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Total May Use Atomic Power At Oil-Sand Project (WSJ, behind subscription wall)

PARIS -- French oil giant Total SA, amid rising oil and natural-gas prices, is considering building a nuclear power plant to extract ultraheavy oil from the vast oil-sand fields of western Canada.

This comes as oil prices -- driven even higher by Hurricane Katrina and now the threat of Hurricane Rita -- are removing lingering doubts about the long-term profitability of extracting the molasseslike form of oil from sand, despite the fact that the output is much more expensive to produce and to upgrade than is conventional crude.

At the same time, prices of natural gas -- which oil-sands producers have relied on to produce the steam and electricity needed to push the viscous oil out of the ground -- have risen 45% in the past year. That is prompting Total, which holds permits on large fields in Alberta that contain oil sands, to consider building its own nuclear plant and using the energy produced to get the job done.

This is interesting for two things: the global comeback of nuclear energy, and the staggering investments required to develop the Canadian oil sands. Neither are a sign that we are about to get back to an era of cheap energy...


Total's interest is the latest sign that nuclear energy is making a global comeback. Finland commissioned a new reactor in 2003, the first such order in Western Europe in 13 years. France has chosen a site in Normandy where a reactor will be built. The U.S. hasn't commissioned a new nuclear plant for three decades, but the industry is talking seriously about a revival, encouraged by the Bush administration and the rising cost of fossil fuel.

(...)

Total is relying on Areva SA, the French state-run nuclear engineering company, to define what type of reactor might suit its needs in Canada. Research is focusing on a dedicated reactor significantly smaller than those used by utility companies to produce electricity for large city grids.

Areva said discussions with Total are centering on a new type of reactor, known as a High Temperature Reactor, with a capacity of around 500 megawatts, about a third of the size of a traditional reactor. Areva also has been approached by other oil companies but discussions are most advanced with Total, Jean-Jacques Gautrot, Areva's director for international operations and marketing, said.

Areva, the French builder of nuclear plants (and the main contractor for the new Finnish plant), has recently signed an agreement with Constellation energy to prepare the ground to build new nuclear reactors in the US. It is also bidding for new nuclear tranches in China.

I wrote most of what I know about nuclear energy in this diary: Nuclear energy in France - a Sunday special, which describes how the industry is run in France, how waste is stored (and how it will be stored for the long run), and how costs are accounted for. I am certainly not trying to sell nuclear as a cure all on the energy front, but it is certainly better than coal for baseload (still the main source of electricity in the US, UK and Germany) and it is mostly carbon-free and, when well-run like in France, very cheap. Against that, you have the (manageable) problem of storing dangerous waste for long periods of time, the (small but uninsurable) risk of a major accident, and the high upfront cost (in money and energy) of the initial investment. On balance, nuclear should remain part of our energy supply - but just a part, and mostly as a preference to coal-fired plants.

But back to the oil sands:


In Canada, Total holds half of an oil-sands permit in Alberta and has secured more heavy-oil acreage with the purchase of Deer Creek Energy Ltd., located in the same western province. Total said it plans to invest $7 billion in Deer Creek, on top of the $1.4 billion it expects to pay for the company. The company says it could one day produce 200,000 barrels of heavy crude a day, close to 8% of Total's current global output.

Canada's oil sands contain 174 billion barrels of recoverable reserves, the world's second-largest oil resource behind those of Saudi Arabia, according to Canadian government estimates.

Oil sands, a mixture of grit and a tarlike grade of crude oil known as bitumen, were discovered more than a century ago but have been considered economical to produce only in recent years as the price of oil has surged. In addition to nuclear power, producers are considering burning oil-sands residue and coal as alternatives to natural gas to make the steam needed for extraction.

Mr. Darricarrère said a nuclear power plant would help Total comply with tougher constraints on carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse-gas emissions. Although they generate toxic, radioactive waste, nuclear reactors don't emit greenhouse gases that scientists believe contribute to global warming.

Hidden behind these paragraphs are two things:

  • getting oil sands into something usable is a very messy process, which requires a lot of industrial treatment of the oil sands, and a lot of energy. So you need oil sands AND natural gas or some other power source to make oil, which, as energy prices increase, will make the resulting oil quite expensive...

  • as the numbers above show, this is an amazingly expensive effort. Consider that Total says it will spend about 8 billion $ to build a 200,000 b/d capacity - worth about 2 billion dollars per year at current prices, but equivalent to 1% of US daily consumption - and imagine how much more will need to be spent to get to volumes able to service America's insatiable thirst for oil... The graph also shows that oil sand production in Canada is not expected to reach significant volumes in the next 10-15 years, reaching barely 3-4% of world production (and less than a third of current US imports), so it will not be enough on its own to significantly modify the global oil balance. It will certainly create few more fortunes in Alberta, and lots of prosperity around Calgary, but it won't solve the looming oil crisis.


A spokesman for Imperial Oil Ltd. of Canada, an affiliate of Exxon Mobil Corp., which operates some of the world's largest oil-sands operations, said it looked into the nuclear option in the past but didn't pursue it because of cost and technology challenges.

Shell Canada Ltd. said it isn't considering nuclear power as part of its oil-sands plans. Rather, the company said it is looking into the possibility of turning asphaltene, very heavy oil, into gas to save on its natural-gas bill.

So there is still abundant skepticism in the industry. Most of all, this shows the desperation of the industry in the face of dwindling reserves, lack of access to the countries that still have some oil, and the increasing cost of production of new volumes of oil.

Those that say that oil will come back to 40$/barrel or less are either lying to us, hopelessly naive, or unaware of these worrying trends. The Financial Times published an article (Storm over the oil industry (behing sub wall) that came out just during Katrina and which I did not find an opportunity to comment upon then)


The issue of costs might not get much attention as hurricanes, terrorist threats to oil production, the dwindling spare capacity of oil in Saudi Arabia and the insatiable thirst for energy in China and the US. But cost inflation is being viewed as a significant reason why oil prices are so high and a sign that they will remain so for some years to come. Sanford Bernstein expects the cost of producing a single barrel of oil to increase by 9 per cent a year, from about $22 a barrel this year to $36 in 2010, and the cost of finding and producing the so-called marginal barrel - beyond which the activity becomes unprofitable - will double to $60 over the same period. Uncertainty about how much new projects will cost also prompted Goldman Sachs this month to raise its prediction of the long-term oil price from $45 a barrel to $60.


The only words that come to my mind are "desperate" and "fucked".

Originally posted to Jerome a Paris on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 03:39 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (4.00)

    European Tribune - bringing dKos to Europe
    in the long run, we're all dead (Keynes)

    by Jerome a Paris on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 03:38:57 PM PDT

    •  Crossposted (4.00)
      both at Booman Tribune and the  European Tribune.

      European Tribune - bringing dKos to Europe
      in the long run, we're all dead (Keynes)

      by Jerome a Paris on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 03:50:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Oh, in case you were not gloomy enough... (4.00)

        Heatwave study raises new climate fear

        Global warming could reduce harvests and plant growth, with a serious effect on farm productivity, scientists will warn today.

        The finding, based upon an examination of the effects of the 2003 heatwave in Europe, is of particular concern because many scientists previously assumed that global warming would increase plant growth, with beneficial effects for harvests and the environment.

        In a study to be published today in the peer-review journal Nature, scientists from several European research institutes and universities found that the growth of plants during the heatwave was reduced by nearly a third.

        In Italy, the growth of maize dropped by about 36 per cent. Oak and pine trees also grew much less, the study found, reflecting an overall reduction of 30 per cent in plant growth.

        More, and some discussion, in this thread over at the European Tribune...

        European Tribune - bringing dKos to Europe
        in the long run, we're all dead (Keynes)

        by Jerome a Paris on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 04:27:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  What about water? (none)
        I heard that the shale to oil process takes anywhere from 2-4 gallons of water for 1 gallon of oil.
        For this they talk about diverting the Columbia River.  Now if they use a large portion of the water from the Columbia, won't Hydro-electric dams suffer a power-loss?
        •  Add that in to the long list of disadvantages (none)
          with shale oil.
        •  Plus the pollution of that water is incredible (none)
          Shale oil is a last resort we clearly don't need.

          Especially given the breakthrough in wind turbines by Clipper Wind (25% more efficient in operation), advances in solar and the huge amount of mini hydro we ignore.  Not to mention the off-peak amps at night that could power PHEVs, even PHEV SUVs (the Ford Escape PHEV will soon exist), which could reduce gasoline consumption by half if fully implemented.

    •  all this talk aboiut squeezing oil fromoil sands (4.00)
      strikes me as somewhat like an alcoholic trying to get drunk off of nyquil. the fundamental problem is the addiction, and denial of that addiction. we're getting desperate for a fix.

      crimson gates reek with meat and wine/while on the streets, bones of the frozen dead -du fu (712-770)

      by wu ming on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 03:54:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  More like rubbing alcohol (none)
        Which is the bottom of the hydrocarbon barrel, the tar sands or oil shale?  Aren't both inefficient, incredibly dirty, ridiculously expensive and environmentally ruinous?

        Now a New Mexican, and much the better for it.

        by Dallasdoc on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 03:56:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  In Russia, a few years back (4.00)
        I saw people drink perfume for the alcohol content, and explain to me how to extract alcohol from various industrial liquids (such as cleaning fluid for cars).

        In the winter, you'd pour the liquid along a metal bar, and the alcohol, with the lowest freezing point, would be the last liquid to flow down after all the rest had frozen on the metal. You just needed to collect it.

        Yep, sounds like an addiction.

        European Tribune - bringing dKos to Europe
        in the long run, we're all dead (Keynes)

        by Jerome a Paris on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 03:59:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  that was awesome (none)
          that's pretty amazing. I think if there are ethers in it it will freeze slower than the alcohol, though.
        •  no kidding (none)
          it wasn't as cold in ukraine, but just as alcoholic. cut-off caps for vodka boittles and the like, i don't think i've ever drunk so much in my life. the cleaning fluid sounds pretty grim.

          crimson gates reek with meat and wine/while on the streets, bones of the frozen dead -du fu (712-770)

          by wu ming on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 04:56:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  a not-so dumb question? (4.00)
        If they are going to generate the electricity to do this...

        why not just directly use the electricity to power our home/autos/whatever ?????

        Jesus H. Christ this is the dumbest thing I've heard in awhile and that's saying something.

        •  It's the heat that they need (none)
          The nuclear plant will produce the heat to offset the expensive natural gas they would have used.
        •  considering that nuclear isn't renewable either! (none)
          When regular oil and gas finally runs out, uranium will be desperately needed to generate electricity just to heat our homes and keep industry running.Unless fusion arrives pretty damn quick, nuclear fission is our last and most clean and  efficient resort. Using irreplaceable uranium to squeeze motor fuel out of this gunk so that we can prop up our totally unsustainable and doomed easy motoring lifestyle for a few more decades(?)is criminally irresponsible.It's getting past time to start thinking about some hard realities, one of which might be that these marginal and inefficient sources of petroleum might not be worth exploiting -ever.  
        •  It's not a zero sum game (none)
          like you are trading process BTU's straight up for yield BTU's. 10 gets you a 100, so to speak.

          When you look at it this way, the profit margin, raw and percentage wise, goes up with the price of oil.

          This looks like using nuclear as a cheaper process alternative, when oil reaches a certain point. When it gets that high, using nuclear will increase profit margins.

          Believe me, these guys are making a ton on their investment return.

      •  It's like Bush (none)
        trying to get drunk off of drinking "near-Beer"

        "If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers." - Pynchon

        by HairOnFire on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 05:02:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Nice Post (4.00)
      Jerome,
      Being a former Nuclear Engineer, I might be able to help fill in holes. I have a deep understanding of the nuclear fuel cycle and light water reactors (pressurized water and boiling water reactors - the US kind).

      My email is correct in my profile or you can visit my blog - see the link below...

      Keep up the great work

      ARB

  •  Hey Jerome, (none)
    Another great post - let's see who shows up! (hint: I think folks are distracted by Roberts, Rita & recent indictments in the White House making their way up to the hill)

    But ... On the coal front: There is an accelerating interest in the U.S. in making  Fischer-Tropsch from coal. I'm looking into it, but could be a very, very hot energy debate in the U.S. Initial reaction from enviros is it actually may work.

    Another collaboration/ I've lost some of my interest in diaries here, the energy stuff just doesn't seem to draw the kind of attention as the raw politics, but it'd be fun to figure out another way to get at this. Don't have any immediate ideas.

    I am the federal government.

    by mateosf on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 03:44:25 PM PDT

    •  The problem with Fischer Tropsch (4.00)
      is probably not Fischer-Tropsch itself, which i have no doubt is going to be competitive soon at current or likely oil prices, but the fact that you will need to mine the coal in the first place...

      European Tribune - bringing dKos to Europe
      in the long run, we're all dead (Keynes)

      by Jerome a Paris on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 03:48:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Agreed, the extraction part is problematic, (none)
        but much of the low-sulfur coal in the U.S. is located in large, open high plains of the West that are more easily reclaimed than, say, entire mountaintops in the Appalchians.

        Without glossing over the surface impacts of coal mining, there is a potential huge upside to coal-to-liquids - the act of making coal worth more money as a liquid than as a rock. The corresponding impact on the market for burning more rocks to make electricity could take a huge hit (which is very, very good) as coal companies see the larger margins they can get from liquids.

        If we can achieve this, the upside of weakening the (catastrophic, long-term) rock-burning power market far outweighs the (damaging but potentially mitigable) surface impacts of mining.

        In other words, global-scale climate concerns first, land impacts second. Not that they have the best track record, but some coal concerns actually have done a good job of reclaming their sites at end of lifecycle.

        Can you post a couple links to Fischer-Tropsch data? I'm in the midst of research & could use some good paper on the topic.

        I am the federal government.

        by mateosf on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 04:31:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Fischer-Tropsch process (none)
        aka Sasol process  can use any reduced carbon source including stranded gas (which are still being overwhelmingly flared off by oil companies in most oil fields today), bitumen/tar sand hydrocarbons  and coal ( ei gasification)  that can be partially oxidized to CO (carbon monoxide).

        It makes clean sulfur-free motor fuels (both Germans  and South Africans  used the process to make synfuels for decades), and the gasification process is amenable to clean recovery of sulfur (as an economic product, H2SO4) from high S feedstocks, and other crud (like Hg) can be cleaned out with oxidative scrubbers built into the process.

        And last point: surface mining coal (or Athabasca tar sands for example) is probably much cheaper, longer lasting (larger deposits) and more reliable way of getting energy out of the ground than drilling for oil/gas in the Caspian, or west Africa offshore and then shipping it to markets 8,000 miles away.

    •  DailyKOS and energy (4.00)

      Another collaboration/ I've lost some of my interest in diaries here, the energy stuff just doesn't seem to draw the kind of attention as the raw politics, but it'd be fun to figure out another way to get at this. Don't have any immediate ideas.

      You know, I just want to say that I typically lurk around here — I very rarely post comments and I've never created a diary. That said, I pay very close attention to anything ever written on this site about energy. It's one of the few places I've found that gives me this kind of analysis.

      I have to wonder how many others feel the same way I do.

      Anyway, I view this next century as a single massive problem for the human race, with energy and global warming intertwined as the greatest stumbling block to human progress that we've ever seen. In my opinion, politics should be informed by these problems, and so to me politics should come second to these issues.

      If you all think that energy (and global climate change) get short changed on this site, why not push for Kos to create a spin-off site along the lines of Street Prophets? I know I'd hang out there at least as much as I lurk here on DailyKOS.

    •  Energy diaries (none)
      All of you energy geeks please keep posting diaries here. It is very interesting and useful information.

      They may draw less discussion than the issue of the day but there are huge long-term public policy implications.

      I may not comment much on the energy related posts but that is because people who understand the issues much better usually have made the same points I would try to make.

      Fundamentally energy policy is tied with foriegn policy, economic policy, and environmental policy all issues near and dear to the hearts of kossacks.

  •  crazy (4.00)
    So let me get this straight - investing an addition 10% to 20% to pursue alternative energy sources is too much, but building a nuclear powered plant to create oil is a financially sound investment?

    Uranium prices are also rising if no one has noticed.  They are now something like 5 times as high as they were 10 years ago.  I think around $15 per (don't remember the measurement - ton?)

    stupid stupid stupid.

    Oh, and for anyone who thinks that Uranium is a good idea, google for images of uranium mines and the mill tailings that they leave behind, or the eery green lagoons and permanently dot the landscape.  And that's just the begining of the product - not the end that everyone freaks out about.  The tar sands projects are just as ecologically destructive.  Sounds like a real win-win for the environment.

    •  incidentally (none)
      The world leader in uranium production is Saskatchewan, right next door to Alberta.
    •  its sold (none)
      by the pound.

      a pound of uranium produces as much energy as 4 tons of coal.

      Uranium isnt good, but its is 16,000 times better than coal.

    •  500 MW?! (none)
      500 megawatts could easily be done by wind turbines. Quebec has just invested in something like 2500 megawatts of wind and they aren't as rich as alberta.

      Nuclear is just looking for massive subsidies...

      •  My new home (none)
        of Wellington New Zealand, is reviewing and will most likely pass the development of a wind farm that will provide power to every home in metropolitan area (400,000 people).  Construction is to be done before the end of the decade.
      •  500 MW Thermal (none)
        That is probably thermal megawatts.

        What the oil company wants is steam so nuclear makes some sense as there is less converting from one type of energy to another in order to get the desired end product.

        Also the demand is probably continuious so if wind was used something else would have to be substituted when the wind wasn't blowing or the turbines were shut down during a gale.

        This is not to say I have anything against wind power, I'd like to see a lot more of it. I'd also like to see a lot more solar and nuclear. Frankly I'd like to see electrical generation in North America taken as much off fossil fuel as possible.

    •  It seems to me to be worth remembering (none)
      that people invest in oil companies not because they want to solve an energy problem but because they want to make money.

      Yes, the problem is that we have an insatiable demand for energy. But this is not the problem oil companies are in business to solve.  The problem they are trying to solve is how to make profit from that demand.  And profits can be greater when things are scarce.  

      About 20 years ago there was a potato blight in the UK.  I felt sorry for the potato farmers. In the UK our car registration plates have a letter corresponding to the year.  That year it was P.  People said it stood for "Potato farmer".  Because the blight meant that potato prices had rocketed and all the potato farmers could buy new cars.

      If we want to solve the energy problem, solutions proposed by oil companies to the oil shortage aren't going to tell us anything about the best way of producing energy.  They are going to tell us something about the best way of making a profit from oil.

      If you want a good answer, don't follow the money.

  •  I read in awe... (4.00)
    Sorry I've been away the past few weeks, to have missed so much of your wisdom on energy.

    This effort looks like mostly a clumsy way of storing nuclear energy in hydrocarbon form, with a partial payback in added hydrocarbon energy.  Is there a financial advantage to locating the process in Alberta and transporting the resultant sludge all over the world, compared with using nuclear directly for electricity and storing it for transportation purposes in hydrogen form?  If we're going to bite the nuclear bullet, isn't there a better argument to move forward with the hydrogen economy, and avoid more greenhouse gases?

    Now a New Mexican, and much the better for it.

    by Dallasdoc on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 03:52:45 PM PDT

  •  marginal barel and biofuels (4.00)
    Jerome,

    if the marginal barel costs 60$, wouldn't biofuels become competitive? Why then to choose the enviromentally catastrophic path of oil sands and oil shale?

    •  Some biofuels (4.00)
      probably are competitive, I imagine (but it's hard to know how much this relies on subsidies and on cheap oil as an input).

      As to "environmentally catastrophic", that supposes that peole still care about that when gas reaches 5 or 7$/gal and they are told that this is the magic solution to bring prices down (along with drilling in currently protected areas and boosting coal production)

      European Tribune - bringing dKos to Europe
      in the long run, we're all dead (Keynes)

      by Jerome a Paris on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 04:09:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  i don't get that argument (none)
        Growing up in Wyoming we knew the daily price of oil starting in about 3rd grade.  If oil was above $35/barrel we got new text books, new kids moved to town, everyone had money.
        If oil went down to $20, the school budget was slashed, our friends moved away, and it was generally miserable.
        It was all based on the cost of the technology to extract the oil.  Only a high oil price made it possible.

        So how would oil sands reduce the price of oil?  It can't.  It takes a minimum barrel price to make it competitive.  Right now I guess that price is near $70 to $80.  If the price fell, than they can no longer operate.  Am I missing something?

        •  what argument? (none)
          Not sure i understand your question. My point was that at some levels for gasoline prices (in $/GAL), the political pressure to do something may well mean that environmental constraints will be reduced or eliminated to make the whole process cheaper.

          (But you right that the lowest price, even if you don't care about the pollution, is still likely to be pretty high)

          European Tribune - bringing dKos to Europe
          in the long run, we're all dead (Keynes)

          by Jerome a Paris on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 04:30:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  not your argument (none)
            You eluded to the argument that by increasing oil production in the oil sands that prices will go down (I've heard this repeated elsewhere before), but if oil prices have to reach a price to make production competitive, then they have to stay at that price.  Once the prices go down the production becomes a losing venture.
        •  Cost effective price (none)
          for the Tar sands was south of 25 bucks a barrel before Iraq started this current spike in prices. . where did you get $80?
    •  Many Bio-fuel crops require fertilizer. (4.00)
      Much of this is made from oil or natural gas. The alternatives seem to be animal waste or composting much of the crop itself. So I wonder how this will scale up.

      Of course I'm just a Sunday gardener, not an expert. Does anyone know about growing organic fuel crops on a large scale?

      "The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets" , Christopher Morley

      by Chris Kulczycki on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 04:18:28 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Lot of arguments on that (4.00)
        People will say that the amount of resources that go into growing the crops - water, fertilizer, gasoline used in the production and transportation, end up being more wasteful.  Plus, ultimately they argue that land should be used for food not fuel, and that the amount of land that would be required would destroy our farms.
        I have not seen any numbers put to any of these claims however.
        •  Here's Some Info (4.00)
          Some friends and I were discussing this just recently, and here are some links:

          The National Biodiesel Board webpage appears to be a good general resource.

          According to this useful summary from North Dakota State University on all things biodiesel, various major crops grown in northern North America can generate between 49 and 84 gallons of fuel per acre.  And the reurn on fuel usage would seem to be pretty good: "For every BTU of energy used to produce the crop and process the oil, about 3.3 BTU's is produced as fuel."

          U.S. consumption for transportation is approximately 135 billion gallons of gasoline per year, and another 47 billion gallons of diesel.  Total of 182 billion gallons.  Even at the high-end of production efficiency, this would require over 22 billion acres devoted to biofuel crop cultivation.  The current amount of land used for crop cultivation in the U.S. is 440 million acres, give or take.  So if every acre under cultivation were shifted to production of biofuels, we could cover about 2% of our needs.  Looking at it another way, the land area of the United States is 2.26 billion acres, so even if it were possible to plant over every acre in the country, we could only cover 11% of our needs -- and that's just for gasoline and diesel!

          Here's some data regarding comparative pollutants as between biodiesel and other fuels:  a comprehensive analysis from the EPA (warning: large PDF), and a summary from the Biodiesel Board.

          Biofuels/biodiesel is definitely a step in the right direction, it would seem, but realistically it can only be a relatively small part of the solution to our energy problems.

          •  Check out this link (none)
            the UNH Biodiesel Group has a great little FAQ on using non-food crops for biodiesel.  

            Here's some of the good bits


            NREL's research showed that one quad (7.5 billion gallons) of biodiesel could be produced from 200,000 hectares of desert land (200,000 hectares is equivalent to 780 square miles, roughly 500,000 acres), if the remaining challenges are solved (as they will be, with several research groups and companies working towards it, including ours at UNH). In the previous section, we found that to replace all transportation fuels in the US, we would need 140.8 billion gallons of biodiesel, or roughly 19 quads (one quad is roughly 7.5 billion gallons of biodiesel). To produce that amount would require a land mass of almost 15,000 square miles. To put that in perspective, consider that the Sonora desert in the southwestern US comprises 120,000 square miles. Enough biodiesel to replace all petroleum transportation fuels could be grown in 15,000 square miles, or roughly 12.5 percent of the area of the Sonora desert (note for clarification - I am not advocating putting 15,000 square miles of algae ponds in the Sonora desert. This hypothetical example is used strictly for the purpose of showing the scale of land required).  That 15,000 square miles works out to roughly 9.5 million acres - far less than the 450 million acres currently used for crop farming in the US, and the over 500 million acres used as grazing land for farm animals.

            "Strength and wisdom are not opposing values" - Bill Clinton.

            by RAST on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 07:12:02 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Municipal waste (none)
              Rather than a huge chunk of desert, combine water treatment plants and/or CO2 exhaust from factories/power plants to feed distributed algae production. That would supply a huge amount of biodiesel without affecting farmland and/or natural settings.

              It could be worse. msaroff could still be living in Texas.

              by George on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 07:32:27 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  The reading I've done... (none)
            Agrees with what you show here.  Both biodiesel and ethanol return, depending on whose figures you trust, from 3:1 to 5:! and they suggest that with scale they can achieve 8:! or more.

            That means in the long run we will be using them.

            But oil at present returns on the order of 20:!.  Although as Jerome and Stirling and lesser mortals like me and so many others on this blog point out, that bubble is about to burst.

            We are just on the edge of a big day for biofuels when oil finally climbs and stays at the prices needed to support industrialization on a grand scale.

            I remain optimistic that we can transition to a more sustainable energy base, but I'm convinced (and now I'm really repeating myself) that success depends on two things: The rate at which the oil production curve falls off from peak (M. King Hubbert assumed a symmetrical fall off curve, but rising worldwide energy demand would seem to me to preclude that) and the quality of leadership.  Which today in the US is rock bottom.  I can't imagine a worse bunch to be in charge for our energy future than the present administration...

        •  Uh (none)
          But we're presently paying a lot of folks not to plant crops. Seems to me this would be ideal. We can kill farm subsidies and get off oil, as the farms will now be economic to operate.
          •  Washington State farmers: tax breaks for biodiesel (none)
            Excerpts from today's Seattle Times article:

            For my entire life, the wisdom has been there's no way to break our addiction to cheap oil. Except what if it isn't cheap anymore?

            "Now, let me see ... " writes Martin Tobias, CEO of Seattle Biodiesel, a local refinery company, on his Web site. "I pull up to the pumps ... [and] one pump is more expensive, harms the environment, causes wars, and sends money to another country. The other pump is cheaper, very easy on the environment, domestically produced and supports American industry and farmers. Which one would you choose?"

            Even normally warring Democrats and Republicans are jumping at this one. State lawmakers from both parties, citing the "political climate" created by a storm 2,500 miles away, have rolled out plans to use crops from Eastern Washington to make green fuel for cars and home furnaces.

            Growing our own fuel is no panacea. It's a small thing, really, that by itself won't solve our energy woes.

          •  part of paying people not to plant (none)
            is to prevent the overtilling of the soil that helped contribute to dust bowl conditions.  Letting the fields lay fallow allows the soil to reabsorb nutrients that are taken from growing.
      •  I'm an expert at large-scale organic farming (4.00)
        At the Rodale Experimental Farm in Kutztown, PA, the City of Allentown gives them all the leaves they sweep up off the street.  Rodale composts them in long huge rows of composting leaves with an big Compost Turner machine that moves along the pile and flips it over.

        Each region has a plethora of organic material that can be turned from landfill waste into compost.

        Plus don't forget  Changing World Technologies is now building oil refineries that convert anything organic or plastic into a very sweet oil.  Butterball Turkey will soon be producing 200 tons of oil a day from their main plant from turkey ofal.

        Changing World Tech estimates it's plants could produce 4 1/2 million barrels of oil a day if the US waste stream were converted. We do not need to wait millions of years for nature to make oil.  CWT refineries do it in a matter of hours:

        About TCP CWT's Thermal Conversion Process reforms organic waste into a high-value energy resource, without combustion or incineration. TCP breaks down waste into its smallest chemical units and reforms them into new combinations to produce alternative fuels and specialty chemicals. The process emulates the earth's natural geothermal activity, whereby organic material is converted into fossil fuel under conditions of extreme heat and pressure over millions of years. TCP uses pipes and controls temperature and pressure to reduce the bio-remediation process from millions of years to mere hours. TCP is also more than 80% energy efficient.

      •  Biogas Production (none)
        isn't very sexy these days, but I think is an excellent fit in an organic system. It produces methane and leaves behind compost.
      •  More than one crop can make fuel (none)
        In Brazil sugarcane turned into ethanol has reduced the import of oil from about 70% to 33%.  If the production of ethanol was a net loss they would have had to increase the importation of oil. (answers.com)

        Also, there are many sources for the oil that becomes bio-diesel.  Wast vegetable oil is a great source, as is fish oil. Also, so is algae.  So it's not necessarily a guns-or-butter kind of argument with food crops. (UNH Biodiesel group)

        Finally, if you could re-tune the majority of cars in the US to run on bio-diesel the MPG rating for the fleet would increase by about 2x.  So you would need about 1/2 the gallons of fuel, assuming the average of about 22mpg for gas  vs 44 mpg for a diesel car.(Volkswagen Golf TDI)

        "Strength and wisdom are not opposing values" - Bill Clinton.

        by RAST on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 07:06:45 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Are you sure about your last point? (none)
          According the UNH Biodiesel Group, petroleum diesel has an energy density of 1058 kBTU/cu. ft. whereas biodiesel has an energy density of 950kBTU/cu. ft., in which case a diesel vehicle running biodiesel ought to get about 10% lower MPG than with petro-diesel.

          It is similar for blended ethanol fuels, although I don't have the numbers handy.

          Where do you get the idea that mileage would double with biodiesel?

          •  Sorry, my bad (none)
            I see you were comparing diesel to gasoline engines, although my experience is that the diesel version of a car available in both gas and diesel versions gets about 60% better mileage, not 100% better.  (Back when I drove a Rabbit diesel in the early 80's I got an actual 50-55MPG, while the gas version was rated IIRC something like 32 city, 38 hwy.)

            Still, I blew it on your post.  Sorry again.

          •  biodiesel MPG (none)

            I was reading earlier today that while biodiesel has about 10% lower energy density that petrodiesel, the supperior combustion and lubrication of biodiesel almost make up the difference, leaving only a 2% difference.

            As for the doubling, I don't know what the previous author was thinking but if you are replacing cars with diesels to run biodiesel, you would be stupid not to use diesel hybrids. Except that auto makers don't make diesel hybrids, yet. But every "diesel" locomotive you see on the rails is, and always has been (with perhaps very rare exceptions) throughout the history of diesel locomotives, is actually a diesel hybrid. Either that or a "slug" - an electric only locomotive that is coupled to a diesel-electric; more wheels, more traction (at least when you use concrete to add weight). And unlike the crappy parallel hybrids the auto industry sells, the locomotives are series hybrids.

            I would love to design a decent hybrid car (1 motor per wheel, no tranny, no differential). I have the experience in designing motor controls (larger than cars). And if you wanted to switch from petrol/ethanol to diesel/biodiesel, it would only require replacing a small engine (around $1K); of course, I would prefer a multifuel engine. Unfortunately, I don't have the money for it.

      •  Biodiesel "grown" in Bavaria (none)
        Here, and across Germany, biodiesel is produced from rapeseed oil - "The World's Prettiest Oilfields" with loads of little yellow flowers in the spring.  At first, I foolishly thought the farmers up the road from my village were growing some odd form of Baby's Breath for the floral industry.  Then, I got around and decided that it must be something a bit more useful.

        In central Bavaria, the main source of fertilizer for any of the big crops (wheat, barley, corn and rapeseed) seems to be cow dung, from the smell of it.  The German word for "to fertilize" is "dungen," and that's how Bavarian farmers still do it, best I can tell.  (Even at 60+ mph with the windows rolled up on the little rural highways - whew!)

        In theory, the whole growing process, fertilizer and tractor fuel, can come from completely local sources.

        If one is committed to using biodiesel, it's easy to get - there's usually one gas station selling it in any decent-sized town, and it's about 20 cents/liter cheaper than petrodiesel.

        Germans are fighting over lots of economic and environmental issues, but biodiesel seems to be something farmers, industrialists, workers and environmentalists can wholeheartedly agree on.

        That which you do unto the least of these, you do unto me - Matthew 25:40

        by A Texan in Maryland on Fri Sep 23, 2005 at 06:09:03 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Having watched the shale oil ... (4.00)
    ...boondoggle in Colorado close-up in the '70s and '80s, I've never thought much of those who've said tar sands development will turn Canada into the new Saudi Arabia.

    But this approach, using supposedly environmentally benign nukes so we can fill the atmosphere with more CO2, well, all I can say is holy f'ing shit. Are these people completely wacko?

    Thirty-one million new blogs are created each year. Try ours at The Next Hurrah.

    by Meteor Blades on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 04:10:16 PM PDT

    •  Kurt Vonnegut pinned this one (none)
      Last week on Bill Maher, Vonnegut wrote the human race's epitaph:

      We could have saved the planet, but we were just too damned lazy and greedy.

      Now a New Mexican, and much the better for it.

      by Dallasdoc on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 04:18:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  It won't be Saudi Arabia (none)
      But with current daily production at 1 million barrels,which will double in less than 3 years, and a realistic top out at 6 million barrels daily within a decade, this is a significant long term carbon energy source.

      I wonder why we don't hear about the gas and oil I know is there in the MacKenzie River delta. I had a buddy who worked exploratory rigs up there in the 70's; he said they drilled and capped, drilled and capped, the area is huge and loaded with deposits.All I have read about it is financing for a southern pipeline being addressed. Canada wanted the multinationals to build a pipeline that would have serviced this area and the Alaskan deposits that ended up moving by tanker. Of course that would have required some planning beyond the next quarter's earnings.

      Another speculation based on the law of unintended consequences.

      With the  shortening of the Arctic freeze up season, I am waiting to read about drilling well within the Arctic Circle, onshore and otherwise.

      I wouldn't be surprised if there are huge deposits up there. Whether they are accessible is another question.

  •  What's the story on peak uranium? (none)
    I've heard 50 years worth is left. But if we start using it for everything from oil extraction to electric toothbrushes, are we going to see breeder reactors popping up soon?

    Super diary, as always.

    "The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets" , Christopher Morley

    by Chris Kulczycki on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 04:11:17 PM PDT

    •  I don't know (none)
      But I do know that a lot of the uranium mines that closed in Wyoming in the 80's are reopening.  
    •  We have enough uranium and thorium (4.00)
      to power reactors around the world for hundreds of years.  Known reserves and uranium from dismantled atomic bombs (already being used for fuel) will last for over 50 years.  Of course if the US resumes reprocessing fuel, that uranium can make many trips through the reactor.

      As for uranium mines and tailings--they are no worse a hazard to the environment than coal mines and tailings.  And in fact less of one, since uranium tailings are in the process of being capped and stabilized, whereas coal tailings are being washed into your local watershed or blown into your lungs.  Those who want to stop uranium mining should also stop iron mining and forget about that steel needed to make wind turbines.

      In actuality, uranium mining in the US has barely been in the picture for over a decade.  Some uranium is extracted by filtering it out of old mines filled with water that have otherwise been sealed.  The fact is, uranium has been so cheap thanks to the dismantling of nuclear weapons that the mining industry has languished.  If it resumes, the mineshafts will by law be hugely ventilated, as they were after radon was discovered to cause cancer in miners who were smokers.

      The only clean, large-scale way to make hydrogen is with nuclear power plants.

      •  disagree (none)
        Uranium mines and tailings may not be a highly radioactive hazard, but they are destructive to the ecological system.
      •  Nuclear is far from clean (4.00)
        See post elsewhere on this thread from Helen Caldecott.  The ore processing plants use coal and release worse greenhouse gases than oil.  Nuclear ends up being 1/3 the CARBON pollution of oil when you add in mining, transportation, storage, processing and construction fossil fuel needs for nuclear.  It would take 20,000 nukes to start to make a dent in global warming, but you get the 1/3 equivalent of carbon emissions fpr each plant don't forget.

        The kicker is with 20,000 plants, the high-grade uranium ore only lasts several years!!

        Then only the low-grade uranium ore is left and guess what? Low-grade ore requires far more mining fossil fuel use and much much more coal for processing the ore!  You end up with 20,000 plants running on low grade, and because coal releases far more potent greenhouse gases than just carbon dioxide, the net effect is that a plant on low-grade ore is just as polluting for global warming as an oil plant.

        When you think for more than 30 seconds about 20,000 nuclear plants, you suddenly realize we are GREATLY increasing the chance of a ruinous and lethal nuclear meltdown or Pebble Reactor accident.  

        The whole nuclear option then becomes radioactive--pun intended.  Nuclear is thus a non-starter once you do the science.

        •  nukes and wind (none)
          When you add in all the ancillary costs for wind, what do you get?   Since the energy density is so much lower you have many many more towers which must be installed and maintained with people on trucks driving long distances.

          People have a tendency to add in every possible indirect cost for nuclear, and not for others.

          And how many wind plants are needed to make a dent
          in global warming?   Already the entire stock of wind plants is like just a couple of nukes.

          Almost no oil is now used for stationary power generation: it is too expensive, already.

          Oil is useful for transportation---but there won't be enough for that.

          Both wind and nuclear will be necessary as grid substitutes for plug-in hybrids.

          Nuclear sucks but massive poverty and climate change sucks much much more.

          Wind is great, but not enough.   There just aren't enough places to put good wind towers, and especially with global climate change, the weather patterns are very variable.

          For instance, take the very subject concerning the diary.  Why isn't Total petroleum considering powering its oil sands project with wind plants?

          Surely it is because there isn't any remotely feasible way to get 500 megawatts of constant power.

          Wind and nukes need to replace coal (climate change) and natural gas (because we will be powering our cars with it as oil runs dry).

          It should never be wind versus nukes: we need both  massively   Solar doesn't have enough energy density and is made in toxic semiconductor plants and can't be scaled up enough, though it has the nice advantage of being safe enough for consumers to have themselves.

        •  ancillary petroleum consumption (none)

          With nuclear and even more for alternative fuels, opponents tend to cite the petroleum consumption from other parts of the process. While it is correct to factor those into the equation, it isn't correct to assume that fossil fuels will be the source of the energy required. The needed energy can come from alternative sources. So it isn't that you use one barrel of oil to produce 4-6 equivalent "barrels" of alternative energy, its that your yield is lower at 3-5 equivalent "barrels". In some cases, it make sense to use a different alternative energy source since it is often easier to provide alternative energy for fixed consumption than portable energy. If a lot of biodiesel is currently produced using crops produced using petroleum, for example, that is just because that has been the way the crops have been traditionally (recent history) produced due to the artificially low cost of petroleum. Biodiesel producers were busy proving biodiesel processing was viable and just bought grains/seeds/beans on the open market. Mines used petroleum derived energy because it was artifically cheap.

          Electric and hybrid vehicles are already used in the coal and uranium mining industries, and have been for a long time. Vehicles are battery powered, diesel hybrids, gasoline hybrids, and electric trolley powered. Straight internal combustion systems have poor starting torque and explosion hazards (though hybrids and trolleys have explosion issues, too, so battery powered electric is used in explosion prone areas).

          Passenger cars and light trucks ( 63% ) , airplanes (8%), and small boats (<<5%) are the problems for petroleum consumption. Railroad locomotives are already electric or hybrid-electric; hybrid-electric locomotives on high traffic routes can be converted to electric by adding catenary (overhead) wires, transformers, and rectifiers. Less used routes could use biodiesel. Large trucks and buses (18% combined) tend to use diesel (not-hybrid) which can easily convert to biodiesel. </P>

          Ignoring the problems of nuclear waste and global warming, using a nuclear plant to extract hard to extract petroleum reserves makes some sense in terms of peak oil because the crunch is going to be liquid fuels for consumer vehicles. Look at it this way, industrial scale vehicles tend not to sit idle much. Say they run 8-16 hours per day. Say passenger vehicles run around 1 hour per day (excluding rush hour traffic; for currrent calculation, we can just count how long it would take without congestion since congestion reduces miles traveled). So, the cost of upgrading to a new more environmental vehicle is amortized much more quickly for industrial vehicles. Conversion can be more efficient too, since the cost of engineering and labor is lower compared to the cost of the vehicle. Cost of converting passenger vehicles will come down when there is sufficient demand to allow conversion kits for each model car.

          We are going to need to spend a huge percentage of GDP on converting vehicles and other equipment to alternative energy sources. Recycling can help reduce the mining costs for vehicle conversion/replacement. I am envisioning gasoline engines and whole cars being melted down to make electric motors and smaller engines for hybrid conversions and new hybrid vehicles. As gas prices skyrocket, urban/suburban commuters may finally start to convert to public transportation faster than public trans can keep up.

      •  Touche, Plan9 ... (4.00)
        No need to continue our debate in this forum, but I will direct any curious about the true impacts of nukes to a good primer on the subject.

        That said, I take serious exception to the notion that "The only clean, large-scale way to make hydrogen is with nuclear power plants."

        This is absolutely false on its face. In fact, the REAL "only" clean, large-scale way to produce hydrogen is by using it as a way to store renewable energy.

        There is enough wind, sun, geothermal and wave energy in the U.S. to power the entire country 1000 times over; the problem is in delivery and the fact that you can't store that energy - unless, that is, you store it in hydrogen gas.

        I appreciate your dedication to your nuclear cause, but let's keep the debate honest. Nukes are not "clean," and no amount of twisting the data change that.

        I am the federal government.

        by mateosf on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 04:52:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Thorium is an alternative (4.00)
      Kinda like the QWERTY keyboard, Uranium got lock-in for power as a result of its utility in producing nuclear weapons.

      Jerome can offer more details, but it is possible to create nuclear reactors using thorium (just 2 spaces down from uranium on the periodic table). Apparently, it doesn't decay into quite the mess that uranium does.

      - "You're Hells Angels, then? What chapter are you from?"
      - REVELATIONS, CHAPTER SIX.

      by Hoya90 on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 04:28:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  More info on Thorium (4.00)
        Courtesy of Devilstower, who posted a fantastic diary on it over at European Tribune a few months back.

        - "You're Hells Angels, then? What chapter are you from?"
        - REVELATIONS, CHAPTER SIX.

        by Hoya90 on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 05:54:56 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  India is pioneering a new thorium reactor (none)
        Early reactor experimentation included trying thorium.

        India has more thorium than it does uranium.  In fact there are areas there where people have lived for thousands of years on rather radioactive thorium formations and are doing just fine.

  •  This is good work (none)
    Should be recommended.

    "We must all hang together or assuredly we will all hang seperately." - Ben Franklin

    by RandyMI on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 04:16:03 PM PDT

  •  Nuclear is also far from emission-free (4.00)
    And making gasoline from oil shale is additional carbon emissions.  How many more Super-Hurricanes do we want to encourage from global warming.  Helen Caldicott:

    It is said that nuclear power is emission-free. The truth is very different.

    In the US, where much of the world's uranium is enriched, including Australia's, the enrichment facility at Paducah, Kentucky, requires the electrical output of two 1000-megawatt coal-fired plants, which emit large quantities of carbon dioxide, the gas responsible for 50per cent of global warming.

    Also, this enrichment facility and another at Portsmouth, Ohio, release from leaky pipes 93per cent of the chlorofluorocarbon gas emitted yearly in the US. The production and release of CFC gas is now banned internationally by the Montreal Protocol because it is the main culprit responsible for stratospheric ozone depletion. But CFC is also a global warmer, 10,000 to 20,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

    In fact, the nuclear fuel cycle utilises large quantities of fossil fuel at all of its stages - the mining and milling of uranium, the construction of the nuclear reactor and cooling towers, robotic decommissioning of the intensely radioactive reactor at the end of its 20 to 40-year operating lifetime, and transportation and long-term storage of massive quantities of radioactive waste.

    In summary, nuclear power produces, according to a 2004 study by Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith, only three times fewer greenhouse gases than modern natural-gas power stations.

    Contrary to the nuclear industry's propaganda, nuclear power is therefore not green and it is certainly not clean. Nuclear reactors consistently release millions of curies of radioactive isotopes into the air and water each year. These releases are unregulated because the nuclear industry considers these particular radioactive elements to be biologically inconsequential. This is not so.

    These unregulated isotopes include the noble gases krypton, xenon and argon, which are fat-soluble and if inhaled by persons living near a nuclear reactor, are absorbed through the lungs, migrating to the fatty tissues of the body, including the abdominal fat pad and upper thighs, near the reproductive organs. These radioactive elements, which emit high-energy gamma radiation, can mutate the genes in the eggs and sperm and cause genetic disease.

    Tritium, another biologically significant gas, is also routinely emitted from nuclear reactors. Tritium is composed of three atoms of hydrogen, which combine with oxygen, forming radioactive water, which is absorbed through the skin, lungs and digestive system. It is incorporated into the DNA molecule, where it is mutagenic.

    The dire subject of massive quantities of radioactive waste accruing at the 442 nuclear reactors across the world is also rarely, if ever, addressed by the nuclear industry. Each typical 1000-megawatt nuclear reactor manufactures 33 tonnes of thermally hot, intensely radioactive waste per year.

    Already more than 80,000 tonnes of highly radioactive waste sits in cooling pools next to the 103 US nuclear power plants, awaiting transportation to a storage facility yet to be found. This dangerous material will be an attractive target for terrorist sabotage as it travels through 39 states on roads and railway lines for the next 25 years.

    But the long-term storage of radioactive waste continues to pose a problem. The US Congress in 1987 chose Yucca Mountain in Nevada, 150km northwest of Las Vegas, as a repository for America's high-level waste. But Yucca Mountain has subsequently been found to be unsuitable for the long-term storage of high-level waste because it is a volcanic mountain made of permeable pumice stone and it is transected by 32 earthquake faults. Last week a congressional committee discovered fabricated data about water infiltration and cask corrosion in Yucca Mountain that had been produced by personnel in the US Geological Survey. These startling revelations, according to most experts, have almost disqualified Yucca Mountain as a waste repository, meaning that the US now has nowhere to deposit its expanding nuclear waste inventory.

    To make matters worse, a study released last week by the National Academy of Sciences shows that the cooling pools at nuclear reactors, which store 10 to 30 times more radioactive material than that contained in the reactor core, are subject to catastrophic attacks by terrorists, which could unleash an inferno and release massive quantities of deadly radiation -- significantly worse than the radiation released by Chernobyl, according to some scientists.

    This vulnerable high-level nuclear waste contained in the cooling pools at 103 nuclear power plants in the US includes hundreds of radioactive elements that have different biological impacts in the human body, the most important being cancer and genetic diseases.

    HERE'S BUSH'S PLAN:


    Dr. Diaz predicts that eight nuclear power plants could begin construction by the end of the decade. "And several of them could be in operation by the year 2015.   If that trend continues we could expect to see as many as 20 power plants in the next 20 years.  That is a reasonable number for the infrastructure that presently exits.

    But the new nuclear plants, alone, will  not meet the nation's electrical energy needs in the next two decades. More than 1,000 new electric plants will be required to do that, according to a report of the National Energy Policy Development Group, headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.  

    We need to forget nuclear, just for the fact that it takes too long to site, permit and build a plant, never mind the waste storage, givernment insurance and a major accident due every 17 years.  

    We need to transition our energy supply to 40%-50% renewable sources as quickly as possible, mostly wind, solar and mini-hydro, and then switch over to PHEV auto technology, which could save nearly 50% of gasoline consumed, by using off-peak electricity to charge the US commuter fleet.  No extra capacity would have to even be built until hundreds of thousands or millions of cars of charging off a regional grid (the nightime baseline capacity of extra off-peak amps varies from region to region).

  •  If you subject renewables to a similar analysis (3.71)
    ...you will find that they are neither "clean" nor "green" either.  

    Where do you think the plastics come from to make solar panels?  Do you think wind turbines power the cement plants required to make the concrete bases for wind farms?  Do you think steel for wind turbines is smelted with solar energy?

    Do you know about the noxious gases used in the manufacture of solar panels?

    You've been listening to a pediatrician who does not have her facts straight, I'm afraid.  I recommend that you get your info from objective rather than heavily biased websites.

    Jérôme is right.  There's no one solution.  We need an intelligent mix, a spectrum of energy resources.  Nuclear will be a good bridge until some other resource can provide baseload energy. Coal is killing the environment and killing us.

    There are over 600 coal-fired plants in the US and most of them are old and dirty.  Annual premature deaths from coal-combustion:  32,000.
    Annual premature deaths from coal-combustion:  zero.

    Nuclear has spared the world billions of tons of carbon and other greenhouse gases; the volume of waste is small and compact.  Deep geological disposal is a safe means of long-term storage and is being implemented by Finland and Sweden.

    If you are worried about radiation exposure, I suggest that you go live in a salt mine.  Natural background radiation, medical radiation, and coal-fired plants are giving you a dose of about 360 millirem per year.  Unless you live in the eastern part of Washington State.  Then you get a whopping 1700 millirem from natural background alone.  The permissible amount of radiation a nuclear repository can give off:  no more than 15 millirem per year.  The amount a nuclear plant emits per year:  .083 millirem.  We get 1-4 millirem per year from coal-fired plants, however.

    Stopping nuclear plants means the construction of even more coal-fired plants.  If Canada wants to get that oil out of tar sands, I am glad they will use nuclear instead of coal for their energy.

    •  You left out the most very important fact. (4.00)
      Your slip is showing!

      The manufacture of a wind turbine or solar panel does involve a small amount of energy, yes possibly made by coal, but why not biodiesel, or solar or wind itself?  Gotcha there Plan 9.

      AND THEN THERE IS NO FUEL TO MINE OR PROCESS--THEY RUN OFF THE WIND AND THE SUN.

      So you are trying to fool the lay public into thinking that the fuel required to manufacture, transport and install a solar panel or wind turbine that does not require fuel for 30 YEARS is anywhere near a nuclear plant which requires construction and THEN constant mining, transportation and tightly controlled and secured consumption of fuel for 30 years.  Unless of course you just didn't realize how off nuclear power propaganda really is that you have been spoon-fed for decades.

      I forgive you as that must be the case.  Now you know the truth.

      I hope all Kossaks realize from Plan 9's post how far a nuclear power agenda should be from a reality-based community like ourselves.

      •  It's a global process... (none)
        What's a Wind turbine ? Mostly an electric generator like the dynamo we used to have in cars, plus a big tower, plus the "fan"...
        The bigger the turbine, the best the materials for each parts are !

        So it's about making carbon fiber plastic (oil+oil), steel (coal+iron ore), miles of copper (often coal), aluminium (chemicals+ electricity), plastic insulation for wires (oil), cement for concrete (oil but could be electric or solar oven), rebars for concrete (see steel) (but one could use fiber concrete, no steel)...

        Solar photovoltaic panels need high energy consuming silicium cells, glass (often oil) or plastic polymers (oil today, could be crops)..
        Batteries are often needed to regulate the variable output! Whatever type of battery cell you choose, it's lithium, cadmium, lead, plus acid for the old types that are still in use for big storage.

        Efficiency is not at the desired level, meaning that you have to have a lot of them just to cover today's demand... But if the demands grow ? Our societies are build on the ever growing market theory!

        On the zero growth theory system, most people will be out of jobs! Who will care for their social security ? With what earnings?

        Whatever de-localizing business we have, we must at one point get the "Pizza" at the client's home... Goods travel by trucks, train, boat or plane... Those cannot be retrofitted in horse power, man power or hamster power (maybe we could design a cheap Hamster turbine?)!

        Either we fall back in the Dark Ages and isolationism, or we accept an era (short if possible) of Nuclear power.
        Most of those alternative energy producers should have been built and installed when we where at 15$ the barrel, thus maintaining a slow transition to whatever searchers will bring in the short future (fusion?)!

        Now it is too late... And the new designs of breeding plants are the only alternative to keep the economy and jobs (and research) going...! Mixed with local wind, solar, tide plants, in a wide network covering several countries with different peak hours. Stocking energy can be done in several "clean" ways (hydrogen or ethanol for fuel cells)!

        I don't like it either... But when you are hanging on the cliff, with a very limited future, you're happy when you see the gas gurgling helicopter...!

      •  On the nuclear fuel issue (none)
        First of all the energy consumption required to currently make nuclear fuel isn't really representative of the current state of the art.

        The uranium enrichment plants in the US are mostly older 40's and 50's technology which do require huge inputs of electrical power. However modern enrichment technology lowers the power requirement by a couple orders of magnitude. Centerfuges are far more efficent than gas diffusion.

        Also there are reactor designs that use natural uranium such as CANDU rather than enriched uranium like most of the world's light-water reactors.

        Second reprocessing fuel rods greatly reduces the volume of nuclear waste that must be managed.  The uranium (and plutonium) in and of itself isn't really all that 'hot' it is the various isotopes of other elements that make spent fuel so radioactive. Fortunately 'hot' isotopes by their very nature don't have very long half lives. The nuclear waste in spent fuel either in the fuel rods themselves or as reprocessing sludge cools off to a level no more 'hot' than natural uranium in 100 years or so.

        So far due to the relatively low price of enriched uranium it hasn't made much economic sense to reprocess, however simply as a way to manage the waste stream it needs to be reconsidered. Also as the cost of enriched uranium rises, reprocessing makes increasing economic sense.

        Third newer reactor designs can generate more power per kilogram of nuclear fuel input than older first and second generation designs (the majority in the world today). This reduces both the waste stream per kilowatt generated and the amount of fuel initially required.

        Fourth the proliferation issue is overblown. While it is true that plutonium for nuclear weapons is made in reactors, these reactors are of a highly specialized design. Power generation reactors, even so-called 'breeder' designs, are unsuited to making weapons grade plutonium in normal operation. Due to the length of time nuclear fuel is present in the core in a power reactor a number of undesireable isotopes of plutonium are generated as well as the weapons-grade Pu-239. These isotopes are very difficult to separate out and cannot be present in a nuclear weapon. Basicly nobody who knows what they are doing would want to use spent nuclear fuel, 'breeder' reactor products, or post-reprocessing fuel to make nuclear weapons.

        Mind you most designs can be used to make weapons grade plutonium, but that requires frequent fuel replacement and isn't something that would normally be done in commercial power generation reactors. In North America and Europe there is little danger reactors would be operated this way.

        In fact the best way of disposing of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons and making sure it will never be used to build another weapon is by 'burning' as nuclear fuel in power reactors. Due to contamination from uranium and plutonium isotopes that are undesirable in weapons production it becomes unlikely the nuclear materials will be ever usable for weapons again (in fact a majority of the Pu-239 is fissioned into other elements).

        Fifth, about the worst-case for an accident in a Western reactor is Three Mile Island. While I wouldn't call it minor, I'd say the risk isn't that bad when compared to other industrial accidents. Chernobyl style accidents simply aren't possible with a majority of reactor designs.

        Don't get me wrong, I think over the years the nuclear power industry hasn't been completely honest about the risks or costs. However many of those who oppose nuclear power have a history of distorting the facts, muddying the waters, and using scare tactics to further their ends as well.

    •  Plan9, your argument just isn't factual. (none)
      I understand that a nuclear engineer like yourself has an interest in advocating for your cause. My dad's a nuclear physicist, too, and he and I used to argue about this stuff - until I finally got him to admit to a few key facts that are seriously uncomfortable for the nuclear industry:

      1. Nuclear power is not financially viable, under almost any circumstances. Sorry.

      2. Stopping nukes AND stopping coal means we can finally get some rationality into our energy system by a) realizing the substantial (30% !!!) gains the U.S. has yet to make in efficiency, and b) finally making an effort to catch up to Europe in our deployment of renewables. We're at 2% and could/should easily be at 20%. No nukes.

      3. Oh yeah, and ANOTHER thing: coal power is too fucking expensive, too - especially when carbon regs hit once Bush is out. Talk to anyone trying to get financing for a merchant or wholesale coal plant (or nuclear plant, for that matter). Wall Street won't touch either with a ten-foot pole. Why? They can't come close to competing with efficiency or renewables, especially factoring in carbon constraints.

      Your dishonesty with regards to the "options" available to our energy system seriously undermine your credibility in this forum.

      I am the federal government.

      by mateosf on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 05:11:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Misconceptions (none)
        I am not a nuclear engineer and I do not work for the nuclear industry.  I am an environmentalist, and I work for Mother Nature.

        Around the world, nuclear energy makes a profit.  See Jerome a Paris's excellent diary on how France, which gets 80% of its electricity from nuclear, sells it cheaply and exports it, has an excellent mass transit system run on electricity from nuclear plants--thereby cutting down greenhouse gas emissions even more.  Countries around the world are adding nuclear plants because they have found that it's a good way to meet the Kyoto requirements or because they need more cheap electricity.  In the US nuclear plants are expensive startups but they earn back those costs.  That's why utilities want to add new plants.

        I am all for getting rid of coal-fired plants in the long run.  But right now we rely on them for 50% of our electricity.  Your dream is to pull the plug on them and on nuclear.  But you need to come up with something that can supply baseload electricity. Hydro only produces 6% of that.  

        If you look at where Wall St. investments are going, you will find to your dismay (mine too) that they are by and large dedicated to fossil fuels and that Big Coal is a growth industry.  Renewables have yet to prove themselves in the market place.

        I resent your accusation that I am dishonest about presenting options.  I am really trying to provide a realistic picture rather than a faith-based one.  I hope renewables do better.  But the reality is that we have a catastrophic global situation unfolding right now.  And we have the technology to deal with human contribution to it, a mature technology.  It's not the only resource we have but it is an important one.  This is a good time to be clear sighted and to consider all options carefully--and not rely on highly biased info.  

        I suggest you turn to peer-reviewed science journals and papers to check out your assertions.

        •  I apologize, (none)
          And realize I've been a bit meaner than I've needed to be. Long, hard days at work. Sorry.

          It is NOT my dream to pull the plug on existing coal and nuclear. I think we need every watt of what we've got, but no more. I mean jeez, 30 percent of the baseload power in the western U.S. (excluding CA) is WASTED! There's no excuse for that, and it's not a reason to build more baseload just because we won't improve the efficiency of what we've got.

          And the reality is if we start funneling the kind of public subsidies to nukes that they will need to get going - remember, they take a long, long time to build, and always cost more than advertised - we will dry up large amounts of potential funding for cleantech, while falling victim to the primary fault of our energy system, which is its over-reliance on centralized, large, inefficient baseload power plants.

          And I am VERY concerned that, while we're waiting for these nukes to get built - and where will we put them where they won't be opposed by folks who don't understand that they are safe? (again, I do not question their safety, just their finances) - the coal industry will force through a new round of same-old, dirty, pulverized-coal power plants.

          I really think the coal industry likes nukes because they know they can beat nukes to market, given the realities of the policy/political climate etc.

          And I really think new nuclear power in the U.S. is too expensive. Europe has an entirely different tax structure, different subsidies, and also has SEVERE problems with n-waste (not mentioned so much by Jerome) that are not going to go away. I don't think we have to follow that path; but I will try to be more respectful in making my case.

          I recognize that, ultimately, we are on the same team, so thanks for calling bullshit on my rudeness.

          I am the federal government.

          by mateosf on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 09:59:36 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Dude, you are so asking for it. (none)
      There are dozens of industrial facilities in the U.S. that, yes, get their power from wind mills. Intentionally, by contract.

      Tell me, do you and your fellow nuclear advocates have a plan that will convince customers to buy your so-called "clean" nuclear power at prices that are 5 times higher than the cost of efficiency and renewables - not including the insurance risk born by taxpayers? Because you won't finance any of them unless you can convince people that they're not really in business to make money. Best of luck.

      From an article in Time, four years ago - these growth rates have continued apace:

      Wind power was chosen according to the cold calculus of business. It will produce electricity over the 20-year life of the facility for an estimated 3¢ to 6¢ a kilowatt-hour (kw-h). That compares with a recent average of 7.6¢ a kw-h charged by Texas utilities. Using a similar calculation in late March of this year, the Public Utility Commission in Colorado chose wind over gas to power a new generating station built by Excel in Lamar. Brian Evans of Renewable Energy Systems expects that wind power could explode to supply 20% of America's electricity within 20 years. Exults Hal Harvey, president of the Energy Foundation, based in San Francisco: "We've found the holy grail: wind is now cheaper than any fossil fuel based power source."

      Since 1998, wind power has been the fastest-growing new source of electricity in the world, expanding an average of 30% a year.


      I am the federal government.

      by mateosf on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 05:28:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Great comment Plan9 (none)
      Nice to see someone who is actually in the Reality Based Community when it comes to the nuclear industry.
  •  Canadian vs. US Nuclear Reactors (4.00)
    The existing nucleur plants in Canada don't use enriched uranium, like the nucleur plants in the United States.

    Instead they use natural uranium, and heavy water (instead of light water).

    This looks like a decent site about CANDU reactors:

    http://www.nuclearfaq.ca/

    The Canadian technology has it's own problems though - eg. it's suspected that India used it's CANDU reactors to generate plutonium for their nucleur weapons.

    •  Speaking of Osama Bin Laden, (none)
      What would he do if he took over a nuclear plant, say Indian Point in New York?

      And what could he do if he took over a wind turbine?  Knock it over?

      When you add in the nuclear vulnerability to terrorist attack (such as a light plane with explosives on the unprotected spent fuel rod pools), then nuclear power is out of step with the new War on Terror world we all live in now.

      Again wind and solar shine here!

      •  Bin Laden, tilting windmills (none)
        If your one wind turbine is powering an entire city, then I'd say the worst of what could happen by having Osama knock the turbine out is that he'd take down an entire city.

        And as far as wind and solar power go, they definitely have their place, but I'll just let you look at the breakdown of electrical production for the Canadian province of Ontario.

        OPG Power Production Map

        You'll note that out of a total capacity of 22,790 megawatts, 133 megawatts came from green sources.

        Expecting that wind and solar power somehow in the future going to be able to make up for 22,500 megawatts of power is pushing reality a wee bit too far.

        Don't get me wrong, I do think that there is a place for wind and solar power. Possibly as a energy source for hybrid cars.

        But expecting them to be able to carry the load is just not on. For the forseeable future it's going to be either coal or nuclear, take your pick.

         

        •  Unfortunately, it will probably... (none)
          ...be both coal AND nuclear. And we'll pay handsomely for this mistake.

          Thirty-one million new blogs are created each year. Try ours at The Next Hurrah.

          by Meteor Blades on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 07:04:38 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Yann, tilting at propaganda (none)
          Wrong and wrong, on all counts.

          The U.S. currently produces enough clean energy, mostly from wind, to power the entire cities of Chicago, New York, L.A., Boston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, Dallas, and San Antonio.

          There is enough wind capacity in the great plains to power the entire country 100 times over. We'll be selling wind power to you Canucks while you're stuck like a tar baby in your sandbox.

          The average new industrial wind facility in the U.S. is 150-200 MW. As of today, there are about 40 of these being built across the U.S. By the end of 2006, there will be close to 5000MW of new wind on-line, selling power at 5 cents a KWh, on average.

          The pace would be faster if there weren't so much competition for turbines. You can hardly buy them right now, they're selling so fast.

          Join us in the reality room when you're ready.

          I am the federal government.

          by mateosf on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 07:06:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The Nuke-Lovers use the low percentage (none)
            of reneewables in use now, as though that meant something.  THat means nothing.  Here's why.

            Big Oil and Big Energy hate wind and solar because it is distributed energy, needing NO FUEL.  IT is the end of them and they know it.  So they lobby and buy politicians and get huge subsidies like the GOP Energy Bill for more uranium- or fossil-FUELED options and try to starve wind and solar to death.

            If it was a level playing field instead, without big subsidies for nuke waste storage or the Price Anderson Act which insures every nuke in case there is a regional disaster, or without big subsidies for fossil fuel, we would have gone substantially renewable by now.

            Renewables have been held back by the greed of Big Oil and the Nuclear Power Industry.

            •  I am amazed (none)
              by how many nuclear energy lobbyists are on Kos.

              I can't help but wonder if the industry is actually monitoring progressive blogs to try to tilt the climate debate. I mean we ARE talking big bucks, and the left is defnitely divided on solutions to climate problems, largely out of ignorance of the solutions menu.

              Glad to see who's on the team here ...

              I am the federal government.

              by mateosf on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 07:20:08 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I don't think so, but maybe (none)
                I'm not connected with the energy industry in any way and yet I advocate the expansion of nuclear power.  I see it as an important transition technology given the impending collapse of oil, soon followed by natural gas, and don't even get me started on the problems with coal even counting the fact that it too will peak in just a couple of generations.

                Nuclear power will one day peak as well, but as we adjust our economies and our lives to lower power and we build renewable and other alternative power infrastructure, nuclear reactors are going to be important to "keep the lights on" and I think they may be the only way to keep certain "high concentration" energy applications alive.

                Nukes are not "the answer," but they will be a part of the transition.  The public fear of them is out of all proportion to the real issues in their safe construction, operation, and decomissioning.  I also suspect the public's fear of them will decrease dramatically when peoples homes start to freeze because there is no power.

                I consider myself to be an "environmentalist," but I somewhat heretically believe that nuclear power is okay, and so are GMOs.  At the same time, I believe both technologies have hazards, and require regulation and oversight.  Which they both have.

                That said, my personal goal is to increase support, tax breaks, subsidies, no-interest and low-interest government loans to help property owners install renewable power systems at an affordable cost.  In my dreams all the money we spent on the War in Iraq would have been spent on renewables, alternate fuels research and development, and fuel cell and battery research, and on incentives for high efficiency vehicles and appliances.  And all of that before nukes or GMOs.

                I do my little bit, lobbying my state house and putting solar and a ground source heat pump on my home.  But IMHO the problems with nuclear power, including the risk of accident, are lower than the risks from fossil fuels.

          •  The Yann propaganda machine responds... (none)
            Wrong and wrong, on all counts.

            Oh, I doubt that. I'm fairly certain that at the very least the province of Ontario does in fact exist, and that it does produce over 22,000 megawatts of electricity.

            The U.S. currently produces enough clean energy, mostly from wind, to power the entire cities of Chicago, New York, L.A., Boston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, Dallas, and San Antonio.

            That's fantastic, although I noticed that you've left out the cities of Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Houston, New Orleans, and a few others.

            There is enough wind capacity in the great plains to power the entire country 100 times over.

            And there's enough energy in a cup of water to set the oceans to boil over, if one could tap into it properly. The problem is being able to convert all the available energy efficiently.

            We'll be selling wind power to you Canucks while you're stuck like a tar baby in your sandbox.

            Only if we were to starting harnessing the some of the hot air that blows up from the south every now and then.

            The average new industrial wind facility in the U.S. is 150-200 MW. As of today, there are about 40 of these being built across the U.S. By the end of 2006, there will be close to 5000MW of new wind on-line, selling power at 5 cents a KWh, on average.

            Again, that's very impressive, but the problem is that the US as a whole uses a lot more than 5000 MW of electricity.

            As I pointed out earlier, Ontario alone produces about 22,000 MW, which at times just barely meets our power needs.

            Join us in the reality room when you're ready.

            Let me guess. You're about 15, 16 years old? Well, take some advice from someone who was once a teenager himself. People tend to take you and your views alot more seriously if you avoid insulting the other person for no apparent reason.

            •  OK, that was funny (none)
              I'm working too late and could have avoided being rude. OK.

              Now my guess: You're 60-65, engineer, worked (or still work?) in the power/oil/nuke biz for a while? Think that people like me who want renewables want to replace existing baseload with renewables? Well, we don't.

              We can stop building new, old-fashioned, centralized baseload power plants, use the ones we've got more efficiently, and meet the rest of our demand growth with clean power, pretty much from here on out. This is not high school stuff. The DOE has been studying this for several years, and it can work.

              A racetrack scenario (toungue in cheek & with respect, OK?): My renewables can outrun your nukes on demand growth and it wouldn't be a fair fight. You'll spend 10 years scratching for money & pushing paper through NERC and their fellow agencies for the permits to build 10 or 20 of your 750 MW nukes (that'll take another 10 years to build) while I've raised billions in VC money, built another 50,000 - 100,000 MW of wind (at 4 cents a KWh and 6-9 months per 200 MW - again, these are the stats for 2004), 20,000 MW of solar (at 15 cents) and reduced baseload demand by 200,000 MW with demand side management (at 2 cents per KWh saved), thereby further extending the capacity of existing baseload.

              And oh yeah, I'll gladly sell you carbon credits for your uranium mines for a cool $50 million or so.<snark>

              And that's with today's technology.

              Tell you what: how bout you old, reasonable guys and us young, brash upstarts team up and make this thing work?

              I am the federal government.

              by mateosf on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 10:09:23 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Flying Electric Generators (none)

            Parts of the US (such as virginia, where I live) are very poor locations for wind generators. There is an interesting scheme to use tethered flying electric generators . They work like autogyros (similar to a helicopter). It sounds like a really crazy idea, at first. But there is a lot more wind power at higher altitudes. Cost per kWhr is lower than coal. Falling out of the sky? Probably not much more risk than airplanes currently pose and less likely to hit population centers and no passengers on board. Hurricanes: you land the generator. You won't be able to produce power then, but much of the area served is going to be without electricity due to downed power lines, anyway. Terrorist attack? Well, if they attack the tether, the generator can be landed by remote control and has a GPS on board. If they try to crash the geneator, it would be less dangerous (and easier to secure) than an airplane - and you can't go further than about 7 miles from the base of the tether. Lightning? Could be a problem but airplanes and other tethered systems can deal with lightning strikes. The tether increases the risk of a strike and has to be able to take the energy of the strike. Perhaps you could even have a tank of salt water at the base of the tether that boils off to absorb the energy. Airplane collision hazards - less than 0.25% of US airspace would need to be set aside to provide all the electricity used by the U.S. And the location of all generators (and the tethers) would be known; aircraft already avoid existing tethered aerostats (on the US/mexico border). Energy storage is an issue but much less of one than ground based wind generators at high altitude, the wind is relatively constant.

            Compared to nuclear, flying electric generators seem safe. The technology is almost there (nuclear technology only half works right now since many of the problems are deferred). Deployment could be faster than nukes.

        •  Not so (none)
          We can be more innovative than that!

          First of all, 20% of Denmark installed base is already wind farms.  The US has way more wind potential than Denmark, especially off-shore, so we can do more than 20% wind power.

          With solar tax credits like NY states, everybody could afford to put 2 kw of solar panels on their house and run their meter backwards to take 40% off their electric bill.  That savings is greater than the loan payments to pay for the 2 kw installation!  So you start making money right away when you switch to solar.  A little bit.  If every house did it in the U.S., that is another big chunk.

          Exploit all the minihydro sites we ignore today and add in the hydro power we already have, believe it is several percent of the total, and renewable energy can be 40% to 50% of the mix.

          Now encourage one and all to buy plug-in hybrid electric cars to commute in and off-peak amps will drive our happy commuter the average 25 miles per day for around 50 cents to a dollar a day depending on your off-peak power costs!  A regional grid could power as many as several hundred thousand cars without having to turn on any Intermediate or Peak power plants, as the baseline off-peak capacity on most grids is enormous.  That, the better gas mileage of hybrids and a national move away from SUVs to smaller cars, could cut US gasoline consumption in half, as 85% of all passenger miles are for short commutes in huge gas guzzlers.

          And that's just off the top of my head.

    •  That's not the problem (none)
      Assuming all you want to do is make more nuclear fuel. That's not always the case with some people and their countries, but you can hardly blame the Candu system for that.

      The real problem with Candu reactors is that they're exceptionally safe, but not cheap.

      In fact, they're known as the 'plumber's nightmare' because even small leaks can cause problems in the system and take a lot of money to repair.

      That, I believe, is essentially the problem Ontario is having with the Pickering nuclear stations that are currently off-line: expensive repairs are needed.

      That said, if it comes down to a choice between electricity generated from nuclear power and coal-fired generating plants, I'd rather go nuclear. In a manner of speaking, of course. :)

  •  Is extracting the usable oil from tar sands (none)
    a lot like ethanol or meat protein, where it takes more energy to produce the commodity? I understand that there are other uses for oil based products other than fuel - have we reached a point where oil needs to be reserved for lubricants, etc., instead of simply burned?

    Another great diary Jerome. Have you had any luck with Mr. Simmons and energy and water?

  •  This sucks. (4.00)
    The last thing I want is to see us turn to nuclear power...

    have we learned NOTHING?!? (I know, at this point, stupid question)...but I really hope to see some progressive groups and corporations working to get more wind and solar power going. What's up with our Dkos wind idea?? I'm more than willing to contribute!

  •  Depending on your home and water usage (4.00)
    your 50 gallon electric water heater could be accounting for as much as 30% of your electric bill. I enjoy a hot shower as much as anybody but it's not an emergency if I can't have one 7/24. Solar options for hot water an becomeing both increasingly available as well as cheaper.

    Is a hot shower on demand really worth polluting the entire fucking over?  

    Kentucky Master Plumbing License #6453

    •  My bad (none)
      "entire fucking planet"
    •  Hot water heaters are a huge energy waster (4.00)
      The type that most people think of at least. Keeping 50+ gallons of water close to boiling temperature 24/7 makes little sense when energy costs are high.

      There are alternatives, on demand heaters are the best. Just insulating the water heater you have can save quite a bit.

      Do a Google search on 'water heater blanket' there are lots available.

      •  Good points (none)
        I was strictly speaking in terms of conventional water heaters.

        The technology is improving in regard to "on demand heaters." Nevertheless, I'm not entirely sold on them at this time. Granted, they're a better option than heating fifty gallons plus 7/24; however, in areas which experience 200+ sunny days per year, I believe solar is a better option. With a proper conversion kit, a hot shower can be available for days after the last sunshine; however, these kits are currently expensive. The price will decrease once greater usage increases. Secondly, on demand heaters are still fairly energy intensive compared to solar options.

        The blankets are an energy saving option but are only a band-aid. Whether an on demand heater or solar, breaking away from the conventional models is the best long-term option both in terms of cost savings as well as energy conservation.  

    •  Yep, yep, yep ... (none)
      This is a major candidate for one of the simpler technological fixes. Solar hot water heating is cheap, easy to install, works in most climates, has low maintenance. Combine with a little conservation - lower temperatures, shorter showers, not running the spigot when you shave or wash dishes - and a big drain on electricity or natural gas is gone.

      Thirty-one million new blogs are created each year. Try ours at The Next Hurrah.

      by Meteor Blades on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 07:02:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  On-demand (none)
      That's what most home water heaters in Europe seem to be (definitely in Germany, which is the place I've seen the most of).  With a good-size shower one, you get about 15 minutes of near-scalding (60 C ~ 140 F) water, but it "recharges" rather quickly for the next user.

      You quickly learn not to just let the hot water run while doing dishes, though.  The water heaters under kitchen and bathroom sinks are tiny.  When Germans want a liter or two of hot water quickly, they have plug-in pitchers that boil it in a few minutes ("water cookers"), using far less power than the stove or microwave would to heat that much water.  Washing machines heat their own water and are smaller (and quieter) than American ones.  I've also observed fewer Germans with dishwashers.  Both appliances tend to be more expensive than in the States.

      You certainly don't waste electricity anything like you do in the States with those 50 gallon giants in our garages and basements.

      That which you do unto the least of these, you do unto me - Matthew 25:40

      by A Texan in Maryland on Fri Sep 23, 2005 at 06:07:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Oil Dangers, As Always (none)
    Just on the oil front, let's not forget about the possibility that ethnic unrest in the oil region of Nigeria may cause disruptions in supplies (as had been the case in 2004).  Current problems in the Niger Delta region are once again threatening a steady flow of crude.  A Chevron flowsation has been occupied by an armed militia, upset over the arrest and detention of its leader.  The group claims that this is but the first step:
    The deputy leader of the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force, Alali Horsefall, said militiamen were moving towards seven other oil installations in the area.

    "We will blow up everything. We will set fire to them," he said.

    The other major oil producer in the delta region, Royal Dutch Shell, has evacuated an oil platform responsible for some 80,000 bbl/day, withdrawn many of its workers from smaller sites and told most of its employees to remain at home.
    A statement issued by the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force on Wednesday warned of "grave mayhem" if Mr Asari were not released by early afternoon.

    Hundreds of soldiers and riot police are manning checkpoints in Nigeria's oil capital, Port Harcourt, reports Reuters news agency.

    Last year, the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force contributed to a sharp rise in world oil prices when it threatened war against oil companies.

    For consumers, the timing couldn't be worse.
  •  Glad to see this is getting attention (none)
    I've been warning people about what Ellen Dana Nagler calls "the phony fuel" economy for a while.
  •  Hemp (none)
    could provide much of the bio-mass for alternative fuel production. The oil from the seeds is easily extracted and converted into diesel. Paper, plastics, and all manner of products we get from petroleum and its distillates can be made from hemp.

    This isn't pie-in-the-sky, hippie-dippie bullplop. There is copius literature on this subject. Unfortunately, I don't know html and don't know how to insert a link yet. Just look around. It's out there.

  •  Oil Sands (none)
    I just read some interesting stuff on the oil sands in Fortune:

    http://www.fortune.com/fortune/investing/articles/0,15114,1105691,00.html

    It's pretty interesting.

    The environmental aspects of getting oil from oil sands are incredibly nasty.

  •  here we go: (4.00)
    Irradiated Oil


    The "upgrade path" of the petroleum economy is to gradually be able to package worse and worse sources of energy. The first step is what we hear when the Saudis state that "more refinery capacity is needed". The implication to the American public is that they are pumping plenty of oil, but that it is a lack of refinery capacity. That oil is piling up some place. The reality is different: what they mean is that processing lower grades of petroleum into gasoline is going to be a necessity. This step, of refining lower quality fuels, is something the US has done before. In the 1960's and 1970's, as the quality of domestic US oil production went down, we put additives in gasoline to increase its power: lead, for example. The reason "unleaded" gasoline was expensive is not that lead is naturally found in petroleum and then removed, it is that it can be made with lower quality crude oil. The additive that we want to add now, is hydrogen. The "hydrogen economy" isn't about fuel cells, it is about adding hydrogen to petroleum. This will allow the use of lower grades of petroleum

    The second phase is to extract kerogene, so called "shale oil", and tar sands. The road here is to pressure steam into the hydrocarbon bearing rock, and forcing out the mixture. This then needs to be synthesized into petroleum. There are large reserves of this kind of very low quality hydrocarbons, but even generous extraction rates show that it too will run out relatively quickly.

    The third phase will be packaging hydrogen and coal as petroleum. If one crushes coal, and heats it in the presence of hydrogen, the coal, which is carbon, combines with the hydrogen to produce hydrocarbons: namely, petroleum. The result of this is a low quality petroleum, which can then be fed into the refinery system developed in the first phase, and sold to the public as gasoline. This phase to runs out rather quickly as well. While we have "plenty of coal" we don't have plenty of coal if coal is to supplant petroleum. And certainly not if the affluent living standard is to be extended to the 2.5 billion people in China and India. In an irony, given the nature of the technology, this is called "clean coal".

    •  When I saw this thread (none)
      I thought of an earlier diary of yours. About the Bush admin siting reactors on military bases to do what you describe above.

      "Eagles may soar, but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines" Steven Wright

      by wrights on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 06:48:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We should be holding marches for THIS (none)
    Fantastic diary.

    We should be having marches protesting our dependence on oil and demanding support for the development of alternative approaches to energy.

    Peace is more than the absence of war. If we are to be pro-peace, we must go after the root causes of war, and our dependence on oil is one of these.

    I used to live in the United States of America. Now I live in a homeland.

    by homeland observer on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 05:43:26 PM PDT

  •  Well it's not... (none)
    the craziest application of nuclear power to refine the oil sands...

    "After the United States government announced Project Ploughshares in the 1950s, one of the proposals that came forward for the peaceful use of nuclear energy was suggested by Dr. L. M. Natland of the Richfield Oil Company. He figured he could detonate a small atomic bomb under the Athabasca Oil Sands and then pump out the oil."

  •  pedantic point regarding marginal barrel cost (none)
    the cost of finding and producing the so-called marginal barrel - beyond which the activity becomes unprofitable - will double to $60 over the same period.

    Uh, isn't this just a backwards way of saying that the price of oil will rise significantly (doubling, more or less)?  (since marginal cost and price are presumably locked together by economics)

  •  Can't see it happening... (none)
    Even if the Conservative Party won the next federal election, I can't see a nuclear reactor being built anytime soon. I can't imagine any popular support for a foreign oil company building a nuclear reactor in our country and likely leaving the waste here. The left here would have a field day bashing the crap out whoever allowed that to happen.
    •  ????? That's flat out wrong. (none)
      Dalton McGuinty spent at least part of last week talking about the need to build new nuclear reactors in Ontario.

      Nuclear power in Ontario

      "NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. (CP) - Billions of dollars will be spent to build new nuclear plants in Ontario if a review of the province's tight energy supply concludes they're necessary, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Wednesday."

      ...

      At a speech to the Ontario Energy Association in Niagara Falls, McGuinty said he's willing to take a political hit for building nuclear plants even if they prove unpopular. He accused previous governments of having delayed dealing with the nuclear issue.

    •  Remember, (none)
      ...this is Alberta we're talking about. The people close enough to really give a damn mostly love that sort of stuff.

      But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

      by sagesource on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 08:20:28 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nuclear... (none)
    I think we need a really good discussion about nuclear vs. other options.  It bothers me when people jump to "nuclear bad... NEVER, NO WAY" conclusions, like some kind of Pavlovian response.  I've been studying energy issues for some time and nuclear makes a tremendous amount of sense, and it should not be ruled out of hand.  It is very unlikely that maxing renewables and totally optimizing our use of energy will allow us to displace fossil fuels- unless we go back to a pre-industrial agrarian model of society or something equally drastic!   Nuclear is the least-bad option that is available to us for large-scale, cost-effective energy production without greenhouse gas emissions nor other widespread poisoning of our environment.  

    You want environmental impact?  Consider the effects of fossil fuels on our environment: mercury and other toxic emissions, acid rain, smog, greenhouse gasses, oil spills, damage due to large-scale extraction, etc.?  Be honest about those costs and nuclear suddenly looks PRETTY DAMN GOOD.  BTW, breeder fuel cycles / reprocessing can extend the life of known uranium reserves by a considerable amount (about 1000 years if my memory is correct).

    It sounds a little weird to me too, but if nuclear can help increase oil supply via tar sands without massive greenhouse gas emissions in the process, and saving incredible volumes of natural gas for better uses (plastics, fertilizers, heating our homes, etc.) then it must surely be worth a good hard look as part of a transitional solution to our energy bind.

    •  simple (none)
      military nuclear power bad.

      civilian nuclear power might be good. But not if run by people who like military nuclear power.

    •  I can show you this hope can never be achieved (none)
      if nuclear can help increase oil supply via tar sands without massive greenhouse gas emissions in the process, and saving incredible volumes of natural gas for better uses (plastics, fertilizers, heating our homes, etc.) then it must surely be worth a good hard look as part of a transitional solution to our energy bind.

      You must understand that simply processing tar sands causes far more pollution and global warming than processing the sweet crude of today.

      Never mind what energy source you use.  By its very nature, tar sands into gasoline releases more carbon than sweet or sour crude.  So your hope is a vain one right off the bat.

      Then as Jerome pointed out in an earlier thread, hydrogen must be injected into the oil created by tar sands, an extra step.

      Then mining, processing and transporting uranium ore, along with nuke plant contruction, creates 1/3 as much greenhouse gas as does an oil plant.

      Plus you would have to ignore possible terrorist actions that lead to a suicide meltdown, the entire waste storage problem--not to mention that it historically has taken 15 YEARS to site, permit and build a nuke in the US.  We need an alternative energy transition now!

      There.  You don't need a hard long look at it.  Making gasoline out of tar sands with nuclear power doesn't make sense from an energy viewpoint or from a global warming viewpoint.  

      And the latest studies show we have enough wind, solar and minihydro to reduce fossil fuel use by more than half, and if you use the latest breakthroughs and start to change American attitude toward conservation, you can go way more than half fossil fuel use eliminated with NO NUKES.

      •  I don't think you showed us much (none)
        except many bold assertions.  If you could convert that certitude of yours into energy, we'd have the problem licked!!!  

        The problem with this subject is that it needs diary length considerations, and then some (and perhaps all the PhD's of MIT).  

        Modern reactor designs are even more safe.  Some are even intrinsically safe.  Come to think of it, how many people have been killed in North America in the past 50 years by a civilian nuclear reactor accident?  [And Chernobyl does not equal every reactor design past and future!]We got to think about how risks are to be RATIONALLY balanced with the alternatives.  

        If you could demonstrate how we could actually maintain our society without fossil fuels and without nuclear, entirely on renewables, then I'd be right with ya.  I'm not convinced that is possible.

        Be careful with your assumptions.  Be ready to challenge established orthodoxy, including your own, as we make decisions on how to answer the massive problems ahead.  

        •  nuclear power deaths (none)
          There have been none in the United States.  The National Cancer Institute did a study of cancer rates around numerous nuclear plants and determined that they were no different from the rates in areas that lack nuclear plants.

          The Chernobyl reactor was made of graphite and was of the worst possible design, and had no containment building.  North American reactors all have containment buildings.  Chernobyl had a meltdown and Three Mile Island had a meltdown.  The difference is that the latter happened in a containment building.  No one was harmed.  Numerous studies of the Pennsylvania population have been unable to turn up any indications of health effects.  The people there were exposed to less radioactivity than people living on the Colorado Plateau get from natural background radiation.  After 19 years, the total number of deaths caused by Chernobyl, the worst reactor accident in history: 60.  Two were killed by the steam explosion, nine from untreated thyroid cancer probably caused by the release of radio-iodine, and the rest died from exposure to high levels of radiation while battling the reactor fire.

          Coal, on the other hand, is a deadly business, from mining to combustion to coal waste. Its victims over the past fifty years number in the millions.  

          Which is why the European Union, after considerable analysis, declared nuclear energy the cleanest and most environmentally friendly large-scale form of electricity generation.

        •  3 Mile Island was TOTALLY Preventible! (none)
          The company hired to design and install a second pair of reactors at 3 Mile Island notified the 3MI owners--well before the accident--that a nuclear engineer on the design team had reviewed the schematics for the original reactors #1 and #2 and had identified a key component (a water valve) that, if not retrofited with a sensor tied to the main operator console, could accidentally be left in an open position, allowing the water cooling the reactor core to drain undetected from the reactor, triggering a core meltdown.

          The design firm (Babcock & Wilcox) estimated that a sensor retrofit might cost $35k-$40k per reactor. The 3MI representatives had a hissy fit, suggesting that that cost was way too much money to pay for something that the 3MI folks felt had little to no potential of happening.

          If you Google for information on the 3MI accident, you'll find that as the reactor operators grappled with problems on the day of the disaster, they saw that a console sensor connected to a power unit which opened and closed the water valve showed that the power unit was off. They erroneously assumed that the power unit powered off AFTER closing the water valve leading to/from the reactor core, when in fact the valve was left open ... and the rest is history.

          How do I know this? Well, within 2-3 days of the 3MI accident--and before any news of the accident's cause--I received an "I warned them about this" telephone call from the nuclear power engineer who had identified the design flaw (Note: He likes to let his "little sister" know that he's just as smart as she is ... but hey, in the days before computer-controlled power distribution, everyone at Virginia Power knew that our dad carried the schematics for the entire Richmond power grid in his head).

          So once again ... we find that engineers identify a safety problem, and then some level of management overrules them. That's the saga of not only 3 Mile Island, but of our two space shuttle disasters.

          "If they would rather die," said Scoorge/FEMA/Rethugs, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

          by Robert de Loxley on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 11:28:51 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Yep...a few thoughts (none)
      As an environmentalist I struggled for a long time against nuclear energy.  But as I became familiar with the growing effects of global climate disruption and habitat destruction on the one hand and the terrible consequences of fossil fuel combustion on the other, I began to look into the matter more closely.

      I read peer-reviewed journals, like Science.  I discovered that Caldecott and others are fonts of misinformation and hysteria.  

      And I learned that my darlings, wind and solar, had been subsidized lavishly, given billions of dollars over the past 30 years and in fact have stagnated, even with all kinds of corporate and federal funding.  Thirty years ago they produced less than 1% of our electricity and today even though they have grown, they have not kept up with increased energy demand and remain stagnant at 1%.

      In Germany and Denmark, the governments totally subsidize renewables.  That is because they have failed in the marketplace.

      The Department of Energy just released the latest figures on renewables.  They remain a tiny part of the energy picture, and they remain costly.

      So it seems unreasonable to talk about the expense of nuclear when in fact per kilowatt hour it is now competitive with coal and even slightly cheaper.  The most expensive source of electricity in the US is solar.  Wind is looking cheaper only because natural gas has become so costly.  But the main point about renewables--and let's hope they flourish and let's hope there are some technological breakthroughs that will make them more feasible in the long run--is that they will always require a backup source of electricity.  And that will have to be from fossil fuel or nuclear.

      Like Stewart Brand, Patrick Moore, Hugh Montefiore, James Lovelock, Jared Diamond, and others who have thought about the about the terrible poverty in electricity-deprived countries, the destruction of habitat and the warming of the planet due to fossil fuel emissions, I find that nuclear power is the only possible choice for large-scale generation.

      There's no reason that nuclear power could not be used to refine and reprocess uranium.  But in a nation with over 600 coal-fired plants and only 103 nuclear ones, logically most of the energy needed for industry is coming from fossil fuels.  And in fact each year more energy is coming from fossil fuels in the US and globally--over 85%.

      I have asked on this blog for someone to prove to me the existence of a heavy industrial plant that relies solely on wind or solar and nobody has ever been able to do that.  I'd love to know about one.

      Also, a lot of dreamers think hydrogen can just be plucked out of the air.  In fact it takes more energy to make it than the amount of energy hydrogen stores.  It is not a source of energy, it is a storage medium.  Hydrogen is being made in the US today--in oil refineries.  A very nasty process.  And it can be made using coal, ditto.

      The only clean, large-scale way to make it is with a high temperature reactor.

      As for terrorism:  many agencies have studied the security of nuclear plants.  They are the most robust buildings on the planet, built with concrete and steel walls several feet thick, able to stand beyond a Cat 5 hurricane and to withstand tornadoes.  Tests have shown that a jet would crumple upon impact with the wall of a reactor containment building.  Reactors are located deep underground, and spent fuel pools are underground and not accessible.

      •  Such LAVISH funding... (none)
        Plan9 - while I am willing to consider a nuclear energy option, you make no sense whatsoever in this screed.

        Every form of power production in the US has been heavily subsidized by the US Government, INCLUDING Nuclear.  Wind and solar have received minor tax breaks and some relatively minor research funds, but hardly the levels of subsidy of nuclear and oil.

        Now - if you have some audited results that actually back up your claim of renewables being "subisidized lavishly" relative to oil based and nuclear technology, please present the figures and tell us you sources.

        •  Comparisons (none)
          I never said that renewables received more than fossil fuel or nuclear subsidies.  In fact, fossil fuels get vastly more than anything else, with nuclear in third place.  But in proportion to the contribution renewables (apart from hydro) make to the grid, they get big subsidies.

          From last weeks's Science Magazine (subscription only):

          New figures from the Department of Energy show that despite billions in research into renewable energy sources over the past 3 decades, fossil fuels remain king.
          Growth of renewables is stagnant. In the United States, 45% of renewable power comes from hydroelectric facilities. Solar energy contributed less than 0.1% of total energy consumption last year, and wind energy, despite tripling its contribution since 2000, remains a similarly minute fraction. Proponents of renewable energy sources say such sources could benefit from skyrocketing oil prices, but that government subsidies--which have helped the fossil fuel and nuclear industries--are needed to spur investment.

          Also:

          Since 1978, DOE has invested more than $10 billion in renewable technologies, supplemented with generous tax incentives and state subsidies. Added support has come from the private sector. oil behemoths such as Exxon, Shell, Mobil, ARCO, and Amoco, as well as non-oil energy companies such as General Electric, General Motors, Owens-Illinois, Texas Instruments, and Grumman, have all tried to enter the renewable energy market.
          But renewable energy production has been constrained by physical limitations that have resulted in consistently high costs, because the energy that renewable energy technologies collect is both diffuse and intermittent.

          http://www.issues.org/issues/21.3/lorenzini.html

          --Paul Lorenzini, National Academy of Sciences:  Issues in Science and Technology

          And here is an eminent environmental activist:

          In the final analysis, eco- extremists project a naive vision of returning to the supposedly utopian existence in the garden of Eden, conveniently forgetting that in the old days people lived to an average age of 35, and there were no dentists. In their Brave New World there will be no more chemicals, no more airplanes, and certainly no more polyester suits.

          What does environmental extremism have to do with nuclear energy?

          I believe the majority of environmental activists, including those at Greenpeace, have now become so blinded by their extremism that they fail to consider the enormous and obvious benefits of harnessing nuclear power to meet and secure America's growing energy needs.

          These benefits far outweigh any risks.

          There is now a great deal of scientific data showing nuclear power to be an environmentally sound and safe choice.

          In America today you are faced with a situation whereby nuclear energy supplies 20 per cent of your energy needs.  

          Yet America's demand for energy continues to increase and in the coming decades this demand may increase by some 50 per cent over current levels.

          If nothing is done to revitalize the American nuclear industry, the industry's contribution to meeting US energy demands could drop from 20 per cent to 9 per cent.

          What sources of energy would make-up the shortfall? Very likely, the US would turn to an even greater reliance on fossil fuels.

          A significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) seems unlikely given our continued heavy reliance on fossil fuel consumption.  An investment in nuclear energy would go a long way to reducing this reliance.

          According to the Clean Air Council, annual power plant emissions are responsible for 36% of carbon dioxide (CO2), 64% of sulfur dioxide (SO2), 26% of nitrogen oxides (Nox), and 33% of mercury emissions (Hg). These four pollutants cause significant environmental problems, including acid rain, smog, respiratory illness, mercury contamination, and are the major contributors to GHG emissions.

          Among power plants, the dirty and old coal-fired plants produce the most pollution.
          According to the Clean Air Council, while 58% of power plant boilers in operation in the U.S. are fueled by coal, they contribute 93% of Nox, 96% of SO2, 88% of Co2, and 99% of the mercury emitted by the entire power industry.
          [snip]
          In 2002, the use of nuclear energy helped the US avoid the release of 189.5 million tons of carbon into the air.

          In fact, the electric sector's carbon emissions would have been 29 per cent higher without nuclear power.

          And while hydro, geothermal and wind energy all form an important part of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, without nuclear energy that reliance will likely never diminish.  In 2002, carbon emissions avoided by nuclear power were 1.7 times larger than those avoided by all renewables combined.

          Nuclear energy has already made a sizeable contribution to the reduction of GHG emissions in America. But more must be done and nuclear energy is pointing the way.

          A revitalized American nuclear energy industry, producing an additional 10,000 MW from power uprates, plant restarts and productivity gains could assist the electric sector to avoid the emission of 22 million metric tons of carbon per year by 2012, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute - that's 21 per cent of the President's GHG intensity reduction goal.

          While current investment in America's nuclear energy industry languishes, development of commercial plants in other parts of the world is gathering momentum.

          In order to create a better environmental and energy secure future, America must once again renew its leadership in this area.

          As Stewart Brand and other forward-thinking environmentalists and scientists have made clear, technology has now progressed to the point where the fear-mongering being spread by activists about the safety of nuclear energy bears no semblance to reality.


          http://www.greenspiritstrategies.com/D127.cfm

          --Patrick Moore, founder of Greenpeace

      •  Wind is bargain basement, baby (none)
        The Department of Energy just released the latest figures on renewables.  They remain a tiny part of the energy picture, and they remain costly.

        I suspect the DoE figures may be cooked if they're uncomplimentary to wind power. In fact, the new generation of giant 1.5 MW wind turbines produces energy that's competitive in price with coal-fired power plants, and without subsidies. A study published in Science 4 years ago showed wind at 3 to 4 cents per kW/hour, comparable to new coal plants, but with no environmental externalities (strip mining, acid rain, black lung health benefits etc.). And that was 4 years ago - costs for wind keep dropping.

        Denmark is scaling back new wind initiatives because wind already generates 15% of the country's electricity, and it's a small country that's running out of room for wind farms. The expert consensus is that with current technology wind should probably supply at most 20% of a country's energy needs. In the US we get well under 1% from wind, so we've got a lot of room to expand. And we're not exactly short of space for wind farms in the most promising windy states - North Dakota, Texas, Kansas. (Note that wind energy increases as the cube of the wind speed, so a little faster wind means a lot more energy.)

        I'm a pro-nuclear environmentalist, too. But there's no need to denigrate renewable sources of energy as part of a campaign for more nuclear.

        "When I came to this town, my eyes were big blue stars. Now they're big green dollar signs." - Jean Arthur, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"

        by brooksfoe on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 08:45:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  The battle lines... (none)
      ...were drawn on this decades, even centuries, before nuclear power was practical in any sense, and the debate has very little to do, on either side, with quotidian reality. The insults flung about are characteristic: this is a motherhood and apple pie issue for most of those who follow it, one where the opponents are not merely wrong, but mentally ill or traitors. Read Spencer R. Weart's Nuclear Fear: A History of Images (1988) for the details.

      But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

      by sagesource on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 08:18:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Could Rita convince Big Oil on global warming? (none)
    So with Katrina having destroyed 45 oil platforms and knocked out refineries owned by Conoco, Exxon, Chevron and Murphy's, and with Rita heading more or less straight for the Houston headquarters of Exxon, Conoco, Shell, Union Texas, Pennzoil, etc., is there any chance Big Oil might start copping to the possibility that man-made global warming might have some serious financial costs? Not, you know, environmental or human costs - we can't expect them to care about the survival of humanity, or the planet; let's be realistic - but serious negative economic consequences? Might even be bad news for their share prices?

    "When I came to this town, my eyes were big blue stars. Now they're big green dollar signs." - Jean Arthur, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"

    by brooksfoe on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 08:08:07 PM PDT

    •  Oil company share prices (none)
      are going up with the increased price for oil, and they probably can write off a lot of the storm losses.  I don't think they are crying about the storms (other than crocodile tears).

      Democrats give you the Bill of Rights; Republicans sell you a bill of goods!

      by barbwires on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 08:58:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Is This Reason for Canada Gasoline Shortages?? (none)
    I just read a Canadian post tonight about gas stations in (one part of?) the country running out or rationing today.

    Perhaps Herr Oil is softening up the battlefield.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy....--ML King, "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 08:12:34 PM PDT

    •  The biggest jump (none)
        Was in a town in Ontario which I happen to be from.

         I talked with my son and asked him about it, he said it was a couple of the local independents who got reeled in, believe it or not, by their suppliers.

        The price was doubled over night, then dropped back down the same day when the uproar started.

  •  It's a great piece (none)
    But without offending you the argument that this is negative long term is incorrect.

    Higher sustained oil prices will provide the greatest impetus to development of renewable energy sources. At a certain point, alternatives will gain advantage over imported crude.

    This is a good thing, in terms of the gorilla in the atmosphere, greenhouse gases. Disruptive and demanding to be sure. But not the end of the world as we know it. That is more likely if oil prices do not move way up and stay there.

    Some countries tax alcohol and nicotine to prevent teenagers from being able to afford them, for their own wellbeing, because it works. I have no problem applying the same principle to oil.

    God bless spiked oil prices, if they save us from environmental suicide.

  •  Desperate Oil Jones-ing (none)
    Nukes have been thought of as a slavation technology for lots of applications - add this one to the "Pipedream Hall of Fame". It could also have another meaning - the price people can get for their natural gas is going sky high, and it is more profitable to sell it to urban retail markets than it is to sell it to bulk users, such as a tar sands project. I believe the natural gas would be used as both a source of H2 and a way to generate steam heat. The steam is needed to extract the tar from the sand, and the H2 is needed to upgrade the sand derived hydrocarbons into smaller average molecular weight components ("cracking") which can yield useful products like benzene, gasoline and diesel oils, as well as the lighter molecular weight components. Otherwise, the tar is about as useful as coal - it can also be made into something like Omrimulsion (a water/heavy oil mixture) and burned in industrial scale boilers. Some tar sands projects use the extracted oil for their steam heat source - and they get about half a barrel of product per barrel of tar extracted.

    As for wind turbines, the US has at least 4 times the capacity of its current electrical consumption from high quality wind areas (< 13 % of the US qualifies). Canada has a similar wind turbine resource as the US has - which is at least 1800 GW delivered (450 GW is the average consumption nowadays). It's more if the production cost is raised from 5 cents/kw-hr to 7.5 to 10 cents/kw-hr - dramatically more.

    So, there is so much wind turbine capacity in both the US and Canada that you can seriously think about producing lots of H2 from water and electricity. Some obvious things to do with this H2 is to stop using natural gas for an H2 source - although simple economics is going to force that issue. And the main uses of H2 at present are the production of ammonia and  upgrading/sulfur removal for petroleum (odd that Brimstone and crude oil seem so intertwined, at least in the religious sense). After that, H2 can actually be used to make useful feedstock cemicals and also fuel chemicals by hydrogenating either CO2 or ground up plants/wood. The key is to allow petroleum prices to rise to the point where this can be viable - which is somewhere between $5 to $10/gallon for gasoline. And if gasoline goes way beyond $10/gallon, maybe some transportation devices (ships, trains, trucks) could go the fuel cell route, but H2 fuel cells are likely to be a "boutique" usage, as will photovoltaics for electricity production. Think of the H2 as a form of stored energy that is a pain to store, and a pain to transport - as you can't use existing pipelines to transport H2, due to hydrogen embrittlement, and the dreadful economics. It seems more sensible to react it into someting more easily transported - even if that is only methane (=natural gas). Besides, there does not seem to be a shortage of available CO2 these days, and there are THOUSANDS of demonstrated ways to hydrogenate CO2 into a wide variety of products (these are also very exothermic reactions, too). If you have the money for decent chemical literature acess, check out Chem Abstracts or some other reputable (and not free internet accessible) electronic sources. Or go the book route. And there are even a few internet accessible references for those inclined to dabble with the free search engines (provides a nice start for investigating this approach).

    Anyway, wind turbines have more than enough potential to replace nukes, most coal, gas and oil burning electricity plants, with plenty to spare in the US and Canada. They can also be used as H2 sources, after replacing the aforementioned polluting approaces to electricity manufacture. These won't make liquid fuels that are the equivalent of $1.50/gallon gasoline, but looks like such gasoline has gone the way of the Dodo bird and the brontosaurus. Odds are, they might be a lot cheaper than nuking oil sands with expensive, government subsidized steam for some low grade heavy crudes that need H2 treament before they yield decent amounts of gasoline for the hordes of awaiting Petro-junkies.

    DB

  •  Think about ol' Socialist Canada (none)
    This post is gong to be buried too deep for anyone to read it, I think.  If anyone out there is still thinking about this problem, let me add another element.  The oil sands are in Alberta. Alberta is kind of like Canada's texas,  except imagine that just about all of the republicans in the States lived in Texas.  Now that the Oil Sands are becoming profitable, Canada faces a unique problem.  We have no conservative party that can possibly win an election, and yet we have an entire province of religious-right conservatives that just became rich beyond their wildest dreams.  When you consider the difficulty Canada has had with provinces wanting to separate, this becomes a serious problem.  
    On the other hand, Alberta has the most oil in the world after Saudi Arabia, but Canada's real wealth is water, and that is not something Alberta has.  Anyways, no one is going to read this, but I think I'll post something a little more involved later.
    •  A view from Calgary, Alberta (none)
      Yes, Alberta seems to be the (unfortunate) home to a lot of religious nutbars, with power and money and press access, but don't let the news fool you. The religion here is Capitali$m.

      And yes, the province has a recent history of very vocal, hard-headed and ham-fisted approach to poliitics, by a party of conservatives that can't win elections down east. But don't let that fool you either. Conservatives, once ruled this country and they are threatening to do it again. Their corporate donors out West are going to have more money to buy an election one of these days, especially when the Liberals seem to be in disarray. All it takes is the right combination of incentives nationally (increasing money to transit, reducing gas taxes), the "ginning up" of the elite class (lowering taxes), and a heathly does of fear, to have the populace roll over to the Conservative side.

      Provincially, the future windfall in the Oil & Gas sector is projected to be $60 BILLION dollars in revenues, from rising prices. Yes, Alberta has threatened seperation in the past, but I don't think it would do so, unless the Federal Government steps in take the $60 Billion away by imposing price fixing for consumers, as it has threatened.

      Back to the topic at hand, I don't know if Albertans would support a Nuclear reactor near the  Fort McMurray Oil Sands or higher in the Alberta north. I imagine the pressure would come from some of the head offices here in Calgary, but there doesn't seem to be much talk of it locally or provincially that I have heard of.

      Anyway, let me end by saying that I have worked in the Oil & Gas industry for the last three years in the Data Aquistion side of a Geological Survey firm, and I've seen more money and more growth being poured into the Oil & Gas sector than I can imagine anywhere, in any industry, in Canada at one time. It's the new (black) Gold Rush!

      •  I agree... mostly (none)
        Really, we're in for an interesting period.  Whether or not the oil sands make huge amounts of money over the long run, whether they fuel any speratist sentiment in alberta, the whole question could vanish before too long.  You're right on a couple issues, I think.  One, it's all capitalism.  That's the nature of our system.  When the liberals were putting together their kyoto plan they very carefully excluded almost any real sacrifice from the oil and gas sector.  He did it understanding exactly the impact that these industries will have on the Canadian economy in the next say, hundred years or so.  Not just in Alberta, but all across Canada where large reserves of Natural gas are being found.
        One quick objection, as a fellow Canadian.  This is a strange point, and one I've been intending to flesh out for awhile in my own diary.  At the moment, there isn't any chance for the conservatives to rise again. It's not a money question, since the liberals have enough of a lead in that area to start imposing punishing restrictions on themselves.  It's also not an issue of the weathy accepting tax cuts.  The vast mojority of the wealthy in this country, even major business owners, are now supporting the Liberal party (as are the unions).  This is a strange but scary point.  On one hand, the liberals have done an absolutley astounding job managing the Canadian economy over the last fifteen years.  I'm not a liberal, and I resent both the cuts they made to social programs, and the fact that they hoarded year after year of budget surplus to provide themselves with a government saving budget (which they announced earlier this year), but it's hard for anyone to deny that their policies have in large part made Canada one of the wealthies and most economically stable countries in the world.  
        But they've been in power for fifteen years.  Even for a good government, that's much too long.
        The problem is that the Reform Party and the P.C. decided to merge, believing that they could create conservative majority with a party that embraced all aspects of the right, much like the Republican party in the States.  While it looked good on paper, it was an abysmal, horrible failure.  
        Firstly, the conservative movement in Canada hasn't had a strong leader since Mulroney, and he;s widely regarded to have been one of the worst presidents in Canadian history.  More importantly, as soon as the paties merged, the far right (reform) conservatives, which control the majority of the seats, took complete and unyeilding control of the party.   While that might be enough to consolidate control in Alberta, it gives them the same problem the reform party always had:  outside alberta no one would vote for them.  They assumed that conservatives would continue to vote for the party simply for partisan reasons, which didn't happen.  As the Liberal party has drifted (economically) farther right to balance the budget and maintain their surpluses, they've taken a position that is now much closer to the old P.C. than the conservatives, and as a result most of their voters.
        If the P.C. were around today, they would be in power right now.  This would be a good thing.  it might be a good thing if the Conservatives win the next election, although it won't happen.  The Liberal Party of Canada has run 80% of the Governments in Canada. The Conservative parties up here exist solely to take power when the liberals really screw up, then create a big mess over four years that the Liberals will be voted back in to clean up.  As it is, the Conservative Reform Alliance Party (or C.R.A.P) connot now, or ever win an election.  This, unfortunatly, has the disadvantage of profoundly isolating the west and Quebec, while making the rest of us feel like jack-asses for voting for a party that's stealing from us because we're afraid the alternative is that much worse (which it is, except that even if they won, they'd be a castrated minority, i.e. they would have no possilbe coalition partners).  
        I, of course, will be voting NDP, but you can see, I hope, why I think this is a big problem for the country in General.
  •  Did you see this? (none)
    Smaller than a DVD player - small enough to sit comfortably under the hood of any truck or car - it could be big enough to solve the world's greenhouse gas emission problems, at least for the near future. In fact, it could make the Kyoto protocol obsolete. Basically, the H2N-Gen contains a small reservoir of distilled water and other chemicals such as potassium hydroxide. A current is run from the car battery through the liquid. This process of electrolysis creates hydrogen and oxygen gases which are then fed into the engine's intake manifold where they mix with the gasoline vapours.

    It's a scientific fact that adding hydrogen to a combustion chamber will cause a cleaner burn. The challenge has always been to find a way to get the hydrogen gas into the combustion chamber in a safe, reliable and cost-effective way.

    Williams claims he has achieved this with his H2N-Gen. His product, he said, produces a more complete burn, greatly increasing efficiency and reducing fuel consumption by 10 to 40 per cent - and pollutants by up to 100 per cent.

    <snip>

    But Williams doesn't want you to take just his word for it.

    The H2N-Gen recently went through third-party verification -- known as "proof of concept" - at Wardrop Engineering Inc. of Toronto, specialists in product testing and development. The company built its own prototype according to Williams's design and tested it against Williams's claims. It passed with flying colours.

    In fact, Wardrop liked the invention so much the company wants to become an equity partner in Williams's company, Innovative Hydrogen Solutions, said Richard Scheps, Wardrop's product development manager and a co-owner of the engineering firm, which employs 600 people.

    "At the time we first saw it, it seemed too good to be true," Scheps said. "But for everything we're seeing it seems really good. It does work. So we're moving into phase two. Refinements and further testing."

    Canada.com

    .

  •  The false cheapness of Nuclear Power (none)
    When is someone in the press going to calculate the REAL cost of nuclear power?  Like the salaries of the crews who will have to be paid for, who knows, 20,000 years?  What a crime!?  What a theft!? What an assault!!?  One generation receives a momentary and fleeting benefit and shoves the cost onto the next 600 generations of people.  I wonder what they will say when they have the chance to say it.....

    Oh my, is this a "Free Market"?  It doesn't sound like freedome for the payees!!  

    And who is it claiming to speak for the unborn?

    We are becoming unspeakably evil.  

  •  Am I a total DUMBO? (none)
    Where is the discussion of THERMONUCLEAR?

    The costs are only in development. The waste is zero. The fuel supply is infinite, ala H20, aka the oceans. The power produnction is stupendous.
    This thread is irritating in the extreme.

    I love solar, PV, Hydro. But the conversation is nuts.

    Buggy whips for the 21st and 22nd Centuries doesn't cut it.

    Although horses are a neat alternate form of transportation. And a poster above notes that  horse waste can also contribute.

    If the fuel supply is the ocean, what's not to like?

  •  Thermodynamics, moratorium (none)
    A point that I have seen made but not very ofter is that after a certain point it doesn't matter how much money the market pours into oil production because of high prices --- it will take more energy to extract low-grade oil that the oil itself is able to produce. At that point, oil becomes a net energy sink, not a source. Using nuclear to power the pumps makes sense. Nowadays pumps probably run on oil products, but that can't work for the lowest-grade tar sands.

    Alternative fuels like biodiesel/ethanol are a case in point. Agriculture uses so much oil, that pretending to get energy out of agricultural produce is an insane proposition.

    Using renewable energies to produce hydrogen (by electrolysis) or even synthesizing hydrocarbons from water and carbon dioside is a net heat sink. The point is that fluid fuels are the most convenient ways to transport energy, but you will get significantly less energy from the synthetic fuel than you put in fromthe renewable source.

    Sometime soon every major oil field in the world, even if not substantially depleted, will become an energy sink. This diary indicates just how soon that point is. When it happens, there should be a global moratorium on using petroleum for energy - it's far too valuable as a chemical raw material material to burn it.

    Ideally, plans for such a moratorium including an international treaty should start to be made now, so that the treaty is ready to kick in as needed.

    The US will never be part to such a treaty, but who cares? As long as the parties to the treaty agree not to sell fossil fuels to non-parties, we're fine (although the US would probably then proceed to strong-arm, invade and loot other countries).

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