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MAD Energy Policy

energy clock

Mutual assured destruction (MAD) was the Cold War doctrine that proposed nuclear war could best be prevented if neither side could expect to survive a full-scale nuclear exchange.

To maintain the credibility of this threat each side had to invest enormous sums in their nuclear arsenals even though these were never intended for use and the use of a single bomb by either side would invoke massive retaliation by the other escalating to the ultimate demise of both.

According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, from 1940-1996, the United States spent a minimum of $5.5 trillion on its nuclear weapons program and its total military expenditures during the same period is estimated at $8 trillion.

It is difficult to determine the full cost to the Soviet Union of the Arms Race but many point to it as a significant factor in the demise of the world’s largest country, even though Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader at the time of the dismantling, says the explosion of Chernobyl was the cause.

For a forum dedicated to energy and climate this in itself should be instructive.

The Doomsday Clock, produced by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is emblematic of the perils posed by nuclear weapons and now climate change and the closer the minute hand is set to midnight, the closer it is assumed we are to the apocalypse.

Currently the clock (below) is set at 3 minutes to midnight even though the Cold War ended in 1985.

But for 1953 when it was set to 2 minutes to midnight when the United States decided to pursue the hydrogen bomb, it is currently the closest the clock has ever been set to the hour of doom.

The statement accompanying the current setting opens with the words: “Three minutes (to midnight) is too close. Far too close. We, the members of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, want to be clear about our decision not to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock in 2016: That decision is not good news, but an expression of dismay that world leaders continue to fail to focus their efforts and the world’s attention on reducing the extreme danger posed by nuclear weapons and climate change. When we call these dangers existential, that is exactly what we mean: They threaten the very existence of civilization and therefore should be the first order of business for leaders who care about their constituents and their countries.”

The “nuclear club” has never consisted of more than ten members. The five nuclear-weapon states that are signatories to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the (NPT); the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China. The Non-NPT nuclear powers of India, Pakistan and North Korea. Israel, which is an undeclared nuclear power and South Africa, which produced six nuclear weapons in the 1980s then disassembled them in the early 1990s.

The NPT, is an international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.

Although nominally non-proliferation is the international norm on nuclear weapons, energy is seen as essential to life and fossil fuels, the predominant cause of global warming, are the cheapest source therefore their proliferation is seen as warranted in many circles.

Developing nations see fossil fuels as the means to their future prosperity, just as these fuels paved the way for the development of the rest of the world and more and more manufacturing and the carbon belching fuels necessary to run the factories that produce the cheap goods society demands are being off shored to countries that are and will suffer the worst impacts of global warming even as they produce greenhouse gases that blanket the planet and those of use happy to proclaim that our emissions are declining.

Few of us are likely to survive this Faustian bargain.

In terms of global warming there aren’t many non-proliferators and even fewer willing to invest tbe enormous sums necessary to prevent environmental disaster.

We seem set on a course of mutually assured energy destruction in the name of false economy even though some of the worst offenders deemed it rational not long ago to spend trillions on weapons they knew could never be used and even today are planning to spend a trillion more on the boondoggle.

Where is the environmental moral equivalent?

Clearly we are not yet mad enough at such MAD policies but more and more of us are getting there.

Photo Credit: David Lofink via Flickr

Jim Baird's picture

Thank Jim for the Post!

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Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on March 24, 2016

” In the Year 2000, nuclear provided 30% of Germany’s power mix. ALL NUCLEAR PLANTS WILL BE SHUT DOWN BY 2022″

The German people have been duped. Their energy turn-around doesn’t look like a fossil fuel phase-out or an attempt to clean up the environment. In fact, it looks more like a not-so-cleverly disguised technique for prolonging the life of their dirty and polluting coal industry.

Their mistake is to ignore the clear science that says that small radiation doses are truely harmless, and instead embrace the retoric of those who would mislead the public for their own interests.

Jim, your own tirelessly optimistic promotion of OTEC is similar to the attempts of other environmentalist who baselessly fear nuclear power, but still hope to find a way to decarbonize without it. It might work someday, but historically, anti-nuclearism has always led to more fossil fuel use, more air pollution, and more harm to human health. We can’t afford to keep paying this very high price so that people can keep ignoring the truth (that no matter how scary we find nuclear, it still is the best option).

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on March 24, 2016

Jim, your own tirelessly optimistic promotion of OTEC is similar to the attempts of other environmentalist who baselessly fear nuclear power, but still hope to find a way to decarbonize without it. It might work someday, but historically, anti-nuclearism has always led to more fossil fuel use, more air pollution, and more harm to human health. We can’t afford to keep paying this very high price so that people can keep ignoring the truth
Quoted for truth.

The profits of the fossil fuel industry are immense, and would make it trivial to support many—possibly dozens or even hundreds—of advocates of false “alternatives” to nuclear power, meanwhile sticking with their products. Amory Lovins has reportedly stated that fossil fuel interests have been very good to him. We know Mark Z. Jacobson is largely sponsored by the Precourt Institute, based on oil money. In a rational world the slightest whiff of contamination by FF interests should utterly destroy someone’s environmental credentials, so why do any of these people still have any shred of Green credibility?!

Jim Baird's picture
Jim Baird on March 24, 2016

Best option.

Based on what metric?

Not capacity factor or levelized capital cost per the following table from the MIT thesis Assessment of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion based on U. E. 1. Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2009, with Projections to 2030, vol. 383, no. April. Energy Information Administration, 2009.

Not fuel costs.

Not decomissioning costs.

Not safety, your own comment indicates 9000 died in the 1986 Chernobyl melt down and those operators were no doubt arrogant enough to believe they too had everything under control right up to the end.

With the consequences to the USSR and Japan as a result of Chernobyl and Fukushima no politician in his right mind will stake their countries energy future on nuclear power when as the above chart indicates there are cheaper and more reliable options to chose from.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on March 25, 2016

Again, there are still zero GWatts of OTEC on the entire planet. Therefore there is no credible safety record nor cost record for comparison. Cost effective OTEC is essentially no closer at hand than fusion. Even if it becomes viable for baseload in coastal cities, it will be another big stretch for it to competitively make hydrogen which can replace gasoline, and even if that happens, it will be another big stretch for it to competitively make hydrogen to replace fossil gas for electrical peaking, and then another big stretch for it to make hydrogen for baseload electricity. Such a long, hard road.

Also, all arguments built around expensive nuclear decomissioning are inherent BS. When nuclear plants are allowed to serve out their economical lifetime, the decomissioning funds, which are set aside from electricity sales, can easily pay for decomissioning. It is only Shoreham fiascos that are the problem (i.e. when perfectly viable nuclear plants are effectively stolen by politicians and forced to close, resulting in more fossil fuel profits and air pollution).

For comparison, here’s another source and another on the energy safety issue; they all vary a bit. To me, the details don’t matter; the only important feature for any of these sources is that coal is the standout. Any clean energy that fails to close every single coal plant before closing the first nuclear plant is nothing short of fraudulent. And strategies that combine coal with renewables (e.g. Germany, Wyoming, North Carolina) are the most deceitful of all; even the tiniest amount of coal in the mix makes the renewable-rich option enormously deadlier than nuclear. After coal, the nex biggest safety issue for electricity is biomass burning, any attack on nuclear which doesn’t also attack coal and biomass is also off-target.

Jim Baird's picture
Jim Baird on March 25, 2016

Oceanography: Leading the hiatus research surge, published online by Nature Climate Change yesterday, Abstract, “The recent slowdown in global warming challenged our understanding of climate dynamics and anthropogenic forcing. An early study gave insight to the mechanisms behind the warming slowdown and highlighted the ocean’s role in regulating global temperature.”

The first patent application for the Global Warming Mitigation Method, which predicted such a slowdown and put the principles that created it to practical use was filed 6 years ago.

There are still zero GWatts of OTEC on the entire planet; in no small part because a lot of brilliant engineers remain sold on the need for higher heat generation to produce electricity instead of using what is available.

Reduce, reuse, recycle applies.

In 2014 the IEA estimated that the previous two years of climate inaction cost the world $8 trillion or about $127,000 every second wasted.

On that basis approaching $24 trillion has gone up in smoke since the only technology that affords any chance of keeping to a 1.5C temperature rise was first proposed and the feckless arguments exemplified here and close-mindedness first began.

It will be a long hard road but the alternatives are blind allies.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on March 24, 2016

your own comment indicates 9000 died in the 1986 Chernobyl melt down

Fatalities from Chernobyl were 56, breaking down to 49 from acute radiation sickness and 7 fatal thyroid cancers. This number would fit on a single bus. The claims of thousands or millions are based on dose-response models known to be wrong, but kept around because they are politically useful.

Jim Baird's picture
Jim Baird on March 24, 2016

EP, have a look at the graphic Nathan used.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on March 24, 2016

Jim, the prices quoted above for OTEC do not come from EIA. As is standard practice in the “renewables” community they’re hypothetical numbers merged with real numbers in the hope no one will notice.

Why would EIA bother, when the largest plant to date is projected to generate 100 kilowatts by the end of 2016 – one one-thousandth of the smallest plant listed in the chart?

Until someone comes up with even a modest utility scale prototype, OTEC will remain a pipe dream with a very big pipe. For OTEC and hamster wheels powered by genetically engineered, very big hamsters, we don’t have time.

Jim Baird's picture
Jim Baird on March 19, 2016

Heating effect of nuclear vis a vis cooling effect of OTEC.

In 2010 NOAA estimated the upper layer of the world’s oceans were storing enough energy to power 500 100-watt light bulbs per each of the roughly 6.7 billion people on the planet. I make this to be about 335 TW.

Currently we consume about 18TW and from below it is suggested this should be all nuclear.

Since this process is about 33 percent efficient this would mean about 36TW of waste heat, or about 1/10th of what is currently being stored in the ocean would be added, and since everyone of the reactors operating in North America are water cooled and most are on the coast, which is shrinking, most of this heat will end up in the ocean contributing to the problems we are already experiencing.

For one thing it causes thermal stratification, which is slowing the thermocline and cutting phytoplankton, which are the base of the ocean food chain and the source of between 50 and 85 percent of the oxygen we breath off from the nutrient rich colder waters they need to survive.

OTEC is a way of converting this stratification to productive use by moving surface heat through a heat engine to the ocean’s cold sink. The formula for Carnot efficiency is 1-tempcoldsink/tempwarmwater so for OTEC it would be 1-277/297 or about 6.5 percent. Practically it is half that put the heat pipe is beleived to increase this by 15 percent so say 4 percent.

To produce 18TW with OTEC then you would convert 18TW of heat to energy and move 25 times (450TW) more heat into the abyss – 1000 meters- from where it would return at a rate of about 4 meters per year.

The ocean’s actual capacity is estimated at about 14TW so effectively you could convert or move all of the surface heat the oceans are accumulating and when it did return in 250 years you could repeat the process by converting another 4 percent to useful energy.

So that is 335TW converted and sequestered opposed to 36 additional TW with nuclear power?

But there is another problem with cooling nuclear plants with sea water. Coastal waters are about 2 orders of magnitude more productive in terms of phytoplankton and marine life than mid ocean, where OTEC power is generated. The thermal shock these organisms go through and the impingement and entrainment kills more of these vital organisms than would be the case producing the same amount of power with OTEC.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on March 20, 2016

You have a number of errors and misconceptions which invalidate your argument.

Currently we consume about 18TW and from below it is suggested this should be all nuclear.

18 TW isn’t global electric consumption (which is closer to 2 TW), it is total primary energy consumption before conversion losses. Essentially all of this winds up as heat somewhere (a trivial fraction is radiated to space as non-thermal EM waves).

Most of the rest of your argument is based on that erroneous concept, and must be discarded. I will not address it further.

For one thing it causes thermal stratification, which is slowing the thermocline

Addition of greenhouse gases adds far more heat to the oceans than nuclear plants can, or could.

Unless and until OTEC actually starts displacing fossil fuels (not just being added in pilot-level amounts at uneconomic prices), proffering it as an alternative to nuclear borders on fraud. Further, the calculations I’ve seen here from OTEC proponents show that even the largest possible OTEC deployment is very likely to fall short of supplying demand. The rest must also be provided by some other means, and it must be carbon-free or the effort is for naught. I’m afraid there is no viable alternative to the atom.

Jim Baird's picture
Jim Baird on March 20, 2016

Primary energy – is the energy to generate the supply of energy carriers used by human society. As you say most of this is waste heat. Lets consider the 2TW for electricity. Paul Curto says that a group from John’s Hopkins, in the 70s, determined that with the production of 2.5TW the surface temperature of the oceans and therefore the atmosphere would be reduced on the order of one degree F per decade. In fact he claims trying to produce more than this is over reach. Though it would provide all of your electricity, cool the atmosphere and when you produce the energy carrier hydrogen with Greg Rau’s supergreen hydrogen process to get it to market, consuming 20 to 40 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of H2 produced, you would sequesters about 7GT of CO2 annually and neutralize the ocean acidification Bob points out is a threat to phytoplankton and other marine life.

With 14TW you would produce 1.8 GT/yr of H2 which is about 5 times the current global consumption of gasoline but then hydrogen is an energy carrier for heat, power, transporation and water (not just electrcity) – 14 TW produces produces enough hydrogen that when converted back to energy provides 575 gallons for every person on the planet. You also only need one grid to provide all of these services.

A proposition was floated recently that to address sea level rise, sea water should be pumped, up to 4000 meters, to the center of Antarctica. Hydrogen rises of its own volition without the need of pumping and 14TW would relocate 16 cubic kilometers of ocean water to land, which is a fractional albeit perpetual sea level benefit.

(A paper authored by Greg and I on these subjects is in the works and hopefully will be availabe soon. I don’t want to prempt it more than this.)

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on March 21, 2016

with the production of 2.5TW the surface temperature of the oceans

and therefore the atmosphere would be reduced on the order of one degree F per decade.

I find this difficult to believe. At 2% thermal efficiency, a 2.5 TW OTEC effort would put 125 TW of heat into the lower oceans. At the IPCC’s 2007 estimate of 1.6 W/m², total human climate forcing is ~820 TW (and rising).

when you produce the energy carrier hydrogen with Greg Rau’s supergreen hydrogen process to get it to market, consuming 20 to 40 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of H2 produced, you would sequesters about 7GT of CO2 annually

What I recall from my analysis of the Navy CO2/H2 co-production scheme’s figures when it first came around was that only about 1/3 of the input energy went to hydrogen production; the rest was lost liberating CO2 or just as heat. This gives you a rather massive energy deficit right there, even before losses in conversion and transport.

Nothing prevents the “supergreen” process from being used with other sources of electricity. However, there are less energy-intensive methods of CO2 capture, and the same minerals which Rau’s process uses can be exploited with much less energy expenditure via enhanced weathering. Given the solubility limit of silicic acid in water which limits the amount which can be used on land, one of the suggestions was to spread crushed olivine on ocean beaches where wave-action working will mechanically accelerate the surface reactions and both silica and carbonate can wash off in far greater quantities than rivers can transport.

you would sequesters about 7GT of CO2 annually and neutralize the ocean acidification Bob points out is a threat to phytoplankton and other marine life.

Scratching on the back of a virtual envelope, 1 ppmv of CO2 is roughly 157 grams per square meter of Earth’s surface or 8 gigatonnes. Since the USA alone emits over 6 GT of CO2 per year and accounts for a rapidly-shrinking fraction of global emissions, 7 GT is just not going to cut it. OTOH, it would make a nice addition to a complete decarbonization of other energy and help return the atmosphere to 350 ppm. However, doing that completely requires pulling out some 400 gigatonnes of CO2; that’s a staggering figure. At one time I pondered how such a thing could be done, given unlimited cheap energy. I came up with the idea of synthesizing LDPE from water and CO2 and injecting it into old oil wells. I just realized that Bakelite injected into geothermal layers hot enough to finish polymerization would probably be better; it could be called neo-coal.

With 14TW you would produce 1.8 GT/yr of H2

Given the losses in the Rau process that figure seems to be in the ballpark. However, 1 kg of hydrogen only contains 120 MJ/kg LHV, or only about 200 quads of energy in the 1.8 GT. This is less than half of current human energy consumption today and far less than the masses of up-and-coming developing countries will demand.

What you’re laying out here is a supplement at best; it falls far short of being a solution.

Jim Baird's picture
Jim Baird on March 24, 2016

I find this difficult to believe.

Personally I don’t have the chutzpah to dispute a former NASA chief technologist or the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory on this.

At 2% thermal efficiency, a 2.5 TW OTEC effort would put 125 TW of heat into the lower oceans

Paul Curto puts OTEC efficiency at 4.73% which further is improved 15% with the heat pipe design so I use 5% as a rule of thumb which puts 50TW into the lower ocean, the same number as he uses in the OpEd article. For 14TW this is about 280 plus the conversion for 294TW. The ocean covers 70 percent of the planet so using your 820TW this becomes 574 of which close to half is converted or moved to the lower ocean, which seems to me a far sight better result than you get from nuclear power.

The difference between 574TW and what NOAA measured with their bouys though is interesting.

Electrolysis and energy production in a fuel cell are thermodynamically mirror images of each other. The entropy and enthalpy of each operation washes out so theoretically for 14TW put into electrolysis you get 14TW back out the fuel cells. Granted there are going to be inefficiencies but not nearly so much, I think, as you suggest.

You can use the supergreen process with any energy source but only with OTEC is electrolysis virtually a necessity and the minerals required for the process can also fill a ballasting process both for the OTEC plants themselves as well as the H2 tankers deadheading back for new loads.

Depending on the mineral you use with Greg’s process you get either 22 or 44 tonnes of CO2 sequestration with each tonne of H2 produced.

22 tonnes

CaCO3 +2H2O + CO2 + Vdc —> Ca(HCO3)2aq + H2 + 1/2O2

44 tonnes

MgSiO3 + 2H2O _ 2CO2 + Vdc —> Mg(HCO3)2aq + SiO2 + H2 + 1/2O2

Banerjee estimates a 100MW OTEC plant can produce 35,000kgs H2/day, so 6388 tonnes per year so for 14TW this is 894 million tonnes H2 and 2 to 4 GT CO2 sequestered (Original number does appear to be wrong)

Still OTEC or nuclear produces no CO2 so the staggering amount of 400 GT required to get back to 350 ppm would take between 100 and 200 years.

With nuclear power I don’t believe anyone has ever suggested using the supergreen process to go all hydrogen and produce this CO2 sequestration benefit.

A worthy objective I submit.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on March 24, 2016

I don’t have the chutzpah to dispute a former NASA chief technologist or the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory on this.

How much experience do they have doing big engineering projects? At 5% thermal efficiency, a 400 MW(e) plant is moving 8 GW(th). That’s as much as 3 good-sized nuclear reactors. If you are looking for relevant expertise, you’re going to find a lot more of it at Bechtel and Fluor than NASA or JHU.

One of the things I’m going on is breathless articles about OTEC going back almost 50 years; I recall one mentioning the production of strawberries in Hawaii using the cold deep water to provide the low root zone temperatures the plants need. Almost half a century after that we’re STILL playing at the sub-megawatt level, and that’s with the convenience of supporting equipment and piping on solid ground. The problems will grow as you go into the equatorial waters where most of your OTEC potential is; the open ocean is what’s called a “high-energy environment” and tends to break things.

Let me ask you a question: how much money would you put into an OTEC venture if one had an IPO today?

Jim Baird's picture
Jim Baird on March 23, 2016

Moving 8 GW(th).

EP that is my basic point. Hansen, Schmidt and others refer to ocean heat as “unrealized” warming. It is a product of radiative forcing but for the most part it hasn’t been measured because it is as out of communication with the atmosphere as if it had been sent into space.

It will return, the cycle rate of the thermohaline is about 1000 years and from 1000 meters it returns at about 4 meters/year. In the mean time the heat sent there is unrealized and buys time to produce enough zero emissions infrastructure to get us out of the current fix.

Every 250 years or so, when it does return it can be recycled with another 5 percent converted to productive use.

I would love to have the help of a bunch of Bechtel and Fluor engineers to help get this right. Lockheed Martin and DCNS have some pretty good engineers as well though who are working on the problem but none of them are using the design that cuts the size of the biggest cost items down about 90 percent and moves heat the fastest and deepest away from where it is doing the most damage.

LNG tankers are no less explosive than LH2 tanks and they are proliferating.

I was part of a group that proposed to the Navy it should produce its fuel in its own environment but I think the jet fuel program uses a lot more and increasingly inefficient steps, than electrolysis. H2 was used in the first British jet turbine experiments I believe and Germany built an H2 powered submarine.

How much money would you I put into an OTEC venture? I have invested 30 unremunerated years in trying to solve the GW problem. About 2/3 of that went toward the nuclear waste problem, including the subductive waste disposal method and the nuclear assisted hydrocarbon production method that would produce Alberta’s oil sands from the residual heat of spent fuel. But that’s just me, a sucker for punishment. And Canada’s nuclear industry and the oil sands have or are both going down the tube because they failed to deal with their drawbacks.

As for supergreen hydrogen, I think the energy penalty is only about 10 percent so personally I would give it a shot if it draws done CO2 levels by even 2Gt per year. At any reasonable carbon price this would provide a pretty good chunk of change to accelerate the build out of the needed plants.

Again, I would love and in fact need the input of a lot of good engineeers.

Nuclear isn’t close to where it needs to be to address global warming, even though it is far ahead of OTEC, the question is what gives you the most environmental and energy bang for the trillions that are going to have to be spent foing forward?

My money has shifted from nuclear to OTEC.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on March 24, 2016

Using SNF as a heat source for the tar sands is clever, but a quick search informed me that dry-cask storage is limited to 45 kW heat output per cask, so the volume of fuel to be transported would be awfully large.

The big problems for OTEC are in the hard-to-impossible categories: thermodynamics, materials science, mechanical engineering, anti-fouling, and dealing with destructive natural forces. The big problems for nuclear are purely political, and can literally change with the stroke of a pen (the current problems were established with one and can be removed the same way). Political problems can seem insoluble, until suddenly they aren’t. With China, Korea and Russia standing as counter-examples to the “can’t be done” anti-nukes, I don’t think we have long to wait.

Jim Baird's picture
Jim Baird on March 24, 2016

volume of fuel to be transported would be awfully large.

Why not offer to store it all? Australia are hoping to make $100 billion for such a service, which is about what the final cost of Yucca Mountain was approaching. It is also in the vicinity of what Alberta and Ottawa are going to go in the hole the next five years as a result of oil prices.

China, Korea and Russia standing as counter-examples.

That’s not where we live. Why buck impossible head winds? And another thing, OTEC operates in no one’s backyard. The infrastructure all has to be exported, which is great for the balance of trade.

To be continued in upcoming post.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on March 19, 2016

Jim, why are you assuming that 36 TW of nuclear waste heat would be “stored in the ocean” when thousands of times that amount of solar energy are radiated out to space from the earth’s surface, 24/7/365? Why are you assuming all waste heat from nuclear ends up in the ocean, or even that all nuclear plants use once-through cooling of ocean water?

About .1% of all ambient energy at the surface of the earth is being trapped by carbon in the atmosphere, with a tiny fraction of that ending up in the ocean. It’s the .1% of the 120 petawatts from the sun which is causing climate change – not the .1% of the insignificant fraction of energy from all the earth’s anthropogenic sources combined.

Similarly, the liability to sea life of impingement and entrainment is infinitesimal compared to that of acidification.

The assigning of significance to the insignificant and obliviousness to scale are products of irrational fear, not sound analysis. It seems when these debates reach their logical conclusion, you resort to “nuclear has squandered its goodwill”. Instead, what’s been squandered is the imperative of addressing climate change in an attempt to placate unfounded fears.

Jim Baird's picture
Jim Baird on March 19, 2016

JAPAN’S APOCALYPTIC TRAGEDY: FUKUSHIMA (Part Two)

The average nuclear power plant annual revenues amount to about half a billion dollars. Since the beginning of nuclear power in Japan, the total revenues from all their 50+ nuclear power plants added up to perhaps half a trillion dollars.

However, how much will it cost to clean-up the Fukushima nuclear power plant area, and settle all suits and such? According to one study: $1 trillion to $21 trillion. Thus, the lowest estimate is already double the total electricity revenues and other benefits accrued in the lifetime of all the nuclear facilities in Japan. Another more definitive government subcommittee speculation was $10 trillion. Just the decommissioning of the 50 reactors is expected to cost $1 trillion.

According to a German study, the cost of a worst-case nuclear accident in the country has been estimated to cost $11 trillion. The mandatory insurance is only $2.5 billion. In other words, WHY BUILD ANY FUTURE NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS WHEN JUST THE DECOMMISSIONING WILL COST MORE THAN THE TOTAL ELECTRICITY REVENUES PRODUCED?

Then, add on the potential risk of cataclysmic disasters, which seems to average around 10 to 20 times more than the entire lifetime revenues for nuclear electricity of the whole country. In the Year 2000, nuclear provided 30% of Germany’s power mix. ALL NUCLEAR PLANTS WILL BE SHUT DOWN BY 2022, ONLY SIX YEARS FROM NOW. CLEARLY THEY MUST KNOW SOMETHING MOST OF US DON’T APPRECIATE ENOUGH.

Mikhail Gorbachev, in his 1996 memoirs, said that it was the Chernobyl nuclear accident, not perestroika, which caused the collapse of the Soviet Union:

The nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl 20 years ago this month, even more than my launch of perestroika, was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later. Indeed, the Chernobyl catastrophe was an historic turning point: there was the era before the disaster, and there is the very different era that has followed

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on March 19, 2016

Jim, this is fact-free nonsense (if Mikhail Gorbachev, in 1996, referred to the “nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl 20 years ago this month” the poor geezer must have been suffering from dementia – he was ten years off).

But this is made up. A web of lies, constructed to justify irrational, primal fear.

Sorry, but I’m finding I have little tolerance left for the hysteria (written in all-caps, or not) which is responsible for hastening an environmental disaster.

Jim Baird's picture
Jim Baird on March 19, 2016

I’ll take the failure of a 1GW OTEC plant over a nulcear meltdown any day and decomissioning cost are no illusion.

But we disagree, full stop. Matching your experts against my experts gets us no where so personally I’d prefer you peddle your wares on some other thread.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on March 19, 2016

Jim, I really don’t care whether you disagree with me. I’m not an expert, that’s why I’ll happily defer to them.

Eric Chaisson’s paper is an interesting one, if a bit simplistic (his claim that albedo changes globally are “negligible” is demonstrably false) but he’s an astrophysicist, not a climatologist. Climatologists overwhelmingly agree that nuclear can play an important role in limiting climate change.

I don’t accept the “agree to disagree” BS – if you disagree with my experts, tell me why. If not, I’ll accept your resignation from this discussion as concession of the points I make

Jim Baird's picture
Jim Baird on March 19, 2016

QUICK FACTS ON NUCLEAR POWER GENERATION AND WATER USE – The temperature increase in the bodies of water can have serious adverse effects on aquatic life.

Union of Concerned Scientists http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/nuclea…

Nuclear is about as safe as it was too cheap to meter but you are welcome to keep up the protsthelytizing.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on March 19, 2016

Jim, like the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the Union of Concerned Scientists might have once had some Concerned Scientists in its employ. But their current president is a lawyer, and “The Union of Concerned Lawyers” has an almost comical ring to it, doesn’t it?

Be that as it may – there are (as expected) not only no “quick facts” in your link, but no facts at all. Without getting into details, I’ll refer you to this letter from 75 of the top conservationists in the world – respected scientists, every one of them – arguing that nuclear could make a “major, and perhaps, leading” contribution to preventing global biodiversity depletion:

“An Open Letter to Environmentalists on Nuclear Energy

As conservation scientists concerned with global depletion of biodiversity and the degradation of the human life-support system this entails, we, the co-signed, support the broad conclusions drawn in the article Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation published in Conservation Biology (Brook & Bradshaw 2014).

Brook and Bradshaw argue that the full gamut of electricity-generation sources—including nuclear power—must be deployed to replace the burning of fossil fuels, if we are to have any chance of mitigating severe climate change. They provide strong evidence for the need to accept a substantial role for advanced nuclear power systems with complete fuel recycling—as part of a range of sustainable energy technologies that also includes appropriate use of renewables, energy storage and energy efficiency. This multi-pronged strategy for sustainable energy could also be more cost-effective and spare more land for biodiversity, as well as reduce non-carbon pollution (aerosols, heavy metals).

Given the historical antagonism towards nuclear energy amongst the environmental community, we accept that this stands as a controversial position. However, much as leading climate scientists have recently advocated the development of safe, next-generation nuclear energy systems to combat global climate change (Caldeira et al. 2013), we entreat the conservation and environmental community to weigh up the pros and cons of different energy sources using objective evidence and pragmatic trade-offs, rather than simply relying on idealistic perceptions of what is ‘green’.

Although renewable energy sources like wind and solar will likely make increasing contributions to future energy production, these technology options face real-world problems of scalability, cost, material and land use, meaning that it is too risky to rely on them as the only alternatives to fossil fuels. Nuclear power—being by far the most compact and energy-dense of sources—could also make a major, and perhaps leading, contribution. As scientists, we declare that an evidence-based approach to future energy production is an essential component of securing biodiversity’s future and cannot be ignored. It is time that conservationists make their voices heard in this policy arena.

Signatories (in alphabetical order)

Professor Andrew Balmford, Professor of Conservation Science, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. apb12@cam.ac.uk

Professor Andrew J. Beattie, Emeritus, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Australia. abeattie@bio.mq.edu.au

Assistant Professor David P. Bickford, Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, Singapore. dbsbdp@nus.edu.sg

Professor Tim M. Blackburn, Professor of Invasion Biology, Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research, University College London, United Kingdom. t.blackburn@ucl.ac.uk

Professor Daniel T. Blumstein, Chair, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California Los Angeles, USA. marmots@ucla.edu

Professor Luigi Boitani, Dipartimento di Biologia, e Biotecnologie Charles Darwin, Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy. luigi.boitani@uniroma1.it

Professor Mark S. Boyce, Professor and Alberta Conservation Association Chair in Fisheries and Wildlife, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Canada. boyce@ualberta.ca

Professor David M.J.S. Bowman, Professor of Environmental Change Biology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Tasmania, Australia. david.bowman@utas.edu.au

Professor Scott P. Carroll, Institute for Contemporary Evolution and Department of Entomology and Nematology, University of California Davis, USA. spcarroll@ucdavis.edu

Associate Professor Phillip Cassey, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Australia.
Professor Stuart Chapin III, Professor Emeritus of Ecology, Department of Biology and Wildlife, Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks, USA. terry.chapin@alaska.edu

Professor David Choquenot, Director, Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, Australia. david.choquenot@canberra.edu.au

Dr Ben Collen, Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research, University College London, United Kingdom. b.collen@ucl.ac.uk

Professor Richard T. Corlett, Director, Centre for Integrative Conservation, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China. corlett@xtbg.org.cn

Dr Franck Courchamp, Director of Research, Laboratoire Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution – UMR CNRS, Member of the European Academy of Sciences, Université Paris-Sud, France. franck.courchamp@u-psud.fr

Professor Chris B. Daniels, Director, Barbara Hardy Institute, University of South Australia, Australia. chris.daniels@unisa.edu.au

Professor Chris Dickman, Professor of Ecology, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Sydney, Australia. chris.dickman@sydney.edu.au

Associate Professor Don Driscoll, College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, The Australian National University, Australia. don.driscoll@anu.edu.au

Professor David Dudgeon, Chair Professor of Ecology and Biodiversity, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China. ddudgeon@hku.hk

Associate Professor Erle C. Ellis, Geography and Environmental Systems, University of Maryland, USA. ece@umbc.edu

Dr Damien A. Fordham, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Australia. damien.fordham@adelaide.edu.au

Dr Eddie Game, Senior Scientist, The Nature Conservancy Worldwide Office, Australia. egame@tnc.org

Professor Kevin J. Gaston, Professor of Biodiversity and Conservation, Director, Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter, United Kingdom. k.j.gaston@exeter.ac.uk

Professor Dr Jaboury Ghazoul, Professor of Ecosystem Management, ETH Zürich, Institute for Terrestrial Ecosystems, Switzerland. jaboury.ghazoul@env.ethz.ch

Professor Robert G. Harcourt, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Australia. robert.harcourt@mq.edu.au

Professor Susan P. Harrison, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California Davis, USA. spharrison@ucdavis.edu

Professor Fangliang He, Canada Research Chair in Biodiversity and Landscape Modelling, Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Canada and State Key Laboratory of Biocontrol and School of Life Sciences, Sun-yat Sen University, Guangzhou, China. fhe@ualberta.ca

Professor Mark A. Hindell, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Australia. mark.hindell@utas.edu.au

Professor Richard J. Hobbs, School of Plant Biology, The University of Western Australia, Australia. richard.hobbs@uwa.edu.au

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Professor and Director, Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland, Australia. oveh@uq.edu.au

Professor Marcel Holyoak, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis, USA. maholyoak@ucdavis.edu

Professor Lesley Hughes, Distinguished Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Australia. lesley.hughes@mq.edu.au

Professor Christopher N. Johnson, Department of Zoology, University of Tasmania, Australia. c.n.johnson@utas.edu.au

Dr Julia P.G. Jones, Senior Lecturer in Conservation Biology, School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography, Bangor University, United Kingdom. julia.jones@bangor.ac.uk

Professor Kate E. Jones, Biodiversity Modelling Research Group, University College London, United Kingdom. kate.e.jones@ucl.ac.uk

Dr Menna E. Jones, Department of Zoology, University of Tasmania, Australia. menna.jones@utas.edu.au

Dr Lucas Joppa, Conservation Biologist, United Kingdom. lujoppa@microsoft.com

Associate Professor Lian Pin Koh, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Australia. lianpin.koh@adelaide.edu.au

Professor Charles J. Krebs, Emeritus, Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, Canada. krebs@zoology.ubc.ca
Dr Robert C. Lacy, Conservation Biologist, USA. rlacy@ix.netcom.com

Associate Professor Susan Laurance, Centre for Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change, Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Studies, James Cook University, Australia. susan.laurance@jcu.edu.au

Professor William F. Laurance, Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate, Prince Bernhard Chair in International Nature Conservation, Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science and School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Australia. bill.laurance@jcu.edu.au

Professor Peter Ng Kee Lin, Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, Singapore. dbsngkl@nus.edu.sg

Professor Thomas E. Lovejoy, Senior Fellow at the United Nations Foundation and University Professor in the Environmental Science and Policy department, George Mason University, USA. tlovejoy@unfoundation.org

Dr Antony J Lynam, Global Conservation Programs, Wildlife Conservation Society, USA. tlynam@wcs.org

Professor Anson W. Mackay, Department of Geography, University College London, United Kingdom. ans.mackay@ucl.ac.uk

Professor Helene D. Marsh, College of Marine and Environmental Sciences, Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research, James Cook University, Australia. helene.marsh@jcu.edu.au

Professor Michelle Marvier, Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences, Santa Clara University, USA. mmarvier@scu.edu

Professor Lord Robert M. May of Oxford OM AC Kt FRS, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, United Kingdom. robert.may@zoo.ox.ac.uk

Dr Margaret M. Mayfield, Director, The Ecology Centre, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland, Australia. m.mayfield@uq.edu.au

Dr Clive R. McMahon, Sydney Institute of Marine Science and Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Australia. clive.mcmahon@utas.edu.au

Dr Mark Meekan, Marine Biologist, Australia. m.meekan@aims.gov.au

Dr Erik Meijaard, Borneo Futures Project, People and Nature Consulting, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. emeijaard@gmail.com

Professor Scott Mills, Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program in Global Environmental Change, North Carolina State University, USA. lsmills@ncsu.edu

Professor Atte Moilanen, Research Director, Conservation Decision Analysis, University of Helsinki, Finland. atte.moilanen@helsinki.fi

Professor Craig Moritz, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Australia. craig.moritz@anu.edu.au

Dr Robin Naidoo, Adjunct Professor, Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability University of British Columbia, Canada. robin.naidoo@wwfus.org

Professor Reed F. Noss, Provost’s Distinguished Research Professor, University of Central Florida, USA. reed.noss@ucf.edu

Associate Professor Julian D. Olden, Freshwater Ecology and Conservation Lab, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, USA. olden@uw.edu

Professor Maharaj Pandit, Professor and Head, Department of Environmental Studies, University of Delhi, India. mkpandit@cismhe.org

Professor Kenneth H. Pollock, Professor of Applied Ecology, Biomathematics and Statistics, Department of Applied Ecology, North Carolina State University, USA. pollock@ncsu.edu

Professor Hugh P. Possingham, School of Biological Science and School of Maths and Physics, The University of Queensland, Australia. h.possingham@uq.edu.au

Professor Peter H. Raven, George Engelmann Professor of Botany Emeritus, President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden, Washington University in St. Louis, USA. peter.raven@mobot.org

Professor David M. Richardson, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Centre for Invasion Biology, Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa. rich@sun.ac.za

Dr Euan G. Ritchie, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Australia. e.ritchie@deakin.edu.au

Professor Terry L. Root, Senior Fellow, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University, USA. troot@stanford.edu

Dr Çağan H. Şekercioğlu, Assistant Professor, Biology, University of Utah, USA and Doçent 2010, Biology/Ecology, Inter-university Council (UAK) of Turkey. c.s@utah.edu

Associate Professor Douglas Sheil, Department of Ecology and Natural Resource Management, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Norway. douglas.sheil@nmbu.no

Professor Richard Shine AM FAA, Professor in Evolutionary Biology, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Sydney, Australia. rick.shine@sydney.edu.au

Professor William J. Sutherland, Miriam Rothschild Professor of Conservation Biology, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. w.sutherland@zoo.cam.ac.uk

Professor Chris D. Thomas, FRS, Department of Biology, University of York, United Kingdom. chris.thomas@york.ac.uk

Professor Ross M. Thompson, Chair of Water Science, Institute of Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, Australia. ross.thompson@canberra.edu.au

Professor Ian G. Warkentin, Environmental Science, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada. ian.warkentin@grenfell.mun.ca

Professor Stephen E. Williams, Centre for Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change, School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Australia. stephen.williams@jcu.edu.au

Professor Kirk O. Winemiller, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences and Interdisciplinary Program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Texas A&M University, USA. k-winemiller@tamu.edu

http://www.savediablocanyon.org/conservationists-for-nuclear/

Jim Baird's picture
Jim Baird on March 19, 2016

Tufts University astrophysicist Eric J. Chaisson, “Long-Term Global Heating From Energy Usage” concludes that waste heat — including waste heat from nuclear power generation — will continue to warm the earth even if humans were able to arrest the greenhouse effect. Because we’re dependent on energy and the vast majority of human energy production also produces waste heat, human civilization will eventually reach a limit in terms of how much it can grow without destroying itself.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on March 17, 2016

Jim, I’m not sure why you’d bring up mutually-assured destruction on TEC, other than to further the misconception that nuclear energy and nuclear apocalypse are somehow related. You repeat the “proliferation” mantra, a concept with no analog in the fossil fuels realm, and attempt to link the arms race to Chernobyl by including both in the same muddled thought.

Instead, you might bring up the Megatons to Megawatts program, where 550 tons of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) from Russia – the equivalent of 20,000 nuclear warheads – was purchased by the U.S. and turned into clean electricity. Or that any country possessing the technology to turn nuclear fuel into nuclear warheads would have no problem buying raw material on the open market with which to do so.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megatons_to_Megawatts_Program

With the antinuclear ethos so obviously at odds with fact, it’s appropriate that a reference to The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and their scary clock appear here. From what I understand, there were once some atomic scientists working at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Now, their executive director has a background in political science, and their editorial staff seems to be made up of activists who self-identify as “scientists” with scant justification to do so.

Jim Baird's picture
Jim Baird on March 17, 2016

I guess I could have brought up the MOX boondoggle also or the question of what the ultimate impact of Fukushima is going to be on Japan.

Just my opinion, but I think its is legit to juxtapose the trillions that were spent on nuclear weapons against the claims that anything more expensive than fossil fuels is too much of an economic burden.

I also believe that GW is a greater threat than anything nuclear weapons is ever going to counter and it is almost assuredly more of a real threat to the territorial integrity of the United States or any other counter with a coastline than anything else on the horizon.

Ike Bottema's picture
Ike Bottema on March 17, 2016

“I also believe that GW is a greater threat than anything nuclear weapons is ever going to counter and it is almost assuredly more of a real threat to the territorial integrity of the United States or any other counter with a coastline than anything else on the horizon.”

Exactly. This is how the doomsday clock should now apply! We must juxtapose the threat of nuclear weapons against the promise of peaceful application of nuclear energy towards mitigating climate change threats. So let’s get busy and keep that clock from stricking midnight by unleashing the peaceful use of nuclear energy!

Jim Baird's picture
Jim Baird on March 17, 2016

Pray tell me how any thermal process that produces 2 units of waste heat for every unit of power is going to address sea level rise, which is mainly the function of thermal expansion and ice melting?

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on March 17, 2016

Pray tell me how any low-albedo PV process which creates 4 units of waste heat for every unit of output (20% efficient panels) can solve those problems… especially when it requires fossil-fired backup when the sun isn’t out?

You must be disgingenuous. The answers you seek are right in front of you and have been all the time.

The problem with polar/glacial melting is heat at the poles/glaciers. Nuclear power plants are far from them. The polar problem is non-condensible GHGs, which keep heat from radiating away most effectively where cold and night minimize the influence of water vapor. A coast-full of NPPs in California would only heat things southward, where the ocean current flows.
The heat-trapping power of the GHGs emitted by fossil-fired plants is many tens of times their thermal emissions. Nuclear power has no GHGs, so its influence is limited to its direct waste heat.
Technologies tested but not yet commercially developed can increase the thermal efficiency of nuclear power to equal anything else out there, again without concern about GHGs.
Off-peak nuclear process heat is a prospect for atmospheric carbon capture, potentially creating GHG-negative products.
And as for the silly clock…

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on March 17, 2016

Yes, we’ve been over this before. Burying the excess heat doesn’t actually get rid of it. Unfortunately I haven’t gotten into depth in my technical response yet.

Jim Baird's picture
Jim Baird on March 18, 2016

Norm Rogers points out his presentation “Is Ocean Heat Storage Presently Knowable.” to the 2012 AGU, with respect to the stopping of the overturning circulation, “Cold water that would return on the gyre is instead being sent to the abyss, where it is as out of communication as if it were sent to outer space.”

The same applies to heat sent to the abyss, which he also points out would take about 250 years to return at a rate of 4m year-1.

OTEC also provides a boost to thermohaline circulation Rajagopalan & Nihous and would mitigate the slowing of the AMOC, because it would short-circuit the movement of tropical heat towards the poles where it melts the icecaps leading to the freshening of the surface waters which freezes without producing the more concentrated, denser, brine necessary to drive the THC.

Nuclear power produces none of these benefits and in fact contributes to the thermal stratification that is slowing the THC with consequences for global weather patterns.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on March 19, 2016

The same applies to heat sent to the abyss

The abyss is not “gone”. It is a finite resource and still affects sea levels.

OTEC also provides a boost to thermohaline circulation

That’s nice, but (a) it’s on the ragged edge of thermodynamic feasibility and (b) it cannot handle human needs by itself; even at the limits of OTEC the losses in conversion for transport reduce the available end-use energy well below needs (and boost the cost).

Nuclear power produces none of these benefits and in fact contributes to the thermal stratification that is slowing the THC

Let me work some numbers for you: In 2013, total human energy consumption was roughly 18.0 TW, compared to average non-reflected solar energy of roughly 122,000 TW. If nuclear thermal output was boosted to 60 TW(th), it would contribute 0.05% as much to the world as the Sun does. Almost none of this would be close to the arctic or near glaciers. The influence on thermal stratification and warming of the poles: nil.

The influence of the elimination of fossil-fuel GHG emissions would be immense; positive GHG forcings from human emissions are about 2.5 W/m², compared to maybe half a watt after tripling human energy use and going all-nuclear.

Jim Baird's picture
Jim Baird on March 19, 2016

Most Americans Now Oppose Nuclear Energy

It is an energy source that has squandered its goodwill.

Ike Bottema's picture
Ike Bottema on March 19, 2016

Mr Baird, youbrought up the heating effect of nuclear, countered by PE using actual facts. So now you are suggesting that your point prevails by means of a popularity contest?

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on March 19, 2016

For the record, I do not hold a PE license. Never needed one.

Jim Baird's picture
Jim Baird on March 19, 2016

See above

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