Wednesday, June 30, 2010

David Walters Returns to Nuclear Blogging

David Walters has resumed blogging after an absence of several months. This is indeed good news for those of us who appreciate Davids work. David' Daily Kos blog descrives him as
(a) power plant worker, union member and socialist.
This says a lot about David, but is by no means the whole story.

David has two blogs, in addition to his Daily Kos Blog, David has a second blog, Left Atomic. Left Atomic has a banner slogan:
In case you are still wondering, David us not a Tea Party activist.

It is a myth that the political left has rejected nuclear power en mass. As it turns out most American pro-nuclear bloggers situate ourselves somewhere to left of the American political center. Often we find that our anti-nuclear opponents while posing as Liberals and leftist, are in fact left wing posers, who reject many of the ideas that traditional liberals and leftists regard as important. Indeed one of the reasons why we accept nuclear power, is that we believe that it is an acceptable tool for the creation of a society in which human freedom is important, and common people have access to the material prosperity that is a potential in material high energy societies. Our pseudo leftist anti-nuclear opponents, would limit the production of energy, make energy expensive, and otherwise place artificial limitations on access to energy and to the goods produced by industrialized, high energy societies. A second difference between pro-nuclear bloggers and our anti-nuclear opponents, is the high regard in which we hold science and our respect for facts, and our attempt to hold ourselves to a standard of honesty in debate. David Walters exemplifies all of these virtue.

Not only is David Walters a notable blogger, but he has been active internte commenter who frequently participates in online debates with anti-nuclear types. In order to appreciate David in action I will refer to a debate he participated in last Fall on a pro-renewables Internet site called El Phoenix Sun. David's debate opponent in this instance was Osha Gray Davidson, who reviewed a study titled "Energy Trends" by the public opinion research Neilson Company. The report demonstrated that renewable energy receives wide spread public support, but dis not look at how much the public knows about the down sides of renewable energy such as its reliability issue and cost. In his review, Osha Gray Davidson stated,
The study grouped a variety of energy sources under the heading, “Renewable and Carbon Neutral Sources.”

I don’t know why the phrase “carbon neutral” was included, but it appears to give nuclear power a chance to be included in the pie. Nuclear fuel isn’t renewable, but it also isn’t carbon neutral — unless you ignore carbon emissions that come from mining, transporting, and processing the uranium fuel, and disposing of the radioactive waste (for which there is currently no viable plan — but that’s another story).
Davidson then displayed a pie chart derived from the study which demonstrated public acceptance for various forms of "carbon neutral" energy sources including nuclear. Davidson remarked,
I really don’t think nuclear belongs in this pie under a reasonable definition of “carbon neutral.” Here’s what our pie would look like with the radioactive ingredient removed.
David responded to Davidson's El Pheonix Sun peice
Oh please, of course nuclear is as carbon neutral as any renewable. Especially if you include life time usage including the huge 10x material costs per MW for wind vs nuclear.

It is considered “non/low carbon” by everyone in the energy business and arguing it is not makes you look foolish.

And of course these pie charts based on nonsense questions are…useless. “What people prefer” is irrelevant to how you build a grid, address baseload power issues, etc.
Davidson who had not substantiated his claim about nuclear not being carbon-neutral responded by challenging David to substantiate his claims. In addition Davidson added a gratuitous comment intended as a slur against David.
I know your blog is subtitled “A Left-Wing, Pro-Nuclear Energy Perspective,” but please – don’t give Glenn Beck and his ilk encouragement!
David responded,
First, the Dr. Steven Chu, our Energy Sec’ty has stated repeatedly: “Nuclear provides 70% of our carbon FREE generation…”. He uses the word ‘free’ only because most renewable advocates missue the term as well.

The EIA of the DofE has a list of the carbon out put of all sources of energy, based on lifetime front end to back end cycle. The European energy agency has produced similar results. For one of *many* studies see:

“Life-Cycle Assessment of Electricity Generation Systems and Applications for Climate Change Policy Analysis,” Paul J. Meier, University of Wisconsin-Madison, August 2002.

Also, The British Energy listing of carbon life cycle output:

And I could go on…

This, as the majority of recent studies show, CO2 output equals that of wind, based on life cycle analysis. If your readers do *any* good search for this, they will find dozens of studies all of which put nuclear at or near that of wind.

What NONE of the studies show is the massive required backup in terms of fossil fuel, most notably gas fired gas turbines but also coal because of the unreliability of renewables. If you added this, that is, in stead of simply comparing the lifecycle CO2 output of a single, say, wind turbine name plate capacity, to it’s availability, you’d have to raise that number to at least 4 or 5 given that one has to overbuild wind by this factor to get true faceplate capacity.

There simply is no one in the industry: grid operations, manufacturing, environmental regulatory or climate change scientists who would back up YOUR unsubstantiated claim that nuclear is not low-carbon. I believe the burden of proof is on you. . . .

The EIA also has data on the material usage for building wind turbines vs that of nuclear. All the numbers I’ve seen *bar none* show that in terms of aluminum, steel and concrete wind uses from 4 to 10 times the amount than nuclear. Wind advocates don’t like to point this out, of course.
Then David added a response to Davidson's Glen Beck slur,
The problem is that your writing actually backs up the Glen Beck Know-Nothings because you fail to provide any evidence of your claims thus giving, on a silver platter to idiots like Beck, that renewable energy advocates don’t know what they are talking about with regards to energy. (I doubt HE could actually articulate this in any event but others of his ilk can).
Davidson responded,
Thanks for providing your sources. They’re helpful in some respects, but they don’t do anything to bolster your original claim that “everyone” agrees that nuclear power is a low carbon source of energy. Clearly, the authors you cite share your view. They don’t speak for everyone, however. Even more important are the nuances and caveats they contain.

First, I’ll just point to a couple of sources that disagree with the ones you site.

“Nuclear Power – The Energy Balance,” by Jan Williem van Leeuwen and Philip Smith.

“ Nuclear Power and Climate Change,” Amory Lovins.

Both of the complete citations you provided (Meier and the British Energy study) exclude a critical factor: the GHG emissions associated with spent fuel disposal. I didn’t see any reference to this omission in Meier (although I may have missed it). And the BE study refers to it obliquely, saying only “The final route of disposal for high level radioactive waste in the UK is currently under consideration.” Translation: “Since we haven’t solved the disposal issue, let’s just assume that whatever is done won’t emit GHGs.”

Zero information does not equal zero emissions.

In the US, the solution – burial at Yucca Mountain – was a massive project that emitted an unknown quantity of GHGs. Now that the Obama administration has rejected the Yucca Mountain solution, a new plan will have to be devised, and estimates for CO2 emissions are, of course, not factored into either of the studies cited.

I don’t believe an objective source would claim carbon neutrality based on partial data. Then again, I’m not so sure the British Energy study you cite is objective.

British Energy is one of the largest nuclear power companies in the UK, if not the largest, operating eight plants with a 9,000 MW capacity. They commissioned the study by AEA Technology, a private research company whose links to the nuclear industry has been a source of controversy in the UK.
As well informed energy writers should know, Jan Williem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith claims have been the subject of numerous critiques, most notably by Martin Sevior, an Associate Professor, School of Physics, University of Melbourne. Amory Lovins fallacious claims about nuclear power, were throughly examined by David Bradisn. Bradish's summery of his 6 part critique together with links to the previous 5 parts can be found here. Lovins began an attempt to respond to Bradish on Gristmill (Bradish provides links), but failed to respond to comments on the second of 4 promised posts, and failed to offer the final two responses, as well as a promised response to Robert Bryce. A year after the Bradish-Lovins controversy, I reviewed it and concluded,
There can, however, be no doubt that Lovins, by his refusal to respond to numerous critics, and his failure to provide promised responses, has damaged his credibility.
There are thus clear grounds for challenging Lovins claim to be an energy expert.

Thus Davidson rests his response to David Walters on the shoulders of two discredited sources. And David, who is no ones fool pounced.
Osha (I assume this is your name?) as Bill Woods pointed out, Storm van Leeuwen was wildly discredited and if you notice, few, if any, cite him and his team anymore.

My sources, including British energy which is a state surface, the DofE etca are all widely regarded as objective sources. The two you cited are *professional* anti-nuclear activists.

If you look at any set of objective studies, from universities, primarily, but other sources as well, no one seriously doesn’t consider nuclear to be low-carbon and in fact the worlds governments are generally in agreement about that. Just about at every level, ‘fossil’ use can be replaced with nuclear energy, from mining to lighting the guard shack at a spent fuel depository. Certainly reprocessing can be totally nuclearized so there is essentially zero-carbon from nuclear.

Since the mining and transport of materials for wind is way higher than nuclear, would we consider this a net increase in carbon out put? of course. But this is statistically irrelevant as it is for carbon output of nuclear. What is not, as I noted previously, included is the amount of fossil fuel back up needed for wind and solar. Is this included in *any* of the studies you site? No.

But I will take wind as it’s presented: low carbon at the point of production and minimal at the manufacturing level. Same as nuclear, essentially.

Not that I want to give advice to anti-nuclear writers, but clearly the issues with nuclear are not over ‘carbon output’. I should recommend you continue along these lines, the people are far smarter than that. The real issues with nuclear as economic (financing it) and spent nuclear fuel (recycling, etc). You could have a serious discussion here if you focused on what is, not what is fantasy.

Davidson not willing to invest more in a loosing cause, bowed out without admitting the defeat he had suffered.
David, It’s time for me to move on, so rather than respond to the arguments you make above, I’ll be a gracious web-host and let you have the last word.

Thanks for writing and taking part in the exchange. It’s been interesting, and I appreciate your efforts to fight global warming, even if we disagree on the means.

Kudos to David Walters, and mazel tov upon his return to nuclear blogging.


donb said...

Osha Davidson wrote:
Both of the complete citations you provided (Meier and the British Energy study) exclude a critical factor: the GHG emissions associated with spent fuel disposal. I didn’t see any reference to this omission in Meier (although I may have missed it). And the BE study refers to it obliquely, saying only “The final route of disposal for high level radioactive waste in the UK is currently under consideration.” Translation: “Since we haven’t solved the disposal issue, let’s just assume that whatever is done won’t emit GHGs.”

No, let's assume we do it right and reuse/recycle the spent nuclear fuel. In this case, we get even more energy out of it to displace carbon-based sources. Depending on how this is done, the amount of energy generated from this "waste" can dwarf the amount of energy extracted on the first go-around.

Can we guarantee that not a single molecule of carbon escapes to the atmosphere if we do this? Of course not. The goal is not to completely eliminate all CO2 into the atmosphere, but to reduce it to a level that nature can handle. Nuclear energy is not 100% CO2 free. It is just better than the alternatives when realities like storage and back-up generation are taken into account.

DW said...

Thanks for Charles for this summation and overview of my blogging.

Donb is correct: what is *best* to reduce carbon by phasing out coal and other fossil fuels...and renewables like charcoal made in developing countries from cutting down forests!

One of the best lines you get, Caldicott is famous for that it takes massive fossil fuel burning to power nuclear processing and reprocessing. She cites, accurately, the two medium sized coal plants built to power a Kentucky radioactive processing facility. What she fails to point out is that if those coal plants were NUCLEAR there would be no carbon emissions. So she ignores the obvious example of France which powers 80% of it's reprocessing and fuel fabrication facilities with...ZERO carbon nuclear! Gotta love it!



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