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Unforced variations: Apr 2011

Filed under: — group @ 1 April 2011

This months open thread. There are some Items of potential interest::

or whatever you like.

525 Responses to “Unforced variations: Apr 2011”

  1. 251
    Nick Gotts says:

    “You still are not getting it: all electricity production costs lives. Had the Fukushima nuclear power plants been coal-fired, the loss of human life over the full lifetimes of the power plants would have been greater.” -Septic Matthew

    [citation needed]

    The calculations are difficult when we simply don’t know how many lives Fukushima has cost and will cost, nor how many a hypothetical power plant would have cost. Coal is of course not the only alternative to nuclear power – in fact it’s the worst possible alternative. Nor do I call for a complete abandonment of nuclear power; just realism about its severe drawbacks, and limited potential over the crucial next two decades.

  2. 252
    Donna says:

    In reading the comments on nuclear versus other power sources and then some of the earlier comments on whther small scale chages per household versus larger scale power plants, made me think about a tangential issue.
    We seem to be stuck in a paradigm that says we need large scale stuff that is fixed in place to provide power. But large scale fixed assets mean that we lock down where things have to be. Probably not a good idea as we are going to need flexibilty and mobility.
    I think we need to be thinking how can we make it harder for single events (hurricanes, earthquakes, ice storms) to knock out power to big chunks. Sort of the beehive approach – lots of bees bringing in power so that the loss of even a number of bees does not doom the hive.
    I suspect that climate change is going to force population moves and if we have smaller more mobile power sources, then that movement could be easier and less painful.
    A more diverse, flexible power system would be a great benefit in a number of ways.

  3. 253
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Hunt Janin #249: it depends on where the water comes from. For such a large sea level rise, most of the water must come from the continental ice sheets (Greenland and Antarctica). There is however no easy way, short of physical modelling, to tell how much will come from Greenland and how much from Antarctica. And furthermore, the ratio may change over time.

    What one can say with some certainty is that equatorial regions will get more than the average. This is because the disappearance of ice (mass) from the polar regions will lower the geoid there, while it will rise at lower latitudes to compensate.

  4. 254
    Deconvoluter says:

    re: #250

    An interesting comment about Google, but it would help if there was at least one example. As for your suggested remedies, I agree about the Scholar version, but are you also saying that the Advanced version of Google is non-trivially different from the ordinary version? I just thought that it was an alternative and ‘friendly’ front end. You don’t need Advanced to restrict to *.edu files.

    Is your main reference relevant? I have only read some short reviews but they restrict themselves to the topic of the selection of books to digitise.

  5. 255

    #250, #254–

    I have to say that I don’t believe Ed’s source on this one. I’ve got a bunch of web articles, all on the same site (Hubpages), and I pay some attention to their position in search results. There’s not all that much point, after all, in being somewhere on page 10.

    Search result position varies widely among my articles, and changes over time, which shouldn’t happen if it were just a matter of what Hubpages supposedly pays Google. (I doubt Hubpages pays Google anything; and I certainly know for a fact that I don’t.)

    Moreover, it depends greatly on the search terms. I don’t think there’s any way, realistically speaking, of auctioning off every search term, nor involving every online source. Clearly Google has some sort of algorithm, but a simple auction ain’t it. And, from everything I’ve ever heard, Google isn’t telling.

  6. 256
    flxible says:

    Edward@250 Google is waaay more complicated than your reference makes out. I do a certain search for my own small business web site and there is only one result above mine that has been paid for – it’s highlighted and labeled “ad”, the next 10 “unsponsered” results are to my site or other local sites that specifically mention mine. The primary problem with google is folks mostly don’t know how to use search terms well and web authors don’t use keyword tags properly.

  7. 257
    Walter Pearce says:

    Those arguing in favor of nuclear should Google the Price–Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act, without which we would have no nuclear industry.

    That’s because the savviest market-based risk analysts — the insurance companies — won’t provide anywhere close to the liability coverage required for plants to get funded.

    Anyone wanting to bet against the insurers?

  8. 258
    Edward Greisch says:

    251 Nick Gotts: [citation needed]:

    Citation: book: “The Revenge of Gaia” by James Lovelock page 102. Chernobyl is included.

    Deaths per terrawatt year [twy] for energy industries, including
    Chernobyl. terra=mega mega [There are zero sources of energy
    that cause zero deaths, but not having the electricity causes the
    far more deaths because not having electricity is a form of poverty.]

    fuel……… ……..fatalities… …..who……… …….deaths per twy
    coal……… ………6400…… ……workers……….. ………342
    natural gas….. ..1200…… …..workers and public… …85
    hydro…….. …….4000….. …….public………… …………883
    nuclear…….. ………31…… ……workers………… ………….8

    He may have omitted deaths caused by the air pollution from coal, which includes airborne uranium, thorium, arsenic, etc.

    I have no connection with the nuclear power industry. I have never had any connection with the nuclear power industry. I am not being paid by anyone to say this. My sole motive is to avoid death in the collapse of civilization and to avoid extinction due to global warming.

    Citation: papers:
    Oak Ridge National Laboratory REVIEW
    Volume 26 Numbers Three and Four, 1993
    “Coal Combustion: Nuclear Resource or Danger?” by Alex Gabbard

    References and Suggested Reading

    J. F. Ahearne, “The Future of Nuclear Power,” American Scientist, Jan.-Feb.. 1993: 24-35.

    E. Brown and R. B. Firestone, “Table of Radioactive Isotopes”, Wiley Interscience, 1986.

    J. O. Corbett, “The Radiation Dose From Coal Burning: A Review of Pathways and Data,” Radiation Protection Dosimetry, 4 (1): 5-19.

    R. R. Judkins and W. Fulkerson, “The Dilemma of Fossil Fuel Use and Global Climate Change,” Energy & Fuels, 7 (1993) 14-22.

    National Council on Radiation Protection. Public Radiation Exposure From Nuclear Power Generation in the U.S., Report No. 92, 1987, 72-112.

    National Council on Radiation Protection, Exposure of the Population in the United States and Canada from Natural Background Radiation, Report No. 94, 1987, 90-128.

    National Council on Radiation Protection, Radiation Exposure of the U.S. Population from Consumer Products and Miscellaneous Sources, Report No. 95, 1987, 32-36 and 62-64.

    Serge A. Korff, “Fast Cosmic Ray Neutrons in the Atmosphere”, Proceedings of International Conference on Cosmic Rays, Volume 5: High Energy Interactions, Jaipur, December 1963.

    C. B. A. McCusker, “Extensive Air Shower Studies in Australia,” Proceedings of International Conference on Cosmic Rays, Volume 4: Extensive Air Showers, Jaipur, December 1963.

    T. L. Thoem, et al., Coal Fired Power Plant Trace Element Study, Volume 1: A Three Station Comparison, Radian Corp. for USEPA, Sept. 1975.

    W. Torrey, “Coal Ash Utilization: Fly Ash, Bottom Ash and Slag,” Pollution Technology Review, 48 (1978) 136.

    Metals and Ceramics Division
    Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN

    Unpublished loose pages listing the percentages of elements from a selection of mines by Alex Gabbard. See the references to the above to find out who did the actual analysis.


    1. “Senior Expert Symposium on Electricity and the Environment”, Key Issues Papers, Helsinki, Finland, May 1991

    2. Sun, Yuliang; “Gas-cooled Reactor Program in China”, Presented at ORNL, Mar. 3, 1995 (unpublished).

    3. Judkins, R. R., and Fulkerson, W.; “The Dilemma of Fossil Fuel Use and Global Climate Change,” Energy & Fuels, 7, pgs 14-22,1993.

    4. “Coal Data: A Reference,” USDOE/Energy Information Administration, DOE/EIA-0064(93), Feb. 1995.

    5. Livingston, R. S., et al; “A Desirable Energy Future, A National Perspective,” pgs 37-41, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and The Franklin Institute Press, 1982.

    6. Valkovic, V., “Trace Elements in Coal,” Vol. 1, CRC, 1983.

    7. Geotimes, pg 20, Feb. 1994.

    8. Lyon, W. S., et al; “Nuclear Activation Techniques in the Life Sciences,” IAEA, 1978.

    9. Gabbard, W. A., “Coal Combustion: Nuclear Resource or Danger?”, ORNL Review, Vol. 26, Nos. 3 & 4, pgs 2433, 1993.

    10. Facer, J. F., “Uranium in Coal,” Rep. GJBX-56(79), USDOE, Grand Junction Office, Colorado, May, 1979.

    11. “Background Information Document (Integrated Risk Assessment); Final Ruling for Radionuclides,” USEPA Report EPA 520/1-84-002-2 Vol 11, 1984.

    12. Beck, H. L., et al, “Perturbations on the Natural Radiation Environment Due to the Utilization of Coal as an Energy Source,” Natural Radiation Environment 111., Vol. 2, Proceedings, USDOE, pgs 1521-1558, 1980.

    13. Corbett, J. O., “The Radiation Dose From Coal Burning: A Review of Pathways and Data,” Radiation Protection Dosimetry, Vol. 4, No. 1, 5-19, 1983.

    14. Coal Fired Power Plant Trace Element Study, Vol. 1, A Three Station Comparison, US Dept. of Commerce, PB-257293, Sept, 1975.

    15. McBride, J. P., et al, “Radiological Impact of Airborne Effluents of Coal and Nuclear Plants,” Science, Dec. 1978.

    16. Cohen, B. L., “Letters,” Physics Today, pg 97-98, Oct. 1995.

    17. “Radiation Exposure of the U.S. Population from Consumer Products and Miscellaneous Sources,” National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement,” Report No. 95, Dec. 1987.

    18. Wilder, R. F. et al, “Recovery of Metal Oxides from Fly Ash Including Ash Beneficiation Products,” Electric Power Research Institute, CS-4384, Vols. 1-3, 1986.

    Source of the above paper:
    The 19th Annual Conference of the SOUTHERN FUTURE SOCIETY was developed in cooperation with CUMBERLAND UNIVERSITY, Lebanon, Tennessee and
    THE WORLD FUTURE SOCIETY, Bethesda, Maryland

    The 1997 Annual Conference of the Southern Future Society, April 3, 4, and 5, 1997 in Nashville, Tennessee.

    Do the computation yourself: All natural rocks contain most natural elements. Coal is a rock. The average concentration of uranium in coal is 1 or 2 parts per million. Illinois coal contains up to 103 parts per million uranium. A 1000 million watt coal fired power plant burns 4 million tons of coal each year. If you multiply 4 million tons by 1 part per million, you get 4 tons of uranium. Most of that is U238. About .7% is U235. 4 tons = 8000 pounds. 8000 pounds times .7% = 56 pounds of U235. An average 1 billion watt coal fired power plant puts out 56 to 112 pounds of U235 every year. There are only 2 places the uranium can go: Up the stack or into the cinders.
    Since a reactor full fuel load is around 11 tons of 2% U235 and 98% U238, and one load lasts about 10 years, what one coal fired power plant puts into the air and cinders could fully fuel a nuclear power plant.
    Compare 4 Million tons per year with 1.1 tons per year. 1.1 divided by 4 Million = 2.75 E -7 = .000000275 =.0000275%. Remember that only 2% of that is U235. The nuclear power plant needs ~44 pounds of U235 per year. The coal fired power plant burns coal by the trainload. The nuclear power plant consumes U235 in such small quantities yearly that you could carry that much weight in a briefcase.
    3. See the rest of Alex Gabbard’s article. U238 can be bred into Plutonium and Thorium can be bred into Uranium. We can fuel our nuclear power plants for CENTURIES just by extracting uranium and thorium from coal cinders and smoke.

    Summary of Wind Turbine Incidents (December 2008):
• 41 Worker Fatalities, 16 Public- Includes falling from turbine towers and transporting turbines on the highway.
• 39 Incidents of Blade Failure- Failed blades have been known to travel over a quarter mile, killing any unfortunate bystanders within its path of destruction.
• 110 Incidents of Fire- When a wind turbine fire occurs, local fire departments can do little but watch due to the 30-story height of these turbine units. The falling debris are then carried across the distance and cause new fires.
• 60 Incidents of Structural Failure- As turbines become more prevalent, these breakages will become more common in public areas, thereby causing more deaths and dismemberment’s from falling debris.

    • 24 incidents of “hurling ice”- Ice forms on these giant blades and is reportedly hurled at deathly speeds in all directions. Author reports that some 880 ice incidents of this nature have occurred over Germany’s 13-years of harnessing wind power.
    Source: Treehugger
    If you google “deaths wind turbines” you will get lots of stuff.

    Enough or do you need more?

  9. 259
    Didactylos says:

    It’s funny, isn’t it….

    Hydroelectric fatality figures are completely dominated by a single incident. Banqiao Dam failed in 1975, killing 26,000 people directly and another 145,000 died due to conditions afterwards.

    Likewise, nuclear fatalities are completely dominated by a single incident. As a result of Chernobyl, 31-64 people died directly from the radiation, with a potential 4000 deaths as the projected total.

    It’s amusing watching people try to magnify these figures, to make them all scary and horrifying. The truth, of course, is that most silly figures quoted about Chernobyl require doing silly and unjustified things with the figures.

    But what about Fukushima? A very good question. We don’t know the final death toll from the Fukushima reactor failures, nor do we know the death toll from the Fujinuma Dam failure.

    Am I going to get yet more flak for pointing this out? Probably. The fact that all I’m doing is agreeing with James Hansen seems to be lost on some people. Is Gavin’s boss completely cuckoo? Or does he have the ability to look at facts and figures without letting emotion cloud his judgement?

    Of course, the most absolutely hilarious thing is that if you ask the average American about nuclear accidents and why they are worried about nuclear power, they are most likely to cite Three Mile Island – an incident in which nobody died at all.

  10. 260
    Snapple says:

    A Russian scientists named Nestorenko claimed that Chernobyl had killed about 985,000 people since 2004.

    Here is some information about his claims.

  11. 261
    Didactylos says:

    Snapple: Fiction.

    I would have thought dealing with climate deniers would give you a better nose for this sort of thing.

  12. 262
    David B. Benson says:

    Didactylos — Many different classes of extreme events have fatalities dominated by a single event; earthquakes comes to mind.

  13. 263
    JiminMpls says:

    I’m not particularly concerned about the safety of nuclear power. I *am* concerned about the astronomical cost, the decades long construction cycles, the massive cost overruns, the near 100% dependence on government subsidies, the absolutely unacceptable practice of Toshiba and Areva declaring cost projections “proprietary”, and in the United States, our near total dependence on foreign sources of uranium fuel. These are all issues that the nuclear lobby and THEIR cadre of denialists refuse to acknowledge, let alone address.

  14. 264
    Edward Greisch says:

    263 JiminMpls: “These are all issues that the nuclear lobby and THEIR cadre of denialists refuse to acknowledge, let alone address.”
    I have addressed those issues many many times. So many times that RC is very tired of it and usually cancels the subject of energy. I am tired of repeating myself as well. All of your problems are nonsense. If you had read my post at 258, you would know that we have enough uranium in coal ashes and cinders alone for a very long time. And you would know that we could get enough uranium out of sea water for 30,000 years. The remainder of your problems are solved by
    including the price “problem.” Per email from Hyperion sales, the price is 5.5 cents per kilowatt hour for everything. The company recycles the fuel. Hyperion is one of about 30 manufacturers of modular [factory built small] reactors that are delivered complete.

    From: Jim Jones at

    Date: Tuesday, February 3, 2009 2:27 PM
    Subject: Re: $.05 to .06 per KWh

    Assume HPM costs $30M and plant side doubles it:

    $60M divided by 25,000kw = $2,400/kw
    $2,400/kw divided by 5 years = $480/KWyr
    $480/KWyr divided by 8760 hours = $.0547945/KWhr (Call it 5 and half cents per KWhr)


    $60M divided by 20,000 homes = $3,000/home
    $3,000/home divided by 5 years = $600/home/year
    $600/home/year divided by 12 months = $50/home/month (How’s that for an electric bill?)


    See also

  15. 265
    Edward Greisch says:

    Woops! The uranium from sea water was in a different post.

  16. 266
    Edward Greisch says:

    I see that that huge figure for casualties from Chernobyl came from a Russian book. It isn’t a peer reviewed journal article. Sorry, I didn’t catch the title or authors of the book. I found the reference at
    “”Chernobyl: A Million Casualties” Karl Grossman’s interview…..” which leads to

    I think there are a lot of holes in their science. Like they didn’t control for other sources of pollution. They didn’t show us how they got that result. Is GW causing any of the problems? There are a lot of things going on in Eastern Europe that could cause a lot of stuff. Etc. It looks like pure propaganda to me. It looks like 2 old people [my age] saying: “Oh my!” over and over. I haven’t seen the book. I can’t read Russian anyway.

  17. 267
    CM says:

    Ed, I disagree. I think JimInMpls’s points are central to the debate. See e.g. Amory Lovins’ “Nuclear Power: Climate Fix or Folly.”

    As for the price on Hyperionpower’s units, what say we wait at least until they’ve actually sold one? (The name does not bode well — Keats never finished Hyperion…)

  18. 268
    CM says:

    Should have said: as for the price on power from H.’s units, let’s wait till someone’s actually operating one… Sorry.

  19. 269
    Nick Gotts says:

    “Citation: book: “The Revenge of Gaia” by James Lovelock page 102.” – Edward Greisch

    Sorry, I don’t take anything written by Loony Lovelock seriously. This is the man who said we needn’t worry about the ozone layer hole because his imaginary friend “Gaia” would sort it out; and who now says we’re doomed anyway. Nor do I trust him for a moment to be capable of impartiality in his calculations – like many of his generation (and you – I’m not for a moment accusing you of sordid monetary motivations), he is literally in love with nuclear power, and will defend the beloved’s honour at all costs.

    I don’t see anything in your references that would allow a comparison between the unknown number of deaths due to Fukushima, and the unknown number of deaths a coal-fired plant would have caused, which was what I queried. I’m not denying that the latter would have caused more deaths, simply saying that we don’t know. Nor, as you are very well aware, am I advocating substituting coal-fired plants for existing or planned nuclear ones.

    “If you google “deaths wind turbines” you will get lots of stuff.”

    You certainly will: all of it, at least on the first three pages, concerns bird and bat deaths; most are saying that the claims of wind power opponents about these are grossly exaggerated. The only actual human deaths you cite are worker fatalities, which are liable to happen in any construction project. We’d need to include all the deaths from uranium mining (which I’d bet are mostly unrecorded because the mining companies would much prefer not to pay compensation) as well as the construction of nuclear stations to get a comparison on that limited issue.

  20. 270
    Nick Gotts says:

    Further to my last point on worker fatalities: of course we’d also need to factor in deaths from mining and transport of other raw materials for both nuclear and wind.

  21. 271
    JiminMpls says:

    Edward – Thank you for proving my point. Hyperion isn’t even shipping product yet and extracting uranium fuel from coal ash or sea water is pure fantasy. There are an estimated 25 billion tons of gold in ocean waters. That’s doesn’t mean that it will ever be an economically viable source of gold.

  22. 272
    Snapple says:

    Senator Inhofe was so arrogant that he landed a plane on a closed runway and scattered terrified workers.

    This shows a lot about his psychology.

  23. 273
    JiminMpls says:

    Edward, Thank you for proving my point. Hyperion isn’t even shipping product and uranium extraction from coal ash and ocean waters is pure fantasy. There are 25 billion tons of gold in ocean waters. That doesn’t mean it is an economically viable source of gold.

  24. 274
    Didactylos says:

    JiminMpls and Nick Gotts: Have you gone to the trouble to look up some reliable cost comparisons for different energy sources? Have you looked up some reliable studies recording total fatalities per TWh? Have you looked up the amount of uranium available to mine in the US?

    If you have, you will know that all your objections have perfection rational answers.

    All these “economically viable” arguments are silly. Just because something isn’t economically viable now doesn’t mean that it won’t be perfectly viable when other sources are unavailable! For example, in the US, nuclear power struggles to compete with the insanely cheap coal power, and uranium mining can’t compete with cheaper foreign sources.

    PS: While I agree with some of your opinions about Lovelock (he’s nuts, bless him) that doesn’t automatically make him wrong. And I’m not from his generation. Or the one after, either.

  25. 275
    SecularAnimist says:

    Didactylos wrote: “The fact that all I’m doing is agreeing with James Hansen seems to be lost on some people. Is Gavin’s boss completely cuckoo?”

    James Hansen is a climate scientist. He has no particular expertise in energy technologies. Many of his public statements about alternative energy sources are embarrassingly ill-informed.

    Didactylos wrote: “For example, in the US, nuclear power struggles to compete with the insanely cheap coal power …”

    Nuclear power cannot compete with natural gas or wind power either.

    Nuclear power has never, ever been economically viable anywhere on Earth. It has always, and everywhere, been absolutely dependent on massive public subsidies.

    Nuclear power is rapidly becoming irrelevant. Even the most aggressive and optimistic scenarios for a “nuclear renaissance” that the nuclear industry itself has put forward would, at most, keep nuclear power’s share of global electricity generation about where it is now. Realistically, it is going to decline.

    Meanwhile, wind and solar are booming — they are the fastest growing sources of new electricity generation in the world, and have been for several years. Wind accounted for 37 percent of new generation capacity in the USA in 2010 — and that was a bad year for the growth of wind power in the US. Worldwide, wind added a record 68 GW of new capacity. Solar PV is going mainstream, with costs of today’s mature PV technologies plummeting and revolutionary ultra-cheap, high-efficiency PV technologies headed for commercialization. And utility-scale concentrating solar thermal power is going to explode within the next few years.

    The bottom line is that investing in nuclear power today is simply a bad investment, both economically and with regard to AGW mitigation. By the time any new nuclear power plant can actually be built and brought online in the USA, it will simply not be able to sell its extremely expensive electricity at profit in a market transformed by wind and solar and efficiency technologies. As for AGW, nuclear power is the most expensive and least effective way to rapidly reduce GHG emissions from electricity generation.

    As for safety issues, there are obviously good reasons to be very concerned about the safety and security of currently operating reactors in the USA, and to improve the NRC’s oversight process.

    But I don’t spend much time worrying about safety issues around a large-scale expansion of nuclear power, because such an expansion is neither necessary nor effective to address AGW, so there is no need to deal with the very real dangers and risks of such an expansion. Plus, a large-scale expansion of nuclear power is just not going to happen.

  26. 276
    Walter Pearce says:

    Didactylos @ 274: It’s already been established that nuclear power isn’t economically viable, purely from a liability standpoint. Hence Price-Anderson and similar laws in Japan and elsewhere.

    You can’t just omit these societal costs any more than we should omit the climate impacts from fossil fuel extraction and use.

    Barclays puts the total estimated cost of dealing with the Fukushima disaster at close to $190 billion. That’s a lot of money that could otherwise be spent on cheaper conservation, efficiency and renewables.

    And yes — there ARE costs to the latter — but nothing like the minefields nukes pose.

  27. 277
    SecularAnimist says:

    Edward Greisch wrote: “Per email from Hyperion sales, the price is 5.5 cents per kilowatt hour for everything. The company recycles the fuel. Hyperion is one of about 30 manufacturers of modular [factory built small] reactors that are delivered complete.”

    From the World Nuclear Association page that Edward linked to:

    “In March 2010, Hyperion notified the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it planned to submit a design certification application in 2012 … Hyperion has said it plans to build a prototype by 2015, possibly with uranium oxide fuel if the nitride is not then available.”

    It is misleading to quote a price per KWH, for a reactor design that — according to what Hyperion “says” — will not even be submitted to the NRC for certification until next year, and when Hyperion only has “plans” to build its first actual prototype in 5 years, and cannot even say for certain what type of fuel it will use.

    It is misleading to say that Hyperion “manufactures” or “delivers” these reactors when in fact Hyperion has not manufactured or delivered even one.

    It is misleading to say that Hyperion “recycles the fuel” when in fact Hyperion has yet to recycle any fuel.

    I understand that nuclear power has its fans.

    But please, can we stop comparing today’s mature, powerful wind and solar technologies which are already adding tens of gigawatts of new generation capacity worldwide every year, with sci-fi fantasy nuclear vaporware?

    Otherwise, let’s compare Hyperion’s reactor with 100 percent efficient organic thin-film PV that costs one cent per watt installed.

  28. 278
    Septic Matthew says:

    277, SecularAnimist: Otherwise, let’s compare Hyperion’s reactor with 100 percent efficient organic thin-film PV that costs one cent per watt installed.

    Nicely written. Include cheap backup: batteries, pumped storage, H2 from electrolysis, whatever. I look forward to the day when the factories that manufacture solar and wind generation devices are themselves powered by electricity solar and wind.

    The experience to date, however, has been fewer deaths per TWH from nuclear than from gas, wind, solar, coal, or hydro. So to me they should continue to build new nuclear plants until nothing in wind, solar or hydro requires an external source for its manufacture.

    Right now in the U.S. a little over half of electricity comes from coal-fired power plants. We would like (I think we all here agree on this) to drive that down to 0. Can we drive it down to 0 more quickly and with fewer deaths and other costs with or without nuclear? Given the performance of the American nuclear power industry, even including three Mile Island in the record, I think we can do it better if we include nuclear in the mix.

    Does anybody have figures on the subsidies to the various power sources per terawatt-hour?

  29. 279
    Didactylos says:


    I see that facts have no place in discussion of energy. I will leave you all to your own constructed reality.

    Or you could do what I suggested, and go looking up those sources. I won’t spoonfeed you with them*, since obviously nobody is going to trust any source cited by someone they disagree with. But for Pete’s sake, find some more reliable ones than the rabidly anti-nuclear sources so many of you seem to lean on.

    Nuclear power does compete, successfully, with other forms of power. It even dominates in some countries. This simple fact falsifies your “not viable” nonsense, Walter Pearce and SecularAnimist. Now, it would be nice if we could remove all subsidies of wind, coal, etc. so that costs could be assessed on an equal footing. But you don’t have that luxury, so you will have to deal with the real world, and levelised costs.

    * Or you can check sources I have cited on earlier occasions, if you prefer.

  30. 280
    SecularAnimist says:

    Didactylos wrote: “I see that facts have no place in discussion of energy.”

    The fact is that over the last five years, wind power has added more new electric generating capacity in the USA than coal and nuclear combined — in spite of the fact that both coal and nuclear have enjoyed large, and permanent public subsidies, while subsidies for wind have been small, short-term and therefore unreliable.

    The fact is that wind power is already competitive with coal and natural gas. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance:

    The cost of electricity generated from wind is now at record lows: several projects in high resource areas (US, Brazil, Sweden, Mexico) display a levelised cost of energy – excluding the impact of subsidies but after including the cost of capital and maintenance – below EUR 50/MWh ($68/MWh). This compares to current estimated average costs of $67 per MWh for coal-fired power and $56 per MWh for gas-fired power.

    The cost of wind and solar power will continue to go down as the technology improves and manufacturing scales up. This applies especially to mass-produced photovoltaic materials. And keep in mind that for distributed PV installed at the point of use, “grid parity” means that it only has to be competitive with the retail cost of grid electricity, not the wholesale cost.

    The debate about nuclear power is moot. Given the entrenched political power of the nuclear industry — as reflected in the Obama administration’s continued support for huge subsidies for new nuclear, Fukushima be damned — it is possible that one or two new nuclear power plants may be built in the USA in the next decade or so. But there is not going to be any major expansion of nuclear power in the USA.

    Indeed, if the NRC behaves responsibly and stops rubber-stamping license renewals for aging nuclear power plants, and they are decommissioned as originally planned, it is likely that nuclear’s share of US electricity generation will drop, even if a few new plants are eventually built.

  31. 281
    Septic Matthew says:

    280, Secular Animist: excluding the impact of subsidies but after including the cost of capital and maintenance

    Despite being intermittent, the subsidies for solar and wind are huge per MWH. Do you have any figures that include them? I may have saved some, but have not any close to hand.

  32. 282
    Edward Greisch says:

    Why indeed doesn’t anybody extract minerals from coal ash and cinders, if they are so valuable? Good question. Coal contains: URANIUM, ARSENIC, LEAD, MERCURY, Antimony, Cobalt, Nickel, Copper, Selenium, Barium, Fluorine, Silver, Beryllium, Iron, Sulfur, Boron, Titanium, Cadmium, Magnesium, Thorium, Calcium, Manganese, Vanadium, Chlorine, Aluminum, Chromium, Molybdenum and Zinc.

    Coal ash and cinders are used as building material, and I attended and spoke at an EPA hearing on the subject. But why not extract the minerals first? Coal ash and cinders are not the best ore for any one mineral, but there are 28 minerals listed above, not counting the radioactive decay products of uranium. I don’t know. Do you? Should we form a corporation to try?

  33. 283
    SecularAnimist says:

    Septic Matthew wrote: “the subsidies for solar and wind are huge per MWH”

    And what Bloomberg is saying is that even without those subsidies wind is competitive with coal and gas.

    And I am aware that the “subsidies per MWH” is the latest fossil / nuclear industry talking point. It is deliberately misleading.

    Of course subsidies for technologies that have only begun to be deployed at scale within the last few years will be higher “per MWH” than subsidies for technologies which have been deployed for decades.

    If you look at the total cumulative subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear power over the last 50-100 years, it’s another story.

    And of course if you want to talk about subsidies for “4th generation nuclear power” they are infinite per MWH since “4th generation nuclear” has yet to feed a single watt into the grid.

  34. 284
    Didactylos says:

    SecularAnimist: I found it amusing that you managed to find some numbers that don’t show wind being particularly competitive. Since you know that it *is*, perhaps it’s time you looked wider, and see that different energy markets favour different energy mixes. What isn’t competitive in one place is competitive in another.

    That’s what I have been trying to point out.

    And I have to add: one of the biggest problems with nuclear power – an absolutely massive problem – I’ll be upfront about this – is all the ill-informed protesters and coal-based lobby groups making it hard for nuclear to even exist in some areas. Without this oppressive presence, nuclear power can benefit from the economy of scale, and improved designs will have a lower overall cost. I can’t help wondering how many ageing reactors have been kept in service beyond their safe lifetime thanks to the idiot protesters preventing replacements being built.

    Do you really want to side with the coal industry on this subject, or can you let nuclear power win or lose on its own merits, without silly arguments about extreme scenarios or tail-chasing arguments about economics? And yes, this means allowing governments to provide subsidies if they want to. Nuclear has a big upfront build cost, and benefits from different kinds of subsidies than wind does.

  35. 285
    Walter Pearce says:

    Didactylos@279 — Please consider my actual point before hurling insults. Yes — let’s operate from facts.

    Nuclear power doesn’t compete with other energy sources anywhere because it receives massive public subsidies in the form of liability limits enjoyed by no other energy source — not even close.

    And, this is why, even in countries where nuclear power “dominates” as you say, not a single nuke plant would ever get built without the public assuming massive financial and other risk. Alternatively, please show me where nukes are getting built without such a public subsidy.

    These subsidies, in my view, represent a gigantic misallocation of resources that could otherwise be put toward more efficient forms of low-carbon energy production and conservation, which carry a tiny fraction of nuclear’s risk premium.

    You are free to argue otherwise, but not factually (sigh!)from an economic perspective.

  36. 286
    Brian Dodge says:

    “Why indeed doesn’t anybody extract minerals from coal ash and cinders, if they are so valuable?” Edward Greisch — 14 Apr 2011 @ 3:48 PM

    According to, the minimum economically processable Uranium ore concentration is on the order of 700-1000ppm.
    According to, the average concentration of Uranium in coal ash is ~ 1.3 ppm, although it varies from 1-10 ppm depending on source.

    The highest trace metal concentrations are less than 500ppm

    U3O8 ~$58/lb (down from $70 since Fukushima catastrophe)
    V2O3 ~$6.50/lb
    Cr ~14eu/kg
    Co ~$18/lb
    Hg ~$1500/76 lb flask

    It’s not economic, compared to conventional sources.

  37. 287
    Didactylos says:

    Walter Pearce: You keep making a big deal of this liability issue, but I simply don’t see it the way you do. Nuclear power isn’t comparable to most other forms of power in that serious accidents are very, very rare, but have potentially catastrophic consequences. The act you keep harping on about simply creates an absolute liability insurance system, and is industry funded.

    This makes perfect sense for risks that can be made very small but not reduced to zero. Companies cannot use absence of fault as an excuse. And if there is negligence, then that is handled separately.

    In the absence of such an act, then a severe nuclear accident would bankrupt the company and nobody would be compensated. Who wins then?

    So, can you explain to me how this is a subsidy? It’s not. It’s industry funded, and government regulated. If anything, the US system is *less* of a subsidy than other countries, where the state has to make up the difference if the company falls short.

    A similar system exists for oil spills.

    If you want to discuss subsidies, then please go and find some figures for actual subsidies. I’m not really interested, since subsidies are just politics and have little to do with merit. But I live in the hope that you will find something worth discussing.

  38. 288
    David B. Benson says:

    Didactylos @287 — All of such matters are presented quite clearly in the TCASE series linked on the sidebar of

    and I must add that the recent commentary here on RealClimate seems far off the topic of climate.

  39. 289
    Snapple says:

    Tim Ball’s defender John O’Sullivan is claiming that a professor in Mexico named Nasif Nahle claims that CO2 cools the earth.

    I wonder which of the denialist mouthpieces will pick this story up first.

    Or maybe this story will appear in Pravda, RIA Novosti, or Kommersant and Cuccinelli can cite this latest “science” in his attack on Michael Mann.

  40. 290
    Edward Greisch says:

    286 Brian Dodge: “average concentration of Uranium in coal ash is ~ 1.3 ppm” Wrong. The average concentration of Uranium in COAL is ~ 1.3 ppm, not coal ash. Illinois coal is up to 103 ppm uranium. Again, that is coal, not coal ash. Coal is 25% to 96% carbon. Burn away the carbon and the other organics and then what do you get? Varies.

    What is U3O8? The middle character is the letter “O”? Do you mean 8% enriched uranium?

    285 Walter Pearce: Nuclear power is NOT subsidized in France. In fact, the nuclear power company pays the French government. See: “Environmentalists for Nuclear” the book and the web site. “Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy”, by B. Comby
    English edition, 2001, 345 pp. (soft cover), 38 Euros
    TNR Editions, 266 avenue Daumesnil, 75012 Paris, France;
    ISBN 2-914190-02-6

    You will not find it elsewhere. 100 Euros.

    Read a review of this book by the American Health Physics Society at:
    Association of Environmentalists For Nuclear Energy [EFN]

    288 David B. Benson: “recent commentary here on RealClimate seems far off the topic of climate.”
    The federal way to regulate is to put a legal limit on the CO2 into the air per kilowatt hour and allow the electric companies figure out how to do it. That is what I propose doing. The problem is that coal companies and people who think that they can get rich building wind or solar do not want to allow the electric utilities to have that freedom. And oil companies try to pervert the process into “energy independence” meaning “drill baby drill.” The desired result for all fossil fuel companies is gridlock. Gridlock = GW. That is what it has to do with climate.

  41. 291
    CM says:

    Snapple, re: this Nahle person in Mexico,

    Bring out the popcorn…

    In the “paper” linked from your link, he starts out saying: “This assessment is a review of the common AGW argument on the carbon dioxide increasing the potential of the water vapor for absorbing and emitting IR radiation as a consequence of the overlapping absorption/emission spectral bands.”

    Clearly he’s not engaging with the scientific consensus on AGW, but attacking a strawman “common AGW argument” he’s misconstructed from
    a) the anonymous author of an Environmental Defense essay (activist),
    b) an anonymous author at Science Daily (journalistic), and
    c) a single sentence, out of context, from a single paper that he clearly hasn’t understood, published in J. Climate.’s “Notes and correspondence” section (science, but no warranties).

    These three sources speak of three entirely different things:
    a) the water vapor feedback,
    b) the carbon cycle feedback, and
    c) effects on precipitation of reduced longwave radiative cooling in the tropical lower troposphere. An overlap effect of CO2 and water vapor absorption bands is indeed discussed, but the effect claimed is explicitly discussed as a separate matter from the global warming by CO2 changing the energy balance at the top of the atmosphere.

    This tells me all a layperson needs to know about Nahle.

  42. 292
    Walter Pearce says:

    Didactylos@287: Sure — if by self-funded you mean up to the point of an arbitrarily set and ridiculously low level, you are correct.

    Who is paying the costs in Japan in excess of insured costs? Oops.

    But that’s OK — just keep pretending that those non-insured costs don’t exist — the only way you can continue to assert that nukes are competitive.

    I now see the wisdom of avoiding this topic in this forum. Even if you were a willing pupil, this isn’t the venue to walk you through basics of risk management and finance. Your failure to address points raised — by me and others — and argumentative style have reached Rod B. proportions.

    I’ll leave you to pontificate further, and await a return to climate discussions.

  43. 293
    Hunt Janin says:

    As far as I can tell, only one highly developed country – the Netherlands -is making any firm plans,at the national level, to deal with sea level rise.

    Know of any others?

  44. 294
    Walter Pearce says:

    @290: This really is my last word on the nuclear subject — Here ya go, Edward Greisch.

    From just one of any number of sources:

    “Current legislation and practice in France does not require the owner or op- erators of nuclear power plants to cover the entire risk of severe accident, but limits their liability. Current practice in France limits the liability of the owner/operator to below 10% of the current internationally agreed liability limitations. This insufficient provision for future liability can be considered a form of environmentally harmful indirect support to the owner/operators of French nuclear power plants.”

    “Environmentally Harmful Support Measures in EU Member States”
    Delft, January 2003
    Authors: B.A. Leurs and R.C.N. Wit (CE, Delft)
    In cooperation with: G.A. Harder, A. Koomen, F.H.J. Kiliaan (Ernst & Young Rotterdam) G. Schmidt (Öko Institut, Darmstadt, Germany)

  45. 295
    Rod B says:

    Walter Pearce, if you mean that Didactylos evidently doesn’t just roll over and submissively swallow your assertions in toto, I agree.

  46. 296
    SecularAnimist says:

    Didactylos wrote: “all the ill-informed protesters … the idiot protesters”

    You mean like the “idiot protesters” in Japan who opposed the construction of the Fukushima power plants in an area that was known at the time to be vulnerable to tsunamis that the power plants were not designed to withstand?

    You mean like the “idiot protesters” in Vermont who forced the operators of Vermont Yankee to admit that they had been systematically and deliberately lying to the public about radioactive leaks into groundwater?

    Besides which, the meme that nuclear power was shut down in the USA by “protesters” is utterly bogus. Nuclear power died in the USA because the industry simply could not deliver on its promises to investors.

    Didactylos wrote: “Do you really want to side with the coal industry on this subject”

    I am not “siding with the coal industry” on anything, Didactylos. With all due respect, that’s nothing but a bit of dishonest and deliberately offensive flame-bait, and unworthy of the level of discourse that you normally bring to these discussions.

    Moreover, it’s a false dilemma fallacy. Coal and nuclear are not the only choices. As I have written repeatedly, we have vast solar and wind resources, and the mature and powerful technologies to harvest them, and we can easily phase out both coal and nuclear in 10 to 20 years. If you want to challenge that view on the merits, then fine — have at it. But please don’t insult my intelligence by claiming that the wind and solar industries are fronts for big coal.

  47. 297
    Walter Pearce says:

    @295…Ha! A submissive Didactylos? A submissive Rod B.? Inconceivable! [you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. -moderator]

  48. 298
    Septic Matthew says:

    283, Secular Animist: Of course subsidies for technologies that have only begun to be deployed at scale within the last few years will be higher “per MWH” than subsidies for technologies which have been deployed for decades.

    that’s a good point. A while back I posted an article on a purchase of a solar power generating facility by Los Angeles, in which it was said that solar is already competitive with gas turbines for peak generation, with all costs and subsidies included in the calculation.

    When coal is used to produce electricity that is used in the manufacture of wind turbines and solar panels, the deaths per terawatt hour due to coal are dramatically reduced.

    288, David B. Benson: and I must add that the recent commentary here on RealClimate seems far off the topic of climate.

    It’s an open thread discussion alternatives to fossil fuels, in light of the Fukushima disaster.

    292, Walter Pearce: But that’s OK — just keep pretending that those non-insured costs don’t exist — the only way you can continue to assert that nukes are competitive.

    No one is pretending. The goal is to compare all costs and all subsidies of all methods of generating electricity. In 40+ years of operating nuclear power plants in the U.S. there was one enormous disaster, and now 3,000 reactor years without such a loss; coal, oil and natural gas cause loss of death and property loss yearly, perhaps daily. What’s the fairest comparison of all of them? What’s the proper comparison of possible benefits of new reactor designs to the possible disasters involved in handling the accumulating nuclear waste?

  49. 299
    CM says:

    Septic Matthew, re: subsidies per TWh,

    It’s a bit old, but Goldberg 2000 ( made some interesting points about US federal subsidies for nuclear compared to wind and solar:

    * Wind, solar and nuclear power together got ~$150 billion cumulative federal subsidies over ~50 years, of which ~95% for nuclear.
    * in its first 15 years of federal support (1947–61), nuclear received $15.30/kWh; in theirs (1975–89), solar got $7.19/kWh and wind $0.46/kWh, quite a bit less. (The energy production from nuclear and wind in their respective first 15 years was the same order of magnitude.)
    * Cumulative subsidies over cumulative energy production through 1999 came to $0.012/kWh for nuclear, $0.51/kWh for solar, $0.04/kWh for wind.

  50. 300
    Didactylos says:

    SecularAnimist: Please don’t misunderstand me. I want people to hold nuclear power to the highest standards, and I am all in favour of absolutely rigid, over the top safety precautions and overengineered redundant systems.

    The “idiot protesters” term is reserved for those who just don’t want to live near a nuclear power station, and have failed to get their facts straight (and would ignore them if they did). You know these people exist. They are very loud. They don’t campaign for safer nuclear power, they just campaign blindly against anything with the word “nuclear” associated with it.

    I haven’t painted you and others here with that label, but some people are making it very difficult, since you really aren’t saying enough to distinguish yourselves from those crazies. You spend more time insulting me than you do in coming up with valid points.

    As for me, I’m learning that taking a rational position somewhere in between two stupid extremes simply gets you toasted by both sides. Poor Obama must feel like this all the time.

    P.S. Walter Pearce, civil liability for nuclear accidents is agreed by international treaty. Look it up, since you seem to think it important. And do stop taking guesstimates of the cost of Fukushima seriously. We probably won’t know the final figure for another decade.