Posts tagged “Nuclear Power”
Nicholas Kristof wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times a few weeks ago titled: “Terrorists, bathtubs, and snakes.“
It was about how our evolved abilities to assess risk (which worked great when we were hunter-gatherers) can fail us pretty miserably in the modern industrial world–a point that has been made over and over again by lesser known writers over the last decade about the safety of nuclear powerplants.
In short, our brains are perfectly evolved for the Pleistocene, but are not as well suited for the risks we face today. If only climate change caused sharp increases in snake populations, then we’d be on top of the problem!
Yet even if our brains sometimes mislead us, they also crown us with the capacity to recognize our flaws and rectify mistakes. So maybe we can adjust for our weaknesses in risk assessment — so that we confront the possible destruction of our planet as if it were every bit as ominous and urgent a threat as, say, a passing garter snake.
My wife and I recently took a weekend road trip to view the annual shore bird migration along the Washington coast. Because it was along our route, we made a short stop in the town of Satsop.
Below is the second of two posts by Robert Petroski and Brian Marrs about the future of nuclear energy (link to Part I). Petroski is a nuclear engineer, with a degree from MIT, and Marrs is a Power Markets Specialist, with a degree from Yale. They are colleagues of mine from the Atlantic Council’s “Emerging Leaders in Energy and Environmental Policy,” a Transatlantic Network of professionals in the energy field. In this post, they argue that the nuclear debate we are having today should reflect how much technology has changed and will change in the coming decades. They end by arguing that we have to remember, the real enemy is carbon; I couldn’t agree more!
Also, be sure to check out the podcast of our conversation over at the American Security Project, here.
The Innovation Imperative
The majority of today’s nuclear fleet will complete their tenure within the coming decades. As it does so, categorically dismissing nuclear energy technology means abandoning 50 years of collective experience, just as the world’s demand for energy has never been greater – and coal-based. We believe that nuclear technologies are currently evolving in the direction of increased simplicity and safety, and by doing so nuclear energy has the potential to overcome traditional shortfalls of highly uncertain costs and unknown risks.
The uneven history of nuclear energy, especially in the United States, has been due in large part to the growing pains of a new industry combined with those of a new nuclear regulator. The development and maturation of nuclear regulatory requirements led to design changes in nuclear plants, which were often conceived and implemented “on the fly”, because they occurred after construction of a plant had already begun. These design changes commonly took the form of increased numbers and types of backup systems, increasing the complexity of nuclear power plants. The result of these growing pains was an immense escalation in nuclear costs and construction schedules, which was further compounded by an attempt to build larger and larger plants to generate economies of scale.
Below is the first of two posts by Robert Petroski and Brian Marrs about the future of nuclear energy. Petroski is a nuclear engineer, with a degree from MIT, and Marrs is a Power Markets Specialist, with a degree from Yale. They are colleagues of mine from the Atlantic Council’s “Emerging Leaders in Energy and Environmental Policy,” a Transatlantic Network of professionals in the energy field. In this post, they argue against hyperbole about nuclear power from both opponents and proponents.
Reasonable discussion about nuclear power is hard to find. Sifting through the post-Fukishima rhetoric about nuclear power is difficult whether you are an energy markets professional or even a nuclear engineer. Depending on what you read, nuclear power is either an antiquated technology far too dangerous and too costly for society, or on the verge of a technological renaissance which promises clean, safe, proliferation-free power the world round. The energy industry is no stranger to broken promises or unanticipated breakthroughs. The punditry and associated polarization surrounding nuclear power comes at a time when regulators and investors must make critical decisions about funding nuclear innovation and renewing the global nuclear fleet, particularly that in the United States, the country on which this article most focuses.
It is time to set the hyperbole aside about nuclear power – then and only then can we begin to evaluate the potential and limitations of new nuclear energy technologies. However worthy, objections about the legacy of nuclear energy should not eliminate funding and market deployment for future innovations. All energy sources come with trade-offs. None of today’s (and likely tomorrow’s) energy technologies – nuclear included – offers a panacea for the security, environmental, and economic development challenges facing the 21st century. Nuclear power will either adapt to new concerns, perceptions of risk, and market conditions, or justly become obsolete.
Why is Germany planning to phase out nuclear power? In a nutshell, because they fear it — self-serving behavior based on irrational fear. They’re doing it because a sufficient number of German citizens have been convinced by the fear tactics used by the anti-nuclear lobby that their nuclear power poses a significant safety risk (which it doesn’t).
They will be removing from the European grid their low emission nuclear power exports while simultaneously increasing the use of fossil fuels domestically in addition to using more from the E.U. grid, which is almost entirely nuclear and fossil fueled. They are counting on that power from the E.U. grid to fill in the gaps inherent in their own renewable power. To meet their goal of 100% renewable they would have to isolate themselves from the European grid.
My new book — Power Plays: Energy Options in the Age of Peak Oil — has been published. A press release issued last week describes the book in some detail:
Here I want to describe a bit about the evolution of the book, discuss what’s in it, and finally provide contact information for reviewers who would like a copy.
It was less than a year ago that I was contacted by Jeff Olson, a Senior Editor at Apress, which is a division of the large global publisher Springer about writing “a book for educated laypeople on today’s energy issues.” I had been contacted a couple of times previously about writing a book, but the timing wasn’t right for various reasons. This time, I felt like I could pull it off, and around the first of August 2011 I actually sat down to write the first words. Eight months and 272 pages later, it was published. CONTINUE»
The following is a guest post from Oilprice.com, republished with permission to R-Squared. For years many Germans warned that nuclear was the only way they could meet the energy needs of their population and reduce carbon emissions at the same time. Now that they have decided to shut down their nuclear plants, they are preparing to build new coal-fired power plants to help close the shortfall. The guest post below explains. —————————– On 30 May, in the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Germany would close all of its 18 nuclear power plants between 2015 and 2022, which produce about 28 percent of the country’s electricity. Eight have now been taken offline, and with… Continue»
This Week in Energy is a weekly round-up of news making headlines in the world of energy. Most of these stories are posted throughout the week to our Energy Ticker page. The purpose is to stimulate discussion on energy issues. Community members should feel free to turn these into open thread energy discussions. Suggestions and news tips are welcome. I (Sam) can be reached at editor [at] consumerenergyreport [dot] com. Reporting from the Gasification Technologies Conference This week Robert Rapier attended the 2011 Gasification Technologies Conference. This conference covers developments for converting coal, natural gas, and biomass to power and liquid fuels via gasification. Robert provided some updates from the conference on Twitter (@RRapier), including: Shell’s 140,000 bpd Pearl GTL… Continue»
The following is a guest post from OilPrice.com. The subject matter is of great interest, as Germany is in the early stages of an experiment that is likely to prove challenging. Nuclear power advocates in Germany — including members of Merkel’s cabinet — have insisted that they can’t meet their greenhouse gas targets without nuclear power. Many have predicted that they will be forced to use more coal, and as this article points out they may end up importing nuclear power. Whether and how Germany adjusts to the sudden loss of nuclear power will demonstrate to the rest of the world that in fact it isn’t easy being green. ——————————- Germany – It’s Not Easy Being Green Forty-one years ago… Continue»