Chicago Boyz

                 
 
 
What Are Chicago Boyz Readers Reading?
 

 
  •   Enter your email to be notified of new posts:
  •   Problem? Question?
  •   Contact Authors:

  • CB Twitter Feed
  • Blog Posts (RSS 2.0)
  • Blog Posts (Atom 0.3)
  • Incoming Links
  • Recent Comments

    • Loading...
  • Authors

  • Notable Discussions

  • Recent Posts

  • Blogroll

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Fantasy Energy

    Posted by Shannon Love on August 28th, 2008 (All posts by )

    Megan McArdle [h/t Instapundit] writes:

    There’s a lot of optimism on both the center-left and the right that all we really need to do to tackle the problem of global warming/peak oil is throw a hell of a lot of money at the problem, and presto!…Yes, we found petroleum to replace whale oil.  This does not therefore mean, as night follows day, that we will find something to replace petroleum.  We will find something to replace petroleum if there is something that can replace petroleum.  There might not be.

    Well, actually, there is always a new source of energy to replace any old energy source. It just might not be the energy source we fantasize about. 

    Energy begets energy. Technological history has been one of using one source of energy to bootstrap the production of new and more powerful forms of energy. We started with wood, which we used to capture energy from wind and water. Then we used wood, wind and water to capture energy from coal and whale oil. Then we used wood, wind, water, whale oil and coal to capture energy from petroleum. We used coal and petroleum to start to capture energy from nuclear power. The more energy you use, the more energy you can harvest from the universe. 

    So why do we find ourselves running out of energy? Because we chose to.

    Although the universe is stuffed with energy, with any given technology, we can only harvest energy from certain sources. Thomas Jefferson could not have made a photovoltaic power source and Caesar could not have mined coal from hundreds of meters below the ground. We have to exploit the energy sources that we can reach with the tools we have. 

    Our political classes, especially on the left, have forgotten, or never learned, this hard fact of life. Instead, they’ve looked over the history of our technological achievement and concluded that we can simply create any energy source we wish to. They created a set of parameters for a desired energy source that depends not on technology and science but rather on emotional social and political factors. 

    Technologists have been handed a list of requirements that not even Santa Claus could fulfill. In no particular order, the fantasy power source must: have no environmental side-effects, be decentralized, produce power in all locations and all environmental conditions, produce enough power to replace all carbon-emitting, hydroelectric and nuclear power. Oh, and they want it tomorrow, before the ice caps melt and kill us all!

    In essence, we’ve gone about energy policy backwards. Instead of taking stock of our technology and seeing what energy we can harvest with it, we’ve decide what kind of energy source we want and then, not unlike king Canute, tried to order the creation of a technology without regard to limitations. It’s as if we took a notion that all cell phones should be made of turnips and then blocked all manufacture of non-turnip cell phones while showering money on people trying to figure out how to give a turnip a ringtone. 

    We need to grow up and accept reality. We’ve exhausted the limits of chemical energy. Using biomass, solar and wind power represents a reversion to older and weaker sources of power. Instead, we need to follow the natural progression of technology and use nuclear energy. With our current and near-future technology, only nuclear power can give us the amount of energy we need, where and when we need it. 

    I think it important to emphasize that we would need to move to nuclear energy even if we had an infinite supply of fossil fuels and an infinite carbon dioxide sink. Fossil fuels just don’t have the energy density we will need moving into the future. We can no more power the 21st Century with fossil fuels than we could have powered the 20th Century using nothing but wood. Only nuclear power provides energy in sufficient density to power the future. 

    We should always remember that we can perish by failing to grasp the technological options available to us. The history of technology is littered with examples of societies that suppressed useful new technology for political or social reasons. We can’t repeat those mistakes and survive.

    We need to use the technology we have to harvest the energy we can instead of holding our breath and stomping our feet until the technology fairy brings us what we want.  

    [Addendum: McArdle links to this excellent post that discusses why we won’t pull a super battery out our hat anytime soon, if ever. That post links to this table showing the energy densities of various technologies. Nuclear power has a density of 1,500,000,000 megajoules per liter. The very best non-nuclear power source, liquid hydrogen, has a density of only 143 megajoules per liter. The very best batteries available have a lower power density than wood. Starting at the bottom of the chart you can see the bootstrap of energy technology as each technology creates an even denser technology in turn.]

     

    49 Responses to “Fantasy Energy”

    1. david foster Says:

      Nuclear energy is only of limited use for transportation, though, except via the medium of batteries or battery-like devices. You can power some substantial portion of the rail network via electricity, and maybe you could bring back buses powered from overhead wires, but cars & trucks are another matter.

    2. Shannon Love Says:

      David Foster,

      Nuclear energy is only of limited use for transportation…

      You can use nuclear energy to produce virtually any liquid fuel you wish. Some guys at Los Alamos came up with a scheme to use nuclear energy to make liquid fuel of CO2 and water vapor in the air.

      Once you’ve got great gobs of concentrated energy, you can convert it to chemical energy at your leisure.

    3. Bill Says:

      Nuclear is the only option for ever moving to a hydrogen powered transportation sector without significant carbon footprint. Hydrogen is not a fuel (since it doesn’t exist in nature) but it is a good means of energy transfer. So, it’s batteries and/or hydrogen for powering the transporation sector using nuclear.

    4. Whitehall Says:

      Actually, the nuclear reactor suitable for serving transportation markets breaks ground in 2009. The pebble reactor being built in South Africa will be able to produce hydrogen which in turn can be used to turn coal into liquid hydrocarbons like gasoline or diesel without an increase in CO2 emissions over conventional petroleum. Hydrogen will also be invaluable in refining kerogen from oil shale and heavy oils and tars into liquids usable in conventional internal combustion engines.

      Yes, we could use CO2 from the air but it will be cheaper to start with coal.

    5. david foster Says:

      Even energy produced from nuclear power has a cost associated with it. Before getting too excited about liquid fuel or hydrogen from nuclear, I’d want to see some cost estimates.

    6. Shannon Love Says:

      David Foster,

      Nuclear power densities dwarf that of hydrocarbons. If we get serious about nuclear power the unit cost will drop significantly. At that point well have electricity or heat enough to pretty much crank out anything we want.

    7. david foster Says:

      Volume incrases will of course drive unit costs down, and I hope we get the opportunity to see how much. But there are factors that will constrain how low they can go–steam turbines and generators, for example, don’t cost any less if they are used in a nuclear plant instead of a conventional plant.

      France is getting something like 80% of its electricity from nuclear and, while it’s not as big as the U.S., it’s still big enough that its experience should be a useful guide to the cost of nuclear energy with significant scale–if subsidies could be disentanled.

    8. fred lapides Says:

      I agree with the last comment. Not only does France get much of its energy via nuclear, it is able to recycle waste…the problem,for the lads and lassies here? Nuclear has been safe because under govt supervision rather than private industry. Can you live with that?

      If most of our energy comes via nuclear, then gas for cars becomes much less a problem, and besides, electric cars soon to be a reality, as well as the hybrids…but oil products needed for plastic etc too.

    9. david foster Says:

      Fred…I thought I explained this before. France’s nuclear companies–both manufacturing and operations–are not pure government organizations. They are publicly traded corporations with majority government ownership but also with private shareholders.

      Regarding the general principle–do you honestly think that airline travel would be safer if the FAA/NTSB *actually ran airlines* rather than being limited to a regulatory role?

    10. Andrew Garland Says:

      Magic Power
      They Could Do The Magic If They Wanted To?

      A friend in college told me about his mother and what she knew about electricity. She regarded electricity as a type of magic and was resentful that she had to pay for it. She thought that it ran everywhere through the walls of the house. The reason that there were wall sockets was so the plugs on appliances would not damage the walls when plugged in. Otherwise, you could jam the plug anywhere and get the electricity. The plugs were designed so you could be charged for electricity when you used them. She was a good person, but didn’t understand physics.

      (Continued at Easy Opinions: Magic Power)

    11. red craig Says:

      For more information on synthetic fuels from atmospheric CO2, google “Green Freedom.” The authors estimate they could sell gasoline at the pump for $4.60 per gallon. With easily-achieved efficiency improvements the cost could be reduced.

    12. Shannon Love Says:

      Fred Lapides,

      Not only does France get much of its energy via nuclear, it is able to recycle waste…the problem,for the lads and lassies here?

      And we could do the same if you and leftist buddies would let us.

      Nuclear has been safe because under govt supervision rather than private industry. Can you live with that?

      Guess I will have to because it is illegal for private companies to build a reactor and it is illegal for private companies run an electrical grid. The U.S. government legal owns are nuclear fuels.

      We’ve talked before about your strange delusion that somehow nuclear power in the U.S. is some kind of libertarian paradise. I think that we could create real world private mechanism to assure the safe operation of nuclear power plants but realistically I do not see that happening anytime soon.

      Pragmatically, I am more than welling to tolerate the current system as long as we get power. Please talk to your lefty friends and educate them about how great Frances nuclear power system is and how great it would be if we would emulate it.

    13. Shannon Love Says:

      Andrew Garland,

      Thanks for the links.

      In “Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” , Robert Persig tells the story of going to fix a flickering light in the office of humanities professor. The professor tells him that the fault must be near the switch because it happens right after he turns on the light!

      In college, I bemoaned to my spouse the lack of scientific education in humanities. When spouse claimed I exaggerated, I walked to the light switch, flipped it on and off and then said, “Look, maaaagic!”

      I still catch hell for that one.

    14. David Foster Says:

      Great story from Persig.

      Instapundit has a link today on geothermal via very deep drilling, apparently feasible in a lot more places than traditional geothermal.

      Strikes me that all likely energy production solutions are VERY capital intensive–nuclear, geothermal, coal-to-liquids, etc. So are conservation solutions, especially railroads. (An exception on the production side: peaking turbines, but they are inefficient compared to larger & more capital-intensive plants.) Demand for capital on this scale seems likely to lead to increases in the real interest rate.

    15. G.R.L. Cowan, H2 energy fan 'til ~1996 Says:

      I hear from people like David Walters, and I believe, that there is nothing particularly left-wing about opposing nuclear energy.

      What the left likes about this opposition, I think, is that it to the degree it is successful, protects government income. At $0.04 billion per electrical gigawatt-year, uranium replaces natural gas that would cost, IIRC, $0.5 billion per electrical gigawatt-year. That includes royalties that probably exceed the whole uranium bill.

      From a career civil servant’s, or a career government cheque-casher of any stripe’s, point of view, this is a major failure to tax. The subsidies they assert nuclear energy receives, even if they existed, would be small in comparison.

      — G.R.L. Cowan, H2 energy fan ’til ~1996

    16. Dan Nexon Says:

      I think most of the major players–including both candidates–recognize that nuclear has to be part of the solution. But beyond storage problems, we need to recognize that we will need to throw a lot of capital at nuclear: big startup costs, an almost dead domestic industry, and government research into breeder and other technologies is far behind that of the French and the Japanese. We’re about to shut down our only breeder reactor for lack of a relatively small amount of operating funds. Moreover, it will take a lot of work to get adequate fuel in a way that isn’t carbon intensive or doesn’t release lots of carbon through mining, so….

    17. Rod Adams Says:

      Though people who claim to be on the political left have been vocal opponents of nuclear power, I strongly suspect that the power of the anti-nuclear movement did not come from sign carrying, tie died, hippies. Despite all claims to the contrary, I also suspect that it did not come from Ralph Nader and his minions.

      I suspect that much of the opposition to nuclear power development has come from fossil fuel related capitalists who desire to protect their wealth and power.

      Our addiction to oil, coal and gas is a source of great joy to the people that find, extract, sell, finance and transport those products. The perception of energy scarcity is an exceedingly important part of the profitability of the entire enterprise – if there was no scarcity, the prices would naturally approach the production cost for the lowest cost source needed to meet all market demand.

      No one should fail to notice that the fossil fuel market is rather large and profitable – ExxonMobil, a company with less than a 5% fossil fuel market share had revenues last year exceeding $330 billion. That level of revenue is larger than most entire industries.

      If there was a cheap source of almost unlimited quantities of power that needed no emissions control systems, was easy to move from one side of the world to the other, and was able to be operated by mere mortals, there would be a tremendous change in the world’s political and economic power structure. Conservatives that are part of that power structure are the ones that are most likely to recognize the threat and most likely to use all possible means of keeping the energy market in a balance that favors their own interests.

      BTW – do you really think that the oil enriched oligarchs in Russia are really leftists in the sense of desiring a more equal distribution of wealth and a concern for the common man?

    18. Shannon Love Says:

      Rod Adams,

      I suspect that much of the opposition to nuclear power development has come from fossil fuel related capitalists who desire to protect their wealth and power.

      I suppose that somewhere behind the sciences some evil coal baron of natural gas excutive was slipping the anti-nuke crowd some money. I’m sure that people who sell natural gas and natural gas turbines etc would not be adverse to gaming the politics to sell their goods.

      I don’t think they had much effect for two reasons: (1) The people who took the public actions of writing, speaking, protesting, filing lawsuits etc where almost all Leftist. Someone might have slipped them some money but they chose to fight the fight for their own ideological reasons. (2) All theories of conspiracy theories about evil energy companies wreck upon the reef of corporate opposition. Yes, the energy might make a lot of money from high energy prices (up to a point and then they lose money due to reduced consumption) but the corporations that use energy are hurt by it and would fight back. Since the number and power of corporations that use energy dwarfs that of the energy companies themselves, I find it unlikely that energy companies can manipulate markets or the government to any great extent without serious corporate opposition.

      That’s one of the benefits of the free-market, built in checks-and-balances. Back in the “energy crisis” of the 70’s, oil companies stood to make big profits (if they lifted price controls and the windfall profits tax) but the automotive industry, which at that time employed IIRC 10% of the US work force and was much larger than the oil companies, was devastated by high energy prices. The same dynamic continues to this day.

      If there was a cheap source of almost unlimited quantities of power that needed no emissions control systems, was easy to move from one side of the world to the other, and was able to be operated by mere mortals, there would be a tremendous change in the world’s political and economic power structure.

      Not really, we transitioned from coal to petroleum without any great shake ups. You evince a very static model of business. You assume that people who invest in oil companies can do nothing else but invest in oil companies. In truth, we a technology grow obsolete, which happens all the time, The investors, management and workers just shift to something else. The people who own and run oil companies would be just as happy making money running nuclear power plants.

      Conservatives that are part of that power structure are the ones that are most likely to recognize the threat and most likely to use all possible means of keeping the energy market in a balance that favors their own interests.

      If that is true, why do large corporation ever fail? Why do technologies and the corporations that build them ever lose market share and eventually just evaporate? Again, in any resource shortage or technological change there are corporate winners and losers. They balance each other out in the long run.

      Nuclear power was shut down in the U.S. right at the pinnacle of the “energy crisis” circa 1980. At that time every corporation who manufactured or transported anything worried intensely about having enough electricity and fuel both short-term and long-term. A lot of the rust-belt arose in part because high energy cost made factories uneconomical. Frankly, the idea that a tiny minority of corporations, the fossil fuel companies, somehow overwhelmed every other corporate interest in the country is just silly.

      BTW – do you really think that the oil enriched oligarchs in Russia are really leftists in the sense of desiring a more equal distribution of wealth and a concern for the common man?

      Well, Putin has describe the break up of the Soviet Union as the worst tragedy in human history. In any case, they had nothing to do with the shutdown of nuclear power in the U.S. back in the 70’s.

    19. David Walters Says:

      This is an interesting discussion. I would of thought that absolutely anything associated with the Chicago School of Economics would be the last place I’d post something to, but times change. I appeared as an endorser of Chuck DeVore’s pro-nuclear initiative in California last year. Anything is possible…

      Nuclear energy tends to be sort of like the “socially isolated” issues like abortion, gun rights, and even anti-Iraq war issues. Usually you are for it or “again’ et’. Yet there is a serious cross over on the three above issues and noted persons and groups that one would not expect to take positions because they are associated with “right wing” or “left wing”.

      As I’ve noted on other blogs, if you really take the worlds entire “left”, meaning everyone from the old social-democracies of Europe to the Stalinist-Maoist currents of Asia to the very mild “left governments” in places like Argentina, Brazil or Venezuela, you would find the majority of those on the left not opposed to nuclear energy but in fact for it, in some cases, very practically so.

      So what Shannon notes is “true”, but like all things that are true, it’s relative from where one is standing looking at the issue as well as where one is standing: say, the US. In this case Shannon is factually correct as what passes for “left wing” in the United States (usually anyone to the left of the old moderate wing of the GOP) is considered “left”.

      Unlike Shannon, I understand that every electrical generation/grid system in the world was built in large part by direct government intervention. It’s because private capital, in those days, could hardly come up with the money to satisfy the population. In those days, the the pre-and post-WWII era, for *private* utilities, this meant big cities with lots of easy to wire residences and industries. So it took a massive “anti-free enterprise” understanding on part of OTHER sectors of society, including a large wing of the capitalist class itself, to understand that the “market” wasn’t going to do squat to develop electrical energy.

      The massive electrification that took place in the US at the height of the depression was a wholly owned enterprise of the New Deal, not Wall Street. The heart of social-conservatism, in a twist of fascinating historical irony, rests on the development of their heartland, the “bible belt”, of the grandest “socialist” experiments of US history, the TVA.

      Every modern grid in Europe, be it German, France, Scandinavia or even the UK was essentially modernized, expanded and technologically brought “up to snuff”as the result of the massive socialization of the grid after WWII by workers fed up with the exact monopoly practices that people like T. Roosevelt and William J Bryant would rail about in the US 40 years previously.

      One cannot explain, based on a simple “free market” analysis, why the increasingly centralized and somewhat neo-Stalinist gov’t of Putin and the rather oxymoronic Chinese Communist Party are the two countries in the world that are simply THE leaders in nuclear energy deployment and have increased their peoples use of electrical generation as well as their standard of living.

      I only say this to point out that the complex social and political mix that gave rise to the nuclear power industry on a world basis would simply not exist without the full-on implementation of some very left wing governments.

      In the US today the “left” as Shannon notes is opposed to nuclear energy. It is, however, hardly a typical “left” position. For example, the really loco “we want a decentralized, democratic, alternative, granola-burning” off-the-grid types that dominate a large section of the anti-nuclear movement are hardly “left” wing, more like liberal-libertarians. Traditional leftists would say, “no, MORE gov’t centralization, nationalize the energy monopolies, make energy public, not private”. Historically, even in the US, into the 1960s, every leftist worth the label (from Albert Einstein–a socialist–to the Communists, to the various cold-war liberals) was pro-nuclear. Even the anti-Vietnam war movement did not take a position on this, or, for that matter, even talk about it.

      So the idea that the left opposes nuclear energy is basically a contemporary phenomenon that exists basically Western Europe and North America. Ergo, it’s not to much of a leap for a socialist and trade unionist like myself to be an advocate as a leftist, to support nuclear and unite with those who I believe want to see nuclear power deployed as the solution, or main solution, to our energy crisis, to our climate crisis, to our health crisis and to many other crises that effect humanity today. I’m hoping MORE and more of those on the left join this effort so we can see one day those waving the Scarlet Banner high criticizing the Right for not implementing nuclear power fast enough!

      David Walters
      left-atomics.

    20. Shannon Love Says:

      David Walters,

      Unlike Shannon, I understand that every electrical generation/grid system in the world was built in large part by direct government intervention.

      I understand that. I was merely responding to Fred Lapidies constant and strange insistence that sometime in the past nuclear power was free market phenomenon. There does seem to be a general belief on the left that nuclear power is epitome of free-market capitalism run amok. I think they believe this due to an ideological reflex to associate anything they dislike with the free-market.

      I understand that the modern electrical grid, like the telecommunication grid once was, is a socialist creation.

      It’s because private capital, in those days, could hardly come up with the money to satisfy the population.

      Many factors drove the socialization of the power grid. At the time people viewed vertical integration as the way to accomplish efficiencies of scale. They wanted the efficiencies of monopolies but wanted control over them. Big power companies wanted to absorb their smaller competitors. This happened. The biggest utilities became public utilities and bought out the smaller companies for pennies on the dollar. Big companies got their debt backed by the state. People who didn’t live in compact cities did not want to pay the full cost of delivering electricity to them and so they supported a system that force people in the city to subsidize them.

      There’s really nothing to suggest that the free-market could not have delivered solutions. The solutions might have been much different than the present solutions. For example, farms might have purchased generators, windmills or used compressed air technology. We don’t really know because everyone chose to use coercive methods to get cheap electricity instead of relying a voluntary evolutionary system.

      The heart of social-conservatism, in a twist of fascinating historical irony, rests on the development of their heartland, the “bible belt”, of the grandest “socialist” experiments of US history, the TVA.

      The TVA was began as military project during WWI. The electricity from the damns was intended to power munitions plants. Prior to the 60’s, there was little separation between social conservatives and redistributions policies. The first socialist in America were the Grangeist who had a powerful presence in the south. Souther Populist have socialistic economic policies and the KKK has profoundly anti-capitalistic economic policies. The south was riven with such politics until the late-60s. Only then did the south reform and become a more free-market oriented region than the north (while the north went the other way, hence the rust-belt).

      So the idea that the left opposes nuclear energy is basically a contemporary phenomenon that exists basically Western Europe and North America.

      A sea change occurred during the 1960’s in the (developed world) left’s relationship to technology. Prior to that time, they had been all around technophiles who based their claim to power on the argument that they could deliver the nearly miraculous benefits. After that failed, they repositioned themselves as the protectors of the people guarding them from the evils of capitals technology. Environmentalism, the “all natural”, organic food, alternative medicine etc are part of this sea change. Nuclear power just got caught up in it.

      Ergo, it’s not to much of a leap for a socialist and trade unionist like myself to be an advocate as a leftist, to support nuclear…

      You’re an atavism.

      I too hope that more leftist come around. Global warming will drive some but I am hopeful that others realize that lower income people can’t get good jobs in manufacturing if there is no cheap power or that when we reduce our material standard of living, the poor suffer most. Frankly, though, I simply do not think the average American leftist gives a damn about those things anymore.

      The leftist of old who cared about people, thought big and saw a brighter and future ahead for humanity are small in number and a dying breed.

    21. Rod Adams Says:

      Shannon:

      I think you might be underestimating the scale of the fossil fuel business and the timelines associated with historical changes. My comment about the importance of fossil fuel interests in the anti-nuclear movement does not deny that eventually better technology generally wins market battles. Those market battles, however, often take a very long time to resolve and carry some rather large stakes. When you are talking about a technological shift in an enterprise that has total annual revenue measured in the trillions of dollars (that is a million million) it might take decades for everything to play out.

      Even delaying the inevitable by a few years is worth a few dollars and a few sneaky tactics that include spreading Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt amongst that large portion of the population without the ability to really understand and without the inclination to really dig into what is going on.

      As you noted, there are a lot more energy consumers in the world than energy producers, but I guarantee you that the producers know a lot more about the details of their business than the consumers do – even those consumers where energy is a fairly significant portion of their business. If that statement was not true, there is no way that we would be seeing huge corporations like GM, Ford, United Airlines, Delta, and many others at the brink of bankruptcy.

      Specifically, you stated:

      Not really, we transitioned from coal to petroleum without any great shake ups. You evince a very static model of business. You assume that people who invest in oil companies can do nothing else but invest in oil companies. In truth, we a technology grow obsolete, which happens all the time, The investors, management and workers just shift to something else. The people who own and run oil companies would be just as happy making money running nuclear power plants.

      The transition from coal to petroleum only included part of the market – we burn far more coal today than we did in the 1900s-1940s when coal was a the major source of transportation energy in ocean shipping and railroads. Additionally, I think you would find that the people in West Virginia and Wales remember things a bit differently from your facile dismissal of their struggles. I assure you that there were some significant and bloody battles and some captains of industry that worked very hard to protect their capital investments.

      My assertions were not about casual investors that can sell stock and move on.

      They were about owners of resources and capital equipment that have real concerns about the value of those resources and equipment. If oil becomes less valuable because people realize there is plenty of energy in the world and even better alternatives available in the future, what do you think will happen to the market price of oil wells, pipelines, tankers, rail cars, drilling rigs, platforms, tank farms, etc.? All of those items are capital intensive and most carry large loan balances. Do you think that the owners would appreciate being “upside down” on those loans? How do you think that the financial people would feel?

      What about those countries and regions whose prosperity is dependent upon natural resources? Certainly Saudi princes can invest their profits elsewhere, but what other business would have brought them the profits in the first place? I have had a bit of experience working with Saudis – as a general rule, their work ethic would not make them suitable for retraining in the nuclear power plant operation business.

      Are you so certain that the Soviet Union had nothing to do with financing “leftists” in Europe and the US in the 1970s? What would have stopped Soviet spymasters from encouraging anti-nuclear activities knowing that oil and gas were their country’s primary sources of hard currency?

    22. Rod Adams Says:

      Shannon:

      One more thing:

      Nuclear power was shut down in the U.S. right at the pinnacle of the “energy crisis” circa 1980. At that time every corporation who manufactured or transported anything worried intensely about having enough electricity and fuel both short-term and long-term. A lot of the rust-belt arose in part because high energy cost made factories uneconomical. Frankly, the idea that a tiny minority of corporations, the fossil fuel companies, somehow overwhelmed every other corporate interest in the country is just silly.

      A major part of the anti-nuclear movement’s success lay in driving up the cost of nuclear power through delays, additional requirements, and regulatory takings.

      Most of the energy customers that you mentioned equated new nuclear power plants with increased electricity prices. It was not hard to convince them that the industry growth needed to be restrained, especially since they had been told that there was EXCESS capacity in the electricity grid that was costing them money. Remember, at that time nearly all of the utilities were local monopolies that sold electricity on the basis of cost plus fixed rate of return on capital investment.

      The capitalists running the utilities and the vendors helped perpetuate the impression that nuclear power = expensive power through choices in the way that they ran their business.

    23. R Margolis Says:

      Oil and gas provide more of the world’s energy than coal (~66% for oil and gas combined). And the transition was actually quite difficult. England transitioned to coal during the Industrial Revolution from the decline of wood. Petroleum was aided by the decline in whale oil from over-hunting of whales.

      I wonder if part of nuclear’s problem is that it is not amenable to consumer devices (e.g., it is too expensive to put small reactors in cars or lawnmowers). We accept carcinogenic and explosive gasolene because we have personal experience with it and any substitutes would be immediately felt by the general public. My meager opinion ;-) is that nuclear will win out as the pressures from the growth in the global economy combine with rising extraction costs and the carbon issue (whatever one’s opinion, carbon will likley be regulated).

    24. Shannon Love Says:

      Rod Adams,

      Firstly, we have to begin with the fact that not a single shred of evidence exist that the petroleum industry ever did anything whatsoever to disrupt nuclear power in the U.S. or anywhere else. The belief that they did so arises from nothing more than paranoia born of economic ignorance. My arguments where intended to show that the paranoia was unfounded.

      Essentially, we’re having a discussion about the possible basis of a fictional phenomenon as if we were writing an alternative history novel.

      I think you might be underestimating the scale of the fossil fuel business and the timelines associated with historical changes.

      I doubt it. My family has worked in the oil business for four generations now holding positions from roughneck to executive. My father died in the oil field. I know something of which I speak.

      …but I guarantee you that the producers know a lot more about the details of their business than the consumers do – even those consumers where energy is a fairly significant portion of their business. If that statement was not true, there is no way that we would be seeing huge corporations like GM, Ford, United Airlines, Delta, and many others at the brink of bankruptcy.

      It just means that no one, producers or consumers, can make long term predictions about petroleum prices. Major energy consumers get bit because they have to plan years in advance. Oil producers likewise get burnt when the price of oil unexpectedly collapses. For reasons to complex to go into right now, oil markets exist in a constant state of boom and bust. Nobody can predict oil markets and no one can control them.

      The transition from coal to petroleum only included part of the market…

      There were no major conficts between coal and pertoleum because they were used for different technologies. Oils third major use (after health food and lubricant) was kerosene for lamps. Coal didn’t compete. Neither did compete with gasoline and diesel. The same dynamic applies with nuclear power. The U.S. has never used petroleum to generate electricity. Oil and nukes are not in direct economic competition so there is no need to evoke an unseen conspiracy.

      What would have stopped Soviet spymasters from encouraging anti-nuclear activities knowing that oil and gas were their country’s primary sources of hard currency?

      Again, oil and nukes not in competition. Coal and nukes are in competition but the same people who shutdown nukes also waged a war against coal. If the Soviets were behind it, their goal was to cripple our electricity output across the board.

      To recap: (1) There is no direct evidence of any conspiracy or even uncoordinated aciton on the part of independent members of the oil and gas industry to shutdown nuclear power in the U.S. (2) The economic arguments about why such a conspiracy would act are not plausible enough to suppose a conspiracy without direct evidence.

      The anti-nuclear movement in the U.S. was a leftist political phenomenon based on the belief they could eliminate nuclear weapons by eliminating all nuclear technology. It also dovetailed nicely with their anti-capitalist sentiments. Leftist politician learned they could gain power by claiming to protect people from the evils of this capitalist technology.

      There is no reason to evoke any other actors.

    25. Soylent Says:

      Shannon,

      “The same dynamic applies with nuclear power. The U.S. has never used petroleum to generate electricity. Oil and nukes are not in direct economic competition so there is no need to evoke an unseen conspiracy.”

      That’s simply untrue. See table 8.4 of http://www.eia.doe.gov/aer/pdf/aer.pdf .

      In the 1978 4 quadrillion BTU of petroluem were used to produce electric power in the US. To put that in context; in that year 10 quads came from coal, 3 quads from nuclear, 3 quads from natural gas and 3 quads from hydro; 4 quads corresponds to 1.9 million barrels of crude oil per day.

    26. Rod Adams Says:

      Shannon:

      Let’s have a civilized discussion that does not devolve into accusations of paranoia and ignorance. We know very little about each other. I do not think that any of my comments form the basis for such accusations. Your statement “not a single shred of evidence” is quite bold considering the complexity of the energy industry, the time span of the historical interaction and the number of players involved.

      There is significant evidence that directly contradicts the following paragraph from your comment:

      There were no major conficts between coal and pertoleum because they were used for different technologies. Oils third major use (after health food and lubricant) was kerosene for lamps. Coal didn’t compete. Neither did compete with gasoline and diesel. The same dynamic applies with nuclear power. The U.S. has never used petroleum to generate electricity. Oil and nukes are not in direct economic competition so there is no need to evoke an unseen conspiracy.

      A significant area of market competition between coal and petroleum existed in ocean transportation, railroads, and even in power generation. Daniel Yergin’s well respected book about the oil industry, The Prize, for example, documents the importance of Winston Churchill’s decision to shift the British Navy from coal to oil. That decision was made for technical reasons, but it also caused great economic disruption in the Welch coal industry and in the coal industry in many other British colonies and former colonies. That is especially true since most of the other navies in the world followed and the commercial shipping companies were not far behind.

      As you know, especially if your family has been in the “oil” business, companies that extract oil often also extract natural gas and natural gas liquids from the very same wells. Have you ever read about the marketing battles between “town gas” and “natural gas” for the street lighting market? Do you know that town gas was produced from mined coal?

      In today’s electrical market, fully 20% of the power comes from burning natural gas. Big oil companies are big sellers of natural gas – ExxonMobil, for example, sells almost as much energy in the form of natural gas as it does oil – about 2 million BOE per day each.

      You also asserted that the US has never used petroleum for power generation. That is simply not true. From 1972-1980, for example, the US was burning about 2-2.5 million barrels of oil per day in electrical power generation. If you want to see a simple graph of the contribution from petroleum over time, you might want to visit Energy Input Into US Electricity Production from Nuclear, Petroleum, and Gas 1954-2007. I wrote that article, but the graph is directly from data tables provided by the US Energy Information Agency.

      Here is a recent (July 2008) quote from Amory Lovins, a well known environmentalist who has been fighting nuclear power since about 1970.

      “You know, I’ve worked for major oil companies for about thirty-five years, and they understand how expensive it is to drill for oil.”

      Bottom line – I am not theorizing about a conspiracy. I am simply pointing out that normal competition for some very lucrative markets makes it very likely that people interested in continued prosperity of the fossil fuel (coal, oil and gas) industry have played a role in activities designed to discourage the use of nuclear power.

      If you are interested in learning more about my evidence and not just reacting in a reflexively negative manner, you can visit the Atomic Insights Blog and search for “smoking gun”. Over the past 2-3 years, I have posted a number of articles with that phrase in the title to document cases that support my assertion.

    27. Shannon Love Says:

      Let’s have a civilized discussion that does not devolve into accusations of paranoia and ignorance.

      Sorry to offend you but these conspiracy theories hurt people. These kind of conspiracy have caused pogroms against economically proficient minorities everywhere form the jews of europe to the expatriate chinese of Southeast Asia. I watched people in old fields of West Texas struggle during the late 1970’s, when a punitive wind fall profits tax destroyed oil field jobs at a time when the entire country was starved for oil.

      These conspiracy theories cause economic devastation and can lead eventually to mass killings. As a result, the fact that people embrace them so readily in absence of any smoking gun. disgust me. Look at yourself. We have a smoking gun with leftist who fought for over a decade to shutdown nuclear power with hysterical fear fed by outright lying. Yet, here you are, reading economic tea leaves trying to discern malevolent action on the part of the oil industry. I cannot emphasize how counterproductive and outright dangerous I find your kind of thinking.

      A significant area of market competition …

      This is the central flaw in your thinking. You believe that the existence of competition automatically indicates that the competitors resulted in underhanded action to suppress the competition. That is not true. People make arguments for their products but that does translate into nefarious, covert action such as using leftwing radicals to suppress nuclear power.

      From 1972-1980, for example, the US was burning about 2-2.5 million barrels of oil per day in electrical power generation.

      Your thinking about the problem backwards. You should be asking what percentage of oil company profits came from electricity generation? In the 1980, the U.S. consumed ~20 million barrels of oil per day. That puts the electricity at around 10% of total use. In your model, the evil oil companies shutdown nuclear power so that they could get a factional increase oil consumption for electricity generation. The numbers do not support this. One can easily see that they could get a better return with cheaper electricity that would , for example, let people afford bigger cars.

      Here is a recent (July 2008) quote from Amory Lovins, a well known environmentalist who has been fighting nuclear power since about 1970.

      Amory Lovins never worked as an employee of an oil company. He may have worked with them as a consultant at some point. Given that his entire career has been devoted to reducing oil consumption and switching to non-fossil, non-nuclear sources of power, I find the idea that he is a secret agent of the oil industry dubious. He uses the same that statement to preface his argument that oil companies have no interest in drilling ANWAR which I find just silly.

      Bottom line – I am not theorizing about a conspiracy.

      Yes, you are. Advancing the idea that the apparent dynamics of the anti-nuclear movement i.e. people motivated by a fear of nuclear weapons and a hatred of capitalism, is not the true driver of the anti-nuke movement but rather that someone operating in secret, in this case the oil companies, is the very definition of a conspiracy. Ask yourself, if this is not the assertion of an economic conspiracy, what would such an assertion look like?

      Even if the oil companies did throw a few bucks to the leftist, that money would have meant nothing without thousand of hard core leftist and millions of fellow travelers willing to lie and exaggerate to get what they wanted. The primary blame rest on the left and the solution to the problem lays in marginalizing and reforming them.

    28. G.R.L. Cowan, H2 energy fan 'til ~1996 Says:

      Adams, in my opinion, puts too much emphasis exclusively on private money strings, as opposed to both those strings and the hidden-in-plain-sight massive hawsers of public oil and gas money — royalties and special taxes — actuating antinuke puppets. But he does find evidence.

      Here’s an exercise for you, Shannon Love, if you’re curious. A recent NYM price for natural gas is $7.30 per million BTU. What is the most recent mmBTU price for uranium?

    29. Shannon Love Says:

      G.R.L. Cowan, H2 Energy Fan ‘Til ~1996,

      Here’s an exercise for you, Shannon Love, if you’re curious. A recent NYM price for natural gas is $7.30 per million BTU. What is the most recent mmBTU price for uranium?

      I’ll give it shot but I need some parameters: Does the cost of natural gas include or exclude the cost of global warming which the anti-nuke people tell us is an absolutely proven cost of using fossil fuels. Does the cost of nuclear power include or exclude the cost of capital from long construction delays triggered by a blizzard of lawsuits? Cost, like energy, is a subtle concept.

      The standard cost assumption for the marginal cost per million BTU is 1.5 cents.

    30. David Walters Says:

      Shannon, I think you are doing yourself a disservice. You support, you say, nuclear energy, but refuse to see even the slightest problem for those that get their income from non-nuclear sources.

      #Wind power turbine manufacturers that are exclusively wind production enterprises are generally anti-nuclear and participate in lobbying efforts to that end. Windclipper for one but there are others. (I don’t begrudge them this, btw, it is IN their interest to oppose nuclear even though they don’t really compete as we all know). This is not a secret, it’s open, and there is actually nothing wrong, even from my left wing point of view on this.

      #Chesapeake Gas has funded “environmental” goups that also oppose coal and nuclear. They did this in Kansas the most recently but also funded “pro-natural gas” generation adds in local newspapers as the Calvert Cliffs nuclear expansion was being proposed.

      #Amory Lovins “doesn’t work for the oil industry”. Please. You don’t have to be an salaried staff member of Chevron to “work for them”. No one is that naive. Secondly, to Lovin’s credit, he’s quite open about it and has never hid this, even his most recent interview with Amy Goodman from WBAI in NY (who is now in jail after her civil rights were violated by the cops in St. Paul). He has “greenwashed” tons of…carbon producing enterprises was the primary consultant for the California swing away from nuclear and toward…natural gas, which he endorses.

      Nuclear can replace most natural gas usage in the US and a significant amount of oil for transportation if IV Generation reactors ever get seriously financed. There is at least this competitive aspect of the issue that you are ignoring. Secondly, and we know that the coal industry in Australia has very openly and loudly of late financed ads in the Oz papers about nuclear being a direct threat to coal miners and the coal industry. You assume the “oil industry” is above all that? Seriously?

      It’s not a question of ‘conspiracy’, it’s a question of competitive self-interest. Oil companies…ALL the big ones…basically fought every clean air act, every fuel efficiency standard and of course, even the idea of climate change…but they don’t care about nuclear????

      David

    31. Shannon Love Says:

      David Walters,

      I don’t actually care if people selling non-nuclear technology try to sell their technology by public “education” or lobbying. That is the way the process works. We decide which technologies to use by a competitive process, especially in a socialized sector like electricity.

      Oil companies…ALL the big ones…basically fought every clean air act, every fuel efficiency standard and of course, even the idea of climate change…but they don’t care about nuclear????

      They didn’t back in the 70’s when all this happened. Oil companies stood to earn more from, say, lower manufacturing cost on automobiles due to cheap electricity than they did from shutting down nuclear power.

      You simply cannot argue around the fact that we shutdown nuclear power in the 70’s and that many ordinary people today have an hysterical fear of nuclear power due to the efforts of anti-nuclear activist in from the late 60’s to the present day. Any effects from economic competitors is trivial, especially when weighed against the overwhelming interest of all the corporations and individuals who benefit from cheap power. All new technologies face invested interest but nuclear power was the only technology in history to be shutdown by shear political hysteria.

      Leftist shutdown nuclear power in a childish attempt to stop the nuclear arms race and from a desire to acquire power by claiming to protect people from the evils of capitalism.

      End of story.

    32. Rod Adams Says:

      Shannon:

      The story might be nice and tidy in your closed mind, but those of us who have spent some time on this earth in competitive environments have a different opinion.

      Sign carrying, tie died leftists do not really have much political or economic power. If they did, industrial society would have been shut down long ago.

      According to all of the recent polls, there are not all that many ordinary people who have a hysterical fear of nuclear power and there never really were. The people that decided to stop building new nuclear plants and who continue to resist making commitments to order them sit in large, well appointed offices and chat with each other at industry conferences and cocktail parties. I know – I have been there off and on for about 15 years.

      The “dash to gas” in electrical power production in the 1990s and 2000s did not happen by accident – it was part of a large scale marketing campaign by the natural gas industry to convince Americans and Europeans that gas was a “clean”, “cheap” and easy way to generate electrical power. In the board rooms, the decision to build gas fired power was made easier by generous financing deals by Chevron, Shell, ExxonMobil, and others.

      It was also enabled by the way that fuel is treated as a pass through cost in most regulated states. That treatment was not accidental – it was written into the regulations by people who knew exactly what kind of economic advantage it provided to a natural gas fired power plant.

      If you wonder who the major players are in the American Gas Association, it is pretty easy to read down the list – if you are a member or know someone who is.

      I will give you a hint – some of the names on the list are the same as the brands at your local gasoline filling station.

      BTW – the nuclear power industry was never shut down – its growth was restricted for a time that so far has not been all that unusual compared to other new technologies. It has only been 66 years since the very first fission chain reaction took place and only 52 years since the very first large scale use of nuclear fission power in a power plant.

      One more thing – if you think that ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, Anadarko, Gazprom, Aramaco, Total, Eni, Chesapeake Energy, Halliburton, and hundreds of other energy companies benefit from low energy prices, you evidently cannot read a balance sheet or income statement and have no idea how to correlate them with published energy prices over time.

    33. Rod Adams Says:

      Shannon:

      You wrote:

      Advancing the idea that the apparent dynamics of the anti-nuclear movement i.e. people motivated by a fear of nuclear weapons and a hatred of capitalism, is not the true driver of the anti-nuke movement but rather that someone operating in secret, in this case the oil companies, is the very definition of a conspiracy. Ask yourself, if this is not the assertion of an economic conspiracy, what would such an assertion look like?

      Actually, the definition of “conspiracy” includes not only the requirement for “secret” activity, but also for that activity to be illegal. I am not asserting that the fossil fuel interests met in secret and devised illegal means of maintaining their market position. I am asserting that efforts to restrict the growth of a competitor with enormous technical advantages was part of a long-term marketing campaign to keep as much market share as possible by spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about that competitor and by assisting others who were already spreading that FUD. (As business executives learn in their training and reading programs – “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”)

      The fossil fuel industry meets all the time, often behind closed doors. Nothing unusual or nefarious about that, all industries do it. If they did not, convention centers would not exist.

      The industry’s market share protection effort included lobbying campaigns to erect barriers to entry and to try to obtain as much assistance for their own product offerings as possible.

      Nothing illegal there, but certainly nothing that really seeks to benefit customers by providing the best possible product at the lowest possible cost.

      For any more open minded readers of this thread, please remember that I continue to use a much more broad term – fossil fuel interests – than what Shannon uses – oil companies – in her rebuttals. My effort is not aimed boogymen like “Big Oil”; its purpose is to help people who favor the use of nuclear power to realize that there are many natural enemies (competitors).

      Without knowing who the enemies are, any strategy for success is bound to fail. If you think all you have to do is attack “leftists” for their efforts to slow nuclear power developments you will remain confused about why the nuclear industry has struggled for so long.

    34. Helmut Coal Says:

      I’ll give it shot but I need some parameters: Does the cost of natural gas include or exclude the cost of global warming which the anti-nuke people tell us is an absolutely proven cost of using fossil fuels. Does the cost of nuclear power include or exclude the cost of capital from long construction delays triggered by a blizzard of lawsuits? Cost, like energy, is a subtle concept.

      This is the problem: a lot of debate without much facts to go on. Garbage in, garbage out.

      If you knew how emissions trading works, you’d know that natgas plants generally don’t need to buy credits because they can burn so clean. I’m not saying there are no emissions, just very few ‘greenhouse gases.’ You were given a quote on natgas from the NYMEX; for a cost on nuclear fuels, you might have started by looking at the NYMEX website. Guess what? They trade uranium. Hey, while you’re there, why not look up heating oil (which kerosene and diesel are priced off of) and coal. Then, go over to the CCX (that’s Chicago Climate Exchange) and price up some emissions credits.

      How many credits to buy? Well, poke around in some electricity generator reports.

      Sheesh. Less than a year with a PhD from the UofC and already the alumni have me embarrassed. What? Are you guys MBA grads? None of you have even mentioned that Chicago gets 75% of its electricity from nuclear. Go back to arguing something which doesn’t involve details; a few of you are in over your heads.

    35. Shannon Love Says:

      Rod Adams,

      Sign carrying, tie died leftists do not really have much political or economic power.

      They have enormous power. They control academia and exert enormous influence over the media and entertainment. They wield the power that comes from being the ones that create the stories we tell ourselves about our lives and society. They get to define what society views as good and bad.

      According to all of the recent polls, there are not all that many ordinary people who have a hysterical fear of nuclear power and there never really were.

      Things were different circa 1980. Anti-nuclear hysteria was so bad that hundreds of people within 50 miles of Three Mile Island died of stress induced by the fear nuclear contamination.

      The “dash to gas” in electrical power production in the 1990s and 2000s did not happen by accident …

      That dash started 20 years after nuclear power was shutdown. Natural gas and alternative energy are only on the table because we took nuclear power off. Your looking back at the past with the advantage of hindsight. Nobody in public life circa 1980, not even those in the oil industry (who should have known better) believed that we would have any fossil fuels in the future. Anyone who walked into any public or private meeting during the heart of the energy crises and said, “hey, we don’t need nuclear, we can can burn oil and gas to generate electricity!” would have been considered stark raving mad.

      The people that decided to stop building new nuclear plants and who continue to resist making commitments to order them sit in large, well appointed offices and chat with each other at industry conferences and cocktail parties.

      No, they sit in grubbing little offices screaming to get $10,000 in donations so that they can file lawsuits that can block construction on a $4 billion dollar plant for two years. I know because I knew people who actually did that.

      It was also enabled by the way that fuel is treated as a pass through cost in most regulated states.

      It’s called cost plus pricing and all utilities and most companies under contract to the government use it. When you cannot predict future cost under price controls you sign a contract setting the price at your cost but a fixed percentage of profit. It’s the only way anyone will invest money in something like a regulated utility.

      If you wonder who the major players are in the American Gas Association…

      I don’t much care because they weren’t players circa 1980 when all this happened.

      BTW – the nuclear power industry was never shut down – its growth was restricted for a time that so far has not been all that unusual compared to other new technologies.

      Twenty years went by without a single new plant coming online that wasn’t already long in the pipeline. That is unprecedented in the history of technology.

      One more thing – if you think that ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, Anadarko, Gazprom, Aramaco, Total, Eni, Chesapeake Energy, Halliburton, and hundreds of other energy companies benefit from low energy prices, you evidently cannot read a balance sheet or income statement and have no idea how to correlate them with published energy prices over time.

      Bust follow booms, the higher the boom, the lower the bust. It’s been that way for over a century. During the “energy crisis” of the ’73-’83, the oil companies only made money the last 3 years after the lifting of price controls and windfall profits tax. The bust in late 83 was absolutely devastating to the oil business wiping out most of the gains from the previous three years. The oil industry like moderately high prices but hates really high prices because those prices trigger counteractions, such as recessions, which in turn trigger a bust.

      Actually, the definition of “conspiracy” includes not only the requirement for “secret” activity, but also for that activity to be illegal.

      In this context, it means deception and under handed activities. It means hiding your influence to trick people who believe that they’re striking a blow against capitalism. You’re arguing that apparent history of the anti-nuclear movement in which leftist shutdown nuclear power isn’t the real story but rather that a secret cabal of economic competitors actually shut nukes down. That is the very definition of an economic conspiracy.

      It means secretly financing radical leftist to protest, make movies, file lawsuits and pass ridiculous laws requiring plans for evacuating millions of people in 8 hours. It means secretly getting people like Jane “China Syndrome” Fonda and Tom Harkin to advance your economic interest.

      I am asserting that efforts to restrict the growth of a competitor with enormous technical advantages was part of a long-term marketing campaign…

      For which you have zero evidence save for your dubious argument of economic motive. You don’t have public statement, confessions of people who regretted their actions, canceled checks, autobiographies, meeting notes etc. I on the other hand have all those things in abundance.

      Without knowing who the enemies are, any strategy for success is bound to fail.

      Exactly, ignoring the social/political/cultural dimension of anti-nuclear activity dooms us to failure. We can defeat the arguments of economic competitors with rational discussions on the technical merits of the respective technology. We can’t easily defeat irrational fear whipped up by those in pursuit power.

      Economic actors seeking to advance their own products and undercut those of the competition are perfectly ordinary actions that occur in the history of every technology and indeed every facet of economic life. They require no special attention or action. Their effects are naturally factored into the decision making system.

      Answer this: If we accept your supposition, what actions should we take? How does that in anyway change the strategy for advancing nuclear power? I can’t see it changes anything.

      The actions of the left, however, are show stopping. We can’t get around the hysteria they generate without first educating people that their fears are in fact unfounded.

    36. Jonathan Says:

      Purple Helmut Coal wrote:
      If you knew how emissions trading works, you’d know that natgas plants generally don’t need to buy credits because they can burn so clean. I’m not saying there are no emissions, just very few ‘greenhouse gases.’

      Natural gas is mostly methane and does indeed burn cleanly. However, the products of burning methane are water and carbon dioxide, so what are talking about? You seem to be confusing CO2 emissions with NOx and soot. Shannon was referring specifically to the kinds of emissions that global-warming enthusiasts worry about, which in this case would be CO2.

      BTW, is your PhD in sociology or women’s studies?

    37. Jonathan Says:

      Helmut Coal, PhD wrote:
      None of you have even mentioned that Chicago gets 75% of its electricity from nuclear. Go back to arguing something which doesn’t involve details; a few of you are in over your heads.

      Actually, if you took the time to look through this blog’s archives you might find a number of relevant posts.

    38. Shannon Love Says:

      Helmut Coal,

      If you knew how emissions trading works, you’d know that natgas plants generally don’t need to buy credits because they can burn so clean.

      Emission credits do not currently cover CO2 emissions. If the true “cost” of an activity includes its external cost, and the external cost of CO2 emissions are very high due to global warming, then the cost natural gas is much higher than just its commodities price would suggest.

      In the case of nuclear power, the cost of the uranium fuel is trivial compared to the cost of the plant itself. The primary cost of the plant today, under real world conditions, is the cost of capital. That cost in turn is high due to the unpredictable delays and even outright termination risk poised by the current legal/political climate.

      As the comparing the cost of between two energy sources is tricky. Based just on technology, natural gas is slightly cheaper than nuclear. All other factors combined, nuclear is much cheaper.

    39. David Walters Says:

      The products of natural gas plants are: Methane, CO, CO2, NOx, H2O, Particulate and various smaller trace elements.

      #Technology has reduced NOx emissions down to almost insignificant levels (from 100 to 200 ppb to almost 4 ppb).

      #Methane, the actual fuel, is not a ‘product’ but is often released when starting up a gas fired power plant or purging it and shutting down. This is especially true for Gas Turbines.

      #H20 in the form of condensed steam is a major out put of any NG combustion. It is actually a by produce of hydrocarbon production and is what is the visible effluent coming out of any plant stack.

      #CO is the product of NG production albeit at very small levels if the unit is tuned correctly. It usually represents a serious safety consideration when firing a conventional boiler.

      #CO2 is *substantial* in an NG fuel power plant. That’s less than coal is obvious but that it is still a major stationary source of CO2 cannot and should not be overlooked.

      #Particulate. This isn’t talked about much *except* if you live within a few thousand feet of a NG power plant. The “Particulate Micron 5” or “…2.5” or “…10” are all causes of various respiratory illness and represents, usually, the major objection by local communities down wind from any NG power plant.

      David Walters
      24 years of NG fired boiler experience

    40. Rod Adams Says:

      Shannon:

      Just in case it has gotten lost in our give and take, the postulate that I am trying to advance is that people associated with fossil fuel and desiring to maintain its market share played at least as large a role in the slowdown of nuclear power development as “the leftists” that you blame.

      You wrote:

      For which you have zero evidence save for your dubious argument of economic motive. You don’t have public statement, confessions of people who regretted their actions, canceled checks, autobiographies, meeting notes etc. I on the other hand have all those things in abundance.

      There are many books and articles on the subject of nuclear power development – I once spent a couple of years worth of free time perusing several aisles worth of such material in the US Naval Academy library. (Yes, I am a real bore in person.) Unfortunately, that period was before I owned a laptop and my notes are in random paper binders and hard to search or catalog. I also no longer have much free time available for library visits.

      Fortunately, the world now has Google Books. I did some searching and found Congress and National Energy Policy by James Everett Katz, published by Transaction Publishers, 1984. That book includes details about the evolution from a focused Atomic Energy Commission with full responsibility for nuclear power development to our current situation. We now have a regulator with no responsibility for the risk of insufficient energy supplies or the risk of pollution caused by coal, oil and natural gas and a Department of Energy that has competing interests and budgetary priorities between all forms of energy.

      Here is a quote from page 39-40 under the heading of
      Atomic Energy: A Growing Problem
      “The lack of a strategic approach to energy policy and distorted energy research and development priorities were among the elements that led to rising congressional displeasure about the heavy stress the federal government had given to atomic energy. Atomic energy – because of its dramatic quality and importance to national security – had from its inception received concentrated attention and support from the federal government.”

      Later on page 40 the book continues:

      “During the 1970s this independence was increasingly attacked, both from within the government and outside. During the 1973-1974 energy shortages criticism was augmented by supporters of competing energy sources and by public interest groups.”

      On page 51, after more details about the various interests and leadership in the effort to reorganize federal energy policy, the book goes on under the heading of

      Curbing Nuclear Energy

      Congress had led the White House into reorganizing the government’s energy research and development responsibilities by replacing the “anachronistic” AEC with a broad-based energy research agency. The new agency’s degree of commitment to nuclear power, as opposed to other energy sources was hotly contested, but the basic concept of reordering the structure met with little resistance…
      Before ERDA could be properly established it had been necessary first to disarm the JCAE (Joint Committee on Atomic Energy), which had traditionally hampered reorganization efforts that might slow atomic energy development or diminish its fiefdom – the AEC. Partly because of congressional concerns about overemphasis on nuclear energy, the JCAE began to lose its once awesome influence…
      Virulent public attacks had also weakened the JCAE, which was seen as being “outmoded,” forcing an “overconcentration,” and fostering “proprietary interest” in nuclear energy at the expense of other “more promising” sources of power…
      Because much of the effort to overcome the nuclear lobby would have been wasted if it were allowed to dominate the newly formed ERDA, the Senate included safeguards to assure that all energy technologies would receive ample consideration. The Senate report of the ERDA bill sought “balance and meaningful priority-setting among the competing energy sources…

      Finally, (for this comment, but certainly not the end of the evidence) page 54 provides a fairly clear summary of a couple of years of bureaucratic infighting and competing testimony.

      ERDA (Energy Research and Development Agency) was an awkward conglomerate of competing interests in possession of a nebulous mandate and diffuse goals and faced with an antagonistic combination of clients…
      Such eclecticism resulted from ERDA’s need to satisfy four constituencies. The atomic establishment wanted to push for nuclear energy development in every available format. Those generally interested in energy policy wanted a central mechanism that could rationalize and plan energy research, develop long-range objectives, and oversee the pursuit of these ends. Nuclear power opponents wanted a new nuclear safety agency split off from energy development because AEC could not realistically be expected to both promote nuclear energy and be circumspect about controlling, regulating and evaluating it. Finally, proponents of other energy forms – such as coal, solar, and oil – sought an institutional structure that would promote development of their favored energy form. To continue with only a pronuclear establishment, these three latter constituencies argued would result in an imbalance of government R&D efforts.

      I am sure that those last three constituencies had a lot of meetings and discussions to hash out the final agreement that led to the passage of legislation that probably had more to do with the slowdown in nuclear power than any other – the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974.

      One of the major consequences of the disbanding of the JCAE, which Katz includes as part of reorganization effort, was to eliminate the congressional and senate staff expertise on the value of nuclear power for such applications as ship propulsion.

      The US did not just stop building nuclear electric power stations, we also stopped building nuclear powered cruisers and destroyers and never did get around to building nuclear powered amphibious ships. We even decommissioned our few nuclear ships early rather than invest in the maintenance and upgrades of what were fairly unique designs without many following units.

      We did build about ten carriers and continued building submarines. However all the rest of our naval vessels have been oil fired despite the proven tactical value of endurance and speed provided by nuclear power. Certain congressional committees and Navy budget submitters liked oil fired ships because they could be built for a somewhat lower initial cost.

      The Navy liked getting more ships, even if they required refueling every few days. From the mid 1970s until just recently, it has been generally easy for Navy budgeters to convince Congress to provide operational funds for fuel each year and more difficult to educate them on the investment benefits of nuclear power. (BTW – please do not attempt to accuse me of ignorance on this particular issue.)

      Interestingly enough, in the 1970s, the SINGLE largest customer for the oil industry in the US was the US Navy.

    41. Rod Adams Says:

      Shannon:

      You wrote:

      Answer this: If we accept your supposition, what actions should we take? How does that in anyway change the strategy for advancing nuclear power? I can’t see it changes anything.

      The actions of the left, however, are show stopping. We can’t get around the hysteria they generate without first educating people that their fears are in fact unfounded.

      Good question. We have a better chance of getting around the actions of the left if we plant the seed of doubt that they are – perhaps unintentionally – working to advance the interests of the establishment fossil fuel industry.

      My humble opinion is that public education to alleviate fear is a strategy that has been consistently tried without much success.

    42. David Walters Says:

      How to get around the general “public” fear of nuclear…which has little to do with left or right, but is endemic (since most people are not “on the left”) means doing the kind of educational work many of us here have done in our own blogging, participating on public, especially newspaper comments sections, and in general speaking out: at meetings, hearings, debates, etc.

      The cracks are appearing. The Dailykos, a liberal Democratic Party blog, has shown that many participants have now been won over to pro-nuclear positions, people who, like myself, had once held a deep seated fear of nuclear energy. The calm, non-ideological demeanor, such as those often articulated by Rod Adams, has had an impact.

      If you notice, there is a rising *painic* among the Antis/Fundis of nuclear power. This is why more and more articles are appearing by people like Lovins, Rohm, Wassermen etc on the “evils” of nuclear energy. Peoples opinions are becoming MORE pro-nuclear, and this crosses ideological boundaries.

      David Walters
      left-atomics.blogspot.com

    43. Shannon Love Says:

      Rod Adams,

      Just in case it has gotten lost in our give and take, the postulate that I am trying to advance is that people associated with fossil fuel and desiring to maintain its market share played at least as large a role in the slowdown of nuclear power development as “the leftists” that you blame.

      But you haven’t presented any evidence this true. All technologies face competition and all technology providers trash talk the opposition and attempt to manipulate the political system to their favor. You’ve not explained why this perfectly ordinary phenomenon was so extraordinary in the case of nuclear power.

      The only unusual facet of the history of nuclear power is the anti-nuke movement. No other technology has faced such a concerted, widespread and sustained propaganda attack. You’ve not the made the case for why ordinary competition played as significant a role as the extraordinary political movement.

      I am sure that those last three constituencies had a lot of meetings and discussions to hash out the final agreement that led to the passage of legislation that probably had more to do with the slowdown in nuclear power than any other – the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974.[emp added]

      That’s the problem. Your convinced that something unusual was going on behind the scenes so you shoehorn evidence to fit your preconception. Again, there is nothing unusual about technology providers arguing their case in government or anywhere else.

      I find the idea that the fossil fuel held usual sway over electricity policy in 1974 especially dubious given that the cause of the policy review was the 1973 oil embargo and the subsequent shortage of oil.

      Try this: Read back over your evidence but this time look for oblique evidence of anti-nuclear political pressure.

      The US did not just stop building nuclear electric power stations, we also stopped building nuclear powered cruisers…

      I would would say that the primary drivers of that were higher cost and, wait for it, the political cost of overcoming anti-nuclear hysteria. Put simply, fossil fuel powered ships “cost” less in political terms than did nuclear ones. I would note that the tremendous economic power of the coal industry in the late 1800’s did not succeed in delaying the switch from coal to oil by more than a handful of years at most.

      Interestingly enough, in the 1970s, the SINGLE largest customer for the oil industry in the US was the US Navy.

      And that constitutes what percentage of their total business? If I sell 99 people one popsicle each and I sell one person two popsicles, that makes the latter my “largest customer” but they comprise a trivial part of my business. In evaluating the behavior of a business, you need to look at the percentage picture.

      We have a better chance of getting around the actions of the left if we plant the seed of doubt that they are – perhaps unintentionally – working to advance the interests of the establishment fossil fuel industry.

      Such a technique would be effective against the anti-capitalist leftist themselves. It would give them an out to support nuclear power. “Gosh, this clean, planet saving technology was suppressed by those evil oil capitalist! Good thing we were here to save the day!”

      That, however, has nothing to do with actually understanding the problem in the first place. I think it more important to understand what really happened and who was responsible so that we can head of such disasters in the future.

    44. Shannon Love Says:

      David Walters,

      It might help you to know that I have special interest in political cognition i.e. the mental process by which we individually and collectively arrive at political decisions. I want to understand why persons “A” chooses one policy and person “B” chooses another. I want to understand why the same people line up on the same side of wildly different issues time and time again. In this regard, the question of why the left turned against nuclear power when the technical issues did not merit it tells us a lot about their cognitive processes. It informs our understanding of how they decide on other issues as well.

      I’m glad that leftist are turning back to nuclear power but I view this as merely accidental. I believe they demonized nuclear power in the first place to create a crisis from which they could claim to protect the people. Later, they seized on global warming as another crisis to protect the the people from. However, they discovered that their crises collided, They can’t protect against global warming without using nuclear power. Since global warming is bigger and protecting against it garners more power, they sacrifice their opposition to nuclear energy.

      At no time did they make a dispassionate analysis of the overall technical merits of nuclear power. They’re support of it now is just as irrational as their opposition in the past. This kind of emotive, politically motivated thinking infest the left in general, especially in topics touching on science and technology.

      I don’t see any reason to cheer because they accidentally blundered into the right decision.

    45. Rod Adams Says:

      Shannon:

      I can see now that no matter what evidence I quote, you intend to persist in trying to convince people that any participation by the fossil fuel industry in activities that harmed nuclear power paled in comparison to the very public and vocal fight by the activists.

      I have spent too long on this earth and in Washington to believe that wealth has no influence on politics and public opinion. Please forgive me if I believe that fossil fuel industry leaders can count, run spreadsheets and recognize the income potential of selling in a tight market compared to one that is adequately supplied.

      Please also forgive me if I believe that the industry leaders make decisions and make reasonably accurate predictions for the future state of their industry – otherwise, why would boards of directions bother to pay them tens of millions of dollars per year.

      You are right that nuclear power has – almost uniquely – been slowed by opposition. I just do not believe that the opposition that you have identified was powerful enough to do the job without a lot of assistance. The evidence that I have found and documented over the years is strong enough for me – sorry that it does not move you.

      Bottom line – Nuclear technology is certainly not dead; it is showing lots of evidence of pending rapid growth, but there will still be battles in the future. Nuclear proponents will have a better chance of success if they participate in some of the normal business behavior that you mention – sharing their own stories, trash talking the opposition, and manipulating the political situation to be more in their own favor.

    46. Shannon Love Says:

      Rod Adams,

      I have spent too long on this earth and in Washington to believe that wealth has no influence on politics and public opinion.

      I’m not saying it doesn’t. I’m just saying this is the normal and even desirable state of affairs. I just don’t see anything that you’ve offered that represents a deviation from the norm. You’ve never explained why I should regard this as unusual in the least.

    47. Rod Adams Says:

      Shannon:

      I just don’t see anything that you’ve offered that represents a deviation from the norm. You’ve never explained why I should regard this as unusual in the least.

      I am not saying that there is anything unusual in the fossil fuel establishment’s effort to protect its market share from a competitor. Where you and I disagree is in your assumption that all of the individuals and distributed groups within the large group enclosed by the term “fossil fuel interests” avoided the use of negative campaigning by proxies as part of their strategy.

      Can you think of another industry that has such an enormous concentration of wealth based on selling a very narrow set of products that people need that has been exposed to a competitor with technical advantages measured in orders of magnitude?

      You have dismissed the “means, motive and opportunity” evidence without really thinking through how different the world’s political power structure would be if nuclear fission had been allowed to flourish. Entire economies are structured around the daily extraction, transportation, storage and delivery of large masses of fossil fuel. It is hard to be a student of world history since the beginning of the industrial age without recognizing the important role played by control of fossil fuel resources.

      We currently get about 7% of the world’s primary energy from about 70,000 tons of uranium that is very inefficiently consumed, leaving almost 99% of the potential energy behind. (Note: Enriched commercial fuel uses about 4-5% of its potential energy, but the tailings from the enrichment plants could also be turned into fuel.)

      Nuclear engineers and scientists have built demonstration plants like the IFR, the Light Water Breeder Reactor, the Molten Salt Breeder Reactor that have demonstrated the ability to extract nearly all of the potential energy from the heavy metal input from both thorium and uranium. Simple math would indicate a fully developed energy production system COULD supply all of the worlds primary energy needs without needing to mine much more heavy metal than we already do. The plutonium economy technically could work and marginalize the fossil fuel economy.

      In the late 1960s and early 1970s many prognosticators – including many government agencies – were predicting just such an evolution with many predicting the end of the need to produce much in the way of fossil fuel energy resources.

      It is a normal, but not necessarily desirable state of affairs – at least for the vast majority of us who are not deeply invested in various aspects of fossil fuel industry ownership – for the owners of the establishment sources to work diligently to slow down the growth of their competition.

      It is also a normal, but not necessarily desirable state of affairs for some rather strange bedfellow arrangements to occur with some of those arrangements being less than open.

      Suppose that the fossil fuel industry and its government associates did not play a role in supporting the vocal anti-nuclear movement. What would those people have done if Gerald Ford had been reelected and implemented the nuclear vision expressed in his October 1976 policy statement on nuclear energy?

      Would they have just watched as they steadily lost market share?

    48. David Walters Says:

      The question, Shannon, are you more interested in bashing leftists or are you interested in developing nuclear energy. Everyone on this forum (I think) are pro-nuclear. There is a very passive majority of the American people who are pro nuclear. Conservatives, by and large (at least in this country) are pro-nuclear, “liberal” and non-conservatives, by and large, anti-nuclear.

      There is this hard-core environmental community that is (and growing, BTW) motivated by climate change. This community is 95% anti-nuclear and is focused around NGO-type organizations like the RMI, Greenpeace, Green Party, etc. These are the *activists* and they number some tens of thousands.

      I’m interested in changing the minds of the *passively* anti-nuclear percentage of the population that is between 30% and 45% of the country. We need to make these people at least passively pro-nuclear. We need to get the more pro-nuclear to become more outspoken, assertive and otherwise active.

      Bashing the “left” isn’t going to help in this. Praising nuclear energy is.

      You are correct about this: “In this regard, the question of why the left turned against nuclear power when the technical issues did not merit it tells us a lot about their cognitive processes. It informs our understanding of how they decide on other issues as well.”

      But it applies not to LEFT since at the time people turned against nuclear energy, the REASONS were were multi-faceted and what you state above, while true, is a very small reason of the larger truth, which you ignore:

      1. Cost overruns. After all, the anti-nuclear “left” only played a small galvanizing role in getting utilities to stop nuclear energy IN THE US. The nuclear industry is the MOST responsible for this disaster in the 1970s and 1980s. It is the industry that has to take responsibility, publicly and loudly (some have, most haven’t) about how screwed up they were in the way the US built it’s nuclear fleet. The majority of NP that were stopped or cancelled were done so without greenies or fundies running around NRC meetings. Ergo, it was the conservative Bds of Dirs. that did this.

      2. Total lack of PR. Ever review the record of TMI? Terrible, stupid and WRONG information was spread to the press that MADE everyone afraid of nuclear energy. Whose fault was this Shannon? The anti-nuke “Alliances” that had already sprung up or the operator of the plant? Additionally, no other utility or nuke operator could even get out or tried to put out any serious information about what actually happened (or didn’t happen as the case may be) at TMI. No one. Zilch. I lived in Pittsburgh PA when TMI happened and it was because there was simply no counter-information to tell the truth that turned me the overwhelming majority of the population against nuclear energy and against those that defended it (which, BTW, were few and far between).

      3. The majority of the US population turned against nuclear energy and at no point could anyone seriously argue that the US population was on the “left” politically. Most of my own right-wing friends, co-workers, “Reagan Democrats” were anti-nuclear after TMI.

      So we’re at a point where we need to join together and continue the educational polemics against the anti-nukes. Getting from your “A” to your “B” is going to take a lot more finesse than speaking to the choir.

      David

    49. Shannon Love Says:

      David Walters,

      The question, Shannon, are you more interested in bashing leftists or are you interested in developing nuclear energy.

      You can’t do one without the other. The left inculcated the idea into the popular conscience that nuclear power was fantastically dangerous and it is politically impossible to build plants without overcoming that fear.

      What will you say to people when they ask, “If nuclear power isn’t dangerous, why did all these people say it was? Why do they continue to say it remains dangerous?” How do you answer that question, and convince people of the technicals truths if you cannot explain the deception?

      1. Cost overruns

      The major cause of cost overruns where delays caused by lawsuits and political action. In nuke construction, the cost of capital is the major expense. Paying 2-5 years interest on 4 billion dollars adds up in a hurry. Without that effect, nukes would not have had more cost overrruns than other large project. The government did push nuclear reactors in the 60’s out of prestige and that hurt. However, that problem was off the radar by 1980.

      Total lack of PR

      I’m not surprised. None leftist do think about propaganda per se. Most utility companies don’t have major marketing or PR departments because as monopolies they don’t need them. Any mistakes made would not have been so bad had not a hostile left been waiting to disseminate and exaggerate any mistakes.

      The majority of the US population turned against nuclear energy and at no point could anyone seriously argue that the US population was on the “left” politically.

      Because they believed the stories that it was dangerous. You had movies made about! Serious scientist and engineers would try to explain and then a leftist would pop out, accuse the scientist of being bought off by evil corporations and then exclaim that the people could trust only the nobel and altruistic leftist to tell the truth. There was a poll conducted in 1979 (which I read for debate class) in which 40+ of the American public thought a nuclear power station could detonate like a nuclear weapon! Where the hell did they get that idea.

      So we’re at a point where we need to join together and continue the educational polemics against the anti-nukes.

      And I don’t think you will get anywhere if you cannot discredit the fear mongering. As long as people trust the anti-nuke left, they’ll just assume your a pawn of the corporations.