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Climate Reporting in Physics World

Filed under: — rasmus @ 23 February 2007 - (Português)

PhysicsWorld cover, Volume 20, no. 2, February 2007 The February 2007 issue of PhysicsWorld contains several articles relevant to climate research, with a main feature article on climate modelling written by Adam Scaife, Chris Folland, and John Mitchell, and a profile on Richard Lindzen as well as an article on geoengineering in the ‘News & Analyses’ section. The magazine also contains an article (‘Living in the greenhouse’) under ‘Lateral Thoughts’ that brings up a bunch of tentative analogies to a wide range of topics completely unrelated to the greenhouse effect in a technical sense, and an editorial comment ‘Hot topic‘, arguing that it would be wrong of PhysicsWorld to ignore those outside the mainstream. To be more precise, the editorial comment devotes a few lines justifying the profile on Lindzen and the report on geoengineering, with a reference to a Feynman quote: “There is no harm in doubt and scepticism, for it is through these that new discoveries are made”. Wise words! Nevertheless, I cannot resist making some reflections.

One thought that immediately struck me was: has PhysicsWorld tried to make a ‘balanced report‘, or does the issue of doubt and scepticism by itself merit the profile article? Is the scepticism or doubt really genuine (doubt is the product)? To be fair, the article does bring up objections against some of Lindzen’s arguments (citing Gavin). However, I’d like to see a more consistent and critical article, as Lindzen’s arguments – at least the way they are echoed in PhysicsWorld – are in my opinion inconsistent.

Here is one example: Take Lindzen’s controversial claim that the good comparison between modelled and historical temperature evolution is an exercise in “curve fitting”. Written between the lines is the assumption that the climate models are driven with forcings based on historical GHG emissions. Later in the article Lindzen argues that the climate models used by the IPCC are far too sensitive to changes in the concentrations of atmospheric CO2. To me, these two statements say opposite things – and are thus in violation with each other. Because, either the models give a good description of the historic evolution or they don’t, given past GHGs, aerosol emissions and natural forcings (surely, Lindzen must have known about these simulations).

So, why didn’t the magazine ask critical questions about these conflicting views, or at least comment on what appears to be faulty logic? Or, perhaps Lindzen bases his claim on other aspects of model evaluation? Lindzen argues that the effect of CO2 on the temperature is small because the effect of additional CO2 molecule decreases as the concentration increases, but at the same time, Lindzen also seems to forget – just for a moment – all the feedbacks which can enhance the warming. Gavin confounds him with an objection on a different point – that Lindzen has not taken the delay response properly into account, for instance due to the ocean thermal inertia. In the next paragraph, however, Lindzen maintains that climate models do not replicate the feedback mechanisms in the climate system, and later on refers to his hypothesis, the ‘infrared iris effect‘, which more or less has been buried by the scientific community.

Gavin makes this point in the article (also see an argument for why it is wrong), but a final thought that dawned on me was that Lindzen is probably no better at calculating the feedback effects in his head than the climate models.


296 Responses to “Climate Reporting in Physics World”

  1. 151
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 141. I find it interesting that the ASES study assumes that conservation effectively results in NEGATIVE growth in energy demand. Yet despite this convenient fantasy, they still fail to meet energy demand without resorting to carbon. And this is for the US. How likely do you think China, India and Brazil will be to meet their needs without either fossil fuels or nuclear power.
    Nuclear power is a proven, safe zero-carbon technology. Nuclear waste and proliferation concerns can be addressed (note, the problem with Iran is their insistence on enrichment AND independence of the IAEA–not nuclear power as such), and with breeder technology (using either the U or Th cycles) it has vast potential. Most important, it can be deployed NOW. Perhaps if you educate yourself about nuclear power, you might be less afraid of it.

  2. 152
  3. 153

    Re 123 et Al
    Sorry for the typos – it was posted in an airport .and should read :

    “So why is Al playing fast and loose with the un-seasonable runaround views
    of Kilimanjaro in his flick ?

    Ice halfway up to the tropopause in the
    Intertropical Convergence Zone seems a very peculiar metric upon which to hang a case for the Apocalypse.”

    Three Points-

    1. Hank is mistaken to equate a 1990 overview of the debate with what I or anyone else thinks after 4 rounds of the IPCC . I provided the 1990 article as a benchmark of what you could get published ( barely) in a conservative policy quarterly ( _The National Interest_ , as in _The End Of History _) 1989.In case you haven’t looked, the current piece that refers to it commends Emanuel’s view over Lindzen’s- the trouble is getting conservatives to read the scientific papers of either, as opposed to lionizing an increasingly bemused Mike Crichton.

    2, As Mike McElroy can testify ,I’ve been arguing for get-um-while-they- last retreival of tropical glacier cores ever since returning from Melanesia in 1975. I suspect raypierre must wince with the rest of us as the AIT film editors –I can’t blame Al for production values– cut angles from season to season, and box the compass to make their Kili photomontage as scary as possible- whatever is driving their visual rhetoric , it isn’t science.

    3. The extinction curve in The Earth In The Nalace was silly enough to do credit to Limbaugh- it spans not geological time but recent history and goes froma ~ 45% slope in 1960 to dead vertical in 2000. Color it innumerate.

  4. 154
    Hank Roberts says:

    You can look up the text including the ordinate and abscissa labels on Amazon, though they won’t draw the curve for you.

    http://www.amazon.com/Earth-Balance-Ecology-Human-Spirit/dp/0452269350/ref=si3_rdr_bb_product/103-9004873-3968622

    The X axis labels are 1700 1800 1900 2000
    and he says the chart ends in 1992, publication of the book.

    the Y axis is number of species lost each year, from 10 to 100,000.

    That seems in line with E.O. Wilson’s estimates both at the time and more recently.

    Isn’t this a ‘hockey stick’ sort of argument about the shape of the line?

    You may be reading more precision into this than is apparent?

  5. 155
    JohnLopresti says:

    I wonder about an allusion mentioned early in the comments section, regarding earth core. This site examines climate, and warming; I wonder if some of the AGU thinkers on the geologic side have modeled repercussions, given the global warming, of effects upon deep earth with a warmer atmosphere, warmer mantle, than nowadays. I started a hypothesis about the alteration of magnetism of a cooling mass; maybe an astrophysical component to the model would depict deep planetary effects of a GW during the post-tipping-point epoch. I wonder if the planet could preserve its orbit, even though its mass would be constant.

  6. 156

    [[ Perhaps if you educate yourself about nuclear power, you might be less afraid of it. ]]

    I have educated myself about nuclear power. That’s why I’m afraid of it.

  7. 157
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #151 I don’t have the knowledge to say whether China, India, Brazil etc. could meet their energy requirements without either fossil fuels or nuclear power, but let’s suppose this is so. The options are then nuclear power or fossil fuel use with carbon capture and storage. If at all possible, the latter is preferable, because despite your assertions, it is quite unfeasible to solve the safety, waste and proliferation problems, given what we know about human behaviour: corners will be cut, idiotic mistakes will be made, nuclear materials will go missing, lies will be told to cover error and corruption. This is not guesswork – it is clear from the nuclear industry’s record in places as different as the UK, USA, USSR and Pakistan.

    Proliferation is perhaps the biggest problem. You say “note, the problem with Iran is their insistence on enrichment AND independence of the IAEA–not nuclear power as such”. The current nuclear weapons states all avoid IAEA control of part or all of their nuclear industries. Why shouldn’t Iran do the same? Or any other state? It is inconsistent, and in the long run will not be accepted, that an elite group of states are allowed to have independent nuclear industries while the rest must remain dependent. A state can withdraw from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty at three months’ notice if “extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country”. So any state will be able to build up the material, technical and human resources to build nuclear weapons within the NNPT, ready to leave the treaty if its leaders decide its “supreme interests” are under threat. You simply cannot separate nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

    Returning to India and China, both are currently building coal-fired power-stations at a rapid rate (China is said to be opening one per week), even though both also have nuclear power and weapons. They are extremely unlikely to close these stations during their planned lifetime, or to stop building more in the near future, so the problems of carbon capture and storage – and of retrofitting facilities for this to existing power stations – require urgent consideration irrespective of decisions about nuclear power. Given this, and the proliferation and other drawbacks of nuclear power, the rational course of action for rich countries is to invest heavily now in the development of carbon capture and storage, along with renewables, and make these technologies, not nuclear power, the rational choice for poorer countries.

  8. 158
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 155. The temperature changes in the atmosphere will have negligible effect on the solid Earth (other than possible rebound of the crust as ice melts). A few Kelvins on top of the hundreds to thousands of degree temperatures is a negligible effect, and the timescale of a warming event (thousands of years at most) is negligible on a geologic timescale.

  9. 159
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    conveniently deleted from the new edition.

    The terrifying baying of deleted remarks.

    I don’t think you’re strengthening your position.

  10. 160

    Re: 154
    Hank asks:
    “Isn’t this a ‘hockey stick’ sort of argument about the shape of the line?”

    No Hank, it is not–no one can accuse Mann of photoshopping the Apocalypse because Nature’s editors responded to the statistical quibbling about the medieval kink in the ‘hockey stick’s proxy data handle by publishing a minor correction – science worked.

    [Response: You have fallen victim to Hockey Stick Myth #4. Actually, there was no change whatsoever in the reconstruction. The corrigendum you refer to simply corrected some details in the descriptions of what data were used. Wahl and Ammann independently reproduced the MBH results. -mike]

    In contrast Gore has stonewalled, and The Earth In The Balanace’s ersatz extinction graph has simply dissapeared , leaving behind as many disinformed bestsellers as a Crichton novel .

  11. 161
    J.C.H says:

    “Your assertion that you have owned cattle for over 100 years is an interesting one. I take it you’re about 121 years old or so? …” – Barton Paul Levenson

    I brought my grandfather’s oxen up because our society has little memory of the time when beasts of burden did major work.

    Lynn, human pedal power:

    http://www.los-gatos.ca.us/davidbu/pedgen.html

    We’re electricity producing wimps.

  12. 162
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “We simply cannot meet the energy needs of 9 billion people without nuclear power.”

    Barton Paul Levenson: “There’s no reason to think you’re correct about that. You have never given a reason for it, just made the flat statement over and over.”

    As I said in my first commment replying to Mr. Ladbury, this is just argument by assertion, and it is unfortunately typical of nuclear proponents.

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “Nuclear power is a proven, safe zero-carbon technology.”

    Nuclear power is not a “zero-carbon” technology. The actual operation of nuclear power plants is a very low (I’ll even grant you “no”) carbon technology, but the mining, refining and transport of uranium requires massive fossil fuel inputs and releases large amounts of carbon. And that’s not even counting the fossil fuels consumed by, and carbon emissions from, construction of the power plants (and you appear to advocating a program of constructing hundreds if not thousands of such plants world wide over the next several decades), or their eventual decommissioning.

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “Nuclear waste and proliferation concerns can be addressed …”

    There is no evidence to date that either problem can be effectively addressed, even with the much smaller number of nuclear power plants in operation today than what you appear to be proposing. Contrary to nuclear proponents’ argument by assertion, there is NO proven means of permanently sequestering the large amounts of high-level radioactive waste generated by nuclear power plants. It is estimated that by the time the Yucca Mountain storage facility can begin operation, the amount of radioactive waste in the US alone that will need to be stored will be twice the amount that Yucca Mountain can hold, and an entire second storage facility of equal capacity will be needed.

    And speaking of “fantasies”, I suggest that the idea that nuclear proliferation can be “addressed” while — as you suggest — countries all over the world are building hundreds and hundreds of nuclear power plants, and nuclear fuel and high level radioactive waste are being transported all around the world, is a fantasy.

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “the assertion that nuclear has failed because it is uneconomical is absurd — it is made uneconomical by fear mongers clogging the courts with lawsuits that made it virtually impossible to build new plants.”

    That is simply factually incorrect. Nuclear power is uneconomical because of its inherent costs. Every nuclear power plant ever built has experienced huge cost overruns and long delays, and contrary to nuclear industry propaganda, these are not due to frivolous lawsuits but the inherent problems of the technology. So-called “commercial” nuclear power only exists in the USA because the federal government has subsidized it with over $100 billion dollars over the last 50 years, and has insured the plants against the risk of accidents (the Price-Anderson Act). And today, the entire agenda of the nuclear industry revolves around their desire for new, massive government subsidies, and government (i.e. taxpayer) absorbption of all the risks. Private investment won’t touch nuclear power — not unless the government guarantees a return and covers all the risks. The opposite is true of solar and wind, where private investors are pouring money into the development and deployment of the technologies, with little if any government support.

    And where there have been lawsuits, they have been entirely justified. Of course, nuclear proponents always advocate that the public be completely shut out of the process of siting and approving nuclear power plants, because that makes it easier to avoid the expensive steps needed to build and operate the plants with anything approaching safety.

  13. 163
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 157. One very important difference between nuclear power and carbon capture: Nuclear power exists and is feasible and economical NOW, not at some unspecified time in the future.
    The problems of proliferation and nuclear power ARE divorced. Libya didn’t have much of a nuclear power program and they did have a bomb program. The thorium cycle is much less susceptible to porliferation concerns than the U-235/Pu cycle. And both can be managed with a combination of oversight and deterrence. Finally, you seem to have a misunderstanding of strategic weapons–they are useless on the battle field. Indeed they are useless if they have to be used at all. In every case that I know of, the production of nuclear weapons by a state has resulted in the sovereignty and belligerence of that state DECREASING. Look at India and Pakistan–now in talks because they know they can’t afford a nuclear war. No, I don’t fear the nuclear weapon that comes with a return address. The real proliferation threat comes from non-state actors getting ahold of the technology, and for their purposes chemical or biological weapons will serve much better and more easily.

    Proliferation and waste processing and storage are much easier problems to solve technically than is carbon capture.

  14. 164
    James says:

    Re 146: “Like the magical new technology that will make nuclear reactors safe?”

    Don’t need magical new technology for that – they’re safe now :-)

    Humor aside, I hope you do realize that by insisting that nuclear reactors (or anything else) be “safe”, you’re just indulging in rather obvious linguistic gamesmanship. Safety is not absolute, since nothing in this world is without some element of danger, but relative. You can’t say that X is safe and Y not, only that X is safer than Y.

    So if you look at actual numbers, you find that measured in deaths per MWh generated, nuclear power is about 10 times safer than natural gas, and more than 100 times safer than hydro. If you’re not willing to look at them… well, how is that any better than refusing to look at the facts on climate change, because it might affect your lifestyle?

  15. 165
    SecularAnimist says:

    Here is some information from WorldWatch Institute that provides a frame of reference for the discussion about solar and wind on the one hand, and nuclear power on the other, for electricity generation:

    In 2005, global production of photovoltaic (PV) cells -which generate electricity directly from sunlight — increased 45 percent to nearly 1,730 megawatts, six times the level in 2000. Cumulative production, at just over 6,090 megawatts by the end of 2005, has increased on average 33 percent a year since 2000, making solar power the worldâ’s fastest growing energy source.

    Global wind power capacity jumped 24 percent in 2005, reaching nearly 60,000 megawatts at the end of the year. Wind energy generation has more than tripled since 2000, making it the world’s second fastest growing energy source after solar power. The estimated 11,770 megawatts of wind capacity added in 2005 was 41 percent above the previous record annual addition set in 2003.

    Between 2004 and 2005, total installed nuclear generation capacity increased by slightly less than 1 percent, from 366,000 megawatts to more than 369,000 megawatts. (See Figure 1.) The increase in 2005 came as four new reactors and one previously mothballed reactor were connected to the grid. Despite achieving an all-time high in terms of capacity, nuclear power’s future is very uncertain. The International Energy Agency predicts that “nuclear production [will] peak around 2015 and then decline gradually.” Indeed, one study estimates that 80 new nuclear power plants must be ordered and built within the next 10 years in order to keep the number of operating plants constant.

    The reality is that “the market” has spoken. Solar and wind are growing incredibly rapidly. As the technology improves — and revolutionary improvements in photovoltaics like Nanosolar’s thin-film PV technology are ready for production, thanks to private investment, not government support — wind and solar will grow even more rapidly.

    In contrast, nuclear power has peaked and will soon begin to decline. The massive government intervention that the nuclear industry is demanding, in order to override the market and change this situation, will not save it. Wind and solar are the future. Nuclear is a dinosaur.

  16. 166
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #163. Carbon capture and storage projects are already underway in the UK and USA and as I say, we need it regardless of nuclear power – a point you do not address. The “thorium cycle” is currently further from realisation than full-scale CCS, and relies on producing U233, which is bomb material. Libya got its expertise from Pakistan – exactly the sort of proliferation I’m worried about. Your view of the unusability of nuclear weapons has not been shared by any US government – all have refused to promise no first use and the current government is actively seeking ways to make nuclear weapons usable on the battlefield. Your faith in the rationality of political leaders is touching but unjustified, as the accounts of participants in the Cuban missile crisis indicate: we were lucky in Kennedy and Khruschev, but some of the lesser participants were far more gung-ho, and both sides made serious miscalculations that could have led to nuclear war. The logical consequence of what you say about nuclear weapons decreasing belligerence is that we should press nuclear weapons on all states, particularly those that are currently likely to go to war – is that your view? Nor need a nuclear weapon have a return address – any mad dictator worthy of the name would be able to work out that you can put one in a shipping container, deliver it to your enemy’s port and set it off remotely while disguising its origin. The only long-term way for the world to avoid full-scale nuclear war is to abolish nuclear weapons, and that cannot be done while nuclear power is retained.

  17. 167
    Hank Roberts says:

    Is it your position, Dr. Seitz, that extinction is not a problem?

    You’re attacking, on the basis of your memory, one chart — claiming Gore predicted the extinction rate would go “to infinity” (and beyond?) at 2000.

    Your memory’s clearly wrong. See #93 above for the actual labels from the page, and a link — you can check the text description and labels (the Y axis goes to 100,000/year).

    Have you any evidence anyone else besides you, looking at the curve but not reading the labels on the chart, made this mistake?

    Do you think the subsequent information is all somehow based on this one early chart, and can be disproved by attacking Gore’s chart?

    Everyone makes mistakes; this seems to be yours, not Gore’s.

  18. 168

    Re: #10

    The coin flip example illustrates very nicely the difficulties with predictive modelling. Almost certainly, the ratio of heads to tails will converge to one as the number of trials increases. BUT the difference between the heads and tails will not converge.
    With climate modelling, it is almost certain that the future temperature will not differ from the current temperature by more than a few percent. But one percent of 300 is 3 degrees. Three degrees greater or less? That is pretty hard to predict with much certainty.

    Of course the coin flip example is a gross simplification, but just illustrates one of the difficulties (nevermind all the others such as chaos, sensitivity, feedback, uncertainty, noisy measurements, multiple time scales etc). It is a mighty tough problem.

    If you are not convinced, try this MATLAB script:

    ——————————————————————-
    clear all
    % nh, nt number of heads and tails respectively
    nt=0;nh=0;
    n=10000 % number of coin flips

    for i=1:n
    a=rand; % flip coin
    if a>0.5 % is it heads?
    nh=nh+1;
    else % or tails?
    nt=nt+1;
    end
    nhead(i)=nh;ntail(i)=nt;% record running totals
    end

    %plot running totals
    figure(1);plot([1:n],nhead./ntail)% ratio of heads to tails
    title(‘ratio of heads to tails : will converge to unity’)
    figure(2);plot([1:n],nhead-ntail)
    title(‘difference between heads and tails: will not converge’)
    ——————————————————————

  19. 169
    Sashka says:

    Re: 155

    Gotta love it! That’s a hall-of-famer!

  20. 170

    [[So if you look at actual numbers, you find that measured in deaths per MWh generated, nuclear power is about 10 times safer than natural gas, and more than 100 times safer than hydro. ]]

    Where did you get that estimate? How was it derived? Does it take into account “unplanned releases?”

  21. 171

    On nuclear war — to my knowledge we nearly had three of them:

    1. 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Everyone knows about this one.

    2. 1971. The Russians approached us privately asking if we would have any problems with their launching a first strike on China. We decided to reply that we would take it as an attack on the US. That is apparently what moved the Chinese to allow us in in 1972.

    3. 1983. A false signal in the Russian early warning system resulted in the go order being given to a launch officer. Unlike us, there was only one launch officer to a site. The guy assumed it was a false signal and decided not to launch.

    All very precarious, in my view. I like the idea of building the damn things down, and controlling proliferation. They are not benign instruments and sooner or later somebody is going to try to use one again.

  22. 172
    SecularAnimist says:

    James wrote: “Don’t need magical new technology for that – they’re safe now”

    More argument by assertion. Here is what David Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote last September about the safety of US nuclear power plants, based on a UCS study of long-term plant shutdowns. Lochbaum has a degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Tennessee and worked for 20 years in the commercial nuclear power industry (emphasis added):

    A new report on these long-term shutdowns [of nuclear power plants] shows nuclear power in the United States is more dangerous and more costly than necessary. Since the first commercial plant opened 40 years ago, reactor shutdowns of a year or longer have occurred a staggering 51 times at 41 different plants. Most of these were due to widespread safety problems in that eventually could not be ignored. While these reactors shut down before they experienced a major accident, we cannot assume our luck will hold.

    [...]

    Most of the shutdowns happened because safety margins at the plants were allowed to deteriorate to such an extent that reactor operations could not continue. Inadequate attention to safety by plant owners and operators, combined with poor oversight by the NRC, caused 36 of the 51 year-plus outages. There are 104 nuclear power reactors in the United States. Forty-one have experienced year-long outages. A 1-in-3 chance of incurring a year-plus outage was not part of the bargain when these plants were built and licensed.

    Since 1973, long-term safety-related shutdowns have occurred, on average, once per year. Despite the continued need for these shutdowns, the NRC has not adequately improved its oversight of nuclear safety. The NRC should detect falling safety margins and intervene before it takes longer than a year to restore safety to acceptable levels.

    There are things the NRC can and should be doing. Systems for ensuring safety at nuclear plants clearly aren�t working as well as they should, and the NRC must step up its oversight efforts. When longstanding problems are identified, the NRC must require the owner to determine why its tests and inspections failed to find the problems earlier. The NRC must develop a central repository of information about plant safety levels so people can identify a plant headed for trouble. And to make sure the NRC is doing its job, Congress should expand the monthly reporting it requires to verify that it is taking these steps.

    Nuclear power is clearly not safe enough when so many reactors have to shut down for so long to restore safety to acceptable levels.

    Note that Lochbaum’s recommendations in the second-to-last paragraph quoted above, for increased oversight and more public transparency, which he regards as essential to the safe operation of nuclear power plants, are exactly what the nuclear industry has resisted for decades, and have often been the basis of what Ray Ladbury characterizes as “fear-based” lawsuits.

    Lochbaum also remarks: “Some proponents of nuclear power have dismissed such safety concerns by arguing that no United States nuclear plant has experienced a meltdown since Three Mile Islandâ��s partial one in 1979. That’s as fallacious as arguing that the levees protecting New Orleans were fully adequate prior to Hurricane Katrina because there were no similar disasters between 1980 and 2004.”

  23. 173

    Note Lochbaum’s deceitful drawing-of-equivalence between New Orleans levee breach and a nuclear meltdown. No nuclear meltdown has ever harmed anyone.

    That sort of source just shows that nuclear energy irritates fossil fuel interests, as any worthwhile CO2 emissions preventer must tend to do.

  24. 174
    SecularAnimist says:

    Burn boron wrote: “Note Lochbaum’s deceitful drawing-of-equivalence between New Orleans levee breach and a nuclear meltdown. No nuclear meltdown has ever harmed anyone.”

    I see no “deceit” in Lochbaum’s analogy. Lochbaum’s point was that no New Orleans levee failure had ever harmed anyone, either — until Katrina.

    And there are residents of Pennsylvania who will disagree with your assertion that no nuclear meltdown has ever harmed anyone (yet).

  25. 175
    J.C.H says:

    There have been lots of people killed by levee failures and damn failures.

  26. 176

    Re 167

    Hank:
    Imaginative as your rhetorical questions may be, the illustration in Al’s bestseller speaks for itself.

    As a matter of mathematical convention , x and y axes point to infinity , and the slopes of curves drawn within them define the rate of change. Since Al’s rate of extinction curve joins the quite perfectly vertical ordinate on the right, its slope became infinite, taking the integral of the rate of extinction past the number of extant and nondescript species some seconds after midnight on 1 January 2000.

    Since Al’s curve went hyperbolic seven years ago ,many have remarked that the report of our extinction seems somewaht exaggerated , so the charge of hyperbole stands. As I recall,the calculus was not a prerequisite for Roger Revelle’s course,and that it evidently did not figure in Al’s divinty school curriculum still shows. One suspects Carol Brown has done Al good service by yanking the feckless curve from the current remake of his last campaign.

  27. 177
    Mark A. York says:

    Try this one professor. Extinction rates What does Wilson say when you tell him Al Gore is hyperventalating?

  28. 178
    Hank Roberts says:

    Also this:
    “… We’re now seeing an intensification of the rate of extinctions as wilderness areas are obliterated throughout the planet. Nobody knows what the extinction rate is: since most species haven’t even been catalogued yet, all we have are lower bounds. These are only close to being accurate for the biggest and most charismatic species (e.g. mammals, birds and trees), but these represent a tiny fraction of all the species that are out there. So, any reasonable guess of the extinction rate requires extrapolation. If we keep track only of recorded extinctions, the story looks like this:”
    http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/extinction/recent_rate.jpg

    Found here, a thoughtful, well footnoted page —well worth reading. Physicists will certainly recognize the author’s name:
    http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/extinction/

  29. 179
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 162. See, that’s the kind of misinformation I’m talking about–counting transport costs for Uranium. Should we also count transport and refining costs for sand and other chemicals in the carbon budget for solar arrays? And we already have sufficient fissile material left over from dismantled warheads from the former Soviet Union to run for generations. As to safety problems–gee, are you saying that Americans are not as competent as the French–who make their nuclear industry run very well, thank you?
    Ultimately, by rejecting a proven ZERO CARBON technology that can make an impact NOW, all you do is lend support the accusations of right-wing loons that the climate change issue is about advancing a political/environmental agenda, rather than the real crisis that it is. I fully support increasing conservation and renewables as much as we can, but I also realize that we cannot reject a proven technology that can make an impact NOW just because some people have an irrational fear of it. No technology is without cost. No technology is without risk. However, when it is allowed to compete free of irrational and unscientific constraints, nuclear power has been demonstrated safe.

  30. 180
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “I also realize that we cannot reject a proven technology that can make an impact NOW just because some people have an irrational fear of it.”

    This is nothing but continued argument by assertion, and continued baseless demonization of nuclear critics as “irrational”.

    There are plenty of rational reasons to be concerned about the safety of nuclear power. As to its “proven” record, the factual comments of David Lochbaum — a nuclear engineer with 20 years experience in the commercial nuclear power industry — about nuclear power’s proven record of serious safety problems that require costly year-long shutdowns of power plants on average once per year, speaks to that.

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “No technology is without risk.”

    Perhaps, but the risks of nuclear power are many orders of magnitude greater than any imaginable risks from wind and solar.

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “However, when it is allowed to compete free of irrational and unscientific constraints, nuclear power has been demonstrated safe.”

    Nuclear power has not been “demonstrated safe” as the study discussed by nuclear engineer David Lochbaum indicates. On the contrary, it has been demonstrated to be plagued by costly and disruptive safety problems that often have been neglected until they require year-long power plant shutdowns to correct. That these problems have not yet caused a major accident leading to thousands of fatalities is fortunate, but as Lochbaum warns, with such safety problems occurring so frequently “we cannot assume our luck will hold.”

    As to nuclear power being “allowed to compete free of irrational and unscientific constraints”, the fact is that nuclear power has never been able to compete in the free market on its own merits, and has everywhere and always been completely dependent on massive government subsidies, and government absorbption of all risks, for its existence. If nuclear power were “allowed to compete” it would vanish from the face of the earth quickly, because it is not competitive.

    And there is not one single case in the US where a nuclear power plant has been shut down or prevented from starting up because of “irrational and unscientific constraints”. That is pure fiction that has never, ever occurred. Indeed, on the contrary, nuclear power plants have been started up and allowed to continue operating in spite of entirely legitimate and very serious concerns about their safety — and not only allowed to continue operating in spite of such concerns, but propped up with huge government subsidies, and of course, government insurance (through the Price-Anderson Act) against the consequences of accidents.

    I suggest that we repeal the Price-Anderson Act, and “allow” nuclear power to “compete” in the energy market without the taxpayers insuring it against catastrophic accidents, and without the hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies, guarantees and other government handouts that the nuclear industry is demanding before it will undertake to construct a single new nuclear power plant. If we “allow” nuclear power to “compete” that way, this “proven safe” technology will not be able to obtain insurance from any private insurer, will not be able to obtain any private investment money, will not be able to compete against either fossil fuels or wind & solar, and it will go out of business in a short time.

  31. 181

    [[we cannot reject a proven technology that can make an impact NOW just because some people have an irrational fear of it. ]]

    It’s a highly rational fear, based on the industry’s record around the world. The problem might be expressed by saying that this technology has much worse consequences when human stupidity and carelessness inevitably cause problems. People being stupid and careless at a coal plant, or a solar plant, just won’t have the environmental and health consequences that people being stupid and careless at a nuclear plant can have.

  32. 182
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 180. Secular, all you’ve done is appeal to a couple of very questionable studies from groups with a vested interest in the question. Neither ASES nor UCS are credible on these matters. I pointed out the risible assumption in the ASES study that conservation alone could hold energy demands below present levels for the next 25 years–no response from you. I pointed out that nuclear power has succeeded very well in France–again a point you ignore. You clearly have your mind made up. Yet I wonder about your assessments of the relative risks of using nuclear power to decrease carbon emissions NOW or waiting until some unspecified point in the future when renewables can make a significant impact.

  33. 183
    James says:

    Re #170: “Where did you get that estimate? How was it derived? Does it take into account “unplanned releases?”"

    The figures are derived from research published by the Paul Scherrer Institute (part of the Swiss EPF/ETH system). You can find an overview here:
    http://www.psi.ch/index_bilder/Energiespiegel_13e.pdf
    and a full (300 pages or so) report here:
    http://gabe.web.psi.ch/pdfs/PSI_Report/ENSAD98.pdf

    If you use “Severe Accidents in the Energy Sector” as your search term, you will find much more on the subject. You’ll also find a neat summary table in Lovelock’s “The Revenge of Gaia”.

    I don’t understand what you mean by “unplanned releases”. I think they’ve tried to take into account all accidents.

  34. 184
    Hank Roberts says:

    Dr. Seitz, you’re making the same mistake the Republican’s witness Dr. Wegman made at Joe Barton’s hearings on the ‘hockey stick’ — he looked at, among other things, a picture — a hand-drawn sketch — illustrating what was understood about change in temperature vs. time, in the 1990 IPCC report.

    As you do here, he attributed precision to it that the document made clear didn’t exist at the time. He assumed, despite the explanatory text, that there must be numbers behind the sketch. He actually digitized it and tried to assign exact numbers, then tried to critique the claimed “data” they had made up to show that the science wasn’t reliable. He assumed there must be “data” — see his testimony. He wrote: “… this spurious decentering effect is not limited to just hockey sticks we created an additional illustration based on the IPCC 1990 temperature curve.” And there’s a picture of the 1990 IPCC chart and his digitized reconstruction, at the back of his testimony.

    It was quite fabulous.

    Oddly, the transcript of that rather embarassing (for Barton) hearing isn’t available yet; it should appear here, eventually.
    http://republicans.energycommerce.house.gov/108/Hearings/07272006hearing2001/hearing.htm#Transcript

    That was just a picture. So is the picture illustrating what was known about the increase in extinction rates
    You’re stuck on using it to attack—something. Is it the biology you want to attack, or the author of the book it’s in?

    If you care about the biology, you can find a better picture — still a picture — see mathematician John Baez’s page, cited above.

  35. 185
    James says:

    Re #172: “More argument by assertion. Here is what David Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote last September about the safety of US nuclear power plants…”

    Well, sheesh – and that _isn’t_ more argument by assertation? An opinion from a spokesperson for an anti-nuclear lobby group? Isn’t that on a par with citing Exxon/Mobil on climate issues? And complaining that nuclear plants are shut down, sometimes for long periods, to address safety-related issues? Don’t know about you, but I think I’d be more upset if they weren’t :-)

    Be that as it may, on the one hand we have such opinions; on the other hard numbers, generated by decades of real world experience, showing that nuclear power has been far safer than any other large-scale power source. Do you perhaps understand why some of us think that opposition to nuclear power is not based on any rational ground?

    And #180: “I suggest that we repeal the Price-Anderson Act, and “allow” nuclear power to “compete” in the energy market…”

    Which is fine by me, as long as all the other forms of energy sources are also put on an equal footing. How would fossil fuels compete if they had to remove all CO2 and other emissions from powerplant exhaust, restore coal mines, etc. How would solar & wind do without tax credits & green power requirements?

  36. 186
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 181. Barton, please enlighten me as to the apalling safety record of nuclear power around the world. There’s Chernobyl, an astounding example of creative stupidity on the part of the operators that could not happen in a plant outside the FSU, or indeed in a modern Russian plant. The lesson I draw from this is that you don’t let Homer Simpson run your plant. I keep reading these assertions of all these dangerous safety lapses–yet they seem to be belied by the FACT that aside from Chernobyl, there have been very, very few fatalities traceable to nuclear power. So do enlighten me–where are all the bodies buried?

  37. 187
    Hank Roberts says:

    Wait, I made a mistake. Let me correct myself.

    Above I suggested Dr. Seitz read the transcript of Barton’s embarassing hearings, and I gave a link to the hearing page — where it says that transcript isn’t available yet.

    Fool me once, shame on them.

    Looking via other paths, yes, the transcript _is_ available, and has been. Hoo! Ha! Ahem ….

    Here: http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=109_house_hearings&docid=f:31362.wais

    Here’s Dr. Wegman explaining how he took a hand-drawn curve illustrating a general sense of what was known in 1990 by the IPCC about temperature, digitized it, and considered their numbers proof of a mathematical error in evaluating the data behind the curve. Fabulous as in ‘a fable’ — a wondrous tale.

    “Could we go to figure 5? To further illustrate this, we
    digitized the temperature profile published in the IPCC 1990 report
    and we did apply both the CFR and the CPS methods to them. The data
    used here are 69 unstructured noise pseudo-proxy series with only
    one copy of the 1990 profile. The upper left panel illustrates the
    PC1 with proper centering. In other words, no structure is shown.
    The other three panels indicate what happens when using principal
    components with an increasing amount of decentering. Again, the
    single series begins to overwhelm the 69 other pure noise series.
    Cleary, this decentering has a big effect….”

    I don’t blame Dr. Wegman for that, he said he was told the data wasn’t available (doesn’t say who gave him that misleading, albeit literally correct, information). I think he was misled into thinking the picture he was given stood for data beyond what the text claimed for it — and so he made up the data and analyzed that. Hoist on his own petard, as was Barton for setting this up.

    That’s misinformation leading to sincere error == something I’m concerned about — wherever it appears. ‘Nuf said?

    [this is getting way off topic. We'll admit this one, but no more of this on this particular thread please!]

  38. 188
    Hank Roberts says:

    Er, you all arguing about the safety of fission plants — do some searches in Physics World, if you want to relate at all to this topic about climate modeling there. They do offer you a model; maybe if you both used it a bit, offline, you might compare how well you did and whether you could cause a meltdown in this model:

    2. Managing a nuclear power plant java applet
    Check how well you can maintain a nuclear power plant!
    http://physicsweb.org/resources/view/3677

    It may show that your assumptions are coloring what you actually see. Just sayin’, it happens.

    Note the time scale is likely quite compressed (grin) and you’d probably have more minutes in real life to make decisions, and don’t mistake a compressed timescale for a hypergolic, er hyperbole, er hyperbolic, er exponential …. don’t go off on a tangent, is what I’m trying to say.

  39. 189

    [[I don't understand what you mean by "unplanned releases". I think they've tried to take into account all accidents. ]]

    Releases of radiation to the environment are very low as long as the plant is undergoing “normal operation.” But every plant I’ve ever tracked had “unplanned releases” every 1-6 months. Radiation dose in a population can be cumulative; a little extra to the background will add to the mortality and morbidity rates, but it may not be easy to attribute a particular death or illness to a particular release. It can be done statistically. Do your plant safety reports account for this problem, or even acknowledge that it exists?

  40. 190

    [[Re 181. Barton, please enlighten me as to the apalling safety record of nuclear power around the world. There's Chernobyl, an astounding example of creative stupidity on the part of the operators that could not happen in a plant outside the FSU, or indeed in a modern Russian plant. The lesson I draw from this is that you don't let Homer Simpson run your plant. I keep reading these assertions of all these dangerous safety lapses--yet they seem to be belied by the FACT that aside from Chernobyl, there have been very, very few fatalities traceable to nuclear power. So do enlighten me--where are all the bodies buried? ]]

    I seem to recall 7 deaths at Windscale in 1957, 3 at the SL-1 reactor in 1961, 2 in Virginia in 1975, 2 in Czechoslovakia in 1976, 31 at Chernobyl plus an unknown demographic effect which probably numbers in the thousands, and non-fatal but rather alarming incidents such as the near meltdown of the Enrico Fermi plant near Detroit in 1966 (origin of the famous “We almost lost Detroit” quote), and at Three-Mile Island in 1979. Then there are the deaths, only traceable statistically, due to the constant “unplanned releases” of radioactivity to the environment at every existing plant. So far we haven’t had a really bad, catastrophic accident, aside from Chernobyl. But the industry has only been around 50 years or so, and there aren’t that many plants compared to fossil fuel plants or even hydro dams. You apparently want to greatly increase the number of plants. I think that’s a bad idea.

    We haven’t had a terrorist set off a nuclear bomb in a city yet. One way to bring that day closer is to greatly expand the nuclear industry. Deaths from nuclear terrorism so far: zero. Does that mean it’s not a problem?

  41. 191

    [[There's Chernobyl, an astounding example of creative stupidity on the part of the operators that could not happen in a plant outside the FSU, or indeed in a modern Russian plant.]]

    Who says it couldn’t? You? There’s been some kind of improvement in human reliability, perhaps the New Socialist Man?

  42. 192
    SecularAnimist says:

    James wrote: “An opinion from a spokesperson for an anti-nuclear lobby group?”

    David Lochbaum is a nuclear engineer with 20 years experience in the commercial nuclear power industry. He is currently with the Union of Concerned Scientists, which is absolutely NOT an “anti-nuclear lobby group”. UCS is a nuclear industry watchdog group, which monitors safety issues in the nuclear industry, whose work has contributed to making the operation of nuclear power plants safer than it would otherwise be.

    James wrote: “Do you perhaps understand why some of us think that opposition to nuclear power is not based on any rational ground?”

    The only reason why anyone would think that is ignorance of the very real and entirely rational reasons for being concerned about the safety of nuclear power.

    James wrote: “Which is fine by me, as long as all the other forms of energy sources are also put on an equal footing.”

    That’s a rather ironic proposal, considering that nuclear power has received over one hundred billion dollars in federal subsidies during the last few decades, while wind, photovoltaics and other clean renewable energy sources have received only a few billion at most over the same time period. The tax credits, renewable energy portfolio requirements and other government incentives for wind and solar electricity are miniscule compared to the incentives and subsidies and guarantees provided to nuclear. And there is nothing like the Price-Anderson Act for wind and solar, since there is no need for the federal government to provide insurance against catastrophic mega-billion dollar disasters resulting from either, since such a thing is inherently impossible.

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “all you’ve done is appeal to a couple of very questionable studies from groups with a vested interest in the question. Neither ASES nor UCS are credible on these matters.”

    More argument by assertion. You give NO reason why either study should be regarded as “questionable” and no reason why either ASES or UCS lack credibility on these matters. You simply assert it.

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “I pointed out the risible assumption in the ASES study that conservation alone could hold energy demands below present levels for the next 25 years–no response from you.”

    You didn’t “point out” anything. You simply asserted that the conclusion of the ASES report was “risible”. You gave no substantive reason why this should be so. Thus, there was nothing to respond to — except more of the same argument by assertion.

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “I wonder about your assessments of the relative risks of using nuclear power to decrease carbon emissions NOW or waiting until some unspecified point in the future when renewables can make a significant impact.”

    Renewables can make a significant impact now, and as the ASES study indicates, have the potential to yield dramatic reductions in GHG emissions within a couple of decades. On the other hand there is no possiblity that an expansion of nuclear power can yield significant GHG reductions “now”. As the WorldWatch Institute reports (as I cited above), as many as 80 new nuclear power plants would have to be built and brought online within the next 10 years, merely to keep the number of operating plants constant — let alone provide additional generating capacity. And to my knowledge, construction of nuclear power plants is only being proposed as an alternative to construction of new coal-fired plants, where it might make a contribution to reducing the growth in carbon emissions from electricity production. As far as I know, no one anywhere in the world has proposed building a nuclear power plant to replace an operating coal-fired plant, which is what would have to happen — on a large scale, ie. hundreds of new nuclear power plants being built all over the world — for nuclear to contribute to reducing emissions below current levels. And given the years required to build a new nuclear power plant and bring it online, it would be a decade or more before they would be doing anything to reduce current carbon emissions. In contrast, wind and solar can be deployed much more quickly.

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “I pointed out that nuclear power has succeeded very well in France–again a point you ignore.”

    The French experience indicates the sort of problems that the USA will have if it were to unwisely follow the same nuclear path. For example, in 2002, France stored 978,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste from nuclear power plants. By 2020, the annual amount is expected to be 1.9 million cubic meters. As in the US, France has no proven technology for the permanent, safe sequestration of nuclear waste. France is also lagging behind other European countries in the implementation of wind and solar energy — although since France passed an energy tariff law in 2001 (similar to the production tax credits for wind power in the USA) its wind power capacity has more than doubled. And a 2001 Brookings Institute report states that “France’s nuclear power stations will reach the end of their design life in 2010 [...] France will soon have to decide whether to renovate its 58 nuclear reactors or to dismantle its nuclear energy program. The complete renovation of France’s nuclear power stations would cost approximately $1 trillion [...] many question whether such an investment in nuclear energy would make sense.”

  43. 193
    Jim Dukelow says:

    Re #156

    Barton Paul Levenson wrote:

    “[[ Perhaps if you educate yourself about nuclear power, you might be less afraid of it. ]]

    I have educated myself about nuclear power. That’s why I’m afraid of it.”

    Levenson hasn’t educated himself about nuclear power, he has merely chosen to propagate the false and exaggerated assertions of anti-nuclear activists, probably without realizing that they are false or exagerated.

    The interested RC reader can refer to my postings 178, 214, and 244 in the The Human Hand in Climate Change thread and posting 251 in the Sachs WSJ Challenge thread, in which I corrected false assertions and provided context for exaggerated assertions.

    Many prominent environmentalists — James Lovelock, David Brower, former senator from Colorado Timothy Wirth, and the Whole Earth Catalog’s Stewart Brand among them — have come around to the view that, in the context of CO2 driven climate change, there is a role for nuclear power in responding to the crisis. For other environmentalists, the faith is apparently too strong.

    Best regards.

  44. 194
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re: 189-192. So you do not see any humor in a study actually assuming that conservation alone can yield NEGATIVE growth in energy demand over the next 25 years. That is a pity. When has energy demand ever decreased?
    Gosh, all of 45 fatalities due to nuclear accidents (caused by operator stupiditity, and from which we’ve learned and against which there are now safeguards) in >60 years. Hell we lost nearly that many coal miners just last year.
    And isn’t it amazing that with all these unplanned releases of radioactivity, that radiation levels at nuclear power plants remain at background levels. Barton, you get more dose flying in an airplane than you’ll get living next door to a nuclear power plant your entire life. Look, if you want to try to go to zero carbon with renewables, hey, come up with a plan. Knock yourself out. If you succeed, I’ll be the first to congratulate you. But don’t go assuming negative growth in energy demand. Don’t go assuming double-digit growth in wind and solar in perpetuity. Don’t go assuming that the problems of energy storage (for when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind isn’t blowing) are easy to solve. And for God’s sake, don’t go ignoring transmission losses. And if you can’t do it, well, I certainly won’t hold it against you. But ultimately, we already have a proven, zero carbon energy resource that can make a big impact NOW. And we can’t really afford to wait on carbon reduction.
    Finally, you really ought to do some research on your terrorist dirty-bomb scenarios–nuclear waste would make a lousy dirty bomb. Medically useful isotopes, etc. would work much better. Or do you want to ban nuclear medicine, too?

  45. 195
    Hank Roberts says:

    Check this stuff, at least a little bit.

    “… among the traces of activity measured in the environment … only Tritium is due to the operations of NPP and the others are due to “fall-out” of nuclear weapon testing, which is detected elsewhere also…. this is only a fraction of the dose limit for the member of public as prescribed by ICRP and AERB.

    “The external dose component is due to the release of Argon 41, an activation product formed by neutron activation of Argon 40 present in nature, in air, in calandria vault and in air cooled thermal shield of the reactors. These systems need purging, leading to discharge of Argon 41 activity to the environment. Major design change have been incorporate in the reactors after the Narora Atomic Power Plant. Calandria vault air is replace by water and the thermal shield is eliminated. Hence from NAPS onwards, Argon-41 releases problem is resolved leading to still lower annual dose to the public. …”
    http://www.npcil.nic.in/nupower_vol12_4/erl_at_npp1n.htm

  46. 196

    [[Barton, you get more dose flying in an airplane than you'll get living next door to a nuclear power plant your entire life.]]

    True only if you don’t count “unplanned releases.”

  47. 197
    SecularAnimist says:

    Jim Dukelow wrote: “Many prominent environmentalists [...] have come around to the view that, in the context of CO2 driven climate change, there is a role for nuclear power in responding to the crisis. For other environmentalists, the faith is apparently too strong.”

    No — completely apart from the very real and very rational reasons for concern about the dangers of nuclear power, other environmentalists remain skeptical that a large-scale expansion of nuclear power is an effective course of action to respond to CO2-driven climate change.

    According to the industry lobbying group the Nuclear Energy Institute, “As of January 2007, 30 countries worldwide were operating 435 nuclear plants for electricity generation. Thirty new nuclear plants were under construction in 12 countries [...] Nuclear power plants provided some 16 percent of the world’s electricity production in 2005.”

    According to the WorldWatch Institute report that I referenced above, because many nuclear power plants are approaching the end of their lifecycles and will require decomissioning, “one study estimates that 80 new nuclear power plants must be ordered and built within the next 10 years in order to keep the number of operating plants constant.”

    So, 30 of those 80 new power plants are being built — 50 more new power plants must be built just to keep the number of operating plants from declining.

    According to the Earth Policy Institute, “Some 40 percent of energy-related [carbon] emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil, coal, and natural gas, to generate electrical power.”

    To double nuclear power’s share of electricity generation from 16 percent to 32 percent would require approximately doubling the number of power plants — in addition to the 80 or more new plants that must be built to replace older ones, we would need to build 400 to 500 new plants worldwide — as many as have been built in the entire 50 year history of nuclear power.

    And if — and it’s a big if — those nuclear power plants actually replace existing coal plants, they will have some marginal impact in reducing the 40 percent of energy-related carbon emissions that are attributable to electricity generation (and electricity is a smaller percentage of total GHG emissions, since there are significant emissions from outside the energy sector, eg. methane from animal agriculture).

    The “role” of nuclear power in addressing CO2-driven global warming is, at most, small.

    Even the massive buildup of nuclear power generation that is promoted by the industry and its advocates and fans would have a small impact on total GHG emissions, at high cost, and would take much longer to have that small impact that would wind and solar, which can be — and already are being — brought online much faster.

  48. 198
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Gentlemen, a short primer on radiation
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Background_radiation
    Note in particular this passage
    Older coal-fired power plants without effective fly ash capture are one of the largest sources of human-caused background radiation exposure. When coal is burned, uranium, thorium and all the uranium daughters accumulated by disintegration – radium, radon, polonium – are released. The release of nuclear components from coal combustion far exceeds the entire U.S. consumption of nuclear fuels in nuclear generating plants[8]. According to a 1978 article in Science magazine, “coal-fired power plants throughout the world are the major sources of radioactive materials released to the environment”[9]. Radioactive materials previoiusly buried underground in coal deposits are released as flyash or, if flyash is captured, may be incorporated into concrete manufactured with flyash. Radioactive materials are also released in gaseous emissions. The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation estimates that per gigawattyear (GWe-yr) of electrical energy produced by coal, using the current mix of technology throughout the world, the population impact is approximately 0.8 lethal cancers per plant-year distributed over the affected population. With 400 GWe of coal-fired power plants in the world, this amounts to some 320 deaths per year[10].

    Look, I’m not against renewables. I just have zero faith that they can meet the energy needs of a global economy with 9 billion people AND a need to invest in technologies to mitigate climate change. It is not just about reducing carbon emissions–that alone will not be sufficient to stop climate change. We have to reduce carbon emissions while fostering development in Asia, Africa and S. America, AND keeping the global economy healthy. Hey, if someone could prove me wrong, I’d be ecstatic, but to date the only assertions that renewables can do it on their own have come from people who didn’t do the math.

  49. 199

    BPL’s repetitive mention of “unplanned releases”, like his repeated assertion that the fire in the Windscale bomb production reactor killed seven people rather than, as is in accord with all appearances, zero, seems to be an appeal to ignorance, and a public disservice. Let me try to make it right. Regulators typically routinely monitor releases at the boundaries of nuclear power stations, and do not distinguish between planned and unplanned releases; any exposure to a fence-leaner on the scale of what a radium-dialled watch might give would cause a quick shutdown. (I think it would be especially quick when the regulators are in a high-fossil-fuel-tax country and so are independent of nuclear energy but not independent of its competitor.)

    One’s internal 40-K, IIRC, causes one to self-irradiate at a rate of 0.4 millisievert per year. The measured ~0.004 mSv per year at the Pickering fence is in line with the dose one would get from the radiopotassium of some other nearby animal, a cat on one’s lap or on the floor near one’s chair, for instance.

    I seem to recall foresightful regulators in the USA in the 60s or thereabouts established baseline natural-radiation surveys at sites where nuclear power stations would eventually be built, effectively forestalling the deceptive tactic of waiting for the plant to be built and then going there with a Geiger counter and showing that it clicks, insinuating that this is a result of the plant’s operation. Can anyone point to a good site substantiating this?

  50. 200
    Jim Eaton says:

    “Many prominent environmentalists — James Lovelock, David Brower, former senator from Colorado Timothy Wirth, and the Whole Earth Catalog’s Stewart Brand among them — have come around to the view that, in the context of CO2 driven climate change, there is a role for nuclear power in responding to the crisis.”

    Since David Brower died more than six years ago, I doubt he has come around to supporting nuclear power. While he was alive, however, he was a prominent opponent of nuclear power.


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