October 20, 2006

A coal Chernobyl twice a week and a coal 9-11 three times per year

Time Magazine recently wrote about the bright future of coal energy The world used 4.6 billion tons of coal in 2004 and this amount is increasing. Global consumption of electricity is expected to double between 2002 and 2030.

Global photovoltaic (solar) production is 1.7 GW in 2005. It is growing at 45% per year.
We added 12GW of wind power in 2005. It is growing at 25% per year.
The world adds 100-200GW of electricity every year depending upon economic growth. Wind and solar will not be added fast enough to stop new coal plant construction for 10-30 years. We need to not only stop making new coal plants but replace the old ones. Nuclear power must be included as part of the solution that we push now. Ideally we need to bring Thorium reactors online. We need to fasttrack them. The nuclear reactors are available technology. We have improved versions.

Releases in 1982 from worldwide combustion of 2800 million tons of coal totaled 3640 tons of uranium (containing 51,700 pounds of uranium-235) and 8960 tons of thorium. The population gets 100 times more radiation from a coal plant than from a nuclear plant. So in 2004 by burning 4.6 billions tons of coal, we released 5980 tons of uranium into the air and 14720 tons of Thorium. This is like 80 truck size dirty nuclear bombs releasing 1 ton of radioactive material every day.

China had 8000 coal mining deaths in 2003. 80% of the world total. Therefore, 10,000 coal mining deaths per year That is more than three times the deaths from 9-11.

Chernobyl killed 50 people and made 4000 gravely ill.

Some 600,000 miners in China were suffering from lung diseases at large state owned mines due to poor ventilation, while last year state mine workers reported 20,000 new cases of lung disease. "If we consider small local and township mines, which don't report this kind of statistic, then there are some 2 million mine workers with lung disease."

MSNBC and clear the air indicate that there are 24,000 premature deaths from soot every year in America alone.

In a per year number, we are looking at about 400,000 gravely ill people per year.
Therefore, this is like 2 Chernobyls per week. If coal use doubled, we would be looking at coal Chernobyls 4 times per week.

How much oil does it take to dig and move 4.6 billion tons of coal?
How many traffic accident happen moving all those loads?
How much wear and tear is there on the roads?

Coal is a main cause of global warming. Global warming is killing animal, plant and fish species.

Despite all of the publicity the old nuclear reactors in the US did not cause direct deaths from radiation. (Other than a handful of safety accidents) The new reactors are safer. Thorium reactors would be even safer. In 46 years, using 440 nuclear plants, Chernobyl happened once.

Existing Coal plants must be regulated and the nuclear material prevented from going into the air. Every other technological and policy means at our disposal should be used to reduce coal usage. Biofuels, even genetically engineered biocrops, more solar, more wind, and more nuclear. Upgrade existing nuclear plants to add 160 GW.

The urgency is there is a coal Chernobyl twice a week, 80 one ton dirty bombs every day, three coal 9-11s every year, coal is a primary cause of global warming, it is costing us animals and the environment, it is increasing the frequency of Katrina events and all of this will double by 2030 if we do not take very strong action.

more reading:
More facts on how bad coal is

Time magazine had a recent follow up on coal. It shows that there are legal challenges and a push to regulate the coal industry. The radiation fallout issue is not addressed.


Kirk Sorensen said...

Great post, Brian. I don't know if you've read "Big Coal" by Jeff Goodell but I think you'd really enjoy it. If you've read "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser, it reads a lot like that. Except instead of McDonald's, it's coal.

Anonymous said...

You didn't even mentioned mercury. Power plants are the no. 1 source of mercury in our environment.

"Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 12 women of childbearing age in the U.S. has unsafe levels of mercury in her blood".

phuckerboi said...

Please note the US Dept. of energy and MIT believe that geothermal could easily produce all the energy 10 billion people could use and unlike nuclear it does not create radiation disaster zones, No nuclear power plant has ever been cleaned up every one is a disaster zone for a million years or so. Some geoscientists believe the Yellowstone caldera by its self could produce 100% of the world’s energy for many decades. Geothermal technology is proven and has been in use for more than one hundred years, Iceland will soon begin to replace all gasoline cars with hydrogen produced by geothermal and in 20 years expect to be exporting energy. The cost of producing geothermal is less than one tenth the cost of nuclear which is the most expensive energy source currently used.

bw said...

I have reviewed enhanced geothermal energy

The U.S. is already the global leader in geothermal, with about 3,000 of the world’s 9,700 MW of current generation. The world has 373,000 MW of nuclear power.

geothermal in the USA produced 16 billion kwh which is 2% of the nuclear power total and a few times more than solar power generated. Still if enhanced geothermal and other economical geothermal power can be added that would be a good and significant thing.

Average geothermal electricity rates between 4-7 cents per kilowatt-hour. But that price is from tapping the most economical locations. It is not ten times less than nuclear power. The older nuclear reactors that have paid off capital costs have 2 cents per kwh price. New reactors have comparable costs. Solar is far more expensive than nuclear power as is wind in many cases and coal is becoming more expensive with rising commodity prices.

Nuclear plants are not disaster zones for a million years. The long half life nuclear material is uranium and plutonium which are unburned fuel. The remainder has a half life of 30 years or less. Plant decommissioning costs vary by type of reactors but US reactors have a decommission cost of about $330 million and there have been plants that have been decommissioned and the sites cleaned.

decommissioning fact sheet

As geothermal technology progresses, resources that were once non-commercial are now being actively examined as feasible possibilities.

Applying new oil drilling tech is opening up more geothermal resources.

Bruce Oksol said...

This is the problem as I see it: I never know who the audience is when we talk about coal. The US contributes very little to "new" coal use. The US is looking for alternative forms of energy.

The problem is China. I don't think folks have any idea how much energy China is consuming. Your post mentions that the world, in 2006, was adding 100 - 200 GW of energy on an annual basis. In 2008, the Chinese added 75 GW and in 2009, the Chinese are expected to add 80 GW of electricity generating capacity; that accounts for almost all the new energy being generated in the entire world if you accept your lower range of 100 GW/year.

But whenever I hear speeches / read articles about coal, the speaker / the writer does not address where the problem lies. English-speaking audiences listening to / reading English speeches / articles assume we are talking about the US energy policy.

No matter how much Americans cut their coal consumption, it will have a negligible effect compared to how much the Chinese are bringing on line.

Those are the facts. But it seems China is getting a pass, again, by mainstream media.

Look at your figures again: up to 15GW of electricity produced by renewables each year, when the world needs 100 - 200 new GW each year just to meet new needs. Renewables are not the answer.

In 2006, nuclear was the answer, but now, even Obama appears not to be in favor of nuclear.

bw said...

Bruce, I have updated articles on both coal deaths and new energy build in China and around the world.

China exported $1.4 trillion in goods in 2008. $333 billion to the United States. The USA, Japan and Europe are outsourcing their manufacturing and the pollution from manufacturing. So the pollution generated in China is mainly to make stuff for the developed countries.

Most coal deaths are in China.

I do not think that old coal is less important than new coal the way you have described it. Actually old coal is actually more of a problem because older coal plants tend to be more polluting.

About two thirds of the coal pollution stays in the country that generated the rest can float around to other places (depends upon the size of the country and weather patterns). So the coal usage in the USA is the US problem and it is killing 30,000 americans per year (this could be far higher if the persistent free radical theory is correct.

. The coal usage in China is a chinese problem and it is killing 500,000-1 million chinese per year.

China is building 12 new reactors now and will have 12 more under construction by the end of 2009 (8 of the 12 might already be under construction.)

The new 2020 targets are 300 GW Hydro, 75GW nuclear, 150GW from renewable if targets are reached. 46% of power would be from non-coal sources if natural gas usage is increased as projected. (the 2020 targets get China close to the current US coal/non-coal energy ratio)

In 2006/7 the projection was that China would have about 35% power from non-fossil fuel sources in 2020. 270GW Hydro, 40GW nuclear, 123GW from renewable if targets are reached. 42% of power would be from non-coal sources if natural gas usage is increased as projected. CapGemini projects that China will have 1230GW of electrical power by 2020. Up from about 600GW in 2006.

The State Council was reported to be considering raising the 2020 target to 75 GWe installed and 18 GWe under construction. The State Power Grid Corporation supplied 3430 billion kWh in 2008 and (earlier) expected to supply 3810 billion kWh in 2010 from 850-900 GWe. Growth is then expected to slow to 2020, when capacity is expected to reach 1600 GWe.

China is planning to have 16% of electricity generation from nuclear power by 2030.

Much of china's coal plants are going to cleaner plants. Smaller dirtier plants are being shutdown.

China is also breaking ground on their first first integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plant (cleaner burning than regular pulverized coal and potentially carbon neutral.)

Underpinning China's potential leadership in carbon-neutral coal power is broad expertise with gasification. By 2010, China will have installed 29 gasification projects since 2004, compared with zero in the United States.

About 60% of the new coal plants in China are some kind of more modern style plant.