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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Moral question of the evening 

Barack Obama is bucking the greenie ideologues in his own party and coming around to the idea that nuclear power might actually help in the fight against anthropogenic global warming. Better late than never, but now I have a question. Suppose greenhouse gases really do pose an existential threat to the planet, and further suppose that there would be a lot less of them if we had spent the last thirty years building nuclear power plants rather than coal-fired plants (electricity generation accounts for 41% of American CO2 output, more than any other activity by a long shot). Then, would these "artists" owe the planet, or at least the people who bought their record, an apology? What about the environmental activists who opposed nuclear power then, and tell us about the threat of carbon dioxide now? And no fair saying you were in favor of wind and solar -- even if those technologies could substitute for coal power today (and they probably cannot), they were no substitute back in 1979, 1989, or 1999, yet we (and the rest of the world) are living with the accumulated carbon dioxide because activists and regulators essentially stopped the development of nuclear power in this country. So, dude, where's our apology?

[Editor's note: For my own part, I am not big on extracting "apologies" for decisions or positions taken in good faith that turn out to have been unwise or wrong after the fact. But the left, and particularly its most potent instrumentality, the trial bar, has made a living off of ex post political and legal attacks for as long as I can remember. So, tit, tat, all dat.]


32 Comments:

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Feb 16, 08:13:00 PM:

The planet's agony will not be assuaged by mere apologies. Reparations are clearly called for  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Feb 16, 08:36:00 PM:

They are absolved because their intentions were good.

Of course, the intentions of everyone who disagreed with them were evil, so they get no credit even if they turn out to have been right.

Righteousness is easy to come by when self-righteousness is the only kind you want.  

By Anonymous The Truth is Out There, at Tue Feb 16, 08:46:00 PM:

"Barack Obama is bucking the greenie ideologues in his own party"

It's only loan guarantees for two plants -- China has 20 plants already under construction -- so Obama is hardly doing a "Nixon to China" here -- at least not yet. The guarantees are necessary because of the risk of stonewalling litigation, etc.

My inner cynic is that Obama is looking for a little centrist spin right now -- but this is the first thing Obama has done that I've agreed with since Sonia. Note that the House-passed Energy Bill that's on the table severely disfavors any kind of nuclear in ways that only over-educated lawyers and lobbyists can appreciate.

We should be going balls out on thorium reactors, if proven feasible. Thorium is 5X as plentiful as uranium, you can't make a bomb out of it, and the waste is far less problematic. We got focused on uranium during the Cold War because we wanted bomb material. Thorium could be a big part of a solution -- solar and wind won't be more than 5% - 10%, tops.

Coal plants kill thousands in the US each year -- that's a fact, Jack. Those of us in the Northeast have greater exposure.  

By Anonymous tyree, at Tue Feb 16, 09:26:00 PM:

Solar and wind can never be more than 20% of the total because the sun doesn't shine at night and the wind doesn't blow all of the time. The hate mongers that politicized the science of electricity generation owe all of us billions in reparations. They at least need to stay out of the way while we build 2-4 reactors a year for the next 30 years to catch up. I vote for the Thoriun solution until fusion comes online.  

By Blogger Kinuachdrach, at Tue Feb 16, 09:29:00 PM:

Yup -- "Truth" is right. This is an obvious bait & switch.

Remember, Obama may not be that bright, but he is certainly smart enough to know that the Warm-Mongers are pulling a scam. (Never try to scam a scammer!)

Obama is going along with the unscientific nonsense of alleged Anthropogenic Global Warming for the same reason that most of the other politicos are invested in it -- 'Cap on Trade' is a truly massive hidden tax increase. And what politician does not like the sound of a tax increase that does not look like one?

The offer of loan guarantees for nuclear power plants is like claiming to create jobs by giving money to ACORN. The problem with building nuclear power plants in the US is litigation, and the government's failure to life up to its commitment to take spent fuel. Notice that the Obaminoids are not proposing to do anything about the real problems, even though they are entirely within the Obaminations control.

A real plan would be to roll back excessive regulation and then rebuild the steel plants and the fabrication shops so that the US could actually build a pressure vessel for a nuclear plant, just like the US could do 3 decades ago. Today, anyone who wants to build a nuclear power plant in the US has to go to Japan, say pretty please, and stand in line. No wonder real un/under-employment in the US is so high!  

By Blogger Miss Ladybug, at Tue Feb 16, 10:28:00 PM:

You know, the Left is always wanting us to act more like the Europeans. Funny, they don't have the same way when it comes to nuclear power...  

By Blogger Miss Ladybug, at Tue Feb 16, 10:29:00 PM:

Proofread, dang it!

"don't have the same opinion" or"don't think the same way"...  

By Anonymous SouthernRoots, at Tue Feb 16, 11:30:00 PM:

Out of curiosity, how have the solar and wind generators been doing in the northeast the last couple of weeks? Keeping up with demand?  

By Anonymous Brian Schmidt, at Wed Feb 17, 12:06:00 AM:

Love how the free marketers here are so quick to find a justification for government loan guarantees when it comes to something they adore.

Obama's not doing anything different from what he signaled during the campaign.

Renewable energy and especially energy conservation will do far more to reduce CO2 than nukes. Read here for more info:

http://cmi.princeton.edu/wedges/intro.php

Under the scenario TH talks about, it's the Reagan and two Bush administrations and all their allies that have big apologies to make for fighting conservation and renewable energy.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Wed Feb 17, 12:34:00 AM:

Obama is not just deceptive...he's consistently so.

His budget defunds Yucca Mountain...the only long term nuclear waste disposal plan that currently exists in the US.

The verbal barrage about nuclear plants being built will disappear readily after the Democrat election-woes are over.

For now, they must give Centrist lip service.  

By Anonymous tyree, at Wed Feb 17, 02:07:00 AM:

Brian,
Give us tort reform and loan guarantees won't be necessary. With so many lawyers trying to become the next John Edwards getting nuclear power started up again in this country is going to be very, very difficult. Smart investors stay away from projects in which lawyers can take all of the money. Also, reducing CO2 is only part of the problem. The other part is how we generate adequate electricity for present and future economic growth. Renewables and conservation cannot do it all.  

By Anonymous tyree, at Wed Feb 17, 02:24:00 AM:

Brian,
The study you cited calls for:
9. Add double the current global nuclear capacity to replace coal-based electricity.

And it also says:

New strategies will be needed to address both fuel and electricity needs...

Why couldn't one of these "new strategies" be ignoring all of the junk science coming from the Global Climate Change enthusiasts and building more dependable nuclear power plants? It's still time to get politics out of science. Just because President Obama is a Democrat does not mean that there hasn't been massive fraud in the AGW "research".  

By Anonymous Sam, at Wed Feb 17, 02:49:00 AM:

Contra tyree, but while wind can't supply the nation's electricity, solar could... but you'd have to solve large scale power storage for night time usage and would have to cover a fairly large amount (possibly unreasonable amount) of surface with photovoltaic cells.

The arithmetic is straightforward. I recall a discussion on one of the sci.space newsgroups back in the 90s which predicted that it would actually be price competitive with fossil fuels in the nearish future (I think the estimate was sometime in the 2030s) based on long term cost trends for PV cells.

OK, put together a quick spreadsheet, and if I did this right, to supply as much electricity as was generated in 2007 using a-Si cells would take about 120 thousand km^2, about 1.5% of the area of the contiguous US, or about 40% of Arizona (you'd probably want to put them in a sunny low latitude area, and Az fits that bill).

a-Si are low efficiency but cheap, I've read that higher efficiency cells have fallen in price faster than expected, which would shrink the area required quite a bit; the cost of the cells dominates the cost of cheap desert land, so cost effectiveness is mostly dependent on the cost efficiency of the cells. The highest efficiency cells are about 6 times as efficient as a-Si.  

By Anonymous Nobrainer, at Wed Feb 17, 09:01:00 AM:

It's not true that we're building a lot of coal plants. Most coal plants were around before 1980. Plants that have come in service since that time are 3x more likely to run on natural gas than coal.

Using the Form EIA-860 Database for 2007, it can be shown that 72% of coal plant nameplate capacity was in service before 1980.

It also shows that of plants that have come online since 1980, natural gas plants have a nameplate capacity of 327GW, compared to 97GW of coal.

The numbers don't tell the story of capacity factor (likely much higher for coal), but it does show that the choice isn't between only nukes and coal.  

By Blogger Don Cox, at Wed Feb 17, 09:21:00 AM:

40% of Arizona is a pretty big area. While solar has its use, I think it is clear that nuclear power is the answer.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Feb 17, 10:03:00 AM:

Geez, you have a lot more faith in the Kenyan's word than I do. He says a lot of things and, then, takes exactly the opposite position later.
It's like offshore drilling for oil; he said we should start drilling yet the DoE, with his political commissar in charge, refuses to grant the necessary permits.  

By Anonymous Brian Schmidt, at Wed Feb 17, 11:26:00 AM:

Tyree - you may not know that nuclear power companies are legally protected from unlimited tort liability. If a solar power company does something that kills people, the sky's the limit on damages, but if nuclear meltdown kills tens of thousands, the liability is limited under a law passed by Congress.

Yes, nuclear power is one of the solutions at the link I provided, but conservation and renewable energy provide about 6 times more CO2 savings, and we'd be much better off if Reagan and the Bushes hadn't done so much to screw those Carter initiatives up.  

By Anonymous Brian Schmidt, at Wed Feb 17, 03:17:00 PM:

I'll just add that I'm curious as to what fans of nuclear power think its international role should be. Should every country have nuclear power plants? Should there be more IAEA international oversight, or less oversight? Is it appropriate or politically feasible to demand more oversight of other countries' nuclear power unless you're willing to concede the same oversight of American plants?

Personally I expect nukes to play a limited but expanded role in American power production, and a much more limited role internationally. I would want to see only a small number of new countries add nuclear power to their portfolios. I would want much more strict IAEA scrutiny and control, and I'd be willing to give the same scrutiny over American plants as over other countries.

All in all, a minor help to the global problem. It shouldn't be discarded, but it's not the main solution.  

By Anonymous The Truth is Out There, at Wed Feb 17, 03:45:00 PM:

Brian, there's this concept called "time value of money." You should look into it. Here's an explanatory hypothetical: A nuclear plant that takes five years to build may have a positive net present value -- and so would make sense to build. But if takes seven years, it may or may not make sense, depending on interest rates, etc. But if litigation or regulatory delay drag it out to ten years or more, it loses money. If there's a risk of the latter, the plant doesn't get built even if otherwise has a compelling NPV.

Most of the cost of nuclear is construction, not operation -- so the NPV of nuclear is very sensitive to construction delay. Whatever "cents per kwh" pricing you see today on nuclear could be much improved upon, if we cut regulatory delay and removed litigation risk.

If you do NPV analysis on alternative energy sources -- even with generous assumptions -- they mostly fail ... and badly. That means they're un-economic. That means we're worse off for doing them. Unless you're the one getting subsidized.

Further to "generous assumptions" on alternatives -- It's laughable that anyone would suggest that we can litter the country with windmills, or cover an area the size of Arizona with solar panels without huge NIMBY resistance. I could go on and on in this vein.

Their are factors that don't always get put into spreadsheets that should be considered. "Energy independence" should be an important collective goal for us. But our shithead energy policies of the last 30 to 40 years have put us in an even worse strategic position than where we were in the 1970s. We're an oil shock away from national disaster.

Another factor oft overlooked -- Our over-reliance on coal has killed on the order of 100,000 to 500,000 Americans over the last 30 years. If you know anyone who died of lung cancer who lived in the Northeast for example, you have a potential statistic.

As we speak the Chinese have 20 nuclear plants under construction. I'd love to learn how long these plants will take the Chinese to build -- it's a relevant benchmark for how bad we suck right now.

This all translates into kwh costs, which are highly relevant to whether we can be competitive in many industries ... which translates into jobs ... the topic du jour.

I look at Brian as a proxy for the Green left, including Obama. So which is it Brian? Do you guys not know from basics like NPV or do you just not care?

I said this before here -- If we have to be ruled by a mandarin overclass I'd much prefer the Chinese variety. They're smart and care about the common good as they see it -- all they want is a mistress on the side and a little secret love nest. Ours are dumb, and only care about their faction supporters ... and themselves most of all -- and aren't content until they steal millions, while squandering billions and even trillions.

People like Brian infest the EPA -- which is why we need to blow it up and start over. I'm not kidding.  

By Anonymous The Truth is Out There, at Wed Feb 17, 03:54:00 PM:

Re nuclear. We should have been going balls out on thorium years ago -- but there may still be time. If made to work -- and it should work -- it has the big advantage that it eliminates the weapons proliferation issue. You can't make a bomb out of thorium. If we had practical thorium right now, Iran's uranium-based ambitions could clearly be called out as a threat of war.

Thorium won't get advanced -- and hasn't been advanced -- because our DMV-like EPA doesn't even have a form you can fill out to register it. Micro-nukes have the same problem. The Green Police won't allow it -- which is why we'll collectively be in an even worse place a generation from now.  

By Anonymous tyree, at Wed Feb 17, 03:59:00 PM:

Brian,
Tort liability for death due to a disaster does not clear the way for the construction of new power plants. We have to be able to stop the lawyers from endlessly delaying the construction of new plants. The War on Profit has done more to ruin our energy policy than all of our Presidents combined. The are only a few Presidents, there are millions of socialists.

As for storage of solar energy, any system that might be capable of storing the nightly energy requirements of the nation would probably dwarf the cost of the nuclear reactors they might replace.

As for the international aspects, Brian, as it was mentioned, the byproducts of Thorium reactors cannot be made into nuclear weapons and has a significantly shorter half life than uranium or plutonium. Solar projects take up huge tracts of land, windmills ruin Democratic politicians view of the ocean. Everything that creates energy has a downside some where. A good mix of technologies should be pursued, with nuclear being one of those.

And yes, I know everything is Bushes fault, President Obama keeps reminding us of that every single day. Of course, the Senators, Congress and the EPA had nothing to do with anything negative that happened, EVAH.

Now that we are clear on that, let's get the dammed lawyers off our backs so we can get back to work.  

By Blogger Georgfelis, at Wed Feb 17, 06:30:00 PM:

Good point, it does not matter if nuke plants get a 20 gazillion dollar loan gurantee, if they still take twenty years to get thru the regulatory paperwork and then have to face the 101st Trial Lawyer Brigade.

Hm. I wonder if it would be cheaper with the newer high-voltage DC lines to place those power plants in a country where the bribes are lower (like Mexico) and ship the power in.  

By Anonymous The Truth is Out There, at Wed Feb 17, 08:37:00 PM:

Hadn't thought of Mexico as a base. It's a great wedge idea.

There are three electric grids in the US. East ... West ... and "greater Texas." Texas could plug in, and lead the way. The other grids source from Canada, is my understanding, so it wouldn't be without precedent.  

By Anonymous Brian Schmidt, at Thu Feb 18, 01:14:00 AM:

Coal plants are way ahead of you guys on the Mexico idea.

Tyree, I'm not sure why we're arguing if you favor a mix of technologies. I agree as long as technological changes that promote conservation get thrown into the mix. I'm not opposed to nuclear although I think it has limited growth potential. Like Socolow proposed, maybe doubling current world capacity.

Thorium is a research idea, btw, no sense yet of its commercial potential. Sounds like that's all the international expansion you want, not conventional nukes. Thorium can be weaponized, though, just not as easily as uranium. I expect you can do it even with somewhat less difficulty if you have people who are willing to die in the handling process.

Truther - my aren't you condescending. Yes, I know the term, and time value of money, and discount rates (nice pivot away from the tort liability argument that I was responding too, btw). I too would be interested to learn how quickly the Chinese build nukes. I'd be pretty surprised if it's five years, even with the utter disrespect for human rights and democracy that you seem to consider a model.

So you support government subsidies for thorium research, in addition to loan guarantees for nuclear power? I think TH was talking about shrinking government to keep corporate power from influencing politics. This isn't a way to do it. I agree that the research money is worthwhile, btw, although I'd hold on to the loan guarantees as part of a comprehensive energy/climate legislation.  

By Anonymous tyree, at Thu Feb 18, 02:47:00 PM:

Brian,
I am not arguing. Only luddites favor the elimination of useful technology.
Thorium reactors were operational decades ago but were dropped because the Cold War needed uranium and plutonium byproducts for bombs. Now that Regean won the Cold War (if he gets all the blame, he should get all the credit). Thorium could be operational a lot faster than a nation based nightime energy savings grid. And a one Green Engineer mentioned, all of the byproducts of a lifetime of energy production, at the American rate, would fit in a small Dixie cup. That is with existing technology and no decrease in energy consumption due to conservation. With common sense energy conservation the waste would fill a few thimbles. Making the waste smaller has a energy conserving component all it's own.

Personally, I don't support government doing much of anything, except providing for the common defense. I do support putting as many tort lawyers out of business as possible.

http://www.bobdorigojones.com/2010/01/03/public-safety-at-risk-fear-of-lawsuits-changes-common-sense-behavior  

By Anonymous tyree, at Thu Feb 18, 02:55:00 PM:

I should have clarified that the engineer was talking about a Dixie cup per person. Think about how much waste products would be produced by a solar grid half the size of New Mexico. All of the waste products from all of the United States nuclear power plants produced so would fit in a single basketball gymnasium (if it was inert, which it is not!). It was pretty short sighted of President Obama to defund the storage facility. But he had to buy votes somehow. President Carter would not have approved, back when he was setting up his programs for our energy policy.  

By Anonymous Brian Schmidt, at Fri Feb 19, 12:48:00 AM:

Seems like the thorium fuel cycle might make a nasty dirty bomb - one that actually does some damage and isn't just psychological. Not a real nuke but probably qualifying as WMD. That's just my speculation though, thorium sounds worth checking out. That would require government research though - I don't anticipate private funding doing it all.

As for Yucca Valley, if long-term storage isn't that big a deal (and I don't think it is myself), then it hardly matters whether the waste goes there or somewhere else. To the extent it needs to be dealt with, though, the "Screw Nevada" legislation wasn't the ideal - it should be a shared obligation.  

By Anonymous tyree, at Fri Feb 19, 01:19:00 AM:

Sure Brian, let's have earthquake prone California take it's fair share of nuclear waste. Nothing could ever go wrong with that. And Yucca Valley was hardly a "Screw Nevada" project. It would have brought thousands of jobs there. Jobs they really need now that President Obama has done such a good job of driving jobs out of the state.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Feb 19, 08:45:00 AM:

Yucca Mountain is a good metaphor for our current political situation.

Yucca's vicinity is where we used to do our underground nuclear bomb blast testing. We lit up nuclear bombs there continuously from 1951 until 1992. Before we put it underground, back in the 1950s you could see mushroom clouds as far away as Las Vegas -- it was actually a Vegas tourist attraction before the Mob made Sinatra a regular. There's more bad shit already underground around Yucca than we could possibly add from nuclear waste disposal -- without even a Saran Wrap cover on top. Blame it on Bush -- a legacy inheritance, but not the good kind.

Obama says he's for nuclear, but someone in his office has blocked further use of Yucca by the simple act of denying it funding. This is but a small example of the disconnect between what Obama says in public for spin and the reality of what he's advancing.

The Yucca bait-and-switch is subtle. But Obama is literally saying that passage of Healthcare is critical to fixing our deficits. "Without it, we go broke" he's said. But Healthcare only passes CBO muster because (1) it includes income tax raises -- these could be used for any purpose, including deficit reduction -- with this logic you could make anything pass CBO muster, and (2) assumed Medicare reductions, to be named later, and (3) most outrageous of all -- a ten-year plan based on 10 years of increased taxes, but only six or seven years of expenditures. That Obama can claim that this will bend the cost curve is outrageous. How does MSM let him get away with this?

Re "Thorium" from Brian: "That would require government research though - I don't anticipate private funding doing it all."

Basic research funding is a worthy use of public funds. Thorium research is a worthy endeavor -- the Navy especially can benefit. Instead we just gave $560,000 to Michael "Hockey Stick" Mann out of Stimulus -- Philip K Dick meet George Orwell.

Private funding right now will only flow to the limited things that fit Obama's plans and the EPA's DMV-like forms. That's why Kleiner Perkins made Al Gore a general partner. Kleiner Perkins used to be our leading venture capital firm for innovative technology -- they read the political tea leaves and are instead funding third-rate Obama-approved technologies and have built bridges to China -- where the manufacturing will get done. Just look at their website.

We're headed to a world where USA kwh prices will be some whole number multiple of China's. The world won't be cleaner for it, but the USA will be poorer and weaker.

Brian again: "Truther - my aren't you condescending." No I'm not -- on this stuff I'm as serious as a heart attack. Brian, like Obama, I can't exactly tell when you're misguided or disingenuous. The difference may not matter.  

By Anonymous Truth is Out There, at Fri Feb 19, 08:48:00 AM:

That was "Truth is out there", last post  

By Anonymous tyree, at Fri Feb 19, 10:04:00 AM:

Truth is out there said, "The world won't be cleaner for it, but the USA will be poorer and weaker."

And that of course is why we know that the Eco-Warming fraud is being run to hurt us. Look at the results.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Sat Feb 20, 12:49:00 PM:

"As for Yucca Valley, if long-term storage isn't that big a deal (and I don't think it is myself), then it hardly matters whether the waste goes there or somewhere else. To the extent it needs to be dealt with, though, the "Screw Nevada" legislation wasn't the ideal - it should be a shared obligation."

IF that were true (and it isn't) AND IF Obama truly supports Nuclear Energy (which he doesn't)....then I assume that the "Genius" has an actual plan to replace the Yucca facility...which is, at the current time, the ONLY spent fuel storage facility in the United States.

Other than pulling Yucca funding, I have heard of no such plan.

Leading to one of the following conclusions:

1. Obama (Mr. Transparency) has a secret plan.

2. Obama is lying thru his teeth.

3. Obama has no earthy idea what he is doing.

Personally, given's the man's performance to date, I favor some mixture of #2 and #3.  

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