Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Greenland, assessing nuclear energy in South Florida and sea level rise ... by gimleteye

I'm still shaking cobwebs from the twelve hour flight from Greenland in a single engine, cold airplane back to civilization. On Cape Cod it is early morning but very warm, the song birds are chirping, a crow caws in the distance, and the sun glints off the inlet where we are staying for a few days. All seems right with the world, but it is not.

Processing the images and realities of the melting ice cap on Greenland coincides nicely with yesterday's blog by Andy Revkin, who highlights the comments by the nation's top climate scientist, James Hansen, on the need for nuclear energy to supplant fossil fuels consumption in the near future.

I've written about this before, but with the complication that in south Florida, we have a desperate problem with the garguantuan Florida Power and Light, the sole provider of electricity to Miami.

FPL can claim, and does, that it is doing everything by the book with respect to its nuclear ambitions to expand and build two new nuclear reactors at Turkey Point, costing over $20 billion. In the meantime, it has steamrollered public involvement and especially local processes where enlightened discussion could elevate the deep and legitimate concerns of citizens who support nuclear but not at the location, Turkey Point, due to concerns about environmental impacts and sea level rise.

My strong objections to nuclear at Turkey Point are not simple NIMBY'ism. I have moved from a position of objecting to nuclear entirely to now believing that nuclear must play an immediate role in providing on-demand electricity that our society requires.

The overarching problem is that current permitting processing, laws, and regulations -- including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission -- are failing to bridge the substantial gaps between the adoption of new technologies, spent fuel storage problems, and siting issues for new nuclear plants. FPL sits in the middle of the morass, making enormous amounts of money for shareholders while at the same time holding itself up to be an upstanding corporate citizen providing an indispensable commodity while tolerating and even "bending backwards" to answer critics.

So it is strange, indeed, to call as I have, FPL a "rogue corporation" for its nuclear strong-arming at Turkey Point while also supporting nuclear energy as a necessary component for the future of civilization.

We have to explore these contradictions as a matter of high priority in public policy. Unfortunately, there seems to be no willingness by Congress to lead through the maze of complexities and instead, simply to default to the existing regulatory structures. We need seasoned, reasoned voices to add to this chorus because the rapidity of climate change is an undeniable threat to our national security. Read the Andy Revkin blog in the Times, here:

The NY Times blog by Andy Revkin, DOT EARTH, features a commentary on a recent interview by former NASA climate change scientist James Hansen, "Jim Hansen Presses the Climate Case for Nuclear Energy".

"I encourage you to watch this short video interview with climate scientist and campaigner James E. Hansen, posted by the folks who brought you “Pandora’s Promise,” the flawed but valuable film arguing for a substantial role for nuclear energy in sustaining human progress without disrupting the climate.

Those preferring text can read a few transcribed excerpts below. Hansen proves himself, as always, somewhat inconvenient for almost everyone.

To me, for example, Hansen’s far too confident about the scale at which nuclear power, particularly the new technologies that he prefers, could be deployed by the middle of this century. But his statements pose a particularly tough challenge for those who embrace his take on the dangers attending an unabated greenhouse-gas buildup but see a fast transition to solar, wind and other renewable energy sources as the solution. Here he reprises the points he made in a 2011 essay, “Baby Lauren and the Kool-Aid“:

Can renewable energies provide all of society’s energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway. But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.

Here are some excerpts, starting with a basic endorsement of nuclear power plants: I think the only hope we have of phasing down emissions and getting to the middle of the century with a much lower level of fossil fuel emissions — which is what we will have to do if we want young people to have a future — we’re going to have to have alternatives and at this time nuclear seems to be the best candidate.

Following a discussion of the lessons from the great earthquake and tsunami that badly damaged Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant, he focuses on more resilient reactor designs:

A Reality Check on a Plan for a Swift Post-Fossil Path for New YorkA Film Presses the Climate, Health and Security Case for Nuclear EnergyCan Wind, Water and Sunlight Power New York by 2050?Kerry Proposes U.S.-India Push on Carbon and Climate'Pandora's Promise' Director and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Debate Nuclear Options

But with the new technologies, they are passively safe in the sense that if there is an anomaly like an earthquake or tsunami or both, it will just shut down and they don’t require power to cool them.
He discusses the merits and limits of energy efficiency as a path to lower greenhouse gas emissions:
It’s useful to show that you can have a lifestyle which produce less carbon, but it doesn’t solve the problem. Because if that’s all that happens, even if you convince a thousand people or a million people or a billion people to reduce their emissions what it does is reduce the demand for the fuel, lowers its price and somebody else will burn it.

Here’s what he says about renewable energy:
I think it’s unfortunate that so many environmentalists are just assuming that these renewable energies will be able to satisfy all of our requirements. Renewables are only providing between 1 and 2 percent — the soft renewables. Hydropower provides a significant amount of electricity but that’s limited. The hope that the wind and the sun and geothermal can provide all of our energy is a nice idea but I find it unlikely that that’s possible.

The environmental community is basically asking governments to try to reduce their emissions and asking them to subsidize clean energies. Well, that simply doesn’t work because we don’t get enough energy from the renewables to make a difference. And that then forces any government to approve expanded oil drilling, hydro-fracking to get more gas, mountaintop removal to get coal. We’re not going to turn the lights out. No government, no president or governor is going to turn out the lights. There has to be energy. If renewables aren’t providing it, it’s been fossil fuels.

In the video, Hansen doesn’t discuss his preferred mechanism for propelling a shift away from fossil fuels — a rising fee on carbon-containing fuels that is fully returned to citizens. It’s a strategy that has won him some support in conservative circles. But I don’t see how this mechanism provides the support for the research, development and deployment of new nuclear technologies that he champions in his remarks.

I’ll try to arrange a conversation with him sometime soon.


100panthers said...

Let's assume nuclear is a future necessity (it is not) for the world. O.K. fine...but in South Florida...'show me the water!'

With salt water intrusion already in our drinking water, rising seas threatening can we waste 90-124 million gallons a day of fresh water for Turkey Point? That is 5.5-7.5 times the water used by the Florida Keys.

Florida could get 42% of all its electric power from solar if we used existing roofs only.

Currently 40% of all fresh water in the Florida goes to generate power via steam (whether coal/nuclear/natural gas).

So Hansen has little to inform decisions in South Florida.

Anonymous said...

Gimleteye, to use Hansen's language, let's go ahead talk about the tooth fairy and easter bunny...

Do you believe:

1. that our 1 million year old species has proven itself capable of safely managing toxic and radioactive nuclear waste for the next 6 million years? Reactors with passive cooling of fuel rods does nothing to mitigate this serious and unsolved hazard.

2. that FPL, which fires nuclear engineers who complain about safety shortcuts, can be trusted to safely operate a nuclear power plant anywhere?

Hansen's arguments about renewables are specious: he equates current production with total potential capability. Further, he ignores innovation in energy storage, which can make up the difference between peak production and baseload production with fewer safety issues than nuclear. And some old methods are pretty effective too - on the Columbia River in Washington State, they pump water uphill into Dry Falls Coulee to store surplus power for later demand.

Hansen has done great work on climate for which should get the Nobel Prize, but his reasoning on nuclear energy shows the objectivity of neither a seasoned scientist nor a realist.

Reno Rabbino's said...

To my environmentalist friends,

I listened to and considered the 'traditional' nuclear option, but 'traditional' nuclear power is not the answer!

You and Dr. Hansen did not address the accumulating nuclear waste issue. We have pools of nuclear waste mounting without any reasonable plan to address their permanent disposal! Nuclear waste from current nuclear power plants is just too dangerous and a bad legacy to leave for future generations!

Also, the argument for nuclear power assumes cities need a central power plant. But new power grids can encourage power generation from many diverse resources. Enabling and encouraging many diverse inputs for adding power to the grid will inherintly create a goldrush of emerging clean energy technologies.

True, we do not get enough energy from renewables TODAY, but there is enough cleaner and safer power in the wind, solar, tidal and thermal resouces... we just need to develop the technologies to capture more of it sooner than later. Creating incentives to develop newer cleaner technologies is a better use of our resources. Implementing a mix of carbon taxes, efficiency incentives and modernizing the way power is stored and transmitted will enable the market to create and deploy new technologies sooner. 20 billion on a nuclear reactor postpones this evolution.

Remember, renewable technologies are first generation! Today's windmill's capture a tiny fraction of the available resource. There is enough wind in the upper atmosphere to meet all of our needs and the technology is coming (check out Today's PV solar energy efficiencies are growing at compounding rates every year. The Gulf Stream is a huge power resouce soon to be tapped (

By the time a nuclear power plant that is approved today is finally built, the solar, wind, tidal and other clean energies could evolve enough to meet our needs... if we create the incentive. Who believed an electric car was going to be viable 5 years ago... and now the Tesla has won every major car award as the best driving car on the road!

But if you still want a nuclear reactor, how about a cleaner, safer nuclear reactor (check out:

It is possible to have 100% clean and safe energy, but we need to incentivise the market, not fall back on old technology like traditional nuclear power plants.

100panthers said...

Reno Rabbino's said..."Remember, renewable technologies are first generation! "

Gas engines are 20% efficient. Solar panels are 20% efficient.

Anonymous said...