May 15, 2005
Environmentalist Grand Bargain On Nuclear Power?
Felicity Barringer of the New York Times reports on the potential for a political deal that would restrict greenhouse gas emissions in exchange for enabling a comback for nuclear power.
In recent statements, three top environmental experts - Fred Krupp, the executive director of Environmental Defense, and Jonathan Lash, the president of the World Resources Institute and James Gustave Speth, the dean of Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies - have stopped well short of embracing nuclear power, but they have emphasized that it is worth trying to find solutions to the economic, safety and security, waste storage and proliferation issues rather than rejecting the whole technology.
These efforts to edge away from the established orthodoxy coincide with moves by Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, to offer significant financial incentives for the development of three new nuclear technologies -each with its own corporate backer - as part of a bill he and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, are sponsoring to regulate emissions of heat-trapping gases.
The proposed subsidies are in part to fund the cost of getting the first reactor of each design through the regulatory process. The first reactor for each desgn will be far more expensive and financially risky. The cost of funding the whole design will otherwise fall on either the first buyer or each design maker. The design makers do not want to pay because they fear a politically risky environment. Regulatory barriers might go up due to shifting political winds after just a few reactors get built. The provision of the federal funds is also seen as an important risk reducer because it basically would signal a commitment of the federal government to allow new nuclear power plants to be built.
What is referred to as 3 new technologies are 3 conventional nuclear plant designs (probably all light water reactors). These are not breeders, pebble bed modular reactors, or any other radical departure from existing designs. General Electric is one of the corporations with new nuclear plant designs. The article doesn't say but Westinghouse's AP1100 is probably another design on the list. Anyone have a guess as to the identity of the third corporation with a new nuclear plant design?
The addition to the McCain-Lieberman bill, which is being circulated in draft form, would codify a new political bargain. Conservatives would support emission controls in return for liberal support for a new generation of nuclear power plants, a shift that could reshape the existing alignments on these issues.
Most of the environmental groups mentioned in the article still emphatically oppose nuclear power. But environmentalist opposition to nuclear power is now far less uniform than it has been for the last few decades. Some notable environmentalists such as Stewart Brand are thinking that nuclear power is the lesser evil as compared to carbon dixoide emissons. Whether that is a correct assessment of the situation remains to be proven, both on the risks of nuclear power and the risks from rising CO2 emissions.
I see an irony in the debate amoong environmentalists about nuclear power and global warming: If we were to wait to deal with the prblem of rising carbon dioxide until new technologies are developed (which happens to be the course I advocate - combined with a much bigger push to develop new energy technologies) we could probably reverse the carbon dioxide emissions rise in 20 or 30 years without much use of nuclear power. Within a decade or two photovoltaics might be cheap enough to compete as a source of energy. Also, advances in battery technologies will some day solve the problem caused by the inability of ground-based solar power to support electricity 24 hours a day. An attempt to substantially reduce oil, natural gas, and coal consumption with existing technologies runs flat into the fact that only nuclear power can scale cheaply enough to offer a realistic alternative today.
The people who accept the most gloomy predictions of the effects of rising carbon dioxide are therefore (rightly or wrongly) painting themselves into a corner where nuclear power suddenly becomes a contender once again. Environmentalists have stoked up the popular fear of the global warming boogeyman to the point where they now find themselves forced them to wrestle with their fear of the nuclear power boogeyman.
In my view the environmentalist groups have made a big mistake for decades by putting far more emphasis on what they are against (nuclear power, conventional pollutants, greenhouse gas emissions, etc) and not enough effort to promote the development of cost effective technologies that could displace older dirtier technologies. The best way to solve the problems caused by fossil fuels burning is more basic research and technological development. Research can lead to technologies will be both cleaner and cheaper than fossil fuels. Given cheaper alternatives the market will phase out fossil fuels without expensive regulatory regimes and controversial international treaties.
The environmentalist groups which advocate for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions ought to advocate just as loudly for increased basic research in electrochemistry to produce discoveries that will enable new type of batteries to be developed. Similarly, the environmentalist groups ought to be loud advocates for higher funding of photochemistry research in order to produce discoveries that will lead to cheaper photovoltaics. Both these areas of research are underfunded and both can produce discoveries that will enable a post-fossil fuels economy.
Very few people who are both intelligent and serious have very much respect for professional environmentalists. It is all about the fundraising, not about solving serious problems. If the problems are not serious enough, they are simply magnified to apocalyptic proportions. As long as those checks keep coming in. They are like nothing else so much as TV evangelists. Keep the checks coming in.
Hehe well a bit cynical but it's true. Just like corporations, PACs and Unions the enviromentalist movements are now corperate entities relying on sales to the public to support themselves and their staffs in the lifestyles to which they've become accustomed.
Bluntly we need the nukes. Excess capacity is dwindling so new plants must be built. Would they rather have hydrocarbon burners (my own opinion the co2 issue is way overblown though I have other concerns) or nuclear based systems. The restraints on wind and solar have been discussed before and, just like fusion power, the enablers for these systems are on the horizon. On the horizon means possibly decades away (I would still prefer having nuclear baseload power available for a backup even when renewables are fully practical).
If we go with hydrogen we need the nukes to make the hydrogen. Even if good battery tech comes along it will probably be quite awhile before prices would reduce enough to make it economically feasible for commercial power storage/leveling. That would mean the new baseload power plants would be even more important to power the new electricaly powered transportation system.
Yes, I normally wouldn't agree with McCain but this time he's got a good idea. The pump has to be primed and this is one case that government should become involved in. Either socialise everything (and accept the other baggage that comes with it) or give support to industry and the investors to risk the capital on the projects. You can't have it both ways.
Yes, professional environmentalists are just the same money-grubbing opportunists as TV evangelists. That's why such serious and intelligent persons as myself and the other readers of futurepundit allow purely altruistic corporations and their bought politicans to determine the future.
I agree that environmentalists are typically moronic scum. TV evangelists at least have the decency to occasionally admit their guilt and cry for the camera. Disgusting, yes, but a bare sign of underlying conscience nonetheless. Environmentalists lack any redeeming social qualities. Of course, you can say that about virtually any leftist.
One of the many problems with the proposed 'deal' is that it really commits those on the left to nothing of any substance. The right goes along with statutory limits on emissions (i.e. substantive regulations empowering a whole new growth of the bureaucracy) and in exchange the left does what? Ah yes...they will 'support' nuclear power (a few subsidies here and there, etc.), but what else? The real cost in building nukes isn't the technology, it is the endless legal wrangling and regulatory harassment, and it isn't clear at all that this would end, whatever deal (sincere or otherwise) the greenies make. After all, the Sierra Club (for instance) might go along with such a deal, but what is to stop the local branch of 'Soccer Moms for a Green Future' (or some other local front organization) from raising the same objections and starting the same legal wrangling once real plant construction was contemplated. At the end of this process, there will be no more nukes than today (quite possibly fewer), but a whole new set of regulations.
I have a better idea. Continue to develop the technology, refuse to sign on to economic suicide pacts, and vote the lefties out of office as part of the natural process of political evolution. With time, we will get the best of both worlds, and piss off the greenies in the process...
I am skeptical that this deal can be made for several reasons:
1) The initial legislation has to be carried through with appropriations in the out years to fund the reactors. The emissions controls would be enacted and then the deal could fall apart for the nuclear power industry.
2) Most environmental organizations will oppose the deal. They'd rather see emissions reductions without using nuclear power.
3) The fossil fuels industries (coal, oil, natural gas) will see greenhouse gasses emissions limits as harmful to their interests.
4) Any proposed emissions reduction has to be from some higher future base. Almost 100 coal plants are currently in the planning stages. Demand for oil is rising. Even with some small number of nukes built to come on line 5 or 10 years total CO2 emissions will rise substantially due to the total rise in energy demand.
5) Nukes can not replace oil for transportation without big steps forward in battery technology. This proposal does not fund that research.
Still, the fact that a couple of well known US Senators from the two parties made the proposal shows that the direction of the political winds on nuclear power is shifting somewhat.
I suspect then, that we are actually in agreement. I don't see any way such a deal could be made, nor do I believe for one moment that the environmental movement would ever make the sort of compromises necessary for it to happen. From my reading of this site, I suspect that we share the same view of the best way forward, and this certainly isn't it!
That said, I don't really believe that it is worthwhile to place too much emphasis on Leiberman and McCain's posturing. Leiberman has ZERO influence within his party (and face it, if he hadn't been a VP candidate, he would have had near-zero visibility as well), and McCain's shameless opportunism hasn't left him with very much credibility with anyone, with the possible exception of the press corps.
I agree. Vote those Lefties out of office. George W. Bush and his ilk are nothing less than watermelons: green on the outside and red on the inside. They are traitors to the Constitution. There should be no emissions controls on anything. If people don't like polluted air or water, let them pay for canned air and bottled water the way a good Republican capitalist should.
Well trying to get enviromentalist to agree on anything, even with each other, is pretty well equivalent to the success of herding cats. I still laugh at them all when I review the arguments over wind turbines in Ca. between the numerous, well informed and highly motivated enviromental groups. (I'm patiently awaiting the day of widespread wind turbine use. Some group will form opposing it with the stance that local weather patterns are being altered and mankind is ruining the enviroment. Just watch, it will happen)
Hmm Randall, a bit off topic but what do you believe the economic/work force shock would be to the nation if a truly good battery was produced for an all electric transport system? I can't forsee there not being one if it wasn't very gradually fed into the system. Perhaps the government insistence on FC developement may be simply realpolitik management of the economy? Despite what some here may think Bush is not a dummy (favored son or not no the AF would not put a young man in the driver's seat of an F103 (about the most difficult to fly deployed jet in US history) unless they were a cut above the normal. Anyhow I've been juggling this in my head lately and if it is true I can understand (not necessarily like) why they're pushing hydrogen.
PS The Alaska portion of the alaska gas pipeline should start construction in the next 2 years (announced locally other night). Hopefully the Delta Junction to Alberta Canada leg addition should commence shortly after that. I intend to run over a beaver as a form of sacrifice to the gods of capitalism this weekend (EMOTE extremely rude gesture to rabid enviromentalists who might read this).
Cheap battery technology would first lead to widescale use of hybrid vehicles. Gasoline demand would at first stabilize and then decline. But old cars on the road would be replaced only very gradually. The demand for oil would decline and oil prices would fall. The demand for electricity would rise, especially during non-peak times.
Adoption of different electric pricing levels depending on time of day would help to make electric cars cheaper by allowing people to purchase electricity generated by base level generators. This would shift demand for electricity toward nuclear and coal plants rather than more expensive peak hours natural gas-based generators.
I don't think the shift is going to be that abrupt. Cheaper and higher energy density batteries will not happen overnight. They'll probably come in a series of steps.
As for the macroeconomic effects: They'd cause a decline in the effective price of energy. So they'd be stimulative. They'd cause a decline in the oil industry but an increase in nuclear and/or coal power. They'd also produce an increase in wind tower installationss. They wouldn't increase the demand for solar by much unless solar became much cheaper. Though they would lower the cost of building solar sites that would operate totally off the grid. So they'd cause some increase in photovoltaics demand.
"Environmentalists lack any redeeming social qualities."
An interesting perspective. Protecting the environment is a social evil? It is an indisputable fact that creating power or other products in a way that creates large amounts of pollution is cheaper and more profitable than producing the same items in a low pollution fashion. If left to the free market, competition would ensure lots and lots of pollution. And given their massive political influence, large corporations would be free to pollute the air, water and land with impunity save for environmental organizations opposing those interests. Why would anyone accept the reasonableness of individuals having to pay for garbage collection rather than throwing their trash in the streets and argue for the rights of billion dollar corporations to pollute the air and kill thousands of innocent citizens in the process? Last time I heard, we are a nation under the rule of law and it is against the law to kill people. You rabid, fire-breathing, right-winged crazies need to think every now and then what it is you are ranting and raving about.
It would appear that your "Westinghouse AP1100" is a typo. The actual design is the AP1000 and it is in the final certification process along with three others that have been certified. You are right that they are all advanced LWR designs, most pressurized. http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/nuclear/page/analysis/nucenviss2.html The companies involved are GE, Westinghouse, Toshiba and Hitachi. Now it is clear why McCain and Lieberman have come out with their bold support of Greenhouse gas reduction. They are doing what all good politicians do; scratching the backs of their Big Corp buddies.
You say; "In my view the environmentalist groups have made a big mistake for decades by putting far more emphasis on what they are against (nuclear power, conventional pollutants, greenhouse gas emissions, etc) and not enough effort to promote the development of cost effective technologies that could displace older dirtier technologies."
I think they have been advocating for renewables and other technologies all along, but that is simply the limit of what they can do. What we really need is wise political leadership that understands what is at stake and what areas of research are most likely to pay off and over what term. The Bush Administration supports massive funding for coal, nuclear and petroleum and token money for solar, wind and renewables. I think that if we listened to the National Academy of Science better than we listened to corporate lobbyists, we would have the choices available needed to avoid "painting ourselves into a corner" of a fossil fuel dependant economy as prices skyrocket.
Good points. My primary concern was the retail area. If however the phase in was gradual enough (several years lead in before the product became viable for widespread sales) it would limit the impact. The larger corperations I don't worry about, they should recover from any shock eventually. I do have concern for the small business area and lower end employees. If implementation was slow enough such a shock could be mitigated for the hundreds of thousands who would be effected.
Back to the main topic though. If enviromental groups truly were concerned with the spectre of global warming you'd see some initiatives coming from them. One I can think of is in the area of diesel engines. Reasonably they should support such engines for hybrid vehicles. There would be increases of particulates and such (though not that severe) yet the far higher effeciency of diesels in a hybrid platform should be drawing their support like mosquitos to a bug zapper. I havn't seen any such support.
I'll grant them trust when I see them using common sense. I'll leave it at that. I'm more than a tad caustic in my opinions of the intelligence, parentage and motivation of the truly enlightened enviromentalists that seem to be center stage these days.
Joseph, there are no intelligent and truly enlightened environmentalists these days. Just the hucksters and hard-sell con artists. Protect the environment? That's not what environmentalists do, that's what the suckers think. No, the left has got an excellent and lucrative scam going and it doesn't want it to dry up any time soon.
"What we really need is wise political leadership that understands what is at stake and what areas of research are most likely to pay off and over what term."
Why is that catchy little tune "Back in the USSR" humming in my head now?
The third type is the AREVA EPR reactor. This is a French design. Finland has ordered one and is constructing it now. Inside AREVA I see where more and more utility sponsors are signing on to support the EPR licensing process in the US. AREVA hopes to be a strong competitor to GE and Westinghouse since they have a full soup-to-nuts product and services line of offerings in the industry including fuel reprocessing. Uranium prices have finally risen to where MOX fuel assemblies make sense economically as well as for disposal of weapons-grade material.
"Why is that catchy little tune "Back in the USSR" humming in my head now?" Uh, because it was on the radio when you woke up, maybe. Are you saying that Bush is a pinko because he is proposing government sponsored research into coal or hydrogen technologies? Or that Parker is a closet commie because he supports government research on batteries? Perhaps you think that the government should do nothing but create a military force paid for by donations, but the reality is that government directed research efficiently produced nuclear weapons and power, got us to the moon, computers, the Internet, radar... The more we, as a nation, flounder around, pushed willy-nilly by this industry lobbying group then that, the more we fall behind the rest of the world that is rapidly making progress in renewable and highly efficient energy sources. We are sadly lacking the inspired and competent leadership that produced many of the above innovations with industry/government partnerships.
You should try coming up with coherent arguments to support your positions (if you actually have any) rather than taking inane pot shots from the gallery.
German Greenpeace developed non-CFC refrigerants that have been successfully marketed, or so I recall. Seems that's a lot better than S. Fred Singer's track record in terms of stratospheric ozone (which he now believes was a real problem) and global warming (which he still denies is a problem). Of course, he knows everything because he's a PhD. Except his PhD is in rocketry or at least that's what I heard.
I say kill the environment. All we need is money.
And, or course, nuclear power.
Why are you picking on Fred Singer? He does have a PHD from Princeton so at least he used to be pretty smart. Of course he isn't a climatologist but he did design some weather satellites in the 60s and he stayed at a Holiday Inn. He may be getting a bit senile, but he is still smart enough to recognize that there's money in them thar hills of coal slag, so he's come up with a coal industry financed "Educational Institute" to help the industry with their multimillion dollar disinformation program, ironically called ICE, The Information Council on the Environment. http://www.ecosyn.us/adti/Singer-Nightline.html Singer also came up with the idea of the "Leipzig Declaration", an authoritative sounding statement denying global climate change signed by a bunch of TV weathermen and dentists and paid for by German and US coal interests. But it's only the evil environmentalists who are lining their pockets with all that non-profit money coming from the Sierra Club. Right.
I'm disgusted by people who call environmentalists evil on blog comments. Environmentalists are merely political hacks with substandard intelligence. They wouldn't recognize the interaction of long term natural climate cycles if it hit them on the back of their head. But go ahead and call environmentalists evil on blog comments. Sing along the hackneyed refrain of the day. Prepare to learn a new tune tomorrow. But never admit you changed. Oceania is at war with Eurasia and has always been at war with Eurasia. Oceania has never been at war with Eastasia. No, never.
Very few people who are both intelligent and serious have very much respect for professional environmentalists.
I suspect that you can generalize this to "professional activists
" and have it be just as true.
I met S. Fred once at MIT. Got to ask him about his stance on ozone depletion and why we should believe him about his global warming skepticism now. Also asked him about the fears of glacialogists that they would only have historical references to study before the end of this century. He replied that he wouldn't take his information about climatology from glacialogists. I kick myself that I wasn't quick enough to reply by asking him what his PhD was in.
But then, I don't have a PhD in anything. Nor do I have a profession. Therefore, I must be respectable.
I split the enviromental movement into two catagories. Enviro's and naturalists. I think of naturalists as stating "Thou shalt not pee in thy own backyard." I think of enviro's as saying "Thou shalt not go into thy own backyard for verily the grass has greater rights than thou." Sadly the enviro activists suck up all the oxygen in most debates. They tend to take unwavering stances of religeous proportions. I can discuss things with a naturalist, after three minutes of talking to an enviro I get this strange twitching syndrome in my right index finger.
About the best example of enviros, one that's easily quantified at least, is the Canadian green party with their stated platform. Enviro's demand regression and then stasis. I've lived in the lifestyle that many advocates preach for. Low energy use. Rely on the land. Organic. Walk or ride a bike etc.. It sucks. Give me a thorium molten salt burner down the street and all the gadgets I can get.
Yes, a person becomes a "professional activist" because they are incompetent to do anything of value. It's a measure of a society's surplus wealth that it can afford to support such a large number of parasitic organisms.
Urine is good fertilizer. If you dilute it enough so that it doesn't smell, it should be good for the grass in your backyard.
Nice point about the professional activists. There is nothing so worthless.
My definition of a professional is someone who returns phone calls and emails. That's a much more stringent criteria than one might expect.
My experience with "professionals" is that they tend not to listen to their employers. I guess they are too busy considering the possibilities of their own brilliance. BTW, that includes engineers, designers, and architects.
Every doubling of wind turbine size reduces the cost of wind electricity by about 1/3.
Two more doubling (to 12 MW peak turbine size) brings the cost of wind to about the same range as nukes.
America is the Saudi Arabia of wind.
Wind now costs less than natural gas electricity. It is helping to take the strain off natural gas supplies. Texas is in fact using wind for that very purpose so they will have more natural gas to sell to the rest of us.
This year about 1 nuke equivalent of wind will get installed in North America.
On a planetary basis there is enough wind resources to generate 30X as much electricity as is currently being used.
The only problem (we will not see it til 2020 or later) is storage. We have solutions but they are not well funded. By the time it starts to become important it will be there.
According to a recent Scientific American, man generated greenhouse gasses have prevented an ice age which may be over due.
According to these scientists global warming may be part of the natural climate cycle. We haven't yet recovered from the Little Ice Age. In fact recent reports show that global warming may be driven by solar output.
The trouble with electrochemical battery energy storage for transportation is the limited Wh/lb. The best chemistries are only 2X or 5X lead acid batteries. Gasoline is 1,000X. Alcohol is about 500X.
There are physical limits to what can be done with batteries.
The Methanol Fuel Cell rather than hydrogen may be the wave of the future.
One nuke equivalent of wind (same number of MWh in a year) is getting installed this year in the USA.
How many nukes will get built this year? Next? The year after?
You need to try reading mainstream scientific information rather than the most far out bunch of denialist crazies you can find on the internet. The "Oregon Institute" you cited are a bunch of survivalist nutcases who use old and acknowledged false satellite data to make their points and their little dissertation on climate is a study of cynical data selection. The current ORNL site that is referenced in the OISM site says: "Based on data from Angell's global network of 63 radiosonde stations, over the period from 1958 through 2004, the global mean, near-surface air temperature warmed by approximately 0.16°C/decade." The OISM site would have you think that the temperature is going down. It isn't. And the people you cited as "These scientists" are not the authors of any Scientific American article and they are not even scientists.
But I'm encouraged that you like wind power.
Despite of it's enormous economical problems if operated entirely without any forms of subsidies and despite of it's several security and vulnerability issues, conventional nuclear fission would be a solution worth considering if only it was a solution. Unfortunately it isn't. I suggest you read the Science magazine article carefully and particularly focus on page 985 (5th page of the exerpt).
AS a x-Nuclear Engineer, I have seen the politics come and go around this issue. I believe that the power source is still very safe, and overall has much less of an impact that other methods. With Yucca Mt. (if it ever starts to be used), the bridge to the Comic Strip Mr. Fusion world of tommorrow can be made with less long term impacts than many other methods under consideration. CO polution (much like cigarette smoke) will become less acceptable as the days go by...
Air pollution is the biggest killer of humankind is a recent statement of
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Devices like ionisers,filters,ozonisers etc have been used since long in
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release of fresh air /oxygen/perfumend air from the canned source
attatched untill the level of polluting gases comes down to acceptable
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Please do send your comments.
no smart enviomentalists eh.. what about David Suzuki.. I personally think the problem is that people are to concerned with stuffing there family full of food and paying for water and sewage bills to worry about how much pollution there workplace makes and what methane and whatnot can be extracted from big poos. no time to listen to what enviromentalists say.. anyway go see the polar bears in canada before there extinct in 50 years or less.
the ice packs are melting to much for them to survive unless they adapt but people wont want them in there back yard.
Ref , Mr Johnny comments ,
What about the humanity we all humankind who is suffering the worst of even genetical change because of breathing polluted air,any suggestions!
These enviromental activist staging these stupid protests are just a bunch of attention mongers pulling off these rediculous stunts becuase they know the liberal journalist will pay attention to their silly arguments THESE GREEN ACTVISTS GO WAY BEYOND STUPIDIDY