Archive for May, 2007

Anti- and Pro-Nuclear Agreement?

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

Follow up on the previous post

There seems to be widespread acceptance of the facts of where we get our energy, and little else.

I should change the phrasing perhaps on intractable problems. This is what John Holdren, outgoing president of AAAS, said in Energy Innovation Imperative:

Global climate change is increasingly recognized as both the most dangerous and the most intractable of all of energy’s environmental impacts”indeed, the most dangerous and intractable of all of civilization’s environmental impacts, period.Distortions of this envelope [the atmosphere] of the magnitude that are underway and in prospect are likely to so badly disrupt the environmental conditions innovations and processes influenced by climate as to adversely affect every dimension of human well-being that is tied to the environment, including:

__ the productivity of farms, forests, and fisheries;
__ the geography of disease;
__ the prevalence of oppressive heat and humidity;
__ the damages to be expected from storms, floods, and wildfires;
__ the property losses to be expected from sea-level rise;
__ the expenditures that must be made on engineered environments (e.g., dams, dikes, air-conditioned spaces); and
__ the distribution and abundance of valued species as well as pests.

It is becoming clear, nonetheless, that the current level of anthropogenic interference is dangerous.

John Holdren
John Holdren

I am struck when I read Scot’s comments that he believes that 1) somehow we can eliminate nuclear power, and that 2) this will help protect us from nuclear war.

Actually, the use of nuclear power is expected to expand rapidly over the next half century. China intends to provide about one half wedge of nuclear power just by itself, building nuclear power capacity almost as great as exists today worldwide. From Scandinavia to the UK to South Africa to the US to Japan, new nuclear power plants are proposed.

It is fortunate then that getting rid of nuclear power does not appear to be a major mechanism for eliminating nuclear weapons.

John Holdren in his plenary address to the February meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science lists the two methods that people in nuclear weapons policy emphasize:

• strengthen and adequately fund the International Atomic Energy Agency, and
• zero out the nuclear weapons of all nuclear weapons states.

After all, we agree to the second it the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to:

pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament…

unfortunately, without a timetable.

I agree with Scot and people pretty much everywhere in advocating that the US and Russia and other nuclear weapons states have a serious discussion before the next follow-up talks on the NPT.

2005 Campaign to Strengthen the NPT
2005 Campaign to Strengthen the NPT According to Arms Control Association,

Unfortunately, the once-every-five-years meeting closed without any agreed assessment or plan to bolster the treaty.

Second, Scot proposes that nuclear power has been important to the spread of nuclear weapons. Jon addresses this twice. I did an entire series on weapons and power, go to Nuclear Power in a Warming World for the links. See especially Nuclear Power and the Weapons Threat and Nuclear Proliferation– International Treaties.

Scot says,

Any nation that has the infrastructure to support civilian nuclear power plants (including the ability to obtain and enrich uranium, possibly the ability to reprocess spent fuel to obtain plutonium, trained nuclear scientists and engineers, and an industrial base to support the above) can produce nuclear weapons in a relatively short period of time, if it chooses to do so.

Of these, the most important is industrial base, although both the USSR and China developed nuclear weapons without a strong industrial base and without nuclear power.

Scot also says that the spread of nuclear power has led to greater proliferation (though the only example he gives is Iran under the cover of nuclear power claims). From the examples provided, perhaps we would be better off without nuclear medicine.

Actually, the Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed in large part because of the carrot of nuclear power (with some notable exceptions: Israel, India and Pakistan). The Nuclear Suppliers Group is an international system of monitoring dual-use technologies. This is the primary method of detecting clandestine weapons program. North Korea wanted civilian nuclear power from the USSR, signed the NPT to get it (the deal fell through), and thus agreed to aggressive monitoring.

Nuclear Suppliers Group
Nuclear Suppliers Group

Khan of Pakistan helped spread nuclear weapons technology, but this did not depend on the use of nuclear power.

It is important to focus on nuclear weapons policies if we are to decrease the use of nuclear weapons. Focusing on nuclear power is a dead end.

Ruth points out that anti-nuclear weapons advocates Bethe and Blix were/are nuclear power proponents. NNadir points out the biggest nuclear weapons risk (we can’t uninvent them) and that the chances of war are likely to increase as we add climate refugees in large numbers. (My first interest in climate change came from the equality testimony — respecting everyone equally, including the right to life, and the peace testimony, taking away the occasions that lead to war, as climate change is likely to be a major cause of war this century.)

Hans Bethe
Hans Bethe

On a different subject, Joffan points out that increasing efficiency in cars may lead to their increased use, also see Rebound Effect from Better Mileage. Two responses: increasing efficiency may cost more than just burning the gas (if we neglect externalities not included in the price, like climate change and pollution and increased power of some nasty leaders). Hopefully we can find ways to internalize some of those externalities to encourage more than the altruistic to adopt those behaviors. Second, when increasing efficiency leads to lower costs, it may sometimes be useful to increase the cost of gasoline, electricity, whatever, to encourage reduced use.

Arthur feels that nuclear power plant catastrophes are worse than coal power plants in normal operation. I’m not sure how, as coal power produces about eight Chernobyls/year in the US, more than 100/year in China. See Relative Danger of Energy Sources. Arthur feels that we need to focus more on reducing the use of single occupancy vehicle. As someone who mostly travels by bus and train and bicycle, I would like to see many more people traveling by these methods, both because they are enjoyable and because as more use public transit, the faster it improves. However, even if ridership doubles in the US, it will be a tiny blip in the upward exponential of car use. Advocate for both, but don’t assume that we will be able to go without more efficient cars because everyone is getting on the bus.

Do we prefer travel by car or

other modes?
other modes of transportation?

I’ve covered a number of Arthur’s points in previous blogs. Again, go to Nuclear Power in a Warming World for the links.

Where Can Pro- and Anti-Nuclear People Agree?

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

In the spirit of conflict resolution, promoted by Marshall Massey and others, I am wondering if there are points we can all agree on. Do we all, from both camps, agree on any or all of the following?

• 13% of energy worldwide does not come from fossil fuels: oil (41%), coal (24%), and natural gas (22%). This 13% is nuclear (6%), hydroelectric (6%), and other, primarily plants and other biopower/biofuels.

• In the US, electricity (power) is primarily fossil fuel: half coal, 20% nuclear, 18% natural gas, 3% oil, and 9% renewable. Three fourths of the renewable is hydro, 17% is biomass/waste. Geothermal (not technically renewable) and wind are each about 4% of renewables, with solar energy 0.2%.

• GHG emissions from the power sector (electricity) are growing more rapidly than GHG emissions generally.

• Scientists are correct: climate change is the most serious and intractable problem facing humans ever.

• Improving efficiency (doing the same with less energy) and changing how we live are both part of the solution.

• Other low-GHG emitting sources of electricity, such as solar, wind, and geothermal (not technically renewable) are part of the solution. This is true even though all of them will require big subsidies for many years (in solar’s case, it may be decades).

• Coal power is worse than nuclear power. We should never build another coal power plant anywhere in the world, at least without carbon capture and storage. Yet that is what the coal countries (US, China, Australia, Germany, etc) are doing and intend to continue.

• Using natural gas is more polluting than nuclear power. Note: Natural gas and hydro are the two sources of electricity now widely used to provide peak power (during parts of the day and parts of the year when more electricity is needed). But does it make sense to use natural gas for baseload (24/7) power?

• If we create enough low-GHG emitting sources of electricity, a switch to plug-in hybrids will reduce emissions from the transportation sector.

Also posted at earthwitness matters

Cool graphic on US GHG emissions

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

Mechanical Engineering magazine’s article, Carbon Loaded, includes a useful graphic to help us sort out GHG emissions.

US GHG emissions
US GHG emissions

Much thanks to the author for redoing EPA information in an understandable format.

Most of these are increasing, some faster than others.

How many nuclear power plants to reduce atmospheric GHG levels by 1 ppm?

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

Currently coal power and nuclear power compete directly. No one is deciding whether to build a hydro or nuclear plant, a set of windmills or a nuclear plant, or a natural gas or nuclear power plant. Well, the last is possible, but do that a few times and the price of natural gas really rises. Coal and nuclear are used all day, every day. Natural gas is more expensive, so it is more often used during days or times of days when extra power is needed.

GHG emissions from coal range from 0.97 kg to 1.3 kg CO2e*/kWh, let’s call it 1 kg (2.2 pounds/kWh). Nuclear power ranges from 9 to 21 grams/kWh, let’s call that 0. How many nuclear power plants are needed to reduce ultimate atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases by 1 part per million (ppm*)?

If there is feedback (warming soils releasing carbon dioxide and methane, plants growing in dryer soils and warmer oceans holding less GHG), then GHG we add today will produce more tomorrow. But for now, let’s assume no feedback. Then 2.1 billion metric tonnes (Gt) Ce corresponds to 1 ppm Ce. Pouring 2.1 GtCe into the atmosphere raises GHG concentrations by 1 ppm. At this point, we count every ppm not added, as it reduces the amount of damage we do the Earth. And ourselves.

Let’s assume our nuclear power plant is 1,000 MW. Assuming that the plant lasts 60 years, and has a 90% capacity factor (it’s down 10% of the time for refueling and repair, 90% is average capacity factor on current plants). Then the plant will produce

1,000 x 10(6) W * 24 hours/day * 365 day/year * 60 years * 90% = 526 billion kWh.

Each kWh from coal puts 1 kg of CO2e into the atmosphere. We’ll multiply this by 12/44 to get the added weight in kg Ce. Use 1 (metric) tonne = 1,000 kg.

526 billion kWh * 1 kg CO2e/kWh * 12/44 = 140 million tonnes Ce.

To convert to ppm:

2.1 billion tonnes Ce/(140 million tonnes Ce/plant) = 14,600 MW in nuclear power.

Nuclear power plants are larger than 1,000 MW, a large one might be 1,700 MW — about 8.5 of the largest plants will lower GHG concentration by 1 ppm.

If we start 15,000 MW in nuclear power every year for the next 20 years, these power plants will reduce ultimate atmospheric GHG concentrations by more than 20 ppm. If these take an average of 4 – 5 years to build, 60 GW (60,000 MW) – 75 GW will be under construction every year.

To put this in perspective
We all agree that nuclear power is being built at a snail’s pace today: 23 GW is under construction.

In the late 1970s and early 80s, 150 GW was under construction. This was the peak of the earlier construction period, when plant construction was much slower than it would be today. Not only were new designs being worked out, but a new regulatory system as well. Add in a few nuisance lawsuits here and there. Nevertheless, the construction rate was 4 – 5 times what it would need to be to reduce GHG concentrations by 20 ppm through projects started over the next 20 years.

Perhaps in 25 years it will become obvious that solar, etc will be able to supply electricity needs soon, and no more nuclear power plants need be built. But it’s not obvious today. What is clear is that building nuclear power plants decrease atmospheric GHG concentrations.**

Pressurized water model
Pressurized water model

and Solar
Typical system
Typical system

and tomorrow
Flexible Solar Cell
Flexible Solar Cell

* Parts per million — out of every million molecules in the atmosphere, how many are CO2 or CO2e?

Greenhouse gas concentrations or emissions are often measured in CO2e or Ce, equivalent to the values if all the change were to come from CO2 or C.

** CA is adding billions of dollars in subsidies to federal subsidies to build (hopefully) 3 GW, in solar photovoltaic panels. What GHG reduction will they achieve?

Assume GHG emissions for solar are comparable to nuclear (they aren’t, PV is energy intensive to build, but energy costs are coming down). Assume as well that PV panels last 30 years and that the capacity factor for CA is 20% (night, clouds, and changing position of the sun reduce average electricity production to about 20% of theoretical).

Then if solar replaces coal, how much will our subsidies here in CA reduce GHG emissions?

3 x 10(9) W * 24 hours/day * 365 day/year * 30 years * 20% = 158 billion kWh.

158 billion kWh * 1 kg CO2e/kWh * 12/44 = 43 million tonnes Ce.

43 million tonnes Ce/2.1 billion tonnes/ppm Ce = 0.02 ppm Ce

This investment in solar power is critical to reducing electricity costs in the future, and assuring a portfolio of low-GHG sources of electricity. But it will be a while before solar, etc, will be sufficient to meet the need for low-GHG emitting sources of energy.

Mechanical Engineering for the public

Monday, May 7th, 2007

I would have expected a magazine devoted to mechanical engineering to go beyond my abilities to understand. Mechanical Engineering, however, is written in clear prose, with really useful graphs.

April’s issue focuses on plug-in hybrids, coal for fuel cells, reducing smog from biodiesel (biofuels, plants used to make fuels, are major NOx emitters), and Carbon Loaded. See this article for a brief summary of the Stern Review, and for its clear graphics, including where GHG emissions in the US come from.

The magazine has boucoup articles on other subjects. Heads Up looks at why dinosaurs have sinuses. Put a nozzle on it examines the advantages and disadvantages of serrated exhaust exits to reduce airplane noise. A biography of Szilard, No Einstein, includes the Szilard-Einstein effort to find a safer alternative to ammonia refrigerators. Their work was never used — the discovery of freon led to today’s refrigerator.

New blog from Nature

Friday, May 4th, 2007

Nature Reports: Climate Change, a new project of Nature, is hosting a blog, Climate Feedback.

Why the need for another climate blog?

Despite a twenty fold in increase in coverage of global warming over almost two decades in the UK (and a five fold increase in the US over the same period) (see papers by Max Boykoff) , climate change remains a low priority for the mainstream media. More importantly, climate change issues remain poorly understood among even the well-informed public. Mainstream coverage of climate change often leaves readers out in the cold when it comes to separating the known from the unknown, fact from opinion and even fact from fiction. And while the contribution of human activity to climate change is well-established, the extent and timescale of future changes and how to minimise and deal with these changes remain topics of huge debate.

Check out both of these.

From permaculture to nuclear power and other blogs

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

Ingrid from AustinPermie describes her transition to pro-nuclear through her interest in permaculture:

In permaculture, ‘permies’ as we call ourselves, are interested in the integration of various systems, and the understanding, that all of those systems are related, interconnected, and mutually dependent. Change one, you change the rest. It then becomes the domino effect. In the negative it means for example that you pollute soil (replenishing, healing the soil is one of the important goals of permies), you effect healthy micro organisms, in turn effecting depletion of nutrition and disabling the organic growing environment. Hence, when Lovelock mentioned the cycle of positive feedback, which in turn amplifies the temperature and the increase in temperature would do away with the one big hepa filter the world has (Amazon rainforest), I ‘saw’ the cycle, and understood the urge of redressing that course that Lovelock is after by endorsing nuclear energy.

This is part of her post on the rapid melting of Arctic sea ice, much faster and more alarming than models predict. To read more on the sea ice, go to National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Note: much of what Lovelock says is interesting, but not everything he says overlaps perfectly with scientific understanding.

Bob, a f/Friend (Quaker) from North Carolina discusses over a number of posts his transition to pro-nuclear power:

How will we hold ourselves to our best while death and destruction rain all around us? When refugees swarm at our borders, our doors? When there’s not enough food for our fellow humans, let alone the creatures whose habitats we’ve robbed? I was hungry and you fed me. That will apply until the end, breaking the last crust of bread with the stranger. But what if it’s a group of fifty desperate starving people?

From an earlier post:
Aldo Leopold laid the foundation for deep ecology with his land ethic: A thing is right when it preserves the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. Nuclear power, and everything other tool of the late industrial era, needs to be judged by this overarching ethic, buttressed by the values of the world’s great religions.

Bob also discusses conspicuous consumption (my phrase), such as

unnecessary appliances, especially clothes dryers, my pet peeve.

NNadir from Daily Kos has reformed (he used to be an anti-nuclear activist). His blog is wordy, irreverent, and often touches on points that the rest of miss.

I remember reading that Galileo became interested in the heliocentric model when he noticed that discussions were converting people in only one direction: no one was leaving heliocentrism to accept the Earth as center of everything. I’ve noticed this is true about nuclear power discussions: the arguments anti-nuclear people have produced aren’t winning any converts.

Bangladesh has 140 million people

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

From the Chicago Tribune:

Muhammad Ali, a wiry 65-year-old, has never driven a car, run an air conditioner or done much of anything that produces greenhouse gases. But on a warming planet, he is on the verge of becoming a climate refugee….

Bangladesh, which has 140 million people packed into an area a little smaller than Illinois, is one of the most vulnerable places to climate change. As the sea level slowly rises, this nation that is little more than a series of low-lying delta islands amid some of Asia’s mightiest rivers — the Ganges, Jamuna-Brahmaputra and Meghna — is seeing saltwater creep into its coastal soils and drinking water. Farmers near the Bay of Bengal who once grew rice now are raising shrimp.

Notorious for its deadly cyclones, Bangladesh is likely to face increasingly violent storms as the weather warms and see surging seas carry saltwater farther and farther up the country’s rivers, ruining soils, according to scientists.

Land disputes, many driven by erosion [caused by accelerating glacier melt and unusually heavy rains], now account for 77 percent of Bangladesh’s legal suits. In the dry northwest of the country, droughts are getting more severe. And if sea level rises by 3 feet by the turn of the century, as some scientists predict, a fifth of the country will disappear….

With so many huge rivers discharging into the ocean, the country couldn’t build dikes to hold back the sea even if it had the money, Rahman said. And though it has created virtually none of the pollution driving global warming, it is unlikely to receive the international assistance it needs to adapt to conditions created by others.

What that might mean for big polluting nations such as the United States, China and India is that “for every hundred thousand tons of carbon you emit, you have to take a Bangladeshi family,” Rahman said, only half joking. India already is building a fence along its border with Bangladesh….
Bangladesh’s government is doing what it can to prepare for coming hard times. With the help of non-profit organizations, it is testing new salt-resistant crops, building thousands of raised shelters to protect those in the path of cyclones and trying to elevate roads and bridges above rising rivers. Leaders who once insisted that the West created the problem and should clean it up “now accept we should prepare,” Nishat said.

The alternative could be ugly: insufficient food, a destabilized government, internal strife that could spread past the country’s borders, a massive exodus of climate refugees and more extremism, Rahman said.

“A person victimized and displaced will not sit idle,” he predicted. “There will be organized climate-displaced groups saying, ‘Why should you hang onto your place when I’ve lost mine and you’re the one who did this?’

“That,” he said, “is not a pleasant scenario.”

Note: while many scientists predict sea level rise of 3 feet by 2100, some mainstream scientists are predicting 3 feet by the third quarter of the century.

Bangladesh and sea level
Bangladesh and sea level

Dhaka, Bangladesh - Dhaka and its metropolitan area have a population of 11 million
Dhaka, Bangladesh – Dhaka and its metropolitan area have a population of 11 million