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The Human Hand in Climate Change

Filed under: — mike @ 23 January 2007

Kerry Emanuel (whose influential scientific work we’ve discussed here previously) has written a particularly lucid and poignant popular article on climate change for the literary forum “Boston Review”. The article is entitled Phaeton’s Reins: The human hand in climate change. We thought it worth passing along.


248 Responses to “The Human Hand in Climate Change”

  1. 201
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #119 and #130. I must apologise, and retract the statement that WHO attributed 8000 deaths to Chernobyl. I foolishly relied on a secondary source. The original, at
    http://www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/chernobyl/who_chernobyl_report_2006.pdf, cites a study estimating that there will be this many excess deaths in the local population, and says that is consistent with no obvious statistical signature of these deaths appearing at the time the WHO report was written.

  2. 202

    Ike Solem (re: #201),

    You misunderstand the abstract.
    The negative Snow Cover Area trend was in the “climate”, and the models only “partly reproduced” it. The net effect was a positive surface albedo bias in the models. There are more components to what the models got wrong in addition to this, they also had a postive bias in the Snow Water Equivilent and a delayed snow melt, and their albedo was particularly biased in forested areas of the snow cover. They also had a positive surface albedo bias in the tropical desert, although the full text does just reports it and doesn’t provide the detailed diagnostics on it.

    A preprint of the full text article was distributed to the WG1 draft reviewers.

  3. 203
    Ike Solem says:

    RE#203,

    Let’s see – what the abstract says is that the models underestimate the observed climate:
    “Surface albedo (ALB), snow cover fraction (SCF) and snow water equivalent (SWE) of state-of-the-art coupled climate models are compared and validated against groundbased and remote-sensed climatologies.

    “Most IPCC AR4 climate models predict excessive snow mass in spring and suffer from a delayed spring snow melt while the onset of the snow accumulation is generally well captured. This positive SWE bias is mainly caused by too heavy snowfall during the winter and spring season.”

    SWE is the snow water equivalent, and the relation to SCA is non-linear in that one foot of snow or 20 feet of snow has the same SCA, but different SWE.

    One way to look at this is that if the models are leaving more snow on the ground in northern regions, and since snow has a higher albedo then bare ground, the result will be that the models overestimate the amount of incoming solar radiation that is reflected back to space, which leads to an underestimate of the amount of warming at the surface.

    However, it’s more complicated then that: “The participating AR4 models generally reproduce the seasonal cycle of the surface albedo with sufficient accuracy while systematic albedo biases are predicted over both snow-free and snow-covered areas, with the latter being distinctly more pronounced. The study shows that the surface albedo over snow-covered forests is probably too high in various state-of-the-art global climate models. The analysis demonstrates that positive biases in SCA are not necessarily related to positive albedo biases.”

    This paper seems to be an honest attempt to increase the accuracy of how GCMs handle albedo, and the conclusion is still the same; the models are underestimating the actual rate of warming in the Arctic, and would be able to make better predictions if more comprehensive data (especially on ocean temps) was available. The fact that NOAA is trying to downplay the warming in the Arctic by manipulating data is also not in dispute, unless you have a comment on that issue?

  4. 204
    Jim Dukelow says:

    In #201 Ike Solem wrote:

    “This is an informative site on the above mentioned fission products: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/Hbase/nucene/fisfrag.html Generally speaking, the biological half-lives are not short, because the body mistakes cesium for potassium and strontium for calcium, leading to bone cancer, leukemia, and so on. The toxicity of plutonium and uranium is related to that of other heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium – kidney damage, brain damage, etc.”

    Ike responds oranges to my apples in #179. I said that the inclusion of Cs-135 (with 2.3 million year half-life) and I-129 (with 15.7 million years) in his list was fairly subtle sillyness. He responds with a web site that talks about Cs-137 and Sr-90 and uranium and plutonium. They are dangerous and keeping them away from the biosphere is part of the design and operating criteria for nuclear plants and nuclear waste storage. Other than Chernobyl, nuclear weapons explosions, and depleted uranium weapons, there have been no significant releases of these radionuclides. Further, there has been no reliable epidemiological evidence that the Chernobyl and weapons releases have had a detectable health impact. This last means less than it might seem, because epidemiology is a pretty blunt instrument.

    Uranium must be enriched (in U-235) to the 15% level before its radiotoxicity exceeds it chemical toxicity (nephro-toxicity). Plutonium’s radiotoxicity always exceeds it chemical toxicity. However, there is a small cohort of workers from the early years of the Manhattan Project, who received a “body burden” of internal Pu contamination. They have be followed over the intervening 60 years and have been significantly healthier than the general public. Google George Voelz for details.

    The issue with Cs-135 and I-129 is their low specific activity — there just aren’t many decay events per second. In addition, I-129 has a relatively weak beta emission and a relatively short biological half-life.

    The best example of the importance of biological half-life is tritium, with a decay half-life of 12+ years, but a biological half-life of 10-12 days. It also has an exceptionally weak beta decay. Unless you can get someone to feed you lots of trituim for weeks on end, you will have no significant exposure (a reasonable standard for “significant” might be comparison to dose from external and internal background radiation).

    Further, Ike writes:

    “think the economic life-cycle cost/benefit issue is what matters more; if the solar panel factory can build 1 GW of solar panel power per year, cumulative over 30 years, then it seems like a far better investment then a 1 GW nuclear plant, especially if the initial cost is the same.”

    This is another apples and oranges comparison. A full life cycle analysis would include the cost of building the solar panel plant, the cost of building 1 Gwatt of solar panels each year, the cost of building the solar panel facilities in sunny locations, the capacity factor of the solar panels, and issues with integrating the fluctuating availability into electrical grids, with a similarly comprehensive analysis of the 1 GWatt nuclear plant and its supporting facilities. With that sort of analysis, Ike’s 1 GWatt solar panel plant will not look so good.

    Unlike Ike, I do not have a faith-based aversion to solar, wind, or other renewables, although I do have a lot of reservations about the environmental and safety impact of large hydro. I also believe we need to move quickly to a low-carbon economy and that nuclear is a reasonable part of at least the short-term mix. It is a complex technology requiring careful design and operation by well-educated and well-trained personnel, but that is true of most of our technologies.

    Best regards.

  5. 205

    Re “there has been no reliable epidemiological evidence that the Chernobyl and weapons releases have had a detectable health impact.”

    What are you smoking? And can I have some?

  6. 206
    Dan says:

    Re: Chernobyl and epidemiological studies, see important information http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster_effects. Also worth seeing: http://phys4.harvard.edu/~wilson/radiation/Si2002/Chapter_1.html (MEDICAL CONSEQUENCES OF THE ACCIDENT AT THE CHERNOBYL NPP: FORECAST AND COMPARISON WITH ACTUAL DATA IN THE NATIONAL REGISTRY) and http://www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/a_e/chernobyl/-EGH%20Master%20file%202005.08.24.pdf.

  7. 207
    Ike Solem says:

    RE#208,
    I didn’t know that I had a faith-based aversion to solar, wind or other alternatives! Anyway, there are few things about Cherynobl that are glossed over in the above post; for example the emphasis on I-129 is disingenous, since the main issue in a nuclear accident is I-131, an extremely hot species with a half-life of about 8 days; likewise focusing on CS-135 instead of CS-137 (very hot, half-life 30 years) is disingenuous. A good discussion of the Chernobyl accident is at http://www.uic.com.au/nip22.htm ; some of the inside can be seen here.

    Dealing with both the short-lived and long-lived radioisotopes is a serious long-term problem, even if there isn’t a catastrophic reactor explosion. In addition, it turns out that decommissioning old nuclear plants is very expensive, and the yearly operation costs would probably be similar to those involved in operating solar cell manufacturing facilities.

    This raises the question of ‘life-cycle cost estimates’ which seem to be one of the most widely abused notions in the energy field. Essentially, when you have a process that includes hundreds of steps, it’s very easy to fudge the numbers in one direction or the other. For example, let’s say you want to compute the energy cost of building a silicon photovoltaic panel – what do you include? The cost of building the manufacturing facility, divided by the total number of panels the facility produces in it’s lifetime? Do you then subtract the energy that those individual panels will produce over their lifetime? Do you include the food the employees at the facility eat, the energy needed to grow their food, and their heating and air conditioning bills? This is just to demonstrate that ‘life-cycle energy analysis’ is fraught with uncertainty, especially when used by advocacy organizations such as the nuclear energy institute.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I have a long-standing interest in solar energy research based on the biomimetic photosynthetic approach. However, any way you look at it, we are going to have to rely on the sun for energy sooner or later, so why not sooner?

  8. 208
    Nick Gotts says:

    The wikipedia article is indeed interesting, although when I clicked on the link, I got a message saying there was no article of exactly that name – I don’t know why, because there is one – anyway, if you have problems, persist. Unless it is misquoting/misinterpreting, there is a very wide range of estimates of total excess deaths. I also find it interesting that non-fatal childhood thyroid cancers seem to be dismissed by pro-nuclear contributors as of little importance, despite the surgery and chemotherapy treatment involved; and that no account seems to be taken of the widespread economic effects of Chernobyl – some UK farms are still unable to sell their sheep for human consumption. To the best of my knowledge, neither the Soviet Union nor its successors has paid any compensation for such effects. Is there any country in which the civil nuclear industry pays the full cost of insurance for damage that may result from its activities?

  9. 209
    SecularAnimist says:

    Nick Gotts wrote: “Is there any country in which the civil nuclear industry pays the full cost of insurance for damage that may result from its activities?”

    Certainly not the USA.

    It would seem to me that the folks who are so certain that nuclear power is entirely safe should be lobbying for the repeal of the Price-Anderson Act. According to them, it is entirely unnecessary.

  10. 210

    non-fatal childhood thyroid cancers seem to be dismissed by pro-nuclear contributors as of little importance

    That’s a rather unpleasant comment. I said an IAEA that was not funded from oil and gas taxation would more strongly stress the smallness of their number, since they are the only public health effects for which there is any evidence, and were caused 20 years ago. If there is evidence that alternatives to nuclear have killed children more recently, and I have presented some, the suspicion must arise that so few deaths so long ago is a lot fewer than those alternatives would have caused since, if their backers had at that time been able to shut down all nukes.

  11. 211
    Dan says:

    re: 209. The problem with the wikipedia link is that I left a period in at the end. It should be: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster_effects

  12. 212
    James says:

    Re #210: You say “… the folks who are so certain that nuclear power is entirely safe…”, which is entirely missing the point I and others have been trying to make. I’ll make a flat statement: nuclear power is not entirely safe, because NO power source – indeed, no course of human action or inaction – is entirely safe. The question you should be asking is whether it is more or less safe than the alternatives.

    So look at the alternatives. Estimates of excess deaths from coal-fired power plant pollution range from 15,000 to 45,000 per year, in the US alone:

    http://www.net.org/cleanair/health/powerplantfactsheet.vtml

    Similarly, we have the experience of one interlinked set of hydroelectric dam failures (Banqiao, China) killing upwards of 170,000 people. Anti-nuclear activists ignore these, while making emotional appeals that invest the far smaller number of deaths from nuclear power with an air of desperate tragedy.

  13. 213
    Hank Roberts says:

    James, you’re illustrating the problem of discounting future costs to people not yet alive. You’re not counting them over ten thousand years’ time, are you?

    This isn’t a nuclear physics science blog, and I suspect you’re not likely to get real scientists’ expert opinions here when you state your beliefs about longterm safety issues. You might want to read some of their work, though.

    Nothing else we do, except perhaps climate change, will have such longterm consequences and affect (if the species is fortunate!) so many people.

    “She swallowed the spider, to catch the fly, but I don’t know why she swallowed that fly …”

  14. 214

    [[I'll make a flat statement: nuclear power is not entirely safe, because NO power source - indeed, no course of human action or inaction - is entirely safe. The question you should be asking is whether it is more or less safe than the alternatives.

    So look at the alternatives. Estimates of excess deaths from coal-fired power plant pollution range from 15,000 to 45,000 per year, in the US alone: ]]

    The choice isn’t between nuclear and coal. It’s between nuclear and coal on one side, and solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, tidal and wave power on the other hand. Amory Lovins pointed that out in 1976. The nuclear industry’s constant cry of “it’s either us or coal!” has never been accurate.

  15. 215
    Luke Silburn says:

    “there has been no reliable epidemiological evidence that the Chernobyl and weapons releases have had a detectable health impact.”

    What are you smoking? And can I have some?

    ….

    The choice isn’t between nuclear and coal. It’s between nuclear and coal on one side, and solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, tidal and wave power on the other hand.

    Emphasis mine – you also snipped the OP’s subsequent caveat that epidemiology was a blunt instrument for the purposes of this argument. Check out the link to that WHO epidemiological study of the Chernobyl aftermath which was posted upthread – it’s the one that estimates that there will be a total of ~8000 excess deaths as a result of the Chernobyl disaster, but which also says that very few of these excess deaths have actually occurred yet and that, given the uncertainties in the data, the excess death signal had not emerged from the epidemiological record even though it was nearly two decades after the event at the time of the study. Compare and contrast with the truly massive excess death numbers associated with our current coal infrastructure.

    In regard to the second point, the choice is between the status quo carbon heavy energy infrastructure – which is coal, oil and gas – and an alternative (hence disruptive) carbon light infrastructure – which is nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal and biomass; plus reductions in use, improved efficiency and (perhaps) carbon sequestration.

    Any argument against any of the alternative carbon light technologies and processes (and I include misguided pro-nukists who disparage wind/tidal in this) is an argument for the status quo. Which in effect means an argument for coal, since that’s the fossil fuel the world has most of and it is coal-fired generation plant that is being built right now.

    Regards
    Luke

  16. 216
    Jason Bo Green says:

    Despite the above controversies over the article, I personally found it astoundingly impartial and unbiased. I am an environmentalist and I find that radical environmentalists have been as damaging to the cause as our opponents have been. Radical elements on both sides of any issue tend to kneejerk rather than think sobrely. Locally, the ELF destroyed millions of dollars worth of construction equipment in order to “save” Toronto from condo towers — however, Toronto is not very dense and surrounding farmland has been destroyed by constantly sprawling suburbs. The massive vertical development in Toronto is good for the city, and Ontario, and Canada.

    I have come to believe that nuclear is a fine factor in energy production. Ontario has a substantial nuclear component. CANDU reactors are quite safe and cannot reach the meltdown temperature of Chernobyl-style reactors. As long as they’re CANDU, I have no fears about more nuclear here in Canada.

  17. 217

    [[Any argument against any of the alternative carbon light technologies and processes (and I include misguided pro-nukists who disparage wind/tidal in this) is an argument for the status quo. Which in effect means an argument for coal]]

    No it doesn’t. We can have a renewable mix without nuclear and without coal. We don’t have to have nuclear. We don’t have to have coal.

  18. 218
    Dan says:

    re: 217. It is important to define “radical”. ELF is quite radical in its actions compared to “moderate” environmental groups/organizations such as Sierra Club or EDF. Yet the words many prominent spokesmen use imply that the later are “radical”. Whenever someone testifies before Congress and does not define “radical” is their testimony, it is quite unfortunate and probably calculated to be misleading.

  19. 219

    The comment about CANDU reactors’ inability to “reach the meltdown temperature of Chernobyl-style reactors” is refreshingly wrong, or should I say, refreshingly merely wrong; I don’t get the impression, despite his name, that Green will hate the good news that Chernobyl wasn’t a meltdown, and nowhere outside the former Soviet Union was the chance of a similar explosion ever taken.

    That makes Hank Roberts’ economically-truthful remark …

    coal used as it is spreads far more radioactive material widely than nuclear used without any slip or failure

    annoying in that it doesn’t acknowledge that in non-former-USSR practice, coal spreads more radioactivity than nuclear power used with slip and failure. Natural gas has a similar TENORM — “Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material” — release concern, if enhanced public radiation exposure is of any concern.

  20. 220
    Ike Solem says:

    One last comment on the nuclear issue: If you look at my comment#40 in the Stern Science thread, there’s a list of current electricity generation sources in the US. Now, while I think it’s wise to be concerned about nuclear accidents and to have strict and independent safety oversight over nuclear generation, when I look at those numbers it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that shutting down nuclear power plants would be a huge mistake – however, I think that before any more new nuclear plants are built, the thing to do is to bring solar and wind up to the point where they generate and equivalent amount of energy; thus government policy should still be to support solar and wind over nuclear until that level is reached.

  21. 221
    Jim Dukelow says:

    In #206, Barton Paul Levenson writes:

    “Re “there has been no reliable epidemiological evidence that the Chernobyl and
    weapons releases have had a detectable health impact.”

    [edit - keep it polite please.]

    I stand by the statement. If you know enough about epidemiology to ascertain
    “reliability”, please cite some contrary “reliable epidemiological evidence”. As I
    implied, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, epidemiology is a pretty blunt
    instrument, particularly for detecting small effects of small exposures. I should
    emphasize that since I referred to atmospheric weapons testing and depleted uranium
    weapons, I implicitly excluded Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for which there is reliable,
    although somewhat contradictory, evidence. Another event implicitly excluded is the
    Mayak waste tank explosion in the 50s or 60s, a nasty accident that almost certainly
    had significant health effects, but also involved much higher exposures that
    Chernobyl or other nuclear plant accidents or atmospheric testing or depleted
    uranium weapons.

    In #208, Ike Solem writes:

    “I didn’t know that I had a faith-based aversion to solar, wind or other
    alternatives! Anyway, there are few things about Cherynobl that are glossed over in
    the above post; for example the emphasis on I-129 is disingenous, since the main
    issue in a nuclear accident is I-131, an extremely hot species with a half-life of
    about 8 days; likewise focusing on CS-135 instead of CS-137 (very hot, half-life 30
    years) is disingenuous.”

    I thought it was clear from context that I was referring to Ike’s faith-based
    aversion to nuclear power. As for I-129 and Cs-135, Ike was the one introducing
    them as evidence of nuclear power’s nastiness, and I was making the point that their
    inclusion in his list of radionuclides was inappropriate because of their low
    specific activities and, in the case of I-129, relatively low energy of the emitted
    particles and the short biological half-life of iodine. I also stipulated that
    Cs-137, Sr-90, and the actinides are dangerous and noted that controlling their
    release and access to the biosphere is part of the design and operations criteria
    for nuclear power plants and nuclear waste storage facilities.

    In a serious nuclear accident, I would be more concerned about Cs-137 and Sr-90,
    since there are simple and effeective preventive/mitigative actions to counter I-131
    – potassium iodide pills or painting a 4 square inch patch of skin with an iodine
    containing antiseptic, like povidone. Polish authorities took those accidents after
    Chernobyl, with the result that Poland have very few thyroid cancer cases.

    In #210, Nick Gotts and the pseudonymous Secular Animist write:

    “Nick Gotts wrote: “Is there any country in which the civil nuclear industry pays
    the full cost of insurance for damage that may result from its activities?”

    Certainly not the USA.

    It would seem to me that the folks who are so certain that nuclear power is entirely
    safe should be lobbying for the repeal of the Price-Anderson Act. According to them,
    it is entirely unnecessary.”

    Actually, the USA is precisely a country where the nuclear industry has, to date,
    paid the full cost of insurance and damages resulting from its operations. Each
    nuclear utility pays an annual premium into a trust fund. In the event of a nuclear
    accident, like TMI, each nuclear utility pays an event premium, which I believe was
    $1 million per plant, into the fund. All damage claims to date have been paid from
    the accumulated premiums in the trust fund. The shareholders of GPU bore the cost
    of lost of use and clean-up of the TMI plant.

    In effect, what Price-Anderson does is establish the federal government as the
    insurer of last resort for nuclear plants, a resort that has never been utilized.
    This is all public knowledge for anyone willing to look rather than simply accept
    anti-nuclear fairy tales. This is rather similar to the federal government’s role
    as insurer of last resort for the impact of hurricanes, earthquakes, and other
    natural and man-made disasters.

    Seconding James’ comment in #213, you will have a more frustrating search than
    Diogenes, looking for somewhere where I have said that nuclear energy is “entirely
    safe”. Indeed, I explicitly said in this thread that it is a risky technology (like
    almost all other technologies we use) that must be carefully mangaged by
    well-educated, -trained, and -motivated workers.

    Best regards.

  22. 222
    James says:

    Re #219: I suggest doing some math, and maybe referring to the list of current generation by source that Ike posted. It’s just not technically possible to replace current fossil-fuel generation with anything but nuclear. Indeed, I doubt that even an aggressive “renewable” construction program could keep pace with demand growth, let alone yield a reduction in fossil fuel use.

    Then you have to consider that most of the renewable technologies have characteristics that limit their usefullness as base-load generation. Solar & wind are intermittent, and there’s no efficient storage method. Conventional geothermal is only usable in a relative handful of places (one of which I can see through my window, as it happens). Tide & wave power are site-limited, and not well tested. And so on, and so on.

  23. 223

    Wind turbines have their hands-off fans. Were they hands-on, the nonzero body count per electrical gigawatt-year might not seem so nitpicky to them, and us nuke fans’ insistence that safety in practice trumps safety in theory might get some traction with them. Polls indicate it has this with the general public.

    Solar from space has always looked really good to me, as does solar with six-month storage, which as James remarks is difficult. Solar fans of the large-mouthed variety who nonetheless cannot say the word “winter” are tiresome. I think end-users might be better served by getting their energy supply in a non-electrical form. It’s interesting to contemplate their consuming boron all year round at a 1-GW(B) rate and sending the ash to a solar plant where a half-gigawatt-year heap of B2O3 would accumulate by the end of winter and be turned into a heap of B by the end of summer. The biggest heap is the end-of-winter B2O3 one, and it’s 930 kilotonnes, covering a circle 255 m in diameter, 5.1 hectares. Not much in a solar plant that covers a 15- or 20-km-diameter circle!

  24. 224

    [[It's just not technically possible to replace current fossil-fuel generation with anything but nuclear.]]

    Who says? You?

    [[ Indeed, I doubt that even an aggressive "renewable" construction program could keep pace with demand growth, let alone yield a reduction in fossil fuel use.]]

    Prove it.

    [[Then you have to consider that most of the renewable technologies have characteristics that limit their usefullness as base-load generation. Solar & wind are intermittent, and there's no efficient storage method.]]

    A national grid would do it.

    [[ Conventional geothermal is only usable in a relative handful of places (one of which I can see through my window, as it happens).]]

    Hot Dry Rock (HDR) geothermal can be used pretty much anywhere, and the new low-temperature conventional geothermal also has a greatly expanded number of potential sites.

    [[ Tide & wave power are site-limited, and not well tested. And so on, and so on. ]]

    Between wind, solar and biomass, we can switch to all renewables. All we have to do is make a national effort, with the right incentives, and by cutting back on the massive government subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear.

  25. 225

    [[ Solar fans of the large-mouthed variety who nonetheless cannot say the word "winter" are tiresome.]]

    Are you of the opinion that the Sun turns off during the winter? Few potential solar sites are outside the 66 degree latitude lines. Yes, days are shorter. Yes, the solar declination is different. Yes, solar panels can be tilted. And in cold weather when the sun is lessened, wind is enhanced. Again, a national grid and a mix of renewables can supply the whole thing.

  26. 226
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE # 219

    Barton, I always click to your RC contributions because they are informative and challenging.

    However, your pronouncement that:

    [We can have a renewable mix without nuclear and without coal. We don't have to have nuclear. We don't have to have coal.]

    left me dumbfounded.

    Let me add another item to your list:

    We don’t have to have electricity.

    You really let me down, there.

  27. 227
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #215 “In effect, what Price-Anderson does is establish the federal government as the insurer of last resort for nuclear plants” – Jim Dukelow.

    So, as I suspected, the US nuclear industry does not pay the full cost of insurance against accidents. If it did, there’d be no need for the federal government to act as the insurer of last resort – the insurance companies, and their arrangements for reinsurance, would cover it.

  28. 228
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #211 Burn Boron apparently thinks the IAEA tends to play up the dangers of nuclear power because it is “funded from oil and gas taxation”. It’s funded by governments, and governments do derive some of their income from gas and oil taxation, but does Burn Boron have any evidence that this link has prevented the IAEA carrying out its objective, which is to promote “atomic energy”? This is the whole of Article II and the start of Article III of its statutes:

    “II. Objectives.

    The Agency shall seek to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world. It shall ensure, so far as it is able, that assistance provided by it or at its request or under its supervision or control is not used in such a way as to further any military purpose.

    ARTICLE III: Functions

    A. The Agency is authorized:

    1. To encourage and assist research on, and development and practical application of, atomic energy for peaceful uses throughout the world;”

    Here is a quote from its 2005 Annual Report introductory section “The Year in Review”:

    “In March, high level representatives
    of 74 governments, including 25 representatives at
    the ministerial level, gathered in Paris at a conference
    organized by the Agency to consider the future role
    of nuclear power. According to the final statement
    of the President of the Conference, the vast majority
    of participants affirmed that �nuclear power can
    make a major contribution to meeting energy needs
    and sustaining the world�s development in the 21st
    century, for a large number of both developed and
    developing countries.�

    If the IAEA is really an anti-nuclear organisation, as Burn Boron appears to imply (I can’t find any other interpretation for his comments), it is doing a remarkably good job of disguising it.

  29. 229
    SecularAnimist says:

    Jim Dukelow: “In effect, what Price-Anderson does is establish the federal government as the insurer of last resort for nuclear plants”

    Without which, not one single nuclear power plant would ever have been built or would be operating today, because the private free-market insurance industry would refuse to insure them.

    If nuclear power is so “safe” then why are the taxpayers forced to insure them against the risks of a serious accident? Why does the insurance industry refuse to do so?

    As a general comment, I have long observed an overall pattern to the arguments of nuclear supporters, which is to deny or minimize the enormous risks and costs of nuclear power, while exaggerating the comparatively minimal problems with wind and PV electrical generation into insurmountable obstacles.

  30. 230
    James says:

    Re #230: “…I have long observed an overall pattern to the arguments of nuclear supporters, which is to deny or minimize the enormous risks and costs of nuclear power…”

    While I have long observed an overall pattern to the arguments of nuclear opponentss, which is to enormously exaggerate the actual risks and costs of nuclear power, and when that’s insufficient, to make up purely imaginary ones :-) And now that we’ve both got that out of our systems, can we get back to dealing with facts?

    Your argument re Price-Anderson is circular: how can private insurers compete with zero cost? Let’s be fair, though: the nuclear industry is hardly the only one that gets such insurance benefits. Consider how the taxpayers keep getting stuck with the tab for things like hurricane & flood damage, even though those events are far more likely and predictable than nuclear accidents.

    Re #225: “Between wind, solar and biomass, we can switch to all renewables. All we have to do is make a national effort, with the right incentives, and by cutting back on the massive government subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear.”

    I would like to see the math supporting that contention. I don’t think it adds up (though I’d be glad to learn otherwise). I think it’s going to take everything we can do – massive efficiency & conservation efforts, and the use of every practical non-fossil-fuel energy source – to even have a chance of dealing with the problem. As far as cutting subsidies goes, sure, but let’s be fair and cut all subsidies (other than pure R&D) – and what is your “national effort” going to be, if not massive government subsidies to the technologies you like?

    Re 226: “…a national grid and a mix of renewables can supply the whole thing.”

    There are problems with that. For instance, solar power goes away at night, and wind tends to drop as well, while transmitting electricity over the grid incurs losses proportional to distance.

    Then there’s the cost issue. I have the PV system price list from a local retailer [ http://www.independentpowercorp.com ] on my desk. A 1 KW system goes for $10,900. A $2475 rebate from the local power company and a $2000 federal tax credit (did someone mention subsidies?) drops that to $6425. From that I get a rated 1766 KWh per year. Figure a 20 year useful life, and the unsubsidized cost works out to $0.31/KWh, about 3 times the current cost of grid electricity. Good investment?

  31. 231
    Hank Roberts says:

    One example of an efficient means of storing excess peak electricity from solar, wind, tide, etc. even in the absence of an uphill reservoir for water is already being built in Australia.

    Take a typical chemical storage cell (or set of them, a ‘battery’).

    Feed electricity through it until the chemistry has changed as much as can (it is ‘fully charged’).

    Pump the ‘charged’ chemicals out into storage and feed in fresh ‘uncharged’ chemicals.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Basically it gives the effect of a far larger battery, without having to produce all the anode and cathode structures in proportion.

    It’s a lovely idea, for big areas like Australia or the US Southwest.

    This approach could work with fuel cells and any liquid-chemistry battery system. Not ideal with lead and sulfuric acid, given the risk of the materials; but there are safer battery chemistries available.

    It’s in concept like using excess hydroelectric production to pump water uphill to a storage reservoir, so it can run back down through the turbines when there’s more demand.

  32. 232
    SecularAnimist says:

    James wrote: “A 1 KW system goes for $10,900. A $2475 rebate from the local power company and a $2000 federal tax credit (did someone mention subsidies?) drops that to $6425. From that I get a rated 1766 KWh per year. Figure a 20 year useful life, and the unsubsidized cost works out to $0.31/KWh, about 3 times the current cost of grid electricity.”

    Why do you “figure a 20 year useful life”? Commercially available PV panels typically have 20 to 25 year manufacturer’s warranties, but their useful life will be closer to 40 years, and easily more than 30 years. And if you are going to compare the “unsubsidized cost” of PV electricity then you should compare it to the unsubsidized cost of grid electricity. Coal, natural gas and nuclear generated electricity is all subsidized in some way.

    Photovoltaics have only barely begun to benefit from the economies of scale of mass production. As demand and production grows the costs of current PV technologies will plummet. Thin-film PV technologies such as those being produced by Nanosolar and Ovonics will be much less expensive than the current generation of PV technologies, and are likely to be a truly “disruptive” technology, like personal computers, cell phones and the iPod.

    Aside from the dangers and risks of nuclear power, and the GHG problems of fossil fueled electrical generation, I think that advocating the construction of any sort of large centralized power plants today may be somewhat like a business in the early 1980s committing huge amounts of money to a mainframe computer with lots of dumb terminals at the dawn of the PC revolution. The really inexpensive thin-film PV technologies that are going into production now — along with dispersed, moderate-sized wind farms — will revolutionize and transform electrical generation, and within years, distributed electrical generation will become the new paradigm. Utilities that invest now in large centralized power plants — whether coal, gas or nuclear — will be sinking money into a soon-to-be obsolete technology.

  33. 233
    Hank Roberts says:

    > 20 year useful life, …, about 3 times the current cost
    > of grid electricity. good investment?

    Depends on things you can’t know.

    Did you add replacement cost for the solar electric system to your homeowner’s insurance?

    Has the cost of grid electricity changed, over the past 20 years, where you live (in, say, constant dollars, inflation adjusted, or as a percentage of your income, or compared to the cost of a gallon of gasoline)?

    Do you have a market or cooperative-owned electric utility?

    How much stock do you own in the companies supplying the grid?

    http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/freeabs_all.jsp?arnumber=970049

    “… ‘market fundamentals’ cannot explain the huge increases in wholesale market prices observed during Summer 2000…. truly competitive prices in the California electricity market would have been substantially lower than those observed this past summer. This “price gap” provides a rough measure of the effects of market power and related market imperfections reflected in wholesale market prices in California during the June through September 2000 period…”

  34. 234

    The reference to massive subsidies to fossil fuel is how the publically funded establish, to their own satisfaction if no-one else’s, that in lobbying against nuclear energy they aren’t on the take. Of course if fossil fuels really were subsidized speed limits would be strongly enforced; but since, in fact, everyone on a public payroll is massively subsidized by fossil fuel consumers, speed limits are seldom enforced.

    The house I am in has been shuddering repeatedly as tires and gas tanks burst about 2 km from me. Media say two tankers were involved. For several years I’ve been doing all I can to end the demand for tankers’ payloads. What have you been doing? Why is the house I am in not my own?

  35. 235
    Hank Roberts says:

    There’s lots of academic work done on this, so statements about what’s real can be backed up with cites. This is not climatology, it’s law and economics. The experts on those fields are available elsewhere.

    This may help, as an example:

    Federal Fossil Fuel Subsidies and Greenhouse Gas Emissions…
    Annu. Rev. Energy Environ. 26:361-389. Nov01

    “… This paper reviews existing studies of fossil fuel subsidies within the United States, as well as assessments of the potential impact of subsidy reform on GHG emissions….
    “1. WHY LOOK AT FOSSIL FUEL SUBSIDIES
    “Fossil fuel combustion is estimated to contribute more than 90% of gross domestic greenhouse gas emissions (1). … market transition to increased conservation or alternative fuels is slower than it would be in the absence of subsidies…. Renewable energy sources also receive subsidies, and policy transparency is equally important for them. However, most multi-fuel assessments have found fossil-based energy to receive the majority of federal subsidies …, followed by nuclear energy….”

    Found at: http://www.mindfully.org/Energy/Fossil-Fuel-Subsidies.htm

  36. 236
    Jim Dukelow says:

    In #218 Jason Bo Green wrote:

    “I have come to believe that nuclear is a fine factor in energy production. Ontario has a substantial nuclear component. CANDU reactors are quite safe and cannot reach the meltdown temperature of Chernobyl-style reactors. As long as they’re CANDU, I have no fears about more nuclear here in Canada.”

    I rather like CANDU reactors, for a variety of reasons, but as another poster noted they certainly can reach meltdown conditions in a severe accident.

    There is a more concerning issue, however. Because of their superior neutron economy (that is, they generate more power per unit of fuel per unit time) and because of their on-line refueling (that is, they can be refueled while the reactor is at power), they are capable of efficiently producing weapons-grade plutonium if they are operated outside strict non-proliferation treaty controls. Apparently, both India and Pakistan produced their first nuclear weapons using heavy water reactors with on-line refueling.

    Their record in Canada, however, is excellent, with the exception of some serious operations issues during the 90s.

    Best regards.

  37. 237
    Jim Dukelow says:

    In #222, Ike Solem wrote:

    “One last comment on the nuclear issue: If you look at my comment#40 in the Stern Science thread, there’s a list of current electricity generation sources in the US. Now, while I think it’s wise to be concerned about nuclear accidents and to have strict and independent safety oversight over nuclear generation, when I look at those numbers it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that shutting down nuclear power plants would be a huge mistake – however, I think that before any more new nuclear plants are built, the thing to do is to bring solar and wind up to the point where they generate and equivalent amount of energy; thus government policy should still be to support solar and wind over nuclear until that level is reached.”

    I agree with most of this. It is particularly striking that the increase in US nuclear electricity generation between 1995 and 2005 is several times that of wind power over the same period. This increase came not from new reactors, but from increasing capacity factors at existing reactors and, in a few cases, approval by the licensing authority of operation of existing reactors at slightly higher power than before.

    I am a strong supporter of wind power and can see out my window, on a clear day, around 300 wind turbines. I am more cautious about solar power, but there seems to be some interesting basic research results that may make it competitive in the near- to middle-future. I am reading the recent MIT report on hot, dry rock geothermal with interest and some scepticism. One of the things that astonished me when I got into the nuclear industry some thirty years ago was how corrosive very pure water was at temperatures and pressures that are most efficient for generating electricity. Hot, dry rock geothermal will have to deal with those issues, using water that has been passed over hot, dry rock 4-6 miles deep — rock that will not be as pure as the demin water used in nuclear and fossil plants. Geothermal is an idea that has been around for about 100 years. One reason there has been so little of it is that there are only a few places in the world producing steam at appropriate temperatures and pressures that is clean enough for a plant to operate for a economically practical number of years.

    A further caveat to Ike’s prescription. For about a decade, nuclear reactor vendors have been designing the “next generation” of nuclear plants [this design work has been partially subsidized by the US DOE and similar government agencies around the world]. The redesign has aimed to reduce or eliminate some of the economic and safety problems of the current generation of reactors. Specifically, they have attempted to replace the current engineered safety systems — think of pumps, valves, and controls for same — with passive systems that utilize physical phenomena that will always be there and functioning. Similarly, they have tried to move to modular designs that can be factory-built and shipped to the plant site for assembly. To the extent the vendors succeed in those design goals, the next-generation plants will be both safer and more economic than the current generation.

    Best regards.

  38. 238
    Karen Street says:

    Still arguing nuclear power?

    Maybe the optimists on climate change are right, and we should move only as rapidly as is possible by using renewables, plus geothermal (not technically renewable), plus efficiency. If the extreme optimists are right, we have plenty of time, and an aggressive shift to renewables, which still requires us to use inefficient natural gas plants, may work. It may not, even under the most optimistic climate scenarios, but it may.

    Re shifting quickly to renewables — with massive funding, subsidies at both state and federal level, CA hopes to reach 3 GW photovoltaic (solar) by 2017. Since capacity factor is 1/5 that of nuclear, a nuclear power plant 1/5 that size will produce the same electricity — about half of the smallest of the 3 models being considered in the US. In TX there is a discussion about building 9 GW coal plants — if these have the same capacity factor as coal today, that is about 12 times the cumulative PV in CA by 2017. This will change in time, but not in the short run.

    Hank Robert’s source on incentives didn’t have nice graphs like this one does.

    It seems to me that to argue effectively against nuclear power, it is necessary to show that we can reach 2005 emissions levels by 2015 or 2012, decrease 2050 per capita GHG emissions to 3% of US per capita emissions today, and then zero out carbon afterward — just in case people like Hansen and Holdren are right. Faster would be better, much faster also good. The second argument that you need to make is that nuclear compares to coal and other fossil fuels in danger. Think 10 – 12 Socolow wedges, not the seven mentioned by Pacala – Socolow, unless you are an extreme otpimist.

    Avoid assuming that solutions for the US will work everywhere. Rome in north of New York, so PV will be less effective there. Wind will require at least 30% backup from natural gas and hydro if it wind power is transmitted long distances to overcome some of the intermittency issues in US analysis, but wind capacity factor in the US is 1/3 more than in Germany.

    It’s easy to say that we can change our own behavior, improve efficiency (much could be done with some dedicated bureaucrats and a lot of money), build a few windmills and solar panels, and we’re there. Unfortunately, a lot can go wrong between here and there.

  39. 239
    James says:

    Re #232: “One example of an efficient means of storing excess peak electricity…” Except that there’s no mention of the actual efficiency there. I suspect it’s one of those technologies, like pumped storage, that will work but which loses quite a bit of the stored energy.

    And #233: “Why do you “figure a 20 year useful life”?”, I picked that because I needed a quick number, and 20 years seems a typical figure. If they last longer, great. The other iffy figure there is the annual power production. I imagine the figure given is for a site in unobstructed full sun all day. In my case, I’d have to cut down a bunch of shade trees to get that, which would mean that I’d have to buy an air conditioner and run it in the summer. Either way my net annual production would be quite a bit lower. I think I’ll stick to solar heat and/or hot water, which has a much better payback.

    “… I think that advocating the construction of any sort of large centralized power plants today may be somewhat like…”

    I think you may be forgetting a couple of things. Sure, if the cost of PV solar relative to other sources drops to where most people can afford to cover their roof with it, then it could provide much of the domestic-use power. That’s only about a third of the total used, though, with commercial & industrial each using about half the rest.

    Then you have to take into account the necessities of the power grid. It needs to keep voltage and frequency within pretty tight limits, while being subject to varying demands. That means there has to be a lot of “inertia” in the system. Some of that’s electrical, in the capacitance & inductance of the system, but a lot of it is simply the rotating mass and so on of power generators. PV systems AFAIK don’t have anything like this.

  40. 240

    [[Re 226: "...a national grid and a mix of renewables can supply the whole thing."

    There are problems with that. For instance, solar power goes away at night, and wind tends to drop as well, while transmitting electricity over the grid incurs losses proportional to distance. ]]

    For Solar thermal power, enough heat is generated that some can be stored in molten salts and the plants can continue to run at night or even during rainstorms. So it’s not strictly true any more that Solar can’t function at night.

  41. 241

    [["Re "there has been no reliable epidemiological evidence that the Chernobyl and weapons releases have had a detectable health impact."

    [edit - keep it polite please.]

    I stand by the statement. If you know enough about epidemiology to ascertain “reliability”, please cite some contrary “reliable epidemiological evidence”. ]]

    I edited the Industrial Hygiene Digest for eight years (1995-2003). In that time, several dozen articles came through my desk with epidemiological reports on Chernobyl by people who actually went to the Ukraine and Byelarus and did the on-site work. All of them found statistically significant elevations of thyroid cancer and projected large numbers of deaths. You might try checking back issues of Environmental Science and Technology for those years. I’ll see if I can’t dig up some cites. I don’t have access to the IHF library any more since they shut down the building.

  42. 242

    In comment 236 Hank Roberts finds a website to say this –

    … market transition to increased conservation or alternative fuels is slower than it would be in the absence of subsidies …

    In comment 229 Nick Gotts seems to misunderstand my earlier words,

    [The IAEA] is not as strongly pro-nuclear as would be a governmental nuclear oversight body that was not largely funded from fossil fuel tax revenue. That conflict of interest colours virtually all publically funded thinking.

    and quotes a charter for it that I suspect dates from days when fossil fuels were not so profitable for government, from the days of Disney’s “Our Friend the Atom”, which Roberts also tried to link, although that link didn’t work for me.

    If I correctly gather from the title that Disney then thought nuclear replacement of fossil fuels was as plainly a good thing as Semmelweis’s introduction to the medical community of handwashing, well, that’s the way a non-fossil-funded IAEA, or in my opinion a non-fossil-funded anyone, looks at it, then and now.

    If the “mindfully” page were not deceitful by omission, subsidized fossil fuel consumers’ “transition to increased conservation or alternative fuels” would be, as it says, “slower than it would be in the absence of subsidies” — but everyone in government would be hurrying them up, because everyone in government would want to improve his financial prospects by freeing up fossil fuel subsidy money.

    If you are after reducing CO2 emissions, and they were subsidized, everyone in government would be on your side. Of those not officially in government but subsistent on government money, only that minority getting the fossil fuel production subsidies would not be on your side. Everyone else would want to get that money away from them, and therefore, to help you.

    Obviously, fossil fuel subsidies are not net subsidies; their sum with fossil fuel consumption taxes is of much greater magnitude and opposite sign. What’s the point of playing “mindful” about this?

    Does the laxity of speed limit enforcement perplex you?

  43. 243
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #231: “how can private insurers compete with zero cost? Let’s be fair, though: the nuclear industry is hardly the only one that gets such insurance benefits.” Jim Dunkelow
    If you’ve lost the argument, change the subject. That the nuclear power industry gets zero cost insurance of last resort *is* the subsidy, and no-one has claimed it is the only thing subsidised in this way.

    Re #243: Burn Boron does not, as I requested, supply any evidence that the IAEA has acted contrary to its charter due to the source of its funding; or indeed that it has done so at all.

    Re #239: I accept that if we can’t make the required GHG reductions without building new nuclear plants, we must do so. However, Karen Street misses two points.

    First, we must consider how we can maximise the reduction we get for any given level of resources. In the short term, demand reduction is where the big savings lie: in the US, use the resources to insulate existing buildings against heat and cold, insure that newly built ones do not require powered heating or cooling systems, propagandise the public to switch off what they’re not using and adjust their costume to ambient temperatures, and subsidise decent public ground transport, combining this with greatly increasing the costs of driving and flying. In the longer term, we do need low-GHG sources of electricity (note that nuclear power, like most renewables, can’t contribute to reducing transport-related emissions unless and until technology and infrastructure is developed to produce and distribute hydrogen or other suitable fuels, along with vehicles to use such fuels); and nuclear has to compete against renewables, and fossil fuels with CSC. The UK’s Hadley Centre has developed scenarios for 60% reduction in UK GHG emissions by 2050 both with and without nuclear power; George Monbiot reckons a 90% UK reduction by 2030 is possible without new nuclear power (he, like me, regards nuclear power as to be avoided if possible, but would accept it if shown to be necessary).

    Second, nuclear power carries risks other alternatives to fossil fuels (with the possible exception of large-scale hydro) do not: disastrous failure during operation (new designs make this less likely, but human ingenuity-in-stupidity will usually find a way!); terrorist attack, or capture of materials for a “dirty bomb” (yes, I know a dirty bomb wouldn’t cause a lot of deaths, but it would cause $bns in evacuation and cleanup costs); and nuclear weapons proliferation. On the last point, the obvious strategy for a state wishing to develop nuclear weapons capability is to use the large overlap in necessary materials, technologies and skills to go as far as possible while pretending you’re only interested in a civil program, as to varying extents India, Pakistan and Israel did, Iran clearly is doing, and many other states (e.g. Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Saudi Arabia) may well be doing. Also, while nuclear industries exist, they have strong financial incentives to sell materials, technologies and skills to anyone they can. Because of these nuclear-specific risks, there is a heavy burden of proof on nuclear power advocates to show that nuclear power is a necessary part of a GHG reduction strategy sufficient to avoid disastrous climate change.

    Incidentally, re #126, asking for a reference concerning the link between France’s civilian and military nuclear programmes. I don’t have a reference to a paper handy, but go to the website http://www.cea.fr/english_portal/cea/identity (assuming your French is no better than mine). The Commissariat à l’énergie atomique, set up in 1945, has had ever since then oversight of both. It is largely government-funded, with a total annual budget over 3bn Euro.

  44. 244
    Jim Dukelow says:

    In #242, Barton Paul Levenson wrote:

    “I edited the Industrial Hygiene Digest for eight years (1995-2003). In that time, several dozen articles came through my desk with epidemiological reports on Chernobyl by people who actually went to the Ukraine and Byelarus and did the on-site work. All of them found statistically significant elevations of thyroid cancer and projected large numbers of deaths. You might try checking back issues of Environmental Science and Technology for those years. I’ll see if I can’t dig up some cites. I don’t have access to the IHF library any more since they shut down the building.”

    I agree that Levenson has identified an imprecision in my assertion. There certainly was a statistically significant increase in thyroid cancer in Ukraine and Belarus (primarily in children), although not in Poland, where authorities took preventive/mitigative action (interdicting milk supplies and administering potassium iodide, particularly to children; an interesting and effective mitigation of an I-131 release would be to take all of the local milk and make aged cheese — after 160 days the I-131 concentrations will be down by a factor of one million).

    An IARC FAQ file, available at http://www.iarc.fr/Chernobyl/q_a.php includes the statement “The fact that there is no clearly demonstrated radiation-related increase in cancer risk other than thyroid should not be interpreted to mean that no increase has in fact occurred.” The FAQ also includes projections of cumulative cancer deaths from Chernobyl, writing ” Today, we have published estimates of the number of cancer cases and cancer deaths that might occur in the whole of Europe (define) due to radiation from the Chernobyl accident. By 2065, our models predict that about 16,000 (95% UI 3,400 â�� 72,000) cases of thyroid cancer and 25,000 (95% UI 11,000 â�� 59,000) cases of other cancers may be expected due to radiation from the accident and that about 16,000 deaths from these cancers may occur (Table).”

    The key assumption here is captured in their phrase “our models predict”. Their models use assumptions about how to extrapolate dose response relationships derived from relatively high doses in the Hiroshima/Nagasaki populations down to the relatively low doses in Chernobyl and other populations exposed to relatively low doses. This is an area of active research in radiation biology and some sense of the ferment can be gained by looking at the archives of the BELLE (Biological Effects of Low-Level Exposure) newsletters, available at http://www.belleonline.com . Essentially, positions on this question come down to whether you believe Paracelsus or not.

    The Wikipedia entry on the Chernobyl accident is reasonably authoritative with an extensive list of references. It is available at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_accident . It cites the 2005 draft summary report of the Chernobyl Forum which reports 47 workers dying of radiation disease in the immediate aftermath of the accident plus 9 deaths from thyroid cancer.

    The IARC “model”, also used in many other radiation epidemiology, is a result of a linear (or, in some cases, a linear-quadratic) extrapolation to zero of correlations between high dose exposures, primarily at Hiroshima/Nagasaki and health consequences. The resulting risk coefficients, when applied to large populations with low exposures make predictions that are almost certainly too high and are not confirmed by the numerous epidemiological studies of DOE and other radiation worker populations that are invariably healthier than the general public. The IARC “model” is roughly equivalent to moving from the fact that ingesting 200 aspirins will result in death to the conclusion that if 200 people take one aspirin, one of them will die.

    Best regards.

  45. 245
    SecularAnimist says:

    Karen Street wrote: “Avoid assuming that solutions for the US will work everywhere.”

    Indeed, nuclear power seems particularly unsuitable for meeting the growing demand (and I think it’s fair to say “need”) for electricity in the developing world — in countries which lack the electrical grids needed to distribute power from centralized power plants to rural areas, or the resources to build them, and lack the institutional ability to effectively police a nuclear industry to ensure that it operates “safely” and prevent diversion of nuclear materials to weapons use. In such areas distributed, small scale wind and PV power is already growing very rapidly, because these technologies are less expensive to deploy (in the absence of a grid), safer, and much easier to operate — and in addition they foster democratic ownership and control of the means of energy production.

  46. 246
    James says:

    Re #244: “… nuclear power carries risks other alternatives to fossil fuels (with the possible exception of large-scale hydro) do not: disastrous failure during operation…”

    This is yet another example of the frog-boiling principle: We’ve been developing fossil-fuel plants for more than a century, and it’s gradually gotten to the point where (according to estimates) they’re killing something like a hundred people a day just in the US. But nobody much seems to notice or care: because they killed a hundred people yesterday, and will kill another hundred tomorrow, it’s not news.

    Re #246: What you’re neglecting, again, is that there’s very little industrial load in these countries. PV solar (with a battery backup) works a lot better for domestic loads, especially where you can start from scratch and use DC appliances. Even in the US, if you live more than a quarter mile or so from a power line, PV solar can be a more economical choice than paying to have a power line brought in, even though you also have to pay for a storage system for when the sun’s not shining.

    The point is that there’s no one simple answer: solar (or wind, geothermal, etc) isn’t THE solution, it’s part of a system. As it becomes relatively cheaper than fossil fuel electricity, due to better tech, economies of scale, and (one hopes) carbon taxes, it will make more sense in more places. But it can’t, with anything like current technology, replace everything.

  47. 247
    Jane Kloeckner says:

    Hello, in the very windy state of Kansas, the state legislators want more nuclear power now. They are considering expanding and adding a new unit to the Wolf Creek Nuclear Power plant by giving utility subsidies. Will such policies get a full debate in our state governments? The in-depth, ongoing debate in this blog would help the Kansas politicians. http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2007/jan/27/bill_would_make_it_easier_expand_nuclear_energy/

    If you read this article, it says that the Kansas legislators believe nuclear is one of the solutions to our problem of how to reduce GHG emissions. The politicians want “clean” power .. do they understand the cost/benefits/risks? … is the subsidy too much? How much does Kansas subsize wind power? The debate continues…

    Thank you for the comments in 216 and 236.

  48. 248

    [[CA hopes to reach 3 GW photovoltaic (solar) by 2017. Since capacity factor is 1/5 that of nuclear, a nuclear power plant 1/5 that size will produce the same electricity -- about half of the smallest of the 3 models being considered in the US.]]

    What happened to solar thermal? That has 30% space efficiency compared to about 15% for the average PV installation, plus you can store heat to run it at night. Is California actually going only for PV and not investing in solar thermal?


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