Bloomberg Fights Coal
July 24, 2011 5:40 AM   Subscribe

"Ending coal power production is the right thing to do, because while it may seem to be an inexpensive energy source the impact on our environment and the impact on public health is significant..." New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has announced a donation of $50 million dollars to The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign.
posted by beisny (28 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:54 AM on July 24, 2011


The only thing that will be accomplished by the US ending coal power production is that China and India will buy the coal we are not using for their own power production.
posted by Renoroc at 6:48 AM on July 24, 2011


That's ok, the are plenty of wars left to fight...
posted by blue_beetle at 6:57 AM on July 24, 2011


Unfortunately the owner of the power plant has no inclination to sell. Jim Moran and others have been trying to close this plant for 30 years.

Info from the city of Alexandria on the Mirant Power Plant

NPR story about the Feds pushing to keep the power plant open as vital to the capital's energy grid

Rabble rousing from the right wing -- how dare he threaten our AC in the middle of this heat wave!!!
posted by humanfont at 7:00 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good thing we're building plenty of new nuclear power plants to obviate the need for coal-powered power plants.
posted by gyc at 7:30 AM on July 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Good thing we're building plenty of new nuclear power plants

What Happened at Fukushima - Why It Can Happen Here. Great video by an insider nuclear engineer expert.
posted by stbalbach at 7:59 AM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


stbalbach : What Happened at Fukushima - Why It Can Happen Here. Great video by an insider nuclear engineer expert.

Y'know, I just don't get it, perhaps someone more politically-minded than me can explain this.

I've read about literally dozens of various reactor designs that make it physically impossible for the core to melt and/or go critical. Many of them have the added bonus that, because they don't do anything all that exciting even in a complete failure, they cost a hell of a lot less to build.

So why does the world still use a 50 year old actively-cooled, passive-worst-case-mode-of-failure design? I mean, okay, I can see not decommissioning all the reactors already up and running, but even new reactors all seem to use the same basic "big pile o' uranium, oh and make damned sure the pumps don't fail" design.

Any thoughts?
posted by pla at 8:17 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Renoroc : The only thing that will be accomplished by the US ending coal power production is that China and India will buy the coal we are not using for their own power production.

Aside from the massive damage caused by mining coal, using it as a domestic energy source makes far more sense than selling it abroad.

The real problem here comes from the cheap-ass power barons who would rather kill us all than pay to retrofit a coal plant with high-efficiency scrubbers. If the EPA grew some balls, we could enjoy the benefits of a plentiful domestic source of cheap energy without letting it kill us.

Now, personally, I'd just ban tall stacks and require the plant owners live in the nearest town immediately downwind from the plant. Then we'll see how much of an interest they take in cleaning up their crap. Instead, thanks to smokestacks that effectively dump their poison in the jet stream, those of us in the Northeast (where we have some of the lowest coal use in the country) get to enjoy the health effects while the midwest enjoys the cheap power.
posted by pla at 8:25 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


The only thing that will be accomplished by the US ending coal power production is that China and India will buy the coal we are not using for their own power production.

Thank you free market man, for lifting the veil from our eyes!

Any comprehensive plan will include massive tariffs on the export of coal.
posted by elektrotechnicus at 9:09 AM on July 24, 2011


elektrotechnicus : Any comprehensive plan will include massive tariffs on the export of coal.

Destroying a currently-thriving industry because we don't like one aspect of it, doesn't really sound like the best approach here. Since the real problem with coal comes from its dirtiness, it seems rather more practical to just clean the baby up instead of throwing it out with the bathwater.

We have the technology, today, to build a zero-emission coal fired power plant. It would, unfortunately, cost more, so no one will build them until forced to. We also have the tech to clean the coal itself so existing plants can burn it and release nothing but water and CO2; that too costs more, so it won't happen voluntarily. But we can do it.
posted by pla at 10:15 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


So why does the world still use a 50 year old actively-cooled, passive-worst-case-mode-of-failure design?

China is building a few of these Gen III+ reactors which feature an emergency passive cooling system. If all goes well we'll build fourteen or so in the U.S.

These reactors are still just incremental improvements of 1960s-era designs. Surprisingly, no one is too excited about taking on the political and financial risk of building and operating a wholly new design.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:20 AM on July 24, 2011


I'm 100% in favor of more atomic power. But I"m also very much opposed to atomic power in the hands of for profit corporations. From their POV safety is just another cost to cut so they can get more profits. Government owned or private non-profits only please.

@Pla Any coal plant that releases CO2 is not, by definition, "clean". CO2 is a major problem and must be taken care of.

And there really isn't anything even remotely resembling a practical way to capture and sequester the CO2 from burning coal. So, yeah, I'm pretty much in favor of ending all coal plants.

Not to mention the fact that coal mining, especially in Virginia, is an obscenely ecologically destructive practice.
posted by sotonohito at 10:28 AM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, say what you will about Bloomberg, at least he seems to want humans to survive as a species.
posted by fuq at 11:41 AM on July 24, 2011


Google LFTR
posted by sfts2 at 12:09 PM on July 24, 2011


Very few people are actually qualified to judge the safety of a nuclear power plant design. So we're forced to take the word of the companies building the plants as to their safety systems. There are no independent experts in the nuclear industry, it is just too small. The consequences of mistakes are too grave.
posted by humanfont at 12:11 PM on July 24, 2011


sotonohito Any coal plant that releases CO2 is not, by definition, "clean". CO2 is a major problem and must be taken care of.

Don't get me wrong, I agree with you completely. But removing "everything but" CO2 makes it no longer hazardous to humans (at least on the short term - We also need to deal with global warming, but let's work to win one battle at a time).


And there really isn't anything even remotely resembling a practical way to capture and sequester the CO2 from burning coal.

The sequestration part of that presents the real sticky wicket. Capturing it, once you've cleaned out everything else, requires nothing more than a compressor to liquify it. What to do with it after that, unfortunately we still don't have a good answer to.


Not to mention the fact that coal mining, especially in Virginia, is an obscenely ecologically destructive practice.

Agreed - But again, we have corporate greed to blame for that (allowed by piss-poor oversight by the DOI, and an EPA so apathetic that environmental groups have to sue them to get them to do their job).


I fully look forward to the day we consider it silly to use asphalt roofing shingles due to the availability of cheap, high-efficiency cheap solar tiles. We have to stay in the game long enough to get there, though.
posted by pla at 2:06 PM on July 24, 2011


The only thing that will be accomplished by the US ending coal power production is that China and India will buy the coal we are not using for their own power production.

Uh... ending our production? Wouldn't that mean we'd be competing with China and India to buy the same non-US coal?
posted by salvia at 11:00 PM on July 24, 2011


The only thing that will be accomplished by the US ending coal power production is that China and India will buy the coal we are not using for their own power production.
Most of that coal is mined in the U.S. and it would be easy to stop production. Also, it would be expensive to ship all of it to china anyway (I'm not sure how expensive, but probably more expensive then shipping oil)
I've read about literally dozens of various reactor designs that make it physically impossible for the core to melt and/or go critical. Many of them have the added bonus that, because they don't do anything all that exciting even in a complete failure, they cost a hell of a lot less to build.
It was physically impossible for Fukushima to go critical, and it didn't (at least not until long after it had melted down, there's speculation that one of the reactors may have had a short re-criticality event)

That's the thing. When people talk about reactors that make it 'physically impossible to go critical' they're talking about the kinds of designs used at Fukushima. And not only that, the technology worked Fukushima did not have an uncontrolled reaction.

But it obviously still melted down. Why? Because the fission of radioactive byproducts. It takes months for the rods (or even years?) before the rods cool down to the point where they can be air cooled.

---
Destroying a currently-thriving industry because we don't like one aspect of it, doesn't really sound like the best approach here.
Yes, the "Aspect" of global warming. There is no way to have coal production without global warming, (sequestration is absurd and probably too expensive anyway) So, it has to be gotten rid of (Or at least reduced to a much lower level, compatible with preventing global warming)
Don't get me wrong, I agree with you completely. But removing "everything but" CO2 makes it no longer hazardous to humans
The problem people care about is global warming. The solution is to stop burning coal. The other stuff is not really a concern.
Uh... ending our production? Wouldn't that mean we'd be competing with China and India to buy the same non-US coal?
Uh, no we would not be either mining or burning coal. I'm not sure why this is so hard for people to understand.
posted by delmoi at 11:23 PM on July 24, 2011


Current commercial nuclear reactor designs in the US and, for that matter, the rest of the world, are all pretty much stuck with the first designs that could power a submarine - hence the vast preponderence of light water reactors.

The reason they are cited as cheap and simple to build (relative to alternate, safer designs) is mostly due to the huge amount of investment capital that was sunk into their development in the 50s and 60s. All of the design decisions, prototype construction and personnel training would have to be done all over again. For anyone to build alternative, safer and more efficient reactors it would probably require a large chunk of the military budget of a cold-war superpower.

There was a recent two-part BBC world radio documentary podcast [Atomic States : part I], [Atomic States : part II] about this subject (Nuclear safety and the LWR legacy) that I highly recommend
posted by JustAsItSounds at 12:07 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've read about literally dozens of various reactor designs that make it physically impossible for the core to melt and/or go critical. Many of them have the added bonus that, because they don't do anything all that exciting even in a complete failure, they cost a hell of a lot less to build.

There are lots of *claimed* safe designs. The number which have actually been demonstrated offering anything over time is a little different.

Prior to Fuku, the worst nuclear reactor in Japan was its breeder reactor. I have books from the late 70s and 80s hyping them as the safe option everyone should be building.
posted by rodgerd at 12:54 AM on July 25, 2011


delmoi : Yes, the "Aspect" of global warming. There is no way to have coal production without global warming, (sequestration is absurd and probably too expensive anyway).

Leaving it in the ground in its current form just naturally sequesters it. Why not take it out, extract the energy, and put back a lower-energy form (ie, carbonate minerals)? The biggest limiting factor there involves the natural reaction rate - But we know how to speed that up drastically, it just takes "wasting" a bit of the energy gained from the coal in the first place (a strange irony, IMO, considering CO2 -> XCO3 as an exothermic reaction).


The problem people care about is global warming. The solution is to stop burning coal. The other stuff is not really a concern.

As a resident of Maine, I beg to differ. I very much care about the fact that we have some of the highest freshwater mercury levels in the country, despite having virtually no local sources of it. That we have air-quality alert days despite using mostly hydro (30.1%), natural gas (29.8%), and nuclear (22.4%) sources of power.

I absolutely care about global warming, but I care a hell of a lot more about "the other stuff", which will likely shave a few years off my life, vs how high the water rises 300 years after my death.
posted by pla at 6:12 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Twice the height of the Empire State - EnviroMission plans massive solar tower for Arizona
posted by homunculus at 3:27 PM on July 25, 2011


Uh, no we would not be either mining or burning coal. I'm not sure why this is so hard for people to understand.

It is hard for me to understand because the quote mentioned only production, and as I understand that word, that would mean we'd stop producing a refined product but not stop burning coal, so we would need to purchase more from other sources.
posted by salvia at 8:29 AM on July 26, 2011


But I see above, the referent was "coal power production." That clears it up.
posted by salvia at 8:31 AM on July 26, 2011


Leaving it in the ground in its current form just naturally sequesters it. Why not take it out, extract the energy, and put back a lower-energy form (ie, carbonate minerals)?
Because that's ridiculous? I doubt it would be cheaper then wind and solar, and beyond that the law would probalby just say some % (like 1%) of new coal plants needs to sequester, while old plants would just burn it and release it into the air. A much more fail-safe method would simply be to not burn it and leave it in the ground.
posted by delmoi at 1:06 PM on July 26, 2011


It is hard for me to understand because the quote mentioned only production, and as I understand that word, that would mean we'd stop producing a refined product but not stop burning coal, so we would need to purchase more from other sources.
What "refined product"?
posted by delmoi at 1:07 PM on July 26, 2011


delmoi : I doubt it would be cheaper then wind and solar

I have no problem with that outcome. ;)


and beyond that the law would probalby just say some % (like 1%) of new coal plants needs to sequester, while old plants would just burn it and release it into the air.

That describes a policy problem, not a physical one.
posted by pla at 2:42 PM on July 26, 2011


That describes a policy problem, not a physical one.

So? It's like saying "Rather then not buying ice cream, I'll just do an extra 30 minutes on the elliptical for every 250 calories I eat!" It's much simpler to simply not buy the ice-cream in the first place.
posted by delmoi at 12:46 PM on July 27, 2011


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