Monday, February 28, 2005

a crooked house

I was chatting the other day with a friend, who claimed that he had built an addition off of his house into the fourth dimension. He meant time, but I immediately thought of the old R.A.H. story “-And He Built a Crooked House-”, in which the Los Angeles protagonist builds a tesseract house as an unfolded net in our banal three dimensional universe.

When the inevitable earthquake struck in this tale, the house folded into extra dimensional space and hilarity ensued.

So it is with our fabulous world economy, a hypercube of mal - aligned assumptions on the grandest possible scale. A crooked house wired into an infinite energy panacea. The final outcome of this endeavor is damned near unpredictable.

For now, I think this: when the earthquake comes, hilarity will ensue.

Happy Monday!

Saturday, February 26, 2005

the narrative

Venezuelan Warns of U.S. Overthrow

Rodriguez, one of Chavez's closest advisers, has been the main strategist behind Venezuela's push to rally other leading oil exporters to cut production and jack up world oil prices. A Marxist guerrilla in the 1960s, Rodriguez later became secretary-general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries

Jack up world prices - what a joke. Peak oil, then, fits nicely with the planning of neo-conservatives if their tools in the media are any indicator. For the time being. Those rascally Marxists!

For more on the narrative that the media spins, check out the The Daily Howler.

Friday, February 25, 2005

carbon spring

Ah yes, another beautiful February in the Pacific Northwest. The weather is balmy, the palm trees swaying, and the bears are awakening from their brief respite. I keep hearing talk of "climate change" but there is none visible from my window - just another sunny day, same as Seattle has been for as long as anyone can remember.

Imagine if I lived in rainy old California.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

saudi tar

On Monday, as an aside I said, "At some point, they are going to start dumping tar on the market where sweet crude used to exist."

It looks like that day has come - and as it is the Saudis, they always have some kind of a rube goldberg story to 'splain it. Check out the analysis at The Land Of Black Gold.

sustainable methane

Hydroelectric power's dirty secret revealed

...resulting in a build-up of dissolved methane. This is released into the atmosphere when water passes through the dam's turbines. (...) In effect man-made reservoirs convert carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into methane. This is significant because methane's effect on global warming is 21 times stronger than carbon dioxide's.

In practical terms, I read that as: we must extract this methane and burn it. Post peak, the carbon released from using this particular and limited source (dammed water) should be sustainable within the carbon cycle. Overall emissions will be dropping.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

turkey guts and biodiesel

James Moe sent me this slashdot link, which references a link to this story about Changing World Technologies and another about them not being as profitable as hoped.

At the same time a link to the above Discover article popped up over at Flying Talking Donkey and Resource Insights.

Changing World Technologies claim they can convert anything carbon based into positive net energy - turkey guts, agriculture waste, tires, plastics. It all comes out as light sweet crude, distilled water and packets of soylent green.

EROEI - Per their web site, they can produce:
(Per) 100 BTUs available in our feedstock, approximately 15-20 BTUs are needed to provide energy for the plant. The remaining BTUs will be available for sale in a converted state.

That would be a self sustaining system, requiring only carbon based waste. However, one of the perils of dealing with a corporation which is selling itself to investors is that they often don't tell you everything. The Fortune article notes they are receiving goverment subsidies, (suspicious), yet the cost of their fuel is quite high (also suspicious, cost of turkey offal notwithstanding).

Their initial plant looks to be quite sizable from the pictures - yet produces around 500 barrels of oil a day. That is a pitiful dribble. It is claimed that this technology has the potential to produce four billion barrels of oil a year in the US, based on carbon waste available. The energy cost of the infrastructure to build and maintain these plants and transport waste around is not discussed.

Nonetheless, this looks promising, particuarly for environmental waste. And, I would not rule out that this technology can be self sustaining. It will be a closer shave than it is presented as.

A note of caution on this story or any carbon based fuel source: One scenario for this century is that an emergency measure to inter excess carbon, or remove as much as possible from the atmosphere and oceans, may become necessary.

In that light there is concern about a technology that takes things like tires, as unsightly as they may be, and inserts their carbon into the atmosphere. Tires are safer for humanity when they are sitting around and looking ugly, or shoring up the walls of permaculture homes.

Of course, current events imply humanity will burn every scrap of fuel available.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

sing the sprawl electric

National Golf says:
Just add water and dollars
Grow instant city

Where poetry oft meets the execrable, consider haiku. Take a form whose highest art is the fever calm distillation of a life, spilling the spirit and then the guts. Hand it to a NASCAR American and they think hmm, five seven five. And a colon to taste.

Callow sprawl artists, just as Kunstler has warned us, are running victory laps. Woohoo! They are shriekin’ hollerin’ and getting national press. Writing poetry, building subdivisions, railing against global warming. Did I compare thee to an algae bloom? An algae bloom never tries to justify its own existence like so:

Rising like the sun
Mall of Georgia at Mill Creek
Heralds a new dawn

ARGH! And the fun just doesn’t stop. The article linked at the top of this post is a paean to Dirt-e, an internet publication run by Dennis Billew of the Development Consultants Group, from wherein the following gabble emits:

On the 13-lane highway behind them, 18-wheelers whoosh by on their way to the Carolinas. They are the upbeat strains of a boomtown, and Billew, for one, is sick of people moaning that the end is near.

"The end will come when the population stops increasing," he said. "If people stop birthing babies and stop moving to the South."

Truer words were never spoken unintentionally. So I took the detour over to the triumphalist rag Dirt-e and beheld it in all of its glory. Whatever you do, don’t skip the flash animation. When the sky changed from muddy brown to suburban blue, I was agog. When the bulldozer finally took out the snake? Priceless. Biblical. I laughed so hard tears fell onto my cheerios.

Good life beckons all
To the Chattahoochee's shore
Selfish bar the door

Monday, February 21, 2005

Urban Survival and Oil

George Ure at Urban Survival has a post on his web site called, "Peak Oil For Real?". You'll have to search on the phrase, as he does a rolling blog. His daily update is informative and a lot of fun, just pack your tinfoil hat. All skepticism aside, my take on him is that of a practical person who is perfectly willing to entertain non-orthodox models of reality - which I think still describes peak oil. Maybe he just reminds me of my grandfather, a rocket scientist who had a bookshelf loaded up with tomes discussing Atlantean civilization and UFO's. (What is it with hard scientists who go on mystic benders? Did Godel spike the punch?)

Anyways, Mr Ure recieved a letter from an unamed oil exec shortly thereafter, from which I will reproduce portions with data I was previously unaware of. For the full letter, follow the link.

1) We are drilling rig limited – we are at full capacity world wide in the offshore rig market, and even the small number of new drilling rigs they are building will not improve that appreciably. No drilling contractor is going to build rigs rapidly ever again – not after the disaster of cheap oil in the late ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Assuming oil jumped to $100/bbl tomorrow, little in our industry would change, because the drilling infrastructure has been cannibalized for 20 years…..we are already drilling as fast as we can!


6) For the most part, the biggest fields have been discovered world wide. What remains is technologically prohibitive (water depth, downhole temperature or sheer depth of the deposit). We are all fighting for the scraps as things exist today, with the exception of the African coast. There, we are fighting for our lives as well as oil. I have personally been shot at during overseas stints, and once held hostage by guerillas as they blew up our rig while we watched. We are not a bunch of sissy-boys in this industry, but we also have wives and children.


Some numbers for the number bunch to crunch: The average offshore rig cost $24,000 per day to rent in 2003, and today the same 30 year-old-rig costs $40,000 per day to rent due to rig availability. Yes, most of our rigs are 30 or more years old – would you rent a cabin on a 30 year-old cruise ship? Yet this is what we drill oil wells with in the new millennium…..

Multiply that times the average 45 days to drill a “second tier” oil or gas well, you get $1,800,000 just for renting the drilling rig! No other mining industry or industry I know of has such tremendous up-front costs. The average price for a typical offshore well is around 3.7-4 million dollars. A production platform to bring the oil to is easily in excess of $10 million…….and these prices will escalate with energy costs!


Just wanted to get that off my chest. I have been maligned and spit on by too many people who drive cars and use electricity, and then bitch about prices or claim some kind of “Big Oil Conspiracy”…. I can tell you that the collective consensus within my business will be “let the bastards freeze in the dark” when the big wail arises.

in celebration of presidents day

One of the dirty secrets of our time is that a large group of relatively stupid people were able to thrive in the growth medium of a cheap energy economy.


Expert says Saudi oil may have peaked

"If Saudi Arabia have damaged their fields, accidentally or not, by overproducing them, then we may have already passed peak oil. Iran has certainly peaked, there is no way on Earth they can ever get back to their production of six million barrels per day (mbpd)."

I love the ebb and flow of predictions as we skittish up to the peak. I tend to look at what Matt Simmons says favorably - he is miscast as a Republican in that he speaks the truth unto power. Plus, he is an acknowledged expert in his field of energy investment, unlike the likes of me.

Saudi is the big one. Keep watching the numbers. I'll do my best to keep everyone up to speed. At some point, they are going to start dumping tar on the market where sweet crude used to exist. Straw can be spun into gold, but the EROEI can be a bear.

With Saudi at their current capacity, the oil markets are tight. When Saudi falls off the table, the fear and loathing begin.

Several people are commenting on this story today -The Correction, Lowem, and at Resource Insights there is some additional info and analysis of Matt Simmons predictions.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

life as a fine cigar

This presentation on Cuba has been making the rounds:

Low-Energy Lifestyle: Lessons from Cuba

I encourage everyone to please take the time to read and absorb it, or listen to the .MP3.

Try and get past communism, Castro, and politics on this one. It is the story of how a country suddenly had her oil resources cut off - and survived. We will be facing a similar scenario in the near future.

What do we most value in American life? Family, cars, friends, education, greed, health care, McDonalds, environment, television. Peak oil doesn't universally ravage those particulars, though it has the potential. It is funny how present day USA seems to be suffering a decline in about half of the values mentioned above. Even as we have more oil coming in, more energy produced than ever before.

I'm a sinner, and when I smoke a cigar and drink a tumbler of beverage, I am happy that I can bring these vices with me to a post peak world.

I'll be perfectly happy to leave cars, greed, McDonalds, and television behind.

Friday, February 18, 2005

stampeding topics

The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
"And ... as far as I can see, this is a direct result of the fact that Chavez has awakened a sense of dignity in El Pueblo, a return to basic human values and Venezuelan culture. Venezuelans no longer have to feel smaller than the USA or less important than a gringo."

Looks like the Venezuela is enjoying a cultural renaissance. It may be too late for the redcoats to do anything about it. (They who control the spice...)

China and the Final War for Resources
"Also alliances have been made with Venezuela who are threatening to cut off oil exports to the U.S. entirely while giving China as much as it wants. These new deals China is making with these and other hostile OPEC countries also involve trading oil in euros not U.S. dollars. The dumping of U.S. dollars for euros would be devastating to an already weakening dollar."

I'll be delving more into China shortly. But for now - I wonder if the play for Venezuelan oil is a canny strategy to distract us in our own hemisphere? China doesn't have the refinery infrastructure for lower grades of Venezuelan oil at present.

Snow News, Bad News
"...though snow pack may dwindle if temperatures rise, Northwest may also get more total precipitation. Still, during the key summer months when California's electricity demand peaks, low snow pack can mean bad news for electric power up and down the west coast."

This is the local beat for me - American Left Coast. Northwest snow pack is presently running about as low as 2000-2001 - the year of rolling blackouts due to a tight energy market. This is no joke for Californians.

ChevronTexaco Warns of Global Bidding War
"Asia's insatiable appetite for oil coupled with tight supplies has triggered the start of a global bidding war for oil from the Middle East, the head of ChevronTexaco Corp. said on Tuesday."

Yah think? Thanks K. Creten for the link.

Could Cuba be the future?
"Cubans reshaped their economy to use much less oil. (...) Personal cars have virtually disappeared. The country diversified its agriculture (...) Those who stayed in the cities set up gardens everywhere. Today everyone learns how to grow food."

You know, without cars around, I could bicycle to work faster than I currently drive on the freeways.

The Apocalyptic Landscape
"As it stands now, I'm afraid that apocalyptic scenarios are simply too emotionally attractive to have any reliable transformative power. As odd as it sounds, we're simply going to have to offer people something a bit more fulfilling than the end of the world."

Why wait for Earth Day?

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

ideas don’t cut wheat

I am a big fan of the crew at World Changing and technically savvy optimistic futurists in general. At the same time, I would like to know, with what energy are we going to build our bright green future? Literally; that is not rhetorical; I want to know.

Tech friendly optimism is the basically the culture I soaked in throughout the latter nineties, during which time the bubble economy fed webocrats such as myself nipple piercings and a sense of entitlement. This philosophy perhaps reached its apex in 1999, with The Long Boom, published first in Wired magazine and then fleshed out as a book. It described progress and the world economy as a straight line to heaven with the twentieth century as the midpoint.

Sites like World Changing disgorge endless positive ideas for the future-as-a-verb, thinking which encompasses the best of the past while sloughing off the worst. To the extent that this may be a utopian endeavor, it is likewise a valuable one. Consider the popularity of Star Trek, which imagines a future where money is abolished as a necessity of life. This humanist dream is achievable if free energy is achievable.

Unfortunately there is no free energy just yet. We’ve got to weigh ideas against energy at hand. We’re on a budget. It may be “raining soup”, but our soup catchers are not up to snuff. Our cheapest energy sources today, oil and natural gas, will rapidly become more expensive in the coming years as they deplete. This constrains our future every day into a tighter and tighter collection of possible outcomes, a nuclear-coal broulet.

Bruce Sterling recently said, talking about climate change:

Envisioning mayhem is not much of a challenge for us pros.
Though some fools and naifs may remain ignorant of the causes of their growing distress, everybody will have to deal with that dark vision becoming reality, because we'll be left with no choice. Envisioning a way up and out of that, now that's the true challenge to the contemporary imagination.

This applies to Peak Energy as well, no surprise as climate change is the energy doppelganger. It is dead easy to imagine the mayhem that Peak Energy will cause in our civilization, hard to imagine solutions. At the same time, I take umbrage at the notion that we can wish these frightening scenarios away, and then pat ourselves on the back for being visionaries. Every techie geek toy I might wish to take with me into a bright green future is presently manufactured with, and transported by, petroleum. Ideas don’t cut wheat.

It is not enough to assert that the mayhem of Peak Energy in particular will not apply to our future world, simply because a bevy of alternatives have been considered. Reality and urgency should be the foundation on which we build our future. We’ve got to include the negative implications to generate positive solutions. Peak oil is two years away, by the very best numbers we have, if it didn’t happen five minutes ago.

Despite the gloomy scenarios spun by the peak oil sites, I believe we must strive take the best of our culture with us into a bright green future. This might seem contradictory, yet is not. It is all part of the process. Diagnosing cancer means you have a shot at a cure.

I want a renewable future, and I ain’t talking horse and buggy.
I think the Amish suck, and their way of life is boring.
We’re running out of time to do better.

Monday, February 14, 2005

spring cleaning

I recast the blog from the gloomy sunset motif to a sunny afternoon. As a visual metaphor, I think it is a better representation of where we are in energy history.

Further, in a subtle way, I want to refute a criticism of peak energy aware people as negative cultists focusing on imaginary terriblisma, to the detriment of progress.

Practical considerations aside, I am interested in Peak Energy as a problem domain.

Understanding the problem, including negative implications, is the first step to finding solutions.

solar power

I'd heard of this idea before; Lowem just linked to the SolarMission project site and it looks like Australia may actually build one of these.

Assuming the first one works out, (It is planned to be twice as tall as the tallest tower in the world), can we build 1000 of these instead of 1000 new nuclear plants?

Two hundred megawatts, only emission, hot air. Good stuff. I wonder how many megawatts Fox News generates every day?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

It's not easy being green

Bio-fuels of various stripes have been flogged as a green, renewable energy for years. They are neither. I have never seen "positive net energy" math for bio fuel - be it ethanol, bio-diesel, or an exotic alternative.

Resource Insights recently pointed out that some throwback ungenius believes we should use trees for fuel; Mobjectivist links to a quote that lays out the facts on corn-pone ethanol with clarity. Generating ethanol is a significant net loss of energy. Also noted on Mobjectivist is this topic is a prime wedge issue for us to interject some sanity into the American discourse.

"Ethanol subsidy discussions will work as a stealth issue to eventually corner the right-wing into admitting that we cannot contine as an one-trick-pony oiligarchy. "

The fundamental falsehood of bio-fuel is helping to obscure the reality that at present we have no way to "wean ourselves off of foreign oil."

I also understand that ethanol and the like spring from the sincere desire of people to have an alternative to grubby old petrol. I can only imagine the angst when one hops into a gas powered automobile to run to Wal-Mart for some cheesy poofs.

Bio-fuels aren't green, they are worse than oil.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

all aboard

Good survey on the the multiplicity of issues swirling around the economy this year here:

Investment 2005: Assessing the Petroleum Factor

Seperately, Common Dreams runs the occasional peak related article, and one on Amtrak caught my eye:

Bush Tries to Run Amtrak Out of Town

The goal is to drive the train system into bankruptcy, from which it would theoretically emerge leaner and more efficient, or to force the states to take over interstate rail travel. The result would be disastrous, however, and is guaranteed to leave whole swaths of the country without reliable train service.

The Bushies are doing this partly for ideological reasons: smaller government, less drain on the taxpayers' pocketbooks, the argue. They say Amtrak has failed in the open market by not generating enough revenue to support itself. But the argument is a scam. Republicans claim the airlines and the highway systems are self-supporting - the airlines through ticket taxes and the highways through gasoline taxes, while Amtrak is like the lazy brother on welfare. In fact, the airlines and highways are subsidized by billions of taxpayer dollars.

Peak Oil is guaranteed to do at least one thing. Fuel Costs will drive most airlines out of business and put air travel out of reach for most people. Airlines are teetering now, with oil costs at what, 35 dollars a barrel in 1999 dollars?

So privatizing Amtrak by driving it out of business (a side effect of which will be degraded infrastructure) is absurd.

Nonetheless, if Amtrak is in fact privatized, that might be a company to add to your peak investment portfolio.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Circle of Life

Source - David Horsey, Seattle PI

Carbon Chainsaw Massacre

Oh yeah, we humans got dominion over the earth. Don't compare us to chimps; might as well compare our race to a banana.

Holy crud we are running out of dead carbon, someone let all the coal out of prison!

We need the FRESH STUFF, so let's cut down trees and pump 'em into our hummer. I love it when I hear five trees scream in the morning!

What would Lord Oxburgh do? Hey - he doesn't even have a real job! No wonder he rides his trike everywhere.

With trees out of our way, we can install sails on all our cars! Whee!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

smack my farmer up

While we are on the subject of mercenaries:

Resource Insights has been tracking the unbenevolent actions of Monsanto. Something quite curious is brought to our attention:

A seed that is a mule.

When Monsanto announced that it was ready to release so-called "terminator" seeds, that is, seeds that grow crops which are sterile and therefore cannot reproduce, the public outcry was so great that it put its plans on hold.

Now, if you don't know GM crops from a bag of chips, what Monsanto is doing might seem inscrutable. You might even think, why would they bother?

Licensing. It is a software trick; it is a paradigm shifted from the world of intellectual property. First, convince farmers that, because this wheat glows and has flavor crystals, it is better than that stank old seed pappy used in the last century. Sell them a one year license to grow wheat. And next year? Sell it to them again. And next year? Sell it to them again. It is a grab for money and control.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I'll be focusing more on these issues, because predatory practices like this hurt small scale family farms. Especially when their new "magic seeds" turn out to be worse than advertised - and worse than what they replaced. It is marketing, more so than say, science.

We are going to need every farmer we have, and then some, during the post peak years. We need to spend some personal energy helping them out.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

I'll just cut the baby in half then

This is a bit off topic, but I bipped from WorldChanging over to The Long Now website, which I found to be a confusing place. But the good news was there were some links to talks given by people I pay attention to, notably, Bruce Sterling.

Listening to this talk (it is an mp3), one point made by Sterling resonated with me. He said during the talk that one of the pitfalls for scientists and science is the commoditization of what they provide, or as he put it, individual scientists can become mercenaries.

This observation is relevant to this post over at Bouphania, regarding mercury in vaccines. (And, I would contend, much of the drug industry.) I went through the whole vaccine rigamarole with my son, and compromised with The Authorities by saying no to the Hep B shots, and delayed the rest by some months.

If it is for the public good, you are made to feel like an anti-scientific crank if you complain. How to explain the nuanced position to a glaring nurse that A) I am not against vaccines in principle B) I happen to know that a 15 minute old baby doesn't need a shot to protect it from an STD that neither myself or my partner have C) It is the future, and we have antibiotics for the strains of most diseases babies get pricked for.

Another example of what I would consider to be mercenary nonsense foisted on us for the public good? The Flouride Deception. In Europe and Canada, it is not considered necessary to orally ingest a neurotoxic waste byproduct of (primarily coal) industry in an effort to brittle up teeth.

Oh, and one more, to taste.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

slide this under your radar

The Texas Railroad Commission removed production rationing in 1972. That news was the first overt signal that the U.S. had no remaining unused production capacity. However, there was little or no publicity until the decline became pronounced.

Snatched from today's headlines, The End of The Oil Standard

"Few commentators have recognized the significance of OPEC's January 30 (2005) decision to temporarily suspend their price band mechanism. If the suspension is indeed temporary, it may not be that important."

from the dead energy files

Grants Notice - Methane Hydrates

The objective of this Department of Energy (DOE), National EnergyTechnology Laboratory (NETL) funding opportunity announcement is to select projects in FY05 that will support ongoing efforts to increase the understanding of the role of methane hydrates in the environment and the potential of methane hydrates as a future energy resource.

Working furiously on my grant proposal.

Objective: Raise the global temperature by some 6 degrees celsius, having the effect of unfreezing and releasing currently innaccessible hydrate energy resources into the atmosphere. The system to achieve this will be similar to that of the Late Paleocene Thermal Maximum. (In lay terms, "the day the world farted".) Once the hydrates have been released, spinoff technology includes lush tomatos grown in Alaska due to the so-called "green house" effect.

The cookie jar recast as a monkey trap.

Recipe for Slurm inearthed

J. Moe sent me a link to the "National Energy Technology Lab", in particular noting this article.

CO2 Injection Boosts Oil Recovery, Captures Emissions

The potential added incremental oil recovered from such an effort could total as much as 600 million barrels of oil in Kansas alone (...) Such carbon sequestration efforts are the subject of intense research and government scrutiny worldwide amid growing concerns over the role that human-created CO2 emissions play in global climate change.

What exactly happens to the injected carbon when then overhead pressure from these paltry dribbles of oil are released by fresh drilling? Perhaps we should pump sugar down there too.

Somebody call PepsiCo.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Gamma Cathedral

Discussions on the timescale for building a new set of nuclear reactors to power the future in lieu of oil led me to ponder timescales relating to our existing, shoddy, nuclear infrastructure.

Before we hit 2020, we had better have cleaned up our nuclear mess. Our peak energy strategy should be to make any new nuclear reactors contingent on same. I know many of us won’t be happy to hear this, but it is highly likely that all available uranium will be used somewhere and converted into nuclear waste as we prop up our civilization of cars and toasters.

One issue is nuclear waste. This junk needs to be graded by half life and the glop that lasts more than 200 years needs to be glassed up and put in a geologically stable part of the country. Damn the cost. Oh – Yucca is a bad site. And yes, it sucks that this stuff will need to be shipped somewhere. The alternative? It stays where it is. Kind of like a decommissioned reactor.

The wild card scenario for me is the possibility for meltdown. Yes, I’m going to fear monger a bit. My apologies, Tom Ridge. Sadly, these scenarios describe reality – More so in a Peak Energy economy. I’ll get to that. First, let’s take a trip.

Ever take this legendary motorcycle ride through Chernobyl? The pictures are real; the first person narrative presumed fictional.

What does Chernobyl have to do with us? Plenty, but I need to step carefully here. I’m not a nuclear engineer. I am fascinated by how things work, and how they fail. And I’m more than a little worried about our power grid in the upcoming ten year period before the hypothetical swathe of new nuclear reactors even have a prayer of coming online. Energy utopians gloss over details such as this. I won’t.

Chernobyl. During an ill conceived emergency systems test, meant to simulate a loss of power to the reactor from the grid, Chernobyl began to melt down. Human error then finished the job. Listen to Alexander Yuvchenko, minutes after the accident.

From where I stood I could see a huge beam of projected light flooding up into infinity from the reactor. It was like a laser light, caused by the ionization of the air. It was light-bluish, and it was very beautiful. I watched it for several seconds. If I'd stood there for just a few minutes I would probably have died on the spot because of gamma rays and neutrons and everything else that was spewing out. But Tregub yanked me around the corner to get me out the way. He was older and more experienced.

This from the first hour, when most people in the neighboring city of Pripyat were still sleeping. The following days were ghastly. Water was dumped on the molten core, and split on contact into hydrogen and oxygen, exploding. Radioactive ash spewed as hapless firefighters had their DNA unzipped. Behind the reactor, a forest glittered red at night, glowing ash littering the branches. Dead men drained the pool of water under the reactor and filled it with liquid nitrogen, finally stalling the inferno. Had they failed to drain the water pool, the resultant explosion would have likely tossed every particle from the core into the atmosphere.

What is left of Pripyat? Check it out. Goosebumps. Background radiation will render Chernobyl uninhabitable for hundreds of years. And it could have been worse. The nightmare scenario for a meltdown of any given reactor is that a molten core will burrow down until it hits the local water table, exploding underground. That did not happen at Chernobyl.

Here in America, we have democratic processes that aid us in keeping our nuclear plants safe and accident free. Take this organization, for example, and there are plenty of gadflies (environmental groups and the like) to keep the pressure on. Ours is a free and pluralistic society; we support dissent; and the butt headed mistakes made in the Ukraine in 1986 don’t apply to us here and now. Some will correctly disagree, but for the sake of the argument I am making here, I will ignore them as I strain to pat America on the back.

Great. Now, what if the lights go out? Did you know that most nuclear reactors in the US do not power themselves, but rely on the general power grid to run almost all their systems – including the cooling systems? (Because the power grid is forever, amen.) The backup is typically a Diesel generator. New, fourth generation plant designs have features like gravity assisted emergency cooling. There are no fourth generation designs in operation in the United States.

So we’re talking peak energy here. What are some effects as the peak settles in? Supply shortfall of methane gas is imminent. Petroleum supply problems could occur at any time. Coal is the only energy we can rely on right now. Coal notwithstanding, we’ve got brownouts and blackouts in our future. Especially on the East Coast. Where reactors are scattered like pennies in a fountain.

Now, a successful reactor shutdown following power loss is a beautiful thing. And we’ll get to see these systems tested again and again in the coming years, as brownouts and blackouts become more prevalent.

As civil society degrades.
As spare parts become harder to acquire, expertise fading.
As plants with this flaw get dinged repeatedly by power loss.

It only takes one.

(Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.) is seeking to close down the Indian Point nuclear power plant 22 miles north of New York City.

"After Chernobyl, 1,000 miles around the plant were uninhabitable. One hundred miles around the plant are permanently uninhabitable," he said. "One hundred miles around Indian Point would be all of New York City. So, imagine a world without New York City. Well, the terrorists already have. According to the 9/11 Commission, Mohammed Atta cased Indian Point before deciding to bomb the World Trade Center. But he believed, erroneously as it turned out, that the plant must be so heavily guarded, that it would be impossible to crash an airliner into it."

Can we get this fixed? I often conceive of the coming years as a kind of holding action, in which we prevent as much damage to the environment as possible, while waiting for Peak Energy to enforce a more measured existence for humanity. Preferably retaining our technology, while living along permaculture and viridian lines.

If we don’t fix our existing nuclear infrastructure, I believe we are walking a tightrope through the peak years.

The seed has been planted, but has not yet bloomed.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

If France can do it...

I received some solid criticisms of my last post. So continuing on the subject of nuclear energy – I’m going to refine / alter my ideas. Further comments appreciated

From James:
Not to be contrarian, but how does the cost of building a new nuclear infrastructure compare to the cost of building a new, viable, green infrastructure of any kind? Nuclear reactors are technologically viable now. Wind farms in the Midwest and tidal turbines on the coasts are not.

From Big Gav:
I'm not entirely sure about your cost estimates (…) What about the French and Japanese experiences - they lead the world in nuclear energy use, so surely they would provide some helpful indicators?

A couple of things. I agree that more detail on the cost of these reactors is critically important. And this is made complicated by the heavy subsidies received by the industry. I think bringing in the international costs is on point; I haven’t found reference to any US plant in the last thirty years that has been built for less than a billion in today’s dollars, which is a significant amount. Many were considerably higher.

I don’t think we have the industrial capacity in the United States to build more than twenty new nuclear plants per a ten year period in any case. There are immense resources in engineering, construction material and trained and educated nuclear engineers that are required. This assertion on my part requires some extra background and legwork (Update - There have been periods where we have built more than 2 plants per year, but not sustained, and not during high energy cost eras), but I think it is a pretty reasonable extrapolation from the current worldwide dispersal of nuclear plant constructions in time and space. Currently there is a worldwide shortage in concrete, for example, and uranium demand outstrips supply by half again.

To James specific point about green infrastructure, a fair statement, but the worst of it is that so far, I haven’t seen any alternative to present day energy that is viable as a large scale energy source. We don’t have anything on the drawing board. So there is nothing to be built.

From James:
Most sensibly, we should reduce consumption as well as invest in new, green energy technology. However, we might also strategically use nuclear power to help wean the worst consumers (probably autos) from oil in the meantime - not as a replacement, but a stepping stone.

From Big Gav:
Also, we can expect to see a lot of renewable, distributed generation getting added to the grids as well - wind, solar, micro-hydro, tidal, bagas and other alternative sources (for example, we're planning some plants which burn waste sugar cane - I think they generate about 60Mw each, which is a nice addition to the supply with negligible fuel costs).

I don’t disagree with any of that. And, I think we will surely build some new nuclear facilities, and a pebble bed reactor is a damn sight better than some of the antiquated pressure cooker contraptions we have running in the United States at present.

There is one additional component here. The time constraint. We’re not doing this exercise here to save the world from global warming, although, the world does need saving. The best numbers out there put the date for Peak Oil around 2010, with the range being, this year, through 2015. I personally am betting on the ASPO numbers, which say 2007 for the peak.

Right now, there are no new nuclear plants being constructed in the United States (that I know of), although there are plenty of rumblings in the industry that they are gearing up to start. I saw 2010 mentioned in the Wired article as a possible start date.

Nuclear plants take years to build. 3 to 7 years, looking at recent US history. So it becomes a race to replace disappearing energy with new energy. ASPO says that by the year 2020 we’ll be down 5Gb of oil, 10Gb by 2030. That doesn’t take into account natural gas, which has peaked in the lower forty-eight, and is hugely expensive to transport overseas. Can we really build the necessary replacement nuclear reactors when the cost of commodities is skyrocketing? During a period when society in general will be in chaos? I’d be shocked if we averaged more than one reactor built per year between now and 2030. Two would be incredible.

And that won’t fill the energy gap. To solve the problems in front of us, we need not just nuclear reactors, but a full court press, from the top of the government down, on everything from energy alternatives, to micro-farming, to anti-car propaganda, to you fill in the blanks.

What is the big plan in the United States?
300 billion spent on perpetual war in Iraq?
Which gets us a stake in ruination.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Zero Zero Zero!

Like prairie dogs, the optimists are poking their heads out and peering into the clear skies, googly eyed. Green energy is on the horizon - Green coughnuclear Energy!

I'd considered smashing through the slate article in particular, debunking their art fantasy with panache. Heck, if I get mad, maybe I still will. One gets the impression that it would be more effective to simply TP the authors respective houses. They aren't listening.

So this great article from Past Peak is very timely:

A Question of Scale

Consider nuclear. To replace oil with nuclear, it would be necessary to build thousands of nuclear power plants, costing untold trillions of dollars. Even if that were desirable, it's an undertaking of unprecedented scale. As Cal Tech physicist David Goodstein, author of Out of Gas, has said:

[I]n order to make enough nuclear energy to replace all of the fossil fuel we burn today, you would have to build ten thousand of the largest nuclear plants possible. Ten thousand. That's not impossible but it is certainly a daunting task. Even if you did that, the known uranium reserves would last at that burn rate for only one or two decades. [My emphasis]

Aha - got some numbers I can apply my fifth grade math skills to.

We'll ignore a peak in uranium production and imagine there is enough for 500 years.
We'll ignore building a new transportation infrastructure. (Electric planes? hmmm.)
We'll ignore the as yet unknown costs of disposing of nuclear waste. (Never been done.)

How much does it cost to build a reactor? Well, if it cost 7 billion in the eighties, it is gonna cost us 10 billion now. ("Largest possible"). That is a round number I pulled out of my ass. It is probably more expensive.

10,000 by 10,000,000,000 - I think we know where this is going! That is DANG expensive, and frankly, it is inconcievable. I do not think we have the available energy resources to build 100 of those plants worldwide before depletion kicks like a mule.

One hundred trillion dollars. Now we know why the fed is printing money, no?

So, the next time someone starts spouting off about green nukes, kick 'em in the nuts.

Friday, February 04, 2005

requiem for the american dream

Saw something on Bruce Sterling's blog that has turbo charged a sense of unease I've had since the Bush re-election.

Noted Bio-Artist Steve Kurtz Still Outside Bounds of Guantanamo

In a sinister neo-McCarthyite turn of the cards the prosecution of the renowned artist Steve Kurtz, a core member of the US-based art collective Critical Art Ensemble and Professor of Art at the University of Buffalo, still continues after more than 8 months.

On May 11th 2004 Steven Kurtz awoke to find his wife of 27 years dead. After emergency workers arrived, they called in the FBI after finding what they considered to be suspicious items. These items were scientific samples and equipment, including harmless bacteria.


The continuation of legal proceedings against Steven Kurtz and Robert Ferrell, now suggest a political motivation to the case.

Instances of this growing culture of fascism are dropping down from above like snowflakes. And sticking, aided by a winter chill in the air. Check out this over at the Daily Kos, and ponder the things that are happening around us. Perpetual war - making it easy to suppress dissent. A political monoculture in Washington D.C., complete with manufactured crises like Social Security flailed loudly to distract you from the price of chocolate.

On Bill O'Reilly the other night, Newt Gingrich (spotted wearing a t-shirt made from Dan Rather's skin) made this comment about the Ward Churchill flap:

The former Speaker also commented on the Ward Churchill-Hamilton College controversy. "Someone who describes the innocent victims of 9/11 as little Adolf Eichmanns is so despicable and hateful that the taxpayers of Colorado should not be paying his salary. Taxpayers don't have to pay for lunatic professors to teach their children."

His Newtness, who may run for president in 2008, strongly stated, did not imply, that people who attack "The Government" should not recieve public funds, ie, Ward, the rogue leftist tenured professor, should be fired. Our Government, of the people, of which Ward is one, with FREE SPEECH as a core credo? When God tried a similar semantic trick in the "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy", he disappeared in a poof of logic; sadly the same did not happen to Newt, on the brighter side proving he is not God.

This is fascism, from the ruling party of our nation.

And the dance has only just begun, for the American economy is rickety and dependant on the kindness of strangers picking up our debt to the tune of 2 billion or so a day; we are about to swing into serious commodity issues in a few short years; (I'm talking fuel and food, not toaster ovens and beamers) and there is no end in sight to the gerrymandered, co-branded, Republican-Corporate machine.

Red states, as far as the eye can see, a mobius strip of self perpetuating power.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Shooting fish in a barrel

Recently I posted on the pipeline vulnerability problem, linking to the Global Guerrillas blog. An article referenced from Energy Bulletin expands on this topic:

How to bring down a giant, one blood vessel at a time.

"A handful of small attacks made against Saudi infrastructure will push oil well over $100 a barrel," says John Robb, an independent analyst and author of the forthcoming book Global Guerrillas. "Twenty or so a month will keep it there. We are about to see the rise of a shadow OPEC. The control of oil doesn't rest in the hands of the governments. It is in the hands of the guerrillas that can stop the flow."

I think this could be an extrordinarily important trend. Smooth depletion of oil is two things: Good for the environment, and troublesome for humans and their economy. It should be accepted as a premise at this point that converting from oil to 'x' will be tremedously difficult, not the least of which because 'x' will likely equal zero with a captital 0. I honestly think we'll be fine without air travel, crappy plastic consumer goods, and the American Southwest, but the ride will be bumpy even in a best case scenario.

However, chaotic disruption of strategic oil supplies will lead to directly to chaotic human affairs, and a visit from the four (is it four?) horsemen of the a taco sheeps. Those who don't ignore history are condemned to repeat it anyways.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Modeling the Peak

It is hard for me to keep track of everything dependant on Peak Energy, so I have been thinking about different ways to model associations and relationships of the systems involved.

My first run at this uses UML, perhaps not the best choice. If anyone can recommend a better way to do this, please let me know in the comments section.

A couple of points about this -

I've left out a few components - Fresh Water, Resource War, Renewable energy. Also, these items are more interelated than I have shown. But it would be better to break the model into multiple models rather than to try and make a large, confusing one. Actually, the model above is kind of shaggy anyways.

Ultimately I'd like to see Peak Energy modeled like the weather - where small trends lead to a multiplicity of possible outcomes, but large trends (here I would compare the jet stream to depletion) lead to overarching, predictable results.

In my copious spare time.