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Friday, November 24, 2017

Peer Review of Wendover Production's "The Nuclear Waste Problem" Youtube Video

Above images from Nuclear Energy Waste--Making Mountains Out of Mole Hills

The YouTube video, The Nuclear Waste Problem was published on November 21, and went viral with about half a million hits in a few days. I learned of its existence when it was presented to me as irrefutable evidence for why nuclear can't be part of the climate change solution.

Technically, it's quite well done. The graphics and music are appealing. The transcript is about two and a half pages long, single spaced. Unfortunately, the narrative found in that transcript is remarkably inaccurate. If the graphics and music are lipstick, the narrative would be the pig.

The author, Sam (last name couldn't be found which may be part of a marketing shtick) hoovered up a collection of old, dog-eared, anti-nuclear talking points from the internet echo chamber to weave this narrative.

Nobody can predict when a video will go viral or why it did so. Its technical quality combined with the following introduction likely elicited an aura of legitimacy:
This video was made possible by Brilliant. Learn to think like a scientist for 20% off by being one of the first 500 people to sign up at the link in the description.
I have news for Sam (whoever he is). This video is not science. It ends with:
If you want to learn more about clean energy or anything else, you should try Brilliant. They have a fantastic course on solar energy complete with approachable explanations, straightforward graphics, and thought-provoking puzzles. I’ve really been enjoying Brilliant because their courses do a great job of providing an overview of complex topics in a way that anyone can understand. As a Wendover Productions viewer who enjoys learning or is serious about science, Brilliant’s interactive puzzles will help you explore all kinds of interesting stuff. If you want to check them out, head over to The first 500 who do and sign up will receive 20% off. I absolutely suggest that you give Brilliant a try because it’s truly a great website and doing so helps make Wendover Productions possible.
Two-thirds of the words in the front of the transcript (parroting anti-nuclear arguments scrounged off the internet) are used to warm you up for the author's final conclusion, which is explained in the last third of the words  (also scrounged off the internet). The conclusion in a nutshell? It isn't possible to store nuclear waste long term because after the fall of civilization curious primitive cultures of the future will always manage to find it and gain access. Part of his problem is that he thinks the access tunnels will be marked with a sign and filled with clay. In reality, the entrance will be hidden and the access tunnel will be filled with concrete and stone, miles of it.

Then what? Well, my guess, if it's still hot enough to cause radiation burns, they will quickly figure out, like we have always done with poisonous plants and animals, that it's bad medicine and rebury it. If not, there may be an increase in some cancers in old age for some. Otzi the five thousand year old ice man mummy had high levels of arsenic in his tissues from copper mining, and his lungs looked like those of a chain smoker thanks to campfires. People have balanced the advantages of things like fire and copper with the downsides for millennia. But this is all academic. A primitive culture would be incapable of getting to it if they could find an entrance, assuming it won't be used as nuclear fuel in breeder reactors.

This video isn't trying to save the world from climate change. It reads more like a spam comment writ large trying to get you to click on some sponsor's link. 

 Below is the description found under the video:

In summary we have the following words to prime viewers:
  • Smart
  • Brilliant
  • Scientist
  • Real Engineering
  • Education
We're all susceptible to marketing. It has been hypothesized that our large brain size may, in part, be the result of an arms race between deception and deception detection. Being convinced to buy a brand of car is one thing. Being convinced with a false narrative that nuclear energy should not be part of the climate change solution because of its waste is another thing altogether.

When I visited the Wendover website I found the following description:
Wendover Productions is all about explaining how our world works. From travel, to economics, to geography, to marketing and more, every video will leave you with a little better understanding of our world. New videos go out every other Tuesday.
In this case, their video left us with a misunderstanding of how our world works. Separating the wheat from all of the chaff found on the internet on a topic this complex and then making a video about it would take a lot longer than two weeks, which may explain why the film is mostly chaff. One advantage of using the printed word instead of video is that you can link to sources, as I do here.

Let me give you some examples:
But that doesn’t necessarily mean nuclear is the long-term solution for the world because nuclear material is perhaps the most poisonous substance on earth.
Not sure what he means by nuclear material, not sure he does. Below is a quote by Bill Nye from Parsing Bill Nye's Anti-Nuclear Energy Keynote Speech where he goes all old-school, pulling a classic anti-nuclear terror tactic out of his way-back machine:
... if you breath just a few micro-grams, breath a few micro-grams of Plutonium, it will kill you. Like arsenic, it will replace the phosphorous in your DNA. So it really is dangerous stuff.
From Wikipedia:
Several populations of people who have been exposed to Plutonium dust (e.g. people living down-wind of Nevada test sites, Nagasaki survivors, nuclear facility workers, and "terminally ill" patients injected with Pu in 1945–46 to study Pu metabolism) have been carefully followed and analyzed. These studies generally do not show especially high Plutonium toxicity or Plutonium-induced cancer results, such as Albert Stevens who survived into old age after being injected with Plutonium. "There were about 25 workers from Los Alamos National Laboratory who inhaled a considerable amount of Plutonium dust during 1940s; according to the hot-particle theory, each of them has a 99.5% chance of being dead from lung cancer by now, but there has not been a single lung cancer among them."

 Plutonium has a metallic taste.
From the WNA:
Comparisons between toxic substances are not straightforward. The effect of plutonium inhalation would be to increase the probability of a cancer developing in several years time, whilst most other strong toxins lead to more immediate death. Best comparisons indicate that, gram for gram, toxins such as ricin, some snake venoms, cyanide, and even caffeine are significantly more toxic than plutonium.
I was surprised how toxic caffeine is at high doses. Google it.
If the power fails and the backup generators fail, the pumps and cooling systems stop working so the water heats up and can boil off. The water is what blocks the radiation so, without water, the radiation just goes right out into the environment. In fact, exactly that happened at Fukushima.
In fact, the water didn't boil and no radiations was released from the cooling pools at Fukushima.
Finland is building just that [a long term waste repository] ...It doesn’t have earthquakes.
Finland has earthquakes.
...for the millions of years that the most toxic nuclear waste will continue to emit radiation ...
The spent fuel will be no more radioactive than the originally mined ore it came from in 1,000-10,000 years, not millions.
The Fukushima disaster, meanwhile, having taken place is a much more populated and developed area, is estimated to set Japan back over $500 billion dollars ...
The direct costs of the Fukushima melt downs will be around $15 billion to clean up over the next two decades and over $60 billion in refugee compensation. Other costs typically blamed on Fukushima include the imported fossil fuels replacing the nuclear power stations that were unnecessarily closed all across Japan by antinuclear fear-mongering. But those costs are on the shoulders of antinuclear groups, not Fukushima.

No point in leaving a comment under the video. There are over 4,000 of some of the dumbest remarks you'll find anywhere. YouTube comments are notoriously terrible. If anyone is interested in a second post that parses the video in detail, let me know in the comments.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Simon Holmes à Court thinks 100% Renewable Energy has been Demonstrated to be Possible in Australia

More Twitter activity from Simon.

He starts by asking:
nuclear twitter: does anyone have a simple LCoE for a nuclear power station? i'd love to better understand the economics.
If he's an energy expert, I have to wonder why he's asking for data from strangers on Twitter. You wouldn't see the likes of James Hansen doing that for one of his many papers published in Science and elsewhere. And as is almost always the case with his tweets, you're never sure what he is trying to say. Did he mean an equation? An example calculation? Examples of LCOE for nuclear? A spreadsheet?

It's not just me. Also not sure what he is asking for, Suzy Waldman handed him a link to Lazards which listed various LCOEs and an EIA link that explained the concept of LCOE.

I, in turn, responded to Suzy:

Tom Biegler responds to me:

Thanks. And I don't suppose they include load leveling costs to turn wind and solar into a product that users might like, want and need.
I, in turn, respond to him with a link to an Energy Matters article that tries (but apparently often fails) to explain why you can't compare the LCOE of sporadic sources to baseload sources:
Exactly ...if you want to compare LCOE of wind and solar to baseload nuclear LCOE, you find what it would cost to make them do baseload (answer offshore wind in UK is six times more expensive than Hinkley). 
Missing the point of the Energy Matters article entirely, Simon posts a typically cryptic response devoid of capitalization:
russ, this is nonsense. the market does not demand flat supply. demand for baseload is dropping fast in [inserts flag icon that I am guessing in hindsight is for Australia].
I responded as best I could, given the information at hand:
Both of your sentences are completely nonsensical. You will now ask me, like you did last time, why they are nonsensical and I will tell you because they make no sense. The minimum level of demand on an electrical grid over a span of time (definition of base load) is not dropping at all.
Simon responds with:

So, in the end, what Simon was trying to say is that a deeply biased pro wind and solar report has a graph in it that predicts, in theory, a reduction in the need for power stations that are not capable of varying their output on demand in sun-baked Australia. Part of the confusion was that he failed to say where he was talking about. I was thinking globally, he was just talking about Australia.

According to the report, minimum demand will (in theory) shift from the wee hours of the night to midday and at a lower value, all thanks to everyone having solar panels on their roofs. Ergo, you will need fewer power stations that don't vary their output. On the other hand, you still need enough power stations to meet that same minimum demand in the wee hours of the night, but because they will need to throttle down to the lower minimum demand in the day, they must be power stations capable of significant variation in their output (typically gas). The last thing you want to do regarding emissions, is replace your nuclear with fossil fuels or other low carbon sources because the former is step backwards and the latter is no forward movement at all.

And finally Simon responds to Tom:

When Simon says "baseload gen has already disappeared from SA," I think he is trying to say to us that the power stations not designed to vary their output that had been supplying the base load have been replaced by power stations that can vary their output upon demand (typically gas) to supply the base load.

When Simon says that the Australian Energy Market Operator has looked at 100% renewable energy (he means wind and solar) and has  "demonstrated it to be possible" (whatever that means), I'm guessing that he is mistaking the theoretical predictions in a heavily biased report, for reality. Australia does not get 100% of its electricity, let alone its energy, from wind and solar. You'd think, given the peer review of Jacobson's work, that these guys would be a little more circumspect.

And then, there's the cost:



Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Environmental Progress--The Power to Decarbonize

Figure 1

Environmental Progress has a new study out that I found very compelling.  It's just raw data arranged in a manner that paints a global picture. Critics can't punch holes in it by attacking assumptions chosen because it doesn't have any. In a nutshell, it shows a strong global correlation between nuclear energy use and lower carbon intensity, but no such correlation between wind and solar.

It took some effort for me to understand how the graphic shown in Figure 2 below was derived. To make sense of it I had to drop down into the appendices to look at the data for each country:
In service to transparency, we have reproduced all 68 national carbon intensity of energy charts used in this analysis in our appendix, in addition to publishing the aggregated national charts.
Each dot represents a given country's carbon intensity at a given level of annual nuclear, or wind, or hydro, or solar output. Each data point used to plot the thick curve is a kind of average of the dots at a given annual electricity output for nuclear, or wind, or hydro, or solar. The carbon intensity in countries can grow or retract with the addition or reduction in any given energy source (nuclear, wind, solar, or hydro). In Japan, for example, a reduction in nuclear caused an increase in carbon intensity.

I put my anti-nuclear hat on to find a way to punch holes in the results. Could the different horizontal scales be hiding something? Are plots using the same scale hiding something in the clutter for wind and solar? To resolve those issues I overlaid the nuclear and wind graphs at the same scale and magnified the results to make them more visible (see Figure 1).

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Simon Holmes à Court would support fast, cheap, safe, small, flexible nuclear

This post is motivated by a Tweet by Simon who very much thinks he has an open mind about nuclear energy all antinuclearists, but like all antinuclearists, he really doesn't. He's like the creationist who would love to believe the theory of evolution ...if the data would only support it. Classic case of self-delusion combined with a little cognitive dissonance.

His Twitter homepage intro:
interesting theory — data me up! 'likes' are bookmarks not endorsements. ATTN: loopy left & RWNJs: if you think i'm one, you're almost certainly the other.
Bottom line, I would not have had to "data him up"  if he really had an open mind because he would have already sought out the data. Below, he gives an attaboy to a supporting tweeted chart critiquing nuclear. I gave him a few other charts to think about, but no love for me (link):

His supporter then posted a strawman argument coupled with another graph and got another attaboy. Those graphs shown below are actually a positive sign showing how the combination of low carbon sources has joined forces but this guy somehow sees this as evidence that nuclear should not be part of the mix:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Now for the bad news: 75% decline in insect biomass over 27 years

In a nutshell, no insects = no ecosystem.

I recently took a trip to the Brazilian Cerrado and Pantanal. Click on this link to see photos and videos of some insects I saw there. I'll add a few random insect photos from other places I've been as well. Click on any photo to open a higher-resolution slideshow.

Just in from youngest daughter
doing research in Madagascar

Monbiot's article is worth a quick read unless you're prone to depression (last of the above links):
Every year I collected dozens of species of caterpillars and watched them grow and pupate and hatch. This year I tried to find some caterpillars for my children to raise. I spent the whole summer looking and, aside from the cabbage whites on our broccoli plants, found nothing in the wild but one garden tiger larva. Yes, one caterpillar in one year. I could scarcely believe what I was seeing – or rather, not seeing.
He suggested a few solutions, like limiting pesticide use (while acknowledging that we still need to grow food). GMO corn has reduced the use of insecticides for rootworm and the corn borer, but the anti-GMO crowd (similar in many ways to the anti-nuclear one) will resist that idea to their graves. And then there are the layers of complexity, like the permanent mandated consumption of corn ethanol put into place via rare bipartisan cooperation.

He made a salient point about the growing of food for livestock. From The Breakthrough Institute (co-founded by Shellenberger) Where’s the Fake Beef? Eating Meatless Meat Is Safe for You and the Planet:
The Impossible Burger—the meatless burger that bleeds—has recently been lambasted by some environmental activists for using genetic engineering to make the burger taste and look like meat. It’s a strange accusation, to say the least. The environmental impacts of meat production are large and complicated; reducing them will require modern tools and technologies. And few innovations have as large a potential as meatless meat to mitigate ecological impacts while meeting global demand.
Click on the video below which I shot in the heart of the Pantanal "nature preserve."