Friday, February 28, 2020

Consider your sources

There are conflicting views about nuclear energy vs. renewables in the climate debate. Is nuclear energy safe? Are there sufficient resources and time for renewables to scale up to meet demand as nuclear and fossil fuels are rapidly curtailed? Does nuclear encourage profligate energy use? Is the nuclear industry offering a Faustian bargain to climate restoration advocates?

These may all be useful questions, but there's one overriding concern that affects everyone.

Stable governance

Is there a globally effective government (whether a superpower acting unilaterally or all governments in concert as "united" nations) that has demonstrably kept all nation-states and powerful private interests accountable to clean up the radioactive "waste" from nuclear power plants?
"As of the first quarter of 2019, 162 units are globally awaiting or in various stages of decommissioning... Overall, only 19 reactors, with a capacity of 6 GW, were fully decommissioned ... only 10 have been returned to greenfield sites... 
"When analyzing decommissioning policies, one needs to distinguish between the process itself (in the sense of the actual implementation), and the financing of decommissioning...." [The World Nuclear Industry, pg 158-159]
Since radioactivity lasts a long time, is there a robust global government that has maintained stability for several thousand years? No? Well then, it would seem that one more nuclear power plant in the hands of the current club of despots is very risky business (not the least of which is the American nuclear superpower's own home-grown "very stable genius").

Speaking of unsavory characters... the Kock brothers weigh in

Renewables are criticized for using more land than fossil fuels or nuclear power (for example, in The Footprint of Energy: Land Use of U.S. Electricity Production). It turns out that the publisher of this report, Strata Policy Institute, gets it support from incumbents with an agenda:
"In 2016, the Charles Koch Institute contributed $1,677,500 to Strata" [Energy and Policy]
Now that's not to say their data is entirely wrong, but by publishing independently, they are thereby not under the same rules as academic publications which respectfully require conflict of interest statements.
When you connect the dots, it gets easier to understand what's going on:
Correcting Anti-Renewable Energy Propaganda
"... Renewable energy gets cheaper each year, nuclear power gets more expensive each year — how come they still adamantly claim that renewables are not a cost-effective way of decarbonizing?

The answer, of course, is that the studies are flawed. Taking a look at these studies shows that several patterns can be observed in many of these studies. Among these flaws are ridiculous overestimates of storage requirements, overestimates of grid expansion needs, and the insistence on uneconomical strategies of storing electricity, such as insisting on batteries to store several weeks worth of grid electricity consumption.
James Hansen

It is strange to find someone so gifted as James Hansen caught up in this drama.

We can be thankful for Hansen's monumental contributions to climate awareness. That said, he wrote a bizarre opinion piece 6 years ago, "Renewable Energy, Nuclear Power and Galileo: Do Scientists Have a Duty to Expose Popular Misconceptions?" In this piece, Hansen tackles "Energy misconceptions" (meaning, his views on renewables, as if he were the arbiter who knew what he was talking about). Unfortunately, his understanding of the technology and its applications is limited and his assumptions are far off the mark.

For example, has he scrutinized his cohorts when he joined a presentation with Michael Shellenberger at COP23, in a session titled "Nuclear Power? Are Renewables Enough?" 

Shellenberger has been on the take from the nuclear power industry for a long time. He bolsters his creds by weaving a grand story of his conversion from solar. In this presentation, Shellenberger concludes his remarks by invoking the weight of a rock star, Sting:

The very idea that Shellenberger would manipulate his audience on matters of engineering and physics by quoting a celebrity whose credentials are limited to having once sung a song, "Nuclear Waste," is plainly fraudulent. Furthermore, Sting advocates for "massive amounts of power" which completely misses the point. What we need is good engineering, to do more with less and stop trying to power a brute force fossil fuelish world with nuclear. We need an elegant new energy system which directs sophisticated energy to where it's really needed. 

(At the end of the steam era, locomotives were typically only 6% efficient; a few reached 12%. Diesels came along at ≈20% efficiency and put steam locomotives out of business. Would we now go back and use solar energy to power a steam locomotive? With electric motors at more than 80% efficiency, we can find better ways to move things.)

Consider your sources.

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