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Radioactive turd, meet punchbowl

If this report is true, then:

a) Reactor 1 at Fukushima Daiichi melted down within sixteen hours of the quake (about eight hours after all active cooling was lost),

b) TEPCO management knew about it,

c) The press were systematically nobbled (an early report of the meltdown was withdrawn),

d) Going by his rather extraordinary remarks during the subsequent weeks, the Prime Minister, and presumably the rest of the Japanese government, were systematically misled by TEPCO.

I'm taking this report with a pinch of salt for the time being, because the IAEA reports on FD #1 don't reflect this account, but if the PM wasn't briefed then it would be unsurprising to learn that the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) were also kept in the dark.

(A second reason for taking it with a pinch of salt is that the residual thermal activity after a 450Mw reactor is scrammed is around 1-2% of full power — around 4-8Mw of heat. A BWR contains fuel rods probably totaling on the order of a hundred tons of metal, and some hundreds of tons of water: is the residual activity (sufficient to boil roughly one ton of water per hour) enough to account for a meltdown — which implies raising the temperature of the fuel rods from their operating temperature to over 800 celsius — so soon after shutdown?)

The best case is that this report is false. (And right now I really hope this is the case.)

Worst case: if the report is true, then TEPCO management is so dysfunctional that they thought they could sweep a fricking' complete core collapse meltdown and primary containment breach under the rug. ("Disgust" isn't a strong enough word to describe such conduct, if indeed it's what has been going on. "Wondering when the arrest warrants will be signed" is beginning to get there.)

Just so it's clear what I'm talking about: seeing an elderly reactor undergo a reactor meltdown in the wake of an extraordinary one-in-500-years quake and a tsunami exceeding the worst case projections by 500% is unfortunate. Lying about it for two months afterwards, however, would be criminal. One is a natural disaster, the other is human misfeasance.

Update: Per Atomic Power Review, TEPCO have released a much more thorough report:

TEPCO indicates that even though the core was destroyed about 16 hours after the protective trip (scram) it is still inside the pressure vessel, and has been cooled to some extent by water most of the time. TEPCO also feels that the relatively continuous injection of water has prevented the core from exiting the pressure vessel. At this time, the core is considered adequately cooled to prevent further release, at the very least.

The high temperature seen at the feed nozzle is due to exposed fuel in the core superheating injected cooling water.

TEPCO indicates that damage to the pressure vessel is likely. However, it indicates that damage isn't so severe that the corium could exit. The rationale for this assumption is the grouping of similar temperatures on the lower head and two different parts of the CRDM.

TEPCO also feels that since temperature and pressure in the containment seem to move in step with primary plant changes, there is enough damage to the pressure vessel and/or piping to permit what would appear to be fairly rapid communication between the two. However, TEPCO has backed off from saying that there is a serious large breach of the lower vessel head... instead referring to a number of smaller openings.

Not specifically mentioned, but important... It is also clear that the primary containment is damaged and that injected water has been issuing from the primary system to the containment, and then out of the containment to various locations for a long time.

On the upside:
What is fortunate is that it appears as if the ongoing efforts at the site during that time ensured that the core debris (corium) remained in the pressure vessel, even though the vessel was damaged.
Chernobyl, I feel the need to remind you, was an uncontained criticality excursion followed by an explosion and large-scale graphite fire in which the reactor moderator burned and the core debris not only exited the reactor explosively, but got aerosolized and lofted into the atmosphere in the smoke, and thus spread over thousands of square kilometres. Note the words uncontained and fire: the old Soviet RBMK reactor design contributed to a fundamentally worse accident than a BWR meltdown following site black-out is capable of delivering.

423 Comments

1:

This is Japan. The resolution to this problem should involve a large number of mats, two swords per mat, and one attendant per mat.

(the ritual of Seppuku involves an assistant who, after you've sliced your belly open with your sword, decapitates you with the other since further suffering from gut wounds would be unnecessary. Oh, and it's a public ceremony, with spectators)

2:

"A second reason for taking it with a pinch of salt is that the residual thermal activity after a 450Mw reactor is scrammed is around 1-2% of full power — around 4-8Mw of heat."

It more than that. A reactor producing 450 Mw electricity has a three times as high thermal heat production. (The energy conversion from thermal energy to electricity is at about 1/3).

So lets say, that the heat production was at about 20 Mw.

If this report is true, then japan will have a huge problem that won't go away in the next few centuries.

3:

I never thought I'd say this, but if this report is true, it makes the Soviet response to Chernobyl look like the height of planning and social responsibility.

4:

Come on Charlie, think about the political economics of nuclear power. Nuclear plants are large capital investments in strategic assets. Buying them is a political decision and investments that big cannot be allowed to fail. So when they do fail, then the next best thing is that they cannot be admitted to have failed, right up until the point where it becomes bleedingly obvious to everyone, generally after it just exploded.

The Japanese have serious form here. The Monju fast breeder had a coolant loop failure and sprayed tons of molten sodium into the plant. The operators, PNC of "plutonium boy" fame, flat out refused to admit there had been a problem, to the extent of releasing doctored video tapes of the insider of the plant. Hell, TEPCO were telling us that the Fukushima was serious but stable, right up until the first explosion.

An example of what happens when it doesn't explode is Sellafield's reprocessing plant, Thorp. There's no smoking crater, just a massively unprofitable money-sink. The plant has cost the UK getting on for three billion Pounds with no hope for a profit in sight, but it's hard to find out exactly just how deep the money-pit goes, because the nuclear industry and the government really don't want to admit what a financial disaster it has been. Result, a cover-up on the accounting.

This kind of cover-up is endemic in the nuclear industry. It is inherent in the structure of the industry and unavoidable. This is a fundamentally untrustworthy industry.

(Oh, and residual thermal activity depends upon what radionuclides are present in the fuel, and that depends upon the power history. If you've been running for weeks at high power, you'll have different residual activity than if you've run for weeks at low. However, the ball-park figure is 7% and I've seen nothing to say the Fukushima reactors were different to that.)

5:

This site has been quite useful for a (pro-industry, but detailed) running take of the available news:

http://atomicpowerreview.blogspot.com/

Posting this link before having read their take on this matter. Certainly the core meltdown 16 hours after the scram seems to be confirmed by TEPCO. Whether they knew about it at the time is a separate question.

6:
"Wondering when the arrest warrants will be signed"

Could take years. This report is the first iteration of what will be an extremely long and painstaking investigation. Post-nuclear-accident activities move at the speed of lawyers.

7:

This kind of cover-up is endemic in the nuclear industry. It is inherent in the structure of the industry and unavoidable. This is a fundamentally untrustworthy industry.

Emphasis added on the word at the root of the problem.

There are some safe nuclear operators out there. But they're not corporations and they're not trying to run nuclear plant with a 30-50 year lifetime on an accounting system originally invented by Ur's bureaucrats to raise money from Sumerian peasants.

8:

I seem to remember some reports of "fuel dripping on the floor" showing up in the media but then being ignored.

I also take issue with your steam boiling calculation - to estimate the time taken to boil one tonne of water using 4-8mw of energy, start by estimating the water is at 0 degrees. It can't be cooler than the temperature of the water from which it was drawn, and the water will not be salt water for corrosion issues.

The energy required heat 1 kilogram of water by 100 degrees is 4.2Kj/kg/degree * 100, ie 420kJ. The energy required to boil 1kg of water is 2260 KJ, for a total of 2680kj per kg. Using 1000kg per ton, we have 2690 Mj per ton, so between 335 and 670 seconds per tonne.

Boiling 100 tons of water would be 18.6 to 9.3 hours, discounting the higher thermal output compared with the electrical output.

9:

Fuck!

Sorry. But seriously. I spent a month after the Fukushima incident trying, in my own little way, to talk sense into people who were seeing nuclear Satan and thalidomide babies in every shadow including their own. I even had some success in calming down a few people's more unreasonable fears.

My arguments depended very heavily on the problem of people using nuclear to do money, and much less on this particular incident being relatively minor in its effects -- but I doubt people are going to remember that, if this report turns out true. If I've been relying on severity estimates which turn out to be low by orders of magnitude, no one is going to listen to me any more, and I admit I'd be somewhat hard-pressed to blame them; nuclear accidents are legitimately scary, even when their effects aren't under-reported by pusillanimous shitbags who lack even the modicum of cleverness required to discern between lies you might get away with, and lies which don't have a chance and only make you look like a cowardly fool when you try them.

And I am left thoroughly unreassured by the preponderance of weasel words in the Atomic Power Review report:

"TEPCO indicates..." "TEPCO also feels..." "The core is considered..." "TEPCO indicates..." (twice in a row!) "The rationale for this assumption..." "TEPCO also feels..." (again!) "...what would appear to be..." "...backed off from saying [there is] a serious large breach..." "...it appears as if the ongoing efforts..."

-- and that only from the excerpt published in the post above. At this point I don't know that I'd trust raw data from TEPCO unless it was corroborated by a foreign agency; that they're putting it the way they appear to be suggests to my suspicious little mind that either a) they don't have a fucking clue what's really going on, or b) they do have a fucking clue, and they're terrified to admit to it.

If I were a praying man, I'd pray that that report is false, because if it's true, then I suspect we will see it outright murder any hope we may have cherished for a modern, trustworthy nuclear organization. It'll also be a shot in the arm for the "pure renewables" crowd, which would make me happy as a clam if it looked to me as though there *were* any "purely renewable" options whose implementation will not result in a Malthusian catastrophe.

I'm going to go off and cuss a lot more right now. Somebody please post before I come back and tell me that report's been exposed as a fraud.

10:

Aaron, that's pretty much how I feel, too.

11:

Regarding TEPCO information policy, this entry from late april is interesting: http://atomicpowerreview.blogspot.com/2011/04/nisa-instructs-tepco-to-report.html

12:

The emergency workers at the plant do not appear to be dead, which is pretty good evidence that the corium is, indeed, still inside the core. If what they are saying is "We got instrumentation working and it appears the core has been a puddle on the floor of the pressure vessel for quite a while" thats one thing. If they knew about it when it happened and lied... I dont have words.

The political fallout from this is looking ever more likely to lead to the combustion of every single accesible coal reserve. Which. Eh. Fuck. I am beginning to be reduced to the hope that geoengineering will work out a lot better than I think likely.

13:

Hopefully, folks can save a little rage for the rest of the energy sector, which has been just as irresponsible. In the U.S., over the past year or so, we've had the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion (29 dead), and the Deepwater Horizon spill (11 dead on the platform, livelihoods ruined for tens of thousands). In both cases, there was a demonstrable pattern of safety corner-cutting before the disaster, and management dissembling afterwards.

It's obviously no defense of TEPCO management that other people can blow up other technologies just as badly. But it's worth remembering that the alternatives to nuclear power aren't intrinsically safe either --- and that in the very recent past, in first-world countries, they have non-negligible body counts...

14:

Decay heat of the Fukushima reactors is quite predictable; there's a chart here:

http://mitnse.com/2011/03/16/what-is-decay-heat/

They had active and emergency cooling for about 8 or 9 hours after the earthquake and scram until the battery power ran out, so reactor 1's fuel rods would be putting out about 10-11MW of heat when the cooling stopped. There's about 400 fuel rods in reactor 1 so that's an average of about 25kW heat output per rod. That amount of energy would damage the zirconium casings but I don't think it could melt the fuel pellets to any extent (the melting point of uranium oxide is over 2600 degrees C) or enable them to melt their way through the steel pressure vessel bottom easily.

That's using average numbers; I think fuel rod pellets from the centre of the core are likely to be hotter than ones on the periphery due to increased decay heat.

15:

The Chinese coal industry had a good year last year; they only killed 2700 workers. The year before was more typical of the industry when over 4000 workers died mining coal there.

16:
If I were a praying man, I'd pray that that report is false, because if it's true, then I suspect we will see it outright murder any hope we may have cherished for a modern, trustworthy nuclear organization. It'll also be a shot in the arm for the "pure renewables" crowd, which would make me happy as a clam if it looked to me as though there *were* any "purely renewable" options whose implementation will not result in a Malthusian catastrophe.

And since none of those "renewable" things will work and people demand cheap power, what will actually happen is that we'll build more coal plants, with some fairly half-hearted protests being ignored. And carbon emissions targets will just be missed, with people saying they were impractical anyway.

They weren't impractical. You refused to implement them.

17:

Reading between the lines of that update... well there's enough room between those lines to see whatever you want to see, and that in itself is a tad worrying.

There's two high-level questions in this whole debate:
1) Are the billions to be spent in the UK on power generation and distribution best spent on renewables or nuclear?
2) Given the existing social and political context, is the UK capable of implementing a regulatory system that can keep a nuclear industry safe and honest about costs? Can that system avoid industry capture and cozy relationships between the regulators and the regulated? Can we even properly account for the costs?

My answer to the first is that nukes are dinosaurs and renewables are the rapidly evolving mammals, the mammals are going to win, it's just a question of when. My answer to the second is pretty clear from what I've said above, but I'm more interested in what you think can be done on the regulatory side that will avoid the history of the pitfalls that we've seen in the UK, US, and Japan?

And if anyone's got any economic performance data of THORP, then I'm keen to see it. There's Oxford Uni's recent "A Low Carbon Future: Economic assessment of nuclear materials and spent nuclear fuel management in the UK" report saying that reprocessing will make us lots of money in the future, there's the 2001 Arthur D Little report saying that reprocessing and MOX will make us lots of money in the future, and there's the 1978 report on reprocessing at Windscale and I'll quote directly "The financial advantages of having a plant to reprocess fuel on the basis intended by British Nuclear Fuels Limited are plain". So I'm really keen to know when this profitable future is going to arise or are we just going to keep pouring money into holes?

18:

"Lying about it for two months afterwards, however, would be criminal."

This to me is the crucial point. I trusted nothing that TEPCO was saying because it seemed as though it was routinely being called into question. And that's why I distrusted much of what I was hearing from people who I perceived were downplaying Fukushima.

I'm greatly relieved that Charlie Cross and others (e.g. Aaron) have the good sense to admit their embarassment at having being duped (they're hardly alone). That willingness to admit embrassment restores my sense of trust rather than reduces it.

19:

I beg your pardon. I meant "Stross" of course.

20:

"Hopefully, folks can save a little rage for the rest of the energy sector, which has been just as irresponsible."

Hominid, we'll make a green of you yet.

It's as I've written: no-one knows how to operate nuclear reactors safely. It would need incorruptable managers and staff, and there's not a large supply of those. The technical problems are resoluble, the moral and organizational problems are not.

I do think, though, that anti-nuclear activism has turned into the green version of "starving the beast." The budgetary version of "starving the beast" has not led to frugality, but insolvency. Anti-nuclear activism has not led to the adoption of conservation and sustainable energy practices. Instead of it has lead to intensified use of non-renewable energy.

As the the infeasibility of renewable solutions, not so. There are plenty of solutions that do part of the job. There's reason to believe a whole modern economy could be run renewably. A lot of good work and has been done, and good solutions have been found. More could be done. A big part of the reason there aren't more solutions is that the large businesses making money from non-renewable solutions have been keeping the lid on research. I know researchers who are still angry, after nearly 30 years, over Reagan cutting their funding.

You hominids face tough choices. I hope Japan will use this as an opportunity to work seriously on sustainability, and I see some reason to believe that they will. The next 20 years, though, promise to be hard indeed.

21:

Me too.
I was online at the Guardian website explaining why this was no big deal.

Question: What happened to all the spent fuel rods on the roof of Reactor One when it exploded?

22:

If you'll permit me to be the Devil's Advocate. The article in question doesn't say when Tepco figured out a meltdown had happened. This might be something they pieced together from various evidence recently. A few days ago I remember news reporting Tepco had changed a faulty sensor for Reactor 1 which was showing water levels five meters higher than actual levels. If they figure it was faulty already back then, it would mean a meltdown could have happened early without Tepco knowing it. They were running pretty blind after the batteries died.

I remember that in the case of TMI they didn't really know for sure how things looked in the core until they began dismantling the reactor in the 1990s and snaked a camera into the core. That was over a decade after the partial meltdown. Don't expect Tepco to have a clear idea of what things look like inside the pressure vessels at this stage.

23:

Mark Sadowski: That's an eminently reasonable response, and I greatly appreciate it. Unfortunately, I suspect it's also going to be relatively unusual, once this report hits the news in a big way tomorrow.

dirk bruere: I was fighting the good fight in the Register comments, and with people I know in real life as well. About the rest I can't say for certain, but given that IAEA updates on the status of the spent fuel pools continue to include that belonging to Unit I, and given that the explosion appears to have spared much of the containment building's structural framework, I've been under the assumption that the Unit I pool survived the hydrogen explosion. (That, and if the blast had scattered the pool's contents, we wouldn't be hearing about it two months later like this; TEPCO sure as hell wouldn't have been the only people to notice.)

The Raven: To assume that nuclear power is the dinosaur in that facile little analogy is to assume that development of nuclear power technology ceased roughly in 1965. I realize it must be difficult, with the size of the keyboard and having to peck at the keys and all, but certainly a corvid capable of clever commentary can concurrently check commonly consulted compilations of content in the cause of collecting contemporaneous counsel, as a choice closer to correctness than the continued capricious coddling of counterfactual casuistry.

No, I don't know what happened with that last sentence either. But, in any case, ignoring fact in favor of belief is for the birds.

24:

Maybe its time to put some serious money into alternative Fusion schemes like Polywell.

25:

And the fact, in this case, is that nuclear navies fuck up a lot less than private nuclear industries do, and consequently might well offer a source of reliable, safety-fanatical personnel to form the core of an entirely federalized nuclear generation service, purely (and lavishly) tax-funded -- I don't mind the idea of allowing privately held companies to distribute the power once generated; they can own everything from the turbine hall on out for all I care, so long as the reactors themselves are in the hands of people for whom a profit motive is entirely nonexistent. (In the US, I'd like the idea of creating this as a third civilian uniformed service, alongside the USPHS and the NOAA Commissioned Corps. Call it the Nucleonics Service, maybe.)

And, no, I don't think this is a magical panacea that will solve all the depressingly human problems that surround any energy generation technology with as much potential for disaster as nuclear. (Hydroelectric, for example.) But I sure as hell like that idea better than I like to contemplate seeing enough pounds of flesh carved off our species to return the survivors to a pre-Industrial-Revolution level of technology, and so far I've yet to see any renewables proposal which did not have exactly that as a necessary, if deeply implicit, precondition for success.

26:

Alternative Fusion schemes - ones we seldom hear about.
Tokamak is not the only game in down, and IMHO seems the worst of the bunch from a practical engineering POV:
http://wsx.lanl.gov/Intrator_webhome_fldr/other_pdf_files_of_interest/Fusion_Alternatives2.pdf

27:

After a bit of further digging it seems my Devil's Advocacy was correct. Tepco's press release (http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/11051509-e.html) says they recently did a review of the evidence they had gathered about Reactor 1. The estimate of 16 hours is the result of that review. So this isn't something they knew on day 1. They're also doing a review of 2 & 3 and will release what they know about that soon.

That a meltdown occurred at some stage is hardly surprising. The surprise lies in how early it occurred, and should really drive home the necessity of securing uninterrupted power supplies at existing plants.

28:

Hopefully that thing about navies is true now.

I'm well aware of the contamination from Enewetok and Bikini that got sand-blasted off navy ships and into San Francisco Bay. It's still there, too, and I'm not sure anyone wants to unbury it.

I think that, rather than comparing who's the least idiotic/crooked, and try and figure out how to incentivize transparent reporting of such fecal-HVAC intersections so that at least we know when to scream and run.

That's about as practical as killing all the lawyers, I'm afraid.

29:

I think I was the one assuming nukes are dinosaurs. Here's my reasoning:

In the long run, this comes down to cost curves - how rapidly costs fall over time as technological improvements come into use and production volumes scale up. Solar panels have dropped in cost from $250 per Watt in the 1950s to approaching $1 now. Just like every other kind of semiconductor, we're putting new versions out there every couple of years, trying new ideas, seeing if they work, learning incredibly rapidly. Renewables keep getting cheaper and show no signs of stopping, yet. Mammals.

The first nuclear generating plants started up over fifty years ago, we're now building the third generation. So that's a generation time of about twenty years between learning opportunities. Yes, we learn from each new design, but we're not learning very fast, hence nuclear power plant costs are not plummeting. Dinosaurs.

We all know who wins in the end.

30:

> Note the words uncontained and fire: the old Soviet
> RBMK reactor design contributed to a fundamentally
> worse accident than a BWR meltdown following site
> black-out is capable of delivering.

How sure are we of this? What if they hadn't flooded the core when they did? The latest post from atomic power review, linked above, appears to indicate that the reactor building would have been destroyed if preventive measures had not been taken.

> To assume that nuclear power is the dinosaur in that
> facile little analogy is to assume that development
> of nuclear power technology ceased roughly in 1965.

This is true of the majority of actual operating reactors.

> And the fact, in this case, is that nuclear navies
> fuck up a lot less than private nuclear industries do

The US Navy is famous for its good safety record, but the Soviet/Russian Navy has a spectacularly awful one.

31:

Aaron,
You wrote:
"Unfortunately, I suspect it's also going to be relatively unusual, once this report hits the news in a big way tomorrow."

This was one of the reasons I was pushing back.

As I've said before, I believe in nuclear power. Downplaying Fukushima would not gain nuclear power any fans if the initial reports by TEPCO eventually turned out to be false (as they evidently now have).

32:

My answer to the first is that nukes are dinosaurs and renewables are the rapidly evolving mammals,

Personally, I have no problem with that, but then, I think we might differ in our estimates of tetrapod success.

Let's just say that with ca. 10,000 species of bird and less than 6000 species of mammals, I think the success of mammals vs. members of the superorder Dinosauria is seriously overrated in the public.

On the original post, well, bugger, but then, I too don't see the article saying TEPCO knew then.

33:

Luckily, the bird/mammal conflict that has raged for tens of million years is finally at an end:
Cat and owl playing

(Off-topic, I know, but how often do you get a setup like that?)

34:

M.E.: point-by-point.

BWR vs RBMK: BWRs don't have extremely flammable graphite cores, that's why. That was what made Chernobyl such a horrifying disaster: the pressure vessel outright exploded and the core caught fire, which in the complete absence of a containment building lofted a hell of a lot of fine, light particulate fallout into major wind currents that dropped it all over Europe. If the Unit I pressure vessel was going to explode outright, it would've done so by now; that's what all the hydrogen venting was about. (Yes, the hydrogen venting produced conditions which led to the explosions of the containment buildings. That, while indisputably very bad, remains many orders of magnitude preferable to an exploding pressure vessel.)

Old reactors: Yes, and that's a major part of the problem. Ideally, we'd decommission and start cleanup on the oldest and most fragile right now, and keep the rest running just long enough to build their modern, low-excess-reactivity, fail-safe replacements and bring them online.

Of course that won't be easy, cheap, or free of political controversy! You know -- just like any plan to convert us to renewables won't be, and at least the plan I like uses technology whose fundamental fitness for purpose can't reasonably be called into question.

The Russian navy: Yeah, I grant that one, and I haven't come up with a good answer for it yet.

Jez Weston: I see you're right about who made the analogy, but I don't buy your arguments with regard to cost; panels can be as cheap as you like, but they're still not worth it if they can't get the job done, and last I checked, most nuclear plants don't stop generating when the sun goes down.

I am well aware of the radical decentralization necessary to make any PV plan make sense. Dismantling our entire society and reassembling it according to a plan no one has ever tested does not, to say the very least, strike me as the most sensible thing we could possibly be doing right now -- especially when, as you yourself admit, we haven't even finished basic R&D on the key ingredient which makes the plan even remotely plausible. (Where are you seeing a buck a watt, anyway? I can't find anyone willing to predict that getting here before 2020, and that prediction, coming as it does from a team just getting started on basic, "try everything and see what might work" research, strikes me as being about as reliable as a five-day weather forecast for the same year. First Solar claims the prize, but as best I can tell they're talking about manufacturing cost, not purchase price.)

And most especially when we have a technology which, despite being less than perfect, has proven itself in decades of production use, which already has new designs in operation and on the drawing boards offering order-of-magnitude safety and efficiency improvement over what we've been using heretofore -- Advanced CANDUs, for example, would have failed safe in the Fukushima scenario -- and which can continue to sustain the majority of our electrical energy needs while we develop it still further in the direction of safety and efficiency.

To put it simply: it looks to me like we don't have the time to screw around with things we aren't sure will work. I don't want to see an end to research on PV and other renewable energy technologies, but I sure as hell do want to see us implementing a known and proven technology for at least long enough to cover the still-uncertain period between now and when renewables become truly feasible, assuming they ever do -- something which remains very much in doubt. (Argue Moore's Law all you like, but even in the NREL's figures, the doubling time for PV looks a lot closer to ten years than to eighteen months, and the average PV cost per watt right now appears about seventy times that of nuclear. What was that you were saying about some technologies being too slow to develop?)

35:

Charlie.

Did you know about the
coverup of a flawed containment vessel by TEPCO?

36:

Mark Sadowski: I didn't realize I was downplaying it; I am apparently a bit naive and did not recognize the degree of regulatory capture which appears to have occurred.

Trottelreiner: Excellent point!

Jez Wilson: But where's their beautiful pea-green boat?

37:

Are there other accounting systems that have scaled to organizations consisting of hundreds of millions of people effectively? I'm not being deliberately obtuse, I'd like to know what potential other accounting systems you're referring to...

38:

StonePony #26 is correct. The 16 hour meltdown is an estimate based on recent data analysis after they fixed a faulty water-level gauge on 5/12 and found lower than expected levels of coolant. TEPCO is going to check gauges at reactors 2 and 3 to see if they are showing correct levels.

See: http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/16_04.html

39:

Aaron,
You wrote:
"I didn't realize I was downplaying it; I am apparently a bit naive and did not recognize the degree of regulatory capture which appears to have occurred."

Hahaha. Grasshopper, there is always more to learn.

I'm an economist, and I guess that makes me a cynic by nature, especially concerning regulatory capture. And you weren't the only one fooled. Evidently Charlie was too.

My job is done here. You have it well in hand.

40:

Aaron: I'm not proposing we base our entire energy system off photovoltaics, they're just one example of renewables falling in cost more rapidly than nukes.

What I am suggesting is a mix of renewables, each of which is getting cheaper by the year and each of which can fill in for the deficiencies of others. On-shore wind is cost-competitive with fossil fuels, off-shore wind is getting close, wave power is on the track to plummet in price, as is tidal power, concentrated solar thermal is heading the right way and can store heat to generate at night, geothermal is already cheaper than coal if you're in the right location, and photovoltaics are continuing to drop by 10-30% per year, depending on whose figures you believe. So the answer is not solar, it's a mix of renewables combined with a smart distribution grid to deliver power from wherever it's being generated to wherever it's needed. (With maybe a couple of gas peaking plants for worst case, a few days a year, cold still night across all of Europe on a neap tide in the middle of winter type fill-in.)

Oh, and "the average PV cost per watt right now appears about seventy times that of nuclear" - you want to provide a reference for that? Coz the EIA's Annual Energy Outlook says two-three times as much.

41:

"TEPCO also feels ..."

Seriously? How about letting us know what you _think_?

42:

I have my doubts about some of the anti-nuclear lobby, even the ones who might be engineers.

Look at the media screaming about radiation levels. It looks as though the reported levels outside the plant are fairly reliable, certainly once outside the exclusion zone where other people than TEPCO can take measurements.

This is a bigger than expected mess inside the reactor. It will change risk assessments for other plants. I can expect changes in details of the design of reactor containment.

But if the reactor were treated as a black box, if we couldn't know what had happened inside, none of the effects outside the containment, the things we do know, would have changed.

Serious question: the control rods, which "stop" the reactor by absorbing neutrons, when do they melt? A quick google suggests that the control rods are in tubes inside the "fuel elements", so the uranium, not yet melted, is going to be sitting in the debris of control material and melted structural components.

43:

"The Raven: To assume that nuclear power is the dinosaur in that facile little analogy is to assume that development of nuclear power technology ceased roughly in 1965. I realize it must be difficult, with the size of the keyboard and having to peck at the keys and all, but certainly a corvid capable of clever commentary can concurrently check commonly consulted compilations of content in the cause of collecting contemporaneous counsel, as a choice closer to correctness than the continued capricious coddling of counterfactual casuistry."

Hee, er, kraw. Well, some of my ancestors were dinosaurs, so I think I know that evolution continues (& Jez Weston made that analogy, anyway.) Aaron, it was a "fact" that this reactor design was safe until it wasn't. Of course, it wasn't a fact at all; it was a dangerously wrong evaluation of risk. I did my own time defending nuclear power when this started. Saying that this is bad, but not the worst case, and so on. But it has turned out worse than anyone imagined. I was wrong. As I thought it over, I realized I'd have been better to not even have made the defense; as a researcher I know how strong the temptation is to believe in the quality of one's own work. Add to that the financial motivations of TEPCO and the general tendency of Japanese culture to smooth over even very disruptive events, and there was little hope that TEPCO and the Japanese NSC would either take all appropriate precautions before the accident, or react effectively during the accident. Which reinforced my long-standing belief that no-one knows how to resolve the moral and organizational problems of nuclear power.

The focus on photovoltaics, by the way, is a naïve way of thinking about sustainable energy. Some of the best uses of solar energy are those that do not involve generating electricity at all: there are some very good heating and cooling solutions that work well when the sun goes down, and even lighting electricity usage can be reduced by direct use of daylight. Beyond that there is extensive research in improved storage technologies for electricity. I'm only know a bit about with other renewable technologies, but I am struck by the way you ignore them all.

44:

It looks like the only way Non Nuke power will work is by using R. BUCKMINSTER FULLERS idea of a World Wide power grid. The places where it is sunny and windy sending power to the dark were it is needed.

45:

"no-one knows how to operate nuclear reactors safely."

Actually, that is patently wrong: We do know how.

The problem is that under the totality of constraints, it is not economical to do so, not even close to break-even.

The fundamental problem in commercial nuclear energy is that non-proliferation concerns forces us to build few but very big reactors.

All the mundane physical problems of a reactor, from the construction of containment over emergency power supplies to employee proficiency, scales really badly with power.

Silly example: any local fire brigade has a pump that can deliver emergency cooling for a 20MW reactor, nobody has one that will do it for a 1GW reactor.

If it wasn't for non-proliferation, any data-center or high rise worth its salt would have a PM-2A as emergency power-supply or possibly even as the primary power-source.

46:
no-one knows how to operate nuclear reactors safely

Passing over the known-but-uneconomical answers and considering only things that we could use in practice:

No-one knows how to operate coal-fired power plants safely

No-one knows how to operate fossil-fuel power plants without causing intolerable levels of greenhouse gas emissions

No-one knows how to operate renewable energy plants at all, on the scale needed to supply nations.

The failure of anti-nuclear campaigners is, as always, a failure to consider what the alternatives are.

47:

Charlie @ 7
Quote: "There are some safe nuclear operators out there. But they're not corporations and they're not trying to run nuclear plant with a 30-50 year lifetime on an accounting system originally invented by Ur's bureaucrats to raise money from Sumerian peasants."

Does this include or not include the FRENCH nuclear power-generators, just across the ditch from us?
Jez Weston @ 17 - please re-read the bit about French nuclear power before you plump for fake "renewables"

RENEWABLES have problems.
This throughly corrupt and disgraceful scam for a start.
So "Raven" @ 20, you may have to think again ....

The problem is NOT "Nuclear Power" - it is people, and specifically management-structures. Though, in my opinion, the Soviet RBMK-type reactor "design" was fundamentally unsafe to start with - I didn't believe it when I saw the lay-out published, shortly after Chernobyl.

COAL
( and @ 16 et seq.)
When I was little, it was quite usual for one to get the BBC radio news saying something like... "There has been an reported explosion at a coal mine in Wales/Yorkshire/Nottinhgamshire/Scotland, apporoximately 12 people are feared killed".
And this was well AFTER the nationalisation of the coal-industry here, and increased safety standards.

Mind you, the biggest single killing by coal in the UK was quite late, and didn't kill ANY miners - Google "Aberfan" - which I remember very well (I was at University at the time) - just 116 schoolchildren and 28 adults. Warning, even at this late date, be prepared to have to go away, and have a quiet little cry.

I recently heard the radio-account of the last survivor out - who was then a boy of about 10.
A female teacher had been supervising the playing of a "reception" class (just-turned-5 year olds) outside his classroom window. He heard a rescuer helping to extract said teacher (she was up to her hips in coal/mud/sludge) asking her where her class was.
The reply came: "Down/In there" - indicating said over-a-metre-deep sludge layer !!!

48:

Offtopic: When will the Charles Stross guest-written Doctor Who episode be coming down the pipe? I could really see the Doctor visiting any of your post-singularity worlds or even (with a bit of a strech) become a temporary key asset for The Laundry (which, naturally, will be a subsidiary of now defunct Torchwood that was lost in the shake-up and now is completely unmonitored and independent and gets funds via very shady means, but still demands accounting for every paper-clip, ...)

49:

Quoth the raven: It's as I've written: no-one knows how to operate nuclear reactors safely.

Nonsense: it's glaringly obvious how you operate nuclear reactors safely!

You make safety, not profitability, the primary operational goal.

However, doing this requires that the entity that owns the plant is (a) not a profit-seeking entity (i.e. not a corporation) and (b) that the operator has a sufficiently deep pocket to cover all the possible externalities. Which means, basically, a government.

Once you've nationalized your nuclear infrastructure and established a state-run nuclear operations service whose priority is safety, then you're in a position to start working out how much it costs to run such a beast, and finally to determine whether, in practice, it's competitive with renewables (once other externalities are added in -- for example, the costs of mining uranium ore and disposing of waste on the nuclear side, versus the cost of constructing and running a smart grid and disposing of toxic waste generated during the production of photovoltaic cells on the renewable side).

NB: Yes, I'm advocating godless socialism here. I am coming to doubt that capitalism is a suitable vehicle for supplying our energy needs. (See also: big coal, big oil.)

50:

Hey, cute! But then, I don't want to see what happens when kittie catches the owl in mid flight and some instincts kick in.

That being said, well, birds (and other maniraptors) are quite derived dinosaurs, like Generation 4 reactors, and with the old BWR design, even sauropods seem like a bad choice, with the success of groups like the titanosaurs:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titanosaur

51:

No generation technology is perfect, but that Scottish glitch is not an issue of renewables, that's an issue of bad market design and poor planning for grid constraints. We had much the same thing down this end of the world, grid maintenance meant that only one supplier could feed in to Auckland, so that one supplier pushed prices up by two hundred times. You can call them money-grubbing wankers for it, but the market rules are written to allow this kind of behaviour.

As Charlie says, it's a matter of matching the incentives on generators with what you want from that generation. Nuclear power has potentially horrific downsides that clash badly with private ownership.

As for the French, their nuclear accounting is even less transparent than the UK. My impression is that they're happy to subsidise their industry on a truely huge scale, for reasons of national security and prestige.

52:

I am not a Doctor Who fanboy.

54:

> RENEWABLES have problems.
> This throughly corrupt and disgraceful scam for a start.

Greg, stop making us Gregs look naive.

Take-or-pay contracts have been routine fare in capital-intensive industries for decades, if not longer. If you want the investment, then this is just part of the cost.

-----------------------------------------------

It seems some commenters here are missing Charlie's point. The nuclear industry is brittle. One exposed cover-up like this by one operator, and the industry is history -- at least in Japan. The (de/)merits of the technology are completely irrelevant, and off topic. So are comparisons with other technologies, and the morals of their industries. The potential consequences of "losing" a tonne of coal are not the same as those of "losing" a few fuel rods.

If the industry can lie to its government about a little thing like this meltdown, why can't it lie about selling some HEU to a nice man with shiny teeth, but no security clearance, in a quarter when the profits are looking a bit lack-lustre?

One now understands the abrupt announcement by the Japanese Prime Minister, that Japan is rejecting nuclear power development and committing to renewables. His hand was forced. There was no choice, and it had to be done before this came to light.

55:

Err, looking at the real existing madness of government subsidized energy politics, AKA German coal subventions and like, and being aware of some of the fun of real life bureaucratics (let's start with Parkinson's law), I somewhat doubt nationalized nuclear reactors will solve our problems; note that the known instance of state capitalism(under a neotrotskyite definition) owned nuclear reactors fares even worse than the TMI and Fukushima examples.

For example, to use somewhat satirical observations as axioms, Parkinson's law would imply that work has to expand to justify the resources allocated to its completion; e.g instead of minimizing nuclear waste, we operate light-water BWRs the same way as usual and implement a nice nuclear waste disposal agency.

Personally, I think humans are fundamentally "profit driven", where profit also includes things like minimizing cognitive dissonance or distress through empathic observation of other people's bad luck. In the current modus operandi, this includes abyssmal managmement culture both as a source and a way of coping with cognitive dissonance, diffusion of responsibilty, seperation of management and actual industrial plants etc. So, in a way, I think the real question is how to make it profitable to operate safe(the idea with the public sepukko ceremony might be a start).

Problem is, even local communities act against their long-term interests all the time. But then, it might be interesting to put some economists, anthropologists etc. on the US and Russian navy, for starters.

56:

Titus:

Shut up and read about Chernobyl.

You might notice that people were left in a highly contaminated area for almost two days (40 hours) before being told to evacuate. You might notice that over 50 people died of radiation exposure right away after receiving thousands of mSv. You might notice that half a million people were exposed to an average of 175 mSv of radiation when building the sarcophagus.

Whereas people were told to leave the area around Fukushima #1 about 40 hours before any major radioactive release and two weeks ago there have been three people who were exposed to 200..250mSv, eight got 150..200 and eleven in the 100-150mSv range. (The latter two have increased to a total of about 30 right now, the former still stands.)

As for cover-ups:

The USA alone has turned 140 million tons of maize into ethanol last year. Europe is also heavily using biofuels, consuming at least the equivalent of another 100 million tons of cereals (in the form of biodiesel, ethanol, corn-based biogas etc.).

This figure of 240 million tons compares to a combined world harvest of rice, maize and wheat of 2250 million tons.

Put another way, the world is now burning significantly more of its grain harvest than the continent Africa is consuming. But politicians are still keeping up the charade of telling people that this has no impact whatsoever on the world food supply.

The facts, however, don't bear this out:

http://www.fao.org/docrep/012/al390e/al390e00.pdf

Decades of improvements have been wiped out due to rising prices. The drop of undernourished people in 2010 will not last in 2011 as prices are now right back to 2008 levels.

But weren't those price hikes due to global-warming-induced droughts? Well, no:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20100811/world-news/putin-slashes-russia-harvest-forecast-due-to-record-drought.321955

"Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin slashed the leading wheat producer’s grain harvest forecast due to a record drought, saying it would produce 10 million tonnes less grain than planned."

5-6 million people are starving each year. The number of undernourished people has sharply risen by more than 10% in 2008 due to excessively high prices after decades of smoothly falling numbers. We can thus attribute at least half a million deaths to bio fuels in that year alone.

One dead man in Fukushima is a tragedy on the BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera, The Guardian, The New York Times, Frankfurter Allgemeine, Xinhua and whereever you look.

I'm sorry, I can't tell you about a tragedy, I can only tell you about a statistic.

57:

Slighly o/t to the "electricity generation methodologies" debate, but http://www.scottishreviewofbooks.org/ Volume 7 Issue 2 carries an everyman report from Japan written by someone who lives a few hundred miles from Fukushima.

58:

I'll give you that, for values of "losing" that involve the fuel rods actually leaving a nuclear power generation, reprocessing or storage facility without the knowledge or consent of the operators and regulators. Do you know of a case where this has actually occurred?

59:

Re: Japan. I think it fairly likely that the japanese government is going to end up both nationalizing tepco and turn around on the nuclear issue again, because all the alternatives available to them are horrifically bad.

1: Renewables: Japan has horrible climate and geography for all of them, save possibly geothermal.. and deep rock geothermal is under heavy suspicion of *causing earthquakes*. That is not going to be an acceptable risk to any japanese government

2: Gas. The gas imports alone would eat up half of the japanese trade surplus.

3: Coal: again, massive imports needed and building coal power plants + the infrastructure to move the coal to the plants is not actually any less expensive than building nukes. (Japan doesnt really have the cost overrun problem other countries do. Nuclear builds come in on budget and on time)

4: Conservation: Japan is largely a manufacturing economy- trying to conserve overall power consumption would move a heck of a lot of this industrial base elsewhere, so that is a policy of national economic suicide.

.Of course they may elect to go with option 1, on the grounds that money exists to be spent, in which case thats going to move gas prices globaly a fair bit.

60:

option 2 I mean.

61:

People who respond like you and Aaron are responding are the kind of people I would trust to run a nuclear power plant.

62:

The Scottish Government has announced definite plans to generate the bulk of Scotland's power from renewables in the not too distant future.
The IPCC has just published a report asserting that 80% of humanity's power needs can be met by renewables.
Yet pro-nuke types have posted on here that it won't work, proving this by the method of bald assertion.
Why don't they just admit that they support nuclear because of their visceral hatred of the anti-nuclear people? Those hairy people who chain themselves to trees, lie down in front of bulldozers etc.
Tepco knew about the dodgy water level indicator at the start, and said so. They admitted they didn't know what the water-levels were and didn't understand what was going on. They also admitted that there was radioactive Caesium and Iodine outside the reactors the day after the quake, as I have posted on here before, presumably unread by the pro-nuke enthusiasts.
They also made quite daft assertions that the steel vessels were intact, which were unfortunately repeated by the media.
I don't think 'pressure vessel' is the correct term, BWRs are unpressurised AFAIK.
I hope no-one on here was repeating that sort of nonsense? I thought you were all tough-minded scientists:-)
We have heard very little recently about the explosion in the cooling pond. Perhaps it is too horrid to talk about. Cooling ponds seem to be a worse hazard than the reactors these days, due to over-filling, not only in Japan.
The problem is not capitalism. The Soviets did no better, organising Labour Day parades under the fallout of Chernobyl, as was pointed out on Elena Filatova's website.
The problem is human nature. Suggest re-reading Hamlet.
As to the long-term cost of nuclear, I defy anyone to come up with an accounting system for a project which still has on-costs 10,000 years after the last profit was made.
The cost of safely disassembling the reactors is also largely unknown. Personally I doubt if they can be safely disassembled.
Oh, I believe the Emperor has the authority to order the sepukku. But he dosen't sem to be that way inclined.

63:

I'm not sure I trust a man with as active an imagination as Charles to run a nuclear power plant. The kind of person you are looking for here, is described perfectly in Good Omens.

64:

> The IPCC has just published a report asserting that 80% of humanity's power needs can be met by renewables. Yet pro-nuke types have posted on here that it won't work, proving this by the method of bald assertion.

The International Panel on Climate Change is neither what you would call an authority on that particular topic, nor do you explain how the other 20% are going to be met, much less exactly where those 80% are going to come from in the first place - or exactly what the consequences of their exploitation will be.

Biomass is an unmitigated disaster already.

65:

NHK News 7 has reported that TEPCO believes the reactors in buildings 2 and 3 have also suffered meltdowns.

66:

The IPCC has just published a report asserting that 80% of humanity's power needs can be met by renewables.

Rubbish.

What they published (and I'll note they're a panel on Climate Change, not power supply) is a report that said that, if a number of favourable assumptions are made, we might be able to meet up to 80% of current electricity demand from renewables.

Note the weasel words:

* up to 80%

* current

* electricity

Firstly, even in the most favourable version there's a 20% shortfall.

Secondly, that's a shortfall wrt. current demand. You might not have noticed this, but China, India, and Africa are all in the process of developing. Good luck keeping them down on the farm and convincing them to make do on one tenth the power per capita of Europe, or one thirtieth the ppc of the USA!

Thirdly, they only cover electricity. If you want to go carbon-neutral you also have to cover shipping, rail, road, and air. Which add about another 30% to the gross power consumption on top, between them. Because electricity doesn't currently account for all our power consumption. In fact, electrifying personal vehicular transport is probably going to make things worse in the short term: transmission and storage costs eat away at the margins, after all, and all electric cars currently do is shift the site of power production from the road to whatever's powering the grid. If they're powered by fossil fuel burning plants, those transmission/storage losses actually make electric cars less efficient in environmental terms than regular gas-burning ones. (Here is a hint: air travel accounts for way less than a tenth of the transport fuel budget. Whacking on airliners isn't going to do much good: per passenger-mile, a modern airliner is equal to or better than a diesel subcompact car. The bad rap they get is because people fly very long distances, not because they're inefficient.)

Now, there are some options to explore. We have weather satellites and radio, so ships with sails can probably make much better time overall than their 19th century forebears ... but they're still going to be slow, which has serious implications for what goods can be shifted that way. Trains: electricity works well for rail, but does tend to involve steady demand in the multi-megawatt range, including at night. (The French have the world's best nuclear-powered railways.) Road ... it's at this point that I begin to despair.

Bluntly, the IPCC report doesn't demonstrate that we can make everything work by switching to renewables and tightening our belts 20%. Rather, that it demonstrates is that we can't make everything run on renewables, because the shortfall of 20-40% today will have widened to 40-70% by mid- to late-century, thanks to the closing of the development gap.

67:

I don't explain all these things. I haven't made time to read the IPCC report. I expect it covers all your concerns.
I entirely agree about the biomass thing. I'm not sure it was ever really renewable anyway, since they seem to be destroying virgin tropical forest. It seems to have been more of a scam.

68:

Hi Thomas,

Japanese Governments are adverse to intervene in the private sector - there seems to be a public perception that business's dealings are their own concern, and the government is there to make laws alone. That said, there was mention last week that the government was considering supervising TEPCO for 10 years.

As for the geothermal issue - the big problem in Japan is that all the best sites are in National Parks - which are virtually off-limits for development. Additionally surveys for new sites take up to ten years to complete, and in Japan at least Geothermal is twice as expensive as nuclear (though whether there is complete transparency about this is hard to know. Oh, and onsen owners fear their spas will dry up due to Geothermal plants.*

*Reference: "Geothermal power generation starts slowing down", Japan Times, August 11th 2006.

69:

Don't confuse "biofuel" with "biomass".

Biomass, basically composting of garbage, is an almost unqualified success where it is used, in addition to the energy output, it reduces methane-emissions from farm animals and landfills.

Biofuels (and hydrogen cars) on the other hand, are just an attempt to not scare the oil-companies share-holders.

Do the math what closing and cleaning up all gasoline pumps would cost, and you see why giving money to biofuel and hydrogen car research is a really good lottery ticket for oil companies.

70:

I don't explain all these things. I haven't made time to read the IPCC report. I expect it covers all your concerns.

It doesn't. If anything, it raises more questions than it answers.

As for your point about Scotland aiming to go 80% renewable -- well, yes: Scotland's a special case. Lots of glacial valleys suitable for hydropower, lots of wind, lots of rain, and lots of options for tide/wave power. So is Iceland, which is aiming for 100% renewable, being about the world #1 location for geothermal.

But neither of those strategies are going to work in places that don't have the right local conditions. There's no one-size-fits-all renewable that works everywhere. You don't hear much about domestic solar panels in Scotland, for example, because it's an inappropriate tech for the location. You don't here much about wave power in Colorado or Azerbaijan. And unfortunately lots of people happen to live in places where there are insufficient sources of renewable energy to support them. (Japan is a classic case in point.)

71:

Here's a Reuters report for you:
Some of the key findings are:
- technically, renewable energy could easily supply all of the world's energy needs (and much more) by 2050.
- politically, up to 77 percent of global electricity demand could be satisfied by power from renewable energy sources by 2050.
- costs of renewable energy are projected to decrease significantly in coming years and significant deployment is projected.
- governments need to pursue the more aggressive policies and growth path in order to keep greenhouse gas concentrations below 450 parts per million, a critical necessity according to climatologists.
The report, unfortunately, left out a relatively new WWF report, The Energy Report, which detailed a plan for a 100 percent renewable energy future by 2050 -- the report was too new to be included in the review. Thus, it discounted what's possible. Additionally, it did not lay out a clear plan for how to go about achieving the cleanest energy future. "IPCC delivers a landmark report that shows the rapid growth, low-cost potential for renewable energy - but unfortunately does not endorse a 100 percent renewable energy pathway until 2050," said Dr. Stephan Singer, Director for Global Energy Policy for WWF International.
Nonetheless, this is a groundbreaking, influential report that shows the world the a renewable energy future is ours if we take the appropriate steps.

72:

They don't actually do that anymore. Instead, they merely publicly resign and can't go out in public for the rest of their lives without getting the evil eye

73:

Oops! I too confused biofuel with biomass.

74:

In my completely amateur opinion, Scotland could go pretty much carbon free in all forms of energy, not just electricity, if it replaced the 2 fission plants and ramped up renewables.

There is the small problem though of what England can do. It has a larger surface area for wind turbines and some useful offshore sites, but its demands for energy are ten times higher because of the population. So it'll have to use even more nuclear stations unfortunately. Or get permanently into debt to the French.

(Not to forget the effects on the balance of payments of increasing oil and gas imports over the next decade)

75:

Not sure that England needs nuclear. Why? The WWF guy doesn't seem to think anyone does. Walt Patterson has presented a plan to the UK Energy Minister for a renewable Britain. Why do pro-nuke people only give credibility to pro-nuke reports?

If super-polymers are developed, then there is no meaningful upper limit to tidal power. It can be used to create hydrogen by water electrolysis. There's a guy in the Western Isles (or is it Orkney?) who has a hydrogen car he's built himself. He gets the hydrogen from his own wave-power plant. I've seen him driving it on TV. Hydrogen can be pipelined to anywhere.

76:

Scotland may indeed "be a special case".

It is not like we have a God given promise that our energyhungry lifestyle can be sustained any any piece of geography we fancy, so it may well be that this is only possible, long term, in "special cases".

The problem extends further than where you have RE available, nuclear energy needs water, either as flowing cooling water (oceans: Check, rivers: not so much) or for evaporative cooling.

77:

In my completely amateur opinion, Scotland could go pretty much carbon free in all forms of energy, not just electricity, if it replaced the 2 fission plants and ramped up renewables.

And for the large areas of Scotland that can basically only be accessed by road or sea? For example, barring a quantum leap in battery life, you'd turn getting from the Western Isles to the Central Belt from a 1 day journey into a 2 day one, because of the need to stop and recharge.

Similarly, I'm reminded of a tale about a man from Skye, getting off the Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness train, stretching, and saying "Ah well; that's the worst part of the journey over with now."
A passer-by enquires "Where is it you're going mate?"
Skyeman "Singapore!"

78:

Manufacturing cost per Watt of PV panels is below $1

79:

Hydrogen getting pipelined about would be a nightmare - the hydrogen diffuses into the pipe material - causing leaks and embrittling the pipe material.

80:

Not a problem.
Coal gas, which typically has 50% Hydrogen, was used for decades and piped all over the country.

81:

The MP for the Orkney and Shetland Islands has a problem when they fill out their expenses form for travel to and from Parliament -- they have to answer the question "Nearest railway station" with "Trondheim, Norway".

82:

The pipes still embrittled, and leaks regularly killed people with poisoning -- the rest of coal gas is carbon monoxide, noticeably toxic -- and regular explosions and house fires. Natural gas is at least non-toxic (although it is suffocating) and it doesn't embrittle pipes and valvegear the way hydrogen does and it's not quite as good an escape artist as the smallest molecule on Earth.

83:

This kind of cover-up is endemic in the nuclear industry. It is inherent in the structure of the industry and unavoidable. This is a fundamentally untrustworthy industry.

Centralizing technologies tend toward corruption. You see the same endemic corruption in oil production, particularly in situation such as deep ocean situations which demand massive capitalization. Of course, that means that the current administration in the US wants to expand the Gulf of Mexico leases -- you can't have pharaohs without such technologies.

Some technologies just can't escape their social implications.

84:

If you are interested in PV, solarbuzz keeps track of a wide range of panel retail prices:

http://solarbuzz.com/facts-and-figures/retail-price-environment/module-prices

"As of May 2011, there are now 403solar module prices below $3.00 per watt (€2.01 per watt) or 33.4% of the total survey. This compares with 411 price points below $3.00 per watt (€2.13 per watt) in April.

The lowest retail price for a multicrystalline silicon solar module is $1.84 per watt (€1.23 per watt) from a US retailer. The lowest retail price for a monocrystalline silicon module is $1.80 per watt (€1.21 per watt), from an Asian retailer. Brand, technical attributes, and certifications do matter. The lowest thin film module price is at $1.37 per watt (€0.92 per watt) from a US-based retailer. "

Bear in mind that these are one off retail prices.

85:

Orkney and Shetland have (or had) separate MPs, and it's actually Stavanger, but yes that's very much the problem.

86:

From local production plants.

87:

Dear Mr. Stross,

As a sidelight of the move to renewable energy
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/28/science/earth/28solar.html

Hope you and yours will be healthy and happy, and that we'll see you at Philcon again sometime soon.

88:

Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.
I hate those whining NIMBYs

89:

"You make safety, not profitability, the primary operational goal."

We are talking about humans here, right?

"However, doing this requires that the entity that owns the plant is (a) not a profit-seeking entity (i.e. not a corporation) and (b) that the operator has a sufficiently deep pocket to cover all the possible externalities. Which means, basically, a government."

We all know that governments are always responsible and careful.

Charlie, that's daft. If you hominids knew how to "make safety, not profitability, the primary operational goal," you would not be in this fix.

Kraw...to the nuclear advocates here, I wish you would study alternative energy more thoroughly before dismissing it. And to everyone who thinks they know the answer, "hope is not a plan."

90:

Scotland is a "special case" because it has almost the same land area as England combined with a tenth the population. Sparsely settled, and it's got Weather. Even so, there's a chunk of the population for whom a shift to electricity (as Nojay pointed out) would be very problematic -- they're more isolated than rural US midwesterners.

91:

From the said NY Times article An article on Thursday about the reaction of New Jersey residents to the installation of solar panels on utility poles omitted the time required for one panel to produce enough energy to light four 60-watt bulbs around the clock for six weeks. It is one year, according to Public Service Electric & Gas, the utility installing the panels.
By my reckoning, it would take 2 or 3 of those panels just to supply my lighting needs for a year.

92:

If super-polymers are developed, then there is no meaningful upper limit to tidal power.

See also, "clean fusion is thirty years away."

Both statements make the same two errors: firstly, assuming a given technology is feasible, and secondly, assuming that it will solve all the other problems in the supply chain.

In the case of controlled nuclear fusion, it turns out to be a lot harder than anyone in the 1950s imagined, and has drawbacks (secondary activation of reactor structures generates radioactive waste; you can use a fusion reactor's neutron surplus to breed plutonium so it's not an anti-proliferation magic wand: and it turns out to be harder than we think to fuel it and turn the neutrons it produces into electricity). In the case of "super polymers", whatever they might be (clue: a polymer is simply a small molecule that can be bonded nose-to-tail forming a chain), there are other problems to solve with tidal power -- notably, megatons of seawater pounding on a structure tends to break shit up.

93:

Most of the best hydropower locations in Scotland have already been harvested, so to speak, starting as far back as the 1930s. There's a reason the Scottish Highlands section of the National Grid was called "Scottish Hydro".

There's a lot of smaller hydro units possible in the 1 to 10 MW bracket but they're not economical to build and operate at current electricity prices. They take a long time to build out since they require moving people out of their homes, building dams and installing power transmission lines to remote areas to connect them into the grid. This means they won't get built until prices go up and stay up and their contribution to any shortfall in power generation won't be seen for years after the People start screaming for Something To Be Done when their lights stop working when they flick the switch.

As for wave and tidal power, experiments are being carried out. The bad news is that anything put into the sea to harvest energy from water has to be built tough, really really tough, to survive the conditions at all (see Alexander Kielland for a bad example). Compared to land-based generators, maintenance of such installations is a financial and logistical nightmare requiring ships, marine cranes, divers, helicopters etc. Getting the electricity from the wave generating plant to the shore is also pretty difficult; underwater HV power cables are really expensive to install and also expensive to repair if something goes wrong, like a trawler dragging its nets over them. Being immersed in conductive and corrosive seawater is just another cherry on the top.

94:

Since I don't see anyone else who's made the point that parts of Scotland are very remote recently, I'm not nojay!

95:

Indeed you are not - the person commonly referred to as 'Nojay' is the Robert Sneddon posting in this thread.

At least, I assume so - if that turns out to be the other Robert Sneddon, then I will not be the only one here surprised.

96:

Nojay is Robert "Nojay" Sneddon. (Who has no middle name beginning with "J", in case you were wondering. Unlike the other Robert Sneddon.)

97:

I am well aware of the problems with fusion. I attended a lecture at Glasgow Uni 30+ years ago, at which a nuclear engineer explained that tokamak-based fusion would create more high-level waste than fission. He was on the government task group that was trying to design fusion plant, on the assumption that the tokamaks would someday work. I couldn't see why he was bothering, after hearing his talk.
I also know what a polymer is, oddly enough. I went to school. By 'super polymer' I meant very long chain polymers, which people are actively trying to develop. They constantly speculate about building vast structures with them, like towers reaching into space. I thought you did too, in your SF books, but I could be wrong. IMO the obvious use for such very strong future materials is to create very long cables, which could be used to anchor tidal and wave power stations so that they could withstand high wind speeds, and be further out to sea than current installations, such as the one the Scottish Government has just announced for Islay.
We were discussing what might happen by 2050, giving the researchers time to work. I am aware that success is not inevitable, but we can hope for progress.

98:

#95 and 96 - Cheers guys. I've said this before: I'm happy to use my normal name of Ken O'Neill, but your back end s/w refuses to acknowledge any posting from me that doesn't use the name "Paws3thot" Charlie. I already knew Nojay by reputation from cons, but not by "mundane name".

99:

If super-polymers are developed, then there is no meaningful upper limit to tidal power.

Actually, if we're talking about the British Isles, then the upper limit would be about 250GW, assuming you harvested every erg crossing from the Atlantic into the North Sea. Which requires even more magic than 'super-polymers'. Realistic ideas work out at around 10% of that, roughly 11kWh/d/p.

http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c14/page_83.shtml

100:

The point I'm trying to make here, is that 24*365 access to cheap energy and water is not a law of nature.

We (may) have put civilization in geographies where it will be very expensive or even physically impossible to maintain it.

Los Angeles is a very good example, if anybody has good ideas where they can get 30% more potable water than today over the next 25 years, I'm sure they would love to hear about it.

Scotland is a special case only because the demands of its population does not outstrip its available natural resources significantly.

The IPCC report that started this particular subthread is utterly irrelevant, not becaused of its conclusion, which is both dubious and highly optimistic, but because of its initial assumptions, some of which are in violation of Kirchoffs laws.

101:

"The future is here today; it's just unevenly distributed".

The super-polymers you're talking about are carbon nanotubes; yes, they're very promising, but they're not a panacea on their own. (Anchor cables are only as good as the anchors, or the structure being anchored, for example.)

As for 2050, we need to have this energy problem nailed down by 2050. Pinning our hopes on new technology that requires a 20-40 year R&D ramp-up to deployment would be rash in the extreme given the scale of the environmental problem confronting us. While it'd be very nice if some super-technology were to come along, we need to plan on the basis of what we have that works right now.

102:

Surely we need a balance of energy sources, including increased efficiencies in the devices we use, and maybe an improved grid to shuffle the power around to where the demand is - Could Iceland run a cable to Scotland (maybe via the Faroes?) for example ... that'd sure give them something to export to Europe!).

Renewables (is perhaps a bit of a misnomer, but anyway) are great. Let's have them where they make sense, but lets not forget the central american strip mining for the rare-earths in PVs, for example.

Nuclear is still the only sensible choice for the other end of the scale. If we don't start building new ones soon were gonna be buying our leccy from the French to keep our lights on!

103:

US generating capacity is around 1TW IIRC.
Generating that by PV would require (say) 4x as peak Watts ie 4TW peak. At $2 per installed Watt (given economy of scale) it would cost about $8t - about 16 year's worth of US military budget. Do-able?

104:

The reason fusion was seen as the great white-hot hope for the future of energy generation, despite its possible pitfalls with respect to waste etc. is that it was believed back then that uranium needed to fuel fission reactors was scarce and it would become very expensive in the short term i.e. to operate the next (for us, the current) generation of fission thermal reactors being planned and built at the time. On the other hand fusion power plants would run on seawater, or rather hydrogen electrolysed from water which is ridiculously abundant.

The bad news is that tokamak fusion is a lot more difficult than we thought back then, and hydrogen fusion in particular is not feasible at all with what we've got to hand. The good news is that once we started looking hard for uranium we found lots of it. Lots and lots and lots of it, to the point where today refined uranium metal sells for about $60 US per kilogram and it's cheaper to dig it out of the ground than it is to recycle the pellets of uranium dioxide in "spent" fuel rods.

105:

Tokamak is looking more and more to be the worst possible option in terms of engineering a reactor. However, projects worth ongoing billions do not get shut down just because they don't look like delivering.

106:

What do you do at night, when it's dark and the solar aren't providing electricity? Try adding the cost of battery storage required to keep the US running overnight over five time zones. Remember the cost of physically deploying the panels and also replacing them on a 20-year cycle as they die from old age; sunlight damages them, surprisingly enough. It causes ionisation to produce electric charges and the damage is cumulative. The ongoing cost to keep such a solar-power system running will be in the trillion-dollar a year range. Forever.

107:

And nuclear plants have to be scrapped every 40 years.
So?

108:

Could Iceland run a cable to Scotland (maybe via the Faroes?) for example ... that'd sure give them something to export to Europe!).

Iceland already exports the large majority of its electricity production. It just doesn't do it as electricity - it does it as refined aluminium. They have coastal plants where they ship in bauxite, and ship out aluminium ingots. Drive past one, and all you'll see on the land side is a smallish access road for the workers, and an awful lot of electrical pylons.

109:

Given development of PV over the next few decades it seems quite likely that its cost will undercut that of nuclear by a very substantial margin. The result being that when the sun goes down electricity prices will soar.

110:

Well, I was reading about ordinary plastics with much longer chain lengths than currently achievable. The current practical limit is well short of the theoretical, so researchers are hoping to find ways of extending it, which is believed to give higher strength/weight ratio than any currently existing material.
Of course, they can use carbon nanotubes if they want, I don't mind, so long as they get the job done:-)
I've thought about the anchors, and it's not an insoluble problem. You can embed anchors made of the super-polymer in the bedrock, by drilling and screwing in (or pouring, if the super-polymer can be persuaded to form in situ, though that's a bit optimistic). Needs a fair bit of development work, but if you have the materials, it's just a job to do. The anchors might need to be big. If the super-polymers are too stiff to make ropes, they can be made into chains.
As to your point about needing a well-proven technology, the power stations for 2050 don't need to be designed until about 2040, I would have thought, giving the researchers 30 years to develop technology. What needs to happen now is the political will to put resources into the right areas. Of course there need to be contingency plans, you can't bet civilisation on a tech that's not invented yet. Unless you have no choice. What power company will want nuclear now? Tepco is a taxpayer rip-off now, just like the banks. The concessions obtained are tokenism. Today's news is of an expanding exclusion zone, with more to come.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13408055
Brace yourself before reading. Then there's the stay indoors zone. How long are these people supposed to stay indoors for? Bizarre.

111:

There has been a very interesting Nature article [1] a few years back, comparing different renewable energy sources, available energy and practical implications.
Bottom line - we get more than enough solar energy every day do solve all of our energy problems.
Second bottom line - there is enough wind energy in the north sea for the whole of europe.

Projects like DESERTEC [2] (german project), where the electricity comes from solar power plants in the desserts of north africa, spain and italy and from offshore windparks in the north sea utilizing a DC powergrid already exists on paper and can produce enough electricity for europe and northern africa. By creating are large interconnectivity with different renewable sources the need for battery storage is strongly reduced.
Further, these projects have the backing of industry (SIEMENS, Deutsche Bank, EON etc.) and are based on current technologies. The other great industrial european nation, the french, have a similar project . .

My personal bottom-line, renewables are the future and any nation stupid enough not to invest in this technology now will have to buy this technology in the future from others.

[1] Energy alternatives: Electricity without carbon, Quirin Schiermeier , Jeff Tollefson , Tony Scully , Alexandra Witze & Oliver Morton, Nature, Vol 454, 816-823 (2008)
(http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080813/full/454816a.html)

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desertec

112:

We could, if the money was there for it, build a working Q-positive grid-connected tokamak fusion power plant today. It wouldn't be very efficient, maybe producing 100MW or so over its energy consumption if we were lucky. It would break down a lot and be difficult to fix. The contamination of structural materials by neutron activation would make repairing it and final decommissioning a real headache. It would cost a lot, in the region of tens of billons of dollars, maybe a hundred billion in total and most of that money would be wasted over the decades it took to build and operate. It could be done, but...

Instead the ITER project is being carried out, not to prove fusion works as JET and other fusion projects have already proved this, but to figure out how to make a fusion reactor that can generate electricity as efficiently as possible and not be a white elephant in the long-term. The next step after ITER is DEMO, a real working fusion reactor that will deliver significant amounts of power to the grid reliably. With what we learn from ITER it will be possible to repair it and the waste handling problems will have solutions before it is built. Don't expect DEMO any time soon though -- 2030 or later for start of contruction is the most likely timescale.

113:

"What do you do at night, when it's dark and the solar aren't providing electricity?"

We would stop making the arguments from false choices, such as the one you make here: Solar power is not going to be the only power source.

Not that going VE isn't a major challenge, it certainly is, and therefore we will need all the power sources we can make work, solar, wind, waves, tidal, hydro, bio(gas|mass) and so on.

But arguing that just because one particular VE technology does not solve all our problems, we have to make a bargain with a devil named "nuclear" is silly.

Nuclear power is probably not going away, if nothing else because certain nations needs civil retirement jobs for sailors, but how big a role is very much in doubt right now.

114:

I would expect anything based on Tokamak tech to produce electricity so expensive it makes it totally uneconomic. The building and running costs will make fission reactors seem trivial in comparison.

The ideal reactor would be based on something like Dense Plasma Focus burning Boron. We should see in a year or two whether this might work.

115:

Building out over very large areas costs a lot of money, time and effort. A nuclear plant occupies a few hundred hectares at most and it doesn't take a team of engineers two days to drive to a part of the system that's broken to fix it. Replacing half a million square kilometres of solar panels (what would be needed to power the US today, roughly) every twenty years is going to take a very large number of trucks, cranes, installation engineers, recycling plants etc. all of which would cost lots of money simply because of the physical scale of the operation.

116:

I don't think sourcing a report through Reuters, or any other news agency, adds anything useful to its authority.

There's something called "peer review", where a science journal gets somebody experienced in a field to check a paper. And it's not perfect. That isn't something the news agencies do. Too often, they just repeat a claim made by the "think tank" with a history of political axe-grinding.

Oh, and anyone thinking of tidal and wave power, might want to look at the Mississippi at the moment, and read John McPhee's essay The Control of Nature: Atchafalaya. Oh, read it anyway.

117:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/12/idUS215930907320110512
It's a feature article, which summarises the conclusions of the IPCC report rather differently than Charlie did. It's written by something called the Matter network, apparently.
I read lots of stuff that's not been peer-reviewed, and so do you. The IPCC report has been peer-reviewed.

118:

Useful Carbon nanotubes are still a long way off. We're getting better and better at making them but the problem is current manufacturing only gives us countless unconnected tubes a few mm long. For most hypothetical applications we would need continuous molecules miles long.

Like Charlie alluded to, we really shouldn't put our hopes on technology that's decades away from being possible and decades of R+D more from being economical.

119:

This is going to hold back nuclear power much more than the Gulf spill will hold back deep water oil drilling. TANJ.

120:

You make safety, not profitability, the primary operational goal.
...
I'm advocating godless socialism here. I am coming to doubt that capitalism is a suitable vehicle for supplying our energy needs.

That is almost unbelievable naivete. Governments, market based or socialist, don't make huge mistakes or cover up? ROFL.

121:

One assumption that has not be challenged in this discussion of how to power an economy, is that growth will continue.

It is possible that no solution will work. Populations may not tolerate high risk technologies like nuclear, but opt for known technologies like fossil fuel. This will raise global temperatures, food production will decline and with it the human population capacity of the planet. No doubt switching away from meat production with food crops will help, as will stopping corn produced biofuels. There are already signs that we may be reaching the end of agricultural productivity gains with current technologies. Perhaps new technologies will get us the next "green revolution", but that is speculative. We just may be seeing the Malthusian trap being sprung. If so, arguing whether nuclear is a better risk than other technologies is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

We are accustomed to thinking population growth is inevitable, and with it economic growth (population + productivity gains). What if both those assumptions are incorrect?

122:

The phrase "nuclear navy" has been used in a few posts here. A key point is this has at least two meanings. One is the naval vessels of the US which are powered by nuclear reactors. The other way the phrase is used is to refer to the operator staff of said vessels.

Back in the late 40s early 50s when the navy started looking at nuclear propulsion for ships Admiral Rickover was put in charge. He came up with a safety first way of running things and as a part of that made it so the operators on ships are somewhat independent of the captains of their ships. Which was and still is an incredibly divisive issue in the US Navy. But Rickover was also a darling with the press and, more importantly Congress, and he got his way most of the time. At an operational level he basically created a sub branch of the Navy. Most of the brass in the Navy and US military in general was glad when he retired as the military structure of the US doesn't deal well with admirals who get to set their own rules and, a key point here, have the rest of the fleet follow them. I have to wonder when we get a few of generations out from Rickover if things will be as safe.

Of course it didn't help that Rickover seemed to believe he was always right, even if he was wrong. But then again that seems to be a requirement for admirals and generals.

As to the USSR navy. IMO any armed forces that includes a political officer at every level of deployment to make sure the needs of the party come first will have issues with almost everything else.

123:

The reason fusion was seen as the great white-hot hope for the future of energy generation, despite its possible pitfalls with respect to waste etc. is that it was believed back then that uranium needed to fuel fission reactors was scarce and it would become very expensive in the short term i.e. to operate the next (for us, the current) generation of fission thermal reactors
Bit of a trip down memory lane, but my recall is that we were being told that the future of fission lay with plutonium and the fast-breeder.
Fusion was being presented as a clean tech. This bloke's research group were the first to blow the myth up.

124:

All governments make mistakes, huge ones as well as small ones. Democratic governments can cover up their mistakes, for some time, but in a rather short period they have to come out. Denmocratic governments have several levels of accountability and they are responsible to the voters.

Huge corporations are not responsible to voters. They have an extremely limited form of acountability, to some of their shareholders. They cover up all they want. The media aren't watching them constantly. Most of their information is deemd of a private nature and ketp away from any kind of public oversight. As a result they seem to make mistakes less often than governements.

125:

Tidal Power.

Interesting concept. Are the designs for placing it into rock and beaches that don't move much or are places like the North Carolina coast an option?

Here in NC our shore moves. A lot. Which is why we're in a big political battle over trying to stop it from moving or not. (Don't build houses on sand and all that.) But I see issues with stringing massive power cables from reasonably far out to inland when the shore line moves both side to side plus in and out. I mean when a state road gets washed out by a big or even not so big storm and folks have to take a 2 hour detour for 6 months, well life is tough at times. But when the power cables are cut someone expects them to be fixed soon. Even if the land/sea they were on/under is now sea/land.

126:

Underwater tidal turbines, like underwater windmills.

127:

If they have useful strength in shear, you can make chains, as I suggested above. Or you can weave a fabric and make chains out of that. Conventional threads don't contain fibres as long as the thread/rope.
These nanotubes are Charlie's idea, not mine, anyway.

128:

Maybe NC is not a suitable location. If, however, the super-strength materials become available, oceanic power might be utilised, with transmission by hydrogen tanker, rather than power cable.
I wonder what they thought in 1921 about the future of power in 1960?

129:

Your view of democratic government being responsible to voters is touching. Coverups often don't get exposed until documents are declassified or made public, usually after 30 years. Maybe Wikileaks will shorten that in some instances. As a reminder, the (Conservative) UK government of 1957 covered up the extent of the Windscale leak which was not revealed until 1987. Winscale was owned by the government as was much of British strategic heavy industry and power production at the time.

My point is not that private companies are better at operating nuclear plants, but rather that human nature in any setting is not to be trusted in this regard. There are no human organizations that will ensure safety first above profitability, or rewards however that is done.

130:

Alex, it's worse than that: it's accounting.

If you use a market-based approach you're constrained by your investors' expectations of an ROI, evaluated in terms of a profit-and-loss balance sheet, usually on quarterly results.

The trouble is, a reactor -- or a similar piece of infrastructure plant, like a city's sewer network, or a canal, or an old-fashioned coal power plant -- has a design life at least two orders of magnitude greater than the quarterly performance metric. And there may be knock-on effects lasting an order of magnitude longer than that.

Worse, the sunk costs fallacy cuts both ways: before you decide the sunk costs on a project are painful and pull the plug to avoid throwing good money after bad, you need to be sure that you're using the right accounting period to evaluate profitability. If, for example, you insist that a project be cash-flow positive within four consecutive periods, each period is 12 months, and your project has a construction lead-time of seven years (followed by a profitable operating life of, say, fifty years) you will never get it built.

It's not a matter of picking a different system because of some misguided belief that the humans running it won't try to sweep bad news under the rug: it's a matter of picking a system that applies more appropriate performance metrics to the project in question.

131:

We are accustomed to thinking population growth is inevitable, and with it economic growth (population + productivity gains). What if both those assumptions are incorrect?

As we passed Peak Children recently, I'd say the population side of that equation is a given. (The cause: apparently if you cut infant mortality, number of children per family falls.)

Productivity is a double-meaning'd word: you can have constant productivity per worker and economic growth driven by population increase, or you can have a constant-sized pool of workers and economic growth driven by productivity improvements per person. If we also make productivity targets (a) a moving target, and (b) driven at the apex by creative knowledge work, then we ought to be able to keep the economy "growing" arbitrarily on the back of rising "productivity"despite a constant-sized or declining labour pool. At the end of the day, once there's enough food and shelter it's all about ensuring that the money (a virtual indicator of confidence in the economy) keeps circulating as fast as possible (just don't look down!). Given that there's a limit to how many tangible goods we can (or should) consume, best to shift the goal posts to intangibles, yes?

132:

Democratic governments have the advantage of solving the non-violent succession problem that autocracies are so bad at (as witness the Arab spring now in progress). However, they have drawbacks: notably the electoral event horizon. It's very hard to make plans that take longer to complete than the time remaining to the next election -- or, at best, the term limit of the executive who wants to push the plan through. (The US congressional budget system makes this even worse by requiring annual funding votes, even on projects with a decade-plus duration.)

133:

Scotland has enough wind, tidal, and wave power to affordably power not just Scotland, but three-quarters of the UK's electricity needs. That's not a hands-in-the-air estimate from Greenpeace, it's a forecast from the Scottish Executive .

Hell, if you believe the RSPB's figures, then Scotland has the potential to generate 11 GW from onshore wind, 25 GW from off-shore wind, 14 GW from wave and 7 GW from tidal. Scotland itself only uses 10 GW, so you can understand why serious people are calling Scotland the Saudi Arabia of renewable power.

The biggest problem Scottish renewables have is England. You're going to want to build some stonkingly huge power lines from Scotland to Europe to seel all that power overseas, and sadly England's NIMBYs are right in the way.

Robert Sneddon: You've already been called for making a false choice argument, so I'll call you on the 20-year lifetime of solar cells. Solar cells have zero moving parts. They don't wear out. You can buy cells now with 25-year guarantees. After twenty years, those cells will still be producing and the only running cost is washing dust off them once in a blue moon. So I predict they'll just sit there in the sun, racking up the Watts.

And yes, marine power involves putting machinery into the ocean. Err... you know Scotland has an industry that does just that, right? It's called the oil industry. The Alexander Keilland was thirty years ago and we haven't had a major structural failure in a rig since then.

Bellinghman: Iceland's major geothermal company is looking seriously at putting in a cable from Iceland to Europe, just for that purpose.

Right, that's enough from me, off to today's conference on why it's a great idea to burn coal, where I'll be asking pointed technical questions about the capture part of carbon capture and sequestration.

134:

A sudden horrid thought: we keep being warned that a big solar flare could take out power networks on a colossal scale. What might it do to these nukes that seem to need external power supplies after they shut down? And the f**king over-filled cooling ponds?

135:

@Jez Weston

Renewables are fine and dandy.. but what about power variations? Is there a way of smoothing the output?

And don't say water pumped storage.. because there isn't enough of that. There is no fucking electric car infrastructure to do that, and won't be anytime soon, because people have run out of money, and electromobiles are expensive. In the long term(20).. car batteries will be able to do that.

Fucking subsidized(in Czechia.. unbelievable subsidies.. something like 15 years of golden profits. I think it's been slashed to six last I checked) solar plants are already reportedly burning out electronics in Western Europe.

When something of mine gets burned out, and I don't get the fucking compensation, I'll take the 1FF course my school offers(3 credits in the guerilla warfare readiness program sponsored by department of defense, basic sabotage**(includes advanced firebombing techniques)). And then we'll see who's computer kit is gonna burn...

IMO, in the long run, it'll be obvious to anyone who has more braincells that the average greentard that advanced nuclear technologies will be the most efficient and elegant way of getting energy. Maybe genetically engineered solar forests feeding into supercondcuting cables will be used too..

**don't try to find it on the school web though..

136:

NRC studied that, all they would say is "it might not be pretty".

A particular concern here is that North America has interesting geological properties roughly where the Mississipi runs, and solar flare induced electrical phenomena on the ground tend to be particular spectacular in that area. Burning telegraph facilities, exploding electrical transformers etc. Some sources suggest it may be lack of potential equalization across the geological fault-line, other claim it is piezo-electric on a large scale. We'll probably know after the next fireworks

137:

That wasn't the reassurance I was hoping for. Ah well.

138:

Your post addresses the most important issue out there. We do not want an "energy monoculture" under any circumstances.

139:

I'm not sure what your point is on accounting. Public companies are valued on a theoretical infinite horizon of dividend cash flows (or assumed cash flows if not paying dividends). Therefore the internal accounting horizon should not affect shareholder valuations, although there is no reason to assume shareholders are better at determining the true value of a company in absolute terms.

US power utilities are public companies and can (and do) plan over very long time horizons.

Where I think accounting may be unhelpful is in what is accounted for. In the case of reactors, toxic chemical plants, mines, the possible long term clean up costs and remediation, especially in the case of accidents is not held as a liability on the books. This could be changed, simply by having insurance costs to cover the liability. Private insurers would charge sufficiently to ensure that they are not stuck with unfunded liabilities. [I believe (possibly incorrectly) that the cost of a nuclear accident is so high that this sort of private industry insurance is unavailable]. We still don't account for GW, although Pigovian taxes could be used to push energy use in the right direction.

We're seeing a potential disaster with the Mississippi flooding. Arguably the whole basin is a study in unaccounted liabilities, (like much of Louisiana sinking and eroding into the Gulf).


140:

A really big solar flare would probably damage grid cables and transformers -- but it's not going to take down the on-site diesel generators, or make it impossible to hook them up to the cooling systems. Such a flare probably wouldn't affect the reactors directly either -- it'd just mess with their grid interconnect.

(As for the over-full cooling ponds? The solution to that is to reprocess the contents into fresh fuel. Something which isn't happening right now for political reasons, as much as anything else.)

If we get an 1860's grade solar flare, reactors melting down will be the least of our problems.

141:

Surely you're joking about private insurance. A requirement for private insurance would shut the whole nuclear industry down overnight.

142:

Well,the Wall Street Journa just reported three core meltdowns at the plant. Of course, there is debate about what a meltdown means. I may be too cynical, but I believe TEPCO has known of this and suppressed the news in an attempt to save their share price. I also believe the Japanese government to be too weak to do anything about this criminal action. One could argue no real harm done, but the risk far exceeded their hands and placed a whole Asia region at risk. The IAEA is also powerless. This is bad news for pro-nuclear energy but worse for people who have to deal with the fear of living around unsafe reactors. Makes me ill to even think about.

143:

They knew on day one when they found the caesium and iodine.

144:

Based on past experience, a far too large fraction of emergency power supplies (battery and/or diesel) fail to operate correctly under abnormal grid conditions due voltage spike damages and induced currents. (Not only for atomic plants, we also see this in data-centers)

There have been several such incidents in USA's nuclear industry in recent years, most notably the Davis Besse plant where it was only found because a hole etched in the reactor head prompted a full review.

But admittedly, if the plants were run competently without at lot of shortcuts for financial reasons, this kind of concern would take up lot less space in the fault-tree.

145:

No, they did not, those radionucleides could have come from the spent storage pools.

146:

The fast breeders and plutonium cycle fission nukes were meant to be a 40-year generational gap-filler before fusion came in and took over the load in the early part of the shining 21st century because in the 1960s and 70s it was perfectly clear we were running out of uranium quickly.

Except we didn't run out of uranium at all. And breeders were (and still are) difficult to run as commercial operations although that hasn't stopped everybody and their dogs building one or two to discover that fact themselves -- even the Japanese have a problematic research breeder at Monju which coughed its sodium guts up about 15 years ago. After a long period of meditation and lawyers they restarted it and then dropped a loading crane into the core while refuelling it. Not a glorious example of the art. They have another small experimental fast reactor in Ibaraki which hasn't had such a chequered career though, but it seems to be more of a technology testbed than something designed to produce plutonium on a commercial scale -- it's on its third core since it was built in the 70s.

147:

Only if:
1) the fuel rods in the pools were leaking;
2) the tsunami had penetrated the reactor buildings and washed out the pools. In which case, what about the boron?

148:

First it is not unheard of for spent fuel to leak minor amounts of radionucleides into the spent fuel pond, so you do not need a catastrophic integrity loss on fuel rods to see a small release.

Second, I think after the hydrogen explosion it was anybodys guess what ended up where and what came from where.

But don't get me wrong: It should have put loss of containment at the top of the priority list right away, it clearly didn't.

149:

You are correct that we can arbitrarily magically increase per capita productivity to keep the economy growing with a declining population, although in practice we cannot. An intangibles economy would probably use much less energy than a manufacturing one, so the energy intensity of the economy would decline and with it, energy demand. I don't actually think that service sector productivity growth is nearly as a high as manufacturing, although this can be hard to measure. (But just how much faster are you writing books these days, compared to 10 years ago?).

Accounting for GDP also has strange results. Increasing household participation rates increase the apparent size of the economy simply because more work is visible to the government, even if the total amount of useful work is unaltered. Technology can actually make the economy look smaller (e.g. online banking replacing paid bank tellers). And as before, ignoring loss of "free goods" like clean air and water increases the measured GDP.

150:

The UK seems almost ideally placed to develop and exploit renewables. We've got some of the highest tides in the world, It's on the leeward side of a large ocean with large waves and comparatively constant winds. There's a moderate climate that doesn't require extremes of insulation or cooling. There's even some sun occasionally on the east coast, enough for water heating anyway. Finally there's large areas which are densely populated and so suitable for local combined heat-energy schemes.

So I've wondered many times where the UK would be if it had ignored the political expediency of the Uranium-Plutonium cycle development and ploughed all that R&D money and capital infrastructure costs into developing renewables for the last 50 years instead of nuclear. Even if we hadn't basically solved our energy needs, would we have been world leaders in a technology who's time has now come instead of world leader's in nuclear waste management? (Who's time has also come, of course!).

151:

"I attended a lecture at Glasgow Uni 30+ years ago, at which a nuclear engineer explained that tokamak-based fusion would create more high-level waste than fission."


He did a calculation assuming certain materials would be used in certain ways, assuming a certain efficiency for conversion to useful power, assuming a certain isotope mixture, assuming a certain size device, and so on. Have intervening changes affected the validity of his assumptions? Since he would have been working before even TFTR existed (let alone any modern super-conducting shaped tokamak), that wouldn't be surprising.


Did he include the additional waste fission creates from Fukushima-like events?

152:

I was trying to make just that point, but more obliquely. ;)

153:

I recall reading about the Cs and I escapes on the Saturday morning, well before the first H explosion. Commentators pointed out it meant damaged fuel rods, so it's not just me.

154:

Re your queries: it was 35-ish years ago! I do remember him saying his group were the first engineering group involved in trying to actually design a power plant, on a feasibility study basis. People were optimistic that tokamaks would soon start fusing away....

155:

"I would expect anything based on Tokamak tech to produce electricity so expensive it makes it totally uneconomic."


That always depends on who is doing the accounting. You have to put a dollar value on carbon and pollutants put into the atmosphere. You have to put a dollar value on removing mountain-tops to get at the coal underneath. You have to put a dollar value on the effects of Fukushima. The answer you get depends on what values you pick. As long as all those are considered "free," then fusion will be uneconomical. (I doubt we know enough to come up with decent dollar values on the relevant externalities.)

156:

That's an easy question to answer: UK would be roughly where Denmark is today (20% electricity is VE), only more so, because UK has access to a number of VE sources Denmark does not (hydro, tidal etc).

157:

I've also seen media reports that a wide range of electronic devices could fail if a really bad solar storm comes in. I wonder how well atomic plants are hardened against that?

158:

France had the Super Phenix reactor that was shut down after it became clear that it couldn't meet the projected cost of energy - which was in the area of 4 to 6 euro cent per kWh. (The latter if it was running only 50% of the time and this figure would never see any improvement.)

In other words, breeder reactors are about twice as expensive as PWRs and a bit cheaper than land-based wind power without the availability issues. The technology is cost effective in the 2010ies - it just wasn't in the 1990ies, when the Super Phenix was decommissioned.

France imports 10500 tons of Uranium annually - enough to provide France with 50GW of electricity for two centuries. It has done so for decades, and the Uranium is still there in France.

159:

I'm tempted to say that parliamentary democracies have a solution for the problem of "the electoral event horizon" and it's called the crown corporation. But it's easy to make a bad implementation of a crown corporation and, there are quite a few countries which do not have a comparable instrument.

On the whole it's hard to make generalisations on this from country to country.

In France for instance there is an ancient tradition of centralised inspectorates which are in theory set apart from the general bureaucracy. For many decades the French nuclear inspectors were what made French nuclear electricity so radically different from that in other countries. But you can't export this "solution" easily since most other countries don't have this tradion of independent inspectors or the totally, extremely centralized and relatively independent bureaucracy on which the different inspectorates could count on to remain independent.

160:

Just to make that clear, the projected cost was to be around 2-3 cent per kWh - to be cost competitive with PWRs.

161:

Hell, most of the flood control in the U.S. is done by the Army, mainly because of historical accident (and the minor fact that dams and levees have a way of driving some people insane, so it's not a horrible idea for the people who build and manage those dams and levees to be excellent marksmen with extensive close-order combat training, but I digress...)

Do the same thing with the Navy, call it the U.S. Navy Reactor Corp. We'd have to roughly triple the number of nuclear officers and sailors we train in order to staff every power and research reactor, but that's a very small price to pay.

I live about 5 miles from an uncontained TRIGA Mark II, so obviously I have some interest in them being run by people who are the special kind of fanatical that comes from living in a steel tube with a reactor.

162:

"We'd have to roughly triple the number of nuclear officers and sailors we train in order to staff every power and research reactor"

You mean "retrain", a lot of the staff is ex-navy already.

Poul-Henning

163:

So either TEPCO knew and covered it up to give time to get their golden parachutes ready to bail, or they are incompetent. Given that they are just now planning to circulate the water instead of letting it sit, I'm beginning to believe they covered up and are incompetent.

164:

I am amused by the comment concerning "weasel words" on my blog report of the information TEPCO has presented to the press.

Let's put out a few facts: Immediately following a full scram, a reactor is still releasing about 7 percent of the power it had been producing prior to the scram. This means that core cooling must be provided, which of course has been known since the beginning of nuclear energy.

There is not, and has not been, one single analysis of a long-term station blackout event that does not, for a BWR, result in core damage. This is why BWR plants have a large number of peculiar operating procedures, shutdown cooling systems, and special NRC regulations here in the United States. As mentioned several times on my blog, the reactor vendors cannot force customers in other countries to fit equipment not originally built with the plant should the vendor or the NRC deem it necessary later, upon review. Many of these backfits have been made here, but have not been made overseas.

There is far too much emphasis on the term "meltdown" in the press and among anti-nuclear activists. This is especially true in the case of Fukushima Daiichi where the probability of core damage was reported by every single knowledgeable author and source within a day after the accident. I looked, and I first labeled the event as a nuclear accident at 6:30 AM local time, which is to say Eastern time, USA on March 12th. You cannot have a nuclear accident without core damage. It's implicit. Core damage is the release of fuel into the coolant, and this of course implies physical derangement of the fuel pellets (or rods or plates depending on the design.) So again, if we only want to use the term "meltdown" for total demolition of the core... well then no one really knew for sure the entire core at No. 1 plant was probably melted until TEPCO got all its temperature measuring equipment back working and could read temperatures all up and down the pressure vessel.

My point is that no one knowledgeable just now learned, just now figured out, just now realized that there was serious and possibly almost total or even total core damage. We knew it then, at the time. And wrote it. Don't believe me? Read my post later that day at 2:55 PM Eastern:

http://atomicpowerreview.blogspot.com/2011/03/urgent-speculation.html

The nuclear industry on the side of the manufacturers and suppliers is not prone to coverups. Neither are any of the regulatory bodies or their agents here. The utilities may have some problems with transparency, but that's their cross to bear because everyone knows it. When people say "the nuclear industry" all they really can say for sure is that utility companies may not be transparent. I've never seen or heard of any serious coverup by any reactor vendor, equipment supplier, consulting engineering firm, any architect-engineer firm. This isn't to say it hasn't happened once or twice; I'm not God. And this isn't to say that their PR could be better so that no one THOUGHT they were hiding anything. But they gain nothing by hiding things. Utilities might.

Finally, the prime standard for nuclear plant operation is the United States Navy, whose power reactor program is the oldest in the world and one of few accident free. I can vouch for all of that personally.

Will Davis

165:

Well, now I'm getting really paranoid. The BBC article I posted a link to above has disappeared from their RSS feed, and other articles on Fukushima no longer link to it.
It still exists, it's just become hard to find. Somebody doesn't want people reading today's news from Fukushima.

166:

Below is a link to Areva's preliminary assessment (in English) of the Fukushima disaster's political effects.

http://groupes.sortirdunucleaire.org/IMG/pdf/DocinterneAREVA-25Mars2011.pdf

This is an industry report and presumably self-interested. I note, for instance, that it doesn't mention South Korea and the consortium led by Kepco, who are arguably outpacing Areva as the new leaders in the global nuclear construction industry.

Still, it isn't particularly good news for the anti-nuke religionists at this point.


The whole thing is worth glancing through, but the essential conclusions can be summarized --

Most countries with a nuclear installed base and/or a New Build program have had pretty rational reactions following Fukushima:
 Nuclear energy is necessary
 Do not surf on the wave of emotion
 Lessons have to be learned from Japanese crisis
Most countries announced safety reviews on their existing NPPs
 For 14 European countries, those reviews will include check-ups

A few countries have also already announced that they will review their safety standards. Only Germany directly announced more stringent measures regarding its installed base(temporary shut-down of 7 oldest plants, 3-month moratorium on lifetime extension).

New Builds – especially the ones with the closest CODs – may be delayed in order to integrate amended safety standards/licensing process.

But there is no question – outside of Japan – to cancel New Build programs or stop current constructions.

167:

Using Denmark as an example to emulate is not really a good idea, because the danish renewable policy is a spectacular failure. Living with it is in fact why I do not belive "renewables" are a viable solution at all.
40 years of concerted effort on the renewable front and massive support for the wind industry and renewable RnD in general has left Denmark with extremely expensive power *and* some of the highest emissions in europe.
Lets look at national electricity wholesale costs and emissions, shall we: A few examples selected for maximum contrast:

Nuke heavy grids:
Sweden (highest per capita nuclear electricity production in the world. Also colder and much less densely populated than Denmark which should drive emissions higher, but..) - € 0.1536 to € 0.1551 per kwh domestic. € 0.0767 to € 0.0636 industrial.
Overall carbon emissions per capita (2007): 5.4 tonnes.

France (highest percentage of nuclear electricity).
€0.1135 to 0.1305 domestic, € 0.0652 to € 0.0559 industrial
Overall carbon emissions per capita (2007): 6 tonnes.

Germany: (coal, some nukes, an insane solar programme)
€ 0.2455 to € 0.2272 domestic. € 0.1233 to € 0.0919 industrial
Overall carbon emissions per capita (2007): 9.6 tonnes.

Denmark: (the example everyone advocates as doing green energy right!)
€ 0.2632 to € 0.2323 domestic, € 0.1009 to € 0.0935
Overall carbon emissions per capita (2007): 9.2 tonnes.

The enormously high domestic electricity costs of Germany and Denmark are what they are to pay for the renewable energy policies of those nations, and eh.. It's Not Working. I wouldnt mind my electricity bill quite so much if I actually got clean electricity in return for paying twice as much, but I am not. I am getting coal with cosmetic windmill farms as greenwashing. And note that this outcome is happening despite the fact Denmark has a highly unique advantage for renewable electricity in that it gets to use the mindboggingly huge hydroelectric reserves of the rest of scandinavia to do timeshifting of its wind production.

And before anyone brings up "hidden nuclear subsidies"..
France produces 437 terawatt-hours per year of nuclear electricity. If they were artificially lowering the price of it enough to make up a 5 cent per kwh gap, that would cost them. 437.000.000.000 x 0.05: 21.85 billion euros per year. That is not a sum of money you can hide!

168:

There's also the Phenix breeder prototype which is currently shut down after being used for experiments in nuclear waste transmutation. The UK's breeder program at Dounreay died in 1994, the Germans never started their full-scale breeder reactor etc. etc. A lot of up-and-coming second generation nuclear countries such as India and South Korea are looking at building breeders but unless their operating costs can be swallowed up by their ability to produce lots of plutonium for a large light-water reactor fleet then their financial viability is limited, and breeders don't make that much extra Pu for the amount of uranium they go through in operation so they really need to earn their living generating electricity while they make Pu on the side. Right now uranium is cheap which mitigates against breeders being economic to operate in the current reactor generation.

It's probably more costly for the French to reprocess their spent fuel rods than it would be to simply dry-store them geologically but they are doing so, just like the British are and soon the Japanese too. It's impressive, though that 10,000 tonnes of any kind of raw fuel can supply 80% of the annual electricity demand of a country the size of France. Think about how much stinking filthy coal it would take to meet that sort of baseload demand and the unconstrained pollution it would cause.

169:

Um--Alex, not all US power companies are public entities.

Some are investor-owned utilities (in my own area, Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, for example). Others are owned by municipalities--Seattle City Light, Springfield Utility Board, Eugene Water and Electric. Others are public utility districts (I speak of what I know in the Pacific Northwest of the US), which are government entities.

I strongly suggest you look up what caused the Washington Public Power Supply System to crash and burn, when they tried to finance building several nuke plants simultaneously. That, more than TMI, killed the nuke industry in the US for some time. It was one of the biggest bond defaults in history.

We didn't call WPPSS "Whoops!" for nuthin' (and I know more about it than most, I actually worked on the bond default litigation).

170:

Alex, not all US power companies are public entities.

I should be more careful in my phrasing. Your point does not undermine the general argument that public corporate utilities can successfully plan long term facilities in spite of short term accounting horizons.

171:

I appreciate that, but I thought you were being over-subtle.
Remember who your audience are.
So I decided to back up the point with a Nigel de Jong-style tackle. Kerr-unch!

172:

I don't know if you've heard about this project that uses giant kites as wind power assists for freighters:

http://news.discovery.com/tech/sky-sail-kite-saves-fuel-110415.html

One small step ...

173:

It looks like the only way Non Nuke power will work is by using R. BUCKMINSTER FULLER'S idea of a World Wide power grid. The places where it is sunny and windy sending power to the were it is needed. I always liked Fuller, he was a optimist and a rationalist. I am no longer sure we can be. To make it work it will have to overcome a lot. And not just money men. Nobody wants more big power lines near them. Or wants to be dependent on others.

174:

I heard someone suggest that Iceland handle large-scale iron smelting using it's GT energy i.e. export that part of the industry from Europe.

176:

Here we have the Rocky Mountain Institute's Reinventing Fire:

Energy-related economic, security, and environmental threats are intensifying the national conversation about how to regain energy leadership and competitiveness, restore jobs and prosperity, and build a secure and climate-safe energy system.

Yet America lacks a comprehensive vision of how a market economy can achieve these transformational goals.

RMI has that vision, and is now building its detailed roadmap, which we call Reinventing Fire™. This strategy will bring together RMI’s 28 years of innovation and engage the world in our most ambitious and important work yet—using whole-system thinking and integrative design to move the U.S. off fossil fuels by 2050, led by business for profit.

We are engaging powerful partners across four key sectors—transportation, buildings, industrial design and electricity—to understand and vault the barriers to shifting from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. Although that transition will take decades to complete, and not all its details can be fully foreseen, big gains can start now.

There's material at that web site (there will be a book this fall), but for an introduction, I suggest this talk, given two weeks ago to researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Environmental Energy Technologies Division.

177:

I take it that the length & links (there are only two) of my previous post has gotten it held; if you Google for "rmi reinventing fire" and search YouTube for "LBL lovins fire" you will have the links. The video is long (an hour, plus 20 minutes of informed questions), but worthwhile, and includes technical and economic discussion.

On a lower level, here is a guide to building energy use reduction coming from ASHRAE (hvac engineers and contracts), the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IES), and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), with support from the Department of Energy (DOE): http://www.ashrae.org/publications/page/aedg50pct

178:

krawkrawkrawkrawkraw, only one link and still the post is held? OK, Charlie.

The more I research this, the more I am convinced it is a mirror of other debates in other fields, where the people who are convinced they are the sober and sensible ones are in fact the ones advocating terrible risks and untested practices. It is a matter of wanting to be on the side of power and authority, not truth and compassion. I have stopped believing in the nuclear and fossil fuel industries, their engineers, and their advocates: they have been wrong far too often, and at a high price. The poisoning of the sea by the Fukushima disaster is the stuff of nightmare. We do not yet know how much harm has been done. It is time to take stock and step back from the edge of the cliff. Even we corvids cannot eat poison. We hope you hominids will stop poisoning the world, all the while claiming it is the rational thing to do.

179:
Renewables (is perhaps a bit of a misnomer, but anyway) are great. Let's have them where they make sense, but lets not forget the central american strip mining for the rare-earths in PVs, for example.

Pet peeve alert: debunking of renewable energy debunking ahead: rare earths are not mined in Central America. You may be thinking of lithium. Neither rare earths nor lithium are needed to produce solar cells, though rare earths are useful for permanent-magnet motors and generators and lithium and rare earths alike are useful for making batteries.

There are rare elements that go into making thin-film solar cells, but they are not rare earth elements. These elements, indium, gallium, and tellurium, are not strip mined in Central America or anywhere else either but are byproducts of producing other metals (primarily zinc, aluminum, and copper respectively).

Supplies of indium and tellurium may eventually constrain thin film solar cell production, but it's not a pressing issue. Less than 25% of the PV market is based on these materials. Conventional crystalline silicon PV still has overwhelming market share plus higher conversion efficiencies than the rare-material thin film technologies, and silicon is literally as common as dirt.

The reason this is a pet peeve spurring a long and pedantic correction is that there is some sort of misunderstanding or deliberately-circulated equivalency myth that since non-fossil energy is still based on industrial processes and has a nonzero impact on the natural world, that we shouldn't even bother promoting non-fossil energy. If it's not going to produce energy based on nothing but rainbows or the power of positive thinking, might as well stick with coal until we've burned the last lump. WRONG! Coal and photovoltaic panels both have negative externalities associated with their production and use, but that's like saying that tuberculosis and hay fever are both unpleasant conditions.

It appears that it is the most zealous defenders of the status quo who will suddenly develop keen but selective environmental conscience and principles when it comes to replacing fossil energy sources with non-fossil. I don't mean to suggest that you, Andy, are in that camp; you may just have been suckered by others' preemptive smearing of non-fossil power sources.

180:

Thomas,

You cannot look at it only as a matter of energy policy, because without the push for renewables, Denmark would be at least 25.000 high pay jobs poorer today. I won't call it an unmitigated success either, there are certainly things about it that were patently stupid, but we would be much worse off without it.

181:

there are two problems with that, the first and most obvious one is that high power prices have likely cost us a heck of a lot of jobs in other sectors as people have had less money to spend, and industries have been significantly more likely to outsource elsewhere simply to avoid the stickershock on their electricity bill. Secondly; Given that the policy doesnt work, those 28000 jobs are built on a foundation of sand and will disappear the moment the world catches on to that fact. Perhaps there will alsways be a market for cosmetic greenwashing windmills, but if we are relying on that, that is morally dubious.

182:

This is something of a test; I've tried signing in with my Google account. I hope the blog now lets me post links.

Rocky Mountain Institute, Reinventing Fire

Amory Lovins, RMI founder, Reinventing Fire, Berkeley Lab Distinguished Lecture Series (two weeks ago.)

Also, 50% Advanced Energy Design Guides Free Downloads. American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IES), and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), with support from the Department of Energy (DOE).

183:

You are, I fear, selectively cynical. Checking sources and reading the original papers is the only way to getting at the truth, because the mighty and powerful have no monopoly on lying. Rather to the contrary - People selling new and marginal products (like windmills and solar panels) will minimise their problems and exaggerate their virtues, and organizations engaged in a holy crusade against what they wiev as the atomic demon will lie until they go blue in the face and sleep the sleep of angels. The entire debate is epidemistically poisoned from all corners, and if you dont read some primary and academic literature your odds of arriving at conclusions in accord with reality are poor. - Some of the papers that made shift my viewpoint are the Externe report, the WHO chernobyl study, and Mckays "without hot air", but really just looking up the actual outcomes of various energy policies is quite persuasive on its own. There are about zero examples of anyone ever reducing their carbon emissions without either economic collapse, the use of large scale hydro or nuclear power.

184:

It's a pretty tall order to claim that something that provides us with 20% renewable electricity and 25000 jobs "doesn't work", and you are not anywhere close to carrying it IMO.

The fact is that Denmark did not really have any alternatives.

Our nuclear window effectively closed with the death of Niels Bohr. He might have persuaded the country to go nuclear, but after his death the topic became largely academic, as the price kept increasing and nobody wanted to risk their money.

By the time OPEC hit in 1973, initiating nuclear in Denmark would take 12 years, far too late to be of relief and we had no money to spend on it, thus coal it became.

And the only way out of that which wouldn't be political suicide was Wind.

At this point in time, building a nuclear plant on danish soil would cost roughly 20% more than building it just across the border in Sweden or Germany, because they have the regulatory agencies, educational facilities, emergency plans, waste disposal plans and legislation in place already.

And mind you, this is not from some tree-hugger: I dreamt about working on a nuclear plant when I was a kid and have the isotopic chart poster to prove it.

185:

@Thomas Jørgensen:
This probably even doesn't account for Germany regularly importing electricity from France.

The main thing is quite obviously, nearly all renewables (all except hydro) are still in a phase of development or early adoption.

If they want to get to the next stage, someone needs to play the role of offering market entry and Germany and Denmark obviously are those someones.

So, yes, I am paying more for electricity than other people and that's fine with me.

What I want for that money someday in the future are economies of scale that are delivered and not only promised.

Wind got a lot better, it probably has enough way to go and may be good for a global 20% in 2050.

Desertec really, really is an important project. Solar thermal, molten salt heat storage (meaning on-demand peak load) and latest generation grid tech.
This absolutely needs to be done, and if it goes well, it may be good for another 20% globally in 2050.
If this project goes ahead, the whole emotional discussion here in Germany was good for something at least, but that doesn't mean, it can't still turn out to be a total failure.

Biogas (animal feces, not the biomass scam) is great. Lowtech, easily mass produceable, should be an obvious solution for Africa/India, if someone (Tata?) gets it done in real mass-market style. Another possible 5-10% globally.

Photovoltaics: shiny gadgets for technophiliacs. Useful for off-grid locations obviously and this great feeling of independance. If quantum dot tech works well, maybe in 20-30 years it will give us all the cheap energy we could ask for, whenever we don't really need it.

Heat-exchange: Before you dream about a solar-powered grid to keep all those air-cons running, better install solar-powered air-cons. With good insulation (aerogel anyone?) easy from the tech side. The problem is market entry and in this case Germany and Denmark won't help you. To be done in California or Singapur. Another global 5-10% equivalent?

Those are 50% percent and a lot of maybes. There are even more maybes out there and we might have an overabundance of solutions in 2050. But futurology is not a science (not even peer-reviewed futurology) and mass market can be tough for the most unforeseeable of reasons.

When it comes to reliable cheap solutions for Asia, Africa and South America (which will be most of the energy market in 2050), we shouldn't throw nuclear out the window before we truly have better options.

For me, a planet is a stake too high to gamble.

186:

"You are, I fear, selectively cynical. Checking sources and reading the original papers is the only way to getting at the truth, because the mighty and powerful have no monopoly on lying. [...] People selling new and marginal products (like windmills and solar panels) will minimize their problems and exaggerate their virtues."

Thomas, please read what I wrote at #20 and #43. I'm a researcher in the field. At my lab we develop and test those technologies. I have not only read some of the academic literature, I know some of the people who wrote it. I "stopped believing in the nuclear and fossil fuel industries, their engineers, and their advocates" after much soul-searching.

Take a look at the (still-held link) Amory Lovins presentation on "Reinventing Fire." (Enter "lovins fire berkeleylab youtube" in Google--there's a talk. If you want a very short abstract, Google "rmi reinventing fire" and look at that site.) Lovins makes a very strong case for the potential of renewables. Now, I don't know if Lovins is right. I intend to ask some of my more-knowledgeable colleagues what they think of his work. I do know I'm not going to be winning any arguments with him on his subject; he knows a lot more than me.

"[...] economic collapse [...]" This seems to be the bottom line for so many people. Personally, I'd rather be poor and healthy than wealthy and poisoned. I suspect--as Lovins argues--it might be possible to be wealthy and healthy, but I refuse to support further bargains with the devil for the sake of possible wealth.

187:

@ both Poul-Henning and Thomas J:-

I've always regarded wind power as "so much greenwash" for a number of reasons. The main ones are:-
1) The construction emissions of wind power (things like biomass displacement when the foundations are built, not just fabrication, transport and assembly of the "windmill") is always forgotten by the advocates.
2) Wind power doesn't work exactly when we most need it; IE when it's very still and cold. This is because when that happens there is a high demand for heating and no wind.
3) Behind every watt of "wind power" there's the carbon emissions of keeping a watt of "spinning reserve" ready to cut in if required. Given that an individual wind turbine produces power for about 30% of a year, using figures from this blog, Scotland would need 10GW * 10/3, or about 34GW of theoretical wind turbines to become "self-sufficient" in wind power, before considering that "hiccup" of almost a solid month of calm last Winter.

188:

Are you sure you are not confusing solar with wind here ?

Windgenerators typically produce power 80% of the time and seen over a larger geographical area, like the North sea, it is all but meteologically impossible that no wind will blow anywhere at all.

And yes, that leaves 0-20%, which must be covered by other technologies or cuts in demand.

But at I said previously: There is no law of nature that we can always get all the cheap electricity we want.

All sources of energy have disadvantages, the price of energy being just one of many. Our task is to get the most energy for the least disadvantage, and the answer to that equation is not going to be the same for everybody.

Finland can forget everything about both Solar and Wind, nuclear is the only present option. On the other hand, nuclear plants in northern Africa are not going to be very competitive with solar electricity during the day hours, and consequently may not be during night either.

What we should strive for, is that the price of all energy sources reflect the their true cost.

Fossil should pay CO2 and particle polution tax.

Nuclear should pay for their own insurance, non-proliferation, regulation and disposal

Wind and solar should pay for whatever damages they cause.

And everybody should of course pay for production and clean up externalities in what ever way WTO decides these costs should be carried.

Only then can we choose the right energy source.

What we have now is one massive market failure, and that helps a few persons get rich at a disproportional huge cost to humanity.

189:

I've also seen media reports that a wide range of electronic devices could fail if a really bad solar storm comes in. I wonder how well atomic plants are hardened against that?

Very.

Firstly, almost all reactors in service producing power are over 25 years old and predate widespread deployment of integrated circuits on today's scale. Secondly, they're designed conservatively: mostly they're controlled by mechanical systems or electromechanical systems (read: motors and gearboxes), and they're designed to shut down if components fail.

You'll have noticed that the Japanese nuke plants all scrammed within seconds of the earthquake? (The damage that fucked over the FD reactors occurred after they were shut down, thanks to the tsunami following the earthquake.)

The one thing I'd be concerned about is any electronics in the backup diesel generators that provide power to run the cooling system if the site is knocked off the grid.

However, if it gets to the point where electronics in hardened emergency diesel generators have been fried, we have worse things to worry about than a reactor meltdown. Like, oh, our entire transport and communications system being knocked back into the 19th century and everybody starving to death over the next few weeks ...

190:

Fraid not with CNTs. Their strength comes from their bonds (and configuration), if you try to weave them they will fall apart as the only connection will be Van de waals forces. If you could link them to make chain (i.e. you could induce the bonding of the ends of a thread) you could just bond one molecule to the next and make a continuous rope.

Regardless of if we are talking about CNTs or "super plastics" making policies around the hope that we invent a technology (and not come across any roadblocks) is a recipe for disaster.

191:

Dude, I have to sleep sometime!

(Also, the comment system is set to auto-hold any comment containing more than one URL at present, due to the fucking spammers.)

192:

Your links to interesting architectural sources for green housing are noted.

Here in the UK, the housing fleet is on average 75 years old. A dwelling costs on average around £170,000, or about US $250,000. As of 2002 there were 25.0 million dwellings in the UK.

Assuming we can wave a magic wand, abolish all planning laws and geographical constraints on construction, and do the updates we need to half the average housing age to a mere 37.5 years, we're going to have to replace 12.5 million houses with a combined current market value of, in US dollars, $3.15Tn -- or about two year's UK GDP. To get to an average housing age of 20 years we're going to have to spend more like $5Tn. Even if you discount the cost of the land (we're replacing buildings: the value of the land they stand on remains, so it's going to cost rather less than $0.25M per dwelling) it's still a mind-warpingly expensive exercise.

This, I submit, isn't going to happen overnight. (Even leaving aside questions of cultural vandalism and NIMBYism -- some of us like our archaic stone cave-dwellings.) Given we have a national construction industry with an aggregate turnover of around £9Bn per annum (or around US $15Bn) we'd have to increase that industry's size by an order of magnitude to do the job in less than multiple decades.

So a more sensible model -- and one that is in fact being pursued -- is to subsidize energy efficiency improvements by home owners/occupiers -- everything from low energy bulbs to cavity wall insulation, double glazing, loft insulation, and high efficiency heating systems.

And hopefully in 75-100 years' time the high efficiency dwellings you're pointing to will be commonplace.

193:

I could ask you the same thing. You're the only source I've seen claiming 80% activity for wind power. All the others either quote about 30% after allowing for "not enough wind", "too much wind" and "down for maintenance" or gloss over the availability question.

As for your claim about meteorological unlikelihood; answered before it was even asked wrt on-shore wind, and significant off-shore wind doesn't actually exist, never mind have the sort of proven reliability and grid stability that is politically acceptable to all but the most Luddite environ %20 mentalists.

194:

With the note that my view is not "we definitely can get away with doing nothing", but equally I strongly disagree with the "something must be done. This is something, therefore we must do this" attitude that drives a lot of present thinking. I think we need to sit down and calmly work out what we can do that actually reduces pollution rather than just hides it with a nice coat of greenwash.

What would be the environmental costs of replacing this number of properties, presuming the alledgedly old and high energy ones to be demolished? Clearly, we can define this as energy to demolish + energy to build new property. The question is how many times we have to repeat that cycle to achieve the remaining natural lifetime of the property.

This is made worse by the fact that we're coming of the back of a property bubble, so presently have an artifically young property fleet. Worse still when we consider situations like this:-
I have a 1970s house, and my Mum has a 1910 one. Now, in the coldest weather, mine burns less fuel to maintain an interior temperature, but in a typical Scottish heatwave, mine is borderline on wanting air conditioning, whilst her's remains at about 20C. Clearly, if we could budget for nothing but "really cold" weather, we'd see a revenue CO2 saving by replacing her house, but if we get more "hot extreme" weather, it becomes highly likely that my place would become potentially borderline uninhabitable without reliable aircon (and hence power).

195:

Ok, now we have to get detailed, because this is a much spun set of facts.

Traditional power plants defined two metrics: "Availability", the percentage of time you could generate 100% power if asked to, and "Capacity" the percentage of theoretical max production you delived.

A coal-plant is typically down for scheduled maintenance for two weeks every year, giving a 96% availability. What the capacity for the plant would be, depends on how economical the plant is compared to other sources.

Those are good metrics to compare big stationary powerplants which take some kind of storable fuel in one end and spits out electricity and possible communal heating in the other end, because they tell you something about how fast you can write off the investment in the plant.

But they are not good metrics for an energy source which does not have a storable energy source, because they ignore the fact that there is no running fuel costs.

So coal/nuclear advocates focus on the "generate 100% power", look at the nameplate on the wind generator and come up with very low availabilities, fitting their agenda. This is probably where the 30% number you quote comes from.

But this is quite misleading, because production which only reach 90% or even 30% of nameplate production is still usable energy.

It is particularly misleading, when it is used to ask "so what when the wind doesn't blow, 70% of the time ?" because any sailor will tell you that the North Sea is a lot more windy than that.

The capacity factor is less, but still, misleading, and it is usually used to show that wind energy is a bad investment relative to nuclear. The point being the nuclear is hard to regulate, and needs to run at high power for proper burnup, and therefore it always gets good capacity factor.

But that is also applying a square metric to a round energy source, because it doesn't matter what the nameplate says, it only matters how much energy is produced, at what price and when.

For windmills that depends on where you put them, which is why most of the new ones are going over water, where wind is more plentiful and stable.

So to sum up: Windmills probably don't run at 100% capacity more than 30% of the time, but the contribute power more than 80% of the time, and simplified coal/nuclear plant metrics are really bad at characterizing their utility for our energy supply.

One of the things people often overlook, is that it renewables like solar and wind can be shut off free of cost when we have a surplus of electricity.

If you shut off a coal-plant, you still have to pay hourly wages, and you may still have to stoke the fire if you provide communal heating, and the plant will actually consume a fair bit of electricity to keep things lit and oiled.

You can feather a windmill and forget about it, until the price of electricity rises again. Sure, you still have to pay the loans, but that goes for every investment.

If you focus on capacity and availability factors that looks really bad, but if you look on economy in a competitive energy market you get the opposite picture.

196:

Nuclear should pay for their own insurance, non-proliferation, regulation and disposal
True, but I strongly believe that's a show-stopper. The true life-cycle cost of nuclear has to take into account the cost of long-term waste management, not just of fuel, but of the scrapped power station, as well as the cost of insuring against another Fukushima. Who is going to do that? The cost broke one of the biggest power companies on earth, they've just had a taxpayer rescue. They're too big to fail. I suppose the main benefit to a power company of owning nuclear is that it guarantees government protection, they can't let you go bust or your nuclear stuff would just be unattended! Imagine the liquidator just padlocking the gate of a nuclear power plant they way they would to other businesses.

197:

I'm struggling to find useful info on the proportion of that price that is land value, but I think it's actually most of it.
Which is why our houses are so obscenely priced cf the USA.
http://www.uklanddirectory.org.uk/land-prices-england-uk.asp

198:

If it is a show-stopper, then nuclear energy is not a competitive source of energy, end of story.

Lying about the price does not change that, it only obscures it.

It looks like the consensus above was inching closer to "nuclear should be nationalized", that could answer your "who."

If people prefer slightly/somwhat/very (take your pick) expensive electricity all the time, over wildly variable prices and occasional unavailability, nothing prevents them from making that choice.

Some people (like Finland) don't have the choice in the first place.

199:

According to World Nuclear Association 2008: ” Experience has shown that each year of additional delay in the construction of a nuclear power plants adds another estimated $1 billion to the cost”.[8] According to Greenpeace the renewable energy alternative was dropped in Finland as it was half a billion euros more expensive than the presented nuclear plant calculations. The environmental organization estimated the final nuclear power plant to be at least 2.5 billion € more expensive than the renewable alternative would have been.[9]

Seems like there was a choice, but the pro-nukes got the verdict. In the long run, the Finns will regret this decision, imo

200:

To be honest I don't particular trust either sides numbers in Finland.

The nuke people make much of the fact that they have a fixed price contract (likely the only one ever), so they won't be paying for the delay/overruns, whereas the greens calculations look no less optimistic than the original estimate for the nuclear plant.

In the end I'm not going to tell the finns what they should do, it's their future and they pay for it.

201:

Here's something from Helsingin Sanomat
None of Finland’s four reactors that are currently in use would withstand the "maximum credible accident " impact of a large aircraft.
“The Olkiluoto 3 reactor will be the first in the world to have a protective cover that would withstand a direct hit by a large jumbo jet”, TVO’s Lehtiranta says.
The reactors currently in use have been fortified, and they can now withstand the impact of a small plane.
Finnish Greenpeace energy spokesperson Jehki Härkönen feels that Finland’s nuclear industry does not give a sufficiently realistic picture of the risks of nuclear power plants.
“They want to give the impression that it is very unlikely that anything could happen. In principle, the risk exists. If all reserve energy disappears, we would be in the same situation as in Japan. A basic characteristic of nuclear energy is that the risks are truly very big, although unlikely.”

202:

What amazed me when I first moved over here is just how little land is actually sold. Most places I looked at were leasehold, with various versions of long term leases. There is surprisingly little freehold property available, and that sells for a significant premium.

I vaguely remember reading something that the vast majority of land in the UK is owned by a small group of people, those who used to be top dog a few centuries back. It then gets leased out by different groups in turn in successively smaller parcels till you get to house sized lots.

That being said, the figures quoted on the site you linked nicely ignore the effects of inflation. The land value for London has doubled, not increased by 624%. £759k in 1983 is the equivalent of £2.5m today, and they state the land would be worth £5.5m now. Same for the Wales example, £85k in 1983 is £300k in 2009, or 1/3 the £980k posted. Not quite a 1081% increase.

203:

The thing is, if you look at actually extant nuclear power programmes they are extremely economic, even with all externalities counted. The french reprocess, and have plans in place for long term storage. The swedes are actually building a geological repository, and all of this is paid for by the utilities. There is no off the book expenses there - Swedish nuclear, in fact, operates under a special extra tax. And the french are still paying some 30 Billion Euros less for their power every year than they would for a german energy mix. Maybe they are not accounting for a proper insurance level correctly. But.. To the tune of 30 billion a year? No. Look up the electricity costs, construction costs, and actual policies of France, Sweden, Japan (the cleanup will be expensive. It will not be infinitely expensive) and South Korea.

So why does everyone think nuclear is so uneconomic? Because all the easily available sources cite estimated numbers for the cost of new construction in the united states of lawsu.. I mean america. And the historical record and present expertise in nuclear build there is abysmal. US utilities may be world leaders in operating nuke plants, but getting them built there is a legal, finacial, and political nightmare. When the EDF wants to finance a new reactor in France, the cost of capital it ends up paying is around 4% and it can be assured that the reactor will eventually produce power.
If a US utility wants to raise money for nuclear build from wallstreet they are asked to pay 10-15% interest, and risk the project being scuttled politically without ever going critical.
- The US nuclear industry was not spiked by three mile island, it was spiked by the shoreham reactor. Spending umpteen billion to build a reactor and then never being allowed to use the damm thing is the kind of thing that makes investors flee screaming into the night. -
Its a minor miracle anyone in the US is even trying again, and the ones who do try are either doing it via foreign vendor finace or by raising the money directly from their customer base.

204:

The leasehold thing is true for certain areas, esp the South, I suspect. Here in the boonies, freehold is available.

205:

The low cost of capital they enjoy is the big reason why EDF is so gungho for new build nuclear build. The coupon on a EDF bond is typically around 4 percent. Assuming 2 % inflation, that means their real cost of capital is 2%. At which point, even an EPR that comes in at 4 billion euros to build is a money printing machine, and they are for historical reasons quite sure they can get the Nth-of-a-kind a lot below that.

206:

Most places I looked at were leasehold, with various versions of long term leases

You were presumably looking at apartments/flats. When it comes to houses, I don't think I've encountered one built on lease-hold land in southern England at least, though I won't say there aren't any.

(Even in the case of the single flat I lived in, the land was owned by the management company, it was the flats which were leased to their residents.)

207:

We have and old saying in the nordic countries "Don't praise your wife until you have buried her" and the same goes for nuclear.

Both Sweden, France and Germany have not accounted for accident insurance in any way. Call Lloyds and ask for a quote, and you will find a lot of the 30b/y evaporate.

They also have yet to clean up, and see what that costs.

But it is very important here to keep existing nuclear states, which got in when it was cheap, and new nuclear states which will have to pay modern prices.

The cost of a countrys first nuclear plant is at least 20-25% higher than number two, because you have to build a lot of scaffolding.

For instance you need to staff a regulatory agency with personel with phd+5y or msc+10y experience, presently a very competitive jobmarket in europe.

You also need to write a lot of essays to IEAE about non-proliferation, beef up your emergency services, do geological surveys, build a college which can educate the manpower you need, and so on.

All of this stuff takes time. A realistic timescale is 25-30 years from political decision to first plant turn-on. See for instance Poland.

Considering that it is money up front, and that a disturbing high fraction of nuclear plants never gets built to completion, and few politicians can see the attraction.

Compare this to an existing nuclear state, which more or less just needs to draw a cross and two circles on the map and start building, incurring only marginal increments of overhead, and you get an entirely different picture.

If I were a Danish billionaire and wanted a nuclear plant named after me, I could get it 10 years faster and at least 20% cheaper if gets a german or swedish zip-code and I run a few km's of 400kV line from there to Denmark.

208:

Some update via New Scientist (which may require registration, though it shows for me and I'm logged out) on Fukushima Daiichi.

To briefly summarise, it appears that the cooling system on reactor 1 was knocked out by the quake itself, not by the following tsunami, meaning that it scrammed pretty much without cooling.

On the other hand, the explosion in the reactor 4 building may have been due to cross-leaked hydrogen from reactor 3, rather than being generated in its own building. That'll be another lesson to learn.

209:

How does the cost of the fuel affect whether or not the plant is capable of generating electricity? I can't see a way that the 2 factors are related. Ok, fuel cost is a factor in how much you might wish to charge for the generated electricity, but not in whether or not you can actually generate electricity.

I haven't (at least deliberately) claimed that there is a time when there is no wind across the whole of the North Sea. Wind right in the middle of same though isn't actually any use for driving a wind turbine, until you invent the requesite deep water mooring techniques, and fit up the requesite supply grid. Now can we have your carbon budget for constructing these facilities please?

Also, let me know how satisfied you are with how your domestic electrical kit works when you're browned out down to 5/6 of your domestic mains voltage.

210:

http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/26738/

It's all as clear as mud, as far as I can see. This article suggests on-going chain reactions weeks after the quake.
Video of the spent fuel pool at F4 shows no signs of an obvious nuclear explosion, but that doesn't mean there was no criticality/melting, as some are suggesting. Just that it wasn't an extremely violent onset.

211:

"Also, let me know how satisfied you are with how your domestic electrical kit works when you're browned out down to 5/6 of your domestic mains voltage."

Actually most of my kit will work down to about 2/3 of 230VAC, such is the nature of switch-mode power supplies.

Brown-outs are caused by market failures ("ENRONism"), it has nothing to do with which particular force of nature produces your electricity.

You really seem to miss the only really relevant question by a mile: How much are you willing to pay for electricity ?

If you want it available 24*365, flat rate, no questions asked, any load you care to connect, then nuclear power is for you and you should and will pay what that costs including insurance, etc.

This is like having your own car with a number of drivers standing by at all times. Nice but expensive.

If you are willing to match your energy to a variable price, you can save a lot of money by using PV as roofing material and erecting some wind generators in windy waters.

This is like using public transport and taxis, not as convenient, but usually a lot cheaper.

Just remember that peoples ideological hangups about one particular energy source or other doesn't change the laws of nature and laws of economy.

212:

I haven't (at least deliberately) claimed that there is a time when there is no wind across the whole of the North Sea. Wind right in the middle of same though isn't actually any use for driving a wind turbine, until you invent the requesite deep water mooring techniques and fit up the requesite supply grid.

Gosh, yes, if only there were some people in Britain who had any experience with mooring very large objects in the North Sea and then connecting them up to a supply grid on the sea bed.

213:

@Raven:

I took the time to read some of the stuff you linked to.

This seems to be all about early stage pilot projects.

The situation in Germany is, that we had full legislative support for renewables as early as 1998 (Green Party in power, former left-wing radical streetfighter as "Secretary of State").

The decision was made to pour in real money and thus it happened.
A lot of small-scale, idealistic companies were created, but 13 years later unsupported mass market competitiveness is still "around the corner".

The next step will be - hopefully - full-size, industrial scale. That's desertec (on board ABB, Siemens etc.).

This is seen as a major test by traditional German industry, if anything goes awry it will be a setback for decades.

What I want to tell you: Ultimately you don't have to sell your stuff to people like me, not even to Siemens, ultimately you have to be able to convince the city-council of Lagos and if that were easy, there are pretty hard time constraints.

So, yes, no reason not to try, but don't ever underestimate the research to mass market gap.

214:

Which is why our houses are so obscenely priced cf the USA.

Have you seen how badly many American houses are made? They're mostly timber-framed, with plasterboard walls and board exteriors. They're built for a design life of maybe 30 years; if older, they require extensive renovation. Not to mention lots of insecticide to keep them from being eaten by local wildlife.

(And you get travesties such as the building code in Phoenix, Arizona which bans houses from being built out of adobe -- the traditional and most thermally efficient building material in that neck of the woods desert -- because the local construction firms don't like it.)

This isn't by any means universally true everywhere -- you get condominium developments with reinforced concrete frames for multiple apartments, and you get some properly-built buildings -- but it's remarkably common. Cheap houses in the US are cheap for a reason: land is cheap, and they're shoddily built to boot.

215:

Sorry--I didn't realize (probably forgot) you kept a late schedule.

Houses over 75 years old are often less trouble energy-wise than the ones built post-1950, at least in the USA, whose builders (designers is often the wrong term, kraw) assumed near-unlimited electrical energy and built houses with low ceilings, which do not let daylight in.

"And hopefully in 75-100 years' time the high efficiency dwellings you're pointing to will be commonplace." Lovins argues for 40 years (his goal date is 2050), but he's talking about the USA, where most houses are wooden and may last 100 years, if that. He also argues for subsidies and fees as incentives. I think you may be right, though; in the UK 75-100 years is more plausible.

The RMI proposals also address transportation, industrial production, and electricity generation--check their site.

But time is running out. Researchers in the USA wish the work had kept going from the start of modern energy efficiency research in the 1970s. The burst of right-wing politics in the 1980s cut the research funding. Funding returned with the Obama administration and the appointment of Secretary of Energy Chu, but 30 years have been lost, and the reactionaries are still not done.

216:

Uhuh!! Brown-outs happen when the available generation plant can't feed the load on the grid. "Market forces" may result in generation companies making a decision that they're not going to build and/or run sufficient plant to supply peak load but if they can't get "fuel" for 3 days because there just plain isn't any near their plant that's not market issues.

If you believe that wind power is so wonderful, name me a substansive power network that relies on it to the extent of not having a spinning reserve (for values that include lots of pump-storage hydro as part of same). As for cost, you'll have to pay for that spinning reserve that exists whether you're in denial about its existance or not.

As Charlie indicated above, the best answer to reduced CO2 (but this has other costs) is better insulation and a move to lower energy consumption homewares (eg LCD tv, "low energy" bulbs...)

217:

Gosh, yes, if only there were some people in Britain who had any experience with mooring very tall, thin, high, flat section objects in the North Sea and then connecting them up to a high voltage electrical supply grid on the sea bed.

There, fixed that for you. ;-) Seriously; wind turbines are a distinctly different challenge to oil platforms, not least because they have to present a face some 600 feet high to the wind, rather than just offer a flat platform above peak wave height.

218:

On climate change denialism, collapsing:

A few years back as part of the attack on climate science (and in particular the famous ‘hockey stick’ graph) Senator Joe Barton commission an assessment of the work of Michael Mann and others from Professor Edward Wegman of George Mason University, along with his former student Yasmin Said and some others. [...] It’s just been announced that the paper is to be retracted on the grounds that it contains extensive plagiarism, much but not all of it from Wikipedia. Wegman’s response, showing the wisdom of his research strategy, is to blame his graduate student, who was not, however credited as an author.--John Quiggin
219:

I never said you could run your economy on wind alone, but you would be stupid to not pick up a competitive source of energy if you have it right next door.

Similar for PV: Solar panels make excellent climate protection for you house, better than many widely used roofings which does nothing for their keep, apart from keep you dry.

Getting enough clean energy is going to take everything we can lay our hands on, we can not afford to dismiss any of the technologies just because we think it looks ugly.

With respect to improved building insulation: You're talking to a person from the homeland of RockWool where we put 30+cm of the stuff in new walls. I'm totally with Charles on that one: There is absolutely no excuse for burning fossils just to heat a new building.

And finally: Brown-outs are market failures, and only market failures: If you had a correctly working market you would have full power because you had decided to pay what it cost or you would have no power because you decided not to pay.

What you would end up paying would depend on the quality of the market, where you live and what quality of service you demanded.

Regulating a market badly is much worse than not regulating it at all, because bad regulation effectively can prevent the necessary investments, even if everything else is in place. I attach California as exhibit one.

Poul-Henning

220:

I hate to rain on your parade, but the toughest technical problem about wind generation at sea is corrosion.

All the foundation/mooring/piling stuff are well known and off the shelf solutions.

You cannot point anywhere in the North Sea were you could not have a wind generator installed today with known and proven technology.

Mind you, they may be off the shelf, but they may not be economical, but we know how to do it.

221:

Thank you for the information on German green initiatives.

I agree with you, pretty much down the line. Deployment in the developing world is an issue, scaling up is an issue. The risks are huge. And yet matters cannot continue as they are (which is another way of saying that current energy practices are unsustainable.)

222:

when I was over there on holiday a few years back , I saw a DIY program. the guys were puttting in french windows.
DIY.
he used a reciprocating saw to cut a hole in the wall, put the windows in, nailgunned it into place and that was basically it.
It was a shed, a nicely decorated shed. no wonder theyre cheap. no wonder they come apart in bad weather

223:

Hey Charlie,

Not that I disagree that many US houses are crap, but you don't know what you're talking about.

Houses here are cheap because, historically (and in modern times) we don't have a lot of skilled homebuilders. In fact, balloon construction (timber frame)came about in part because there was a lot of wood in the US, but little skilled construction labor. This makes it possible to put up a lot of buildings quickly, for relatively lower cost. This is a good strategy when your population is highly mobile.

While I love adobe, it's about the most dangerous thing you can build with in earthquake country. Yes, Phoenix is earthquake country, although it's nothing like California. There are earth buildings that are earthquake proof (check out earth bags), but they're rare, in part because the builders had to demonstrate on shaker tables that they're buildings were sound, in part because few people know how to make them, and in part because yes, construction inspectors don't know enough to evaluate them properly.

Here in California, we have this nasty trade-off between earthquake safety (timber framing is great, as is any other light-weight building), fire safety (adobe is pretty good for this for this), energy efficiency (adobe is great), and the nasty hangover from the California dream, that says people can have whatever they want (like a mock tudor half- timbered house with green lawn in a fire area. Building a house that is simultaneously energy efficient, fire proof, and earthquake proof is pretty difficult. Requiring it to be conventionally pretty only makes things worse.

Personally, I'm not upset about the flimsiness of most 20th Century US houses. Many were built in suboptimal places, exist only because water, energy, and food are being constantly imported, and were built there to house workers for an industry that may no longer exist. I'm not going to be upset when they fall down and blow away.

This isn't unique to the US. Much of the Mediterranean, for example, has remnants of old villages and farming terraces all over the mountains. These marginal lands were exploited for perhaps a generation in the 19th Century, by an expanding population who had no other choice. Many of the people on those scratch farms emigrated to the US, and even today the population of the northern Mediterranean is lower than it was in the 19h Century. People move, and sometimes it's inefficient and ineffective to build long-lasting houses for them.

224:

Quite high pressure actually, so as to provide steam well above 100 Celsius.

225:

Have you seen how badly many American houses are made? They're mostly timber-framed, with plasterboard walls and board exteriors. They're built for a design life of maybe 30 years; if older, they require extensive renovation. Not to mention lots of insecticide to keep them from being eaten by local wildlife.

Some wood frame housing in the US is shoddy, while much of the existing C19th brick housing stock in the UK is also shoddy. All those "charming" city houses with single skin brick walls with next to no wall insulation. From an energy perspective, wood frame housing is far less energy intensive to construct, with the gypsum interior walls and concrete foundations the most energy intensive components. Contrast that to the energy costs of bricks. Wood frame houses are easy to insulate in the wall cavities. The construction is also a feature, as it is much easier to modify a wood frame house after construction, including insulating the walls. Here in California, you need the flexible walls to resist earthquakes. Termite control is a few times within the 30 years. Complete rebuilds are easy to do. If you bury the old wood, you have a nice carbon sequestration cycle as well. It's true that wood houses will not last for 100's of years, but I submit that this makes it a lot easier to escape from creeping fossilization in the name of "historical preservation".


226:

I looked at land prices in Scotland, with a view to building my own house there. Not in the densely inhabited bits. The prices were ludicrous - about the same as England. Even looked at the Outer Hebrides (plenty of windpower). Incredibly low pop density, harder to get to than New York, dwindling population - and building land at $100k per acre

227:

$100k per acre?

Hey, that's enough space for 10 dwellings at 'medium' density.

You don't want to see how tightly packed a modern English housing estate can get. We have friends down in Stevenage who have what is really quite a nice house. Three storeys, good sized rooms, built-in double-length garage, etc. But the garden is tiny. I suspect that the total area of the plot is close to equal to the total interior floorspace.

This comes down to restricted planning permission. If you're not legally permitted to build except on land with planning permission, and such planning permission is tightly restricted to avoid urban sprawl, then such land will cost much, much more than the same land without PP. (Agricultural land round here is something like $5k per acre.)

People do occasionally attempt to build without PP, sometimes trying to disguise the result as a barn or other agricultural structure. It's not a good idea, since the penalty can be that they then have to pay to have the result demolished.

Restricting urban sprawl here is necessary - going with the figures on Wikipedia, the area of England is only about 6 times that of the Atlanta metropolitan area, while having 10 times its population.

As you will have noted, Scotland, Wales and both parts of Ireland are much less packed. But there is still a strong pressure on building land.

228:

The thing about Scotland is that it is one of the least densely populated parts of Europe. And the Outer Hebrides is around 10 people per sq km and falling. Yet land prices are still ludicrous even if I wanted to live in the middle of nowhere with no services whatsoever for miles in any direction. In fact, it would be cheaper for me to buy a house in France with 1 acre of ground than there. As for somewhere like Bulgaria, you can get a basic crap house and a couple of acres of land for around $15k. It would also be cheaper and quicker for me to get there than the Hebrides, to put it in perspective

229:

And these houses are right in the tornado/hurricane route. That's why we see so much damage, injury, and death.

230:

Most of the damage and deaths is with trailer homes that are very flimsy in comparison, and don't have cellars.

231:

Reading a lot of these discussions makes me grow quite worried about the lacking forsight of a certain kind of green argument - the ones that discount unreliable power and brownouts as a luxury problem. Say.. what?
Have you ever even visited a country where this happens on a regular basis? Because it is a human and enviormental disaster. If the grid is not reliable and power goes out on a regular basis, industry and commerce suffer huge disruption, food spoils, people die, and everyone gets hideously polluting backup generators.
More importantly, the political response is an unstoppable demand for reliable power whatever the cost. A carbon neutral grid that isnt 99+% reliable will not stay carbon neutral because people will add combustion engines to it until it is reliable. And burn anything and everything that even looks combustible in them. Electricity is the lifeblood of our civilization to a degree nearly incomprehensible untill you flip the switch and nothing happens.

232:

One of the current arguments in Germany is, that this can easily be overcome by corn-based bio-gas and burning wood pellets (that will somehow come out of nowhere without damaging the forests - not to mention the environment).

233:

there's this story about 3 little pigs,
, I know wolves aren't tornadoes ,but.....

234:

Alex, you have a more optimistic view of power companies than I do. I got to look at a lot of projections from the 50s/60s from government and private power companies when working on the WPPSS litigation.

I don't share your rosy-eyed view as a result. Power companies are just as short-sighted as other entities.

235:

NOT ON POST, BUT IN USE. The main cost of homes is not from the cost of the home but the codes that price the home to what is wanted there. You have Hay (or weed) bale homes. A hay bales worth of insulation, stuccoed on the walls. They say that the bales are so compressed it's like burning phone books. No need they say, for the borax I was trying in the 70's. The ones I know of look Adobe. And can be earth-quake proof. I hope poor people in Cold Lands find out about them. The old timers in the Great Alkaline Desert used clay mud on the walls. Bale buildings must be the cheapest and greenest of hyper-insulationed buildings. With mud on the bails animals will try and eat them. The Germans have been Mother Nature worshipers for years. Far too much so I think. The Old Green God is more important than people.

236:

"Have you ever even visited a country where this happens on a regular basis?"

Yes, I have lived in San Francisco.

237:

Pet peeve alert: debunking of renewable energy debunking ahead: rare earths are not mined in Central America.

Oddly, I'm not a coal advocate at all, and I _am_ in favour of a sensible mix of nuclear and 'renewables'.
I was certainly under the impression that PV's were 'nasty' to make, but I will now have to temper that opinion with the new info you provided and I shall have to investigate further.
Many Thanks!

238:

That's very much my point. I have no particular issues with developing additional technologies. My issue is with the wind power advocates who have said "something must be done. This is something and we can do it now, therefore we must do it and only it"!

I lived through the early 1970s in the UK (as did many of us) and have no particular wish to revisit a condition where everyone was systematically and deliberately deprived of all electrical power for several hours a week.

239:

You probably traffic in different circles than me, but I have not encounted any wind-enthusiasts who claim that wind turbines is the only thing we should do.

At least not to any degree different from coal-mine owners who think we should only do coal, nuclear advocates who think we should only have nuclear power and carpenters who think all problems would be solved if we had carpenters running the show.

If we want to do something about the CO2-pollution, we will need all to put all non-fossil technologies in play, there is no single technology which can do it.

One interesting example is bio-fuels.

If you do the math on how much biofuel we can realistically produce and then compare that to the amount of fuel we need for tractors, grainharvesters and other implements of modern day farming, you will know where almost all the biofuels will go.

This is because a tractor is a very interesting and totally ignored corner case: It cannot be bulky or heavy, that would destroy crops or soil respectively, yet it needs to have a tremendous amount of energy to do the job.

Battery-powered tractor ? Forget it, too heavy and bulky.

Anything gasseous (biogas, hydrogen etc) ? Too bulky and/or weak.

You *could* run it with a trailing electrical cable in some small fraction of fields, just like you do irigation systems.

But in the end, there are very few fuels which pack as much punch as our good ol' hydrocarbons: 35MJ/l

Yes, we'll se bio-fuels in the agricultural industry, but not in our cars.

240:

I'm not aware of anyone who is saying that we should only use wind-power.
As to the rota load-shedding of the 70's, that came from the miners strike and was the result of over-reliance on one source of energy. The deliberate element stemmed from the correct perception that brownouts are worse.

241:

Have you actually read all the comments on this thread? I have the distinct impression that this over-reliance is exactly where Poul-Henning (and the Scottish Government) wish us to go.

242:

There's an important caveat hidden by the ellipsis you put into the John Quiggin quote - which is that the paper that is being withdrawn was a follow-up to the Wegman Report (albeit a polished up and reformatted-for-the-conventions-of-an-academic-paper section of that report) rather than the report itself.

The congressional report cannot be formally withdrawn because it was never a part of the peer reviewed academic system. There are other sanctions which might apply however - misleading Congress is a felony in the US for instance, so passing off a report as your own work when in fact it is substantially plagiarised might be the basis for a criminal prosecution. John Mashey (or the lawyers he has talked to at least) thinks that indictments could ultimately flow from this affair.

Regards
Luke

243:

If it wasn't clear enough: I belive we will need all non-fossil fuel technologies if we want to curb our CO2 pollution. This includes nuclear, wind, wave, tidal, solar, biomass etc.

244:

What awful rubbish.
www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/237670/0065265.pdf
This document indicates an intent to use an enormous range of different technologies. Also, they don't have plans for anywhere but Scotland.

245:

You don't want to see how tightly packed a modern English housing estate can get.

This is a problem because their builders (I don't say architects because they usually dispense with an actual architect) refuse to design them in any way appropriate to the density they try to achieve. So everything tries to look like a Victorian terrace but cut out of the terrace because terraces are common, pointing at funny non-Euclidean angles to each other to fit in the average car turning-circle in the culdesacs, with the canonical patch of lawn that's actually smaller than the garage and huge windowless gable ends looming over it. And because the developer can say that they've given everyone a lawn, there are absolutely no public services at all.

It's probably contingency planning for Case NIGHTMARE GREEN - they make up a sinister swastika-mandala from above, staked out at the vertices with the SCORPION STARE cameras.

246:

Alex Tolley @ 225:

Actually, timber construction probably survives for hundreds of years (or until burned down by the neighbourhood arsonist). My house is only 120 years old and pretty much unscathed so far.

I don't see why this wouldn't be the case for wood frame constructions as well, except that they haven't even existed as technologies for so long that we'd be able to tell. Wood as such does not deteriorate very quickly when it is dry. If you can't keep your building load bearing structure dry, your mechanism is either unsuitable for the location or the workmanship is just substandard.

There are valid arguments for saying other technologies than wood are better for buildings, but spontaneous biological breakdown is not a strong one.

247:

I visited Paris properly for the first time recently (I've passed through before now, even staying the night in the process, but never paused to look around before). And I was struck by the way that city (at least the older part of it - I can't speak for the housing projects) manages to achieve a consistent elegance while having a high density, by dint of having 8 floor buildings running along the wide boulevards.

In London, the nearest equivalent would be parts of Kensington.

248:

Well excuse me for judging a government by its actions rather than its policy documents! ;-)

249:

You may be right about my optimism about utilities. I've also spent many years at the other end of the spectrum with start up tech companies that can barely plan 6 months ahead.

However historically, public utility companies in the US used to have pretty stable earnings and dividend streams, with stock betas well below 1.0, indicating that earnings predictability was much better than most large companies in the S&P500. That has to imply something about forward planning beyond their local monopoly business model.

250:

spontaneous biological breakdown is not a strong one

Let me guess - you don't get a lot of termites in your neck of the woods?

But yes, where neither fire nor termite is a threat, decently treated wood should last well enough.

As, I hope, will straw. We were somewhat surprised to discover that our internal walls aren't the usual plaster-board mounted on laths affair, but heavily compressed straw with a plaster skim on top. It certainly makes for excellent insulation of both sound and heat, and it's so solid it would probably only char in a fire, but it's a bit trickier for mounting sockets and the like into.

251:

bellinghman @ 250:

Yeah, the nearest termite is probably thousands of miles to the south. I have no clear idea really.

I guess local conditions with respect to buildings vary wildly, so wisdom of structural choices is going to be local.

I mean, we had the largest earthquake in decades here the other week. I could actually hear the glasses on the shelf tingle! Couldn't actually feel anything, of course. It was only when I read the paper the next day I realized what it was.

On the other hand, we don't have the insulation discussion people in the south currently have, because if we hadn't always had insulation, all of us would be dead.

252:

The new power station they have announced for Islay is tidal.

253:

"It is a matter of wanting to be on the side of power and authority, not truth and compassion."

Okay, fuck you.

Wanting to be on the side of power and authority? I see precisely one way to stave off a Malthusian catastrophe, and that's to expand our electrical generation capacity to cover what oil isn't going to be able to do for us any more -- and what, given its emissions, it shouldn't do, either.

Nuclear looks like the only way to me, and so far, while I've seen a lot of attacks at my motivations and intent, I've yet to see anyone come up with the kind of solid numbers that would relieve my fears, and quite a lot of people coming up with very solid numbers to show that I'm on the right side of the issue when it comes to the question of whether or not renewables can keep our species from going through another die-off at least the equal of the Black Death.

I'm arguing the way I am because I don't want to see, in my own lifetime, the start of a catastrophe which will claim tens of millions of human lives.

If that's "being on the side of power and authority, rather than truth and compassion", then fuck it and fuck you, I give up. I'm done. Y'all have a blast.

254:

Some of it will also be availability of materials. If you have a lot of forest around (e.g. Finland), then it makes sense to build from that. If you're somewhere where all the native forest is either long gone, or reserved for ship building (e.g. England), then you look for other materials. That might well be stone if quarries are available. If that's not on, then you've probably got mud or clay of some form, and that with straw will give you bricks.

If not even mud, then rammed earth is a nice material.

These days, much of the structure of new-build English houses is concrete blocks (aka breeze-block), with brick for facing.

For dense housing, wood may be problematic, as the great fires of San Francisco, London and Royston bear witness to.

(Losing large chunks of a town three times in half a millennium is unfortunate. I don't know how common it is, though.)

255:

whether or not renewables can keep our species from going through another die-off at least the equal of the Black Death.

Don't you mean "from going through another phase of rota load-shedding like we had in the 70's" or, indeed as Iraq has now. Or San Francisco?
I survived the three-day week. It wasn't fun having the telly go off every so often, but it didn't wipe us out. I understand some North American power companies are too incompetent to organise it, and have hellish brownouts instead. That is a management issue.
As to solid figures, there have been a number of reports quoted on here that you could read if you choose, including one by the United Nations (IPCC).

256:

Okay, fuck you.

Aaron, this is your yellow card. Address anyone else in these comments in those terms again and you're banned.

This goes for everyone else, too: see the moderation policy if in doubt.

(I'm only leaving your comment in situ because the rest of it is a statement of your position.)

257:

Let me know when a tidal power station demonstrates reliability and availability, and the capability to survive a 100 year storm in an operable condition (before and after; I'll be generous and not demand during like fossil fuels and hydro could both do).

258:

The fruits of a few minutes googling:

The largest tidal power station in the world (and the only one in Europe) is in the Rance estuary in northern France. It was built in 1966.

The Fundy tidal power demonstration project in the Minas Basin, near Parrsboro, was given the green light Tuesday by Nova Scotia's Environment Minister Sterling Belliveau.

Marine Current Turbines is emerging as a big player in the relatively nascent tidal power industry. The company installed the world’s first offshore tidal current device in 2003. And in 2008, it installed and commissioned the 1.2MW SeaGen commercial prototype tidal current turbine in Strangford Narrows in Northern Ireland. SeaGen generated at its full output of 1.2MW onto the local grid in December 2008,

The Indian state of Gujarat is intending to host the first commercial-scale tidal power station in Asia.The company, Atlantis Resources, is to fix a 50MW tidal farm in the Gulf of Kutch on India’s west coast, with construction beginning early in 2012. The capacity may be enlarged to deliver more than 200MW.
La Rance in France is the biggest operating tidal station in the world, generating 240MW, and South Korea is intending to also build several large facilities. To declare the title of “Asia’s first”, the Indian project will have to overrun developments at Sihwa Lake, a South Korean tidal barrage under construction on the west coast.

Renewal energy offers a brilliant hope for humanity's future. Why not just enjoy the prospect, instead of clinging to outmoded ideas like nuclear?

259:

Right now, I see energy as too cheap to motivate its use in a conservative manner.

With electricity, the idea that the lights should be turned off in a room you're leaving for an hour is rarely a priority. Electric clothes dryers that heat air and then blow it outside the home are common. In whole regions of the U.S., whole-house air conditioning is considered normal. There's some labeling of appliance efficiency (including of course electric ovens :-), but it's a rare appliance where the more efficient one will make a significant difference in running costs.

With transportation gas/petrol/diesel, we're starting to do better (particularly in Europe as I understand it), but the N.American version has fuel economy relatively far down the list of wants in a vehicle (a list which should really start with "Why am I living somewhere which doesn't allow me to walk to work and shopping").

As far as manufacturing, we appear to have made great strides in bulding masses of plastic crap on the other side of the world. This stuff is amazingly cheap at retail, but practically disposable. It is definitely not a better use of energy resources to continually shift a toaster or blender into a landfill in return for a shiny new (poorly made) one.

With respect to electrical grid availability/brownouts and so forth: We don't necessarily have to use the third-world model for this. The smart-grid model where household energy consumers (appliances) sit and wait for the electricity price to get low enough (or the fridge temperature to get too high, etc) before switching on allows much more plasticity in supply.

There are huge gains which can be made in energy conservation, but they won't occur from people talking about them and wanting to be green, they'll occur when taking them saves enough money to motivate the inconvenience/investment in them.

260:

Rance has been there for decades, and yet it's the 'only one in Europe'? That sounds sadly like a dead end to me.

(I remember the first time I took a commercial flight, to Nantes, looking down and seeing this thing I'd been studying in French lessons at school. We'd also studied another dead end in those lessons - Concorde.)

The problem with many tidal power schemes is their environmental impact. That's much of the reason why the UK Severn Barrage had never got a go-ahead, despite being on what is possibly the most promising site in the world.

261:

There is no need for a tidal power station to survive a 100 year flood intact - so long as sufficient power generation capacity is available until reconstruction.

Fulfilling this requirement without fossil and nuclear power, however, is unlikely enough even before the flood - unless you don't care about massive destruction of the environment you wanted to protect in the first place.

262:

> Renewal energy offers a brilliant hope for humanity's future.

In which we destroy the environment in order to protect it.

263:

Actually a major planetary die-off is a perfectly reasonable possibility (Ever heard of "possible reasons for the Perm-Trias mass extinction"? Main suspect is a major coal fire.) And a global epidemic of diesel back-up generators in case of brown-outs would definitely not help.

Personally, I think, that people who are fully convinced renewables will do the job one way or the other, lack cynicism.
That doesn't mean I'm not happy, if it works. It only means, I wouldn't seriously tempt fate without a back-up plan.

264:

Biogas (animal feces, not the biomass scam) is great. Lowtech, easily mass produceable, should be an obvious solution for Africa/India,

How much surplus animal feces is there for this? After all a lot of it goes to fertilizer for crops. I suspect taking it from that use would be a bad idea.

And yes I know feed lots in Chicago and other similar places have a surplus but that doesn't help out India much at all.

265:

And everybody should of course pay for production and clean up externalities in what ever way WTO decides these costs should be carried.

Ah, yes. Of course the WTO will never make such decisions based on politics or the profits of national industries. It is of course a purely logical body with all decisions based on facts which everyone agrees to. Of course how you weight the facts is also obvious and simple.

266:

Its a minor miracle anyone in the US is even trying again, and the ones who do try are either doing it via foreign vendor finace or by raising the money directly from their customer base.

At one level they have no choices. It's either big coal or nuclear. And both are a mess to get built. Here in NC Progress and Duke are merging to form the largest power company in the US. Part of the reason is so they have access to the capital markets to build nuclear, coal, or other plants. And by other they are funding (guaranteeing to by power from) renewable sources if they build plants. But over the next 10 years or so they have a real pressing need to shut down a slew of small to mid sized old coal plants that are going to cost a fortune to keep running. Add economic growth to that and you get into a situation where here in the Carolinas it's either mega coal or nuclear. Renewables can't come close for years.

And yes they've been instituting programs to subsidize CFL and LED lights, AC controls if they need it in the summer, trade in programs for old appliances, etc... But even if these programs go like gang busters they still will need new big plants.

Or we get to be colder, hotter, and darker and companies like Apple, Google, Boeing, etc... will take their facilities elsewhere.

267:

Okay, so the biggest tide power system currently in operation is 240Mw (La Rance). That's approximately half the output of each of the AGR reactors at Torness, or one of the older BWRs at Fukushima Daiichi. You'd need 50-100 sites delivering that power level to meet the UK's power demand alone -- and good luck getting tide power to work in Afghanistan or Switzerland.

The Severn Barrage would be one of the wonders of the world -- it's one of the best sites anywhere for tide power, and could deliver up to 5Gw, or around 5% of the UK's power draw. Unfortunately building it would completely fuck a huge stretch of coastline including habitats of endangered species and unique wetlands that have been designated sites of scientific interest. That, incidentally, is one of the biggest problems with tidal power: the prime locations for it are such that building it would be an environmental disaster.

268:

That is only a problem for reservoir-style tidal power. The "flow" kind, where you basically mount a wind-generator upside down have much smaller environmental impact, but correspondingly harder engineering problems. In addition to tidal, some people are eyeing the golf current, for instance in straits between the Faroy Islands.

269:

golf current

You sure that's not the one off Hilton Head Island? :)

270:

I am enough of an optimist to think that, within the decade, wind turbines and possibly photovoltaic systems can offer cheaper electricity (dollars per megawatt hour) than any coal plant if:

1) They're ideally situated, in the sunniest or windiest places you can find.
2) The electricity produced is used at point of generation rather than tied into a grid.
3) The electricity produced is used at time of generation, without substantial backup or storage mechanisms.

Transmission and especially storage are major costs for intermittent renewables, and I don't think they'll beat coal on cost this decade if you need those features. Unfortunately, it's hard to think of useful processes that need electricity and can simply follow supply. Even if (e.g.) you manage to design an aluminum smelter that can start and stop at a moment's notice, you also need to design it to be much less capital intensive since the capacity factor is going to be much lower than a conventional plant's. But if really cheap electricity is found under those constraints, will people find ways to use it?

An alternative scenario: suppose that a decade out, either due to nuclear cost-cutting or rising fossil fuel prices (due to externalities being priced in or otherwise), a Chinese/Russian/South Korean/French nuclear reactor is technically the cheapest source of electricity going. And it runs at full power all the time! But it's an inconsistent money-maker in established markets because renewables are cutting into peak electricity prices and the post-Fukushima regulations are eroding the price advantages gained from superior design and manufacturing.

Solution: further vertical integration. Find a relatively poor nation that's willing to let you run your reactor without much red tape, and use it make energy-intensive commodities instead of supplying electricity to other end-users. Plunk down a few gigawatts of reactors in (e.g.) Jamaica and use them to make aluminum, silicon, magnesium, ammonia fertilizers, and anything else that uses a lot of energy to turn abundant, cheap raw materials into much more valuable commodities. The raw materials are widely available, so you can shop around for the ideal compliant government and location.

You save money four ways: lower regulation, lower risks to investors in case your under-regulated plant has an accident (compare Fukushima/TEPCO with Bhopal/Union Carbide), no need to build electrical distribution along with generation, and lower transportation costs per dollar of commodity shipped. A ton of Jamaican bauxite is about 50 times as valuable after it's been converted to aluminum, and it's only half the weight after processing. Iceland's already a major aluminum refining location due to cheap electricity, even though the bauxite needs to be shipped in. If nuclear energy ever produces the cheapest electricity around on purely technical grounds, expect nuclear reactors to be built where the local government doesn't ask too many questions.

Bonus value and security: use low-grade waste heat from your reactors to run desalination plants and supply water to your relatively impoverished and poorly governed host nation. As a successful multinational corporation you can more easily get large projects running than the local weak/corrupt/underfunded/inexperienced (pick up to 4) government. You can sell it at a modest profit to locals who probably don't have enough clean water to start with. Then the ordinary people too will have a real stake in the continued operation of your nuclear facilities. By the time business conditions or international activists put pressure on the plants to close, the locals will be clamoring for you to stay just for the water, the government having built no new water facilities in 20 years thanks to superior service from the private sector (you).

271:

Electric clothes dryers that heat air and then blow it outside the home are common.
and
The smart-grid model where household energy consumers (appliances) sit and wait for the electricity price to get low enough (or the fridge temperature to get too high, etc) before switching on allows much more plasticity in supply.

A few questions. What do you do with that heat in the summer? Also just how do you wash 4 or 5 loads of laundry if you let the machine run itself. And yes in theory you could do one load a night but that gets hard when you have blue jeans and white dress shirts plus other items that don't mix well in the wash that need to be cleaned. And there's the issue of having kids in the house or people who work in their yards or on their car or whatever. Of course you could say that we need to buy more clothes so we don't HAVE to wash things right away or have less kids. But in a real family with 3 to 5 people who don't live in an urban environment where they never get their hands dirty laundry is multiple loads per night. And with a baby one load a night is a joke.

In whole regions of the U.S., whole-house air conditioning is considered normal.

In a well insulated and designed house it's more efficient to keep the entire house cool than re cool areas as needed. This does not mean that set back thermostats are not a good thing for when people are not home. And to be honest based on practical experience using the same ducting/delivery system for heat and cooling in the middle to southern US is a big loose for 1/3 of the year.

In 1968 my father and I installed the central air into a house we built and did it green. Ranch house running east to west with bedrooms on the east end. Two AC units, one for the east end, one for the west with the west unit being 1/3 more capacity than the east. Thermostat at the west end of the house controlled if the AC was running or not. Thermostat at the east end of the house controlled just whether or not the compressor at that end would run. Return air ducting mixed are for all ends of the house. The eastern compressor rarely ran. Usually only when the temps where in the 90+F range. We had consistently lower electric bills than most anyone with a house of similar size. But you have to add the $$ upfront for this and most builders will not do it because most home buyers of new homes "don't get it".

There's some labeling of appliance efficiency (including of course electric ovens :-), but it's a rare appliance where the more efficient one will make a significant difference in running costs.

That's my problem with "energy efficient" appliances. My basement second fridge from 1978 costs $50 to $70 a year to run. Maybe. Would I notice a life style bump if that was $30? Or even $0. Not really. Especially if I had to buy a replacement. But swapping out light bulbs saves me a few $100 per year. And that I start to notice.

but the N.American version has fuel economy relatively far down the list of wants in a vehicle (a list which should really start with "Why am I living somewhere which doesn't allow me to walk to work and shopping").

Not any more. Fuel Econ is a big deal with the majority of buyers. But when you have a 10 year old car with nothing wrong but the FE then it's a hard choice to make. If cars only lasted 3 to 5 years like in the 50s and 60s we'd get to a high FE over here fast. But with cars lasting 10 to 15 years, it is going to take a while.

272:

Bonus value and security: use low-grade waste heat from your reactors to run desalination plants and supply water to your relatively impoverished and poorly governed host nation.

I can just see the campaign against this now.

Company XYZ/County ABC wants to take us over by forcing us to drink radioactive water.

273:

As far as fertiliser is concerned, I'm under the impression digesting your slurry or whatever first to get the biogas is a positive benefit. Plants don't get their energy from fertiliser - they use it for trace elements and compounds: nitrates, sulphates, phosphates and the like. Those are exactly the substances you don't want coming off in your methane fermenter.

274:

Sure, there are lots of ways it could be campaigned against and lots of ways that it wouldn't even be attempted in the first place. The most obvious reason it might not happen is if there's never enough design work and serial production experience with nuclear reactors to make them truly cheaper than coal, even discounting the higher (and probably soon to be higher still) regulatory expectations of nuclear power in well-governed nations.

If the technology and business case is there, though, I wouldn't bet too much on popular opinion keeping projects out. In the case of Jamaica, for example, foreign aluminum companies already control nearly 10% of the total island for bauxite production, and said production has caused a lot of water pollution. But it's also the highest-paying line of work in Jamaica, and the government is heavily dependent on revenue from resource exports, so it is unlikely to disappear before the bauxite does. You can see the love/hate relationship even in developed nations: coal mining regions may have many people who hate the coal companies, their environmental destruction, and the working conditions in the mines, but they hate the idea of unemployment or local budget shortfalls even more.

A pliable government can give your corporation the foot in the door it needs to start the project, and once there's tax revenue/jobs/clean water coming in, enough ordinary people (if not a majority) will have a stake in continued success that you probably don't need to worry about popular uprising. At least, you need worry no more than other foreign-controlled industries in the country.

275:

Transmission and especially storage are major costs for intermittent renewables

Transmission losses for latest generation AC lines are surprisingly low.

It comes down to the question of folding or all in.

If you're serious about renewables (beyond a 20% deco range), I don't see a way around a big, big grid investment. In Europe that's on the table right now, will probably be done.

You only have to understand, it's part of the calculation and will end up in the electricity price.

Storage:
Thermal storage is easy. That's why I think solar thermal (Abengoa Solar for example) is the most promising of all renewables.

276:

Have you seen how badly many American houses are made?

While there is some badly constructed houses over here I suspect you're basing much of your opinion on what you see on the news. The media rarely shows you the house that stood up to the wind. More viewers show up if you show the one where there's some poor soul standing in the middle of a pile of trash that used to be their living room.

We had 60 to 80 MPH winds in my neighborhood for about 6 hours continuous when Fran came through. Many of our wood framed houses lost some trim and shingles but the single biggest issue was the damage done by our tall weeds, err southern yellow pines. When an 80+ft tall tree lands on your house, even slowly as most did, you tend to have a non trivial repair needed.

As to the bugs that eat our houses. That costs about me under $200 per year (I can't find the bill just now) for a 100% damage replacement policy. It comes with an annual inspection and I think a $2000 buy in fee. The buy in gets you an initial treatment and close order inspection.

And to be honest building houses out of lumber isn't the issue. It's easy to do 99% of the work to keep them out with a nice metal flashing between your foundation and the wood structure above. It's the location that's the issue. In the south east, especially Florida, there are many concrete slab houses with concrete block walls with stucco exteriors where the termites have found their way up to the attic then down into the house looking for cellulose. Persistent little bugs they are indeed.

277:

@ 271
"Cars lasting 10 to 15 years"
Small.
Mine iwas built in 1996, and I expect it to see me for at least anither 15-30 years.
But, then, it's a traditional Land-Rover ....
Another story entirely.

278:

The mobile homes are very dangerous, yes, but just as many wood houses are demolished by tornadoes & hurricanes.

279:

Actually a major planetary die-off is a perfectly reasonable possibility
I agree, but I don't think it will be caused by a few power-cuts. People in Baghdad and Basra have been managing on two hours lecky a day. They're not dead, just peeved. And there is no reason to think that using a high proportion of renewables will cause power-cuts anyway, if the system is well-designed. This has all been explained in some other posts on here.

280:

"Mine iwas built in 1996, and I expect it to see me for at least anither 15-30 years.
But, then, it's a traditional Land-Rover ...."

One of our 4 cars is a 96 Ford Explorer with 160K miles. It could easily last another 5 to 10 years but 15 MPG is going to get hard to swallow. I'll likely by something like a used Civic plus a beat up pickup truck to replace it. 95% of the time the Civic will do. But for the other 5% I like the ability to throw a lot in the back or hook up a trailered something.

281:

Fran came through here, too, and tore some vinyl siding off and toppled some trees. But outside our development there was a lot more damage.

282:

My minivan is almost 25 years old (1986) and I really hope it will survive as long as I do. I don't mind the 18mpg since I don't drive very far or often these days, in fact, it just went over 120K.

283:

Timber buildings can last for many centuries. There is solid proof of this all over Europe. The oldest wooden Norwegian church is more than 800 years of age.

http://www.visitnorway.com/en/Articles/Theme/What-to-do/Attractions/Urnes-Stave-Church/

Then, you have those many buildings which use timber for roofing and other structural elements, with stones used for the walls.

When I last visited England I saw roof beams, huge rafters, that were more than 400 years old, in Oxford and Cambridge.

Of course, you have to keep a watch on them constantly and work at rooting out the vermin when necessary.

And then, there's the risk of fire. Big beams take a long time to start burning but a house built in North American standard "balloon frame" wood construction is not made of big solid beams and it will flame up rather fast if it was built before the new codes which specify flame retardant materials for the walls around the wood parts

The biggest town in Northern Alberta, the last town before the Arctic, was devastated by a massive firestorm a few days ago. All those balloon frame homes went up in smoke in no time at all.

http://www.theprovince.com/sports/Slave+Lake+wiped/4801602/story.html

They will most probably be rebuilding again with balloon frame wood construction because it just isn't economical to build in stone and brick up there. Sure , it would be less costly than building a telescope on the far side fo the Moon, but not that much, I reckon.

284:

Faced with global environmental degradation, some sacrifices will have to be made. Lots of SSSI's were destroyed by John Major's Govt because SSSI designation reduced development land value to zero. The cost-benefit analysis programs then decided that they were the cheapest site for new road schemes, so SSSI designation acted as a magnet for destruction. Nobody seemed to care very much.
Windscale(reprocessing plant) polluted the whole of the Irish Sea beyond the permissible levels. Fishermen are still pulling weird mutant fish out of it in significant numbers.
Hunterston has altered the composition of the Firth of Clyde so that if you heat the salt from it in a Bunsen burner it shows dark barium red, not sodium. Our chemistry teacher was gobsmacked.
One of our neighbours was sacked for letting the cooling water out and the sea-water in. It wasn't in the paper. Fortunately that's not as catastrophic in a gas-cooled reactor!
There is no power source that is perfect. I happen to think that nuclear will carry on the way it has started, creating Zones of Alienation, till the habitable zone of the Earth looks like an Emmenthaler cheese. It will also slowly raise radiation levels world-wide, with incalculable effects. In my home neighbourhood in the West of Scotland, many sheep were slaughtered after Chernobyl. My father noticed that the rate of death from cancer in our home town was astonishing after that. His neighbours went down like ninepins.

285:

Seem to remember reading that windscale was a graphite-moderated reactor for plutonium production. Caught fire and a river was diverted through it, irradiating the Irish sea. End nitpick. I do suspect we'll need whatever renewable we can build, efficiency gains and nuclear to meet future demands without burning a lot more coal, and a damning case against coal can be made without AGW.

286:

The death rate by cancer is astonishing by itself. It's 13% in the world average, but the higher life expectancy in a given country, the higher the death rate through cancer. That's because fewer other causes of death are left and if you die of an illness, it will usually be one that is not curable.

And when it comes to zones of alienation - well, about half of my country is a zone of alienation. They are fields. I must not walk on them, I must not live on them, I can see people putting poison on them, I can see people turning them into deserts every single year.

Just getting from point A to B is a big challenge, even when you can see point B from point A because it's property of somebody else and paths are not always available.

All these areas are increasing every year, not least because about 10% of global grain harvest is turned into some kind of fuel. And unless policy changes, this will not change in centuries because agriculture has no half-life and nothing is being done to alleviate its huge impact on the environment - because it is hiding behind a cultural blind spot.

Fields are green, nature is green, they must be good!!!

Well, no.

And btw, the main reason why the Chernobyl zone of alienation is still what it was in 1986, is that the additional radiation limits have been lowered from an initial 300mSv life-time dose, to 150 mSv and now 75mSv.

For comparison:

Due to the fact that Denver is not near the sea level (unlike Chernobyl), its population of 2.5 million people is exposed to an additional 3mSv per year from cosmic radiation or 234 mSv over the average expected life-time of a US citizen.

The problem in Chernobyl is not gamma radiation of Cs-137, it's all the other stuff that often occurs in concentrated "hot" particles that were found all over Europe (in much lower densities). Those particles can cause much higher doses locally when ingested.

Not having a graphite moderator that turned out to be the ideal way to disperse the contents of a reactor all over the place and having a containment that will keep the reactor firmly enclosed, instead of open to the air, makes a huge difference.

The amount of Plutonium found around Fukushima is on the order of 0.01g. On the other hand, Chernobyl dumped 2500 times as much on Finland alone - and about a thousand times more on Belarus and the Ukraine.

That is, however, no excuse not to have emergency equipment maintained, or not to have it installed in the first place, to make up for the flaws that have been discovered after the reactors were build. Especially filtered containment vents, that are installed in European reactors, as well as multiple redundant sets of redundant emergency generators for each reactor.

287:

Tidal power cost all the time but only makes power part of the time. If power could be stored a lot of power problems would be solved. The biggest lake here is a power dam on a river. When power is needed the lake is drown down. Then the lawyers come out. When storage is tried all kinds of people say "not in my back yard." Bird and view lovers hate wind power and are stopping or making it cost more here. Ducting was (and is) in most places sealed with duct tape. In 3 years or so the glue fails and they leak, a lot. Timber buildings last if you take care of the roofs. but people needed something to live in before the snow. Getting timber hundred of miles with wagons is why balloon framimg was used as soon as it was invented. Houses made of bales are better. If you want timber find out how to pay for it. Only the very rich can have it. I love them. I will never ever have one.

288:

You now have the honour of having been officially conned by the British nuclear industry. Join the happy throng!
The pollution I'm referring to came from the reprocessing plant, many, many years after the reactor fire. After they were flushed out into the open by the John Major Govt, they rebranded it as 'Sellafield' in order to mess with your head and mine. I believe this wasn't the first time it had been rebranded.

289:

According to Elena Filatova, the actual zone is still expanding, not due to radiation, but to economic blight. She seems to think it is due to 'regional infrastructure being destroyed'. I can understand that to a degree, though I was astonished to hear the process was still ongoing after all this time. She gives an example of a town which had 10,000 inhabitants after the zone was established, and is now empty.
I suspect a fatal loss of economic confidence is to blame. Who will invest in a town once a certain momentum of depopulation has been established?
having a containment that will keep the reactor firmly enclosed, instead of open to the air,
I believe Chernobyl became open to the air the same way the cooling pond at Fukushima did. Ka-boom! It wasn't intended to be like that, IIRC. I agree that graphite has proven to be an unwise choice as moderator.
It's odd the way that some people think that Fukushima is over. Reading the mainstream news reports, which are largely based on Tepco press releases, it's my impression that radioactive material is still leaking from the plant, and they don't expect to be able to stop it for months.
The schedule for achieving a 'cold shutdown' is imo fictional and purely intended to quell panic. It seems independent of recent events. I don't think they yet really know what happened, never mind how they are going to contain it. If you doubt this, see my posts above and the links.
I am very familiar with the situation in engineering development where the bosses insist on setting a deadline for an activity when you don't yet know in principle how you are going to solve the problem, and have told them that.
I think Fukushima is 100x worse. What a hellish mess! Imagine some greasy manager sitting there and saying 'Yes, I know you don't know what to do, and are on the verge of absolute panic, but tell me how long it's going to take you to fix the situation so I can mark it on the project chart'. Kinnell!

290:

Unaware that Windscale had reprocessing facilities also. Seems that waste would be insignificant compared to a core fire. Seems radiation pales against the carcinogens associated with coal, but coal just doesn't have the same woo factor.

291:

The situation was allowed to deteriorate over many years, due to gross negligence and cost-cutting. There was a TV documentary about it.
Spent fuel rods were kept in open ponds, cooled by sea-water. The rods leaked. The company took no action to deal with the situation. The TV people produced a nice straight line graph, showing the levels in the Irish Sea rising steadily towards the maximum permissible. They demanded action!
Absolutely nothing happened in response. The levels rose steadily. Eventually they exceeded the permissible level, and the Government finally took action. I struggle to remember the details, but I think it involved nationalisation and oodles of public money. Windscale has soaked up public money for lifetimes.
The other leaks scandal involved the concrete flasks used to transport the spent fuel to Windscale on the railway. We were shown films on TV which purported to show that they could survive a head-on train crash. Many years later it was revealed that they had always leaked, and the railway lines were radioactive. A rectification programme was launched. I remember standing within a few feet of these things at Ardrossan station when I was at school. They habitually parked them just outside the station at Ardrossan South Beach, for unknown reasons.
I would as soon beat my willy with a meat mallet as trust an establishment nuclear scientist.

292:

Seems radiation pales against the carcinogens associated with coal, but coal just doesn't have the same woo factor.
I live now in the East Midlands, the whole of which is permanently under a pall of brown smoke from a large 'coal reactor' outside Nottingham. I don't find this funny at all.
Two wrongs don't make a right. I'm not going to say it's OK for a bunch of lying crooked nuclear cowboys to irradiate me because some other cowboys are smoking me.

293:

thought barium was green?

294:

I remember seeing a test where they rammed a train into a nuclear waste flask to show it was safe.. one freeze frame you could see , at the moment of impact 2 small explosions at the front underside of the loco, these pushed the train upwards slightly and it sort of rolled over the container..
insurance perhaps, after all, the tv cameras were there.

295:

"I'm arguing the way I am because I don't want to see, in my own lifetime, the start of a catastrophe which will claim tens of millions of human lives."

Authoritarians always talk about protecting people. Always. The war? It's for our protection. The police who make us half-slaves? They are making us safe. I don't know your politics, but you believe the arguments of the authoritarians.

Does anyone really believe that widespread deployment of nuclear power will not lead, sooner or later, to widespread nuclear pollution? This is the dawn of the nuclear age. There will be centuries for worse failures or even deliberate releases of radiation. Radioactives are the poisons beyond poison: the dead flesh is still poison. If you burn it, it poisons the air. If you dump it in the sea, it poisons the sea. It is like a curse in a fantasy novel, only it is real.

I hope the sense to stop is found before "the habitable zone of the Earth looks like an Emmenthaler cheese."

296:

The pollution from Windscale/Sellafield was by design. The Danish engineering newspaper ran a photo of the discharge tubes running into the sea, in a big article about the facility around 1960.

297:

Andy f @ 294
&
steve @ 291

Cobblers

When a large locomotive hits something as big and heavy as a nuclear-flask wagon, all made of steel & concrete, then you are going to get flashes as the steel components strike each other.
Now go away, and remember to wear your tinfoil hat.

( NOTE: I've been a passenger on a "flask" train, in the days when you were allowed to take rides in brake-vans - for a fee/fare. We went to just past Leiston, on the remains of the Aldeburgh brach, which is where the rail-head for Sizewell N-station is. Waatching the precautions / measurements / tests there whilst we collected a spent rod were INTERESTING )

298:

@ "Steve" - From what you've said, I've got the impression that you're from Ardrossan (or possibly Saltcoats, Stevenston [although I'd have thought you'd attend Auchenharvie Academy if so] or West Kilbride/Seamill). I'm not actually from there, but my parents and most of my aunts and uncles are.

It took me ~2 minutes websearching to confirm my memory that the Irish sea currents outflow though the North Channel, so admitting to radiation discharges from Sellafield/Windscale/Seascale or whatever, and then trying to blame all radioactivity in the Firth of Clyde on Hunterson doesn't actually work. This is before we consider the dumping of life-expired munitions including incendiary bombs from WW2 in the North Channel during the 1950s (and possibly late 40s).

299:

"My father noticed that the rate of death from cancer in our home town was astonishing after that".

Confirmation bias. What did he notice before that?

300:

David asked "What do you do with that heat in the summer?"

How about not using the dryer? Perhaps attach a rope, or line of some sort, between two suitable upright structures to fashion a rude WASHING LINE, and hang the clothes up to dry?

301:

Windscale(reprocessing plant) polluted the whole of the Irish Sea beyond the permissible levels. Fishermen are still pulling weird mutant fish out of it in significant numbers.

I suspect you may be thinking of Springfield, rather than Windscale. "Weird mutant fish". Right.

Hunterston has altered the composition of the Firth of Clyde so that if you heat the salt from it in a Bunsen burner it shows dark barium red, not sodium. Our chemistry teacher was gobsmacked.

O RLY.

302:

While there is some badly constructed houses over here I suspect you're basing much of your opinion on what you see on the news.

I probably spend about a month a year in the US, on average. I'm basing it on what I see with my eyeballs, not on news footage of trailer parks that have been hit by tornadoes.

303:

I don't think it will be caused by a few power-cuts. People in Baghdad and Basra have been managing on two hours lecky a day. They're not dead, just peeved.

... And they use a metric buttload of incredibly polluting two-stroke petrol generators, one per household, to make up for the lack of mains juice during the day. Noisy, inefficient, dirty CO2 emitters that at their best probably reach a third to half the efficiency of burning the oil in a proper power station.

304:

Agreed in full. Quite apart from the fact that small 2-smoke engines operate on a total loss lubrication principle, they're just not that theromdynamically efficient* (esp if air cooled). OTOH a water-cooled 4-stroke compression ignition engine these days can get into the mid 40s% thermodynamic efficienct against a maximum of 50%.

* I'm well aware that water-cooled "cathedral" 2-strokes match 4-strokes in this respect.

305:

> I believe Chernobyl became open to the air the same way the cooling pond at Fukushima did.

No.

306:

O RLY.

Shhh. You have been trolled - I think he's been coming up with ever more outrageous statements to see how far he could stretch your belief.

(Sea water is approximately 1% sodium - and he's talking about cubic kilometres of the stuff that'd have to be changed.)

307:

Hunterston is a long way north of the North Channel. Water from the Clyde flows downstream past Hunterston, though the Firth is obviously tidal at this point. We could see the nuclear reactor out the school windows. It was Largs High School. Auchenharvie Academy hadn't been invented yet. The teacher admitted bewilderment, and said she would make enquiries. The next week she said it was from Hunterston. Perhaps she asked her neighbours, as a lot of Hunterston personnel lived in the town.
No, I didn't say that all nuclear pollution in the Firth of Clyde came from Hunterston. I didn't even say it was radioactive. I don't know. It was a long time ago and I was about 13.

308:

The mutant fish were all over the front page of the daily newspapers at one point, when the fishermen got fed up of being ignored by the authorities. They commonly had deformations like two heads.
The leaking flasks scandal was a major national scandal, all over the TV at the time. The nuclear poo-bahs were forced into grovelling apologies, and promises to do better.
The Hunterston seawater affair was never reported to my knowledge, though I believe they did admit to the particular incident which led to the neighbour being sacked. It must have been widely known in the town, as the chemistry experiment was part of the standard school syllabus.
re 'Springfield': I expect you mean Sellafield, please read my post above re rebranding.

309:

The moderation policy prevents me from saying what I think of this disgusting post.
You are a disgrace.

310:

I thought we'd just established that I have a connection with North Ayrshire!! I've never been to Largs High, but unless it's at least a 4 story building, there is no way you could see Hunterston from there, due to the 3 storey ones on Largs High Street getting in the way.

Also, there are currents from the North Channel flowing into the Firth of Clyde, and some flows that go into the Firth and never come back out; just ask the jellyfish that get stuck at Tighnabruhaigh! ;-)

311:

Why don't you provide references for the claims you are making? That way we can steer away from claims of radioactive mutant fish and cries of "troll"

312:

Google for "fish deformations chemicals" and shut up.

313:

Of all the daft posts you've made, this is the best:-) I have no recall of a Largs High St, and cannot find it on the google map, so it's not just Alzheimer's. Perhaps you mean Main St(prone to flooding by the sea!), which lies at a much lower level than the High School, which of course has been demolished and replaced by Largs Academy, long ago. I suspect it's been a while since either of us has been there, but the High School dominated the town from its elevation at the top of Nelson Street. It was also one of the tallest buildings in town. We could see Hunterston Power Station from the attic of our house on Rankin Drive, at a much lower level than the school. The power station was also a very tall building, esp the old magnox one, and could be seen from a great distance.

314:

Calder Hall Nuclear Power station, near the village of Sellafield (which has the local Railway station).
The processing etc plant(s) on the other side of the River Calder were on a site previously known as Windscale, and it was re-named, to spearate those from the Clader Hall powr-station. Re-re-named "Sellafield" after various screw-ups, mentiond above.
Really low-level waste was (is?) buried in Drigg sands.

315:

Perhaps I should travel to Largs and dig through the archives of the 'Largs and Millport Weekly News' for the story about the hapless geezer letting the seawater in. Unfortunately I'm not sure if the paper is even published anymore, and it's so long ago that I'm not even sure that is the one I read it in. It might have been the 'Ardrossan Herald'. It was a long time ago.
The flask business was widely discussed in national TV news broadcasts possibly in the 1970s/1980s.
The Irish Sea pollution by Sellafield/Windscale was a major international incident during the time of the John Major Govt, IIRC. The Irish Republic was not amused by the contamination of their fisheries, and protested the matter vigorously.
These events largely antedate the widespread availability of video recorders, never mind the Internet.

316:

You need to be telling the Irish sea fishermen to shut up, as it was them who contacted the press about this matter.
Why not do it to their faces?

317:

All of them? Even the millions of unemployed, who struggle to get enough to eat?
I'm not suggesting that power cuts are wonderful, merely that Aaron was being unduly pessimistic in concluding that they would kill us all off.

318:

( NOTE: I've been a passenger on a "flask" train, in the days when you were allowed to take rides in brake-vans - for a fee/fare. We went to just past Leiston, on the remains of the Aldeburgh brach, which is where the rail-head for Sizewell N-station is. Waatching the precautions / measurements / tests there whilst we collected a spent rod were INTERESTING )

The reference to Sizewell suggests what you saw was after the flask scandal, though I'm not sure.

319:

But you realize that if you can't back up your claims with any evidence of course people are going to disbelieve you? You can't just make a claim and then when people disagree get upset about it.

320:

Quack!!!

The site at what I'd call the top of Nelson Road is where Largs Academy is given the size of school sites!

321:

The Hunterston seawater affair was never reported to my knowledge, ...
Well there was at least one incident, although I expect you'll claim that the one I remember is nonsense too because it doesn't match your memory in every detail.

The one I remember involved sea water being irradiated by being passed over reactor coolant lines, but did not involve any exchange of radioactives between the reactor systems and the environment. Of course, under homeopathic priciples ,it must have had the radioactive properties of uranium because it had been in contact with a substance that had been in contact with a substance that was in contact with a substance that was in contact with uranium. ;-)

322:

The main thing is quite obviously, nearly all renewables (all except hydro) are still in a phase of development or early adoption.

And so is nuclear!

One of the things that bothers me about the discussion of our energy future is the extent to which people compare futuristic concepts of green technology with ancient relics of established technology. I wish the public would respect the fact that large numbers of smart people with good intentions have learned lessons from every aspect of operating the old nuclear power plants and dealing with radioactivity. The new plants being built are much, much better than the plants being decommissioned. And the concepts that are still on the drawing board in nuclear labs promise to be even better.

The other crucial point about nuclear energy is that, since we already have some nasty nuclear waste from the weapons programs, we are already stuck with the cost of figuring out what to do with it. Once we have that figured out, and we have the facilities for doing it, putting a bit more nuclear waste in the queue to be taken care of is trivial compared to the up-front cost of building the facilities, which in turn is trivial compared to the up-front cost of figuring out exactly what those facilities should be. The important point is that we are already stuck with the up-front costs. The marginal cost of having a bit more nuclear waste is almost negligible. It might even be positive for some types of waste, depending on how you account for electricity generated from nuclear waste mixed into fuel for reactors designed to end up with less troublesome nuclear waste than they started with (assuming you have some "scrap" nuclear waste to mix into the fuel). Those same reactors would apparently be passively safe to the point that you need to actively keep them from spontaneously going into safe shut-down mode.

Maybe this is as much vapourware as many of the ideas for renewable energy. I'm just as skeptical of vapourware as the next guy. I know there is much room for improvement in the way our nuclear plants are run. And I'm all for renewable energy projects where they make sense. But to ensure that the future will be one I want to live in, I have more faith in the nuclear scientists than in treehuggers who get upset when you insist that they have to provide numbers for how much concrete would have been poured and how much of Britain's coastline would still resemble its natural state in the renewable-energy-only future they envision.

323:

Sellafield/Windscale refs:
http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/article885555.ece
https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Sellafield

Auntie Google is your friend. Now, the Wikipedia article is a Wikipedia article; a starting point for research rather than an endpoint. But there's plenty of history there, and I expect someone who wanted to spend some time in the British Library could easily check it out. Slamming Steve for not having a detailed unbiased report on the subject is ridiculous.

And I note that Sellafield/Windscale started as a military facility, as did Hanford in the US Pacific Northwest. Safety goes by the wayside when there is a military goal. Wars end, wars end in a lifetime. But radioactive poisons go on and on.

324:

No, you may well be remembering it accurately.
My post on this topic was less than perfectly clear.
The unreported thing was the funny colour of sea-salt when heated. The sea-water cock-up that got my neighbour sacked was much later.
I don't believe in homeopathy, unlike the proponents of radiation hormesis. Nor do I pretend to remember everything with perfect accuracy from 40 years ago. I've done some looking about, and it almost certainly wasn't barium which coloured the salt-flame. The person who posted that barium is green seems correct. It is more likely to have been strontium, which burns with a crimson colour, acc to the sites I've looked up. What it certainly wasn't was what the teacher was expecting.
Why do you feel compelled to take issue with me on everything I say? Do you have any idea how self-revealing that is?
You don't know the names of any of the streets in my home town, but can tell me what I could see out of the window of a building long demolished which you say you never went in. Why do you care? You should ask yourself this very seriously.
As to whether the teacher was right to conclude that the pollution came from Hunterston, I am now unsure. I have always thought that she would be, but maybe not. When you're that age you think your science teachers speak with great authority. At that time there was no Internet and the nearest public science library would have been at Glasgow. She made enquiries and was told something. She never said who told her this.

325:

I hardly think asking for a reference is "slamming steve" nor is it ridiculous. If we went through life just taking internet stranger's words we wouldn't get very far would we...

326:

Although I would still point out that in your links there is nothing about two headed fish

327:

He may have been referring to those posters who said Cobblers! and ordered me to shut up.
You just keep asking for references to things which happened decades ago. There were no personal computers. There was no Internet. All we had was the telly and the papers. Try to imagine this world, perhaps as though it were an SF story. Information was evanescent! All you had were your memories of it.
As to those who impugn my personal integrity on the basis of things about which they obviously know nothing whatever, their conduct speaks for itself.

328:

There were pictures of them on the front page of national newspapers.

329:

I suspect when they designed it, they cheerfully assumed the fuel rods wouldn't leak, so it was OK to use sea-water to cool them. Then they found themselves in a jam which would cost a lot of money to sort.

330:

David asked "What do you do with that heat in the summer?"

How about not using the dryer? Perhaps attach a rope, or line of some sort, between two suitable upright structures to fashion a rude WASHING LINE, and hang the clothes up to dry?

Ah. OK. But if you talk to people who used to dry clothes this way and now have dryers you'll likely get a revolt on your hands.

Of course where I live you'd have to cut down a lot of trees. The pines we have everywhere here drop crap all year long. And there's that 2 to 3 weeks each spring where our pine sperm coats everything in a green dusty goo. Not that I wouldn't mind getting rid of some of my weeds/trees but at $2000 per to drop them, well it takes a while to get that mad at them.

I'm not saying that drying clothes on the line isn't better for the universe but as a practical matter convincing people to give up that convenience... It might be easier to ask them to give up eating.

My family (so I was told I was under 2 at the time) apparently had an electric drying back when only well off doctors and lawyers even considered getting one. And we weren't that well off and in a blue collar profession. I had an older sister with kidney issues and my dad said he'd give up almost every extra in his life to avoid dealing with frozen diapers on the back porch. And so he did.

331:

That's fair enough but if one can't back up a claim with evidence (especially when it's an extraordinary claim: i.e. two headed fish) one should't be surprised when that claim is contested.

No matter how hard it is to get a reference it is never ridiculous to stick to that maxim.

332:

re 'Springfield': I expect you mean Sellafield, please read my post above re rebranding.

No, Springfield. See here: http://simpsons.wikia.com/wiki/Blinky

And with regard to your assertion that seawater in the Firth of Clyde had enough strontium salts released into it from a nuclear power plant to change the flame colour of the solutes: this seems highly unlikely. I think, to be charitable, that you are misremembering an experiment that you saw performed several decades ago - or your teacher's lab procedure was sloppy.

333:

While there is some badly constructed houses over here I suspect you're basing much of your opinion on what you see on the news.

I probably spend about a month a year in the US, on average. I'm basing it on what I see with my eyeballs, not on news footage of trailer parks that have been hit by tornadoes.

You must be seeing a different set of houses that me. Now I'll grant you that there was a lot of cheap junk constructed from 46 to about 55. A lot. But at the same time as the only economy and population left standing to any degree after WWII the explosion of families had to live somewhere. But the local governments got tired of it and started instituting a code system. It has a lot of flaws but over time things get better and better.

Now I haven't seen it all but I've been involved tangentially in construction since I was 6. My father built and remodeled homes as a second income plus the houses I lived in from 2 to 20. And my work now involves architects full time. So I've seen it.

But they are not going to start building houses here in quantity any time soon of steel, limestone blocks, rammed earth, adobe with straw, etc... To be honest the biggest issues with new housing in the US is oriented strand board. I and others have visions of it being the subject of a lot of lawsuits in another 10 years as houses without fantastic water seals allow it to get wet and fail.

Yes wood framing can have issues but I don't think it is as dire as you think. And getting rid of the cheap 0% down lair loans will remove a lot of the profit from building cheap.

How is middle to lower middle income housing constructed in the UK?

And to whoever brought it up where will all the straw come from for it to be usable in 10,000s of home per year?

334:

I went to the rail-head terminal for Sizewell sometime between 1979 and 1983 ( I THINK it was 1981, but am not sure, right now )
HTH

335:

Sizewell was ordered by Mrs Thatcher in a fit of Americanophilia shortly after she was elected.
When I saw the flasks at Ardrossan, Harold Wilson would have been in power.
I think the hoo-ha re flasks possibly blew up during the Callaghan administration, or the Heath one.
On balance of probability, what you saw was the fall-out from the affair, the stringent test programme ordered by the Govt to prevent a repetition.

336:

The "two-headed fish near Sellafield" claim seems to have originated from some dark humor dating back to the 1980s, but the "pictorial evidence" all seems to trace back to a late-1990s Guinness ad that was later withdrawn ("Nuclear power is completely safe, with no
environmental problems") - it was part of a really snarky campaign in 1997.

I see some folks believe in the "put big windmills up and don't worry about maintenance for decades" story - it's not even close to reality, especially for the sea-based ones. No, putting the giant electrical generator on a tall pylon in the middle of the ocean doesn't keep it from being exposed to the salt water. No, you can't seal them enough to make it work. No, feathering them when you don't need them doesn't obviate the need for lots of corrosion control and maintenance.

Oh, and you know that "coal plants have to be shut down for two weeks a year" thing? Most of that "two weeks" is usually in shorter blocks of time, planned during the midnight-to-6AM time frame, when demand is low - it's nice to be able to predict your slack power production (as opposed to wind power, which is fairly random for most of the planet).

On a bit of a tangent, I've been working at a big lighting technology convention in Philadelphia this week, and pretty much every large lighting company is pushing VERY hard to come up with good LED "bulbs" equivalent to 100 watt incandescent lamps (for a decent price). They're not even close, but there's a crazy amount of money in it - they can make the brightness and color spectrum targets, but it's still $50 US or so per lamp, and that's not going to cut it. They're drooling over the idea of a $10 LED bulb, much less a $5 one - but nobody expects it any time this decade.

337:

As a point of note, drying clothes on a line doesn't work for me: we have a dryer and we use it. Reason: I live in a top-floor flat with zip access to any outdoor space in which to sling a line, and as I understand it planning regs now outlaw the old-time solution (a T-shaped wooden beam that could be extended from the kitchen window with a bunch of short clothes lines slung between the top bar and the inside of the window bay).

All I can do is use the most efficient condensing dryer available (and use the -- small -- airing closet for sheets, blankets, and big stuff that can air-dry over a period of a couple of days).

Inefficient by design? You betcha. On the other hand, back when this flat was built indoor plumbing was a novelty (retrofitted about 20-40 years after construction), they had maids to do the laundry, and they'd change their underwear once a fortnight, if that.

Which is by way of saying that perceived social necessities change over time, and existing infrastructure may be ill-suited to new requirements but too damned expensive to modify (for values of "expensive" that are not limited to the purely fiscal).

338:

How is middle to lower middle income housing constructed in the UK?

Badly.

(Ba-da-BOOM.)

We've just exited a housing bubble that's somewhere between the US and Irish bubbles in scale. You might have noticed ...

Housing in the UK is constrained by strict green belt constraints that make it very hard to build on virgin land -- suburban sprawl is strongly discouraged. So there's a lot of recycling of brown field sites.

During the boom period developers would buy large houses with gardens, or light industrial units such as warehouses, demolish same, and erect apartment blocks: typically with low ceilings (to cram more floors in) and crampled floor plans. (I remember touring one show home in 1996 and noticing that the furniture they'd used was all two-thirds of normal size ...)

Currently a one-bedroom apartment in any city that isn't an unemployment disaster black-spot is all but beyond the reach of a young working couple; average age of first-time home buyers is in the mid-thirties.

Construction materials would typically be breeze blocks (aka cinder blocks) with steel or timber frame and an brick curtain wall, with wall board for internal partitions. The inter-wall gap (between the cinder blocks and brick) would typically be membrane-lined and then flooded with cavity wall insulation, if they were doing the job right. Heating would usually be provided by bog-standard British water radiators fed by water pumped from a central heating boiler (furnace). Air conditioning is vanishingly rare in British domestic properties -- less than 3% have it.

However, 50% of our housing fleet is over 75 years old. Most of it has been upgraded or renovated -- retrofitted with some or all of indoor plumbing, electricity, central heating, loft insulation, and cellular double-glazing. Construction would typically be of brick or stone (this apartment's made of stone; in some places the walls are up to three feet thick, although there's a long-dead chimney flue embedded in it). Roofs are usually supported by timbers and consist of slate or fired clay tiles. Chimneys and fireplaces are ubiquitous among houses that were built prior to 1945; in many cases the heating upgrade consisted of fitting a gas fire in the former fireplace, venting up the chimney. There are some elderly oddities with thatched roofs or other obsolescent elements (to qualify as "old" a house probably has to be over 200 years around these parts).

339:

Don't forget to add in the re-cleaning costs of outdoor drying. When I was a kid, we didn't have a dryer - we had an outdoor clothesline. Which (according to the time of year) caused about ten to twenty percent of each load to be re-washed due to bird droppings, wind (blowing up dust), pollen, dropped clothes when hanging, et cetera.

A lot of local municipalities are like Charlie's - they outlawed outdoor clotheslines years ago - homeowners associations are the worst about this.

Heck, give it time - someone will probably want outdoor clothes drying banned because the excess soap in the water contaminates watersheds, or the flapping scares migratory egrets, or reflected light causes corneal damage in the Lesser Bottlenecked Shrew...

340:

I am anti-nuke and wished to make them unnecessary. You can see how that has worked. Look, I am no longer as worried about Nukes as I am about Global Warming and now CO2 in the Oceans. The USA is working on three generations of safer Nuke power plants. Why they don't skip the second and work on much safer Pellet Beds I can't say. History will tell. If it comes down to the worse we can move away from radiation. Bet that makes you mad! But when the sea absorbs enough CO2 it kills most sea life. It seems to have happened before. Then most land live dies. And that seems to have happened before. At the rate we are now adding CO2 to water the deadline is said to be around 2050. There are people alive today who will be there. I'll be long dead. How about your kids? I don't know what you think of Discover Magazine. See their home page and search "co2 in oceans."

341:

Exactly. We've essentially lost all productivity from at least 400 square kilometers of Japan (minus any amount of that which is ocean rather than land) for around 160 years, and that assumes that the exclusion zone is not made bigger for some reason (like lying/clueless utility companies, poor science, or whatever.) I say "160 years" because the half-life of radioactive cesium is 37 years.

That doesn't count problems with the water table, (water flows from place to place under the earth) or radioactivity/poisoning issues that make the ocean unfishable, or otherwise unusable. The Japanese use a lot of seaweed and fishing is a major industry. Sure, it's not Chernobyl, but it still sucks in a major way.

The other important factor here is that coal/oil/nuke companies have created enormous amounts of propaganda against renewable power, much of it designed to read like real science. When I read an anti-renewables argument, I usually assume that the person making the argument has drunk the Kool-Aid, (or they might be shilling for the corporations.) I'm not completely unwilling to look at anti-renewables material, but it does start out with -20 for probable oil/coal/nuke company propaganda.

342:

Exactly. We've essentially lost all productivity from at least 400 square kilometers of Japan (minus any amount of that which is ocean rather than land) for around 160 years

Not true. Not remotely true. Once the current mess is cleared up there's a function for which the area is already zoned -- namely, siting nuclear reactors. That way, if there are future meltdowns (which, hopefully, there won't be) they'll merely re-contaminate the same area.

The FD reactors 1-3 are toast, but reactors 4 and 5 were in cold shutdown before the quake and may well be re-started once anti-tsunami defenses are upgraded. The planned reactors 6 and 7 may also end up being built -- they're already zoned out on the site and were due to go on stream within another couple of years -- simply because Japan needs the electricity and they're already in the pipeline.

Next, the 20km exclusion zone is precautionary. Within it, radionucleides won't have been evenly distributed -- there will be hot spots, and there will be clean areas that can be safely re-occupied.

Moreover, the fallout is going to be soil-locked fairly fast. You don't necessarily want to eat food grown in a contaminated zone unless it's been screened, but walking around on top of it, or living in houses built there, is unlikely to be particularly risky.

Finally, given the Japanese penchant for covering any inconvenient bits of the landscape in reinforced concrete, it's quite likely that they'll hunt down the hot spots and lock them down beneath a cement cap -- then allow re-occupation of the zone. (It takes a trip through the Japanese interior, with precarious cliff faces overhanging 500 year old villages mainly because they've been shored up with thousands of tons of concrete, to drive home the message: land in Japan is generally expensive enough that they'll take measures unheard of in North America and rare in Europe to preserve it.)

This assumes, of course, that the region in question is seen as worth rehabilitating. Japan has an aging population and the north-east rural areas in particular were depressed and losing population to Tokyo to begin with. They may decide it's cheaper just to leave it dark. On the other hand, paying the construction industry to decontaminate/rehabilitate a 160km zone is the sort of Keynsian stimulus the Japanese government (and their concrete industry buddies) have traditionally had a hard-on for.

343:

Everybody but me is at LIGHTFAIR, kraw.

Drop by Lighting Sciences Group's booth & see the new Android home automatic technology.

LED lamps are expensive. On the other hand, well-made ones are expected to last for 15 years of continuous operation. They have other advantages: they mostly don't break when you drop them, they don't care how many times you turn them on and off, and changing-color lamps are relatively easy to make. For lighting large areas, however, fluorescents still have a large lead in energy efficiency, and of course daylight is free.

People with a technical interest in LED lighting may want to drop by the US DoE's LED lamp testing page at:
http://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/ssl/caliper.html

BTW, I said many posts up that anti-nuclear activism has turned into the green version of "starving the beast." Doesn't work in national budgeting, doesn't work in energy, either.

344:

Air conditioning is vanishingly rare in British domestic properties -- less than 3% have it.

Wow. That's small. Here in NC and KY where I grew up there is usually a 2 month period in the summer where it is over 85F(29C) every day. And many (most?) summers you have a week or two of 95F(35C) to 100(38C) as the daily high. And about every 10 years we get that nice week or so of 105F(40C) highs. Heck when I was about 40 miles west of Fort Worth for a week two summers ago it NEVER got below 100F(38C) day or night. No towels needed after a swim in the lake. Just body salt residue after about 15 minutes. That summer I think Dallas had 30 or 40 days of a high of over 100F(38C).

Large swaths of the US would be depopulated without AC. Just like it was prior to the 50s.

As to Europe does southern Europe still use those single room AC units? I understand it is due to the construction of so much housing to be like Charlie's. No way to retro fit a central ducting system.

And I'm assuming that community swimming pools, private or public, aren't big in Scotland?

345:

Here in Edinburgh, the all-time record high temperature is 30 degrees Celsius, recorded one day in 1975. The all-time high recorded temperature for the UK was 38.5 degrees on one summer day in 2003.

I've got a portable a/c unit, the kind that vents through a pipe out the window. It's enough to take the edge off the temperature in one smallish room. It comes out, on average, for 4-6 days a year if there's a particularly hot spell, because I have difficulty working when the temperature goes over 24 degrees. Otherwise, we don't usually need such things.

Yes, we have swimming pools -- but outdoor ones are vanishingly rare in Scotland and not hugely common down south either.

(I can't speak for a/c use in Southern Europe because I haven't really been south of Paris in the past decade.)

(Central heating, however, is near enough universal in occupier-owned homes; if not, there'll be something like an electric night storage radiator in every room. You can rely on the temperature averaging below 4 degrees celsius for at least a couple of months in winter.)

346:

Very few people realize that until the mass production of the air-condition most of the south of USA was pretty sparsely populated.

347:

Not long ago Exxon/Mobil admitted to having a $10m/year budget for PR against MMGW and other greenie ideas.

348:

Well, the problem is you wrote the flame went red and attributed it to barium; problem is, red is not barium, but something else:

http://webmineral.com/help/FlameTest.shtml

My bet is on calcium in the sample, but then, maybe strontium.

349:

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices."

William James
1842-1910, Psychologist, Philosopher and Author

350:

Agreed, I checked on this myself and reposted further down when I had investigated. It was 40 years ago! Strontium of course is a waste product from uranium fission. Dunno where calcium would have come from. Milk? :-)

351:

I've mentioned this before but most of the fallout from Fukushima landed in a plume stretching NW from the plants. There are areas 20km south and north from the reactors that are measuring barely above background radioactivity levels and don't require evacuation. Conversely there are also areas 30-35km NW of the reactors which have radiation levels (40uSv/h = 350mSv/year) which preclude residential or agricultural activities there, but only in spots -- 5 km away from the high-reading points the contamination level is only 1 or 2 uSv/hr.

If you go to the Japanese MEXT site you'll find links to records of daily radiation monitoring around the plants, translated into English; the good news is that the numbers are well down from just after the incident as the I-131 contamination goes away (half-life of 8 days). The bad news is that what's left is mostly Cs-137 with a half-life of 30 years. It will take soil engineering to reduce that contamination in towns and farms plus exclusion zones for the hottest areas but it will only be years, maybe decades but definitely not centuries before people move back into those areas. Japan can't afford to give up agricultural land for any length of time.

352:

Steve: "Not long ago Exxon/Mobil admitted to having a $10m/year budget for PR against MMGW and other greenie ideas."

Actually - no. That's about a third of Exxon/Mobil's TOTAL government lobbying budget in any given year - their real funding of anti-AGW research and publication is about a million dollars per year since 1998.

Let's compare that to (for example) Greenpeace, which spends about $20 million a year. Or Sea Shepherd, which spends about $1 million. Or Earth First, which (through its various affiliated groups) is good for a few hundred thou a year. Or even the not-too-famous Environmental Working Group, which fakes up scare stories about environmental contamination (yes, including C02) - and spends about $4.5 million a year.

None of those are exclusively "AGW groups" - but they all have it built in as an assumption, and include the propaganda touting it in pretty much every thing they do.

There are literally DOZENS of different groups and organizations that spend much of their time touting global warming - and which each spend more money per year than Exxon/Mobil does on anything at all related to anti-AGW publishing.

This is, of course, on top of all of the billions being spent by governments around the world to get people to follow "stop AGW" plans - that cannot have any actual impact on it in the long run, but which puts lots of control in the government's hands (and money in its pockets). Not to mention the tens of thousands of researchers in various fields who get grants because they tack "and exacerbates global climate change" or somesuch to their research proposal titles...

Oh, wait. It's not "climate change" any more. It's "Climate Justice." People noticed that climate seems to be changing in the wrong direction than predicted, so they made it even MORE vague than before...

353:

Trottelreiner: "My bet is on calcium in the sample, but then, maybe strontium."

If so, it wasn't from any recent nuclear spills, since he's not dead along with tens of thousands of others.

Getting enough strontium from fission byproducts to show up in a macro assay (like flame coloration) would have needed thousands of tons of the stuff dispersed in the watershed - and that would have shown up as an insane amount of shorter-lived isotopes of everything else that would have erased any life short of cockroaches. It would also have needed about twenty times as much uranium fission (100% fission, at that) to create that much strontium-90, but...

Calcium? Probably in water in some locations, but not radioactive isotopes of it. Calcium is really stable, and the only common isotope that can cause problems would be Calcium-41. The neutron flux needed to make radioactive calcium in any serious amount would cause an incredible amount of other issues (and nasty isotopes of pretty much anything else).

354:

Well, I can't find right now the original news article I read re Exxon-Mobil, but here's something interesting:
http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Exxon_Mobil

355:

I hope you have heavy skin.

356:

What's this blah about watershed? It was salt from the sea. The nuclear reactor is by the sea. The reprocessing plant is by the sea. Do you just post the first thing that comes into your head?

357:

There might not have been the 'net back then, but there's likely history on the 'net now.

358:

Steve: "What's this blah about watershed? It was salt from the sea."

The Hunterston power station feeds into the Firth of Clyde from the Scottish Watershed. It's very salty from the ocean that surrounds it, but it's part of the watershed - that's just plain geography. Even if you just include the much smaller watershed of the local rivers and lakes, it's a LOT of water - and any contaminants in it would be carried out to sea over time.

"Do you just post the first thing that comes into your head?"

No, I was trying to point out that in order to get "sea salt" to change color when put in a flame, it would take a bizarre amount of ANY contaminant, and radioactive strontium isotopes at that concentration (along with the much nastier other products from that much fissionable material) would have killed you, the teacher, and everyone else in the room. Even if he walked into the station itself and collected some salt from the outflow pipes, it would take a LOT of strontium to make that flame turn red when mixed into sea salt.

If you dropped a few hundred pounds of strontium salts into the ocean right outside of the plant, it would be GONE in a matter of days, dissolved in the millions of tons of water in the Firth. To get even that amount, though, you'd have to burn up quite a lot of the uranium in the reactor, then let it ALL go out the outflow pipes. Since you aren't dead, this didn't happen.

Wait - you're not dead, are you? That would explain a lot.

359:

I've never read such pretentious pseud rubbish in my life.
Do you re-read your rubbish before clicking Submit?
The power station is a power station, not a river. It's at the seaside, not up on a watershed. Scotland contains a vast number of watersheds, as it is quite bumpy. There is not one Scottish Watershed, as though it was a single mountain range. Do you have the slightest idea what a watershed is? Hmm... time to consult Wikipedia...

* Watershed: drainage divide - (non-North American usage)
* Watershed: drainage basin - (North American usage)

Ha! You're a Yank, aren't you? that explains a lot. Even if Scotland had contained only one mountain range, by the North American usage that would give it two watersheds, by the indigenous usage one. But it's much more complicated than that, have a look at a map.

If you had read my posts with any attention before deciding to publicly mock them, you would have known that the teacher was female, not a 'he'.

The quantity of salt used in this experiment was very small. The teacher told us she had got some water from the sea, and boiled it, IIRC across a long reach of time. The sea wasn't very far away. It's hard to believe she was incapable of doing this, she was a science graduate.

360:

Steve:"I've never read such pretentious pseud rubbish in my life."

A common response from someone who doesn't understand something, but really, REALLY believes in it...

Sorry, but you're just flat wrong, and insulting me because you screwed up won't solve it. Take a look at a map of the Firth, and try to think for once, instead of just being rude to someone who pointed out the fact that your old schoolteacher screwed up royally when she showed you that demonstration so long ago.

Like this: "The quantity of salt used in this experiment was very small. The teacher told us she had got some water from the sea, and boiled it, IIRC across a long reach of time. The sea wasn't very far away. It's hard to believe she was incapable of doing this, she was a science graduate."

Well, since she obviously screwed up up so badly, she must not have graduated very high in her class. A very small sample, from a seawater sample, boiled down, DOES NOT CHANGE THE OVERALL SALT CONCENTRATION IN THE ORIGINAL SAMPLE. No, boiling it "for a long time" won't change the ratio of normal sea salt to some imagined radioactive salt like strontium.

So yeah, she messed up, and you're incredibly, horribly wrong. And no, your bigotry against citizens of the United States just makes it worse, it doesn't explain anything.

By the way - any mocking you've received so far has been extremely mild, and much deserved. I'm sorry that it mortally offends you to be so wrong, but that's your problem, not mine.

And no, a "watershed" isn't going to stop being a watershed just because you want it to stop being one - I was using the non-North American version, which is correct in this case (and yes, it's also used that way here, much more often than Wikipedia would suggest - I can see part of your problem if you think that's a good source). It may be much larger than what you're thinking of, but it's still the same basic principle: any output from that plant is NOT going to contain enough added metallic salts to change the basic ratio of salts in the area enough to make them burn a different color.

Yes, even if the power plant burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp.

So, to repeat: whatever it was that made that flame burn red, it wasn't strontium from that power plant. Or you'd be dead. Really. Along with everyone you grew up with. Especially the teacher.

361:

Take a look at a map of the Firth, and try to think for once, instead of just being rude to someone who pointed out the fact that your old schoolteacher screwed up royally when she showed you that demonstration so long ago.
So you weren't being rude when you said I was dead? If that's you're idea of being polite, I don't want to see you being hostile. How do you know she 'screwed up'? You weren't there. I don't need to see a map of the Firth, I lived there for half a lifetime.

Like this: "The quantity of salt used in this experiment was very small. The teacher told us she had got some water from the sea, and boiled it, IIRC across a long reach of time. The sea wasn't very far away. It's hard to believe she was incapable of doing this, she was a science graduate."
Well, since she obviously screwed up up so badly, she must not have graduated very high in her class.

Why is this obvious? How do you know what her exam results were? What does 'Like this' mean?

A very small sample, from a seawater sample, boiled down, DOES NOT CHANGE THE OVERALL SALT CONCENTRATION IN THE ORIGINAL SAMPLE. No, boiling it "for a long time" won't change the ratio of normal sea salt to some imagined radioactive salt like strontium.
I didn't say she boiled it for a long time. What I meant, though I see the slight ambiguity in my previous post, is that I am trying to remember what she said across a long reach of time. I never suggested that the chemical composition would be correlated with the length of time for which it was boiled. That is a silly idea. I expect she boiled it until the water was gone, as anyone would.

So yeah, she messed up, and you're incredibly, horribly wrong. And no, your bigotry against citizens of the United States just makes it worse, it doesn't explain anything.
There are many citizens of the United States whom I like very much, and respect. I am also aware that the USA has been going through a dangerous phase of educational decline, which has resulted in the creation of a strange and chaotic argot which must befuddle the wits of anyone who tries to communicate using it. Rational thought can only come from the use of a well-structured language. I am aware that you aren't one of the worst cases, but you are about half-way down into gutter gibberish. If you want to analyse accurately, you should strive to achieve linguistic precision.

By the way - any mocking you've received so far has been extremely mild, and much deserved.
What have I done to deserve to be told that I am dead? Is that a mild insult? In spite of what your Hollywood movies have told you about werewolves, zombies and vampires, the dead are incommunicado. I am not.

I'm sorry that it mortally offends you to be so wrong, but that's your problem, not mine.
I'm not mortally offended. Why did you think I was?

And no, a "watershed" isn't going to stop being a watershed just because you want it to stop being one - I was using the non-North American version, which is correct in this case
I don't have the slightest desire for watersheds to stop being watersheds. Neither version is correct, it's just a difference between two dialects of English. Watersheds are not relevant to the issue at hand, since all the elements involved are at sea-level, as I have previously pointed out. If you were using the non-North American meaning, then your previous posts make no sense at all, as you will realise if you take the time to re-read them, instead of giving vent to another bout of verbal diarrhoea.

(and yes, it's also used that way here, much more often than Wikipedia would suggest How confusing for you. It's a common problem, when the same word is used with two competing meanings. It creates absolute chaos.

- I can see part of your problem if you think that's a good source). Without Wikipedia, how would we benefit from the Age of the Internet? As more and more scholars take kickbacks from big business, Wikipedia is a lifesaver.

It may be much larger than what you're thinking of, but it's still the same basic principle: any output from that plant is NOT going to contain enough added metallic salts to change the basic ratio of salts in the area enough to make them burn a different color.
You may be right. It would be reassuring if you were. If you have some scientific information to prove this, I would appreciate it.

Yes, even if the power plant burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. There is no swamp. Why do you engage in foolish hyperbole? It merely undermines your credibility.

So, to repeat: whatever it was that made that flame burn red, it wasn't strontium from that power plant. Or you'd be dead. Really. Along with everyone you grew up with. Especially the teacher.
Even that tiny quantity? Why especially her? Is it because you are annoyed with her? I'm sure she was doing her best, even if I'm sure of little else. She was a sincere person.

362:

That seems a sensible idea, so I've given it a go. I tried googling on 'radioactive flask leak', selecting 'Pages from the UK'. Unfortunately the hits I got are all too recent to be relevant. They are also absolutely horrifying.
I picked up one letter from a member of the public who said that it was common knowledge that the flasks were leaking. Presumably he remembers the same news broadcasts that I do, from long ago. I couldn't find any scientific info on it as it was swamped by more recent leaks, at Dounreay, Sellafield and elsewhere. Try it yourself, if you want. But brace yourself first.

363:

Steve: "There is no swamp. Why do you engage in foolish hyperbole? It merely undermines your credibility."

I'm sorry, but you've pretty much established that you have no sense of humor. None whatsoever.

The line you're complaining about was from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." It's a funny movie, and quite famous. You probably wouldn't like it. The bit I was quoting was shot at Doune Castle. In Scotland.

You might have heard of Scotland, but even that's a bit doubtful.

NOTE: That was mockery. Of you.

It's much like the "What have I done to deserve to be told that I am dead?" bit. I was pointing out (through something called "sarcasm") that, if you were correct about your claims, you couldn't possibly be alive to make them - and you didn't get the joke. Yes, I was mocking you, VERY mildly. And yes, you deserve a lot of mockery for this part, much more than you've been subjected to.

You should probably read up on things like "metaphor" and "simile." Avoid "litotes," since the double negative form is almost certainly too much for you to handle at this point, and might cause psychological damage.

364:

Steve, IIRC calcium precipitates much more readily then either sodium or potassium in seawater. if your teacher decided not to boil it until all water evaporated but rather take the first salt that precipitated then they would have a very calcium rich salt which might explain the colour of the flame in the test.

365:

A few years ago,not too far South of Paris in the Loire area I visited middle class homes with newly installed air conditioning! This was a shock for me. They could afford paying for air conditioning on teacher's salaries!

It used to be that electricity in France was so costly that lights in apartment stairways were connected to a "minuterie" which timed out their use down to a very short interval of time.

Also you never left lights on during the day back then in the 60s. In the inn where I stayed near Beaulieu-sur-Loire, a few years ago they left lights on in the bar/restaurant during the entire opening hours even if daylight was streaming in through huge windows and doors.

It was a very concrete illustration of the difference between the pre-nuclear France of the 60s (which I knew through films and readings) and the post-nuclear France of these last years. The French treated electricity differently now.

366:

Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking, by Thomas Kidatop


We prefer stories to statistics.
We seek to confirm, not to question, our ideas.
We rarely appreciate the role of chance and coincidence in shaping events.
We sometimes misperceive the world around us.
We tend to oversimplify our thinking.
Our memories are often inaccurate.
.

367:

Insurance on this large of a scale for rare events does not work. This is a big reason why nuclear power in its current form is incompatible with capitalism. Almost all nuclear power plants are government insured.

A baseline for the direct economic cost of the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster is $60 billion. This is the amount the Japanese government is providing currently as a fund to compensate for damages caused by the power plant. This does not include tsunami damage; this is simply for the complete stoppage of all businesses and human activity in the area. And it's just for starters; it's not a limit. And this is in a country that is not lawsuit-happy.

How many insurance companies can pay $60 billion? Let's say there's a 1/10000 chance of a nuclear power plant having a $60 billion disaster per year. This would mean that an insurance company would need to charge roughly $6 million per plant per year. So, you make a good business insuring the 20 nuclear plants in the UK, and collect $120M/year.

Then a disaster happens five years in. You have $500M (Hey, I only took $20M of pay per year. A bargain!). You owe $60B. You go bankrupt (perhaps) and the taxpayers end up footing the bill (always).

In Japan's case, the various utility companies are being asked to pay into a fund to help pay off the $60B bond. So, with higher costs they will charge higher rates; since everyone's costs are up competition won't keep prices down. The customers end up footing the bill (with some slight impact on shareholders).

Whether insured or not, the costs of nuclear disaster are largely borne by the people. This is a huge externality, likely orders of magnitude higher than the savings of its lack of carbon emissions.

Burning coal kills people too, but it does so at a constant stream (even mining deaths are frequent enough to be insurable), thus it's insurable by a reasonably regulated private market.

So what we're left with is a nuclear industry run largely by government. Can government successfully run a 30-50 year project when the goal of its power brokers is to get elected 2 years from now? Can government hold down costs? Possibly, but very difficult and far from likely.

What happens in reality is a hybrid solution where private industry bids on and builds and operates plants while government does the insuring and regulating. And that solution has, in most countries, resulted in a boondoggle which is far electricity is far too expensive compared to alternatives. Sure it works in France, and we used to think it worked in Japan, but how about all of the other countries?

For more information see the Union of Concerned Scientists: http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/nuclear_power_and_global_warming/nuclear-power-subsidies-report.html

368:

If anybody wonders. This is out of date but it's what they still do. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/01/exxon-mobil-climate-change-sceptics-funding ---There is too much co2 in the air now. If you don't think so, why are fire seasons longer and dryer around the world ever year? With effort and power, co2 can be pulled out of the air with a base solution. The base sucks up the co2 and makes a mineral. And no I don't remember the one. The chemist working on it says a 6 foot square with a base running down it, will pull all the co2 a six person American family puts out. He did not say how base and I can't find much more about it. Other than the atmosphere could go back to before England started burning wood for power.

369:

France can pay $60bn from four years savings in electricity cost, as compared to Germany. But then again, France has also been among the first countries to install filtered containment vents - whereas Japan is going to be one of the last (because I'm sure they will now install them).

370:

This is a huge externality, likely orders of magnitude higher than the savings of its lack of carbon emissions.

Sadly, real life is not a statistic,it's a path-dependent system with criticalities.

You can only have "savings", if you survive to enjoy them.

Worst of all, we're acting under information constraints.

When there's a criticality and you try to put that into a $ calculation, that would imply every mg of CO2 at the margin to be worth something in the quintillion dollar range. (I'm not humano-centric, I can't see human extinction as the end of the world, but a Perm-Trias event is simply beyond human notions of disaster, even beyond possibilities of nuclear disaster.)

But that implicitly assumes, you at least know where that criticality is. We don't.

Someone mentioned, CO2 saturation in oceans will happen in 2050. Pure hyperbole. C02 saturation is possible, together with warming water it would imply a complete die-off of oxygen-based marine life, pushing the older sulphur-based one to the top of the marine ecosphere.

Has happened. Can happen again. When?
Noone knows and everyone claiming to do so is a liar.
(Professional liars are a problem, I'm not getting into here.)

So what you're going to do, if the most important facts for your calculation are unknown and will remain so until it's too late to do anything about it?

Developing renewables? Possible, may be useful.

But when push comes to shove, compared to a real disaster a few zones of alienation are peanuts.

371:

Getting CO2 out of the atmosphere is easy in principle, only there's always an energy cost.

A base able to react with ambient air cannot possibly exist in nature. You have to produce it.

If you produce it with today's grid electricity, you are likely to produce six times the CO2 you manage to get rid off.

Now, if you have industrially produced genetically modified microbes with photosynthesis abilities, it looks different.

What you're witnessing is, that some scientists have given up on the political battle completely and work under the premise: 50 years from now, earth is a total wreck, what can we do then?

372:

"As to Europe does southern Europe still use those single room AC units? I understand it is due to the construction of so much housing to be like Charlie's. No way to retro fit a central ducting system."

I spent a month travelling around southern Spain recently, so can confirm that small in room a/c units are pretty common for bedrooms in most commercial accommodation. Larger units are used for common rooms, but mostly just in larger restaurants. As you get into the lower economic areas, a/c becomes much more of a luxury item for the bars etc, the houses themselves don't actually need it and people change their lifestyle to avoid the peak heat of the afternoon, and are active until very late at night.

Instead they simply ensure all houses are built around the idea of heat - Streets are deep and narrow, the houses all have thick walls and deep windows, and persian blinds for outside of the windows to block 95% of the light.
Most modern construction seems to be predominantly hollow bricks and concrete for insulation purposes, floors are generally tiled. All of that tends to make the building a heatsink so it stays at a fairly even temperature, they then add fans just to keep the air moving when it gets really still.

373:

It isn't the PR thats the problem, it is the bribing of politicians, and I havn't read of green groups doing much of that.

374:
I picked up one letter from a member of the public who said that it was common knowledge that the flasks were leaking.

Well goodness, I'm convinced. Random un-named members of the public are never wrong when they say that sort of thing.

Steve, it's "common knowledge" that window glass is a liquid, that only 10% of the human brain is used, that Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb, and that Ben Franklin discovered electricity. None of those four things is true. Wikipedia is not a terribly good place to finish your search for evidence, but it can at least be a good place to start; "common knowledge" (especially someone else's "common knowledge") isn't even that.

375:

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTICE

Steve, cirby, you're both banned from this thread. Any further comments you post after this notice will be deleted.

See the moderation policy.

(Steve, in case you weren't aware of it, cirby is the resident anti-AGW crank and general chew-toy. cirby, I think you've figured out by now that Steve is auditioning to be the resident anti-nuclear crank and general chew-toy. Unfortunately crossing the streams is not good for the civility and quality of debate on this blog, so I'm not going to let you Do That.)

376:

I get to sample recently built housing every now and again as a side effect of my job (serviced apartment whilst working at a client site yadda yadda ya) and it's pretty crappily built on the whole, much as OGH describes. I suspect that, when dealing with speculative builders, it has been ever thus - the older stock will tend to have a survivor bias towards the higher end stuff that wasn't built to minimum spec, which is a part of why it commands a premium I expect (although there's also huge amounts of status signalling going on in UK property to muddy the waters); certainly my parents house (which dates from the early C18th and was almost certainly a commissioned build) has a quality of materials and craftsmanship that knocks most other houses into a cocked hat.

Thanks to an unfortunate predeliction by the Artex corporation for using asbestos in their eponymous wall covering gunk I have recently had the opportunity to see under the skin of my ~140yo house - which is pretty typical of the late Victorian stock you see all over London and Britain's post-industrial towns. We were anticipating that the internal walls would be lathe-and-plaster, so we were pleasantly surprised to find that they had been built in brick (a single layer, laid sideways on) - which is much easier to deal with when you have to strip the walls right back.

We also have the chimneys and fireplaces which are typical of this vintage of housing, indeed three out of the original four are still functional - but given their lousy efficiency and the presence of central heating (hot-water-to-radiators as is the norm in the UK) they are ornamental now.

One of the projects on my 'list of things to do if I ever have the scratch' would be to replace one of the fireplaces with a modern stove that's rated for smokeless zones - that would allow us to hook up a back boiler circuit from the stove to our heat reservoir and give us a biomass input for our heating system, to go alongside the solar and natgas inputs we have at present. IMO diversity of supply isn't something that should only be of concern to national power grids...

Regards
Luke

377:

I picked up one letter from a member of the public who said that it was common knowledge that the flasks were leaking.

I tried researching that claim too, starting at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_flask and then following the references. It becomes blatently obvious very quickly that, for a flask to "be leaking" other than as a result of accident damage, it has to be over-filled and or have visible holes in not one but 2 separate containments. I do not doubt that the letter exists, but I think that following the path I took should cause most people to question the implied claim that leaky and/or over-filled flasks were routinely used.

378:

the older stock will tend to have a survivor bias towards the higher end stuff that wasn't built to minimum spec, which is a part of why it commands a premium I expect

I expect so too. Also, the really cheap old stuff was also really small, probably too small to be serviceable without knocking a few together. (The UK has pretty poky houses even now.)

We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the staircase on our (pretty new, at only a quarter century) house isn't a dark stained pine, but is actually mahogany. We'd actually prefer maple or oak (especially given that mahogany is a tropical hardwood), but it's a nice signal that the spec wasn't too low.

379:

Tht s vry ntrstng. Wll dn! ps! 'm bnnd, s shldn't hv sd tht. Frwll!

[[AHB - comment from poster banned from this thread disemvoweled]]

380:

The UK has pretty poky houses even now.

"Pretty pokey" is an understatement; your typical British house has about 40% of the floor space of a similarly-priced home in a similarly-thriving town or city owned by folks of similar income class in either Australia or the USA.

We've got similar population density issues to Japan, combined with the relics of green belt regulations -- essentially agricultural zoning laws passed during the immediate post-war era to prevent suburban sprawl. (Conserving farm land for food production was seen as a vital strategic necessity after two world wars in which the country had nearly been starved into surrender. Agricultural subsidies only really went out of the window from the late 1990s onwards and we still haven't updated our land usage policies.)

381:

You bought the house second-hand; it's not your fault that the builders used a non-renewable hardwood back in the day. Just don't go ripping it out and using it for firewood, okay?

382:

Indeed so. This recent BBC article mentioned that we have the smallest houses in Europe.

Part of the issue is that Brits tend to buy property by the number of rooms, rather than by the square footage, so don't really appreciate how the sizes compare. We happen to know our place is somewhere in the 120 m² range, but that's only because when we ripped out most of the carpets and refloored with Canadian Maple, that required a bit over 100 m².

(And no, we won't be ripping out that staircase. It's just a bit of a shame it clashes a bit with maple. At least it's not cherry.)

383:

Note for Americans: one square metre is around 10.5 square feet. So the average new-build British home within an hour's commute of London has a whisker under 800 square feet of floor space.

(I live in a flat that's around the 130-140 square metre area, depending if you count corridors and cupboards, or around 1400-1500 square feet. It's a big apartment by local standards. My excuse: it's also my workplace.)

384:

The Signs and causes of modern ignorance:
1: Submission to unworthy and faulty authority.
2. Submission to what it is customary to believe.
3. Submission to the prejudices of the mob.
4. Submission to a false show of knowledge, used to conceal ignorance, for no better reason than pride.
.....
Fr. Roger Bacon, c. 1265.

Erm Oops!?

Luke @ 376
DON'T even bother trying for a smokeless-stove in an inner-city area.
We have just tried to research this, looked at many models and on-line info.
And came to the conclusion that the regs are such ast to screw you, no matter what you do.
So we're leaving the 1950's fireplace (replacing the worn-out 1893 original) where it is ....

Charlie @ 380
Food-security is STILL ESSENTIAL - it's just that our usless, incompetent and corrupt governments don't seem to care any more...
@ 381
It MIGHT have ben renewable.
Remember that the Brit Empire planters deliberately set up timber-planting regimes, based on something between 50 and 150-year cycles. Teak, for instance is still being grown, and exported from the ex-Brit-colonies using that same regime. It IS a "renewable resource".

House areas: interesting - ours is a 4-metre aquare (26 feet to a side) so floor area = 1352 sq ft (plus the rebuilt greenhouse (knocked down the falling-down Victorian one, and put up a new full-width one), which is 9ft (~3meters) deep. Does this rate as BIG? Huh?

385:

Charlie, the words "best case scenario" are written all over your comment. In fact, I think you've risen to Candide-like levels of optimism, and if it goes the way you expect it to go, Japan will have gotten very, very lucky indeed.

We could hurl mounds of evidence at each other, but I think I'd prefer to simply wait and see how it all plays out.

386:

You are probably right, but I'd much rather not don sackcloth and ashes just yet if you don't mind.

As an aside: I find the continual harping on about the peculiar evils of radioactive contamination annoying in the extreme. Lead, mercury, cadmium, asbestos -- these are all similarly toxic, if not more so (it depends on what kind of radioactive contamination we're dealing with), and they don't decay. Radiation does, if anything, have this as an upside compared to other forms of industrial contamination. The problem is therefore not the radiatioactivity as the fact that it's in the wrong place.

387:

Wrong!
http://www.robedwards.com/2004/03/the_media_radia.html

'There is cause for concern over the thyroid cancers caused by the Chernobyl accident in 1986. There may be cause for concern over the excess of childhood leukaemias around Sellafield, and the large amount of pollution pumped into the Irish Sea from that plant in the past:

"Not the least of the attractions of the sea as a dumping ground has been the lack of administrative controls…The intention has been to discharge fairly substantial amounts of radioactivity as part of an organised and deliberate experiment…the aims of the experiment would have been defeated if the level of radioactivity discharged had been kept to a minimum."

John Dunster, head of health and safety, Windscale, 1958.

Disgracefully, in Britain the huge amounts of plutonium and other contaminants discharged into the sea from Sellafield in the early years were seen at the time as a deliberate experiment, an experiment in which the people and wildlife of Cumbria and elsewhere were the guinea pigs. As some of you will know, the author of this quote, John Dunster, went on from running health and safety at Windscale to become deputy director, then director of the National Radiological Protection Board between 1971 and 1987.'

Now shut up and go away.

388:

.."hardwood"..

Sell that wood to a local guitar maker, if the sections are big enough. (not just for the body but the neck and fretboard, so long thin bits are good. Bigger bits to a bass maker, small pieces to the mandolin maker and so on down the scale. It's getting fairly difficult to find reasonably-priced guitars in some hardwoods while there's a resurgence in vintage instruments for that reason, so the market's there.

For maximum hassle and profit make the instruments yourself?

389:

I find the continual harping on about the peculiar evils of radioactive contamination annoying in the extreme. Lead, mercury, cadmium, asbestos -- these are all similarly toxic, if not more so

Agreed, these are all bad news and need to be dealt with properly. However, this conversation is about nukes. As I see it, the basic problem with nukes is not their statistically high safety - I can't argue with the numbers there - but the fact that nuclear failure modes can affect such large areas. Potentially you can lose the plant, all homes/businesses/towns including people, in the surrounding area, your watershed, your agriculture, essentially the whole surrounding economy for miles and miles, not just temporarily, but for a century or more, (or millenia in the case of Chernobyl.)

What I find interesting (though very ugly) is that with a few more accidents, we'll be getting somewhere close to statistical rigor on the subject. Someone will be able to say with reasonable certainty that if we lose a nuclear plant we will lose X amount of economic output for Y square kilometers for Z years.

I'm not a complete Luddite on the subject of nukes, and the argument that they are good weapons against carbon issues is actually a pretty good one. I just don't see the current generation of plants as having an appropriate risk/reward ratio.

I would love to see prototypes of both thorium and pebble bed reactors built and properly studied, including various tests to destruction. This could probably be accomplished safely in the Nevada desert were suitable precautions taken, and IMHO doing so is worth the risks involved.

390:

I just don't see the current generation of plants as having an appropriate risk/reward ratio.

I agree completely; I think I've repeatedly said, upstream of here, that we need (a) a better regulatory regime and (b) to stop recertifying old reactors with built-in design flaws and replace them instead with new intrinsically safer designs (notably ones able to reach cold shutdown in a site blackout by passive cooling alone). This implicitly means (c) accepting that electricity isn't ever going to be as cheap as it used to be when we had unrestricted deployment of fossil fuels.

(I haven't started on (d) the correct role for large scale solar plants being to use of genetically modified cyanobacteria to produce synthetic diesel oil from sunlight, water, and atmospheric CO2, thus giving us a fossil-carbon neutral high density fuel supply for the mobile stuff that we can't easily electrify. Early days, non-trivial stuff to get working, but if it works it's a keeper.)

391:

Charlie, I'm not sure we can get a better regulatory regime. That may require a full-on, bullets-flying revolution, just because regulatory capture is so prevalent throughout much of the world, and I don't see a large political faction that wants to end it.

But we can probably get a reactor that shuts down safely when things go pear-shaped even if the regulations affecting it's operations are bunk.

392:

essentially agricultural zoning laws passed during the immediate post-war era to prevent suburban sprawl

So were all those air and army bases for the US mostly turned back into farm land?

Just curious. You comment got me to thinking.

393:

So the average new-build British home within an hour's commute of London has a whisker under 800 square feet of floor space.

Hmm. The smallest house occupied by someone I know is 900SF. And it was built around 1910. The only time you see 800SF and such in the US for new/remodeled is in areas like NYC. Most of us consider 1400 for a "home" about right. 1000 to 1200 for an apartment or condo. But a lot depends on children and lifestyle with them.

But then again we do tend to collect a lot of "stuff".

394:

The earliest I found was 2002.

395:

My condo is 864 square feet.

396:

A new type of rotary engine with a theoretical maximum efficiency of 74%

http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/?p1=Nav_Energy

Might help a bit with GW.

397:

Meant to post this earlier...
IEEE Spectrum interviewed Fukushima Dai-1's previous plant manager (1997-2000):
http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/energy/nuclear/the-scale-of-the-accident-was-beyond-my-imagination

398:

As a writer, you have a occupational need to all that space - bookshelves!
Not counting the garage, our 50s ranch house is a hair over 700 sq. ft. (the appraiser just came by) and we have just barely enough wall-space for our bookshelves, with art crammed in any blank spaces.
It's not an atypical house for Portland, which grew as a "streetcar city" with small lots and gridiron streets.
It was also built back when people actually got outside of their houses instead of cocooning inside, away from whatever Scary Monsters are being flogged on TV News this week. (e.g. nukular reactors)

399:

R. Buckminster Fuller said he was told by England's best and brightest that it was good that the poor lived in crowded "battleship" housing so they would fit right into the Navy.
If anybody is still reading. Death by Seltzer
by Tom Waters
From the January 1997 issue; published online January 1, 1997 http://discovermagazine.com/search?SearchableText=co2+in+water&Submit.x=20&Subm

The worst mass extinctions of all time, a team of paleontologists argued last July, were caused not by an exploding asteroid but by simple carbon dioxide: so much of it flooded the ocean, the researchers claim, that it began poisoning the tissues and dissolving the materials that marine animals use in their shells. The mass extinctions in question occurred at the end of the Permian Period, 250 million years ago, and they wiped out 95 percent of all species. (In contrast, the asteroid or comet that eliminated the dinosaurs 65 million years ago took out a mere 50 percent of Earth’s species.) People have been arguing about the Permian extinctions for decades--just a couple of years ago there was evidence that massive volcanic eruptions in Siberia could have been the culprit. But this year’s theory, presented by Richard Bambach of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg and his co-workers, makes a good story that fits nicely with much of the evidence.

400:

OK I have not kept up! SORRY! "massive volcanic eruptions in Siberia could have been the culprit. BUT THIS YEARS THEORY , presented by Richard Bambach of the Virginia Polytechnic

401:

To see what your LED lights will be like in the near future, take a look at the various chinese direct import sites like Dealextreme. They currently offer about 400 LED bulbs for under $10 US, shipping from china included, of various technologies, shapes, and colors. For $10 you can get a bulb with total output similar to a 30W incandescent.

Now, you should only buy from them if you want to be their QA department, but what happens with this sort of thing is that other companies evaluate these products, find the top quality ones, order a boatload, mark the price up 100+%. Then other china manufacturers copy the design and try to improve on it (or cut costs on it...and sometimes quality). Then the cycle repeats.

The current state of the LED bulbs is that they are about as efficient in lumens per watt as CFLs, but because the emitters are so tiny, they're superior for highly directional lighting.

Furthermore, LED costs are dropping and efficiencies are still improving rapidly.

402:

So were all those air and army bases for the US mostly turned back into farm land?

Pretty much, yes. They certainly weren't turned into cities.

A bunch of the heavy bomber bases nearest to cities got turned into municipal airports, or things like the Scottish Museum of Flight at East Fortune that need a runway. The army bases, however ...

403:

I have a couple of LED lights around the flat -- IKEA sell a really nice directional gooseneck reading lamp (with a clip for a base). It may be rated at 5 watts but it's capable of lighting up quite a large room, or focusing to bring a book page up to daylight levels.

But I reckon it'll be a few years yet before it's time to start swapping out the CFL bulbs for LEDs. We're still at the soak-the-early-adopters stage of the development and deployment cycle. (Like CFL bulbs inthe mid-1980s.)

Given the design life of LEDs, I suspect it's more likely that rather than buying them as bulbs with a bayonet or screw fit, we'll buy new light fittings with LEDs pre-installed -- when it's time to replace the LEDs, the light fitting itself will be over 25 years old and deeply unfashionable.

404:

Just an FYI for history buffs in California or Arizona - General Patton used the Mojave Desert to train the troops going out to North Africa during World War II, and there are sill some old airfields and training camps out there that can be visited, albeit unofficially. Google "California Arizona Maneuver Area" and you'll find maps and stories.

405:

It is my understanding that many of those old abandoned airstrips were used in the early days of muscle cars as drag strips. Long, wide, flat, level strips of concrete for "free".

406:

I know Steve is banned from this thread, and posting about people who can't answer is bad habit, but for the sake of understanding, I'd like to point some things out.

Strontium-90 is indeed a product of nuclear fission, and it's bad for a variety of reasons, namely a short half life of 28.8 years, which is too long to say 'it's gone before crossing the road' and too short for 'well, and how many decays per second was this again?', and a troubling tendency of the body to treat it like calcium, e.g. accumulate it into bones and like. There was one BBC documentation about a gladiator graveyard where they said a higher amount of normal strontium in the diet might make the bones stronger, but that's another story.

You can indeed identify Strontium by its red emission spectrum in flames, though the normal(read: without a spectroscopy, with bare eyes, in a bunsen flame) method isn't that sensitive; its content in the earth crust is 370 ppm, compared to 23,000 ppm for sodium; it seems this concentration isn't sufficient for the flame test, and in the case of barium, the sensitivity of the flame test is something on the order of 19,000 ppm. Let's settle for about 1,000 ppm, e.g. 1 per mille.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abundance_of_elements_in_Earth%27s_crust

Because of its high radioactivity, strontium is also used in RTG; it was easier to get a reference about the energy released by said elements than calculate it myself (Note, I'm a biologist, not a physicist, and there is a decay product that has a shorter half life and higher decay energy that strontium which might add to the effects, so it's tricky. Since maybe the paper in question made some mistake, too, take all those numbers with some grains of salt, pun intended).

http://fti.neep.wisc.edu/neep602/SPRING00/lecture5.pdf

According to this paper, the energy released by strontium is 0.96 W/g.

Which doesn't sound much, but well, this is 3,456 J per hour, and after about one and a half minutes, this gram of pure strontium released enough energy to melt this gram of strontium (enthalpy of fusion: 8 kJ/mol). With 0.1%, this takes somewhat longer, but still, we get 3.456 J/h.

To put it another way, about 1,5 kg of pure Strontium-90 generate as many watts as 1 m^2 of earth surface gets from the sun. With 0.1%, make this 1.500 tons, which would be the salts in about 1,500 litres of sea water.

I think you understand why we're a little bit sceptical about this amount of strontium is the sea, especially since with this grades, evaporation of water and isolating the stuff'd be economical. So well, it's somewhat doubtful there was enough Strontium-90 in the water to change flame colour.

Err, if there are any mistakes in the calculations, let me know.

As for what really happened, well, there are multiple possibilities; leaving malice, err, misguided idealism aside ('I have to show the pupils how dangerous radioactivity is!', sorry, having the pleasure of doing lay therapy for some relatives after school with an enviromental conscious techer left me somewhat cynical), maybe she didn't use sea water, but normal tap water, where there is plenty of calcium; normally that's the carbonate, which is not going to change the flame, but adding some hydrochloric acid might help. Then strontium is a normal content of sea water, and strontium sulfate is less soluable than sodium chloride, so adding watter, boiling it till something preciptates, removing the water, adding new sea water, boiling again etc. is going to get us some nice enriched strontium sulfate. Then again, this would be natural, non-radioactive strontium, with Strontium-90 once again in any quantities detectable by normal flame spectroscopy being a wasted long term energy source; especially since we could use more efficient conversion units than thermoelectric elements...

407:

In England, Silverstone Circuit is an old airfield.

Actually, on occasion, it is still a major airfield - it claims a world record of 4200 aircraft movements between dawn and dusk on one day. That's a landing or takeoff every few seconds.

408:

Geothermal without the earthquakes:
http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/37584/?p1=A5

This is an MIT journal.

409:

The Nissan Car Plant in Sunderland was established on the site of the former Sunderland Airport ..

"In October 1916, the airfield that subsequently became Sunderland Airport started as a Flight Station for 'B' Flight of No. 36 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), and was originally called Hylton (after nearby Hylton Castle), although when being prepared it was known as West Town Moor. Due to an increase in German bombing raids and the heavier commitment of Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) aircraft in France, the Royal Flying Corps was given the task of Home Defence, setting up a number of squadrons, with flights spread over the length of the British coastline.

The coast in North East England between Whitby and Newcastle was protected by No. 36 (Home Defence) Squadron, equipped with the B.E.2c and B.E.12. On 1 February 1916, the squadron was formed at Cramlington, outside Newcastle, commanded by Captain R. O. Abercromby. In addition to the main base, flights were detached to Seaton Carew and Ashington as well as Hylton.

An area of land just north of the River Wear between Washington and Sunderland was set aside for the new landing field. "


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Usworth


And that car plant is now ..well, see here ...


http://www.sir-robert-mcalpine.com/projects/?id=465

410:

Without the earthquakes, but with the old problems of availability. Geothermal flux through continental plates is on the order of 50-100mW per square metre - oceanic plates are a bit more generous, but not much (150mW).

Note that this is solid state thermal conduction through some 40km of solid rock. Where you have molten magma coming up to the surface, the molten magma itself brings a whole lot of heat with it ... but unfortunately also earthquakes and eruption plumes (as currently in Iceland.)

Most of what you hear about geothermal energy outside of volcanic areas is unsustainable beyond a few decades - and even *that* only if you keep drilling deeper each time the rock is getting too cold.

Claims by the German government that 20GW of electricity could be generated through geothermal stations in Germany are utter nonsense. But fanatics don't listen to troubling facts ...

411:

The CFLs in my bathrooms -- four in two -- are 22 years old. I keep thinking they'll go out soon, but not yet.

412:

Of course the ones I out in outdoor lamps some times don't make it to 3 months.

413:

"Lead, mercury, cadmium, asbestos -- these are all similarly toxic, if not more so "

Except for cadmium, which is nasty, not so. Lead, mercury, and asbestos are not nearly as toxic as bio-available radioactives. There's also no talk of expanding technologies based on these metals; quite the opposite, they are being phased out.

Anyhow, this discussion is for the moment over.

BTW, unless the LED lamps you buy have been tested to IES standards LM-79 or LM-80 or similar procedures, they probably will not deliver as promised.

415:

The toxic metals which you list are being phased out (wherever possible) of manufacturing processes as you said. They are also being continuously emitted into the atmosphere by coal-burning power stations.

Two months ago the EPA announced they wanted to reduce the amount of mercury emitted by coal-fired power stations in the US from the current level of 50 tonnes a year down to five tonnes a year. Note that they can't make it zero, it's just impossible with coal-fired stations even when they're running perfectly. The only way to stop them emitting mercury, cadmium, radon, radium, uranium plus sulphur compounds, nitrous oxides and organics like dioxins into the air we breathe and the water we drink is to shut them all down.

But we need the electricity and the financial costs of thoroughly cleaning the stack exhaust of a coal-fired power station to the point where they are only moderately hazardous to their neighbours would make them absurdly expensive to run, so it's not going to happen. We will, as we have for the past half-century, put up with the poisoning and the deaths from coal while condemning the nuclear industry for supplying us with similar amounts of affordable non-toxic non-pollutiing electrical power during the same period.

416:

'Contained', 'uncontained', magical thinking.

1: This thing melted and reached very high temperatures (higher than if it was 'uncontained' i.e. air-cooled)
2: The radioactive isotopes evaporated out (by heat),
3: They were vented straight into atmosphere along with huge volume of steam (ensuring that this stuff won't deposit in piping to any practical extent). Rest was washed out with cooling water.

I'd make a prediction that a few months or years later it is going to be known that the radioactivity release from a single reactor at Fukushima was in the ballpark of ~1 Chernobyl. The 'containment' in Fukushima acted as a cooker, allowing the fuel to reach considerably higher temperatures than at Chernobyl, resulting in evaporation of larger % of fission products. Which were vented, not contained. The only thing this containment vessel (and pressure vessel) have contained is the heat.

417:

Erm, you are aware that it there was a graphite fire burning along with all exposed fuel elements in Chernobyl in the open air for several days - after part of the core was already blown into the atmosphere in the form of small particles found all over Europe?

Sorry but what you say is utter nonsense.

418:

#392 and 402:-

Many of the WW2 airfields were indeed effectively handed back to the farmers they were "borrowed" from. East Fortune is an exceptional case, not least because it was already a historic site in aviation terms by WW2. Still, since Charlie and I both know it fairly well, let's examine it in more detail:-
1) Runways and taxiways - mostly or all still extant, and in decent condition for occasional aircraft movements, car boot sales and motorsport activities.
2) Airfield buildings - again mostly or all still extant, and in decent condition. As Charlie says, tehy're used for the Scottish Museum of Flight, and also for a DoT vehicle testing station (and possibly other purposes too).
3) This still leaves roughly 1 square mile (based on 2x 5_600' runways at right angles; many WW2 airfields actually had 3 runways) of usable agricultural land.

http://www.bing.com/maps/?q=Benbecula%20Airport&FORM=Z9FD shows a WW2 Coastal Command airfield that's been converted to a civil airport, and you can see some of the WW2 aircraft dispersals on the West and North taxiways.

419:

That's true of British GP day, with the note that most of those movements are of helicopters rather than fixed-wing types.

420:

That being the day I do not attempt to visit my mother. Whose address is [number redacted] Graham Hill, Silverstone, Northants.

On the topic of reclaimed airfields, there was a US 355th Fighter Group airfield near us, between the villages of Littlington and Steeple Morden. The only sign today is some Nissen huts being used for agricultural storage, and a memorial at the gate on the road. If you look at it with Google Maps, you can see where the main ~4000' runway 4/22 must have run.

421:

I read a short time ago that straying brine down a coal-burning power plants stacks, made the co2 form a mineral. And cut co2 by 80%, maybe. It's still being tested. IT HAD BETTER WORK.

423:

In WW-2 us airforce planes had filterS looking for atomic activity in Germany. they never stopped so far as I can tell. Brit airliners carried filters and had the first word of USSR bombs. I wonder what they are showing about Japan now. Do our governments have more truthful info that is being released? WOULD IT MATTER IF THEY WERE.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on May 15, 2011 8:16 PM.

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