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.


At 11:57 AM, February 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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. Windfarms in the Midwest and tidal turbines on the coasts are not.

Further, we don't need to immediately replace *all* fossil fuel consumption. I agree it is utterly irresponsible for the authors of the Slate article to claim a reduction in oil consumption is not necessary. 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.


At 2:52 PM, February 05, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

Contrarian is good, it seems like we peak types are reading each others blogs and all the standard sites. I'll address your comments in a posting tomorrow.


At 5:23 PM, February 05, 2005, Blogger Big Gav said...

I like contrarian too - hopefully I won't end up debunking one of my own posts.

I'm not entirely sure about your cost estimates - are the Chinese paying $10 billion per reactor for the 27 reactors they have on the drawing boards ? Are the Finns paying that much for their new reactor ? What about the French and Japanese experiences - they lead the world in nuclear energy use, so surely they would provide some helpful indicators ?

(I don't have any answers here, but I'd love to see some research done rather than each of us "pulling numbers out of our ass" or just wildly speculating).

I'm not pro nuclear energy in any way (other than guiltily indulging in some amoral speculation in uranium minimg company stocks) but all the signs indicate that its going to see increased adoption in the coming years - given a choice of "Powerdown" and building lots of reactors I'm sure I know what your average politican will choose.

I'd also note that the 10,000 nuclear reactor estimate is to replace all generation - which is wildly unrealistic - like it or not, gas (for a while) and more importantly coal powered stations will continue to generate a large proportion of electricity for a long time yet.

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 do agree that there's nothing green about nuclear (fission) though - and we should try to avoid succumbing to group think now that everyone seems to be accessing the same sources.

I'd still love to see any information about proven uranium reserves and depletion rates if anyone finds some !

At 2:20 AM, February 06, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

Thanks for your thoughts. On cost, I just read a Wired article by some nuke optimists which helped to frame my thinking a little bit. They suggest "4 billion", ignoring the higher figures for cost overruns that were prevalent from the late seventies through the eighties. (Remember though - this was during a period when the energy cost for building a reactor would have been at a historical high - a situation we are about to surpass!) However, they quite reasonably point out that an economy of scale, standardised design, and so forth could drive down costs.

As far as the contrarian mindset, I think what I really worry about is pleasing half truths - things that match my own biases - slipping under the radar and then being reinforced by myself and others.


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