Touch here for mobile friendly version

Friday, February 16, 2018

Breaking the Cycle of Anti-nuclear Indoctrination--the "Nuclear is a mature industry" argument

Back in the day, Senator Bernie Sanders was using Grist Magazine to lobby against government assistance for nuclear energy on the grounds that it's a mature industry. I might agree with him if it really were a mature industry and if renewables really could carry the day without it. But it isn't, and renewables can't. Always irritates me to watch ignorant politicians screw with my children's futures.

By Rob Shenk from Great Falls, VA, USA - F-22 Raptor, CC BY-SA 2.0,
Sopwith Camel

Nuclear energy has been around for about half of a century. Aircraft technology has been around for about a century. By Senator Sander’s reasoning, a Sopwith Camel is the equivalent of an F-22 Raptor. There would be no F-22 raptor without government funding.

Senator Sanders may have had good intentions, but what's new? We don't need any more roads to hell paved by those. He's just another member of the generation that has been systematically misinformed by "the end justifies the means" anti-nuclear lobby and our sensationalist for profit lay media.

On the other hand, being a politician, he may have been trying to capitalize on the decades of anti-nuclear indoctrination.

Do government subsidies ever pay off? The poster child for successful government subsidization would have to be nuclear energy.

Bernie and/or his co-writer said:
"Whether you support nuclear energy or not, we should all be able to agree that with record debt, we cannot afford to continue to subsidize this mature industry and its multi-billion-dollar corporations. If the nuclear industry believes so fervently in its technology, then nuclear companies and Wall Street investors can put their money where the mouth is. Let them finance, insure, and pay for nuclear plants themselves."
Classic politician truth-speak in light of the huge subsidies being received by wind and solar.

 From Warren Buffet:
"I will do anything that is basically covered by the law to reduce Berkshire’s tax rate,” Buffett told an audience in Omaha, Nebraska this weekend. “For example, on wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit." 
The nuclear power stations being built today bear about as much resemblance to those built in the 60's as your smartphone does to a 60's era transistor radio. With all of the new nuclear technology coming down the road, you can't seriously call this a mature industry. Where's the legislation to end government mandated consumption of corn ethanol (making moonshine is a very mature industry) which presently displaces 10% of our gasoline (the energy independence argument is a canard considering that we now export oil) and is likely more ecologically damaging than gasoline?
I'm all for more (properly sited) wind and solar, but they are going to need a lot of help from nuclear. Wind and solar can't do it all. This article will be added to the list found at Breaking the Anti-nuclear Indoctrination Cycle.

This article is an updated version of one published on Energy Trends Insider a few years back.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Breaking the Cycle of Anti-nuclear Indoctrination--The "Nuclear power stations will be disabled by a lack of water, warming water, rising sea levels, storms, and on and on" arguments

In their zeal to attack nuclear energy, the anti-nuclear crowd reached argument overkill (or one of its many synonyms) long ago. As is the case with climate skeptics, for every anti-nuclear argument put to rest, like in a game of whack-a-mole, another springs forth to replace it. Use of nuclear power is untenable because of:
  • High water
  • Low water
  • NRC water temperature limits
  • EPA water temperature limits
  • Increasing air temperatures
  • Water availability
  • ...and on, and on
Anti-nuclearists typically promote intermittent (weather dependent, non-dispatchable) wind and solar, rarely defending the dispatchable energy sources normally considered to be renewable (hydro, geothermal, biomass, biogas). Even Jacobson's flawed study relied heavily on hydro. Without adequate hydro, his energy strategy became a two-legged stool.

High water

Some comments by an anti-nuclear indoctrination victim recently seen on Twitter who, like most of the others, has also been convinced that 100% wind, solar, and hydro is the goal instead of 100% decarbonization:

"Always wondered how we are going to cope with the existing nuclear plants on the coast as Sea levels rise and storms become more intense. How do you see that playing out?"

Figure 1: Storm Damaged Turbines Flickr Creative Commons via Western Area Power

Don't see it as a problem. Dikes can be very effective. Ask the Dutch. As for storms, see Figure 1.
"The dutch recognize that dykes will not protect them from the rising Sea levels. It says so in the article. They are to the expects. You should not ignore there conclusion. There is going to be a huge problem with existing nuclear stations on the coasts n in land as they are on the Banks of rivers. Miami is a good eg. You can't dykes Florida."
Big difference between building a dike around a portion of a power station and an entire country (or state). There are tens of thousands of miles of dikes in the U.S. that constrain river systems.
"Sea levels are becoming too high. It take money n time n resources. It's going to be a huge problem ...flooded nuclear plants on our coasts are a huge problem that's going to be difficult n expensive to manage ...a huge expensive problem. And is not safe. The risk of failure goes up massively due to catastrophic breach. Accessing the plant is also big problem."
First, none of that is true. Secondly, it will be many decades before sea levels are problematic for most nuclear power stations located adjacent to coastal water sources. Wind farms will go idle because of changing wind patterns, and the degradation in solar efficiency from higher temperatures are also problems. Why focus solely on the challenges for nuclear?
"The latest Sea level rise for ~2100 5-7ft."
Note 2100- 2018 = 82 years. Seven feet is a modestly sized dike, but more importantly, any existing nuclear power stations located in flood zones today will, by 2100, have reached the end of their operational lives a half-century or so earlier, making all of his arguments about rising water, moot.

Anti-nuclear indoctrination victims rarely formulate their own arguments. They read them somewhere in the internet echo chamber or in the lay press, where another indoctrination victim had repeated it and on and on. When they find one that strikes a chord, they repeat it. And there's no end of arguments to pick from. They make no attempt to critically assess the argument before repeating it.

The above argument is a close cousin to others claiming that low water levels or warmer inlet or outlet water temperatures will make nuclear unsafe and uneconomical. Below I discuss a recent incarnation encountered in a Disqus comment, which interestingly enough was based on a 2007 article in the New York Times written by one of their own journalists--a perfect example of how the lay press does so much damage regarding scientific and engineering topics and also an example of how old arguments (over a decade old in this case) moulder on the internet waiting to be resurrected again and again.

"In 2012 a nuclear plant in MA using ocean water had to curtail operations due to warm water temperatures. The inlet pipe wasn't deep enough. Plants are designed to operate under conditions. Those conditions will be more uncertain in the future."
Low Water

No power source is impacted by weather-related water concerns more than hydro. Hydro power can be curtailed for years on end due to long-lived droughts. On the rare occasion when a thermal power station like nuclear has to reduce power because of low intake cooling water levels, it's for very short periods relative to hydro.

Figure 2 shows that 3.5 times more hydropower stations were affected by low water over the study period than nuclear. Climate change is going to have a much worse impact on hydro (Jacobson's inadequate third leg) than it will on nuclear.

Figure 2

NRC limits on inlet/outlet water temperatures

Any thermal power station becomes less efficient with a lower delta between inlet and outlet cooling water, be it geothermal, solar thermal, biomass steam turbine, biogas steam turbine, or nuclear and can be designed to use a wide variety or even a combination of cooling technologies:
  • Open loop
  • Closed loop, tower
  • Closed loop, pond
  • Hybrid or dry
  • Mixed wet cooling
  • Other
A power plant can be designed or modified to handle higher water temperatures if so desired. The largest nuclear power station in the U.S. is located in the Arizona desert and uses municipal wastewater for cooling.

Singling nuclear out from all of the other thermal power station types is dishonest as well as disingenuous.

EPA limits to water outlet temperature

Power stations exceeding limits (ignoring coal) per Figure 3:

  • Landfill gas and biomass = 3
  • Natural gas = 13
  • Nuclear = 3

Figure 3

And keep in mind that wind and solar are very dependent on natural gas to integrate them into the grid.

Air Temperatures

When confronted with the fact that solar panel efficiency decreases with higher temperatures and that wind patterns will shift, the commenter suggests:
"Solar efficiency decreases in hot weather. So you put up more."
Which, of course, increases cost, just as the need for more cooling capacity in nuclear, solar thermal, geothermal, biomass and landfill gas thermal power stations will increase cost.
"Wind is also going to be affected by climate change. Might be on the wrong side of a front for a long time."
Wind patterns are going to shift in a manner that will permanently impact the productivity of some existing wind farms. Also, transmission lines are less efficient at higher temperatures, and because wind farms typically require lots of extra transmission lines, you can expect higher system costs as a result of higher average temperatures.
"But during an extreme event renewables may be the only generation left working."
 See Figures 1, 4, and 5.

Figure 4 Snow-Covered Solar Panels
Photo via U.S. Department of Energy

Figure 5 Ice Covered Turbine Blades
Photo via Vindforsk
Water Availability

Not mentioned by either of the above commenters was the old water availability argument. Again, nuclear is no worse in that regard than ostensibly renewable thermal power stations (and much, much less of a concern than with hydro, the third leg of Jacobson's energy stool) and that concern can be mitigated by design if necessary as the largest nuclear power station in the U.S. demonstrates by using municipal wastewater for cooling even though it is located in the Arizona desert.

Figure 6

Wind and solar can't do it all. This article will be added to the list found at Breaking the Anti-nuclear Indoctrination Cycle.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Breaking the Cycle of Anti-nuclear Indoctrination

From a comment under one of my articles:  
"It's pretty obvious that tons of people have gotten duped on nuclear energy. Do you (or anyone else) have an idea why that is?"
 My reply:
Start by listing all of your favorite nuclear war apocalypse science-fiction novels and movies.
  • Conflate nuclear weapons with nuclear power stations.
  • Terrorize the public with false claims like "Nuclear power stations are nuclear bombs just waiting to go off"--Helen Caldicott
  • Capitalize on that fear by claiming your organization is trying to protect you from those nuclear power stations.
  • Pour gas on this misinformation with a for-profit, sensationalist-driven, innumerate, lay press.
  • Let it cook for a generation or so before the arrival of the internet to shine a light on the misinformation.
VoilĂ ! A generation of indoctrinated aging hippies and a new generation that may yet be informed given enough effort.
From a comment under an Environmental Progress article:
They are lying to us!
The question is why? Presumably environmentalists at Greenpeace are good people who want the best for us and for nature. But why then do they lie about nuclear energy, scaring us half to death? (Or *actually* to death, if you consider the people killed in Fukushima as a result of the panic!)
My reply:
The question is why?

Indoctrination. Most think they're telling the truth at this point. They are indoctrination victims (Google synonym of victim). Those that realize the truth are ousted from the organization or just leave (think atheist evolutionary biologist in a creationist church). And then there is the comfort and anxiety relief (endorphin dumps) provided by being a member of a tribe. Human nature ...
Michael has explained how the snowball got rolling. It's been rolling downhill for a long time but there may be an inflection point ahead.

This post will serve as a place-holder for articles I've already written and for more I'll be writing that critique various anti-nuclear energy arguments. I hope that people will bookmark this article to copy and paste links from the list below as part of a rebuttal to these arguments when seen in comment fields, blogs, or our for-profit, sensationalist-driven, innumerate, lay press. They're not in any particular order.

Also, note that I sometimes sprinkle my posts with random nature photos I've taken over the years as a reminder that the sixth extinction event was recognized by science before climate change reared its ugly head.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Breaking the Cycle of Anti-nuclear Indoctrination--The "80% renewables" argument

I highly recommend this excellent presentation by Jesse Jenkins explaining why (assuming it's possible) an 80% wind and solar grid is not likely a good idea. From a Tweet by Joris van Dorp:

I first encountered this argument in an article last year by the anti-nuclear David Roberts writing for Vox. My response:
Above, Dave puts a pair of sentences back-to-back to give you the impression that the dispute is over using nuclear to decarbonize that last 10 to 20 percent. But that isn't really what the dispute comes down to. The idea that the world can reduce emissions 80% with renewables for electrical and especially for all energy use is an untested hypothesis, let alone getting to 100%. The dispute is over how much nuclear and how much wind and solar is going to be needed from start to finish.
Take a few minutes to digest the following two graphics where I tried to summarize the gist of Jenkins' presentation with markups of his original material (keeping in mind that these are my interpretations of his presentation).
Figure 1

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Breaking The Cycle of Anti-nuclear Indoctrination -- Uranium Mine Tailings Argument

Above is a photo I took of a Toucan while I was in the Brazilian Cerrado. Not a birder, have no idea which species it is. I'm including because it brings me pleasure and as a reminder of why I blog about the environment.

Below is a collection of quotes from comments under a pro-nuclear article at Grist:
The "waste" problem from nuclear power isn't the "spent" fuel, it's the tailings piles from uranium mining ...Uranium tailings piles are even more toxic than coal or tar sands tailings piles, and they all leach into the environment ... The argument against coal ash is a more general environmental issue similar to some of the issues raised against nuclear. (mountains of radioactive tailings.) ...During early years of operation, mine tailings at this site were discharged onto a flat, low-lying area adjacent to the processing facility... 
Back in the day, long before the internet came along, uranium mine tailings were used (along with everything else they could think of) as an anti-nuclear argument. Many people are now indoctrinated with that misinformation and the internet is still full of articles echoing it, as indoctrination victims of indoctrination victims continue to carry the torch. That's how indoctrination works and why beliefs like creationism endure.

Bottom line?
  • Everything in your car, phone, and computer came from mines.
  • Uranium mining accounts for a tiny fraction of a single percent of all mining (1).
  • Uranium mining is no worse for the environment than the mining of any other metal (5).
  • Uranium is a heavy metal with similar toxicity to the (75 pounds of) lead found in in your car battery (3).
  • Uranium mine tailings are about as radioactive as your granite countertop, and less radioactive than the original ore (2) (5).
  • Old mine sites of all kinds are being cleaned up and returned either to a natural state or to a state safe to use for other purposes (4).
  • Environmental regulations now exist to prevent the repeat of environmentally damaging mining practices regardless of what is being mined (6).