you, I’m at work, and need to make this quick. It’s amazing (to me) how many people still seem to believe in the rebound effect when, to my knowledge, it has been thoroughly, completely debunked in the peer-reviewed literature (which literally hundreds of studies showing that either it doesn’t occur, or that when it does, it’s such a marginal rebound that the original investments still save energy).
But I wanted to try and crack the hard nut of your comment: can dispersed, decentralized, uncoordinated investments in energy efficiency (EE) ever displace “hard” baseload power like nuclear? I realize the common answer on this forum is “No,” but I have seen these provocative slides from both Arthur Rosenfeld from the California Energy Commission, and the energy efficiency division of the IEA, showing the amount of energy (in Quads or Exajoules) “saved” by combined EE efforts over the past few decades. In three cases – for California, for the USA as a whole, and for something like a dozen major OECD countries – the energy “saved” from EE is greater than any single source of supply on the market, not just including nuclear, but also oil, coal, and gas. I can’t type these images into this text box, but I would be happy to share them (and the data behind them) if you email me.
@Benjamin K Sovacool
As Spock might say, “That’s illogical.”
If the rebound effect – which I prefer to call the Jevons Paradox – is so thoroughly debunked, and we have been so successful at energy efficiency that it is greater than any single source of supply on the market, why does overall world energy demand keep increasing? Could it possibly be that much of the energy “saved” in places like CA is simply consumed somewhere else and sent into California or Europe in the form of finished manufactured products?
The Jevons Paradox is that efficiently using energy causes the overall cost of using energy to decrease. That frees up resources for people to use, often in activities that consume more energy. It is possible in local places to push the unit price of energy high enough so that the overall cost of using energy does not decrease with increasing efficiency, but it is really hard to enforce that kind of illogical action over a wider world population of thinking individuals.
@Rod, yes, you’re right that we do have a bit of the “Jevons” paradox going on, but I have seen studies that account for it and still show net improvements in efficiency. For instance, no matter how cheap gasoline is I’m not going to drive twice as much. There are limits to what cheaper price signals may mean in terms of my own consumption.
As to your question “Why does overall world energy demand keep increasing,” two responses. One, because while we have done an ok job implementing energy efficiency, we haven’t done a great job – much low hanging fruit remains. Two, because in an aggregate sense population growth and rising wealth continue to partially offset the gains made by investments in efficiency. If we control or slow those two things – and here we may both agree with George Monbiot – then we may be able to put society on a path towards sustainability. And in that scenario, energy efficiency would be more than able to offset increases in all demand.
At least three major errors by Benjamin Sovacool in his analysis of avian deaths from uranium mining.
1. Sovacool failed to account for the difference in scale between uranium mining and other types of mines. Thus, the Berkeley Mine (the copper mine which is used as an example) produced about 1 billion tons of ore over its lifetime. That’s about 10,000 times more ore than all of the uranium mining in US history. Any deaths should be scaled thereby, and were not.
2. Sovacool failed to account for the difference in toxicology between copper mines and uranium mines. The 300 birds killed at Berkeley in 1995 died from exposure to copper, cadmium, and arsenic, which are commonly found in copper mine pit lakes, but not commonly found in uranium mine pit lakes.
3. Sovacool failed to notice and correct a rather obvious math blunder on the part of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, who mistakenly claim on their website that 1 part per million = 1 microgram per liter. In fact, 1 microgram per liter is one part per billion, not one part per million. This is critical, because the actual cadmium toxic limit for waterfowl is about 2ppm, which is 2000 micrograms per liter, not 2 micrograms per liter as the USFWS has it. Thus there is no evidence that any uranium pit lake has ever caused the death of any waterfowl.
@ Keith, yes, you are correct that errors 1 and 2 are true (though I admit this both in the actual study and in my post above), and we need better data. For error 3, if the USFWS did indeed make that mistake, it should be corrected, though of course this wasn’t “my” mistake.
I started debating with Benjamin Sovacool five years ago. At that time, Sovacool was a wild-eyed critic of nuclear energy. His most recent statements seem to indicate that his attitude towards nuclear power has undergone some evolution. Although he might not be described as an unconditional supporter of nuclear energy, he is far from being an unconditional enemy of it. It has been suggested here that the peer reviewed process has not worked in Sovacool’s case. My conclusions are that the changes I have observed in Sovacool’s thinking suggests that the peer reviewed process has worked and that Sovacool takes a far more nuanced view than he did five years ago. This is not to say that Sovacool is without his prejudices, but I believe that he deserves to be treated with respect as someone who is willing to engage in dialogue with nuclear supporters. However, if we are going to engaged in dialogue with Sovacool, we will need to know what he is talking about and what we are talking about. I think that there may be numerous errors in Sovacool’s work, but we need to find those errors. Finding those errors will require considerable digging if we are to take dialogue with him seriously. Do healthy birds bump into cooling towers? I think this is open to question. We would have to ask if healthy birds bump into hills as well a cooling towers to fully understand the implications of the question. On the other hand, wind turbine blades do not resemble natural objects. Wind generator blades certainly do kill birds and bats in unnatural ways. Uranium mining in the United States no longer uses open pit technology. The only Uranium technology in use in the United States involves In situ technology. In situ technology does not produce large mining waste piles and therefore limited pollution problems would come about with its use. In situ mining would produce very little disturbance in bird habitat. Reactors are currently located in exclusion zones that act in effect as wildlife sanctuaries. Thus bird life is protected in areas surrounding reactors. It would seem then, that any claim that reactors produce a comparable number of bird fatalities as wind generators would be on shaky ground unless backed by a great deal of research data. Quite obviously more research is required. The problem with scholarship at Sovacool’s level is that Sovacool tends to use multiple black boxes; that is complex scientific papers that base their arguments on passages derived wholly or in part from other scientific papers. In addition, scientific papers may have been questioned by critics, but the quotation may contain no reference to the criticism unless one is familiar with the whole network of research based documents of which the paper which we call a “black box” is part. One is unable to judge the quality of the paper. This is often the case that some scientific papers are examples of the “garbage in garbage out” principle. Not only are scholars who are not fully versed in every aspect of the field they are writing in but they are often in danger of quoting disreputable papers because they are unaware of professional criticism of that paper. Clearly peer review does not establish the sterling quality of all scientific papers. Sovacool has worked with some well known and highly respected scholars and they have helped him create more professional work. Sovacool seems to offer at least limited endorsement for small reactors while suggesting that there is something wrong with large reactors. I am not sure what that is, but I am too visually challenged now to go into a detail pursuit of that information. I am an advocate of small reactors myself although I do not think there is anything wrong with large reactors. Thus, to the extent that Sovacool actually advocates small reactors, he is my limited ally not my enemy. He certainly deserves my respect. Many of his peers in the anti-nuclear industry, people like Amory Lovings, Mark Cooper, and Mark C. Jacobsen who are not willing to dialogue and who are not willing to change their position do not deserve similar respect.
@ Charles, thanks for your post, and I do indeed remember our exchanges from a few years ago. My position does continue to evolve, and that is due in part to discussions like this one taking place here. I wanted to point out that this call to “deconstruct the black box” as it were of scientific scholarship is a legitimate one. However, we need to apply it to ALL such studies, not just my own or those of my colleagues. I also find it somewhat ironic that research on “wind” and “solar” are being accused of “black boxing” when one of the prototypical examples of a black box is a nuclear reactor. Nuclear technology, due to its complexity and scale, may be even more prone to both advocates and opponents “black boxing” or “simplifying” things than renewables.
Ben, As a general rule, I have tried to deconstruct pro-nuclear as well as anti-nuclear arguments. My view has been that the supporters of nuclear power need to know when their arguments are weak and to avoid such weaknesses. You will find plenty of references to technical studies on “Nuclear Green Revolution”. Empirical research should rest at the base of good science. Mathematical analysis and logical analysis are important components of any scientific argument. The success of a scientific argument involves tests that use technology prototypes. If a prototype works as predicted, then the test is proven. There are plenty of examples of successful tests in nuclear technology. The answer to the problems created by complexities is to resort to simplicity. You will find that I have been a relentless advocate of simplicity on “Nuclear Green Revolution”. In this respect, I have argued in favor of the simplest possible nuclear technologies. Technologies that are far more simple and far more reliable than any solar based or wind based electrical power system.
There is a huge error in Sovocool’s analysis not yet mentioned. He integrates over a very short interval of time.
Uranium and Thorium are radioactive waste with billion year halflives. They decay by long chains that release a huge amount of energy per atom.
Nuclear power extracts this unsecured waste on or near the surface of the earth and converts it to fission products that become less toxic than uranium ore in about 1/3 of 1 millionth of one billion years. And those wastes will be stored much better than they were stored by nature as random ore deposits.
If Sovocool integrated over the entire future of the earth, and applied his stated belief that all radiation exposure is harmful (LNT), he would find that nuclear power saves thousands of times more birds, and other species including humans, than he claims are killed.
@ Bill, the “time” argument can work both ways: the long lived nature of wastes means they can create risk and harm to birds for centuries; it’s not just “energy” these facilities provide, but also (at this point, with current technology) waste.
the “time” argument can work both ways: the long lived nature of wastes means they can create risk and harm to birds for centuries;
Ben, my point is that centuries are not very long in geologic time.
Splitting 6 ounces of uranium releases enough energy to generate an 80 year lifetime supply of electricity for an average American. The decay of those 6 ounces of fission products releases much less radiation than the natural decay of 6 ounces of uranium.
In addition to that, simply placing the waste in a repository that is more secure than the average uranium ore deposit reduces exposure. I recommend deep sea bed disposal, reliable, inexpensive and safe even if some material eventually leaks out into the sea, which already contains billions of tons of radioactive material.
A nuclear life cycle analysis integrated over all time would show that nuclear saves far more birds (and humans) than it kills, a claim renewables cannot make.
Nuclear power extracts this unsecured waste on or near the surface of the earth and converts it to fission products that become less toxic than uranium ore in about 1/3 of 1 thousandth of one billion years.
Correction to the correction.
Upon further review I see that my original comment was correct since it referred to fission products which decay quickly. Spent fuel rods need more time due to their plutonium content.
I have trouble taking seriously anyone who thinks that Amory Lovins is a “great thinker”.
Amory Lovins is a great charlatan. He is unrivaled in his ability to take a fig of truth and hide a gigantic facade of lies behind it and then sell it to the gullible and the innumerate. One might respect him for his skill at word play and obfuscation, but one can never respect him for his unsupportable policy positions — unless one is, at base, a hater of humanity.
@ Jeff, I think this sort of response is shortsighted. To call those that support Amory Lovins “haters of humanity” does many things, none of them good. It, firstly, means you underestimate him. No matter how much I might not like what any researcher might say, I will usually respect them enough to read it. Second, you should be able to separate out the person and their arguments/research. Put another way, Amory can be wrong in some cases, but right in others. Any type of blanket dismissal where one immediately presumes someone is wrong, when they haven’t actually read that person’s arguments or research, is a very dangerous game indeed. Third, an ad hominum attack may make you feel better, but what you’re doing is attacking the person – and not their ideas. So put aside your bias (as I have tried to do, here) and consider everyone’s input as valid, even if they come at things from a totally different perspective. We call this radical thing “tolerance.”
I don’t think Lovins hates humanity. I think he likes making money consulting for the fossil fuel industry and bashing the primary threat to their nearly complete dominance of the lucrative energy supply business.
He is a clever individual with obfuscating rhetorical skills who has managed to seduce a whole bunch of followers during a 40 year career of saying things that help to entrench the establishment.
I’ve read a large enough sampling of Lovins work to know that it is often wildly optimistic about all technology other than nuclear. I have spoken to him personally on several occasions and even successfully engaged him in a brief online conversation before he departed without any return.
https://atomicinsights.com/?s=%22amory+lovins%22 (a search for “Amory Lovins” on Atomic Insights yields 11 pages of posts as a result)
I must admit that my tolerance level for his message is pretty darned low at this point.
By the way, did you know that Amory is one more example of an antinuclear activist who never managed to earn a degree before embarking on a career of bashing the rather sophisticated method of producing power without burning hydrocarbons or producing atmospheric pollution?
” Put another way, Amory can be wrong in some cases, but right in others. Any type of blanket dismissal where one immediately presumes someone is wrong, when they haven’t actually read that person’s arguments or research, is a very dangerous game indeed.”
I have read enough of Lovins’ material to know that he is a great liar and nothing more. I don’t have to repeat the exercise ad naseum.
See, there’s this thing in human brains, where we remember past experiences, and after we’ve been lied to or cheated enough, we stop having commerce with the liar and/or cheater. The story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf comes to mind.
From a purely economic point of view, it is not worth considering anything that comes out of Lovins’ mouth or writings. It has been proven by past works to be a waste of time. Why should I continue to waste my time?
Because you have not seen my process of consideration and rebuttal through reliable sources does not mean it did not happen. What you see here is a forceful statement of the end result of a careful assessment of Lovins’ work.
It is forceful, because I am tired of him and his parrot followers wasting my time and society’s time and money and energy. He has no education, no technical skill, no actual engineering knowledge. Has he ever built anything in his life which worked, which wasn’t a social structure based on lies?
Yet, he cannot be ignored, because he is a skilled liar whom others follow. It is frustrating to know that he should be ignored and yet he continues to cause damage which cannot be ignored.
Lovins is a malignant, depraved information vandal and nothing more.
The tragedy is that he is so skilled at it. I have no doubt that in a one on one debate, he would tie me in knots as I tried to sort out the obfuscation and actually follow the thread of argument that needed rebuttal.
Continuing to read Lovins would be like continuing to take your car to the shop which never fixes the problem, always cheats you on the estimate and cost, and then blames you for the failure of the repair.
No. This is not correct. The actual record of events at the NRC (which we have because we have the transcripts) indicates there was extensive discussion of a technical nature among NRC Staff (who are typically held in high regard and are considered competent in their fields). It doesn’t appear from this record that Jaczko acted alone, or without technical input or guidance from other specialists and staff at the NRC. And yes, there were “no level indications” reported from Japan at the time. The speculation was that some of the fuel was exposed, and this likelihood and possibility was dictating the conservative course of action taken by the NRC. If such a thing happened again, or fuel was exposed in a US reactor in a similar accident, I have no doubt that similar actions would be taken (regardless of the Commissioner at the time). In other words, procedure dictated the response, not personal ulterior motives to sow fear in the minds of the public (which appears to be your claim).
Thank you for the link to the transcript. I sure wish that the censors had not been so free with their redaction efforts.
The record indicates that I was wrong to assert that Jaczko was the source of the decision; but I do not think it shows that I was wrong to assert that the decision was not based on inside technical information.
The transcript proves that there was wide agreement on the course of action that included the 50 mile evacuation order. The people agreeing to that course of action even included the head of the organization that was the initial source of my nuclear expertise.
However, the transcript also proves that there were numerous statements and assumptions that are all based on the initial erroneous report that the walls of the spent fuel pool had been destroyed by the explosion, causing the disappearance of the entire volume of water and the assumed inability to retain any water that might be added to the pool. Chuck Casto, the man that the Chairman chose to send to Japan soon after the earthquake, repeatedly asserted that the pool walls were gone, that the material was fully exposed, and that the situation was progressing as assumed by the models described in NUREG/CR-6150.
Perhaps I really am paranoid, but this little tidbit about Casto’s career still seems oddly coincidental:
“In 1992‐1993, Charles served on a Congressional Fellowship as a Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Harry Reid.”
The senior people that were holding conference calls from thousands of miles away could not understand why the Japanese were not prioritizing taking action to do something about that catastrophic situation. No one in the group asked what seems to me to be the obvious question. If the people on the scene were not worried about the dangers associated with hundreds of uncovered spent fuel assemblies and had no apparent interest in taking any action, could one explanation be that they knew the seismically qualified steel tank was still intact and still holding water?
I read through some of the transcripts when Dan Yurman first discussed them on his blog where he linked to all the transcripts not just the one currently under discussion.
As Dan discusses, the entire set of transcripts indicate that
The transcripts document two things that this blog, and others, reported months ago. First, the spent fuel pool at Fukushima Reactor #4 was never empty of water. Second, remote sensing platforms, both aerial and in low earth orbit, were able to establish the status of the pool and that it had water in it.
After skimming through some of the transcripts again, I am left with the impression that the NRC team that was pulled together failed to recognize they themselves had fallen into a groupthink trap.
They got locked into believing the fuel pools MUST be empty or in the process of draining and were ONLY looking for confirmation of that “fact”.
It appears they did not take a step back and review the indications in front of them to see if there was actual, true confirmation of water leaving the fuel pools.
Admittedly I have not reviewed all 3000 pages but the sections I have read seem to indicate the NRC team was not open to considering any other possibility due in part to the nature of the crisis.
In some ways it is analgous to the TMI event. One factor of TMI was that he operations team at TMI didn’t belive their indications that water was leaving the reactor coolant loop. They thought they had faulty indications and only realized too late the indications were reading accurately.
Here the NRC team became locked into an idea that water was leaving the spent fuel pools immediately in part due to publicly available news reports(there are references to MSNBC, CNN, etc), not true information from the scene. They then appear to have started down the path of only looking for confirmation of that “fact” not trying to determine what was the acutal status of the fuel pools.
The language used in the transcripts by the participants is more confirmatory type language not inqusitive type language. For example: “Why aren’t the Japanese doing anything about the fuel pools” instead of asking what information the TEPCO had from the scene and what was the accuracy of the information. (the text in quotes is a paraphrasing of some of the comments I read not an actual quote).
Now there may be some other parts of the 3000 page transcript that might invalidate my theory and if so then I will change my opinion. However I believe that the team they assembled was not necessarily the strongest team that they could have put together as many of us have discussed. I am of the opinion that was due in part to Jaczko’s team limiting the flow of information to the people with actual experience by instead relying on people whose lives where wrapped up in national lab test reports not real time operations.
I am of the firm belief that the NRC themselves should bring in an independent root cause analysis team, allow them full access to all information and then listen to their advice. Not unlike what the NRC requires of every licensed nuclear facility when a significant event happens.
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