The Ergosphere
Thursday, July 24, 2014

Quote without comment

NNadir, commenting at TheEnergyCollective:
And your theory is that building vast carbon dioxide waste dumps to contain 31 billion metric tons of a gaseous compound would be easier?
If one builds a waste dump, it involves charging waste fees.   If one builds a power plant, one has an asset.    Which one makes economic sense?   A dump or an asset?
The world's largest carbon dioxide waste dump functioning right now on this planet contains what percentage of the carbon dioxide as of 2014?
Anyone mentioning the non-issues of waste (what is carbon dioxide?), proliferation (how many people died in nuclear wars in the last half century, and how many died in oil wars?) and mentioning the absurd the issue of safety - when one considers air pollution deaths and fossil fuel accidents (how many people died in oil and gas explosions compared to the number of dead from nuclear power plant failures in the last half a century?) = while attaching these issues only to nuclear energy and nothing esle is simply not being serious.
Nuclear exceptionalism is simply not rational.
The worst kind of critic of nuclear energy is one who pretends to be rational and open about it while dragging out tiresome nuclear exceptionalism rhetoric that simply doesn't stand scrutiny.
Repeating nuclear myths while pretending to decry their effects is not helpful, nor is it, really, ethical..
There is no way in hell that so called renewable energy will produce 34% of humanity's energy, as it has failed to do this in half a century of similar predictions.
Containing 14% of the world's carbon dioxide in a dump involves the capture of carbon dioxide involves 41 billion tons per decade.   There are, for the record, more than 30 years in a billion seconds.   What's your theory, that containing 137 tons of carbon dioxide per second, every second, for a half a century is a simple and cheap thing to do?   Have you any idea about the technical, financial, and geological issues involved in this outcome would be?   Your guess is that this can be brought on line in 15 years, by 2029?   Faster than breeder reactors?   Russia and India both brought breeders to completion in the last two years.   How many billion ton carbon dioxide dumps were built in the last two years?
We built more than 400 reactors on this planet in about 20 years, and they produced an average of 28 exajoules of energy each year of the first decade of the 21st century.   By contrast doing what's never been done, CSS, is easier?
There is no way in hell that it will be easier to contain hundreds of billions of tons of carbon dioxide each decade when we can't find a way to store 75,000 tons - collected over half a century - of an insoluble relatively harmless solid as much of  used nuclear fuel is.
Your problem is that you are attempting to compare a theory that has failed in all cases to become significant with a reality and coupling it with the logical fallacy of "appeal to popularity."
Nuclear energy may not be able to stop climate change in its tracks - surely it won't, because with this kind of rhetoric flying around this late in the game it can't - but it need not do so to be the best possible, cheapest possible, and most experimentally verified approach to doing so.   Any money that is diverted from nuclear energy to CSS, or for that matter, so called "renewable" energy is essentially a decision to commit suicide at this point, whether the general public knows it or not.  
I wouldn't, by the way, put too much faith in the wisdom of the general public.   In the middle of the last millenium the general public was pretty sure that the bubonic plague was best dealt with by prayer rather than improved sanitation.   Things are not much better 500 years later.
CSS talk has been, is and always will be the equivalent of doing nothing, and the result of doing nothing is clearly visible in the planetary atmosphere in CO2 measurements over the last decade.    We blew past 400 ppm this year, and we will blow through 450 ppm just as quickly as we went from 350 to here.   We were at 350 in 1987, and I doubt, very much, that it will take more than 25 years to hit 450, especially with this kind of cynicism floating around unchallenged.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Wind in Aruba: where's the beef?

Aruba is a very nice tourist destination.  It has sun, sand and water.  It also has trade winds, which lash the eastern shore with heavy waves.  These winds are the energy source for the Vader Piet wind farm, on Aruba's southeast shore.

Vader Piet exists because of a coup of clever financing.  Arranged during the credit crisis of 2008, Jerome Guillet managed to get the turbine vendor (Vestas) to back the deal.  According to what I can find, the project was completed in just over a year and went live in December 2009.

And then....

If everyone lived happily ever after, they're being awfully quiet about it.  I've done quite a bit of digging, but I can't find many generation figures for Vader Piet.  The follow-on wind farm that was rumored to be in planning has generated absolutely zero news that I've been able to discover.  Maybe it's just not in English, and is escaping my American-tuned search engine nets.

Or maybe it's just that these things don't exist.

The IEA has next to zero useful information on the former Netherlands Antilles, beyond the fact that their electric generation is entirely oil-fired.  That makes it easier to interpret the EIA data, which has a specific page on Aruba.

I recall rumors that the winds on Aruba allow a wonderfully high capacity factor, around 60%.  The 30 MW (10x 3 MW Vestas turbines) farm was expected to produce 18 MW average.  In its first year, it didn't do quite so well.  Between June 1 2010 and May 8 2011, Vader Piet produced as much as 60.8% and as little as 11.0% of monthly capacity, for an average of 41.5%.  That's an average of about 12.45 MW, or 109 GWh/yr.  Net generation rose slightly over the 2008-2012 interval, but not much:

109 GWh/yr is a big chunk of energy on a grid that produces just 920 GWh/yr.  At 30% efficiency, it's equivalent to 41.5 MW thermal or about 590 bbl/day of oil at 6.1 GJ/bbl.  That is about 20% of Aruba's net oil imports.  Do we see this happen between 2009 and 2010?  Not as I read the EIA data (which doesn't seem to be available as tables for some reason):

We get a significant drop, but not a very big one... and it doesn't seem to coincide with the year 2010.

There's a further confounding effect for Aruba:  in the same period as the Vater Piet installation, the island was installing some "RECIP" plants to increase the efficiency of the oil-fired electric generation.  This is probably what accounts for the other 140 MW of the 170 MW increase in nameplate generating capacity over the last few years.  How much of the decrease was due to better efficiency of the oil-burning generators, versus displacement by wind?  This page claims 30% greater efficiency of the new diesels vs. the old steam turbines.  That would produce the observed efficiency increase all by itself.

If wind is going to replace fossil fuels and eliminate carbon emissions, there should be few places it would work better than Aruba.  Despite this, the evidence that it is working in Aruba is spotty at best.  That is a mighty slim reed on which to hang the continued existence of industrial civilization and a liveable climate. 
Saturday, March 01, 2014

Naoto Kan directly responsible for Fukushima meltdowns?

This was posted at Hiroshima Syndrome, but because the blog format does not allow permalinks to specific content I'm going to quote the entire March 1 2014 entry below.  Do not skim, read every word.

March 1, 2014
Naoto Kan’s crime against Japan
This past week, a court panel in Tokyo rejected a criminal suit against former PM Naoto Kan concerning his actions during the first week of the Fukushima accident. Kan and five other officials allegedly caused the premature deaths of numerous people due to the chaotic Fukushima Daiichi evacuation. The panel said they could find no proof of the claim. I was waiting to see how the case would turn out before writing what follows. If criminal charges would have been filed, my opinion would be little more than adding insult to injury. I no longer feel this constraint.
There are numerous detailed reports concerning what happened at Fukushima, including my E-book Fukushima: The First Five Days. All of these sources show that soon after midnight of March 12, 2011, Naoto Kan made an executive decision. In my opinion, the events caused by Kan’s decision warrant criminal charges being brought against him, but not for the evacuation. His decision may have been the main reason for the severity of meltdowns with units #1, 2 & 3, and the sole cause of the hydrogen explosions at units #1, 3 & 4.
At ~12:20 am, site manager Yoshida wanted to begin the work of manually depressurizing unit #1 and asked the company’s home office for permission. Tepco-Tokyo dutifully forwarded the request to Kan, who’s approval should have been a perfunctory “yes”.  However, Kan told them to not depressurize until (1) the entire 3km radius’ evacuation was confirmed, and (2) a 3pm Press conference in Tokyo was held to announce the impending depressurization. The Press conference was held at 3:06am, but the 3km radius could not be confirmed as evacuated until ~9am. I firmly believe these politically-mandated delays are the prime reason for the full core-relocating meltdown of unit #1 and the hydrogen explosion which decimated the upper story of the Reactor Building at 3:36pm. If these delays had not been ordered by Kan, the full meltdown could well have been mitigated and the building explosion completely avoided.
The records kept by the staff and management team at F. Daiichi show that at 10pm on March 11, control room indication for reactor water level had been energized and there was more than 20 inches of water above the top of the fuel core inside unit #1. The meltdown could not have yet begun with that much water in the core. However, reactor building radiation levels were increasing. By 11pm, radiation levels at the Turbine Building access were increasing, as well. It may have been at this point that the fuel inside the reactor was beginning to be uncovered. But, as long as there was any water and steam inside the RPV, it is unlikely than a full meltdown would happen. When the actual melting of the core began is speculative, at best, but it does not seem to have begun before midnight. Soon after midnight, site manager Yoshida ordered the staff to prepare to depressurize the Primary Containment structure surrounding the reactor itself. The lower pressure would allow low pressure fire pumps to inject cooling water into the core and stop the progression of core damage. Local authorities said the 3km radius was fully evacuated at 12:30am, so Yoshida wanted depressurization to begin in earnest. They needed Tokyo’s approval. At 1:30am they were told of Kan’s two criteria for depressurization by Tepco-Tokyo.
It is quite likely that if the depressurization of unit #1 would have happened at 1:30pm, the amount of fuel melting in the core would have been severe, but a full core relocation unlikely. Some hydrogen may have begun seeping out of the PCV and into the outer reactor building. However, it is unlikely that the hydrogen level in the outer building would have been sufficient for the later-in-the-day explosion. When the actual depressurization occurred at ~ 10am, the fuel core was fully melted and had relocated to the bottom head of the pressure vessel. Also, large volumes of hydrogen gas had entered the outer reactor building in sufficient quantity to cause the subsequent explosion. The depressurization was way, way too late. The person most responsible for this situation was Naoto Kan.
The explosion with unit #1 came just six minutes after a high-voltage mobile diesel had begun sending electricity into unit #1. The staff was on the verge of starting the high-pressure Standby Liquid Control (SLC) system which would have been able to inject water inside the RPV. Flying concrete shards from the hydrogen explosion shorted out the heavy-duty cable that has been spliced between the diesel and a switchboard inside the reactor building. Flying debris also smashed into the diesel and knocked it out of commission. If it were not for the unit #1 hydrogen explosion, it is safe to say unit #1 would have been in a safe condition rather quickly, and unit #2 re-energized through tandem-unit interconnections soon there-after. If the depressurization would have been allowed at ~1:30am on March 12, 2011, it is probable that unit #1’s fuel damage would have been stanched at the partial/severe meltdown stage and the unit #1 hydrogen explosion would never have happened! Further, it is likely that unit #2 would have completely avoided meltdown since the fuel core did not begin to uncover until around 4:30pm on March 14th! In fact, unit #2 did not lose its steam-powered emergency cooling pumps (RCIC and HPCI) until a few hours before the core began to uncover. If there had been no unit #1 explosion, there would have been no fuel melting and relatively minor fuel bundle damage.
It is possible that unit #3 could have been saved, as well. A second high-voltage mobile diesel was on its way to unit #3 from units #5&6, when the unit #1 explosion occurred. The road was damaged by the earthquake and tsunami debris had to be removed as the diesel made its way down from the two undamaged unit on the bluff above units #1 through #4. It was a slow go. When unit #1 exploded, there was even more debris to clear than before, making the trip even slower. About half of the spool of heavy-duty cable used to splice the first diesel into unit #1 remained. The balance of the cable could have been used to connect the second diesel with unit #3 and reenergized the emergency cooling systems. The flow of water into unit #3’s core was not terminated until 2:42am on March 13th. The meltdown probably didn’t begin until after that time. Thus, unit #3 might have been saved if not for the hydrogen explosion with unit #1 at 3:36pm on March 12.
Kan would argue, I’m sure, that he ordered the delays to insure that no member of the public would be exposed to the radioactive gasses released by depressurizing unit #1. However, the wind was blowing out to sea on March 11th and was projected to stay that way for at least two days, which was not unknown to Kan and his emergency team in Tokyo. Real-time meteorological data from a computerized system, acronym SPEEDI, was available to Kan the entire time, but he negligently chose to ignore it because he felt  meteorological forecasting was inherently inaccurate.
Clearly, Kan panicked and gave orders that exacerbated the severity of the accident. He more than “meddled” - he criminally interfered! While we cannot say that Naoto Kan’s negligence caused the Fukushima accident, it seems that we can point a guilty finger at the former PM and say that he was the primary reason for the severity of the accident and the one person most responsible for all three hydrogen explosions. In my honest opinion, he should be criminally indicted for executive malfeasance, meddling in the emergency actions at F. Daiichi, placing the station’s entire staff in an un-necessary state of danger, and causing completely avoidable anguish to be inflicted on the people of Japan.

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Going French: transport-related emissions in a nuclear/EV environment

One of the nice things about analyses you can do on the back of an envelope is that they are easier to understand and lend themselves to settling issues.  It occurred to me that a comparison of US LDV carbon emissions to the EV-related emissions from a nuclearized grid would be just one of those things.

First off, gasoline.  Motor gasoline forms about 20 pounds of CO2 per gallon burned.  In 2012, US LDVs burned 137 billion gallons of the stuff for total emissions around 2.74 trillion pounds or 1.24 billion metric tons.  At a guesstimated average fuel economy of 24.6 MPG, that same 137 billion gallons powered 3.37 trillion vehicle-miles travelled (VMT).  Dividing miles by tons and moving the decimal point 6 places to the right to get grams, this comes out to 368 gCO2/mi or 229 gCO2/km.

Suppose that the average US vehicle did not have the characteristics of an ICE-powered light truck, but a Tesla Model S.  Its energy consumption from the wall is 380 Wh/mi.  Dividing by average transmission efficiency of 93%, this would be 409 Wh/mile at the generator.  If it was charging off the French grid, with its net emissions of 77 gCO2/kWh, the vehicle's net emissions would be 31 gCO2/mi or 19.5 gCO2/km.

Things would not be so clean in "renewable" Denmark.  The emissions from the Danish grid, at 385 gCO2/kWh, would result in 155 gCO2/mi or 97 gCO2/km.  Some ICE-powered vehicles already emit less than this.  And of course in coal-fired Australia, at 850 gCO2/kWh...

Climate scientists claim that we need no less than an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions to stabilize the atmosphere.  This brief analysis shows that "renewables" will not get us there, even with electric vehicles.  However, the combination of EVs and nuclear energy can achieve a reduction of around 92% even given a rather large and powerful EV, assuming French levels of carbon emission from generation.  This is a pessimistic analysis in some ways; I've not assumed any reduction in per-kWh emissions due to increased base-load generation made possible by electrification and demand-side management of vehicle charging.  Filling in the overnight demand trough and serving it with nuclear would reduce emissions at all times of day.

Another angle:  supposedly there's room for about 1 ton/capita/year of carbon emissions.  At 31 grams/mile, the 13,000 miles/yr travelled by the average US vehicle would emit just 400 kg of CO2.  That leaves plenty of room for other things.

The bottom line?  There's no existence proof that renewables can save the climate (and plenty of reasons to believe the job is far more difficult than claimed).  Nuclear energy can.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Fukushima Dai'ichi Unit 4 tragedy continues

TEPCO has announced that 220 fuel bundles have been transferred from the Unit 4 fuel pool to the common storage pool, roughly 1/8 of the total.  Despite this, the islands of Japan, the west coast of the USA, and the world in general remain habitable.

This on-going tragedy affects the scaremongers, whose credibility may be irreparably damaged by this continuing state of normality.   Perhaps they can blame the Polar Vortex and California drought on Fukushima, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief that our media has not lost the ability to scare us about SOMETHING.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

The False Promise of Renewables #1: Wind

Over at Climate Crocks, Christopher Arcus cites an article at Scientific American on the efficacy of wind power for reducing grid CO2 emissions.  Unlike other pieces I've seen on the subject, that one fails to cite any sources for its conclusion which is:

even if wind produced as much as 50 percent of Spain's electricity the CO2 savings would still be 80 percent of the emissions that would have been produced by the displaced thermal power stations.
This appears to be possible, if the rest of the grid mix is compatible.  Hydropower is particularly well-suited, as it has no thermal-cycling limits and little in the way of startup delays.  However, hydropower cannot be assumed to be present with the wattage and water storage required.  Kodiak island can up its wind power and go diesel-free (so long as electric demand doesn't rise too high), but the rest of the world must deal with other constraints.

One of these constraints is the increased emissions due to more startups and low-load operation of powerplants that would otherwise run more efficiently; this leads to the net reduction in CO2 emissions from most RE being substantially less than their gross contribution to the grid.  Argonne National Lab studied this, and stated this in the abstract of the paper:
Our results for the power system in the state of Illinois show significant emissions effects from increased cycling and particularly start-ups of thermal power plants. However, we conclude that as the wind power penetration increases, pollutant emissions decrease overall due to the replacement of fossil fuels.
The question becomes, how MUCH do pollutant emissions decrease?  There's no fine print in the abstract's text, but what the words giveth, the graphic taketh away:

There's one obvious anomaly in the graph:  it strains credulity that the total emissions can decrease proportionally faster than the total fossil generation, as it does at the left edge.  This could be due to an error in the baseline introduced by a graphic artist.  But aside from that, the emissions curve is distinctly concave upward; well before the middle of the curve, total emissions do not fall as fast as total wind penetration.  There's the further question about the total amount of wind generation usable.  To achieve more than 40% penetration, the capacity factor of wind would also need to be on the order of 40% or else available power would frequently exceed total demand.  Without storage, the excess generation would have to be "curtailed" (spilled).  This increases the net cost per kWh.

Using my Gimp-fu to extract data points from the graphic, I get this table of data:
Penetration, % mmMT CO2 % reduction
0 41.7 0.0
10 37.0 11.3
20 33.1 20.7
30 30.1 27.7
40 28.2 32.4

By 40% penetration, the total emissions reduction from wind has fallen to 81% of its contribution; worse, the total emissions reduction between 30% and 40% wind penetration is just 4.7%, less than half of the fractional addition to generation.  This is well into the region of diminishing returns.

According to climate scientists, keeping total climate warming below 2°C¹ requires no less than an 80% reduction in total GHG emissions.  Even if we could draw a straight line between the 30% and 40% data points to a hypothetical 100% "penetration" way off the right edge of the graph, the total emissions reduction would only be about 61%; net emissions would still be twice as high as we can allow them to be.  Of course, expecting that curve not to bend upward to the right of 40% is a pipe dream.

I hear the objection coming up immediately:  "But wind isn't all there is.  Solar and other technologies can fill the holes in wind and push emissions down further!"  Sadly, solar PV (which is the only kind we're likely to see in private hands or outside sunny deserts) has a very low capacity factor; Germany's is about 11%.  Achieving more than 11% penetration gets into the same region where generation exceeds instantaneous demand, and the excess must be stored (expensive) or spilled (driving up cost per kWh, and also requiring a control system to manage generation).  Last, the emissions reductions from PV will be subject to the same diminishing returns evident for wind.

  1. It is broadly true that the addition of wind power to electric grids dominated by fossil-fired plants can reduce total pollutant emissions, including CO2.
  2. The substitution rapidly runs into diminishing returns (unacknowledged or even denied by the advocates).
  3. The claims that even an 80% reduction in carbon emissions from electric generation can be achieved with the addition of wind and solar are far-fetched and not credible.  Absent other carbon-free generation using large amounts of stored energy (e.g. conventional hydro), a zero-carbon RE grid should be viewed as nigh impossible.
Because of this, if we expect to de-carbonize our supply of electricity (and energy in general) we have to look to sources other than "renewables".

(A hat-tip to Willem Post for bringing the Argonne paper up!)


1  James Hansen and others opine that 2°C is well past the safe zone, and we need to shoot for no more than 1°C.  This requires a much lower ceiling on emissions, achieved much sooner.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

The German Climate Debacle

This is a short piece I need to get out just so I can put all my attention on the major post I'm working on.

Germany's shutdown of many of its nuclear plants has led quite directly and inevitably to increased burning of fossil fuels.  (Canadian Energy Issues pegged this.)  Contrary to the false claims of Chrisopher Arcus on ClimateCrocks, all German coal-fired generation has risen, both hard coal and lignite.  This isn't some right-wing claim, it comes straight from the Rocky Mountain Institute:

The Energiewende can only be described as schizophrenic:
Then again, how can we expect sensibility from people who panic about tsunamis in the middle of Europe?  Sie sind wahnsinnig.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Open letter to Ford Motor Company

Dear Ford,

Don't ever think I don't like my new Fusion Energi.  It's literally the best car I've ever had.  But you have made some extremely annoying, unsettling or just plain counter-productive decisions (or bugs) in the software, and I wish you'd fix them.

Some of these are weird behaviors that have no obvious explanation:
  1. The other day I was on a relatively long trip driving on cruise control, and the graphics around the "ECO" symbol on the left-side dash display changed to vertical dotted lines.  This has happened before, but what followed had not.  From time to time the right-side dotted line flashed red, accompanied by a pattern of 3 pulsed vibrations on the right side of the car.  There was no text pop-up to explain what was going on, and obviously it is not safe to search the owner's manual while driving.  I was eventually persuaded to pull over and examine the tires to see if something was wrong with them.  I found nothing, and the strange behavior went away after the stop.  I still have no explanation for this.
  2. Sometimes when I park and return to the car, the side mirrors are turned all the way down and I have to reset them properly.  This has occurred on any number of occasions, sometimes after just minutes away.
  3. There is a bug in the charging system.  Sometimes when I plug in a charger, the car does not recognize it and refuses to charge.  The charger can be un-plugged and re-plugged as many times as desired, and the car will still not charge.  I had the convenience cord replaced under warranty because of this, with no change; I later reproduced this problem on a public charger.  I finally discovered that cycling the ignition would get the car to charge.

But my biggest irritations are things that I ought to be able to get, but you deny me.

If you really want to thrill me, open up the full specs for the car's high-voltage systems and put me in touch with your product-development engineers.  There are a whole heap of options and applications that you haven't touched, and all you need to turn the marketplace loose is an open specification for plugging in.  Play your cards right and you could start the PC revolution, only with plug-in vehicles.  Think about it.  But don't think too long, because the rest of the world is ready to steal a march on you. 
Monday, December 02, 2013

Merry Critmass

It was 71 years ago today, December 2 1942, when the very first controlled nuclear chain reaction on earth was started in the "atomic pile" built in the squash court at the University of Chicago.  Rod Adams has more details.

Exactly 15 years later, the first commercial nuclear power station at Shippingport went critical for the first time.  Thus swords were beaten into plowshares, and 56 years on some 1.8 million people who would otherwise have lost their lives to air pollution from fossil-fuel combustion lived instead.

Now we need to clear the air of something far less obvious than smoke and acids, but much more critical to the earth.  Let's hope we wise up in time.

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Saturday, November 30, 2013

The EOS grid-storage system and nuclear power: a marriage made in heaven

EOS Energy Storage is peddling a megawatt-scale, fully containerized energy storage solution based on zinc-air (or zinc-oxygen?) cells.  Self-contained in a standard 40-foot footprint, the cutaway shows blocks for batteries, inverters, and cylindrical objects which seem likely to be some sort of gas storage or perhaps filtering/processing system.  The stated performance figures:

This appears designed to operate roughly 1 cycle a day for 3 decades.

If they actually deliver at those specs, it's worth thinking about what it could do.  For instance, at $1000/kW output and 75% round-trip efficiency, $300 million invested plus 2400 MWH input over 6 hours (400 MW) yields 1800 MWH output (300 MW) over 6 hours.

Let's try this as a hypothetical example with something else that's already coming:  the AP1000, with 8 currently being constructed worldwide.  This will supply base-load power which can be cycled to follow load, but is most economical if it's run flat-out.  The AP-1000 is rated at 1154 MW(e), and the estimated pricetag per plant of about $8 billion at Vogtle isn't out of line for first-of-a-kind efforts.... batteries not included.

Let's add them.  $300 million for 300 MW of EOS units bumps the pricetag to $8.3 billion.  Charging at full power drops the net output from 1154 MW(e) to 754 MW(e).  Maximum discharge increases the net output to 1454 MW(e), nearly twice the minimum.  (This is considerably greater than the 1.67:1 day/night swing detailed for the eastern provinces of Australia.)

At full cycling, the daily output is (1154*24-600)=27096 MWh, or 1129 MW(e) average.  Other attributes:

Amortizing $8.3 billion over 20 years at 7% interest costs $772 million/year; divided over 1129 average MW at 0.9 capacity factor, I get 8.7¢/kWh.  Selling off-peak power at 5¢, mid-demand at 9¢ and peaking power at 15¢ I calculate $913 million annual revenue vs. $772 million annual amortization (salaries and fuel not included).  Even at the extreme first-of-a-kind price of $8 billion for the nuclear unit, this is clearly affordable.  After 20 years the bonds are paid off and the system becomes a cash cow for likely 4 more decades or longer.

The value added by the battery is the difference in purchase (or opportunity) cost of the off-peak power and the sales price of the peaking power.  At the same 0.9 capacity factor I see $49.3 million annual gross revenue from the battery, paying off in just over 8 years.  Plainly the battery is pulling its fiscal weight!  But it will also cut the supply of off-peak power (shifted to charging), so off-peak prices may increase.  This would further improve the economics of the system as a whole.

The impact on unreliables

Would the EOS battery make the dream of an all-renewable grid possible?  That's very doubtful, given the need to tide the system over lulls adding up to days of average output.  48 hours of storage would itself cost $8000/kW, or around 16¢/kWh even if it was cycled continuously (50% capacity factor).  That's over and above the cost of the power to charge it, which is hardly cheap at feed-in tariff rates.  What would people do, looking at that pricetag to go "green"?  They'd go the way of Germany and Poland, and burn coal.  If stored energy comes at caviar prices, we should not be surprised if people decide to eat energy "junk food" instead.

The impact of a carbon tax

Suppose for a moment that the current system of production and investment tax credits is replaced by a simple, non-discriminatory figure of merit:  a straight-up carbon tax.  Let's set this carbon tax at $40/ton of CO2, which matches the 2.2¢/kWh PTC for a gas-fired generator emitting 550 gCO2/kWh.  Coal plants will be assumed to emit 900 gCO2/kWh, with coal at 15 million BTU and $100/ton delivered (average bituminous and sub-bituminous).  Also, with the North American shale-gas investment bubble about to collapse and multiple LNG export terminals ready to push prices up to world levels, wholesale NG delivered to major markets costs $15/mmBTU.

This was worth working through in detail, so I posted the spreadsheet in both text and downloadable file at  This spreadsheet assumes a grid capable of delivering 600 GW average, to allow expansion for electrification of transport etc.  I used a 20-year amortization for all RE generation (wind farm lifespan appears to be shorter than that), 30 years for nuclear (licenses are now being extended to 60 years), 7% interest rate, and highly decentralized and interconnected networks for both wind and solar generation.  Without storage the RE must be consumed at the time of generation, so transmission capacity must equal peak generating capacity.  I assumed cost of $2 million per mile for a ±1.2 megavolt, 1000 A (2.4 GW) dual-circuit HVDC line with an average of 1800 miles length between generation and market.  That's enough to get Dakota wind power to the coasts, and Arizona and New Mexico solar power to both Seattle and Georgia.  I also rolled in a $40/tCO2 carbon tax for the fossil-backed options, with emissions of 550 g/kWh for gas and 900 g/kWh for coal.  In the all-RE case, some 2.3 million miles of HVDC line are required.  Some of these may be able to share rights-of-way; some may not.  This many times the total mileage of the Interstate highway system.  I assumed for the sake of simplicity that fossil-backed RE could use DSM to use peak generation productively and would require neither storage nor spillage.

The cost figures for the RE options are all dismal.  Gas-backed is cheapest at $114/MWh (11.4¢/kWh), with coal not far behind.  The gas option emits 122 gCO2/kWh, which is at least twice what we can tolerate in the long term.  Getting this down using storage is staggeringly expensive.  Using the EOS zinc-air system at $167/kWh, total cost soars by a factor of almost 10 and power rises to a prohibitive 90¢/kWh.

The nuclear option comes in best.  Assuming $5000/kW average for a new-build fleet of nuclear reactors (roughly twice China's cost for a new AP1000), and 180 GW (1200 GWh) of EOS battery storage, total capital cost is about $3.3 trillion.  No HVDC network is required.  Amortization over 30 years at 7%/year is $270 million.  Total amortization cost comes to 5.1¢/kWh.  Carbon taxes are zero, so the only unknown is O&M at perhaps 2-3¢/kWh.  CO2 emissions from operations are ZERO.

The nuclear system does not depend on natural energy flows, so it can be expanded when and where desired.  For each new application electrified on this grid, all the carbon it formerly emitted is displaced.  This appears to be a cost-effective way to de-carbonize entire national economies.

This would be anything but a small task.  632 GW of AP1000's is 575 units, not allowing for refueling and repair outages.  Even so, building 30 a year the USA could finish the job in 20 years.  The alternative is to build something like SMRs, where we'd be turning out several a week instead of one every couple of weeks.  That looks doable too.


Trying to de-carbonize the US grid with enough excess to electrify transportation is a massive task.  The cost of the all-renewable scenarios for doing it, with the requirements needed to provide a reliable supply to dark/calm parts of the country, is prohibitive.  Nuclear energy and the energy stockpile of fissile metals eliminates both the long-distance interconnections and massive storage needed for reliance on fickle energy flows.  If we want to go green, nuclear is the only real option we have.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

The unfolding tragedy at Fukushima Dai'ichi Unit 4

I feel it's time to expand on the analysis of Harvey Wasserman on the spent fuel issue.  As he says, "We are now within two months of what may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis."

In a terribly dangerous process, 22 fuel elements from the Fukushima Dai'ichi Unit 4 spent fuel pool came within mere light-years of causing the end of all life on earth.  Lifted one at a time from their protecting racks, they came several crucial meters closer to the top of the water pool which is the only thing keeping them wet.  Then, in a maneuver fraught with tedium, they were laid vertically in a cask already placed at the bottom of the pool.  This process was repeated a harrowing 22 times over 2 days at the blistering average pace of more than one per hour.  This cask was then sealed and lifted from the pool and away from the building by a crane.  The cask fell toward the ground at a rate of inches per second, coming to rest at the last moment in a cradle atop a flat bed truck.

It did not end there.  The truck proceeded to careen about the site at the rate of several miles per hour until it came to the common fuel pool at the F. Dai'ichi site, where the threat of encountering a pebble or running over an insect finally ended.  The cask was again thrown through the air, whipped about at inches per second at the end of fragile steel cables, until it came to rest at the bottom of another pool of water in a miraculously undamaged state.  The dangerous cask-sealing process was reversed in a dangerous cask un-sealing process, and the harrowing transfer of fuel rods was repeated in mirror-image from cask to rack.  Each bundle of rods was observed to strike its supporting rack stops, which physical contact is expected to continue indefinitely or until the fuel, the Sun, or the universe explodes.

This tragic lack of bad news means that the dream of ending humanity's use of nuclear energy remains out of reach.  TEPCO expects to repeat these steps more than 160 times to empty the Unit 4 fuel pool.  Mr. Wasserman's forecast of nuclear armageddon is bound to be satisfied sometime.  He has years and years for his predictions of catastrophe to finally come true.

UPDATE:  TEPCO videos can be found here.  Note the blistering, inches-per-second pace of work!

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Thursday, April 18, 2013


This is one of my less-successful attempts.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Petition to restart the Integral Fast Reactor program

As many readers of this blog probably know, the Integral Fast Reactor project was killed by a very narrow Senate vote in 1994, with the connivance of the Clinton administration.

This was all done very much behind the scenes.  The public at large had no knowledge of what was going on (I sure didn't), and what happened was probably driven by a few relatively narrow special interests.

Times have changed.

In an effort to dis-intermediate government a bit, the Obama administration (Energy sec'y:  Steven Chu) has a new feature on the White House website called "We The People".  It allows people to create petitions asking the White House to examine certain topics.  If a petition receives 5000 endorsements, it gets a closer examination.  This isn't anything like a guarantee of action, but at least it's something.  If nothing else, it forces someone close to the seat of power to get familiar with the issue.

There is currently an active petition to "restart the Integral Fast Reactor nuclear power technology program".  As of this posting, it has 465 out of the required 5000 signatures.  I recommend that all readers of this blog, who are US citizens, take the following steps to sign the petition:

  1. Create an account at using this page.  You will be asked for an e-mail address.
  2. Read the registration e-mail to get your account information (I am currently waiting for this e-mail; I suspect human intervention is involved).
  3. Log into the site.
  4. Sign the petition.

5000 signatures are required by October 29.  That is about 300 signatures a day.  We need to push this.  Be part of it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thorium remix

I highly recommend this 2 hour mashup of various LFTR- and nuclear-related video clips, most of it taken from lectures and interviews with Kirk Sorensen.  It begins with the "LFTR in 5 minutes" sequence but broadens it with major and up-to-date bits about many matters, including Fukushima Dai'ichi.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

It's not looking good for Europe - North Sea gas falls 25%

From The Grauniad:

North Sea gas production has slumped by 25% in the second quarter of the year, an alarming increase in the rate of decline that will cut tax revenues and could put more pressure on government to agree controversial shale gas developments.

Figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) also show a 36% rise in coal imports, but a leap from 6.3% to 9.6% for the amount of electricity generated by wind and other renewables.

The department records that the output of oil and associated gas liquids fell by 16% in the three months to the end of June, compared with a year earlier – the biggest decline since records began 16 years ago.

This left Britain importing 3.6m tonnes of oil in the second quarter, compared with 2.8m tonnes in the same period of 2010, even though total oil demand fell by 1.7%.

But the largest fall was in the amount of gas produced from the southern North Sea, where operators have been arguing that projects may have to be shut down because of a rise in government taxes in the last budget.

A drop like that is serious bad news.  Britain in particular is in a precarious position fuel-wise, with little storage for gas and dependency rising as old nuclear power stations are closed and not replaced.  The alternatives are Russia and LNG, and Japan's shutdown of even undamaged nuclear power stations has driven up demand for both LNG and fuel oil.

Wind generation rose... by a whole 3.3% of demand.  This is not good, this is not good at all.

Monday, September 19, 2011

We did NOT almost lose Detroit

I highly recommend this rebuttal (from 1976!) to the book "We Almost Lost Detroit" which addresses the claims about the Fermi I fast-breeder reactor and the accident which took it out of service. In short, nothing much happened, and the design basis accident for the plant was so overwhelmingly large compared to the actual event that it's hard to see how something could have. 
Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11, ten years later

On this day ten years ago I was fighting my way through morning rush-hour traffic, going to an out-of-town plant to work on some production issues.  After getting through the worst of it, I stopped for refreshment and another motorist told me that a small plane had flown into the World Trade Center.  I switched from the CD player to the radio, and listened the rest of the way as the horror unfolded.  By the time I got live TV coverage, the towers had collapsed.  The TVs at rest stops showed the smoking rubble all day.

At my destination, people were desperately filling up every gasoline container they could find.  I saw two men with a trailer full of brand-new 5-gallon cans, filling them all.  I filled my car with enough fuel to get me through the week and home again.  I had hoped to get a New York Times the following morning.  I don't think I saw one that whole week.

The lack of contrails in the sky was eerie.

The agents behind the first (failed) WTC attack, and the suicide nature of the successful one, suggested strongly that it came from Islamists, specifically Al Qaeda.  This was later proven; the attackers were from the Middle East, all Muslim, 15 of the 19 from Saudi Arabia.  Our so-called "friends" there killed roughly 3000 people that day, mostly Americans, on American soil.  Yet there was zero political response to this in Washington; while illegal Pakistani immigrants received a lot of attention and many returned home abruptly, the Saudi royal family was treated with kid gloves.

Nothing has changed in that respect.  The US government has, against all reason, expanded allowances for Saudi immigration.  Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad was admitted to the US in 1999 (after the first WTC attack) and granted US citizenship in 2009!

US immigration and citizenship policy is somewhere between reckless and suicidal.  The question everyone should be asking is "Why?", followed immediately by "How do we fix it?"

It's easy to see why.  The answer is "oil money".  We have done precious little to wean ourselves off oil since 9/11 (Congress and the Bush administration continued policies of guzzler promotion for years after the attacks), and all those dollars flowing to Riyadh and Caracas and Kuwait flow back as political influence.  We're not buying oil with dollars or grain, we're handing over control of our government.

It's imperative to cut US dependency on oil.  The price of oil wouldn't matter to the economy if there wasn't an effective "petro-state tax" on most people just to get to work.  I did what I could in 2004, when I cut my fuel needs by about 1/3.  But today I'd find it hard to do that again.  I'd need to get up to 60 MPG or so, and there are precious few vehicles sold in the USA which can do that.  The Volt (sold out for months) is good for a couple iterations of this game and the latest Prius is in the ballpark, but the Fusion hybrid barely ekes out the mileage I often get today.

We've done practically nothing.  We've continued to hand money and power to the people who've proven they will use it to do us harm.  If it were only our elites I'd say it was treason, but sentiment among ordinary Americans is the same.  See no evil, and drain the retirement account to fill up the pickup to take the toy-hauler and the 4-wheelers out for a weekend on the trails.

Fixing this requires a complete 180 in attitude.  Oil must be treated as a necessary evil, but an evil.  Guzzling vehicles and wasteful driving must be subject to both fines and social opprobrium.  We need the PNGV or something like it back pronto, expanded production of all supply-chain components for hybrids and PHEVs (preferably all sited in the USA), feebates, higher gas taxes, the works.  We can't manage a full war footing yet, but we need urgent action NOW.  That attitude shift would help fix the flow of dangerous immigrants as well.  We should have no Faisal Shahzads or Umar Abdulmutallabs or even Richard Reids coming into the USA.

I don't see this happening.  Anyone who advocates any of the necessary changes is immediately stigmatized as "anti-American" (like R. James Woolsey?) or "islamophobic" (which is only half a step from "racist").  There's a stone wall, maintained by both major political parties, against making the changes we urgently needed to make starting on that clear sunny day ten years ago.

If this country doesn't wake up and get a clue, we're doomed.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Michele Bachmann believes in magic

Or maybe she's lying, or batshit crazy.  But there is no way that she can possibly cut gasoline prices to $2/gallon, as she said she would if elected, without some massive collapse in demand (like a collapse of the US economy).

Remember what happened to prices in the Asian Flu of 1998?  Gas prices would go down again... temporarily... if that was us.

If the Republicans put this loon on the 2012 ticket (in any position), it means the party does not have a candidate, an idea, or a shred of respect for the American public.  I hate Obama with a passion and would like to see him impeached, but I'll vote for him over Bachmann.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Plentiful Energy and the IFR Story

I'd like to call attention to the article with the above name (about 7 years old now) hosted at The Center for Reactor Information.  It lays out the brief history of the Integral Fast Reactor, including how it came within a hair's breadth of surviving the 1994 vote to kill it.  It also gives a brief listing of its selling points, including (contrary to claims often made by anti-nuclear activists) that its fuel cycle is unable to produce weapons-grade material and is effectively proliferation-proof.

This is an article suitable for non-technical readers and ought to be spread widely.  Some of its figures are out of date (wind power is now pushing 2% of US electric supply, not ¼%), but this is good for further analysis to show just how difficult it is to scale up renewable energy to the quantities we need.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Quote without comment

Bureaucracy is a tool to keep the world as it is, not to change it. So, in perfect Tainter-style, the system works hard to avoid innovation, not to promote it. It is almost impossible to be financed to study resource depletion; that would highlight problems that would require changes and that's a no-no. Instead, it is still possible to obtain research grants as long as there is no risk that the results will threaten the status quo. Hydrogen as a fuel is a good example. It is high-tech, fashionable, sophisticated, popular, environmentally friendly, and it doesn't work. This last characteristic makes sure that its development will bring no changes whatsoever.
Ugo Bardi
Talk largely about energy and work, but also politics and other random thoughts

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