Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Review of Mark Z. Jacobson's Review

A new paper, Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security, by Mark Z. Jacobson, announces that
this reviews and ranks major proposed energy-related solutions to global warming, air pollution mortality, and energy security while considering other impacts of the proposed solutions, such as on water supply, land use, wildlife, resource availability, thermal pollution, water chemical pollution, nuclear proliferation, and undernutrition .
Unfortunately Professor Jacobson as committed so many errors in his review of issues associated with nuclear power, that the value of his entire assessment must be questioned.
This study is simply a crock. For example the study assumed CO2 emissions appear to be based on old studies during the period when uranium was enriched with the gaseous diffusion process that consumed a large amount of electricity from coal fired power plants. Jacobson sites in his references a paper by the infamous B. K. Sovacool, Valuing the greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear power: A critical survey.

I may offer a further review the Sovacool paper, since debunking Sovacool is one of my hobbies, but the use of the methodologically challenged and biased Sovacool as a source is a sure giveaway of an abandonment of critical standards for chosen source by Jacobson.

Current enrichment technologies enriched U-235 with electricity for the gaseous coming from coal fired power plants. Nuclear is assumed to use far more land surface than wind, and this would seem to be very had to justify. In fact as the study assumes much of area occupied by nuclear is a buffer. Most of the buffer area is left in its natural state or left to revert to natural state, thus becomes wildlife habitat. Uranium mines are assumed to occupy a large land surface. Nuclear is assumed to have significant impact on wild life, worse than concentrated solar, which typically strips the soil bare by bulldozing it before constructing the facility. Estimates of available uranium resources are absurdly low.

And we have the following discussion:
4d. Effects of nuclear energy on nuclear war and terrorism damage

Because the production of nuclear weapons material is occurring only in countries that have developed civilian nuclear energy programs, the risk of a limited nuclear exchange between countries or the detonation of a nuclear device by terrorists has increased due to the dissemination of nuclear energy facilities worldwide. As such, it is a valid exercise to estimate the potential number of immediate deaths and carbon emissions due to the burning of buildings and infrastructure associated with the proliferation of nuclear energy facilities and the resulting proliferation of nuclear weapons. The number of deaths and carbon emissions, though, must be multiplied by a probability range of an exchange or explosion occurring to estimate the overall risk of nuclear energy proliferation. Although concern at the time of an explosion will be the deaths and not carbon emissions, policy makers today must weigh all the potential future risks of mortality and carbon emissions when comparing energy sources.

Here, we detail the link between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons and estimate the emissions of nuclear explosions attributable to nuclear energy. The primary limitation to building a nuclear weapon is the availability of purified fissionable fuel (highly-enriched uranium or plutonium).68 Worldwide, nine countries have known nuclear weapons stockpiles (US, Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea). In addition, Iran is pursuing uranium enrichment, and 32 other countries have sufficient fissionable material to produce weapons. Among the 42 countries with fissionable material, 22 have facilities as part of their civilian nuclear energy program, either to produce highly-enriched uranium or to separate plutonium, and facilities in 13 countries are active.68 Thus, the ability of states to produce nuclear weapons today follows directly from their ability to produce nuclear power. In fact, producing material for a weapon requires merely operating a civilian nuclear power plant together with a sophisticated plutonium separation facility. The Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons has been signed by 190 countries. However, international treaties safeguard only about 1% of the world's highly-enriched uranium and 35% of the world's plutonium.68 Currently, about 30000 nuclear warheads exist worldwide, with 95% in the US and Russia, but enough refined and unrefined material to produce another 100000 weapons.69

The explosion of fifty 15 kt nuclear devices (a total of 1.5 MT, or 0.1% of the yields proposed for a full-scale nuclear war) during a limited nuclear exchange in megacities could burn 63–313 Tg of fuel, adding 1–5 Tg of soot to the atmosphere, much of it to the stratosphere, and killing 2.6–16.7 million people.68 The soot emissions would cause significant short- and medium-term regional cooling.70 Despite short-term cooling, the CO2 emissions would cause long-term warming, as they do with biomass burning.62 The CO2 emissions from such a conflict are estimated here from the fuel burn rate and the carbon content of fuels. Materials have the following carbon contents: plastics, 38–92%; tires and other rubbers, 59–91%; synthetic fibers, 63–86%;71 woody biomass, 41–45%; charcoal, 71%;72 asphalt, 80%; steel, 0.05–2%. We approximate roughly the carbon content of all combustible material in a city as 40–60%. Applying these percentages to the fuel burn gives CO2 emissions during an exchange as 92–690 Tg CO2. The annual electricity production due to nuclear energy in 2005 was 2768 TWh yr-1. If one nuclear exchange as described above occurs over the next 30 yr, the net carbon emissions due to nuclear weapons proliferation caused by the expansion of nuclear energy worldwide would be 1.1–4.1 g CO2 kWh-1, where the energy generation assumed is the annual 2005 generation for nuclear power multiplied by the number of yr being considered. This emission rate depends on the probability of a nuclear exchange over a given period and the strengths of nuclear devices used. Here, we bound the probability of the event occurring over 30 yr as between 0 and 1 to give the range of possible emissions for one such event as 0 to 4.1 g CO2 kWh-1. This emission rate is placed in context in Table 3.
Well no one wants nuclear war, but Jacobson does not demonstrate that the use of nuclear power in either the United Stats or world wide increases the likelihood of a nuclear exchange. As Jacobson himself notes, there is world wide enough fissionable material to build 100000 nuclear weapons. The way to dispose of this weapons material is by using it in reactors. No nation has used power reactors as a route to nuclear weapons, and Israel, and India produced weapons materials from non-power reactors that were of a very different design from power reactors. North Korea, found that the blueprints of a Plutonium producing reactor were available in the United Kingdom, and simply copied the design. Pakistan and South Africa chose to use Uranium enrichment technologies, In the case of South Africa, the enrichment technology was unique. Finally plutonium form power reactors cannot be used in nuclear weapons because of heat, radiation, and other technical problems. Thus the possession of power reactors would not appear to be a cause of nuclear proliferation, nor would it be.

In a category "Effects on air pollution emissions and mortality" we find the following observation:
In the case of nuclear-BEV, the upper limit of the number of deaths, scaled to US population, due to a nuclear exchange caused by the proliferation of nuclear energy facilities worldwide is also given (horizontal lines).
The assumption is that the existence of nuclear power plants in the United States would lead to an increased likelihood of a nuclear exchange. This assumption is never explained.

Under "energy supply disruptions" we find the following:
In the case of centralized power sources, the larger the plant, the greater the risk of terrorism and collateral damage. In the case of nuclear power, collateral damage includes radiation release. In the case of hydroelectric power, it includes flooding. In the case of ethanol and coal-CCS, it includes some chemical releases. Whereas, nuclear power plants are designed to withstand tornados and other severe whether, the other power plants are not. However, nuclear power plants are vulnerable to heat waves. Because nuclear power plants rely on the temperature differential between steam and river or lake water used in the condenser, they often cannot generate electricity when the water becomes too hot, as occurred during the European heat wave of 2004, when several nuclear reactors in France were shut down.

Because nuclear power plants are centralized, release radiation if destroyed, and may shut down during a heat wave, we deem them to be the most likely target of a terrorist attack and prone to energy supply disruption among all energy source
We see in the guise of a scientific study, the Green propaganda machine at work. For example, Jacobson notes that CSP facilities use cooling water – indeed, and Jaconson does not tell us that CSP as much cooling water as nuclear power plants. Because solar productivity becomes an issue outside the desert Southwest, water for massive CSP fields must be found in a desert region, surely a daunting prospect, and power producing operations would be far more vulnerable to drought conditions than better watered parts of the country. Jacobson underestimates the centralization of solar and wind facilities. In fact power production with solar and wind are likely o be confined to a relatively small number of high production locations, These locations are not close to most electricity consuming areas of the country, thus necessitating a new, extremely expensive, and extremely vulnerable to terrorism system of electrical distribution and long range transportation of electricity. Jacobson over estimates the vulnerability of nuclear facilities to successful terrorist attacks, and greatly over estimates the consequences of these attacks. He, of course, fails to justify his very questionable contentions.

Finally I would like to make note of Jacobson claims about opportunity costs. Although Jacobson frequently mentions the words “opportunity cost “ in his paper, he does not provide his readers with an adequate discussion of what those words mean. Furthermore he fails provide a criteria for identifying relative “opportunity costs.” Nor does he provide or point too a data base which might be used to support his judgment. Thus there is no substantiated analysis behind his very pointed pronouncements about the opportunity costs. Thus we ought to read statements about opportunity costs as evidence of a personal rather than a professional opinions. It is clear then that Mark Z. Jacobson has not offered a serious effort to detached himself from his personal views, and this lack of detachment has seriously impaired his judgment in the paper under review.

Update: I have now had a chance to look at the new Sovacool paper. It is actually of far better quality than his previous work. For once Sovacool takes a nuanced view that does not support any sweeping judgments about nuclear power. Indeed, Sovacool suggests that sweeping judgments about the carbon output of nuclear power on the basis of existing studies are not possible. I must commend Dr. Sovacool for the progress of his scholarly skills. I must also note that Dr. Sovacool's conclusion:
Rather than detail the complexity and variation inherent in the
greenhouse gas emissions associated with the nuclear lifecycle, most studies obscure it; especially those motivated on both sides of the nuclear debate attempting to make nuclear energy look cleaner or dirtier than it really is.

Unfortunately Mark Z. Jacobson fails to note the limited uses of these studies, and thus invites on himself significant criticism.

Update 2: Brian Wang in Next Big Future, also discusses Jacobson's paper. Key word: dishonesty.


Anonymous said...

The Jacobson analysis ("Lies, damned lies, and statistics" ) is now being referenced in many media venues. This testament to the persuasive power of numbers, and the use of statistics to bolster false and misleading arguments brings home the absolute necessity to fiercely counter this subversive propaganda.

Charles Barton said...

That is why it is important to counter such distorted propaganda.

Bill Hannahan said...

Nice work Charles, and happy birthday to your blog.

If I were advising Sovacool I would recommend three changes.

1 Delete all references to Leeuwen. His frequent references to this deeply flawed analysis calls into question Sovacools’ ability to discern bad science.

2 Extend his lifetime estimates to 60 years. He does not recognize that existing plants are routinely getting extensions to 60 years and new plants are starting out at 60 with possibility of further extention. That would reduce gms/kWh substantially.

3 Provide proof that the studies of renewable energy are of the same depth as his nuclear study.

4 Change the title from; Valuing the greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear power: to

Valuing the greenhouse gas emissions from 1942-1960 nuclear power technology:

Jacobson compares theoretical 2020 wind and solar technology with old nuclear technology rather than theoretical 2020 nuclear technology.

Charles Barton said...

Bill I decided to go easy on Socacool because I have recently seen a great improvement in his work. I know that Sovacool referred to Storm van Leeuwen, and that is where he is coming from, but he consulted one of Leewen's harshest critics, and his paper comes to a reasonable conclusion. I am willing to let other flaws go for the time being, because I want to encourage improvements.

I did not see any point to extending the criticism of Jacobson. Brian Wang accuses him of being dishonest, and that might account for some of flaws in his paper, though there are probably kinder accounts of hie errors.


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