Category: "Nuclear power"
For many years I have been in favor of nuclear power to reduce the catastrophic greenhouse gases endangering our small and finite Earth. Before my understanding of the high level of danger from Climate Change I was against nuclear power.
Nevertheless, there are always dangers with such an extreme concentration of energy.
Here are few ideas we should consider:
Nuclear power is an extremely complex technology, using extreme heat, and the radiation weakens the metals used in the process, just a few of the problems. Mistakes are not tolerable - but they will happen. Nuclear must be treated with the realization that it can melt and contaminate if, if we do not accept that it is always dangerous to the immediate area.
Again, we must treat it as a dangerous technology that must have many safeguards around it.
We are not infallible, we must have humility and not assume that we have or can have all the answers. The future is unpredictable.
Therefore, we must build nuclear power stations with the realization that unforeseen major problems are possible, even likley, and that we could not have the entire safeguard needed and the knowledge in advance what can go wrong.
But we may be able to bracket the danger. First, unlike the Japanese Fukushima concentration of plants to cut costs, build only one plant in one location. If it fails it will not propagate to nearby nuclear stations. Also, installing them in areas with minimum population, further from the ocean, and major water supplies- which is obviously in conflict with the need to cool the plants.
Amazing, to date few people were killed by nuclear power, and many thousand were killed by coal.
And the damage to the environment? Coal is a destroyer of nature on massive scale.
Go to coal extractions zones and look at the trailing, the unusable rivers and lands near them.
Dr. Joseph Romm, on his widely popular and educational blog Climate Progress questioned today many of Bill Gates views on energy and global warming. With all due respect to Dr. Romm, I think he is not seeing the full meaning of Bill Gates points. Here are some of the comments I wrote today on his blog:
Listen to Bill Gates!
I have been an environmental scientist for several decades and made significant contributions to the commercialization of wind energy when I was the manager of the solar office and the wind energy program for the California Energy Commission. I tried to look at reality and not mislead myself by wishful thinking. Bill Gates is a wise man and we must listen to him; he has a lot of logical things to say we do not wish to listen to because they are against our dreams. But facts are facts, even if we ignore them.
Many of the points Bill Gates discussed are valid:
First, he did not say efficiency is useless, but that it is limited. I have been advocating energy efficiency and conservation strongly for half a century. Almost no progress was achieved to date. It is not sexy like PV and people do not want to use conservation. Only strict national mandatory laws stronger than California may make a difference. It is not that the efficiency and conservation are not important, they are critically desirable and important, it is the difficulty in spreading them fast and widely to make a difference.
Read: Conservation can cut 30 times more CO2 per dollar, on my blog.
Bill Gates is correct on PV. First he is correct that unless the technology can be widely used in China and India it is essentially useless. PV is too expensive by a significant factor to be use on a large scale in these critical countries. No matter how much we cut GHG these two countries will continue to pass us with GHG by increasing amounts. They are the key to cutting GHG!
The PV global industry is in the order of $20 billion a year! This is a huge industry, not in infancy with starting pain. Why does it need more government support? Only to maintain and increase the profit of the PV industry. The cost of the panels went down a little, but it is not passing on to the consumer. The system price has to drop by ten to one according to Dr. Steven Chu to be significant. Not this expensive PV technology! Panels are less than 35% of system cost!
Without government support PV would have died a long time ago, as it should since it has made less than negligible contribution to reducing GHG. Also, too many supporters are dreaming about a world covered with PV panels and do not do other, more important things such as conservation and efficiency. Current PV technology inherently can't do it. Environmentalists often give Germany as a champion on PV we should emulate. Wrong! Germany spent over $70 B on PV by last year and got less than one half a percent of its electricity from that huge investment. At the same time wind produce 7% of their electricity, but worst of all, Germany has been increasing their dependence on coal power by considerably larger percentage that all the green technologies combined. Let's look at facts as they are, rather as we wish them to be.
Using this money for conservation and efficiency would have reduced GHG by 20 times or more.
The basis fact is that flat panel silicon technology demands very highly refined silicon which demands a lot of electricity to refined which is produced by coal power plants in Germany and China. We have also the several years of energy payback to consider.
It will take too long to demonstrate all the sensible points Bill Gates made. Let's listen to him and review carefully what we are proposing.
BTW, yes, nuclear power is more promising BECAUSE little innovations and improvement were made to date. There are so many new improvements that could be introduced. Without nuclear our green technologies are too erratic and even the promising wind energy may be degraded since future weather patterns would be changing and be less predictable with increasing GW.
Read www.ginosaronglobalwarming.org to understand why PV is not any part of the answer with current technology. R&D is critical to find new more practical solar technologies of converting sun energy to electricity.
The nuclear problems in Japan are serious, and far from resolved, but the media, for its own interest of gathering viewers and readers, is blowing up this nuclear tragedy above justification. The public is fearful of nuclear power because they still feel it is similar to a nuclear explosion. It is not. Nuclear explosion can not occur in nuclear power stations. The explosions at the nuclear plants are pressure explosions from either high pressure steam, or other gases created in the aftermath of the loss of cooling waters. The danger is from release of radiation material.
Here is some background:
Japan was very sensible in developing nuclear power since they have no energy sources of their own. They produced 30% of their electricity from nuclear power, the rest mostly coal. Japan is the largest coal importer in the world and depends on the Australians to sell it to them, and the US to secure the oceans. In addition, all their oil come from the unstable Middle East which Iran can stop at will by controlling the flow of oil through the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.
In addition, much of Japan's economy depends on both raw material inputs and energy inputs from not always a stable world.
Looking at all of these, the Japanese wanted some energy security by producing some of their own electric power. True the nuclear material comes from abroad but you can store several years' supplies in Japan itself, thus approaching some measure of control of their electricity.
With all of these considerations you can not fault the Japanese for relying also on nuclear power.
They would have done better if they designed and built their nuclear safety backup systems to be more self-sufficient and less easily destroyed by a Tsunami. The magnitude of this earthquake was also beyond expectation being one of the largest in recorded history. More recent nuclear plants have higher level of backup safety systems than the Japanese may have. New nuclear plants will incorporate the lesson of this tragedy. The damage to Japan would be much larger from its economic slow down due to this earthquake/tsunami than from these unfortunate nuclear accidents.
There are now over 400 nuclear plants in the world. China and India will increase their reliance on nuclear power to satisfy the increase demand of energy for their impoverished population.
We in the US will be one of the few large nations that want to reduce our nuclear power. And it is a mistake. We will simply increase the amount of CO2 over the globe in the process. Nuclear power is expensive and could be dangerous if not built properly, but its possible danger is lower than the certain danger of global warming.
Think about the total global picture. Think about the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gases. Try to subdue the raw emotions regarding nuclear power to assess the positive global impact of nuclear power. Coal is dangerous too, but we do not see it so vividly. It kills invisibly, over long periods of time, in non dramatic situations via its poisonous byproducts and destruction of the environment.
Think how many thousands of people have died from this earthquake and its tsunamis? The amount suffering from the nuclear release would be considerably smaller than the total suffering. Almost half a million people, again, half a million people! died from the tsunamis after the 2004 Sumatra earthquake. Hundred of thousands died in Haiti without nuclear power.
Again, we need to look at it in global terms; the green alternatives we want are not real yet, at least not for the foreseeable future. We must reduce our energy consumption and waste. But we are doing nearly nothing in energy conservation and efficiency - the most cost-effective and easily available approaches that are domestic both in material and labor.
Part II of: THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SOUNDING GOOD AND DOING GOOD
In all our discussions we must be firmly remember that GHG emissions are increasing the danger of catastrophic climate changes and are driven to a large percentage by electricity generation from coal power plants. And in the drive to electrify some of our transportation, more electricity would be needed.
Let' compare the direction of electricity generation in the three countries we discussed earlier:
Germany plans to eliminate their nuclear plants by 2020 and increased its dependence on Coal, now 50%, but hopes for eventual use of CCS to reduce its massive GHG. This is a hope rather than concrete path.
The US (50% of electricity from coal) has no plans to replace its aging nuclear plants (20% of electrify) due to high costs, lack of public and governmental support. Most important is the opposition from unaware public which is wrongly influenced by the mistaken, emotional driven policy of most environmental organizations. It would be difficult to overcome the misperception of an emotional society that has great difficulties accepting facts it does not like. Also our political system is polarized, unable to face reality, and to work for the common good. In the nuclear power case, the Democrats are the stumbling block.
We will have to pay premium above the price of coal for power from non polluting sources. There are several promising ways to cut the cost and increase the safety further of nuclear power plants. We are not doing adequate R&D in this crucial area. Emotionalism should not govern our national policy.
China is installing nuclear power stations as fast as it possibly can TO REDUCE THEIR DEPENDENCE ON COAL. Nuclear power is much more expansive than coal, why else are they doing it?
Eleven nuclear plants are operating now and they are planning to add ten new plants each year for the coming decades, possibly some 20% of the power of their new coal plants.
"Today, China's nuclear plants can produce about nine gigawatts supplying about 3 percent of the country's electricity. Three years ago, the government set a goal of increasing that capacity more than fourfold by 2020.
The government will soon announce a further increase in its targets, to 70 gigawatts of capacity by 2020 and 400 gigawatts by 2050, said Jiang Kejun, an energy policy director at the National Development and Reform Commission, the main planning agency.
Electrical demand is growing so rapidly in China that even if the industry manages to meet the ambitious 2020 target, nuclear stations will still generate only 9.7 percent of the country's power, by the government's projections."
Nuclear power has the potential to be a reliable, solid source of base power. They have demonstrated that for the last three decades in the US. They improved their availability to some 92%. That is, they have been on line producing electricity 92% of the time.
Nuclear is one of several non emitting energy sources we should use. However, even if it was totally safe, even if it was economical now, we can not rely on more than a portion of our power from it (20 - 40%?) because it takes to much time and money to build them.
The most critical and the first thing to do is cut our energy waste and cut our energy consumption.
Every kWh we cut reduces three kWh of input energy because most current thermal power plants are typically 33% efficient. And old coal plants have notoriously low efficiency - some 145 coal power plants are operating now that were constructed before 1950!
Congress allowed these old plants to operate under a "grandfather" agreement, escaping even basic air pollution regulations.