Skip to main content

View Diary: A Calculation: How Many Trillions of Dollars of Environmental Damage Will IGCC Coal Cost? (48 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  confused (0+ / 0-)

    I looked at the Rafaj report (8/05, version 2) at page 5, and at the "Externe" report, pp. 32 and 37.  It isn't clear to me how these reports calculated the external costs of nuke power plants.  

    Does these reports give some additional detail on how the nuke externalities are calculated?

    Because the bigger issue is that I did not see portions of both reports that explicitly state that 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl-style release costs are figured as external costs.

    Or the external costs of placing nuke reactors in the hands of folks like Mr. A in Iran, that character in North Korea, those jerks in the former Burma, or in the stateless areas of Afganistan or Somalia, or in the so-to-be stateless areas in Africa, the Middle East, or elsewhere.

    I think you have to consider the external costs of pirated nuke fuel being massively misused by these or other folks at least once in the next century.

    I am concerned about talking about 4000 new nukes for another reason.

    Where will the water come from? A typical nuke, for instance the Edwin Hatch plant in Georgia, USA, uses 57 million gallons a day (about 90 cubic/feet/second) or about 21 billion gallons of water a year.

    The USA uses about 20% of the world's electricity so  about 800 of those new nukes will be here. I can't begin to think of 800 rivers in the USA that have that kind of water capacity available.  

    You may have to start lining up the nukes along the Mississippi,Columbia, Missouri and Ohio Rivers elbow to elbow but then you will need thousands of miles of new transmission lines and the resulting power losses.

    To some degree you could try and site the new nukes where the old coal plants were, and reuse those power lines, but where there was enough water for a coal burner (about 3 cfs needed), there may not be enough for a new nuke (Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Montana, etc.)

    And internationally, there are dozens of countries along the equator and elsewhere that lack the water capacity to site these nukes.

    And when those nukes start boiling that water, well, water vapor has greenhouse properties itself.

    You stated that wind is only a petty energy source (not an exajoule source) because it supplies such a small percentage of energy at this point.

    Being a megawatt guy, I don't know about wind being an exajoule source, but multi-hundred megawatt wind farms are popping up all over the US.  A couple of those wind farms have the capacity  of small coal or nuke plants and don't deserve to be written off. Wind could fill a huge energy gap and it is not a fool's fantasy.

    P 37 of the Externe report does mention that radioactivity from mine tailings is considered. But it isn't  clear that the costs of uranium tailings are for unreclaimed or reclaimed tailings.

    You said IGCC is unproven.  There is at least one full-scale IGCC plant operating in Tampa,Florida, and large plants were successfully operated at Pinon Pines, Nevada, and by Texaco in the southern California desert.

    I still agree with you that coal, even IGCC coal sucks and pollutes awfully.

    Coal wastes are reusable as construction materials in cement and other uses.

    I did not see large scale gas fired cogeneration listed and evaluated in the Externe report.

    4000 new nukes could cost ($6 billion x 4000) $24 trillion. Who will pay? Wind is 2/3rd of that, natural gas is 1/3rd, although gas as carbon problems of its own.

    Some Carbon sequesteration from exhaust gasses is already taking place in a matter of speaking.  Some pump mills make their own calcium carbonate by "scrubbing" the carbon out of their exhaust gasses with a calcium compound.

    I greatly appreciate you taking a hard look at coal and enumerating its massive health impacts, which which I completely agree. I simply cannot buy into nukes the way you suggest, however, for these reasons.

    •  You need to read both reports comprehensively. (0+ / 0-)

      The methods of the ExternE program can be found by going through the Externe parent website.

      The external cost of mill tailings is included.   So far as I am aware, zero people have been injured by mill tailings.   Of course, coal slag, which is infinitely more massive is a similar issue that is almost never mentioned.

      The use of water is required in all thermal plants, coal and gas alike.   The laws of thermodyanmic efficiency require high temperatures for high temperature inlets.   All power plants release heat to the atmosphere.   In particular IGCC coal plants depend on supercritical water.   Combined Cycle Gas plants also use high inlet temperatures.   The advantage of doing this is that one gets more usuable work (electricity) per unit of energy.

      The Palo Verde Nuclear station in Arizona uses the sewage outfall water for cooling.   It is one of the most successful nuclear plants in the country.   The series of 5 CANDU reactors, including the 2 now operating, have been designed to use waste heat for district heating.    The GTHTR300C reactor in Japan is designed to use high temperatures for the thermochemical sulfur-iodine hydrogen production reaction, generate electricity, and desalinate water.   This gives an efficiency of 80% for useful work.

      I believe that the coal industry is a continuous catastrophic failure.    Three Mile Island is the only case of a catastrophic failure in a pressurized water reactor, and the external cost was trivial inasmuch as no one was killed or injured.    Chernobyl should not be represented in a calculation of external costs anywhere since no one is ever going to operate a graphite moderated reactor with a positive void co-efficient in Western Europe.   Only a few RBMK type reactors still operate in the world, and no one will ever again repeat the type of operating errors that lead to the disaster.

      Thus I think your point about including these has little merit.

      I am quite sure that the ExternE report did not include the Banquio dam disaster - which killed a quarter of a million people in China in 1975 - in their calculation of external costs for hydroelectricity.

      I believe that a proposal to rely on wind energy - which does have a low external cost - to do what nuclear does, provide baseload energy, is pure wishful thinking.    Not one nation that uses wind for a large portion of its energy - Denmark for instance - has eliminated the use of fossil fuels.   The Estonians have recently rejected wind on the grounds that wind will have no effect whatsoever on their fossil fuel demand because of spinning reserve requirements.    They have opted to co-operate with Lithuania, Latvia and Poland to build a new nuclear reactor in Lithuania.   Further I note that the Danes, whose wind capacity represents 33% of their capacity have announced an intention to stop building more plants on economic grounds.   They import nuclear power from Sweden and Germany.

      Your figure about six billion dollars per plant is wrong.   Japan has just completed a series of 5 Advanced Boiling Water Reactors for a cost of under 3 billion each.   India recently completed several reactors ahead of schedule and under budget at less than 2 billion.    I think you just don't understand the economics of nuclear power at all.  I don't think you have a real grasp on the economics of wind either.   A better appreciation of costs would introduce the capacity factor, which for wind is considered excellent at 30% - and very few plants actually do this, there are wind faciliites in the UK that run at less than 10%.   A nuclear plant that operated at 30% would be considered a failure.   Most nuclear power plants however operate at capacity factors close to 90%.   This explains why they are an alternative to coal and why wind is not.   Coal capacity factors are typically 80%.

      However were the costs as high as you say - and they're not - nuclear plants would still be worth it, since climate change will clearly do much more than 24 trillion dollars in damage.   Indeed, I have shown that merely replacing existing nuclear plants would cost almost 1/3 of that.

      I detect a sort of "nuclear exceptionalism" in your remarks, which attempts to raise points about nuclear energy that apply to all other forms of energy as well as if they are only important in the nuclear case.

      This sort of thinking is very unfortunate and, in my view, very dangerous.

      Finally, with respect to IGCC plants, the Tampa station (Polk) is 260 MWe, a demonstration plant scale.   TECO built and completed an 1800 MWe coal plant after they had operated Polk for almost 8 years.   This suggests that they were less than impressed with their IGCC plant, since they built filthy plants after their experience.

      I don't know about Nevada, but two large conventional coal plants at 1400 MWe each are proposed at Granite Fox.   They can't be just goo-goo eyed over what unquestionably is a demonstration plant there as well.

      Finally, there are zero sequestration plants anywhere on this planet that can accomidate even 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year.    Meanwhile the actual output is 27 times larger than one billion tons per year and the rate of release rising, not falling.   To my mind, sequestration is a pipe dream for people who want to make excuses for coal.   I further note - again pointing to "nuclear exceptionalism" that these wastes - the carbon dioxide - would need to be sequestered for eternity.   By contrast, fission products decay into non-radioactive materials.   Moreover, since fission products decay as they are formed, they are subject to equilibrium, i.e. at a given power level one can only accumulate a certain amount of material before it is decaying as fast as it is formed.    This issue, which is an element of elementary nuclear engineering, is the most frequently overlooked matter in the discussion of energy by products.

      •  wait a second (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        peace voter

        Other commentors provided references to instances of uranium mill tailings causing considerable deaths and injuries, specifically the LA Times story about the New Mexico indians.

        You called my references to nukes' huge water use as nuclear exceptionialism since other thermal plants also use water.  

        True, but nukes use 10-100 times more water per megawatt than other types. Coal and gas fired plants have established methods of air cooled and hybrid cooling systems that use around 100,000 gallons/day.

        The Palo Verde plant that you cite uses about 90 million gallons/day. That is all the waste water from the 14th largest city in the USA. Where can we find another 4000 sites world wide or 400 in the USA with that amount of available water?  Some of the largest rivers in the USA practically run dry during years of low rainfall or are oversubscribed to other uses. If there is not enough water for continuous operation then the ability to site nukes, and resulting nuke reliability will suffer.

        I am still waiting for an answer on this issue, and on the issue of how nukes' vast increases in water vapor add another greenhouse gas to the air.

        Another unanswered issue is the potential outcome of siting nukes in currently unstable and potentially future stateless countries around the world.

        You say the Chernobyl plant design will never be used again.  True. But you are assuming there are no currently-unknown flaws in the new designs, as prosaic as a stuck temperature gauge,  that will be revealed, over time, as human error during operation, exerts itself.

         And the impact of the combination of unforeseen design flaws and human error will be huge. Although, as you point out frequently and I agree, it will not be as severe, although far more dramatic, as the slow-motion Chernobyls we suffer from coal plants every day.

        You say there were no injuries at 3 Mile Island.  You are right. None proved. But even the industry admits that tens of thousands of folks got an extra hit of radioactivity from the 3MI releases.  However, the exposed folks couldn't prove in federal court that those doses  caused injuries and deaths, although there were reportedly many out-of-court settlements.

        You can argue there are harmless levels of increased exposure to radioactivity, for instance what took place at 3MI. I'm less confident.  I listened for 20 years to scientists claim there were harmless levels of increased air pollution from coal fired power plants because the exposure was "below standards." More recent studies showed they were wrong because the (particulate) standards were too lax.

        Now you and others cite these new studies about coal-related pollution impacts at low levels as a reason to shut coal down.  I agree, but I am uncertain about giving low levels of radioactivity a free ride.

        I look at articles about the tritium releases to groundwater at Palo Verde, one of your cited plants, at the radioactive effluent spewed into the Ocean from Sheffield in the UK and from some of the Russian plants, and I cannot accept that the cumulative impacts of these and other so-called trivial releases are still harmless, or that these types of releases will never happen again.

        Again, these impacts could still be less harmful than the daily impacts of coal firing, but harmful nonetheless.

        Good for the folks were are able to build new nukes for only 2 or 3 billion dollars. The bad news is that other plants have cost over $12 billion.  Maybe my figure of $6 billion/plant was too high in some cases. But my 20 years of experience in various aspects of the power plant construction industry
        compels me to use a conservative figure.

        Tampa was a demo plant? 280 megawatts is a pretty big deal.  I consider a demo plant to be a 1-10 MW plant like the small nukes built early on, or the research facilities like what was built near some universities.  Tampa was in commercial operation for almost a decade and generated $1 million a week in income.  Hardly a demo plant.

        Sure the utilities want to build more pulverized coal plants now rather than IGCC.  It's far  cheaper. But that doesn't necessarily mean that IGCC is a failed technology regarding genration of economic energy.

        Of course, we both agree that any kind of coal, including IGCC coal, is a failed technology because of the carbon emissions.

        I take some exception to your characterization of my lack of understanding of power plant economics.  For  the last 20 years, I have listened to, and reviewed plans of the smartest people on the room,  about how their fluid bed coal boilers and their combined cycle natural gas turbines and heat recovery boilers, with selective catalytic reduction, were super-efficient and super clean.

        My participation in review of those projects helped contribute to 90% reductions in water use and air pollution, in some cases.

        But few people, including me, realized the implications that the cleanest fossil-fueled power plant still cranked out unacceptable levels of greenhouse gasses, gas less so than coal.

        I am very troubled by this situation but am unwilling to accept that a fresh coat of paint on nuclear energy is a flawless solution.

        •  Of course you realize that coal releases more (0+ / 0-)

          radioactivity than the average nuclear plant, particularly when western coals are burned.

          If you insist that radioactivity is the only risk from power generation, I really can't help you.   I find the position silly and completely arbitrary.

          You say that Three Mile Island "increased radioactive exposure," but you make no representation about whether this is worse from a health impact from "increased mercury exposure" from coal power that has contaminated every living thing on the planet, especially the fish.  

          In short, you want to view nuclear power in isolation from its alternatives.

          I think you're being arbitrary, and that goes for the water argument as well.    Any plant that is a heat engine - and this goes for very dirty coal plants as well as nuclear plants - must obey the second law of thermodynamics and discharge heat.   In fact many of the cooling towers around the world are associated with coal plants.   It happens that any cooling mechanism that is used with coal plants is applied to nuclear systems with pretty much the same ease.   Once again, I am hearing "nuclear exceptionalism," the insistence - the irrational insistence - that what is true for every other case is only important in the nuclear case.

          Apparently you refuse to believe in the external energy calculations, on the grounds you don't like what they say.  

          I have calculated that the number of lives lost on tritium around the whole world can be estimated at 12 for 1995 (2 liters of water ingested per day assumed to be average).  Twelve is vastly lower than the number of coal miners killed in that year and vastly lower by several orders of magnitude from the number of people killed by coal related air pollution.  

          On the other hand, I have calculated that the number of lives lost to tritium in 1963 - before nuclear power was widely used, but while open air nuclear testing was still practiced - the number of tritium deaths world wide was about 1200.

          Nuclear power is a trivial contributor to the flux of tritium, which is in equilibrium with production in any case.  The concentration of tritium in the atmosphere - which is measured every year has been falling drastically since 1963 which happens to coincide with the time that nuclear power plants started to be used in large numbers.

          A "tritium unit" is defined as 0.118 beq/liter of water, meaning that would need to drink ten liters to experience one decay per second, even as you experience thousands of decays from your body's natural potassium.   In 1963 the TU was over 5000 in Vienna, Austria.   By the late 1980's, after most of the world's nuclear power plants began to operate, it had fallen well below 50.

          I would give you more of the details but I know exactly where you are coming from.   You want me to tell you what you want to hear, but the evocation of "tritium" immediately informs me of whence you come.   A discussion associated with "tritium" and nuclear power is always an attempt to isolate nuclear power from its alternatives - all of which are actually far more dangerous from nuclear power.

          In fact, ingesting 20,000 pCi of tritium deliberately would raise one's cancer risk by one in one million.    To accumulate this much tritium one would need to drink 3 liters per day of water for 51 years from directly under the San Onofre nuclear station.   Of course no one does this.

          Tritium risk: one in 14 trillion per cCi.

          The number of people who have ingested 20,000 pCi of tritium because of nuclear power plant operations is zero.

          The number of people who will die from breathing particulates - even with scrubbers - anywhere near any type of coal plant is not zero.

          You say that "nuclear power is not a flawless solution."   If you read the diary entry on which this post is based, see if you have seen anywhere where I have argued that a "flawless" form of energy exists.   It doesn't exist.   It is "nuclear exceptionalism" to insist that only nuclear energy need be perfect, while competitors can be as far more dangerous and still be declared acceptable, mostly on the grounds that they are not spelled with an "N."

          If the approach is to insist on "flawless energy" the result will be to continuously use extremely dangerous energy by an appeal to inaction.   This is why you are telling me all sorts of happy horseshit about coal, where you claim to have reduced water use by 90%.   Big deal.   Water use associated with coal plants is a problem but it is no where near being the most serious problem with coal.   One could reduce nitrogen oxides by 95% and water use by 95% and sulfates by 95% and coal would still be environmentally disasterous.

          I have never said that nuclear energy is perfect, nor have I said that it can ever be flawless.  I have merely asserted that it is better than all other forms of energy, which it is and has been for many decades of observable operational experience.   One doesn't have to posit all kinds of new nuclear reactors to show that.   Existing pressurized water reactors have been operationally the safest exajoule scale energy systems ever developed by human beings, with the possible exception - in some places - of hydroelectricity.

          You also say that you have listened "to the smartest people in the room."   You could, and prehaps should, go into to rooms where the "smartest" person is "smarter" than the "smartest" person in the rooms where you have been.    In fact, many of the developers of nuclear reactor systems were Nobel Prize winners.   For instance, you could google "Hans Bethe."

          •  please show us (0+ / 0-)

            If you insist that radioactivity is the only risk from power generation, I really can't help you.   I find the position silly and completely arbitrary.

            — NNadir

            Perhaps I missed it.  Where did 6412093 insist that readioactivity is the only risk from power generation?



          •  sorry (0+ / 0-)

            We are just talking past each other at this point.  I, like you, have strongly criticized coal about every 4th sentence as an unacceptable energy source.

            I said that even after my 20 years of involvement, mainly in review of natural gas fired plants but also coal, that despite seeing and causing 90-95% reductions in air and water pollution from these sources, the previously-unrealized carbon impacts are still deal-killers for gas and coal fired electricity.

            You seem to read most of what I write as pro-coal. Not true.  For the 10th time, coal sucks.

            What I am seeking is critical review and discussion of the significant adverse impacts of nuclear energy.  To me, Nuke's excessive water use (10-100 times greater than gas or coal) is a little-known problem and renders it unworkable for arid climates.

            To others, the nuclear industry's run of the mill radioactivity discharges and the spectre of catastrophe are far more important issues. Folks already discuss those issues widely, so I thought it would be helpful to bring up the neglected issue of water use.

            I've known and dealt with several Nobel Prize level scientists at the University of California.  The ones I've known were concerned about nuclear energy because of the possibility of nuke plants leading to the spreading around the world of the feedstock materials for nuclear weapons.

            Hans Bethe (rest in peace)was a very bright fellow.  Trouble is, he or someone like him won't be the CEOs of the profit-driven contractors like Halliburton and utilities like FirstEnergy who will build and run the next generation of nukes.

            •  I've written elsewhere in my diary on nuclear (0+ / 0-)

              terrorism or weapons.  I'm sorry, it's not as big a risk as climate change.

              You seem to think that it is not either/or coal.   But it is.   There are no other forms of scalable energy beyond nuclear.

              The number of nuclear wars that have resulted in the destruction of cities as the result of commercial nuclear power is zero.   The number of cities destroyed by weather events is not zero.

              Climate change is a certainty.   Nuclear war using commercial nuclear fuels is not a certainty.

              Climate change will almost certainly damage many cities and cost hundreds of millions, if not billions of lives.

              Nuclear weapons are so expensive and difficult to make, that it is very unlikely that without a national program, it will never occur.   Is the risk zero?    No it isn't.   However the expectation value (risk times number of people injured) is infinitely higher in the climate change case, since the risk of climate change is 100% now.

              Your objection is still specious.   You insist that nuclear power be without risk, but you do not insist that any other form of energy be without risk.   It ain't gonna happen, and that decision, that only nuclear energy be declared associated with Halliburton - the logical fallacy of "guilt by association" - is arbitrary and will cost human lives.

              For the record, Halliburton runs neither the Japanese or French nuclear programs, nor the Romananian, nor the Belgian, nor the South Korean...

              You can blah, blah, blah all day about renewable energy, I bet, but you can't show me 3 exajoules of it.   That's a problem since the default is coal.

              •  oh yeh? (0+ / 0-)

                The number of cities destroyed by Chernobyl was more than zero.

                59,900 MW of wind power already installed worldwide.  How many exajoules? You tell me.

                Energy conservation, especially in highly industrialized countries, would be an important factor, properly subsidized.

                Natural gas combustion produces far less carbon than coal and could provide a less damanging source of
                base load capacity.

                Laast time I talked to the Nobel prize-level scientists you suggested I talk to (at Lawrence Labs/UCB), some of them were working on energy generation from ocean wave action, including functioning pilot projects. I admit, its been a while since then.

                I share your skepticism of carbon sequesterization because I don't trust the monitoring of the calculations, but properly audited, planting more "trees in Belize," required as mitigation for gas-fired power plants, could reduce the carbon impacts from natural gas usage.

                In the Northwest, the State Energy Councils require new thermal power plants to invest in carbon offsets.  At least 2 IGCC plants are coming up for approval. I can barely wait to see what kind of carbon mitigation these coal-fired plants will offer to the agencies.  It could be among the biggest lies ever told.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

  • Recommended (140)
  • Community (66)
  • 2016 (46)
  • Elections (39)
  • Environment (37)
  • Media (36)
  • Trans-Pacific Partnership (35)
  • Republicans (32)
  • Hillary Clinton (31)
  • Law (29)
  • Barack Obama (29)
  • Iraq (27)
  • Civil Rights (27)
  • Culture (26)
  • Jeb Bush (25)
  • Climate Change (25)
  • Economy (22)
  • Labor (21)
  • Bernie Sanders (19)
  • Science (19)
  • Click here for the mobile view of the site