Monday, September 2, 2013


I probably first encountered Joe Romm's "ClimateProgress" in 2006 when I was debating with anthropogenic climate change sceptics. Romm was a useful and reliable source of information about CO2 and global climate change.  I was at first very favorably disposed towards Joe's work at that time. I largely ignored his attitude toward nuclear power, however I quickly came to the conclusion that the argument about climate change had been won. by spring of 2007 I was ready to move on to supporting a solution. Up until that time I was favourably disposed towards renewables, but also thought that nuclear power would play an important role in the solution to the problem posed by CO2 emissions.  At that point, I also began asking questions about renewable energy because I wondered how we were going to get electricity at times when wind was not blowing and the sun was down. As it turned out, there were many problems with renewable energy that needed to be addressed, but the advocates of renewable energy seldom mentioned them. As I became more familiar with the problems posed by renewable energy, I became aware of the need to ask questions about nuclear energy technology including its' safety, its' reliability, its' costs, and the use of civilian nuclear reactors as a source of Plutonium for weapons.

Joe Romm held the same views then that he holds today. Namely that nuclear power is too expensive. I attempted to dialogue with Joe Romm over this issue pointing out that there were a number of ways of lowering the costs of nuclear power plants. Romm basically dodged my arguments. One of my arguments was the use of factory built small reactors could lower nuclear costs. Romm simply ignored this argument and argued that any attempt to introduce new technology into reactors could not lead to commercial sales for at least forty years. We know more now than we did in 2007. Not only does a reactor factory already exist in the United States, but it is capable of producing small reactors before 2020. Other factories could be build in the next forty years. Thus, Romm's forty year developmental time expectation was unrealistically pessimistic.

I found that Romm was unwilling to acknowledge any of my arguments and offered unrealistic and inaccurate accounts in response to my researched expectations. Eventually Romm started to censor my comments and then he censored the comments of other pro nuclear bloggers as well. It was clear that Romm did not want to engage in a dialogue with nuclear advocates.

We can now fast froward six years to 2013. In a June 17, 2013, post: "Pandora's Promise: Nuclear Power's Trek From Too Cheap to Meter To Too Costly To Matter Much" Romm demonstrated that he had not changed his thinking one bit over the last six years. His argument in 2007 was that nuclear power was too expensive to be practical and despite considerable evidence to the contrary, evidence which Romm appears to have ignored, he continues to hold the very same beliefs he did in 2007. Thus Romm ignores the potential of factories to lower the costs of reactor manufacture. He ignores the costs lowering potential of underground housing for reactors. He ignores the cost saving potential of final assembly of a reactor in a factory and the transportation of the assembled reactor by truck, train, or barge to the final underground housing site. He ignores the cost saving potential of reusing existing power plant sites to house reactors. Advantages that allow for the use of current grid connection equipment without expensive new electrical hookups. He ignores the financial advantage of buying nuclear power plants that are on one tenth of the size of the power plants he is writing about; Using these approaches, new nuclear plants can be producing electricity within months of their purchase. He ignores the material costs advantages of advanced nuclear technology such as Molten Salt Reactors. He ignores the safety advances of generation IV nuclear technology and how those advances in Molten Salt Reactors are actually consistent with lowering their price.

During the last six years, Joe Romm would have been able to discuss nuclear technology on "Energy From Thorium" or "BraveNewClimate". He could have read about it on "Nuclear Green Revolution". He could have presented his views and explained to a most interested audience why he thought the way he did. Instead, he sought to shut himself off from the community of nuclear advocates. Censoring their comments in many cases and not responding to them. This was the case for his June 17th post which received many comments from supporters of nuclear power without any responses from Joe Romm.

Some of Joe's comments appeared to rise to the level of dishonesty. For example, in a graph he presents data purporting to show that there was a negative learning curve for nuclear power construction between the 1970s and the 1990s. In fact, the learning curve would have operated only if the same reactor was rebuilt or was built on multiple occasions so that experience could contributed to cost lowering in the series of reactors. This was not possible because the one hundred or so reactors that were build during this time period were manufactured by four different companies. In addition, the design of each companies' reactors underwent major revisions during the time period and changes in federal regulations required major modifications of reactor design that increased building costs. Romm fails to note any of these problems. At present, only two different types of reactors are under contract to be built in the US. One of them is large, but the second type is quite small and is being built by a company that has extensive experience building small reactors.

Romm continues to avoid dialogue with nuclear advocates who comment on his posts even though Internet etiquette requires that constructive criticisms should be responded to by the post author. In addition to his intransigence on nuclear power, I would like to point out that Romm further fails to offer us a comparison between the costs of nuclear power and the costs of renewable generated electricity. The relevant question should be: how much does it cost for power to be delivered to consumers twenty-fours hours a day seven days a week using nuclear generated power or using renewable generated electricity. In 2007 I looked at that question and determined that the costs of renewable generated electricity would be higher, but that I was not sure whether or not conventional nuclear power would be cheap enough to solve all of the problems electricity would need to solve. The answer was, that nuclear power needed to be expanded and eventually I came to the conclusion that Molten Salt Reactors would solve most, if not all, of the energy problems we faced.

I, along with a number of other nuclear advocates, repeatedly attempted to engage Joe Romm in discussions about the advantages of Molten Salt Reactors. Romm refused to respond except to argue that the technology would require forty years to come to fulfillment. In fact, molten salt nuclear technology underwent very considerable development in the 1950s and 1960s and was proven successful in two prototype experiments. Based on ORNL proven technology, commercial Molten Salt Reactors are possible and can be on the market within ten years. Since it would be possible to build a factory to build them within the next ten years, this means that it would be possible to build hundreds and even thousands of electricity producing Molten Salt Reactors within the next ten years. The cost of these reactors, all capable of producing reliable electricity, would be less than the cost of producing an equivalent amount of electricity using unreliable renewable resources.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Joe Romm would not accept any of my comments favourable towards nuclear power some years ago and would not answer why he did so. I therefore have not visited his site since, which I previously did quite often.


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