February 18, 2007

Climate, pollution, nuclear

The Gregory Benford proposal sounds like the cheapest and safest method for climate modification.

Of course society should to actually stop making the problems worse as described in Jamais article. But a problem is that most plans from environmentalist fail to recognize the scope of the problems or involve everyone suddenly becoming virtuous. Some propose that we all start car-pooling all the time and use far less electricity. I actually spoke with some people from the Post-carbon institute recently who espoused these views. These are equivalent to the obesity problem would go away once everyone starts eating right and exercising or medicare would have far lower costs if everyone went on calorie-restricted diets. Those plans do not recognize the reality of human nature. Plus this "everyone becomes instantly virtuous thing" would also involve stop shopping, since China makes a lot of the products and 85% of their power is from coal power.

The failure to accept the scope of issues is where some evironmentalists like German Herman Scheer (member of german parliment, who is credited with getting the feed in tax introduced to support renewables) talks about a massive and near instantaneous switch to renewables. I heard him speak at the same event and he claimed that a wind generator can be installed in one week and we can install them anywhere. The most efficient wind generators (5 MW) are about 45 stories tall and to replace current coal electricity with them we would need over 250,000 of them.

The recent study for the wind generating capacity of the east coast of the USA is 330GW using 160,000 wind generators.

There are some studies that wind generation would effect local and global climate, which makes sense because of the super-mothra scale of this butterfly effect. I still think we proceed with wind but we just need to perform some due diligence.

Herman also wants everyone to switch to electric cars. Which means of course someone would have to start building them in huge numbers. There are 70 million new cars every year. China is going form 4 million new cars in 2006 to 8 million in 2007. There is an installed base of over 500 million cars. Plus until we switch off from coal and gas the electric cars would suck even more coal and fossil fuel power. Plus the steel and materials would also be made using fossil fuels.

"The stop digging the environmental hole deeper" are huge problems that barring breakthroughs in technology will need the use of every technology and clever plan we can come up with. This includes nuclear power, which more people need to look at the actual incremental risks of making more nuclear power. There are 443 reactors in the world now making 369GW of power (note more than the theoretical amount from east coast of the USA wind). People don't like new ones built near them. But what do nuclear reactors do to the area around them and to proliferation ? One of the most popular country for tourists is France. Yet they have 85% power from nuclear energy. A lot of people would move to France with its beautiful countryside if they could afford it.

France has some of the best statistics for greenhouse gas emissions. Better than Germany.

Germany still and looks like it will continue to get most its power from coal. They also end up importing a lot of power from France.

If nuclear so called waste is examined in detail, the parts that people have the most problems with can be used. The 99% unused nuclear fuel from current once through reactors. Not all reactors are the same and we should use molten salt reactors.
For the immediate term, we should up-power existing reactors (recent MIT work indicates 50% power increases are possible) and continue to make more reactors from existing technology (200 being built, planned or proposed).

I am all for wind, solar, biofuels, conservation and everything not coal. But being pragmatic coal will be with us for a long time we need to do everything to get off it as soon as possible but also try to clean up what we do have. The coal plants that are the dirtiest are the smallest ones (less than 50-100MW). Get rid of those first and find ways to make the existing ones less deadly (1 million dead per year from air pollution from coal, 27000 in the USA each year, 25 times Iraq war dead) while they are being used.

Future pundit also looks at scaling up nuclear to offset fossil fuels over the next 23-25 years

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