Banner
    If Climate Change Is Really Important, Let's Have An Adult Talk About Nuclear Power
    By Hank Campbell | November 8th 2012 05:00 AM | 51 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0®.

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone ever had. Others may prefer Newton or Archimedes...

    View Hank's Profile
    Climate change was ignored for all but the last week of the American presidential election. Then, a hurricane hit and it mobilized voters who were otherwise disappointed that neither party cared about science or the climate. 

    Yet it's hard to have a real talk about climate change when activist groups are so anti-science about energy and energy produces a lot of emissions.  While Hurricane Sandy may have been the 'October surprise' that re-elected a president (1) but it may also have done something that even an earthquake in Japan could not do; force a real, adult conversation about nuclear power.

    There are a few things that we have to accept about a nuclear power discussion and the president can do that, because he no longer has anything to run for - he is legacy-building and given the polarized nature of the election, he has no coattails for anyone to ride...yet.  The first thing we have to accept about an adult discussion of nuclear power is that environmental activists can be no part of it. They are anti-science about food, they are anti-science about energy and that is not going to change.  Greenpeace, Union of Concerned Scientists and all the rest only exist to block science that disagrees with their world view, not be trusted guides for the public on complex topics, and the 21st century is a complex science century. Especially energy science.

    President Obama can do it because he is unfettered, he never needs to run for office again. And since he is unfettered, I predict he will be a lot more pro-science in his second term.

    Now, some will argue he was pro-science in his first term.  Categorically untrue.  Itemizing the list of anti-science, politicization of science and scientization of politics positions his administration caused and perpetuated would take a whole chapter in a book but it may be that he was not trying to be anti-science, he was just having to face down a hostile Congress and even a hostile Democratic party and all their constituents and in juggling all those things, science took a back seat.  

    Yet for all his anti-science flaws, catering to the anti-vaccine crowd, editing science reports, token gestures on biology research that did little to open the doors for the NIH, he really is a pro-science guy.  And every president has had the expedient need to pick and choose their science beliefs à la carte. It looked bad in November of 2008. I mean, his transition team had a guy who believes girls can't do math, an anti-vaccine crackpot and a whole bunch of UFO believers.  Things are much more solid this term, because he doesn't have to reward anyone for getting him elected. Maybe we will even get a Science Czar who is not a 1970s-era doomsday prophet in 2013.

    The Keystone XL project in 2011 showed that the February 2009 pro-science Obama was still in there somewhere.  He was ready to approve it - Americans needed jobs, and it was a lot of them, and it meant less imported oil and no environmental risk and a whole lot of happy union employees.  Opposing it were only some environmentalists but they oppose everything; 400 extra miles of pipeline on the Ogallala aquifer in addition to the existing 20,000 were hardly an environmental concern, according to every scientific report.  And, as Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer phrased it, “Ninety per cent of these jackasses that are complaining about the Keystone pipeline in Washington, D.C., one year ago wouldn't have even known where the Keystone was."

    Obama decided that he couldn't risk enraging environmentalists going into an election year.  Yet we saw glimmers of hope in other areas.  He reined in Lisa Jackson at the EPA, who regards her group as an anti-business fourth branch of government, and delayed even more crushing regulations and laws by the FDA until after the election.

    Now he gets a chance to build a pro-science legacy. No one remembers the President Clinton from 1993 or his impeachment, they remember he had a budget surplus and he did it by brokering deals. His advantage over Obama?  Clinton had no mandate.  He won in 1992 with 43% of the vote and only got 49% in 1996.  Republicans took control of the House in 1994 because he didn't recognize he had no mandate and was arrogant - he cost Democrats control of the House for the first time in 40 years due to hubris, and he learned from it.

    President Obama now gets to rehabilitate his presidency the same way.  But he has to forget worrying about Democrats in 2016 and instead be that guy we saw in his victory speech November 6th.   Nothing will secure his legacy like making inroads on climate change.

    Now, we have made inroads on climate change, he just can't take credit for it.  His $72 billion wasted on corporate alternative energy did not help much in lowering emissions, but the bad economy did.  We went back to 1995 levels of emissions primarily due to no industry and high unemployment in every sector except government.  And the energy sector he was trying to replace with government-funded projects reduced their emissions too.  Despite having more people than ever, American CO2 emissions from energy are back at early 1990s levels and coal is at early 1980s levels.

    But he can be a part of the solution now by endorsing nuclear power. He will, if he is really a pro-science president.   The fact is, America produces great technology but letting energy be hijacked by anti-science progressives has meant decades of no improvements in nuclear energy.  It's been bad for climate change and bad for the world. If American ingenuity had been turned toward making nuclear power safer and better we wouldn't have had to rely on coal all these years and the resulting upward spike in emissions - environmental activists caused climate change, not people driving to work.

    So Hurricane Sandy gives him the opportunity to make the issue personal for Americans in a way the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan could not; when Sandy hit, the aging nuclear plants on the east coast were placed on high alert. And rightly so. Those reactors, for example, have zirconium cladding tubes that contain the fuel and that cladding is in contact with hot water that can lead to corrosion. They are not unsafe but imagine what we could have done in the last few decades if American ingenuity had not been hijacked by people who hate science.  We could have clean energy that is also 'disaster-proof'.

    Professor Steve Donnelly of the University of Huddersfield designed the Microscope and Ion Accelerators for Materials Investigation (MIAMI) facility and starting in January will be using it to simulate the effects of radiation damage on new coatings developed under a $13 million US Department of Energy project to improve cladding design and materials. MIAMI uses ion beams to simulate what happens to test materials during neutron bombardment.

    The project takes three years. If the simulations work, the coating will get tested with neutrons in the US. $13 million. A drop in the bucket.  The alternative energy boondoggle wasted enough rnoney to fund an actual science project 5,500 times.

    Just this project takes three years. Obviously, if we're going to have a realistic conversation about climate change, and if we want it to have a meaningful difference any time soon, we need to focus on a bridge to cleaner energy that is available now and not count on magic rocks that will spring forth if we just throw enough money at companies.

    No more magic rocks, embrace nuclear power.  He can do it and secure his place as the pro-science president, not the president of progressive special interests.

    NOTE:

    (1) According to MSNBC's Chris Matthews anyway.  He got a thrill running up his leg over it, saying "I'm so glad we had that storm last week because I think the storm was one of those things. No, politically I should say. Not in terms of hurting people. The storm brought in possibilities for good politics."

    To Matthews, 111 dead people and about $50 billion in damage was a chance for his candidate to engage in 'good politics'.  It's a good thing no one watches MSNBC or they might have been offended.

    Comments

    The current problem with nuclear power is not technological, it is management problems. There are some technology problems, but we have no systematic way of managing the waste. And what events like Three Mile, Chernobyl, and Fukashima show is that the humans get complacent when things go well. (Actually, this can be seen in other events like the DotCom bubble, housing bubble, CDS bubble, Iraq War, etc.). The principle of nuclear energy is very appealing to me, but nuclear power is to humans as fire is to children.

    Hank
    We had a good solution for waste, at Yucca Mountain, but the handling of that was among the more ridiculously politicized science issues I can recall. So instead of one secure, safe place for waste in a remote area, we have a hundred.  One site is not perfect but a hundred are really bad.

    I agree about complacency but it isn't part of the human condition - at least not all humans.  The military, civilian pilots and lots of other groups use checklists just as a matter of habit and they take them seriously every single time.  
    "One site is not perfect but a hundred are really bad" -- well, it's important to keep the big picture in mind. Fission isn't the only heat-producing process we're using that yields hazardous spent fuel. This Google News search -- tinyurl.com/monoxo -- is currently showing a number of disasters, including ones due to people using small generators because of hurricane Sandy, and being killed by spent gasoline.

    Each *single* such accident does more harm than all the spent nuclear fuel caches, in every country, in the whole history of the world, all together.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/jobs-bushs-first-term-vs-obamas-first-ter...

    and while you are at it:

    http://www.businessinsider.com/politics-economics-facts-charts-2012-6

    please stop saying that Obama only creates government jobs. Please. You have the most "sciencey" data you can get to prove it false.

    and yes, we need nuclear in the mix, but I wish we developed thorium instead of uranium.

    Hank
    I didn't bother to look at the second one because the first was nonsense.  "All are set at 100 to the beginning, just for the sake of normalizing each number to the same point."  Which is a way of saying, 'everyone knows the only jobs saved or gained were government ones and we need to support our guy so let's create a hockey stick of awesomeness by using nonsensical calibration'.

    Where did I say he only creates government jobs?  I have said in the past he created no jobs despite wasting a lot of money - the stimulus plan benefited municipal unions and then other unions and no one else and his subsidies for alternative energy did nothing - but I don't say any such thing here.

    The fact that the government worker unemployment rate is half the private sector unemployment rate is what we call 'evidence'.
    Right here.
    ...no industry and high unemployment in every sector except government...

    How can you possibly argue that the Federal Government did not expand massively under every Republican admin since Reagan? Listen, take some time and look at the charts on the second link...your opinion of the government, and of the facts of history might change. Or not. You are Republican, after all....

    "The Chief Finance Officer of JP Morgan reports that some 75 percent of the net increase in corporate profits between 2000 and 2007—before the financial crash—was a result of cuts in workers’ wages and benefits." - taken from http://www.epi.org/publication/education-profiteering-wall-street/

    So trust corporations more than the government, and that is what you get. Not that government is great, but please stop this private sector is better nonsense. We need both.

    sorry forgot to add this....please explain why normalizing to 100 in this case is wrong, and what the numbers should look like. please tell me what the evidence SHOULD be.

    Hank
    Making both 100 for graphical purposes does not tell a story.  If one set of data has 100 jobs and one has 10, showing them both on a graph of 100 can make the peaks and valleys look really silly.  It's junk statistics to try and find some way - any way - where the economy is really, really good under the president. 

    In that same light, it really takes partisan skew to say 'government grew under Republicans too' and therefore if they are the only ones not unemployed during a recession that is good.  They're union workers, good luck firing them but if you are arguing someone, anyone, should terminate the Depts of Labor, Education and Energy, the only people who disagree either work there or get money from them and thus I applaud your libertarian mindset but it is not going to happen.

    Instead, it makes the case why we should not hire more - you can never get rid of them.

    Anyway, the issue here is nuclear power and I am not sure why you invoked Obama's jobs record.  It has nothing to do with science or science policy.
    I brought it up because you couldn't resist while you were making a good argument for a good cause. Most "sciencey" people will look at the whole graph, including scale, and not the colorful squiggly lines. Sometimes you need to do that to represent the data better. Do you want a scale with numbers in the millions to represent actual total numbers of jobs? The point was to highlight the differences, because most of the actual total numbers of jobs will always be there. Employment and unemployment happen at the margins. Why not just look at that?

    The money for science will have to come from somewhere. You are right that nuclear needs to be re-evaluated, but the money needs to come first. Since we can't raise taxes, how many useless government workers will have to get fired to build a nuclear power plant? Which do you honestly think is better from a social, financial, and even scientific standpoint? Politics is ugly, and not easy.

    Not now, but at least by tonight, please look at the second set of charts. I know this post and site is about science, but I'll bet you can see how this is all related.

    John Hasenkam
    Some years ago now a consortium approached the then Howard Govt(broadly=GOP) in Australia with a proposition for all nuclear waste in the world to be stored in the great big bloody desert sorta North west of Perth(draw a line from the centre of Aus to Perth). Very geologically stable, very isolated, and was once called "missile alley" because missile testing was fired from around Pine Gap in that general direction. It is just a big useless desert, pretty much like the things in so many politicians' heads. 
    Great idea, very easy to transport there, good port at Perth, established rail line. All good, lots of money for Aus, lots of relief for the rest of the world. The shipping would present a problem but how many ships sink these days? 

    It never got off the ground. Australia still maintains a no nuke policy yet we sell the stuff and have just signed an agreement to start selling uranium to India. We are the second largest producer of uranium. We did have a proposed reactor site at in NSW in the early 70's but for reasons unknown that was canned. No politician in Australia is prepared to raise the nuclear question again possibly because we have huge amounts of high quality coal all over the place. But the real reason is the greenies go berserk over it and the chardonnay sipping leafy suburb socialists living the high life get on their friggin high horses demanding we must resist the nuclear temptation. 

    I have a theory ... not mine but it goes like this: the success of a culture is proportional to its energy production capacity. Given climate change it seems odd we rely on environmentally contingent power sources. Given climate change one sure fire way to address emerging contingencies is to have buckets of power on call to address these possible emergencies. With lots of power and automation geo-engineering is much more feasible. Given common sense but oh wait that is asking too much. 

    I can't see why thorium reactors aren't more aggressively promoted. 

    Thor Russell
    Yes waste sure doesn't have to be a problem. However if we are talking about climate change, how much can nuclear do to help? Even if it was quite cheap, with current technology it can only provide electricity, and to give peak power you would need about 2* as much as baseload. That says nothing about transport etc. Energy storage is at least as important. If we want to reverse climate change, something like this would be far more effective:
    http://www.engineeringontheedge.com/2012/11/uk-firm-produces-gasoline-from-air/
    It is low efficiency making gasoline to put in a car, but of course if you just suck the CO2 out the air, it takes far less energy. More significant than the nuclear waste sink is the fact that you can store CO2 in deep seawater, the ocean is enough to hold all the extra CO2 we have put in the atmosphere. 


    Now if you are talking about the energy to supply it, and energy production capacity, you need to appreciate the powerhouse of 20/21st century technology, and it is the process that drives Moores law and ever cheaper flat screen TV's, not that which made the space shuttle or the Concorde. So what technology can best make use of the most powerful technology engine we have? It is solar, and such progress has already been going on for a long time. Solar power cost per watt and production capacity has been following an exponential curve for over 25 years:


    http://cleantechnica.com/2011/06/10/solar-power-graphs-to-make-you-smile/


    Nuclear would have been the best technology in the 70's, but it is no longer the best bet, and I expect the debate will be over before the first thorium reactor is commercial. Yes it was and is unfairly prejudiced against, however making things "fair" by choosing the now second best tech will not help anything. The reason for solar is not anything to do with hippy reasons, but a simple appreciation of the strengths of our technology system and of course the vast solar resource, that powers almost all life on earth.  Direct sun provides >95% of the energy input for our agriculture. It is inevitable that solar will continue to drop in price, and improve. Nuclear just cannot compete, new solar factories can arise from lab technologies in a few years vs decades for new nuclear. Technologically we are at the stage where digital cameras were still more expensive than analog, but in that case it was clear to everyone what would happen. Politics prevents people from seeing the inevitable in this case. They argue about subsidies etc and miss the big picture.


    If you want automation and geo-engineering, check out what this combined with the CO2 extraction from air could do:
    http://www.ssb-foundation.com/


    These two combined if automated properly can solve and reverse climate change if necessary. The Sahara breeder project isn't even necessary for solar, if only a few percent of factories worldwide swapped to producing panels, then we could produce enough to power the world. 
    New technologies can use much less silicon also:


    http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/122231-solar-panels-made-with-ion-cannon-are-cheap-enough-to-challenge-fossil-fuels
    This can ramp up much faster than a nuke tech that is currently without even a single commercial reactor.
    Thor Russell
    While I agree with most of what you said, Hank, there are problems with the possibility of having adult conversations about energy in the US. Yes, the President is in a position to influence the Congress. How open those members are to nuclear power is a difficult question to answer.

    I do not believe that you can exclude the activists on this, or any other, topic. They would seem to be pre-convinced against sane and rational engagement. No amount of evidence will convince them to change their minds. This can be seen in so very many other areas that it should be obvious us all.

    If the President should decide, or be persuaded, to promote increased nuclear power, for our current and future needs, will he be able to twist enough arms in the Congress? Will the various legislators up for re-election be swayed more by science or will they bend to the efforts of the well funded, and highly motivated, opponents of nuclear power? I think I know the answer.

    As much as I might wish it were not true, I think that most of the citizens of the US are easily distracted from the truth, and not inclined to change their minds. We have, as proof, a couple of hundred years of snake oil salesmen, Ponzi operators, and other charlatans, who have enriched themselves by convincing the citizens of their magic. These same citizens will howl at their elected officials until the special interests win. Again.

    In my view, it will take a great many scientists, willing to withstand the expected abuse, standing up and shouting until they are heard and believed. I don’t know if we have enough of that special breed of scientists.

    Hank
    Europeans are convinced cell phones cause cancer, GMOs cause cancer...okay, they think everything causes cancer...but they accept nuclear power, even if they are doing a cultural placebo and claiming they will power it down, until the controversy over a Japanese earthquake goes away.  
    They have 70% nuclear power in France because even anti-science crackpots have limits on who they will invite to the energy table, and anti-nuclear activists were too kooky even for the French.  We can learn something from our brothers on the continent there.
    I certainly agree that we could learn from them. My question is, will we?

    I confess total ignorance of the politics across the pond. Are the activists as well organized and funded as our homegrown varieties? Do they have the same, or similar, access to willing media outlets?

    President Obama needs to stop listening to Senator Reid so he can't be a pain in the posterior for the Yucca Mountain to proceed. He needs to fire Dr. Chu to stop playing with wind and solar toys.

    Hank
    I certainly agree that Yucca Mountain was a politicization of science disaster but I will defend Obama just a little here (Science Left Behind is hard on him, though) because he dealt with an environment no Republican had to deal with - it wasn't an opposing Congress hostile to him, it was his own party.  

    Harry Reid laid out early on that regardless of any mandate he got from the public, the Senate and its bulletproof majority were not going to do anything unless Obama was exactly the opposite of the president he campaigned on being - a president for them and not America: "I do not work for Barack Obama, I work with him."  It is unimaginable that a Republican would have thrown down that gauntlet in public.  He was saying Yucca Mountain was going away or the Senate was not helping.  In the House, Nancy Pelosi did the exact same thing, declaring they were not a rubber stamp for his agenda. He had his own party working against him so Republicans waited out the clock for that to collapse while Democrats stuffed a stimulus plan he wanted with porkbarrel projects and passed health care reform, just not his.

    So while Obama's actions have been anti-science, I am not sure he is as anti-science as his record shows and now he can show it.  No literate scientific person is against nuclear power. Yucca Mountain was analyzed, studied and debated for 30 years and the science was settled - but Reid got it overthrown politically. Could he get 51 votes in the Senate?  Harry Reid no longer carries that kind of credibility, since he declared that he would not work with Romney if he were elected, while Bush had put Reid's aide on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be bipartisan and considerate of his concerns.
    Gerhard Adam
    So much for the "adult talk", eh?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Don't you just love that? Wind and solar toys, as if that is not the future.

    If the "government waste" crowd were around during Apollo 1, NASA would have been shut down, and we would be years behind. Yes, there have been many solar failures, but that's how science works. If you were in unmapped territory, and you needed to get to a certain place, you would certainly waste a lot of footsteps getting there. We all know this. How many wealthy private citizens are going to fund the future? Government may be bad, but it is all we have.
    By the way, can we ask Hank where France got the money to build all those nuclear power plants?
    Solve entitlement spending first. Both sides will have to slaughter their sacred cows to get there.

    Hank made a good comment about the French nuclear involvement. Perhaps a good starting point for us would be to see where and how they got to where they are now. Maybe we here in the US could use that information to further our own needs.

    Hank
    The French nationalized energy in 1946. Nuclear energy has long been the big part of their mix ( 75%) because they lack natural resources.  Oddly, until American nuclear power was shut down they used American technology, it was superior to their own.  Now, we lag the world in research because an anti-nuclear guy was appointed to run the NRC.  I am not kidding, we don't have a nuclear physicist running American nuclear power, we have an anti-nuclear activist with a degree in geology whose primary lobbying goal was shutting down Yucca Mountain while with Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the inventors of the Doomsday Clock.

    So, of course I think Pres. Obama could be a pro-science president, but it won't be easy as long as he has to fight his own voters.
    You guys are missing the big "sciencey" picture. It's not about nuclear power and industry. It's about support of researching the improvement of nuclear power. The ONLY possible totally sustainable future power source is nuclear. And I'm not talking about fission. I am talking about the one and only cold fusion nuclear power. The clock is ticking. If the world and America specifically keeps sitting on its hands instead of really getting behind the scientists to push this one out we may not be able to get it for a millennium. Do you really believe we can create a source of energy that will last us another thousand years with the growth rate we have? It's impossible everything relies on fossil fuels right now. We can't even produce other means of creating energy without consuming a ton of fossil fuels in the process. It is awful.

    Hank
    I certainly agree.  Fusion has been researched for 50 years and if it takes another 50 that will be worth it.  I don't know that it will be cold fusion but we will have clean fusion energy.  Fission is the bridge to good solar and solar would be a bridge to fusion but it can't be all or nothing any time soon.   No matter how we come up with energy, we would need the equivalent of a nuclear plant every day for those 50 years to replace what we have so we can only migrate an existing one out when new ones work.
    Well when I say cold fusion I do not mean necessarilly room temperature fusion. When I say cold fusion I mean fusion that can be somewhat controlled and not done with such an intense heat that it could easily become totally uncontainable. Because we do have fusion bombs and technology if I'm not mistaken. It's the process of making that energy "cold" as in controllable so that we can use it as something productive not destructive. I personally think plain fusion with no inhibitors or anything will always be to volatile and violent to be controlled by the likes of man unless some new technology is created that can seriously manipulate energy, because well it IS the sun its not like we can even comprehend its true strength.

    John Hasenkam
    ore significant than the nuclear waste sink is the fact that you can store CO2 in deep seawater, the ocean is enough to hold all the extra CO2 we have put in the atmosphere. 


    What about acidification Thor? The problem I have with any proposal to store CO2 is that we require vast amounts of storage area. 


    It is solar, and such progress has already been going on for a long time. Solar power cost per watt and production capacity has been following an exponential curve for over 25 years:

    I don't have a problem with alternatives, throw them into the mix but my main concern is power on call, immediately available because with climate change I believe there will be a series of catastrophes that will only be addressed by having energy sources that are there all the time. For eg. water shortages  are already occurring and desalination will become increasingly mandatory over the long term. Or automated building of sea walls and geo-engineering projects. In Australia we loose massive amounts of water in the north and we are the driest continent on the planet. Being able to move that water inland, being able to transform those huge arid areas into agricultural land, will require huge amounts of earth moving etc. Conventional earth moving is hugely CO2 intensive but if we had enough electricity other technologies could emerge to mitigate that. With the water available inland nuke plants could be built there well away from urban centres. 

    The cost of nuclear is a problem but it has logistic advantages. High output with a minimum footprint, no contingencies on power output. The reasons the costs remain so high are the same as solar. Nuclear power technology was put in the back burner decades ago. In the same way that ongoing research into solar is bringing costs down, further R&D into nuclear power may well see big price reductions. 

    As for fusion power that will eventually come. But I don't think it will come soon enough. For the time being, if we take the climate change threat as being something that requires big action in the coming 50 years, and most scientists argue it should be now, then we have to develop the existing technologies and maintain the R&D on future potential technologies. 
    Thor Russell
    Ocean acidification is only happening in the very top layer of the ocean, in direct contact with the air. There is a very long mixing period from the CO2 to get from the top to the bottom of the ocean. If it was spread out evenly there would be little measurable acidification. 
    "there is about fifty times as much carbon dissolved in the sea water of the oceans as exists in the atmosphere."
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dioxide


     Put a big pipe down deep and it is not coming up for hundreds of years, and if spread out will cause far less acidification than we have already caused.
    Regarding power on hand to cope with disasters, the percentage needed to cope with disaster is tiny compared to day to day living, and anyway if you have a CO2 sequestration system, you can just burn fossil fuels for this, and suck much more back out the air again. Its pretty clear that our existing liquid fuels system is best to cope with emergencies, but in the big scheme of things that isn't big. 

    Solar is more than capable for desalination because you can easily store days of water, it doesn't matter if you don't produce any at night. Sure nuke could work, but my bet is in a decade solar will be the cheapest form of energy by far. You wouldn't invest in cheaper analog cameras when digital was taking off, so by similar logic we should be preparing for cheap solar and investing in it. By all means still invest in nuclear, but it surely has to be the underdog now. Not sure that footprint matters, you could power the entire world with the Aus desert. Powering the world with solar would take about 1-2% the land that agriculture takes so it doesn't seem big in that context. My issue is that solar is called "alternative". Any student of technology would call it "probably inevitable" and make plans accordingly.

    I agree that increased automation on a massive scale is necessary and that requires a massive power source and common materials. Very little work has been done on building such a system, thinking about how all the parts fit together.


    Thor Russell
    John Hasenkam
    Thor,
    What about the the idea of CO2 scrubbers like those used in nuclear subs? If we can capture carbon in solid form I suspect that allows much better storage potential. I'm still wary of pumping CO2 down deep into the ocean. Theories are one thing but the history of mankind often reveals that what we once thought would cause no problems does cause a great many problems. The solid carbon storage idea appeals to me because the containment seems more secure. Nuclear power has its risk but thorium reactors greatly reduce that risk profile: can't melt down. Even conventional nuclear  reactors now in design can meet that challenge. I suspect the real reason nations have not invested in thorium reactors is you can't make bombs with those reactors. We do like things that go bang! 

    I want us to move away from burning fossil fuels completely. CO2 is one issue but the burning of fossil fuels introduces many nasties into the environment. Mercury levels are rising around the globe and it is estimated coal plants are responsible for 50% of this. I'm more inclined to the view that we electrify transport as much as possible, that we move beyond fossil fuels. 

    The geo-engineering issue could involve a huge change in our energy requirements so I am not sure that current percentages re addressing crises are a good example. 

    We could not power all the world in the Aus desert because of transmission loss and infrastructure issues but I take your point regarding the footprint. Again though there are going to regions of the world were solar will not be practical. That is why I generally advocate a mix of technologies and R&D. Any student of technology? I think that is exactly what many people are still debating: what is the best approach. 
    Well, Hank, you did get some adult conversations started.

    I think it is pretty clear that we will need fossil fuels for quite a while longer. The US, and probably most other industrialized countries, is wired for electricity so that seems to be where the future is. How to generate the needed mega watts is the question. Nuclear (both types) is likely to be the costliest and solar is likely to be the least expensive, but we will need a mix of those for a long time.

    This is a science site, so it is worthwhile and appropriate to discuss the alternatives here. The ideas that are exposed, and the gateways those ideas could open, may lead to some of our brighter minds to come up with other solutions that will the best option for our future energy needs. I certainly hope this is the case.

    The huge costs, both in capital and hubris, of nuclear power are nothing to be dismissed. I don’t know what the projections are, but I wonder what the time lag would be for the construction of a brand new nuclear power generation facility. I imagine that it would be twenty years or more if it could even get approval. Safety and other tests would likely take another five years or so. That’s quite a wait.

    From a more pragmatic perspective, expanded nuclear production facilities in the US face a huge hurdle because of the long time from the approval to the finished product. Our political leaders are (mostly) constrained to thinking in two or four year calendars. They, much like the CEO’s of major corporations, can’t afford to think, plan, or commit, to longer frames simply because they may not be around that long. It is difficult to imagine that the US government might take the fiat approach and simply say ‘this is what we are going to do’, but it could happen.

    Entrepreneurs could take up the challenge, but I doubt that they will look favorably on nuclear solutions. They would be much more likely to embrace the potential solar industry because of the lower startup costs and shorter time to implementation.

    Perhaps Hank had the right idea in the headline of this article. If global warming, and the effects of this warming, continues to get headlines, the alarmed citizens might energize the politicos to get up and do something. Just about anything is better than we have going on now.

    Reading this tripe I felt l was reading an Onion article.

    "environmental activists can be no part of it" you say.

    So you want to prevent an entire segment of the population from the right to have a say in something that could devastate their or their family's lives? My guess is you're a Republican.

    "imagine what we could have done in the last few decades if American ingenuity had not been hijacked by people who hate science." you say.

    Do you really think that environmental activists had stopped research on every possible technical fix for making nuclear safe? If so you're delusional.

    If you have no issue with the disaster caused by Fukushima, from probable large increase in cancer and early death (check how many children are showing up with nodules on their thyroids), to environmental ruination on a large scale including radioactive pollution throughout in the pacific ocean and fallout over the entire northern hemisphere, to the billions of dollars that this accident is costing Japan, if you can just brush all that aside then your version of morality and doing the right thing is not mine.

    Hank
    You are framing a science issue emotionally - if anyone disagrees with you, well, they are just not moral, like you so smugly are.  This is the perfect mindset for activists to exploit in fundraising but not much value in science. The public gets to pick their policy but they don't get to pick their facts and that is what environmental activists seek to do - pick and choose only the facts that match their agenda.

    The vast majority of nuclear scientsts are liberals - as are all scientists - yet you now want to further spin science to your worldview by claiming anyone who disagrees with you is an evil Republican, including all nuclear physicists.  Obviously Republicans have done no better for science, George Bush put an anti-nuclear crackpot in charge of the NRC before Obama replaced him with another anti-science crackpot, so why do you think only Republicans are the problem?

    Because they vote differently than you.  But thank you for making my point about scientization of politics so adroitly.
    Besides not addressing the points I made you also threw up a straw man.

    "yet you now want to further spin science to your worldview by claiming anyone who disagrees with you is an evil Republican, including all nuclear physicists.... why do you think only Republicans are the problem?"

    Is that what I said? No I was talking about YOU as it is you who advocated ending the democratic process.

    Hank
    There is no democratic process to science - you don't vote on facts.  There is only a democratic process to policy and people who have declared in advance they are against a science policy cannot be part of that policy discussion.  Are we going to let people vote on whether or not global warming exists?  Are you okay with Exxon being 1 of 5 people on a committee about climate science?
    "There is no democratic process to science - you don't vote on facts... People who have declared in advance they are against a science policy cannot be part of that policy discussion."

    What facts? What policy?

    "people who have declared in advance they are against a science policy cannot be part of that policy discussion."

    Let's turn that around. Let's say you are a climate scientist during the Bush (or a Romney) administration. They had and have a policy of denial and their actions follow(ed). According to you since you will have declared that you are against their misguided policies neither you no any other legitimate climate scientist should be part of the discussion.

    "Are we going to let people vote on whether or not global warming exists?"

    Change the word "vote" to "have a say". Did you get a different answer this time?

    Hank
    Again someone is making this about Bush as if that is some boogeyman for children. The guy doubled funding for the NIH, funding which is off 20% in the Obama years because he porkbarrels everything except science.  Obama has done the exact same things in science that Bush did, just about different stuff.  Ask whistleblowers at the FDA who were spied on what they think about Obama, or the scientists who had their report on the BP oil spill edited to read that they recommended a ban on offshore drilling. 

    The anti-science crowd has had its say - that is why we got the runaway climb in CO2 in America.  They are not part of the 'adult' crowd in any energy conversation.
    Your not getting it. Though one could make a much stronger case for the Republicans as the anti-science party that's peripheral to what we're talking about. I brought up Repubs the first time because of your anti-democracy comments. The second time just to use an example of carrying your 'if you don't agree with our science policies you have no right to speak at all' stance to it's illogical conclusions.

    There are a lot of good reasons to be anti-NPP and pro clean alternatives.

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Fukushima_Disaster:_The_Myth_...

    http://phys.org/news/2012-11-bulletin-german-nuclear-exit-economic.html

    But if you insist on it just make sure you have plenty of sawdust, newspapers and diaper chemicals on hand just in case!

    http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/04/03-3

    Hank
    Your first link is a conspiracy theory by a 'progressive watchdog group' and the second is a press release.  You aren't really making a case that activists aren't activists that ignore science. I gave up after that because, really, you don't care about science, you just want to make the case that activists should go on blocking actual clean energy.
    Conspiracy theo... WHAT?

    Never mind.

    But calling nuclear "clean energy"? Sorry but that's just amusing.

    What's clear is that you don't know what you are talking about. You are apparently a right-winger with a grudge against environmentalists. I have news for you friend, if not for the hard work of environmentalists the air you breathe, the water you drink, the food you eat - the country you live in - would all be a lot, lot worse. Think China where they have little or no environmental regulation.

    Sorry to be so frank but that's how I see it.

    Adios.

    Hank
    You clearly come into any discussion of nuclear power calling everyone a Republican if they, you know, actually know anything about science.  So it's a little disingenuous to have some anonymous person acting like they have to pull out the Republican card...for the third time in this thread...and claim they are just being 'frank'.  There is nothing frank about you, you are just some anonymous anti-nuclear person. Big deal, no one is impressed, it's easy to be against everything and a lot more difficult to learn to think for yourself.

    I know, I know, environmentalists protesting nuclear power saved the world.  Except there is not a single issue environmental issue environmentalists ever got to first.  Not one.  Scientists get there first every single time, then environmentalists run around prophesizing doom unless they get money.  What environmentalists did do is cause global warming.  Sorry, that is being frank.
    Rational discussion of nuclear power is the last thing you are going to get from ideologues.

    At a conference for high school honors science students in the mid 80's we were addressed by the state NRC head who bragged she had personally doubled the regulations regarding nuclear plants.

    So, as the first questioner during the Q&A afterwards, I asked, "So, does your doubling the regulations mean that you discovered that those plants actually had twice as many valves and circuits as the designers thought they did when they built them and their plans were first approved by your agency?"

    The laughter and applause was overwhelming. That brought a nasty movie-villain sneer from the chairwoman, and after a minute I got a lecture about how businessmen don't care about safety and how Ronald Reagan was the devil incarnate. (Yes, it was his fault, not Bush's.) Despite the audience response to my question there was no follow-up from other questioners or any further mention.

    That's the second half of the problem. People won't stand up for reason against derision and false moralism.

    I hear they are building nuclear power plants in China.

    Hank
    Good insight.  Yes, with 3X the people in China their pollution is issue is magnified more than 3X so I am not surprised.  They throw out the alternative energy placebo, so they get to be both the largest green energy and the largest fossil fuel energy producer, but nuclear is the way to go.  I suppose it is good to be a one-party totalitarian state on issues like that but I'd rather have an NRC head who hates nuclear power than not be able to use the Internet.
    After forty years of engineering practice, a score of nukes, two score fossil fuel power plants, and decades assessing advanced technology, what works, what are the barriers, and when, I can, with certainty state there have not been, or are, any adults in America, holding an honest dialog about energy. The present Department of Energy has spent $70 Bn on technologies that can not support our grid. We are witnessing the agony of an urban center, New York, struggling without power for two weeks, due to a rain storm, not even a hurricane. None of the backbone of the grid, the generators, were harmed. Consider what would have occurred if Sandy hit wind mills, or tens of thousands of acres of solar panels. Suppose Sandy was a Cat 3 storm. We would be in the third week of a five - ten year outage, for 60,000,000 people, with winter coming. In spring, we would lack the necessary acreage for graves.

    I have read stupidities on this debate topic since the last 1960s. Life does not sit on a shelf. From Edison to the mid 1970s, the US brought a big new one on the line every quarter. Then quit. Our grid is now scrap iron. The CEO of the Long Island utility just quit because his organization is floundering; they track outages with highlighters in stead of software. His spokesman says some day they will discover computers.

    The last knowledgeable adult died a long time ago. I fear a New York in a five year outage, and simply do not comprehend what that means. I am not an adult; I am just old.

    John Hasenkam
    China is the first country to have a "bubble reactor" connected to the grid. An Australian-Chinese bod recently developed a new solar technology but Australia would not back it and the Chinese have been happy to support him in his endeavour. China thinks longer term than many Western countries, it spreads the risk, it does not aim at what the market will deliver in 1 or 2 years and recognises that new technologies can take decades to mature. We might learn more from China if we weren't so obsessed with making a buck yesterday. 
    If people wish to invest in differing approaches to this problem more power to ém. But as I originally stated I think we must confront the fact that it is critically important to have power sources that are environmentally independent. A nuclear power station can be built to withstand many potential disasters because it is very much isolated from the surrounding environment. Can't do that with solar panels and wind power. If we rely solely on those sources of power we still remain at the mercy of the unforeseen. One tornado would wreck a wind or solar farm but would only damage the employee cars at a nuke plant. 
    Yes john,you are right about "isolation",but if ,due to "glacial rebound"new unpredicted fault lines were to open up as pressure was released from the earth's crust,what would happen to agricultural land if it became contaminated with radio active material.It would seem Hank is an American first then a scientist,has to create a war in order to keep the union.I am heartily sick of the "selfish science"in all areas,scientists who think their own area is the only one that matters,the surgeon who thinks surgery is the answer to every illness,biologists who think that genetics will solve all our problems,physicists who think that some particles called the Higgs will save us all,and yes,environmental scientists{and they are just as much scientists as you are Hank]who like David Attenborough seem to think that man was not meant to be a part and involved with our environment but to just sit and observe it,doing nothing about what we see as wrong.Recently in Australia,sheep were removed from environmentally sensitive land due to selfish scientific advice,until other selfish scientists advised that certain species were in danger of dying out and the sheep must be put back to save them.Science 2 ,I hoped was a vehicle where scientists could get their act together and get interested in each others science and cross -pollinate ideas ,otherwise the goodwill "bank" that science has built up over centuries will be bankrupt amongst the general public.Selfish nuclear science has to take notice of environmental science,nuclear waste is so toxic only 100% safety would be required,would any reasonable scientist guarantee that?

    Hank
    No one reasonable guarantees anything.  Driving a car is not 100% safe, nor is a swimming pool and certainly eating organic food has been shown to be dangerous.  We all have acceptable risk and the risk factors show that we can't (a) create class warfare where only rich people have energy and (b) we can't continue to burn fossil fuels so that means (c) clean energy at a reasonable cost while other forms of clean energy get better.

    There is no magic place where everyone is happy but environmental scientists are not the same as other scientists - they only care about what is not done, not doing, anything.
    John Hasenkam
    Don the very reason I advocate a mix of strategies is because we can't know the future with certainty and we can't know how these technologies will pan out over the coming decades; let alone the possibility that an ice age will eventually hit us. But if we now confine our options we are taking a bigger risk. Consider bubble reactors, a fault would basically have to occur right under those and the odds of that are very remote. An ice age would also make solar panels and wind farms highly problematic in some circumstances. In that scenario more people will die from starvation and freezing than from lost agricultural land. In an ice age everything from New York, Paris, Beijing to the Arctic is completely lost under kilometres of ice. It will be a whole new world then. In that new world our biggest asset will be great big globs of power and pumping CO2 and methane into the air. That is a major reason I advocate nuclear power because on the current evidence another ice age appears inevitable. 
    It is easy to dream up "what ifs" and that is part of the risk assessment strategy but the "what ifs" must to whatever extent possible be measured as a risk otherwise nothing would ever get done. Sadly prophecy is not an activity of science(Theodore von Karmen) but we must engage in some measure of risk assessment. For better or worse we are going to transform this planet. If you take Ruddiman's early anthropocene GW seriously we begun that transformation at the end of the last ice age. As soon as hominids starting making fire, circa 1.5 million years ago, we stopped living "in harmony with nature". Nature is not about "harmony" or "balance", it is endlessly in becoming. So are we. 



    Meanwhile, in the UK:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/10/30/hitachi_uk_nuclear_horizon/

    "Japanese tech giant Hitachi has swooped in to rescue the UK’s foundering Horizon nuclear energy project with a commitment to generating thousands of new jobs and knock-on benefits for the local supply chain.

    Horizon Nuclear Power was put up for sale by its German owners E.On and RWE in the spring without having built a single reactor, ironically due in part to Germany’s decision to abandon nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

    The value of the deal was not disclosed but the FT pegs it at about £700m. It will see a “100 year commitment to the UK and its vision to achieve a long-term, secure, low carbon and affordable energy supply”, according to Hitachi president Hiroaki Nakanishi.

    This will specifically involve the construction of two to three 1,300MW plants at Horizon’s existing sites in Wylfa, Anglesey and Oldbury in Gloucestershire, with the first to be ready by 2025 at the latest.

    The power stations will contain Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) technology, a Generation III boiling water reactor. Four ABWRs have already been built on time and to budget in Japan by Hitachi, although UK regulators have yet to approve the design."

    Hank
    Germany is pretty reactionary, culturally.  I think abandoning nuclear power 'in the future' is just a dodge.  Companies like Siemens have also dropped out of solar because the subsidies are not enough to make it worthwhile for a business so nuclear will be the way to go for them. 
    Not sure about that. I can tell you that there is real political consensus to "get out" - german population is rather opposed to nuclear energy. You may well risk getting your car keyed in case you put up a pro-nuclear sticker in the rear window.

    8 reactors were stopped immediately after Fukushima with no good reason and the remaining 9 are scheduled for termination (last one in 2022 though).

    Apparently the missing power is currently being fully furnished by a sudden surge in "renewables" (no additional energy imports). I don't understand that at all. Maybe all the industry is now hanging off reliable generators while those who don't need these are getting their juice from the wind harvesters? Well, the wrangling for subsidies for renewables has definitely heated up.

    Check it at http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomausstieg - this page has clearly been edited by the "nuclear sceptics" though.

    Then we have things like this: http://www.volker-quaschning.de/artikel/Szenario2050/index.php - Pie in the sky really. Reduced energy usage and running industry from renewables, additionally counting Hydrogen as energy source? I laugh.

    Even in France, the Socialist Party is intending to stop a third of the reactors (in truth, I guess a few of the old ones are a bit hazardous to run now).

    People are of course all for this, in the same way as they are for "free healthcare" - it's all too easy to consider one side of economic equations or fall for political glitter.

    When we talk about nuclear waste,we are ,as you well know ,talking about something that will render land useless to mankind for hundreds of thousands or even millions of years.You cannot talk about risk assesment in the same manner as normal subjects because any risk at all would have enormous consequences.If there was some way of separating power generation from the waste ,I would be all for it,but so far concrete is not good enough.The wind systems are separate in the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere,and so are the ocean currents,peak electricity demand is high in the southern hemisphere when you have a surplus in the north.Perhaps if we could link the northern hemisphere grids to the southern hemisphere grid ,we in australia /new zealand/south america/south africa could provide the northern hemisphere with clean food,water and bottled air and you in the north could be in a nuclear polluted zone ,providing us in exchange with reliable surplus electricity when we need it most at our peak times.Germany ,by the way Hank,survived the G.F.C. and came through it better than most even with lower productivity than many of it's competitors,because[from a recent finance analysis by the B.B.C.]most germans believe that they should live within their means and there is something wrong with people who don't.,i.e. the environmental circle of life again,put back what you take out and take out what you put in .Most Americans are too influenced by the telly evangelists and their protestant "work ethic" i.e.the fascist idea that work is good for it's own sake even if it doesn't accomplish anything.Earning work is all that matters,but "saving" work{making what youv'e got go further}is unimportant.Read about the president of Uraguay who lives the life of an ordinary pensioner and gives 90% of his salary to charity.

    Hank
    I agree that the risk merits an extraordinary level of thought but we have not done that - instead, what we get from anti-science activists is that nuclear power must be banned.  It's like 19th century Luddites insisting that if cars can't be safer without air bags they should never be built until air bags are invented. 

    America is an intellectual superpower. If nuclear power exists at all, and we are not making it safer, it is making the world a more dangerous place.  The anti-science contingent wants to win an emotional argument at any cost, that is their goal, not to make nuclear power safe.
    I'm not suggesting we can just ban it overnight,but phase it out if there is an alternative.One of the alternatives as i have said is better use of fossil fuels,i.e.elimination of peak load overcapacity by a world grid co-ordinating all generation methods.Secondly by carbon sequestration in farming.Plants need protein for growth which is produced when microbial activity acts on sequestrated soil carbon and nitrogen[not just N>P>K>fertilising].This accelerated growth will in turn extract more co2 from the atmosphere and produce more carbon to sequesrtate.Higher protein in food generally will mean we have to consume less of the carbs we don't need in order to get the protein we do need and big savings can be made in health costs through overweight related sickness.I am at present experimenting with weeds which have high survival and growth rates,using them to sequestrate carbon by constant slashing and placing around vegetable plants;i've discovered that many insects are diverted from the vegetable plants to the waste weed material and it soon disappeares into the ground .needing replenishment..The growth rate is very high and plants are constantly mulched requiring less water.This could be a new way for agriculture to go,growing and using weeds as fertiliser.We don't need to rush into neuclear so fast if we can use fossil fuel better and anyway no one has proven with even low probability that climate change is going to be a bad thing if we move more slowly as evolution shows survival is a gradual process and we need to slow down to survive.Only the politics of greed is impatient ,like the drug that it is people can become addicted to it and in the end will do anything to get their hit.There are many wonderfull things have come out of America and it has produced many outstanding men and women,but being the biggest pusher of the drug of greed has been its worst export.