smiling-sun

Dear Greens …


When I recently emailed our local Friends of the Earth group telling them about a forthcoming talk by Mark Lynas at Reading Skeptics In The Pub I got a reply from a friend, who’s one of our Green Party parliamentary candidates, saying she thought it was “sad” that Lynas had gone “pro nuclear”. My response turned into a bit of an essay. I hope it may be of interest to others.

Dear Greens …

Reddy Kilowatt

When I was a kid “Atomic Energy” seemed great: the technology of the future. The whole idea of an atom splitting, releasing a neutron which splits another atom … and just how much energy a tiny amount of matter can produce, was awesome; the epitome of the white heat of the technological revolution we were living through, with our first ever Minister of Technology.

But as I grew older I learned something of the darker sides of the world around me: what had happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the murderous Vietnam War still raging, the Thalidomide tragedy, and the victims’ battle for compensation, how DDT and other pesticides were poisoning wildlife. I don’t know when I first revised my opinion of nuclear power – perhaps starting with the Karen Silkwood affair – but from around the time of the film “The China Syndrome” and the Three Mile Island accident, until a few years ago, I was set dead against it.

I thought nuclear power plants were shoddily built with inadequate attention to safety. I had read Stewart Brand’s interview with former Apollo astronaut Russell “Rusty” Schweickart in the Summer 1979 edition of Brand’s “Co-Evolution Quarterly”; Schweickart was science advisor to California governor Jerry Brown at the time of TMI and “studied all the available technical information on Three Mile Island, including the entire transcript of the NRC deliberations during the crisis”. The interview presents an illuminating – and dismal – view of the shortcomings of the nuclear power industry considered from the point of view of someone with immense experience in safety-critical engineering systems. It seemed another example of greedy capitalist corporations playing fast and loose with public safety.

I was also aware that nuclear power arose as a spin-off from nuclear weapons, and went hand-in-glove with them, with the Plutonium produced in nuclear power reactors being extracted to make bombs.

I thought that generating waste such as Plutonium 239 with its half-life of 24,000 years, needing to be isolated from the biosphere for hundreds of thousands of years, was almost criminally irresponsible.

Nuclear Power - No Thanks

And I didn’t think it was necessary. I thought we could get all the energy we needed from sun, wind and wave power (I even went out of my way to get a variant on the ubiquitous Smiling Sun badge with the slogan “Nuclear Power – No Thanks We’ve Got One” which, I thought, made the point quite neatly).

CO2 levels

But until recent years I didn’t realise quite how certain climate change, and the effects it is likely to have, are.

For most of my life we seem to have been living under the shadow of impending apocalypses. I was 9 years old at the time of the Cuban Missiles Crisis and don’t consciously remember it, though I daresay I picked up on the terror many adults felt at the time that the world was on the brink of nuclear war. Later, during the 1980s when Thatcher and Reagan were deploying nuclear-armed Cruise Missiles at Greenham Common and talking openly of a “First Strike” attack against the Soviet Union, many of us seriously feared a nuclear holocaust would erupt. And from Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” documenting the devastation of wildlife by pesticides such as DDT, through depletion of the ozone layer being predicted to destroy much of life on Earth, to confident assertions that we’d run out of oil by the year 2000, predictions of environmental disaster have come and gone like Harold Camping’s prophecies of the end of the world. So I’ve been predisposed to think that global warming and the effects predicted for it would turn out to be similarly overhyped.

But maybe not this time. Maybe the thousands of scientists working in fields from meteorology to botany and space science to oceanography, have got it right and the planet really is warming. And maybe rising sea levels will claim huge areas of land, and storms and freak weather events destroy and disrupt people’s lives and food supplies, and even lead to more earthquakes and tsunamis! Maybe tens of millions of people really will suffer and millions die. And maybe that’s an optimistic estimate.

So we need to do something. We need to do a lot. And we need to do it quickly!

What and how? Clearly we need to stop putting more Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere, by reducing our consumption of energy and, for what we do need, replacing fossil fuels with energy sources with less carbon impact. So obviously solar (thermal and PV), wind, wave (I was a long-time fan of Salter’s Duck and believed that a promising renewable technology had been suppressed by the malice of the UK Atomic Energy Authority under whose auspices it had been evaluated) and other “renewables” were the way to go.

Sustainable Energy - Without The Hot AirThen I read David MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air“. (When I mentioned this book to Green Party leader Natalie Bennett her immediate response was “We don’t need nuclear!”. Maybe she hasn’t read the book: MacKay isn’t arguing for nuclear power, or any particular technology; in his example scenarios for how we could balance demand with supply without carbon emissions, two of his five examples use no nuclear power at all and one is explicitly aimed to please the Green Party and Greenpeace. The only technology MacKay does confess to being “pro-” is arithmetic: he argues very strongly that everyone proposing ways for us to live on sustainable energy show their plans and how they add up. Significantly, and lamentably, neither Greenpeace nor the Green Party seem to have presented worked-out plans of their own: maybe arithmetic is another technology they’re “anti”!)

Reading MacKay’s estimates (and one doesn’t have to take his word for any of them: he shows his sources and his workings-out for all to see and check) I realised that although renewables can produce enormous amounts of energy, our consumption (not just of electricity but fuel for heating, transport, industry, agriculture etc) is even more enormous. Whilst there is some scope for saving energy by improvements in building insulation, more efficient forms and use of transport etc, there are physical limits (MacKay is a physicist) to what is possible as well as limits to what we might expect people to accept voluntarily (MacKay is wryly ironic about this, showing for instance a map of UK land area covered with white dots representing areas you can’t site wind turbines because people don’t want them near to them, whilst the black areas are places you can’t have them because you don’t want to ruin the appearance of the countryside!).

There is also the problem of intermittency of wind, solar and most other renewables. I know there are arguments about how much of a problem this is, e.g. if one can build a big enough, trans-continental electricity grid one can import, say, hydro-power from Scandanavia when the wind is not blowing in the UK, but it looks as if, in practice, we will be burning fossil fuels to fill in the gaps for renewables until we get some massive (and expensive) energy storage and/or demand-management facilities built.

MacKay also makes the point that nuclear energy has its dangers but it’s not infinitely dangerous and we should compare it with the dangers of other sources of energy. And indeed the EU “ExternE” project has done just that: compared the “external costs” (including death, sickness and environmental costs) of various sources of energy, and they find that nuclear is one of the safest, with the fewest deaths for the amount of energy it produces. And NASA climate scientist James Hansen, whose 1988 testimony to the US congress was so influential in putting AGW on the political agenda, has also calculated that, ignoring climate change and looking simply at deaths from air pollution caused by burning coal, nuclear power has over the years saved almost 2 million lives by displacing coal. So looking at the dangers of nuclear power, even if Helen Caldicott and Greenpeace’s widely-discredited figure of 1 million deaths from Chernobyl were true (their figures even attribute diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver to radiation without considering possible alternative causes!) nuclear power would still have saved almost twice as many lives as it had cost.

As for Fukushima and Three Mile Island – plants which, unlike Chernobyl, are of the same general type used widely today – although Fukushima has produced a horribly expensive mess to clear up, it seems that the only detectable harms to health are likely to be through fear of radiation rather than radiation itself. Although the clear-up operations have already claimed two lives and can be expected to extract more due to “ordinary” accidents of the sort one expects in the construction industry in general, but which which we seem to accept without the bat of an eyelid in the case of construction of wind turbines, hydro projects, erection of solar panels on roofs etc.

So I no longer oppose nuclear power on safety grounds.

But do we need it?

MacKay shows two example scenarious for sustainable British energy not depending on nuclear power; the Greens-friendly one (not involving “clean coal”) requires the UK to have 4 times as much wind power as the whole world had in 2008, to convert 100 of our major lakes and lochs into pumped-storage schemes, and to import one-seventh of our energy from massive solar plants in the North African desert. Is this really going to happen? We could get the figures down by some draconian energy-saving measures like forcing people to turn the heating down in their houses (how?) and workplaces (easier), prohibiting or severely discouraging most private transport and air travel and getting people onto buses and trains instead, getting people onto predominantly vegetarian or vegan diets, reducing the amount of stuff we consume and so on. That would help for the UK but globally there’s currently a huge increase in fossil fuel and especially coal burning in the developing economies which have had very low per-capita energy consumption but are aspiring to first-world standards of living, with corresponding appetites for energy. Can we, without gunboat diplomacy (which is not an option with the biggest developing economy: China) force billions of the world’s poorer people to stay energy-poor? If not how do we – the world – meet their needs without worsening climate change?

Could nuclear power solve our problems?

Not with current nuclear technology. As MacKay calculates, there’s not enough Uranium to supply the world with energy using once-through reactors of the sort we currently use for very long. But it can be a useful short-term stop-gap: France currently generates three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear, producing about half as much CO2 per head of population as Germany does; we should certainly not be shutting down existing reactors.

And our current reactor designs are no doubt a lot safer than those of the TMI/Fukushima era (Russell Schweickart predicted a TMI-level accident every 2 to 4 years using the technology of the time, so they’ve obviously improved safety a lot over the intervening decades) but they’ve also become a lot more expensive (probably due to the extra layers of safety measures and tighter regulation). With current first-world improved safety measures etc there are many countries that couldn’t afford to build many (if any), and if safety controls were relaxed to make them cheaper we have higher risks of occurrences like Fukushima, which could be financially crippling for poorer countries even if they didn’t lead to great harms to people’s health.

And we still have the issue of long-lived nuclear waste. If we don’t deal effectively with global warming that may be of academic concern: a worse (not even worst) case scenario could see our civilisation collapse and huge populations wiped out so that any hazard from waste would make little difference to the overall fate of survivors. But if we’re hoping to avert the worse case scenarios then we should at least think about what we could do with this toxic legacy.

What can we do about nuclear waste?

In my anti-nuclear days I hadn’t heard of Alvin Weinberg. A decade before Hansen, Weinberg was warning of the danger of global warming due to fossil-fuel burning; he was also a trenchant critic of the (poor) safety standards of current nuclear power reactors with their capability for melting down, and was concerned about the possibility of weapons proliferation through diversion of fuel materials. At the US’ Oak Ridge National Laboratory he oversaw the design, construction and testing of a reactor based on Thorium, rather than Uranium, using a molten salt as both carrier of the fuel and coolant. This Molten Salt Reactor is inherently safe: if it loses power it simply shuts itself down (apparently at the end of each day at the lab they used to simply turn off the power and go home!). Thorium is 3 or 4 times more plentiful than Uranium (and is often found alongside rare-earth elements needed for making wind turbines, making them too expensive to extract in the US where the thorium has to be treated as radioactive waste, resulting in world dependence on China for rare earths, where environmental regulations are looser and/or laxly enforced resulting in horrific chemical and radioactive pollution from the industry that is key to producing ostensibly “clean” wind energy generators).

Thorium MSRs produce no materials useful for weapons. Ironically it was apparently for this reason that the Oak Ridge MSR program was shut down in 1969, when Uranium-fuelled reactors were seen as essential for production of plutonium for the West’s increasing stockpile of nuclear warheads, and the MSR was seen as a diversion from this aim.

Now of course our priorities are diametrically opposite: we would prefer that civil nuclear power were inimicable to proliferation. How much easier it would be to police Iran’s (and other countries’) nuclear power program if we could simply look at whether they were working with Uranium or Thorium!

Another feature of Thorium-fuelled Molten Salt Reactors (also known as LFTRs: Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors) is that they require a small amount of radioactive Uranium or Plutonium to get their reaction going and that they burn up this material as they operate, producing very little waste in the process and what waste they do produce is dangerous for a far shorter time than that from conventional reactors: of the order of decades rather than tens of thousands of years. They can consume existing nuclear waste as their “starter” material thus effectively burning it up, producing a much smaller quantity of much less dangerous stuff, and making copious amounts of energy in the process!

Former NASA engineer Kirk Sorensen and, more recently, former anti-nuclear campaigner Baroness Bryony Worthington have been publicising the advantages of MSRs/LFTRs, and MIT-spinoff company Transatomic is currently raising funds to develop commercial reactors. The Chinese Academy of Sciences is also spending $350 million into developing this technology (with some urgency due to its notorious smog problems) so it seems only a matter of time before such designs are available more-or-less off-the-shelf.

Apart from inherent safety, more plentiful fuel supply, more efficient use of fuel, less waste production and the ability to dispose of existing nuclear waste MSR/LFTRs are amenable to being designed as small units built in factories and shipped to their destinations, rather than being enormous constructions built on their operating sites as present nukes are; and since they produce heat at far higher temperatures than conventional reactors (800C or over, rather than the 300-400C available from pressurised water designs) they can be used for process heat in the chemical industry such as production of ammonia for fertilisers, and liquid fuels, and even for aircraft power plants (one of the original applications this technology was investigated for: apparently before the US had Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles to bomb Russia with they wanted an aircraft that could stay aloft for weeks or months without refuelling, ready to launch a Doctor Strangelove-style attack on their enemies).

It seems there’s another design that has many of the same advantages and lack of disadvantages as the MSR: the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR). Like the MSR this has been proven to work, at the US’ Argonne National Laboroatory where it ran until closed down by political meddling in 1994. Like the MSR the IFR is a “fast” or “breeder” reactor which uses its fuel very efficiently and burns up existing nuclear “waste”. General Electric-Hitachi seem so confident of its viability they’ve offered to build one at Sellafield to dispose of the UK’s 100-tonne stock of weapons-grade Plutonium, charging the taxpayer nothing for construction but being paid by how much they get rid of. Their proposal is to run the plant in such a way as to burn up the Plutonium as quickly as possible whilst generating a modest amount (by nuclear standards: about 600MW) of electricity as a by-product, but the material we have available could be used to power the country for centuries if we wanted to.

So we currently have:

  1. existing once-through reactors: expensive, inefficient, not inherently safe (though a lot safer than Fukushima: perhaps more like the modern BMW Mini with its anti-skid braking and seat belts and air bags and crumple zones compared to the classic BMC Mini which Marc Bolan died in when it hit a tree on Barnes Common), and producing long-lived waste. But we know how to build them and could do so at a sufficient rate to meet our short-term needs to drastically cut emissions over the next few decades;
  2. IFRs which are inherently safe (melt-down-proof, although they use molten sodium so could suffer a nasty chemical explosion if one goes wrong), very efficient, effectively waste-negative (can dispose of existing waste), could probably get them into production fairly quickly;
  3. MSR/LFTRs: inherently safe, very efficient, more plentiful fuel source (which also facilitates production of rare earths for renewable generators etc), waste-negative, potential for not just electricity generation (including CHP since they could be small and safe enough to put in the middle of housing or industrial estates) but also for direct use in the chemical industry, transport (including possibly aircraft), desalination plants etc; but a fair amount of development needed.

How much development, and how long would it take? The Oak Ridge work shows that the principle works but producing designs which can run for long periods at high temperature producing higher power reliably and economically will present engineering challenges. How big are the challenges and how long would it take to develop the technology to make it mass-producible and reliable? One cannot know for sure, but consider: in six years the US went from a theoretical possibility to a working atomic bomb (not an achievement to be proud of, but a huge technical one); in a further 9 years they went from being able to make bombs to developing the reactor used in their first nuclear-powered ship. And 12 years after the world first put a small metal ball into space, four of Rusty Schweickart’s colleages had walked on the moon and come back. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that with the will and resources we should be able to get LFTRs into wide-scale production before the middle of the century. And if they are as simple and cheap as the technology suggests, they could out-compete increasingly-expensive fossil fuels, so we don’t have to arrange feed-in-tarriffs and other subsidies to encourage first-worlders to generate energy sustainably, and they should be affordable enough for the developing world to use instead of coal and oil.

So I think this is what the environmental movement – including Greenpeace and the Green Party – should be aiming for. (I gather some folks at FoE UK had flirted with considering nuclear power on its merits though that seems to have come to nothing and they have reverted to policy-based evidence-making). Personally I’m not sure about whether we should be building more current-technology nukes: despite the limitations of their technology they are a known quantity and can supply a lot of our energy needs relatively quickly, but they shouldn’t distract us from developing and building more sustainable, safer, cheaper, more versatile and flexible designs, and doing so with the utmost urgency. And I think this is what the Greens should be campaigning for. If you hate conventional nukes and you’re serious about climate change then campaign for the rapid development and massive deployment of IFRs and LFTRs (and who-knows-what other better technologies are possible) that can help not just the UK but the rest of the world combat climate change effectively, can be cheap enough to build and run to put both conventional nukes and fossil fuels out of the market through economics, and can eat up existing nuclear waste to boot!

ballot box

I think global warming is the biggest issue there is. For years I’ve voted Green whenever there was a Green Party candidate to vote for. But when, in December 2012, I asked Natalie Bennett if the Green Party had a worked-out, MacKay-style plan for how we should balance our energy demand and supplies she claimed they had published one in their manifesto. But they haven’t.

I used to be a Greenpeace supporter: I direct-debited them a few quid every month. But when I asked them about their energy plans they waffled and evaded and it was clear they had no clue either. So I stopped supporting them.

David MacKay has been working with the Department of Energy and Climate Change and they have published an online calculator for working out how we might acheive an 80% reduction in fossil fuel use by 2050. It’s not perfect: one can only choose one of (at most) four options for each parameter such as how much transport is electrified or how many wind turbines to build, but it does offer a standard, level-playing-field way to compare different general approaches and gives a measure of the difficulty of implementing each factor. A few individuals have offered their scenarios, including Mike Childs of Friends of the Earth, Dustin Benton of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, and Mark Lynas. If Lynas can produce a worked-out plan to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 why can’t the Green Party and Greenpeace do likewise? And who has more credibility? Sadly it seems to me the Greens’ opposition to nuclear power is driven by emotion, not reason, and I won’t even consider voting for the Green Party or supporting Greenpeace again until they at least come up with rational, numerate proposals that add up to justify their policies.

UPDATE I was wrong about Greenpeace not having an energy plan: they have; not for Britain, but one for Europe. However I think it’s seriously deficient as I explain here.


This piece (and others by me) are also at my personal home page.

32 thoughts on “Dear Greens …

  1. My friend Lawrie made this comment on Facebook:

    Big respect for setting your case being in such a thoughtful way John. However the initial premise reminds me of John Wayne’s ‘Patch me up doc so that I can carry on eating steak’ response to getting bowel cancer.The key paragraph for me is ‘our consumption (not just of electricity but fuel for heating, transport, industry, agriculture etc) is even more enormous. Whilst there is some scope for saving energy by improvements in building insulation, more efficient forms and use of transport etc, there are physical limits to what is possible as well as limits to what we might expect people to accept voluntarily.’ Energy from Thorium may or may not work. Looking into better ways of storing intermittent energy when it is plentiful seems like the logical choice to head our priority list.

    Here is my response

    Dear Lawrie,

    As you say Thorium is as yet unproven, although the indications are pretty good that it will work. There’s also the IFR which has been tested in a reasonably close-to-production setting, so we wouldn’t have all our eggs in one basket. And there are probably other designs that could be used to give us sustainable nuclear power safely. I’m pretty sure that with sufficient political and economic will, translating into scientific and engineering effort, we can do this.

    I think the problems we should be anticipating are that

    1) even with a supply of electricity sufficient to meet the world’s needs we’ll still have our work cut out to de-carbonise road, rail, air and sea transport, space heating and our other current uses of fossil fuels; finding ways of generating liquid chemical fuels from either electricity or (if we go LFTR) high-temperature process heat will be important[1]. If we develop ways of generating liquid fuels from electricity in order to power some modes of transport then we can also use them to effectively store energy generated by the intermittents (wind, solar etc). Also if we start using lots of Thorium we get rare earths for making wind turbines as a by-product (or Thorium as a by-product of rare earths, depending which way you look at it!), hopefully without the environmental disaster we’re seeing with China’s rare earth mining operations (e.g. the Americans might start mining theirs again once they know what to do with the Thorium). So nuclear, especiallyThorium, technology could actually provide enabling technology for wind and other intermittents. (Although if LFTRs do turn out to be capable of producing energy very cheaply in small minimum power units – of the order of a few hundred megawatts – there may not be much market niche for wind etc.)

    2) even if we replace all fossil fuels with sustainables overnight we still have dangerously increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. If you look at Mark Lynas’ DECC 2050 Pathway (and I think that, apart from the nuclear element, you’d really like it) the headline feature of it is “lots of geosequestration”: Mark’s plan involves growing biofuels to burn for energy in power stations equipped with Carbon Capture and Storage in order to actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere. If we can get CCS to work on an industrial scale then I think this is what we should be doing, not using it to “allow” us to burn coal or other fossil fuels.

    Of course the other way to sequester CO2 is to grow plants, and we should be approaching this by

    1) ceasing to cut down forests

    2) increasing the amount of organic matter in soils by better agricultural practices (since it seems there is a huge capacity for carbon retention within soils)

    3) (re-)greening deserts (where appropriate e.g. man-made deserts). Although I think there’s evidence that large-scale tree planting can modify local climate enough to increase rainfall, providing additional water supplies may be necessary for such efforts (as well as for sustaining human life in such areas), and in some cases desalination plants may be appropriate. In hot (e.g. the North African) deserts then large solar concentrating plants may be an appropriate source of power (and I think we should be using them for this, not buying up their energy and shipping it across Europe for our own consumption) but in other cases having sources of prolific, cheap, practically zero-carbon energy are invaluable.[2]

    4) changing what we grow to keep producing food, biofuels and/or sequesting carbon in the face of a changing climate where temperatures are likely to rise, rainfall to fluctuate more, groundwater levels to change and possibly to become more saline, etc. All the while feeding an increasing population. You can probably see where I’m going with this: we’re not likely to have the time, even if it were possible at all, to acheive many of these improvements through conventional plant breeding. But maybe that’s a discussion for another day!

    best regards,

    John S

    [1] and is a key premise of the Centre for Alternative Technology’s Zero-Carbon Britain plan (one of the few MacKay-style arithmetic-enabled proposals the Green movement has produced!)

    [2] Actually this brings out a point I’ve been thinking of but failed to make in my blog piece above. Supposing we could, at equal costs, either match our energy consumption to a strictly limited supply and live frugally on that, or have an abundant supply and live prodigiously on it, which should we choose? I think there’s a rather puritanical tendency particularly among some Greens to consider the frugal-living option more morally worthy. However I would argue for abundance: in our present environmental crisis abundant energy allows us to do things like desalination which may help us combat the problems we face. But even if we had no such problems I think that being energy-wealthy is a Good Thing for civilisation. Take for example travel: they say it broadens the mind, and it must surely be harder to view people from other parts of the world as enemies, or even to be indifferent to them, if one has walked and lived among them. And for all the haters and spam on the internet it does seem to bring benefits to many of us, though when one considers the power consumed by the servers and routers and other infrastructure of the ‘net, the smartphone in one’s pocket is actually consuming as much power as something like a refrigerator through the infrastructure that allows it to work.

  2. I am still sceptical about the whole AGW premise. See Carl Sagan’s Balooney Detection Kit as to why.

    I have been reading up on nuclear power for the last 15 years. I am really glad that the debate have finally reached past the obscure techy phase. I also think that MSR is the way to go, we need breeder reactors in the world!

    One major problem to move forward is economic interests and the green movement who basically does the work for “big fossil fuel”. I do not know how to get the information regarding the relative benign nature of both Chernobyl and Fukushima (and TMI if it is even worth mentioning)?

    Also desertification in North Africa (especially the Sahel, south of Sahara) is mostly due to politics. This is starting to change for the better now.

    Another way of producing cheap electricity, fresh water, cooling, and food is something called Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC). It only works in the equatorial areas of the world, but that is also where it is needed the most.

    Regarding Lawrie’s comment: going for energy efficiency should be a parallel goal to providing enough energy for the planet.

    1. Peter,

      I’m curious about your view on AGW. Do you think it’s a conspiracy among tens or hundreds of thousands of scientists to mislead the world by fabricating evidence? Or do you think they’ve all missed something and are misinterpreting the evidence? Or what?

      There’s information on TMI, Chernobyl and Fukushima on Pandora’s Back Pages.

      Thanks for the mention of OTEC. It sounds like a promising technology.

      regards

      John S

      1. Sorry about the late reply. I have since read on the pandoras promise site regarding the nuclear disasters, thanks for the link though.

        “Do you think it’s a conspiracy among tens or hundreds of thousands of scientists to mislead the world by fabricating evidence? Or do you think they’ve all missed something and are misinterpreting the evidence? Or what?”

        Now you act a little binary. :P The AGW hypothesis shows promise, humanity most probably affects the climate, the magnitude and effects of it is what should (still) be up for debate. Climate computer models by bad programmers without any statistics knowledge who refuse to collaborate with the people who do know those two areas is one example (see “Climategate”). In one model I read about the program divided the earth in a 2500km square grid thus saying that the temperature in Stockholm is the same as Rome which is the same temperature as London.

        Also the large amount of obfuscation from large AGW proponents makes me wonder what they have to hide (Mann is a good example)? Example: For a long time they denied that there was a MWP, later on they admitted that there was one but that the temperature was lower than today and that it was a localized event. There are lots of historical and scientific evidence that show the MWP was real and warmer than today. Just recently IPCC admit that the MWP was global.

        There also seem to be little mention of the Holocene Climate Optimum and the optimum about 2000 BCE (have yet to find a name for it). Both of these warm periods were warmer than today.

        Then you have extreme weather, the AGW proponents claim that there are more extreme weather (like hurricanes) today than say 50 years ago. Hurricane researchers disagree, there are no difference in either frequency nor severity. What has happened is that more people live in hurricane areas and that media reporting have increased.

        When a scientific field becomes exclusive and politicised instead of inclusive and curiosity driven there is something wrong with it. Example: The climate research unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia refused information requests from fear of criticism. Without criticism there is no science, science thrives on criticism!

        As a side note, CRU also claimed there is Urban Heat Effect.

  3. Dear Peter,

    Now you act a little binary. :P

    I offered you three alternatives. :-)

    Would I be right in summarising your beliefs as partly conspiracy (“climategate”), partly misinterpretation of evidence (e.g. hurricane prevalence) and partly downright incompetence (the 2500km square grid)? In other words the IPCC, the AAAS, the Royal Society, the US National Academy of Sciences, NASA and the thousands of meteorologists, oceanographers and scientists of other disciplines whose evidence contributes to the consensus agreement on AGW are all incompetent and corrupt?

    Seems a pretty extraordinary claim to make, and I haven’t seen the extraordinary evidence that would justify it.

    regards,
    John S

    1. Climategate was not really a conspiracy as much as incompetence. I often hear the believers talk about the big oil conspiracy, the deniers not so much. I sit somewhere in between on the scale.

      The grid size is due to computational limitations, possibly due to lack of programming skills to optimize the code.

      Also remember, consensus and authority means nothing in science. The militant AGW proponents ring a few bells on Carl Sagans balooney detection kit:
      1. “Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”” – with the term “climate denier”, anyone who doesn’t agree with the authority is deemed a heretic.

      2. “Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.” – When Steve McIntyre questioned the statistics of the CRU he was blocked and accused to of being paid by “Big oil”.

      3. “Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.” – You listed some fine authorities there, they are not infallible.

      4. “Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.” – The CO2 hypothesis does not explain the last 10 years of temperature records and the rebound in arctic sea ice. What natural cycles are there that turn AGW into noise?

      5. “Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.” – Here is a common issue in all science, people vest their careers, their entire lives on a hypothesis, it is hard to change ones mind. Funding is a huge issue here as well. Also see Cognitive Dissonance.

      6. “Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.” – Here we come down to climate science using computer models as evidence of the hypothesis being right. Problem is, the models cannot make any accurate predictions. So far no computer model have been able to calculate the effect of clouds!

      7. “If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.” – CO2 is a greenhouse gas -> increased atmospheric CO2 lead to higher temperatures -> higher temperatures lead to environmental disaster. CO2 works as a greenhouse gas in a closed system, the earth is not closed. Higher temperature does not lead to disaster as proven by the fact that we are still here after three warm periods. Etc.

      8. “Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.” – I assume that CO2 has been chosen as the simpler hypothesis. Not sure if it can explain the data equally well though.

      9. “Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.” – How does one falsify the AGW hypothesis?

      Then comes my favorite list:
      1. Ad hominem – If I do not agree I work for “big oil”, I’m greedy etc
      2. Argument from authority – All these fine institutions and thousands of climate researchers have to be right (and not driven by self interest, food on the table, funding, academic rivalry, etc).
      3. Argument from adverse consequences – if we do not do something now the world as we know it will be no more, seawaters will rise by 10 meters, extreme weather and so on.
      4. Appeal to ignorance – The temperature is not increasing with CO2, the heat has to be hiding somewhere. It will come back with increased force (see #3).

      7. Observational selection – Ignoring the urban heat effect and actually adjusting the temperature anomaly for this in the wrong direction.

      8. Inconsistency – this goes to the environmentalists in general. Nuclear power is really bad for us, lets build coal power plants instead. (Germany)


      11. non sequitur — Latin for “It doesn’t follow” – Have other possible explanations been looked at? I do not know, all I hear about is CO2. Some researchers talk about the NAO and other oceanic oscillations but they do not seem to get my space in the debate.

      tl:dr – I have yet to see any extraordinary evidence for the extraordinary claim of AGW. ;) Too many unknowns, too much politics, too many agendas.

      1. Dear Peter,

        Well, if Carl Sagan said it, it must be true! (Damn’, what’s the HTML markup for irony? ;-))

        Besides the excellent advice of Dr Sagan (and my own favourite, the late Barry Bayerstein’s Skeptics’ Toolbox) we must heed the work of Dunning & Kruger

        It’s certainly possible for an experienced, respected expert in a field to be wrong. It’s possible for the consensus of a whole field to be wrong. It’s theoretically possible that thousands of scientists working in different fields are all wrong in ways that mesh together to lead to an incorrect theory. Maybe someone will come along and show how our present theory of AGW is wrong and then the scientists say “You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,” and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. But if that happens it will be as a result of someone presenting and defending their scientific argument to the scientists, not commenting on an obscure blog post.

        best regards,

        John S

        1. I agree, I am merely replying to your question. On Carl Sagan as an authority, not really. His list makes sense though, I used his name since I quoted him.

          The Dunning & Kruger effect is interesting, hence why I try to read as much as possible about this. I do have a masters degree in physics, so some capacity to take in large quantities of scientific information. :P

          Climate science is a mess to grasp. From what I have read, there are serious issues within the climate science community regarding openness and green agendas (which is based on feelings rather than data). Ad hominem is very common on pro large AGW blogs, serious discussions are more common on “denier”/small AGW blogs for example (if we disregard the trolls on both).

          AGW is most probably right, imho, but the doomsday scenarios of it is most probably wrong. It has been adjusted down and down and down the last 10 years, lets see how it looks in IPCC v.6.

          Also, most scientists are not humble enough for “.. my position was mistaken”. They are doing that as often as anyone else, which is not often enough. ;)

          I am not sure where I read this but it goes something like this: “You cannot make major progress in a field without seniors retiring or deceasing”.

          Also, these thousands of researchers are not in any form of consensus. Science doesn’t work that way.

          Lets look at another consensus: human diet. Everyone know that salt (the sodium in it to be specific) increases your blood pressure right? Yet there was no research done on it at all. Recent research show that there is no correlation between sodium intake and blood pressure.

          Same goes for saturated fat, not dangerous at all. Polyunsaturated fat on the other hand, can be nastier than anyone thought.

          Dietary fibre, no real research there either. The list goes on.

          What I’m trying to say is that there are a lot of opinions without scientific evidence in the climate research field. A computer model is NOT evidence, especially if it cannot predict anything with any amount of accuracy.

          1. Hi Peter,

            Thanks for your comments.

            Are you inferring “serious issues within the climate science community” from behaviour (such as ad hominems) on “pro large AGW blogs”?

            (I don’t follow either pro-AGW or denialist blogs but from what I hear of the latter, if you’re suggesting the former are even worse I don’t want to go there!)

            I am aware that climate forecasting is extremely complex and uncertain. And maybe the Doomsday scenarios are wrong and we’re not all going to die (especially for values of “we” in the wealthy developed world) but it’s also possible that there are factors which will amplify current changes to make for a very much worse – even Doomsday – effect. Since we can’t be sure either way there seems something for be said for being pessimistic and acting cautiously rather than blithely assuming everything will work out OK anyway.

            As for science not working by consensus: well, yes and no. Obviously no matter how many eminent scientists agree on the length of the Emperor’s nose (or the effect of salt on blood pressure in the absence of research on the subject) their consensus doesn’t make it so. But on the other hand where the research has been done and evidence gathered then science absolutely does work by consensus: one individual’s (or a small group’s) work, and interpretation of the evidence, carries very little weight; the more of their peers who have examined and replicated their work the more confident we can be that it represents reality. This seems to be happening with climate change science.

            best regards

            John S

          1. In both the believer and the denier blogosphere there are conspiracy theorists. Tinfoil hats everywhere! This is, after all, the internet. Anti vaccine, pro-AGW, anti-AGW, big oil, big pharma, big agriculture, etc ad infinitum. Those are often quite easy to filter out though.

            When I talk about the research community I again refer to the Climategate emails. Those showed a total disregard for the peer-review process. Any article that were critical to the mainstream were denied by gatekeepers.

            Thus I wonder, was this an isolated case or is this more common (and not only for climate science)? Peer-review is a very robust system if you adhere to the actual process. If you side step it (for whatever reason) then you undermine the entire scientific process.

            Regarding AGW, what actual empirical evidence are there, i.e. without GCM simulations?

  4. Having worked in Community Development for over 4 decades, I have somehow survived endless night meetings, in innumerable remote/sketchy public venues, securing local support for infrastructure and essential public services.

    While I admire your effort to promote this exciting new technology, I would pass along what I’ve advised Kirk Sorensen of Flibe Energy and Michael Shellenberger at the Breakthrough Institute:

    “NIMBY will thwart efforts to build a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor in any community, unless we first build a functional prototype, which people can touch, feel and embrace as their future.”

    Please do what you can to build excitement for the very real possibility of sustainable global prosperity, by promoting building a prototype to demonstrate the efficacy of this technology. Endless debates, fruitless legislative lobbying, and doing battle with a burdensome regulatory process, just won’t get us there.

    Us Community Development types have enough of a challenge selling proven technology to a skeptical, cost-conscious public.

    1. Thanks Kirk,

      At the moment it looks as if MSRs will be developed in China (if anywhere) where I doubt they have the same powerfully organised NIMBYs we have in the West. Hopefully if China can demonstrate the technology in production it will be easier to get regulatory approval in Europe and the US and other parts of the world more used to Uranium-fuelled reactor technology.

      And even if the NIMBY factor hinders their widespread deployment in towns and centres of industry we would still be able to build them on existing reactor sites without so much opposition.

      But all this is getting ahead of ourselves: someone has to develop the technology to bring them into production first.

      regards,

      John S

  5. > “Then I read David MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air“. ”

    So you read one obsolete (published 2008) and flawed (destroyed by many experts) book and suddenly changed your mind on everything you claim to have believed up until that point. That seems unlikely.

    Reality has long ago made MacKay’s book worthless. His assumptions are laughably wrong – e.g. assuming 3 MW offshore turbines when we already have 8 MW with 10+ MW on the way.

    The narrative in this blog post is quite common – repetitive claims of once being a Green supporter then “seeing the light” after doing some research. It’s a common tactic employed by trolls and propagandists to attack pro-environment causes. Lynas, who is referenced here as though he is a credible commentator, uses it often.

    Fortunately, all the fantasies about MSRs, IFRs, LFTRs, etc. are doing nothing to change the reality that nukes are in decline as costs escalate, while renewables keep growing as costs keep falling.

  6. Dear Zach

    You say:

    So you read one obsolete (published 2008) and flawed (destroyed by many experts) book and suddenly changed your mind on everything you claim to have believed up until that point. That seems unlikely.

    Reality has long ago made MacKay’s book worthless. His assumptions are laughably wrong – e.g. assuming 3 MW offshore turbines when we already have 8 MW with 10+ MW on the way.

    I’m not sure how arithmetic and physics have suddenly become obsolete since 2008. No doubt some of MacKay’s specific figures are out of date, like the higher output of wind turbines, but it’s simple to adjust his figures to account for such changes. And the challenge he sets to proponents of sustainable energy plans – to show how they add up – doesn’t seem to have become obsolete either.

    As for his book having been “destroyed by many experts” I admit I was unaware of that. Please provide references to these experts’ works.

    I’ll treat the implication (“That seems unlikely”) that I am lying in my account of why I changed my mind, and ad hominem associating me with “trolls and propagandists” with the disdain they deserve.

    John S

  7. I think it’s fair to be critical of McKay’s estimates of the potential of efficiency gains, and assumption of 100% energy self sufficiency. Which lead him to make the claim that electricity generation will need to be increased by 2.5x in the UK.

    See here:
    http://www.withouthotair.com/c27/page_204.shtml

    He estimates efficiency gains in the following areas:
    Electrical things: 0%
    Heating: 25%
    Transport: 50%

    Electricity usage for fridges, washing machines, power supplies, etc already differs massively between available products. There is a large potential for savings here. Claiming 0% efficiency gains by 2050 is odd. Especially if electricity is going to become more expensive, giving more incentive for efficiency.

    For heating, he claims 25% efficiency gains, yet look at passiv house architecture. There are entire suburbs in Germany built to this standard, requiring virtually zero outside energy input, despite having a significantly colder climate than the UK. See Bahnstadt in Heidelberg as one example. Furthermore this type of architecture is massively cheaper than building reactors, which are turned off over summer, and only ramped up while cold during the winter to run heaters.

    Transport, 50% efficiency gains. Using Mackay’s own numbers, electric vehicles are ~4x more efficient than similarly sized petrol and diesel cars. Further more, mode shift, can reduce the number of private vehicle kilometers, and thus energy requirements.

    Lastly, we live in a global world, where today the UK imports large amount of its energy. Whether we like it or not, this is likely to continue in the future. Areas rich in geothermal and hydro energy are likely to become exporters to countries such as the UK which has less energy options and more demand. Technology options include HVDC cables or renewable gas from made from electricity, and shipped in LNG tankers.

    Anyways, good luck with Hinkley. I think it will, look like an expensive mistake given another 20 years. But time reveals all ;)

  8. Hi Greg

    Thanks for your comments.

    With regards to the specific assumptions MacKay makes, which you quote, it’s only fair to point out that he does warn (on the page before the one you link to) that they’re a “drastic simplification” intended to help “compare and contrast alternative plans”. If one were to make all these assumptions variables in a spreadsheet (or other calculation tool) then one could model the effects of making electrical appliances more efficient, reducing transport demands etc, in a way that one cannot do in a book. And this is exactly what MacKay seems to have gone on to do with DECC in their 2050 Pathways calculation tools.

    However whatever arguments one may have with his specific assumptions and estimates, MacKay’s exhortation to “Make sure your policies include a plan that adds up!” is, I think, unarguable.

    We do, as you observe, live in a global world. Whilst MacKay has already allowed for the possibility of importing energy (see “Living on other countries’ renewables“) his – and DECC’s – models are specific to the UK.

    Unfortunately whilst much of the developed world is reducing its fossil fuel consumption[1] (albeit modestly), much of the developing world, aspiring to first-world standards of living and its corresponding energy demands, is burning ever-increasing amounts of coal. Since this is all new demand supplied by new plant they do not have our additional cost of supplanting existing fossil-fuel plant with sustainables so the reason they are building coal plant is presumably that it’s cheaper than the alternatives. If the world could agree – and enforce – carbon pricing then that could change, but that’s a huge political ask.

    If, however, a power source could be developed that were genuinely cheaper than fossils then market forces alone could do the “right thing” and displace fossil fuels. Early Uranium-fuelled nuclear power did threaten coal on price (albeit with government subsidised development of nuclear technology) but the costs and regulatory burden of improving the safety of current generations of light water reactors has made them uncompetitive. Small Thorium-fuelled MSRs do seem to hold out the possibility of cheap, safe nuclear power; time will tell whether that promise is realised.

    Lastly I share your scepticism about Hinkley C. Its EPR design is as yet unproven and I suspect it may turn out to be a white elephant.

    [1] with the notable exception of Germany which is replacing nuclear largely with coal including the particularly dirty Lignite.

    regards,

    John S

  9. Thank you for this blog post, it more or less sums up most of my current thoughts. I recently read through MacKay’s work and find it ludicrous when people claiming to represent the needs of the environment dismiss it out of hand.

    As an Australian I envy you since the option of modern nuclear power is insanely rendered illegal here. At least your authorities are allowed to evaluate the IFR – we here still have a lot of work to do to breakdown the decades of lazy, Greenpeace et. al.-dominated anti-nuclear assumptions, and get our environmental legislation suitably amended.

    Your post comes from a good place, specifically that while efficiency and conservation have their merits, just like PV, wind and wave technologies, it is foolish to depend on them and certainly unjust to demand of future generations that they use a fraction of the energy we have enjoyed for the last 30-40 years. I expect this sentiment would get a certain reaction from environmentalists. Of course I hope countries like ours will see significantly increased use of electric vehicles, passively heated/cooled housing and energy-efficient domestic appliances; but we will also see higher power demand from smartphones and networks, charging those vehicles, and I would hope continuing to enjoy the use of washing machines/dishwashers/etc. Then there are the developing countries whose children are just as deserving as our own.

    It has been predicted that 2014 will see the first major environmental group reverse its position on nuclear power, at least to some extent and maybe only in the context of Generation IV designs. Far from condoning the poisoning of the Earth with radioactive waste (dangerous only when blithely ignoring perspectives such as that provided by Hansen) it would help to abruptly turn the tide on effective, scalable action against CO2 emissions.

  10. > [1] with the notable exception of Germany which is replacing nuclear largely with coal including the particularly dirty Lignite.

    I agree, it would be great if Germany would reduce coal consumption more quickly, however despite hysteric media coverage, coal use is not increasing.

    See this chart for coal use in the electricity sector:

    http://www.renewablesinternational.net/files/smthumbnaildata/addressdetaillogo/3/3/8/8/4/7/Changes.jpg

    And this chart for overall coal use (this does not have numbers for 2013, but they are about the same as 2012).

    http://eia.gov/countries/country-data.cfm?fips=gm#coal

    In overall energy figures – things also look ok:

    “Since 2000 final energy consumption is down by about 100 TWh and renewables are up by about 200 TWh. Both developments are the “Energiewende”. So the track record of the last 12 years of the Energiewende: Renewables & efficiency: +300 TWh Fossil energy: -150 TWh Nuclear energy: -70TWh ”

    Sorry I don’t have a source for those figures, apart from this comment thread.

    http://www.renewablesinternational.net/energiewende-demonstrations/150/537/77771/

    The recent media storm, was about a record number of kwh generated from lignite in 2013 (well since 1990). However what the media failed to mention was that a good portion of Germany’s old coal plants were taken offline, and were replaced with newer units with significantly higher efficiencies. So more electricity was generated using less coal.

    If Europe manages to get some traction on carbon prices, emissions could drop relatively quickly, as coal plants will run less, and gas plants will run more. Germany’s gas fleet is barely running due to the high cost of gas, and low cost of emissions permits.

    Good luck to you advocating the nuclear route. I share no optimism for it. The world wide share of nuclear continues to fall, even if you ignore Germany and Japan’s phase outs.

    Meanwhile the Germans have gone another route, and built a cost competitive renewables industry. LCOE of new solar ~9c/kwh, wind 6-9c/kwh, vs new build fossil at ~8c/kwh.

    1. Dear Greg,

      The Economist (whoever they are) seem to think Germany is building more coal-fired power stations. However even if the billions they’ve pumped into PV were producing a decent amount rather than a mere 5% of their electricity (not even total energy consumption) and they’d solved the problem of intermittency – even if they had replaced all of their fossil-fuel consumption – switching off safely operating nuclear power stations without fossil-free alternatives to substitute for them represents a cynical NIMBY-ish exporting of the (minimal) risks of generating the energy Germany consumes through nuclear power on its own soil to very real harms to the world as a whole, and disproportionately to the poorest of the world who are at greatest risk from rising sea levels and detrimental effects of AGW on food supplies.

      regards

      John S

      1. What the economist magazine did not mention was the amount of old less efficient coal plants which are being phased out. Which is why when you look at the overall figures coal use or even electricity production from coal is down.

        Germany’s old reactors, as with the UKs, even with their lifetime extensions, would have all been shutdown by ~2030. They make no contribution to the carbon free electricity in 2050.

        To advocate for nuclear to be part of the solution in 2050, means replacing the existing fleet of reactors with new, and building yet more reactors, to reduce emissions further. No western country is actually doing this, not France, not the UK, not the US. All these countries are phasing out nuclear by not building enough new reactors to replace those going offline.

        Why do you focus your rage on Germany? For example, the US despite its large nuclear fleet, and cheap shale gas boom, still uses more coal per-capita than Germany. The UK has an absolutely appallingly energy wasteful housing stock, and appears to be doing little about this, despite this being a huge opportunity for reducing energy use. (MacKay’s scenario also assumes little is done here)

        If you’re going to advocate for new build nuclear you’re going to need more than a bumper sticker that says “I heart nuclear”, you need to figure out a set of policies that are acceptable to the public, and cause those making investment decisions to choose new nuclear. I just can’t see what those would be. The Hinkley deal is far too expensive, even at the reduced price for the second reactor, this will be too expensive to get enough public support to expand nuclear past it’s current niche in the energy system.

        Meanwhile – in Germany, and a number of other countries, a big stable industry has built cranking out new zero-carbon generation capacity, year after year. With public support, and a solid road map for the future.

  11. If we are to solve the world’s environmental problems of atmospheric pollution and CO2 emissions leading to climate change, we need to stop burning fossil fuels.If we are to solve the world’s poverty and economic development problems we need clean, safe, affordable energy sources.

    Energy from solar and wind can not provide the needed energy; it’s way too expensive, compared to coal. Developing nations’ leaders understandably want to help their citizens escape energy poverty; they have limited resources and must select the least expensive safe, reliable, source. Today this is coal.

    I advocate the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) because it can produce energy cheaper than coal. This is the only economically realistic way to dissuade developing nations from building the 1400 GW of new coal-fired power plants now being planned.

    The advantage of the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) is that the liquid fuel form facilitates fuel flows and heat transfers, and that the continuous transformation of thorium-232 to uranium-233 to heat from fission allows small, compact, cheap, safe electric power plants. The key technology is the liquid fuel form and the internal breeding of fissile fuel from dissolved thorium using a minimal amount of fissile starter uranium. This all portends a low cost, ~3 cents/kWh — energy cheaper than coal.

    All nuclear reactors produce some radioactive waste — about a millionth of the waste of a coal plant, though. Only political activism has prevented putting the waste in a repository; radiation is not nearly as dangerous as opponents proclaim.The liquid fluoride thorium reactor produces even less waste.

    LFTR energy is being developed by entrepreneurial startups motivated to use the economics of energy cheaper than coal to solve our global environmental and economic issues. Bill Gates has said, given one wish, he would select clean, safe energy at fraction of today’s cost as even more important that the successful health programs being funded by his foundation. He invests in a company designing a fast reactor and also exploring LFTR technology, TerraPower. Others include Martingale, Flibe Energy, Terrestrial Energy, and Transatomic Power. China is doubling down on its $350 million effort to develop thorium energy cheaper than coal.

    There is much more to learn from the book, THORIUM: energy cheaper than coal, and from the website http://www.thoriumenergycheaperthancoal.com .

  12. John S your article a gem thoughtful and youthful. I instigated a book written by my partner Geoff Sleeman. Extinction: The Climate Time Bomb he a scientist (chemistry) I a lay person asking questions after reading Wade Allison’s book Radiation and Reason ( Ref.1-2 & 3) In opening Para Geoff points out no more major wars in 50 years since Hiroshima/Nagasaki. Fact countries that have Nweapons have backed off from the brink so far….G dealt with Ukraine written 2013….and how he sees the powers developing now that USA is not up there.
    “Russia China and India between them have world’s largest collection of sophisticated nuclear weaponry and all possess areas with an embarrassing surplus of population. The weaponry is in the main in large underground establishments safe from nuclear attack. These nations could combine with any of their neighbours or acting as powerful trio are in position to take and do what they want and if conditions deteriorate rapidly due to global warming they will obviously do so….Taiwan is really a part of China and will coalesce with China at some stage in the near future.”
    Dave McKay’s book helpful….G adds in his book that wind shafts the blades are attached to, bow when still – like propellers on a ship – Oil & Gas industries are right behind wind farms – when the wind doesn’t blow that industry is needed to keep blades moving which means all the time….McKay’s department at his university and since his book, is now funded by Shell – protestors call it Fracademia . We’ve learned to swat up on who and what is funded by O&G. Also check BBC as part of Whitehall and in particular Lord Browne and see what you think….the non -executives on the boards certainly achieved its goal of giving civil servants business nous BUT we need to question all reports that come from Fukushima.
    In order to get uranium from yellowcake there is a centrifuge process forming gas which is taken off and reprocessed with each stage. Nuclear for health and for reactors is centrifuged to 4% active. Weapons a much higher purity is centrifuged more than 96% active. Small reactors for submarines use higher grade of uranium. Thorium is undergoing promising trails with the advantage of no radioactive waste when used.

    Check these percentages with your doctor or dentist – they will say we speak the same language. Submarines and rockets to Mars are centrifuged a little more than for reactors and health as they have so far to travel.
    This makes an ass of Jane Fonda’s China Syndrome where the fear that film instilled was that the rods would melt all the way to China (thru all the magna beneath our crust??). People believed it. The film was made for that purpose by O&G industries…marches and fear instilled all these years seemingly unquestioned.
    Naomi Oreskes said it in a 10 minute segment in this URL take the cursor in to about 6 minutes and listen for 10 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVJQOOsggZ0 It is also useful to understand the differences in scientists’ disciplines, the budget comparisons and to recognise some are employed by Oil & Gas and are not peer reviewed.The tobacco industry Naomi mentioned are still at work with requiring Sherlock to smoke – in the initial series he managed to get away with insisting on wearing patches to stop smoking!!!! His film brother and he were smoking wildly in the final of last series.
    The O&G industries have become subtle – funding universities – the scientists have to live….we need to question all we hear – Google ‘funding’ with each item. . The Aussies have started with this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqXzAUaTUSc Perhaps someone might get the Long Johns to do one on O&G industries A bit of guilt aimed at those who have put us in the state we find ourselves in thru their actions + our ignoring the scientists’ pleas over the years.
    Wade and Scientists for Accurate Radiation Information (2) on Page 15 of Fukushima Fear and Fallout has an example of how O&G propaganda where a map supposedly showing radiation seepage from Fukushima circulated the net actually plotted the wave heights in the 2011 tsunami.
    France is supplying Germany nuclear energy at present. The difficulty there is that Germany inherited voters from the East; Russians who were close to Chernobyl – fear and misinformation about nuclear energy again + the antiquated reactor. Germany fought hard to retain n power but President Merkel a physicist could see it was political suicide if she didn’t drop it. The plan was to close it down progressively and rely on Russia or France for providing them with power. They are also closing down great engineers, builders and sellers of nuclear technology – all complied and perhaps early to say if it is affecting the country financially. Historically all great nations have been built on cheap energy – if they have that cost they don’t stay at top of the ladder.
    In my own country NZ it would be political suicide to mention nuclear energy and we have an election coming up this year. We have all the advantages that Britain, Japan and Tasmania will enjoy – rain – we each have the mountains to precipitate the clouds from the warming sea currents and will become the food bowls of the world. At present the rain is running off half the mountains into the sea here.
    Japan is at last waking up and is beginning to boot up reactors that still are not too old. Countries like Saudi Arabia use floating barges for desalination of sea water and will no doubt put their O&G funding into nuclear at some point.
    Practical thorium reactors are already running in India – not on a large scale but they know the system works; advantages and disadvantages like any system and at this stage more expensive to build than a uranium one – they have been tried and tested but likely 40 years off commercially.

    Bill McGuire’s book ‘Waking the Giant’ printed 2012 bottom of Page 267 and 268, research from Russian scientist Natalia Shakhova illustrating how quickly the tipping point could happen once equilibrium reaches its next stage.
    PERMAFROST MELT – Monitoring by Russian scientist suggests that the permafrost shell is already starting to break up in places, releasing millions of tonnes of methane into the atmosphere of the Arctic. This could, however, be just the tip of the iceberg, with up to 1.4 trillion tonnes of gas hydrate and methane gas suspected of being trapped beneath the submarine permafrost in the region. Especially worrying is the observation that up to 10 percent of this area is now being punctured by so-called taliks areas of thawed permafrost that provide avenues for the ready escape of methane and opportunities for warmth to penetrate deep into the frozen hydrate beneath. This is a recipe for a climate catastrophe. Natalia Shakhova of the University of Alaska’s International Arctic Research Centre, and her co-workers, are concerned that up to 50 billion tonnes of methane could be released abruptly and without warning from the Arctic sea bed, pushing up the methane concentration of the atmosphere 12-fold virtually overnight and driving cataclysmic warming. This, in turn, would likely lead to further methane release as permafrost on land thawed rapidly to release its store, and as wetlands – already big methane producers – spewed out even more.
    1 http://www.radiationandreason.com
    2 http://radiationeffects.org/wp-3 content/uploads/2014/01/Fukushima_Article_TNA_2014.pdf

    3 http://radiationeffects.org/

    1. Dear Diana

      I don’t follow what you’re saying, and what point or points you’re arguing.

      That your partner has written a book called “Extinction: The Climate Time Bomb”: OK I get that. That he’s “a scientist (chemistry)” and you’re a lay person. If we’re talking about climate change and its consequences for human survival on the planet then that’s not chemistry so in that field I suggest you’re both lay people. I don’t mean that lay people can’t make useful contributions to public discourse on these subjects: Mark Lynas is quite upfront that he is not a scientist yet his books and other writings on the climate change and science denialism are invaluable; but that your partner’s day job is chemistry is not relevant to the merits of his book, and brandishing his credentials as a chemist seems to be making an appeal to authority.

      I don’t know if Geoff provides in his book any evidence (e.g. from analysts with expertise in these fields) for the assertions you quote about how Russia, China and India might use their nuclear weapons in response to climate change but if he describes the human beings living in these countries as “an embarrassing surplus of population” it doesn’t make me want to buy and read his book.

      Your statement “wind shafts the blades are attached to, bow when still – like propellers on a ship” may be poetic but seems semantically ill-formed, as does the first phrase of “McKay’s department at his university and since his book, is now funded by Shell – protestors call it Fracademia”. (I’m not sure whether you’re endorsing the shill gambit embodied in the latter half of that sentence.)

      “Submarines and rockets to Mars are centrifuged a little more than for reactors and health as they have so far to travel.” – wtf does this even mean?!

      I’m sorry, I’m not going to try to read and respond to any more of your 1200+ words of what seems to me like a grammatically-challenged stream-of-consciousness recitation of factoids and speculation bordering on conspiracy theorising.

      regards

      John S

  13. Dear Diana

    Thank you for that link: I found it much easier to understand than your earlier comment.

    regards

    John S

  14. John you say,
    “IFRs which are inherently safe (melt-down-proof, although they use molten sodium so could suffer a nasty chemical explosion if one goes wrong), very efficient, effectively waste-negative (can dispose of existing waste), could probably get them into production fairly quickly;”
    I think a better term would be “passively safe”. While safer than water-cooled reactors,IFRs still use a solid-core fuel. Thus if a pipe were to let go (earthquake or sabotage perhaps) there would certainly be a hellish chemical explosion if there’s any water involved. But also I would expect a meltdown is possible if the core is no longer being cooled by the sodium that just left the site.

    1. Hello Ike,

      Thanks for your comments.

      I agree that “passively” safe might be a better term than “inherently” safe.

      With regard to meltdown: on Pandora’s Promise they showed a test on the EBR2 IFR where they shut of the cooling pumps so the core was no longer being cooled. Whilst this is different from loss of coolant it may be that the characteristics of the reactor are such that it could survive that too.

      regards

  15. True. I saw the documentary myself. But a sabotage scenario such as I suggest wasn’t tested. AFAIK, any solid-core fuel would meltdown, even in a fast reactor. Though perhaps no longer super-critical, the latent heat in the fuel bundles would build up enough to melt them. Good question for someone more familiar with IFR technology.

    BTW, your “test for human” is devilishly difficult! I pass only 50% of the time. lol

    1. Sorry about the captcha or whatever (as an admin I don’t have that hassle so I don’t know how well or badly it works, but it’s not my site so I can’t change it).

      Yes agree it needs input from someone who understands IFR technology properly. From Ed Leaver’s “Pandora’s Back Pages” it sounds as if loss of coolant would be a problem but the design goes to lengths to avoid that.

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