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World's biggest windfarms
April 30, 2006 8:45 AM   Subscribe

Stateline windfarm in Oregon/Washington is the largest windfarm in the world (300 MW). Denmark's Nysted windfarm is the world's largest off-shore windfarm (165 MW). Ireland plans to build a 520 MW off-shore windfarm, while the London Array would produce a massive 1000 MW and be a major feaure in the English Channel. Norway announced a 1,400 MW windfarm in 2005. The world's largest single wind turbine (5 MW).. the worlds largest solar farm (300 MW) planned for New Mexico would cover over 3,000 acres.
posted by stbalbach (141 comments total)

 
For comparison the average American nuclear power plant produces 900 MW (there are 104 of them and they produce about %20 of Americas electricity).
posted by stbalbach at 8:46 AM on April 30, 2006


How much space does a nuclear power plant take up compared to 3,000 acres?
posted by Ron at 9:01 AM on April 30, 2006


Why not mount solar panels on the turbines? The blades seem awfully large and ideal for collecting a bit more energy.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:01 AM on April 30, 2006


While some may argue that Mefi has a lot of wind and energy, methinks the sixth link got borked.
posted by luftmensch at 9:11 AM on April 30, 2006


Why not mount solar panels on the turbines? The blades seem awfully large and ideal for collecting a bit more energy.

Interesting idea. I'd guess that adding solar panels would add quite a bit of weight to the turbines, but the added benefit might cancel that out.

There were plans for a large(ish) wind farm in Lake Ontario near Rochester, NY, but apparently there is quite a bit of resistance (lots of linked articles). Seems like yet another highly political situation with high doses of conflicting "facts".
posted by pkingdesign at 9:14 AM on April 30, 2006


I love that my favorite fast food chain in Oregon, Burgerville, recently went to 100% wind-power for all their restaurants. Let's see McDonalds do that.
posted by mathowie at 9:17 AM on April 30, 2006


i've read something about Native reservations putting them up too...i still don't see why they're not everywhere. (i wonder if little ones on fire escapes will ever be feasible?)
posted by amberglow at 9:17 AM on April 30, 2006


Why not mount solar panels on the turbines?

You don't want to mess up the airfoil shape, extra weight on the blades reduces efficiency, and worst, they probably wouldn't last. I can't see a way to get a useful increase in power -- anything you get from the solar panels wouldn't make up for what you'd lose from the wind generator.

How much space does a nuclear power plant take up compared to 3,000 acres?

Depends. If they use a manmade cooling lake, like the LaSalle County Nuclear Generation Station, wind farms are damn near tiny.

With cooling towers, they're larger, but unlike nuclear plants, the land can be multi use. You can't farm under a reactor building, but you can farm under most of the footprint of a wind farm.

The big thing here is costs. Right now, the initial capital cost of a nuclear plant is enormous (though much of that could be reduced by regulation.) and the running costs are pretty high. I suspect that a wind farm costs much less to install and run, even these very large 1GW proposals, even the very large 1GW proposals put offshore, which would drastically increase the installation costs -- but I don't have much data on wind costs.

Both nuclear and wind generation stations can be made cheaper -- the biggest part of reducing nuclear's cost is regulatory, the biggest part of reducing wind's cost is mass production. Until recently, each generator was basically a one-off or limited run project. With more wind farms, standard generators being mass produced can reduce the capital cost. Nuclear plants do require more maintenance, and have the "all-or-nothing" problem. If you lose, say, a coolant pump, the entire reactor is shut down. If you lose a bearing on a wind generator, the rest of the farm isn't affected. Nuclear plants also have catastrophic failures that wind farms simply don't, those most of those failures can be controlled or prevented by proper reactor design. However, proper containment buildings aren't cheap, this does drive up the cost of a nuclear reactor. You either pay when you build the containment building, or you really pay when something goes wrong and you haven't. Remember kids, Positive Void Coefficient + No Containment Building = Chernobyl.

A wind farm can certainly kill people, but it's hard to see how you'd kill more than a couple at once without some very unlucky breaks ( Prop shears, flies into low flying airplane, plane crashes. 1) The chances of hitting are small. 2) The plane shouldn't have been that close to a wind farm. 3) Props don't break very often, it's a tech we've been working with for decades.)

Right now, neither can touch the cost/kW that Coal gives us -- but that's because coal's biggest cost (the huge ecological damage, both in mining and using) is an external cost to the coal plant.
posted by eriko at 9:23 AM on April 30, 2006


And lest we forget that that hypocrisy and self-serving opportunism are not exclusively a Republican phenomenon, keep in mind Senator Ted Kennedy's stealthy attempt to kill the Cape Wind Project, the first US offshore wind farm. It would have 130 wind turbines and would "offset offset close to a million tons carbon dioxide every year and will produce enough electricity to offset 113 million gallons of oil annually."

Senator Kennedy says its because the Cape Wind project is a threat to the area's fishing industries. The fact that it's within sight of the Kennedy Compound is just a coincidence, I guess.
posted by mojohand at 9:23 AM on April 30, 2006


The fact that it's within sight of the Kennedy Compound is just a coincidence, I guess.

Probably, but more likely is the wealth of the Cape residents, combined with their political donations, acting with good old NIMBY.
posted by eriko at 9:28 AM on April 30, 2006


Ron, how many cows can graze in a nuclear power plant?

Back-of-the-envelope warning: US electrical power consumption is approximately 500 GW (gigawatts) at any given moment, or 500,000 MW. At 10 acres per MW (using the last example) you get 5M acres. Five million acres is about 1/2 of 1% of all farmland in the US -- and easily 75% of that will remain usable as farmland.
posted by dhartung at 9:32 AM on April 30, 2006


How many bombs can you make out of radioactive material produced by windfarms?
posted by Artw at 9:40 AM on April 30, 2006


wind energy is more cost-effective than solar, blue_beetle. Putting solar cells on the turbines would, all else aside, reduce the ROI.
posted by cortex at 9:41 AM on April 30, 2006


It would be neat to see an aeriel view of any of these - I've checked Google Sightseeing and will check Google Earth, although I suspect I won't find anything. :(
posted by rmm at 9:42 AM on April 30, 2006


I always liked heading up to Livermore and driving over Vasco Road and seeing the windfarms there.

Wind seems like such a no brainer to capture and use. I'd love my own small turbine to help cut down on my grid presence.

This is a Google Maps image. Kind of interesting.
posted by fenriq at 9:54 AM on April 30, 2006


The issue with wind, solar, etc is that it is inconsistent. Solar only works during the day, wind only if there is wind (no idea what the minimum speed is but there isnt a lot of energy in wind <10mph).

However the limitations can be harnessed - solar power generations matches the power loads during the summer when air conditioning units go on. So as more AC units kick on (hotter and more sunny), the more solar happens to generate.

Ideally, the scheme would be a nuclear and hydro as a base (since they're both reliable), and then natural gas fired plants along with solar and wind for peak demand.
posted by SirOmega at 9:54 AM on April 30, 2006


Those people who are railing against wind arrays far behind their back yards should really be shot. Or denied energy. Or something.
posted by ParisParamus at 10:02 AM on April 30, 2006


The "inconsistancy" of wind farms is largely a myth: given sufficient geographical spread variances in the available windpower even themselves out.
posted by Artw at 10:16 AM on April 30, 2006


There's also a big windfarm coming to Eaglesham Moor just outside Glasgow (332MW)
posted by bouncebounce at 10:19 AM on April 30, 2006


Here's a good article about the world's largest wind turbine.
posted by luftmensch at 10:23 AM on April 30, 2006


I love that my favorite fast food chain in Oregon, Burgerville, recently went to 100% wind-power for all their restaurants.

Brooklyn Brewery recently went 100% wind-powered, as well.
posted by bshort at 10:29 AM on April 30, 2006


Comparing the name plate generation capacity of a nuclear power plant and a wind farm is BS. To begin with a nuclear power plant should run about 90% of the time whereas a windfarm at best runs 30% and 25% is a more realistic assumption for farms being built today. 1 kw of nuclear can produce 7.9 Mwh of electricity while 1 kw of wind produces about 2.2 Mwh of electricity.

From an investment perspective you can make nuclear investments earn an approrpriate return with generation prices in the low 40's. For onshore wind you need prices in the mid 50's. Offshore wind is actually much much more expensive (installation costs are nearly double on-shore and repair and maintenance costs are an ever greater multiple)

Add on top of this the lower predictability of wind and the fact that wind peaks and demand peaks tend to uncorellated and you could arrive at a conclsion that wind is nice little piece of the generation stack but really can't ever be a replacement for traditional thermal generation.

The studies I have seen point to a max 20% of total generation from wind in any one power market before balancing power costs run out of control. This however does not take into account the massive investment required in Transmission and Distribution as well as back-up generation that would be required.

A few other things. I don't believe most windfarms permit farming directly beneath the turbines, and you certainly couldn't raise livestock there.

Additionally a lot of the areas in the US that are the most attractive for wind energy (the Dakotas for example) tend to be very far away from load centers so would require massive investments in Transmission infrastructure to actually get the power anywhere. The problem is of course is that the way utilities are regulated in the US this investment would be paid for the people of North and South Dakota for the benefit of Minnesota and Illinois.
posted by JPD at 10:37 AM on April 30, 2006


Here's one of the many wind farms in my area near Palm Springs, California (the windmills are to the west of the small community). If you scroll around, you'll find many different farms of varying size.
posted by buggzzee23 at 10:43 AM on April 30, 2006


The Altamont Pass is a fascinating pooch-screw.
posted by jewzilla at 10:43 AM on April 30, 2006


Those early windfarms were a disaster for raptors but they've pretty much figured out and solved those problems.
posted by JPD at 10:46 AM on April 30, 2006


Metafilter is the world's largest single wind turbine? Or is the second-to-last link broken?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:46 AM on April 30, 2006


JPD - can you elaborate on how the problem of dicing birds in flight has been solved?
posted by nowonmai at 11:06 AM on April 30, 2006


Iowa is the third largest producer of wind energy, behind California and Texas.

Just sayin'.
posted by jaronson at 11:42 AM on April 30, 2006


None of the experts are expecting wind energy to singlehandly solve our problems, but rather for it to alleviate them in concert with other technologies (including nuclear). As for the issue of varying wind, well-planned farms will likely be incorporated into existing grid energy storage schemes.
posted by randomstriker at 11:58 AM on April 30, 2006


existing grid energy storage schemes? Unless you mean pumped hydro there are none that exist.

They are much much more careful about where they place the turbines. Usually monitor the site for several years to both 1) determine true energy potential 2) make sure it won't be a potential bird cuisinart. Also designed the nacelles to make them less attractive places to perch.
posted by JPD at 12:11 PM on April 30, 2006


Wind energy now cheaper than coal / natural gas energy in at least two places.

I won't listen to anything good about nuclear power until someone can tell me how they're going to safely store material that stays radioactive for, oh, four hundred human generations (up to thirteen thousand). You know how we didn't know who built the pyramids but we excavated them? Think some future group might excavate Yucca Mountain... And there's volcanic activity not that far away.
posted by salvia at 12:20 PM on April 30, 2006


eriko: I suspect that a wind farm costs much less to install and run, even these very large 1GW proposals

You suspect wrong unfortunately.

Both wind and nuclear power suffer from very high capital costs, about $1000-1500 per nameplate kW. Since wind farms have a capacity factor of 30% to 40%, compared to nuclear's 80%, the capital cost per generated kW is about double for wind over nuclear.

Both are very cheap to operate on a per kWhr basis (comparing to fossil-fired plants). Since fuel costs are almost nil for each, the main costs are maintenance and operation: Windfarms because it takes many hundreds of machines to generate sufficient power, and nuclear because of the stringent safety requirements.

If you're trying to compare the two, the figure you're looking for is levelized unit energy costs. Currently on-shore wind runs about 5c/kWhr, and Nuclear runs about 3c/kWhr +/- 1c (to produce, before profit).
here's one source with references to other sources. Do some googling for more, the numbers aren't exactly secret.

So they're pretty close, and many people (me included) are willing to pay the extra for wind power, but nuclear is currently cheaper.
posted by Popular Ethics at 12:20 PM on April 30, 2006


Drive from Abilene, Texas to just west of Post, Texas and you'll pass hundreds of turbines. They go on the ridgelines and the edge of the Llano Estacado. The land on the ridge lines isn't good for anything, so the wind turbines are a wonderful use of space.

The Trent Mesa Wind Project is just a part of west central Texas' wind production.
posted by tayknight at 12:37 PM on April 30, 2006


Popular ethics - your load factors are too low for nuclear (Though not much 85% would be reasonable - though must US plants run 90%+) and too high for wind 30%-25% is more realistic though guys will build with load factors down to 22% it seems like. Also wind prices are more like 1300/kw as a minimum. The turbine alone is more 1000/kw and that is only about 70% of costs or something like that.

Salvia - that article exlcudes the fact that there is a $19/Mwh production tax credit earned on the wind generation. So its cheaper but only with a subsidy.
posted by JPD at 12:43 PM on April 30, 2006


JPD, I'm looking for better info now, and you clearly know more than I do about this, but I'm under the impression that natural gas, coal, and nuclear get much bigger subsidies than solar and wind. This $19/Mwh tax credit -- what does that come out to compared to things like $6 billion in oil/gas subsidies, $9 billion in coal subsidies, $12 billion in nuclear subsidies, while cutting federal renewable energy subsidies?

(Also, my second link says there's only a 1.8 cents/kWh production tax credit. Are the ones you're talking about state tax credits? But that story referred to two different states...)
posted by salvia at 1:04 PM on April 30, 2006


it $19/Mwh and 1.8 c/kWh = $18/Mwh. 1000 kwh = 1 mwh

The energy bill is a pork disaster I agree. Those insane subsidies don't really effect the price of natural gas and oil and therefore don't effect the math on wind vs conventional thermal power.

If you were to strip away all subidies wind is not economically viable at most prices of gas and coal. Doesn't mean we shouldn't build wind farms but lets stop pretending its a panacea.
posted by JPD at 1:14 PM on April 30, 2006


Um, and oil isn't subsidised?

Also if you wnat to find the most heavily subisidised energy source nuclear leads by a mile.
posted by Artw at 1:26 PM on April 30, 2006


Oh, the metric system. Conversions, duh, thanks.

But I'm still lost. How can subsidizing natural gas not affect the price of energy generated using natural gas?
posted by salvia at 1:32 PM on April 30, 2006


Course, the best kind of energy investment is not expanded production, but the "negawatt" -- the elimination of energy demand by energy efficiency measures. So you can have the same stuff for less electricity. Like "buying" the energy rather than "renting" it.

Vashon Island, near Seattle, is planning to become energy independent by 2015. Stage 1: cut energy consumption by 70% through easy measures. Stage 2: solar and wind. Net savings after costs, about $5 million/year.
posted by salvia at 1:47 PM on April 30, 2006


I like nuclear, not because I like creating horrible toxic waste, but because we need to get rid of greenhouse gas-producing energy yesterday NOW!

Nuclear power is the only green solution with the power capacity capable of dealing with the rapid onset of global warming. Why? Because wind and solar is inconsistant and requires conventional power plants running nonstop in order to be there to back them up when they aren't producing at full capacity.

Right now, our earth is rapidly approaching a series of ecological tipping points, such as melting of polar ice, the production of methane (a greenhouse gas) from tundra regions turned into peat bogs, etc. Natural methane production per year alone could dwarf human-produced greenhouse gas emissions by about twentyfold, and although people talk about the Greenland ice sheet, it should be pointed out that it's already starting to happen in places like Canada. So, what good does it do if humans cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in fifty years -- a goal far more aggressive than those currently sought by the US, China, etc. -- if the amount of natural methane produced easily increases to fill that gap, plus some?

If that happens, we're talking about a runaway train scenario. There will be no way of stopping it, as more and more natural greenhouse gasses are released into the atmosphere and a natural chain reaction occurs, destroying the world as we know it. Places like Florida, Louisiana, London, Southeast Asia, China's coastal cities, and even NYC will flood, and hundreds of millions of refugees will be forced to flee. Entire countries wiped out. That's perhaps just as well, as agriculture would be decimated, annual snow packs would disappear, rivers would start to dry up, and billions would face starvation.

So, with that in mind, we need nuclear NOW to replace every greenhouse-gas emitting power plant in the world, at which point we'll hopefully have bought ourselves the time to start replacing nuclear with other forms of clean energy. Perhaps we can even figure out how to do fusion power.

I strongly recommend that those who doubt me read James Lovelock's new book, The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth Is Fighting Back - and How We Can Still Save Humanity. It's out in Great Britain now, and will be out in the US in August. I would also strongly suggest watching a recent Nova broadcast, Dimming The Sun (watch a preview, or download it via BitTorrent.) It provides a good background for many of Lovelock's assertions about greatly accelerated global warming that could potentially destroy our planet within our lifetimes.

Are such dire warnings "eco-nut driven hysteria"? No. They are scientifically-based prudence. Whether we like it or not, humanity must change from merely living on the planet, to being its doctor. My advice? First, do no harm.
posted by insomnia_lj at 1:51 PM on April 30, 2006


insomnia_lj, you don't think 10 years to all-renewables is fast enough, like on Vashon Island?

How long do you think it would take to get nuclear plants online?

What if we just cut back our electricity-related greenhouse gas emissions by 70% right away? Would that be enough for you?
posted by salvia at 2:05 PM on April 30, 2006


Artw: Also if you wnat to find the most heavily subsidised energy source nuclear leads by a mile.

I'm not so sure.. Once you start including the military industrial complex in the subsidy calculation the discussion gets pretty post-modern. While I agree with the reasoning, I'm not sure you can measure the dollars in a useful way.

salvia: I won't listen to anything good about nuclear power until someone can tell me how they're going to safely store material that stays radioactive for, oh, four hundred human generations (up to thirteen thousand). You know how we didn't know who built the pyramids but we excavated them? Think some future group might excavate Yucca Mountain...

That is really unfortunate.. I mean, it appears that the reason we don't know how to deal with reactor waste is that it isn't really waste at all, in the normal sense. We want it around, we think it might be useful later. Some uses are obscene, some simply unfortunate (perhaps worse..), and some quite positive, but it isn't 'garbage'. If it was, then I think we could probably get rid of it pretty easily..

Personally: Conservation, then wind, then nuclear, but that will never happen..
posted by Chuckles at 2:08 PM on April 30, 2006


insomnia_lj -- "first, do no harm?" I'm sorry, but you don't think leaving the next 400 generations with cancer-causing waste is some sort of harm?

I say this even though I'm as upset as you are about global warming.
posted by salvia at 2:11 PM on April 30, 2006


Wind's problems with inconsistent supply could be solved if it was used to cracked hydrogen instead of turning the turbine directly. In fact, the hydrogren could probably be transported to a base load generation station which could keep a fair reserve of hydrogen on hand.

Maybe you could even reuse some of the gas or oil based power plants?

If you wanted to appease the oil tycoons you could always crack diesel instead of water for their full support.
posted by Talez at 2:15 PM on April 30, 2006


World's Biggest Wind Turbine
posted by stbalbach at 2:26 PM on April 30, 2006


Has anyone done profit calculations on solar considering that they're the most "on" when the demand is high and that when the demand is high prices paid to the generator can go up an order of magnitude? (To the degree that factories that generate their own power will shut down production for the day to sell power since it's more profitable to sell power at high-demand prices than to make widgets.)

What do wind power plants, deployed en masse, do to local weather patterns, since they actively extract energy from the wind rather than just redirect it?
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:33 PM on April 30, 2006


Why are they using photovoltaics on such a large scale? Isn't it more economical to do the 'a whole bunch of mirrors aiming at something, heating it up' method when you have that much space>
posted by delmoi at 2:36 PM on April 30, 2006


JPD, you are mistaken. Even in only mildy windy Ontario, we're seeing 30%+ capacity factor on our wind farms. Out in the prairies, you might get a site that's seeing the night jet at low altitudes, putting the capacity factor to well over 40%. And you certainly can raise livestock under wind turbines [JPEG, Carland Cross Wind Farm, Cornwall, UK.]

And bouncebounce, I'm really pleased about Whitelee. I used to live near Eaglesham, and used to cycle up there when it was the old National Wind Test Centre.

rmm, haven't got any of the big ones, but I have a bunch of locations of wind turbines from space, including the offshore one near Copenhagen.
posted by scruss at 2:39 PM on April 30, 2006


Wind's problems with inconsistent supply could be solved if it was used to cracked hydrogen instead of turning the turbine directly.

I was thinking something similar. I think you'd still need to turn the turbine to generate power, but I wonder if manufacturing hydrogen and distributiing it - via hyrdogen fueled trucks, of course - might be viable.

I doubt it, though... It seems like you'd use up a lot more of your energy distributing it that way, and at this point I'd think the up-front costs to develop the new infrastructure would be more pricy than Just More Power Stations and Wire.
posted by flaterik at 2:40 PM on April 30, 2006


Chuckles, glad you brought up depleted uranium, etc.

I tried to look at your nuclear waste disposal link with an open mind. But having almost majored in geology, it doesn't make sense to me, at least as presented.
1. The rate of subduction is something like 5 inches / year. Awfully slow. I don't believe it'll get deep enough before the container starts to decay or whatever.
2. When subduction occurs, the sediment doesn't all go down into the earth. First, a lot of it gets scraped off. Then, a lot melts and rises up -- exploding as volcanoes. That's why there is often an arc of volcanic mountains not too far inland from oceanic subduction zones (the Cascades) why volcanoes often happen in a range (like the Rockies). The site admits that fuel rods are light enough to rise to the top but claims the explosions wouldn't happen for millions of years. Really?
I also find it totally improbable that the container wouldn't get damaged as the rocks get squeezed together. The website claims the group addresses that problem "via design, shape and materials used in the concept." Uhhh, go on...? The website lacks credibility and feels pseudo-scientific to me. The STV "will settle" to the edge of the crust? It will, huh? Just "settle" its way right down through layers and layers of mud and sand, huh? The website didn't give me much faith. But I'm not an expert, maybe there's more info on this idea somewhere else?

There's also this way of getting rid of nuclear fuel. Our record of shuttle explosions makes that one scare me.
posted by salvia at 2:44 PM on April 30, 2006


oh, and insomnia_lj, wind doesn't require 100% thermal backup.
posted by scruss at 2:45 PM on April 30, 2006


Those people who are railing against wind arrays far behind their back yards should really be shot. Or denied energy. Or something.

Wow, I agree with paris! :P
posted by delmoi at 2:45 PM on April 30, 2006


Both wind and nuclear power suffer from very high capital costs, about $1000-1500 per nameplate kW

(Disclaimer: I'm very much not against Nuclear Energy. I want to be, but Coal/Oil is going to kill us much quicker than a dozen Chernobyl.)

Currently. Wind is still a very new technology, and hasn't really transitioned from development to production. Nuclear hasn't either, but it is much further along than Wind.

But Nuclear has this huge externality cost that, right now, is basically infinite (because we don't have a working answer in place1) Actually, it has three of them.

The first is obvious -- waste disposal. Right now, there isn't an answer. There needs to be one, esp. if were going to ramp up nuclear power production.

The second is somewhat obvious -- nuclear reactors can make fissionable materials. A power solution needs to encompass the globe -- it does us no good if the US goes all Nuclear/Wind/Solar/Geothermal/Hydro if China and India keep growing and burning oil and coal. Alas, the external cost of a nuclear bomb in New York is very, very scary.

The third is only just happening. End of life costs. It is incredibly expensive to decommission a functional end-of-life reactor, and it is basically impossible to return the site to a true greenfield state. You can certainly have a park there (see Rocky Flats), but it's not truly greenfield, in the sense that you need to bar most land uses, including food generation.

The cost of end-of-life plants that failed is enormous squared. Even reactors with only minor damage, such as ZIon #1 in Illinois, will cost a great deal of money to decommission. In the cases of truly broken reactors, like TMI-2 and Fermi-1 in Michigan, the decommission process will take years and cost hundreds of millions to billions (plus, we're back to the currently infinite cost of storage.) Chernobyl #4 is in it's own class, but we're back to the "Stupid Design" rant. However, there are three other reactors there that need to be decommissioned (Indeed, all of the RBMKs need decommissioning) and the costs of fully decommissioning Chernobyl 1-3 are multiplied by the contamination from Chernobyl 4.

To give you an idea of the problem set, reactors damaged in the late 70s and 1980s, like the Czech A1 and Argentinean RA-2, are still in the process of decommission.

That's all costs that aren't mapped to the $/kW cost normally asserted for Nuclear Power. Wind has none of these levels of costs. It is not completely benign, but other than diced bird, it produces no waste, decommissioning is easy, and returning the site to greenfield is trivial -- not free, of course, but compared to nuclear power, it is so cheap that it might as well be free.

I'm sorry, but you don't think leaving the next 400 generations with cancer-causing waste is some sort of harm?

Compared to what happens if global warming runs away? In a heartbeat. Extiction is just that -- we're gone, bye-bye, and those future generations will never be born to point out that we chose poorly.

1} Mostly because of politics, but even if you assume an open Yucca Mountain repository and no legal bars to transportation of waste, disposal is still a very, very large cost. Right now, it's infinite, because it doesn't matter how many dollars you pay now, there's no long term high-level waste storage available.
posted by eriko at 2:51 PM on April 30, 2006


you know how we didn't know who built the pyramids but we excavated them? Think some future group might excavate Yucca Mountain... And there's volcanic activity not that far away.

Well, if they do that it's their own damn fault. I think the idea that we're going to lose all recorded history and some future group is going to discover these bunkers is rather silly (and we have a lot more to worry about). And if they do do it, so what? A few dumbass archeologists who don't know what a radio activity warning sign looks like get sick. I mean, it's a small (hypothetical) price to pay to prevent global warming. It's not like nuclear waste's meer existence makes everyone in the world sick, only those who come in close contact to it are at risk. And there's not very much either. Like a few hundred pounds a year maybe(?)
posted by delmoi at 2:58 PM on April 30, 2006


The second is somewhat obvious -- nuclear reactors can make fissionable materials. A power solution needs to encompass the globe -- it does us no good if the US goes all Nuclear/Wind/Solar/Geothermal/Hydro if China and India keep growing and burning oil and coal. Alas, the external cost of a nuclear bomb in New York is very, very scary.

China and India already have nuclear weapons, and I believe China is allowed to have them under the NPT (just like the US, The UK, France and... Canada!).

Anyway, it's easy to build nuke plants that do not yield fissionable material
posted by delmoi at 3:01 PM on April 30, 2006


[fixed the sixth link]
posted by jessamyn at 3:10 PM on April 30, 2006


JPD - can you elaborate on how the problem of dicing birds in flight has been solved?

I read somewhere that using larger, longer bladed windmills that rotate slower than their smaller counterparts dice way fewer birds.
posted by Tacodog at 3:15 PM on April 30, 2006


I think the idea that we're going to lose all recorded history and some future group is going to discover these bunkers is rather silly

True, a few future archaeologists are the least of our concerns. But how can you say it's "rather silly" given the existence of ruins like Machu Picchu, etc? I just think it's an interesting question to ponder. How do you mark the site of storage so that people know to avoid it, not explore it?

Compared to what happens if global warming runs away? In a heartbeat.

I agree with everyone that the damage caused by global warming is bigger than the damage caused by nuclear. But wind and solar cause even less damage. If you're going to espouse "do no harm," why not start there? [1] I just don't buy that embracing nuclear energy is the only way to stop burning fossil fuels. I think it's a false choice.

[1] Though wind can harm birds, depending on migration patterns and the type of wind machine (I heard the same thing Tacodog did).
posted by salvia at 3:28 PM on April 30, 2006


Scruss - not doubting you at all - do you have a citation for that load factor info? I've seen plenty of data for the rest of the world and never seen 40% given as a reasonable average load factor?
posted by JPD at 4:14 PM on April 30, 2006


"If you're going to espouse "do no harm," why not start there?"

Because, the risk in this case is a far greater harm. (i.e. Cascading failure of the earth's environment.)

I should clarify my answer in this simple way:

This boat is sinking, and we all need to bail. I don't care if you use a bucket, a hat, or your shoe, but bail now for chrissakes... and find something to bail with immediately which will be as effective as possible.

In other words, wind may be a great solution in some places, solar in others, geothermal in places like Iceland... but for those places which are not maximally cost-effective for such alternative energy sources -- probably at least half the world -- nuclear is a going to be the quickest, most effective way to do it.

We're drowning here. Speed is what matters most. Having no negative environmental impact at all would be nice, but it's not the priority.
posted by insomnia_lj at 4:23 PM on April 30, 2006


"insomnia_lj, you don't think 10 years to all-renewables is fast enough, like on Vashon Island?"

It's an island that is particularly well-suited for wind. That might work in the sticks, but it won't play in NYC.

"How long do you think it would take to get nuclear plants online?"

If a fire is lit under politicians, and the message is communicated clearly? Ten years, ideally.

"What if we just cut back our electricity-related greenhouse gas emissions by 70% right away?"

Why? Do you have a solution that could be implented worldwide tomorrow that you've been sitting on?
posted by insomnia_lj at 4:30 PM on April 30, 2006


If you're going to espouse "do no harm," why not start there?

Because I don't think we have the time to convert the entire planet to Wind/Solar, and I'm not sure we can.

Fact of life -- it will be almost impossible to substantially wean most countries from energy useage. Conservation can help, but in the end, they're going to want megawatt/hours, and if they can't get them from clean sources, they *will* get them from dirty ones, and damn the consqeunces.

Nuclear power can do multi-gigawatt power easily. Indeed, nuclear gets cheaper/kW as the reactors get larger, since the running costs don't change much between a 400MW and a 1.5GW reactor.

Wind and solar, right now, cannot. Wind may be a significant tool, but we're looking at a very big capital investment to get our first 1GW wind farm, and there are limited places you can usefully put wind farms -- you need wind, after all. Nuclear plants work just about anywhere.

In a golden world, we'd either have direct solar conversion at some lovely rate (like 80%) or fusion, or heck, both -- fusion for city power, solar for transport. And while I'm dreaming, Cubs Win! Cubs Win!

Alas, here in the world we really live in, right now, the best commerically available cells give you 12%, and fusion power is still 50 years away (and, given that it has been 50 years away all of my life, I'm not hopeful. Give than hope is not a plan, I therefore don't consider fusion power available at all in the near or medium turn.) The best lab grade cells offer 30% conversion, but thier costs mean that right now, they're useless -- it takes far more energy to make them than they'll produce in their lifetimes. This isn't true of polycrystalline silicon cells, which pay back 5-30 times their creation cost, but that's still very low.

Right now, nuclear power in the US has a licensed capactity that's just shy of 100GW, and represents about 20% of our total load. That mean the total load for power generation is 500GW -- this is ignoring transportation, by the way. 500GW total power needed.

Given that there are currently 0 1GW wind farm or solar plants online, this is a very tall order. Nuclear is much closer -- indeed, if we built around 400 new reactors, in 4 packs, each reactor good for 1GW (an easily reachable number -- many reactors provide this now), we'd be on the verge of not needing coal or oil at all for electrical power. 120 plants would definitly put us over the top, and allow reserve to drive electrification of the transportation industry, and decomission the older, less efficent (and less safe) reactors running now.

Costly? You bet -- easily $100 billion, and half a trillion isn't off the mark, given historical numbers. However, the end result would be very cheap power and a very dramatic drop in carbon emissions from the US, not to mention the crap that oil, gas and esp. coal plant put out. As to radioactivity, do you realize how much radioactive material (primarly radon) a coal plant puts out every year?

Now, if we can get type-licenses, where a given reactor design is allowed to be built, rather than the cumberson individual licenses we have now, we can reduce the capital costs by a decent factor, but it still won't be cheap.

So, why wind? Because wind is easier and more incremental. You can start generating power after the first turbine is installed, where a nuclear plant is dark until it is finished. It will take a great deal of time to build this sort of infrastructure, and we really don't have it. Even 30GW of wind power, with only a 10 year plant lifetime, could make a big difference in the surviveablity of the planet.

But 500GW? It would take decades to get that sort of load from wind and solar -- and we don't have decades. With the right backing, we could have the entire US power system off carbon in fifteen years, and if we went wartime-economy on it, less than seven -- and that buys you the time to perfect solar, wind and fusion.
posted by eriko at 4:42 PM on April 30, 2006


True, a few future archaeologists are the least of our concerns. But how can you say it's "rather silly" given the existence of ruins like Machu Picchu, etc?

No, because those places were built before recorded history. Name one site built after 1000 B.C. which we don't know why or how it was built

I just think it's an interesting question to ponder. How do you mark the site of storage so that people know to avoid it, not explore it?




posted by delmoi at 4:45 PM on April 30, 2006


Costly? You bet -- easily $100 billion, and half a trillion isn't off the mark, given historical numbers.

About half the cost of the Iraq war...
posted by delmoi at 4:51 PM on April 30, 2006


common eco-myth: wind turbines kill birds - but would you trust big wind? :P

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 4:58 PM on April 30, 2006


delmoi: The idea is that the timescale is large enough that no-one will know what that symbol means.

"I remember this shape from the southern California dig! It must mean that they stored movies here."
posted by mendel at 4:59 PM on April 30, 2006



the monumental task of warning future generations
posted by kliuless at 5:32 PM on April 30, 2006


JPD, some sites in Alberta are seeing those sort of CFs. I don't know if they've been built on yet. Greenwind claim to have a 40% site, but I know no more about it.

eriko, I don't know how you can say that the wind industry isn't in production mode. The production lines at Vestas, Siemens, Enercon, GE, Gamesa, Suzlon and many others are working flat out. I can buy wind turbines at my local hardware store. I'm rather glad I can't buy nuclear reactors there.
posted by scruss at 5:39 PM on April 30, 2006


Warning future generations is the easy part. I find books and the internet work pretty well. If not, well, we're f*cked anyway, aren't we?! Should we start stamping the containers with little alien skull warning symbols or something?

Rather than worrying about the warnings we might have to leave on tons of waste if we build more nuclear reactors, why not worry about what would happen with the tons of nuclear waste we've already got out there, once our civilization suffers a massive die-out because we *didn't* build more nuclear reactors when we had the chance...
posted by insomnia_lj at 6:38 PM on April 30, 2006


It should be remembered that if we survive, we can probably find a way to fix the problem within a generation or two.
posted by insomnia_lj at 6:39 PM on April 30, 2006


There's a better link than the one by kliuless regarding marking nuclear waste repositories permanently, but damned if I can find it now...

I've been a greenie for a long time. Only recently have I come to accept that there should be a place for nuclear power generation, at least for the next 50 - 100 years. As far as I can tell, using a modern design the economics and operational safety are entirely manageable, far safer and less polluting than coal generation. The only outstanding issue is waste.

One of the perfect places for a nuclear waste repository would be the Australian outback. It's been geologically stable for a couple of billion years now, there's lots of places that are solid rock with no groundwater, it's thousands of kilometres from civilisation, it's a stable democratic advanced country, Australia should have no moral qualms about accepting the waste back since they sold it in the first place. The only problem is the greens would never accept it.

Naturally, nega-watts, increased efficiency of use, si most desirable, but it is naive to think this will provide all of the necessary savings.
posted by wilful at 6:46 PM on April 30, 2006


As to marking repositories, another link [pdf], on the proposed marking plan for WIPP, the Waste Isolation Pilot Project.
posted by eriko at 7:07 PM on April 30, 2006


I don't know how you can say that the wind industry isn't in production mode.

There's a big difference, cost wise, between the first production lines and mature production lines -- and most of those turbines aren't the very large ones you need for commercial power generation.

This isn't to say that they're not working on it. They are, and wind turbines are much cheaper now than they used to be -- but there's much more savings to be had, when those lines really get going.
posted by eriko at 7:11 PM on April 30, 2006


Eriko meant this link, which was the one I was interested in. Fascinating stuff, very like the long now foundation's issues.
posted by wilful at 7:31 PM on April 30, 2006


Thanks for fix, wilful.
posted by eriko at 7:52 PM on April 30, 2006


I don't believe most windfarms permit farming directly beneath the turbines, and you certainly couldn't raise livestock there.

JPD, the Iowa DNR says:
Farmers lease their land to developers, usually taking only a quarter acre of land out of production for each turbine.

This brochure from the American Wind Energy Association [pdf] says:
As one farmer near Clear Lake, Iowa, put it, "Now we grow corn on the ground and generate power in the air −- all on the same piece of property."

And this photo gallery shows crops and, uh, livestock.

And if you look at the Clear Lake wind farm in GMaps, the resolution isn't great, but you can still clearly see the turbines and the small amount of area taken up -- surrounded by working farms.

I'll quote myself so we know what we're arguing. I said easily 75% of that will remain usable as farmland. That may not be true for dedicated clustered windfarms like Altamont Pass, but it's certainly true if we're talking about the large-scale variety.
posted by dhartung at 8:02 PM on April 30, 2006


Yeah, I didn't mean to create a big derail about the question of marking the waste. :) But these links are great. And the Long Now foundation's stuff is cool -- a friend of a friend who's involved is how I first heard about marking the waste.

And when delmoi says, "No, because those places were built before recorded history." I think of the pyramids and the Mayan temples where they not only kept records but engraved them in stone.

I don't understand, wilful and insomnia_lj, why would environmentalists stump for the nuclear industry? Are they really so oppressed that they need our help? Is nuclear really the only way? (James Lovelock rhetoric notwithstanding.) I'm not opposed to nuclear in a knee-jerk-panic-Chernobyl way. If I felt like it was the only option and we had given non-nuclear solutions a fair shot, I would agree. But I don't think we have. We haven't tried demand reduction (did I mention it's reducing electricity demand by 70% on Vashon Island?). And the ratio of subsidies is currently something like 96% nuclear to 3% wind to 1% solar... Wouldn't it be cool to have federal expenditures be more 50-50 for a while?

I really don't understand. Sweden is going oil-free in 20 years without installing any nuclear plants....(Admittedly, they are using biofuels and Please explain to me why we would consider this.
posted by salvia at 8:23 PM on April 30, 2006


Oops. I meant to say "(Admittedly, they are using biofuels, which would still contribute to greenhouse gases, but not like fossil fuels would.)"
posted by salvia at 8:26 PM on April 30, 2006


Few points.

1. The idea that nukes are somehow more practical than renewables has a lot of truthiness, but not much reality.

2. Using less energy to get the same utility is the cheapest option available, and has the best longterm benefits.

3. More greenhouse gas emissions come from the use of fuel for transport than from electricity generation. The only relevance of nuclear power in addressing that issue is that once we have electricity we can generate hydrogen to use as a vehicle fuel. But because fuel is an energy storage medium by definition, plants built to generate fuels don't need stable, short-term-predictable power outputs; they just need to be safe and cheap. Wind beats nukes on both those criteria.

4. Once we have enough installed generation capacity to cover our transport fuel needs, then we have enough transport-grade clean fuel available to cover variation in wind generator electricity output. We also have a huge distributed fleet of backup generators.

5. Wind turbines, solar PV panels and high-temperature solar thermal generators are not the only renewable options.
posted by flabdablet at 8:31 PM on April 30, 2006


amberglow

Domestic wind turbines are becoming more popular due to the use of very lightweight construction materials.

Micropower; generating your own power is something to be encouraged, IMHO.

Maybe with a bit of luck and some thinking innercity areas could use wind turbines to effect the bizarre micro-climates generated by sky-scrapers and tower blocks in order to make the places more livable for the inhabitants.
posted by asok at 8:36 PM on April 30, 2006


asok: Micropower; generating your own power is something to be encouraged, IMHO.

I've often thought about this without seriously looking into it. Would this work? 1) Local power companies offer to buy back energy that local homeowners use. 2) Provide subsidies and tax incentives to those homeowners that invest in renewable technology, e.g. solar panels and wind turbines, increasing demand and possibly driving down costs. 3) As micropower increases, the demand to purchase energy from the grid (coal, nuclear) decreases.

I don't remember the links off hand, but I recall that in some states where homeowners can sell energy to the grid, new homes are being built with energy production in mind. The up front investment gets absorbed into the overall building cost to be paid off in 30+ years, while many homeowners actually receive monthly income from the local power companies.

Coupled with free-market forces, what influence would local policy changes like these have on energy production? Rather than an Apollo Program effort on the part of the federal government to increase and shift energy production, could micropower provide an alternative solution?
posted by Nquire at 9:13 PM on April 30, 2006


And this photo gallery shows crops and, uh, livestock.

Tatanka?
posted by homunculus at 9:27 PM on April 30, 2006


going nuclear: a green makes the case

a new breed of nuclear reactors? "Fast-neutron reactors could extract much more energy from recycled nuclear fuel, minimize the risks of weapons proliferation and markedly reduce the time nuclear waste must be isolated." [pdf]
posted by kliuless at 9:33 PM on April 30, 2006


thanks for posting the aerial maps, folks. I might check out the ones by Livermore - is the one on the Toronto map that blue triangle compound thingy? (sorry for the T.O. related hijack)
posted by rmm at 9:38 PM on April 30, 2006


bah, zero-point energy will solve all our problems shortly after singularity, why bother worrying about it now?
posted by blue_beetle at 9:40 PM on April 30, 2006


Nquire, San Francisco is planning to use public funds to build micropower facilities. This is somewhere between your private market solution and the Apollo Alliance -- it's via the "community choice" legislation that lets cities do collective purchasing from big companies (or spend their energy dollar on local solar, energy efficiency, etc). In my mind, better than every individual personally deciding between PG&E or their own solar system.
posted by salvia at 9:47 PM on April 30, 2006


salvia, in Australia the nuclear industry is indeed quite oppressed, there is no intelligent debate on the issue, the reply to any broaching of the subject is "Chernobyl!!!"

There are no subsidies for nuclear in Australia, lots for wind power (and pretty minimal royalties on coal).

In reality, the safety issue was won by the nuclear industry a long time ago, coal kills a lot more people every year than civilian nuclear ever has.

I don't think nuclear is the only option, but it can provide the guaranteed baseload that wind and solar simply physically cant. Vashon Island is well and good, do they have any heavy industry or is it all affluent residential? If so, it's irrelevant to what society actually needs.

I find it impossible to get the truth of the economic costs of nuclear power production, everyone has a vested interest, however I suspect that enough countries will have objectively demonstrated to themselves that nuclear does make economic sense, particualrly if approached systematically and not trying a new overengineered reactor design every single time. Canada, France and Japan (I believe, I'm no expert) have all taken this approach and have had some success.

My ideal world, given current technologies and issues, would involve (in prioritised order):
1. demand side reduction, efficiency
2. new geothermal where possible
3. wind and solar up to 20 - 40% of total generative cap.
4. new nukes built off the shelf to a standardised, failsafe design, with cogeneration
5. new gas-fired
6. retrofitted coal with CO2 capture.
posted by wilful at 9:55 PM on April 30, 2006


wilful, while i'm thinking more about the rest of what you wrote, what plan do you endorse for the nuclear waste?
posted by salvia at 10:01 PM on April 30, 2006


Great. Apparently nuclear waste is actually in the groundwater out at Hanford, and may soon end up in the Columbia river.
posted by Artw at 10:13 PM on April 30, 2006


While the spector of Chernobyl doesn't scare me, little stuff I pick up while reading the papers -- like this and this -- do. A much bigger problem when you're dealing with nuclear than, say, wind. Ah, here's a critical overview of the failure of nuclear safety regulations in the US. Coal does cause more injury than nuclear now (I'd guess). But wind? Solar? They just don't incur these risks.
posted by salvia at 10:15 PM on April 30, 2006


Nquire, I think micropower is a great solution for many reasons, including 1) power transmission is reduced as are associated losses 2) taking responsibility for your own power consumption can lead to a greater awareness of how to reduce it 3) as you commented, the burden on the grid is reduced as is the need to expand its generating capability.

From the 'Micropower' link:

Donnachadh McCarthy is a microgeneration pioneer. The 46-year-old environmental author has already installed a photovoltaic panel, a solar hot water system and a micro wind turbine in his south London home.

"The PV panel works really well. During the summer it generates four times the amount of electricity that I use while in the winter it produces around 10% of my needs," he says.

Mr McCarthy is the first Londoner to negotiate a deal with his electricity company to buy back his surplus electricity. "I pay £12 a year for my heating and lighting to Good Energy, the renewable energy company, and receive £45 back from London Electricity."

He is equally pleased with his solar hot water system, which provides all he needs throughout the summer, but the silent micro wind turbine has only recently been fitted so its performance remains to be seen.

The amount of carbon dioxide Mr McCarthy's house produces has been cut from the national average of eight tonnes to just half a tonne, though he accepts the capital outlay means there will be a long payback period.


NB. Good Energy offer the buy-back scheme nationally in the UK.

The capital outlay can be absorbed into build costs and subsidised by the government (who want to stimulate local businesses who produce the micropower generators as well as helping to reduce pollution).

Not getting fuel bills is quite an attractive prospect for many people, notwithstanding the fact that most people will pay more for things that they see as being 'good'.

wilful, Australia is a great example of a country that could utilise micropower due to the size (too far to transmit, but loads of room for generators). As you no doubt know there is already plenty of micropower generation outside the conurbations.
Just think of the solar power opportunities! If the cities could somehow stop losing all the rainwater .pdf that falls on them it would be almost sustainable to live in Australia.
posted by asok at 10:15 PM on April 30, 2006


Researchers at Stanford Determine That Wind Power Could Generate More Than Enough Sustainable Electricity to Meet Global Energy Needs (PDF) (via):

The two main barriers to large-scale implementation of wind power are: (1) the perceived intermittency of winds, and (2) the difficulty in identifying good wind locations, especially in developing countries. The first barrier can be ameliorated by linking multiple wind farms together. Such approach can virtually eliminate low wind speed events and thus substantially minimize wind power intermittency [Archer and Jacobson, 2003]....

Over 300 Groups Reject Nuclear Energy as Global Warming Solution (PDF) (again, via)

Nuclear Power Is Unnecessary
We can meet our future electricity needs and reduce global warming pollution without increasing our reliance on nuclear energy. For example, a 2004 study by Synapse Energy Economics found that the U.S. could reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation by more than 47 percent by 2025 compared to business as usual and meet projected electricity demand, while saving consumers $36 billion annually. In fact, we can do this while cutting our reliance on nuclear power by nearly half.


asok, I'm so glad you brought up the transmission losses. Isn't it something like 10% of all electricity generated is lost in transmission? I think distributed generation / micropower is really exciting. Besides all the enviro reasons, the generating capacity can then be owned by a family, community group, or city, rather than by these big companies.
posted by salvia at 10:39 PM on April 30, 2006


By the way, thanks for finding those cool links on warning future generations, kliuless and wilful!
posted by salvia at 10:43 PM on April 30, 2006


I've toured Stateline, and been inside of one of the turbine towers. They are awesome pieces of high-tech cool. For those who are saying wind is inconsistent, at many of these farms, that's just not the case. They are able to generate power with a very high uptime rate. Wind is just soo much less damaging than just about any other type of power generation, I'm amazed at the BS I've read from some in this thread. Coal? Nuclear? Are you kidding? Pushing an agenda? Or just willfully ignorant?
posted by Windopaene at 11:07 PM on April 30, 2006


Salvia, nuclear waste in Australia? No problem.

To restate:

1) geologically dead - no action in hundreds of millions of years, none expected
2) biologically dead - no groundwater to move the muck elsewhere, and in the middle of a huge freaking desert ensuring no humans living there
3) politically stable and technologically advanced - not a condition that can be guaranteed for much longer, but at least it means we'd not cut corners now and the operation would be transparent nad not sneak off to a weapons stockpile or other nasty use.
4) we mined the stuff in the first place - so producer liability means we've got some ethical responsibility to close the lifecycle loop.

I'm mostly interested in the fact that it would make Australia a potentially very great deal of money, very easily and almost risk free. The only real risk would be the ship transport back. Oh and the other risk is that an irrational fear campaign would kill any politician that advocated this.

Civilian nuclear power is not ideal, it has risks. These risks are however fairly well quantified and they are far far less in my mind than the not well known but apparently severe risks of climate change. Nukes are only part of the answer,as is microgeneration and wind and solar. They are aprt of a suite of relevant technologies that we have to adapt to a carbon light future.
posted by wilful at 11:09 PM on April 30, 2006


I'm amazed at the BS I've read from some in this thread. Coal? Nuclear? Are you kidding? Pushing an agenda? Or just willfully ignorant?

Thanks for your reasoned opinion.
posted by wilful at 11:10 PM on April 30, 2006


How much space does a nuclear power plant take up compared to 3,000 acres?
posted by Ron at 9:01 AM PST on April 30 [!]



Why does that matter when the fuel source is limited and the resulting waste is nasty-toxic?

The failure of a wind turbine can be bad if you are under the blade/tower, but the failure of a fission nuclear plant can result in more than 3,000 acres no longer useable.

Everything man makes fails. The cost of failue matters.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:48 AM on May 1, 2006


"I don't understand, wilful and insomnia_lj, why would environmentalists stump for the nuclear industry? Are they really so oppressed that they need our help? Is nuclear really the only way?"

I've always been an environmentalist and a supporter of the Green Party for local elections, where I believe they can do the most good. In fact, a few years back, I was asked to be the campaign manager of a Green candidate. ( I refused, because of other commitments, and because the election wasn't local enough for me.)

That said, I'm also a prudent -- and hopefully non-dogmatic -- realist. Lovelock isn't the only scientist out there saying we may have as little as a decade to get our act together.

Environmentalists *should* stump for nuclear energy if doing so would clearly and significantly increase the chance of avoiding global disaster. Isn't that a good enough reason? That doesn't mean a permanent commitment -- that's certainly not what I want -- but on the off-chance that we are facing an imminent crisis, who is going to get the protesters to drop their lawsuits, put down their pickets and roadblocks, and allow construction crews in so that they can build the plants and start saving the world? Republicans? Democrats? Not likely.

It had better be Greens.

If we want to help save the world for future generations, then Greens need to step up and not only help inform people of how serious and imminent this issue is, but also offer real solutions to do so NOW. Not ten years from now, because we may not have the luxury of time here.

"I really don't understand. Sweden is going oil-free in 20 years without installing any nuclear plants..."

They don't need to install nuclear power plants, because they have already done so! They have 10 nuclear power plants that provide 45% of their total electricity needs, which, combined with an unusually large hydroelectric power system, provide a whopping 92% of Sweden's power.

You can talk up a gale wind about Swedish windmills, but you should understand that they can only replace fossil fuel usage in this instance because of a combination of fortuitous geographic circumstance (lots of water and running rivers for hydro power, highly suitable conditions in key locations for wind power) and, of course, an advanced society powered by nuclear energy.


Meanwhile, other major polluting nations aren't so fortunate... and China's power mix is even worse, and getting worse still. If they don't get their sh*t together soon, they'll drag everyone else down with them. Sweden might become the leading tropical resort! They'd certainly be a good place for the tens of millions of starving, drought-stricken people of tomorrow to flee to.

So, by all means, celebrate Sweden's energy independence, but realize that its primary source of energy for the time being is going to be nuclear. Bow, I sure wish we were as fortunate as them.
posted by insomnia_lj at 12:48 AM on May 1, 2006


"Is nuclear really the only way?"

Absolutely not. It is, however, the quickest, most productive way to reduce global warming from power production under current circumstances... and that is what matters in this case.

All the facts now show that global dimming (particulate pollution) has been hiding nearly 70% of the effects of global warming. Particulate pollution in our atmosphere is decreasing faster than greenhouse emissions, unfortunately, which ironically means that having cleaner air might help tip the balance towards a 100,000-year-long summer.

Global warming is such a serious problem, that to really be sure that we haven't fubar'ed the entire planet, we need a solution yesterday. Tomorrow may be too late.
posted by insomnia_lj at 1:05 AM on May 1, 2006


One of the downsides to the use of nuclear power is that the supply of uranium is limited. If all the power generated today by fossil fuels were miraculously converted to nuclear power the supply of uranium would last about 3 years. Apologies, can't find a link instantly and am off out now.
This is using technology available today, not something yet to be developed.
posted by asok at 1:12 AM on May 1, 2006


Supplies of uranium are only sort of limited.. Read Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste I already linked it, but the link title was obscure.


And sorry if my deep sea subduction link pointed at a crack pot, but it is a very interesting idea despite how easily salvia dismisses it. I would even say promising, except for the noted shortage of uranium.. Even without shortage, uranium mining is hardly an impact free practice, so reprocessing seems really important. As far as I'm concerned, money can solve the waste and safety issues (may have already solved them, but for many good reasons already discussed it is really hard to get anything objective on this issue..), the real question is whether we would ever spend it to make nuclear acceptable.

For the people in a hurry.. Nuclear is not a fast option (10-20 year lead times). The fast options are wind, conservation and gas.
posted by Chuckles at 1:41 AM on May 1, 2006


Not from what I've seen. This article suggests that more efficient methods would allow uranium to supply all the world's power for about fifty years using only the richest, most cost-effective uranium reserves... which means that it could supply about half the world's power for about 100 years.

Half the world's power supply should be about what we're shooting for, in that it would make a Sweden-like solution attainable in most of the rest of the world., with additional power coming from hydro, wind, and solar.

Once there is a working non-greenhouse gas solution in place, it would be entirely possible to phase out nuclear within fifty years or so.
posted by insomnia_lj at 1:48 AM on May 1, 2006


Supplies of uranium are only sort of limited.

Kinda like how someone is only "a little pregnant".

which means that it could supply about half the world's power for about 100 years.

And oil won't peak till 2030-2050.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:02 AM on May 1, 2006


Hey rough ashlar, at least insomnia_lj is providing evidential links for his claims. This guy says 50 years at least, while these folks say at least several decades. So it seems that there's uncertainty, but credible estimates give us a fair amount of the fuel, not even requiring breeder reactors.
posted by wilful at 3:36 AM on May 1, 2006


Windopaene: Of course, pushing an agenda. That agenda would be something like "Continued civlization" and "Continued easy internet access".

One thing is clear, you aren't offering anything useful, just snark. Apparently you don't take these issues as seriously as these person of whom you complain, who have actually created one of the best threads I've seen on Metafilter in quite awhile. Now go play, the adults are having a discussion.
posted by Goofyy at 5:24 AM on May 1, 2006


Yes, a pure uranium economy isn't sustainable for very long. The trick is breeder reactors, which can convert unusable forms of U (and wastes) into useful fissionables. They can also be used to moderate waste into more stable, less lethal isotopes.

Of course, they can also be used to make bombs -- but one trick with breeders is to leave the bred fuel in for a long time. This converts a goodly amount of the 239Pu into 240Pu -- an isotope which is useless for weapons work (it actually is too fissile, shedding far too many neutrons, so the critical mass is incredibly tiny. With enough 240Pu in the plutonium, any attempted bomb would fizzle.

And oil won't peak till 2030-2050.

1) Are you sure?

2) Demand has already met supply, and is increasing. Simple economics says the era of cheap oil power is over.

3) Even if it wasn't, burning stuff for transport and power is killing us anyway.

Why does that matter when the fuel source is limited and the resulting waste is nasty-toxic?

We make tons upon tons of nasty, toxic, oops we spilled that and killed an entire town (see Bhopal) chemicals every day. While rad waste is nasty stuff, it's also easily containable, and the only accidents with really bad effects came about because nobody bothered to try containment. Sellafield, at least, it was all very new. Chernobyl was unforgivable, but TMI destroyed the reactor with almost no radiation release whatsoever. Goiânia happened because some idiot left a high-gamma source lying behind in an abandoned hospital, and salvagers found it and broke it open.

Compared to the gunk we pump out *every day* from coal stacks, I'd much rather deal with the nuclear waste problem. It's far easier to capture and far more containable.

Indeed, you've received far more microsieverts of radiation (and we've release far more becquerels of radioactive material) from coal plants than nuclear plants, unless you live very close to Chernobyl.

Now, are there risks? Yes. We need to mitigate them. We need good plants, with proper containment, and good operators. We can do this -- the US Navy's safety record with reactors is very, very good.
posted by eriko at 5:36 AM on May 1, 2006


The New Zealand pie chart:



Hydro is the way to go :)

I was reading an article about micropower in Washington state, a guy had set up a micro hydro generator for his home, and sold enough back to the grid to power about 30 other homes. A guy I met in NZ had a similar setup for his home, he showed me the system, I thought it was way cool and my imagination "dream home" would have one. However, more recently, with the massive expansion of the suburbs in the greater Seattle area coming close to destroying the local streams, running water is now by necessity practically untouchable for landowners, so I suspect the permits required to actually put a mini-dam on a stream (or a wooden waterwheel for lower efficiency but extra visual appeal :) would be impossible to get these days. So anyway, I was reading this article, and the guy said it took him four years to get the 500 permits that were necessary. I can't remember the actual figure of permits, it might have been in the thousands, it was staggering. And he did that many years ago when there was a lot less regulation. Yikes. He didn't think it would be possible today.

I think hydro micropower has effectively been ruled out completely.

New Zealand also has pretty tough regulations, but the guy there was in a much better situation in terms of regulatory overhead (shorter pipeline distance, land already zoned for farming, etc).
posted by -harlequin- at 11:34 AM on May 1, 2006


eriko:

1) Are you sure?

I think his point was that "there is enough uranium to stand in for FF for 100 years" is as unrealistically optimistic as "oil won't peak for another 20-40 years". So the answer to your question would be "no" :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:46 AM on May 1, 2006


Metafilter: this place is not a place of honor
posted by jewzilla at 12:01 PM on May 1, 2006


My points:
1. we don't need to adopt nuclear power to reduce fossil fuel-related greenhouse gas emissions
--backed up by two links above that no one has commented on, one saying that there's enough wind power to fulfill all the world's energy needs (as well as by the Sweden and Vashon Island examples, which are under debate).

2. nuclear power has risks that renewables don't have
--has not been denied. People point out that coal is riskier than nuclear. Fine. No one here is advocating coal.

3. there still is no good solution to nuclear waste
--under debate, below.

Re: storing nuclear waste in the Australian desert. Nuclear waste needs to be safely stored for >10,000 years, long enough for major climate shifts to occur. For example, 5000-6000 years ago, the Sahara desert had many rivers and lakes, fishermen, and hippopotamus hunters. No one can know that Australia's climate is going to stay a desert for the next 10,000 years. Also, I don't believe it's "biologically dead." Deserts have animals.

Not long ago, people suggested disposing of nurclear waste under glaciers. That's funny, since now scientists predict there will be no more ice in the arctic during summers by 2070. This is what I'm talking about -- we just don't know enough to safely contain anything for 10,000 years. The glacier idea would've failed in only 65 years. As rough ashlar says, "Everything man makes fails. The cost of failure matters."

Re: disposing of nuclear waste in a subduction zone. Chuckles says: "[Disposal of nuc. waste in a subduction zone] is a very interesting idea despite how easily salvia dismisses it." I didn't easily dismiss it -- I looked up links to support objections. I got no response to those objections...... Then you raise the idea again without addressing those objections? The subduction zone method didn't even make the first cut by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management.

If your goal is a fossil-fuel-free world, insomnia_lj, why not work like hell to get demand reductions, wind, and solar? You say "Environmentalists *should* stump for nuclear energy if doing so would clearly and significantly increase the chance of avoiding global disaster." I still don't hear from you why nuclear is the only option to avoid that disaster.

You can poke holes in the Sweden example, but US per capita energy use is roughly double Europe's, so if that holds for Sweden then the US currently generates the same amount of nuclear power per person that Sweden does. Plus, the US has better wind and solar resources than do many countries (the Stanford article above; latitude). Let's aim high, skip nuclear, and go straight to low-risk energy solutions.

I'm mostly interested in the fact that it would make Australia a potentially very great deal of money, very easily and almost risk free.

wilful, if that's your goal, I can't say building nuclear power plants is not the best way to accomplish it. I personally wonder if protecting Australia's environment from potential contamination might do more for its economic development over the long run, but I'm no expert on Australia's economic development options.
posted by salvia at 12:03 PM on May 1, 2006


jewzilla, ha ha. :) Or from your same link--

Metafilter: Best shunned and left uninhabited.
posted by salvia at 12:05 PM on May 1, 2006


Um, eriko, I'm a wind farm designer. I work closely with turbine manufacturers; I'm going to a couple of their plants in Denmark later this month. I've been involved in several hundred MW of capacity. These are large machines of which I speak; 1.5MW and up.

The reason there aren't many plants cranking out big machines in the US is that the US PTC model is entirely unsustainable. The US government can switch this off at any time, and manufacturers have been burned before.

Neato fact from Vestas: energy yield increased 42x in the 21 years from 1981-2002. That's over 19%/year, or doubling in less than 4 years. Not quite Moore's Law, but pretty nifty for rotating plant ...
posted by scruss at 12:44 PM on May 1, 2006


1. we don't need to adopt nuclear power to reduce fossil fuel-related greenhouse gas emissions

Well, no. But reduce is a far cry from eliminate. Examples from Sweden or New Zealand aren't really relevant -- it's easy for a small country with unusual geography / geology to be an outlier. But converting Sweden or New Zealand to primarily-renewables is not like converting the US to primarily-renewable, it's like converting, say, Denver or Seattle to primarily-renewables.

2. nuclear power has risks that renewables don't have
--has not been denied. People point out that coal is riskier than nuclear. Fine. No one here is advocating coal.


Unless you're going to posit some amazing zero-loss electric grid of global proportions, renewables (hydro excepted) require backup. So advocating against nuclear as that backup or baseload generator is, effectively, advocating coal, or at least the burning of hydrocarbons.

Also, you are merely assuming that there are no risks from wind generation, which seems deeply naive. Really large-scale extraction of energy from weather systems is bound to affect those weather systems. I don't know how much energy you can extract from wind flows before you destabilize jet streams or otherwise cause large-scale climatic effects -- if that amount is less than, say, ten times the amount of energy currently used by the world, that's bad, because the world is almost certainly going to be using that much power sometime in the next 500 years.

This isn't to say that the risks from really large-scale wind power are large, or that they aren't smaller than the risks from nuclear power. It's only to say that you're merely assuming that they have zero risks, when in reality we just don't know what the long-term risks are.

3. there still is no good solution to nuclear waste
--under debate, below.


Sure there is. Recycle what you can as fuel. What's left, put in a sturdy warehouse someplace that people aren't likely to go accidentally. Worrying about protecting savages in the year 12,000 is ultimately a silly thing to do, but if you're really worried about that then put the sturdy warehouse in a dry valley in Antarctica -- any civilization advanced enough to be sending people to central Antarctica is likely to also have at least a basic understanding of radioactivity.

Personally, I'd still like to see solar power satellites.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:01 PM on May 1, 2006


that's bad, because the world is almost certainly going to be using that much power sometime in the next 500 years

500 years is unnecessarily excessive. Wind is good now, in 500 years, even fusion will probably be outdated and on the way out in favour of something better :)
posted by -harlequin- at 1:30 PM on May 1, 2006


if you're really worried about that then put the sturdy warehouse in a dry valley in Antarctica

That's going to be a hard sell. Antarctica is under international treaty as the only contenent we haven't trashed and polluted. Saying "we want to go store our pollution there now" is not going to go down well :)
posted by -harlequin- at 1:33 PM on May 1, 2006


ROU: The cities we've already built and forests we've knocked down have so much more of an effect on wind and other weather systems already that having enough windfarms in place to power the entire US wouldn't have much of an effect on some total earth energy balance. (and since weather is caused by the sun and the earth's rotation anyway I'd say all that energy is just a different form of solar energy which we might as well use since it's coming at us for free.)
posted by Space Coyote at 2:03 PM on May 1, 2006


Also, you are merely assuming that there are no risks from wind generation, which seems deeply naive.

Don't miss the discussion of volatile wind farms at Time Cube...
posted by johngoren at 3:01 PM on May 1, 2006


"Hydro is the way to go "

Assuming you can use hydro, I absolutely agree. However, most places aren't able to increase their hydro output by much more than they already have.

"I think his point was that "there is enough uranium to stand in for FF for 100 years" is as unrealistically optimistic as "oil won't peak for another 20-40 years"."

Actually, that's not being overly optimistic, as I clearly indicated that there would still be uranium left even after that 100 years, and I also indicated that the goal shouldn't be to use nuclear for 100 years until we run out, but to use the time it buys us to replace it with other forms of power. I think nuclear could be replaced within 60-70 years fairly easily if advances continue.

The important thing is to do something really fast. Lovelock isn't the only one talking about us reaching "tipping points" soon. So is James Hansen of NASA, who is definitely one of the premier if not the premier expert in his field. His forecasts take global dimming into account, unlike other previous forecasts, and say we've got ten years to make very significant changes and to get our act together.

Basically, there's a lot of thermal inertia happening with global warming. Any changes that we make to decrease greenhouse emissions will take years to make a dent in the problem. If we act too late, any efforts we make, no matter how green or otherwise environmentally noble, will be in vain.

Dr Peter Cox, one of the world's leading climate modellers, currently sees world CO2 levels still rising sharply in the future, whereas particle pollution is already being brought under control.

"We're going to be in a situation unless we act where the cooling pollutant is dropping off while the warming pollutant is going up. That means we'll get reducing cooling and increased heating at the same time and that's a problem for us."

This problem we face is huge and immediate. For practical reasons related to production and expertise, we simply cannot implement a "fast as humanly possible" solution to the problem using just one solution. We need *ALL* of our experts in nuclear, hydro, solar, geothermal, and wind working to solve this problem as fast as possible, or all of our efforts might be in vain.

Right now, we're in a car together, heading at a brick wall at 100 MPH, foot firmly on the gas... and we're all debating who's going to drive.
posted by insomnia_lj at 3:25 PM on May 1, 2006


Oops. Botched a link somehow.

I meant to say:

Basically, there's a lot of thermal inertia happening with global warming.
posted by insomnia_lj at 3:29 PM on May 1, 2006


BTW, scientists are now reporting that the number of glacial earthquakes in Greenland -- indicating movement of glaciers and melting of ice -- have doubled since 2002.

It's a sunny 36 degrees today in Maniisoq, Greenland. Another bright and sunny spring day!
posted by insomnia_lj at 3:41 PM on May 1, 2006


Atlantic Sea Surface Temperature Anomally. This charts the difference in sea surface temps from normal.

Note that really the only colder than normal part of the Atlantic is where the Gulf Stream flows. Note how fast the Gulf of Mexico is warming up. Note the large La Niña event going on in the Pacific.
posted by eriko at 3:48 PM on May 1, 2006


"Note how fast the Gulf of Mexico is warming up."

And also that bright red patch off Africa's coast, where most Atlantic hurricanes start to form. It's almost that time again!
posted by insomnia_lj at 4:25 PM on May 1, 2006


More hydro would be an ecological disaster in Australia. Firstly we don't ahve the water, and secondly we don't have the mountain valleys spare, just waiting around for us to utilise.

salvia, Australian geology and geography moves at a much slower rate than other parts of the world. It would be pretty easy to say that in ten thousand years nothing will be happening there, since nothing has happened there in 10 million years.

Sure a few bilbies and the like live there - a nuclear waste repository would protect them from far bigger dangers like mining and recreational 4WDers.
posted by wilful at 4:28 PM on May 1, 2006


Really large-scale extraction of energy from weather systems is bound to affect those weather systems.

Big wind farms may be large scale to us, but their not exactly large scale to the weather systems...
posted by Artw at 4:30 PM on May 1, 2006


So let me see if I have this argument right.

Premise 1: we need to do something about carbon dioxide emissions ASAP if not sooner.

Premise 2: there are presently a hell of a lot of carbon dioxide emissions, so whatever we do needs to be big.

Premise 3: nuclear power stations are big.

Conclusion: we must immediately start building nuclear power stations.

Personally, I think that conclusion sucks ass. There are lots of ways to do something big. One of the best ways we've developed over the last hundred years or so is to do something small and replicate it millions of times. It's called mass production, and it's the cornerstone of the modern economy.

Just to get some sense of scale: today's cars have powerplants rated at something of the order of 100kW. We make about 40,000,000 of them a year. We're making 4 terawatts of new engines, every single year. Now, that's big.

Clearly, we don't need huge centralized nuclear plants just so we can do Big. Anybody who really thinks we do should have a good hard think about the economics of mass production.

Next angle:

Climate change is a global phenomenon. We don't have global government; national governments are the closest thing we have to embodiments of global will. Clearly, therefore, funding the fixes for greenhouse gas emissions is the job of governments.

Given a government budget - any budget - we clearly want to get as much greenhouse gas emission reduction as we possibly can for each dollar spent. So why would we ever choose to buy one ton of emission reduction by subsidizing nukes, when we can get three or four for the same money by subsidizing something else - almost anything else?
posted by flabdablet at 5:32 PM on May 1, 2006


and haven't we (or China) been buying polluting credits or something like that? we're paying so that we can keep polluting (i remember reading something about it).

wind is relatively cheap to set up, much easier to use than solar or nuclear (and non-polluting/non-toxic), and inexhaustible. We should be subsidizing small chimney-attached ones for homes, and getting the UN to devote money to small programs all over the world.
posted by amberglow at 5:47 PM on May 1, 2006


wind is relatively cheap to set up, much easier to use than solar or nuclear (and non-polluting/non-toxic), and inexhaustible. We should be subsidizing small chimney-attached ones for homes, and getting the UN to devote money to small programs all over the world.

Wind isn't relatively cheap to set up, and in some program as advocated above, would be about the least cost-effective solution possible.

flabdablet, your argument lacks internal consistency.

Premise 3: mass production is big

Conclusion: mass production is the answer!

The thing is, we actually need big grunty base load for a lot of industrial uses, and we've already invested a lot into network infrastructure and know how it works and it actually does work pretty well. Microgeneration is neat, but it's niche and will remain so, it's not adequate for many uses. Particularly if you want to start electrolysing hydrogen.

As I've indicated above, nuclear is one part of a suite of adaptations to a carbon constrained future. But nobody's given a convincing reason why it shouldn't be.
posted by wilful at 6:01 PM on May 1, 2006


wilful, nuclear fuel needs a lot of fossil energy to extract and refine. It might be as polluting as heck and as finite as all-git-out, but no fuel does the portability and storage thing like liquid fossil fuel.

And anyone who mentions hydrogen here for mining applications can either, a) try working with an amazingly explosive gas in a confined space, or b) read Joseph Romm's book The Hype about Hydrogen, and weep.
posted by scruss at 6:32 PM on May 1, 2006


Big grunty 24*7*365 reliable predictable renewable baseload.
Marginally cheaper per megawatt than a new nuke.
Just in case I haven't linked to it often enough already :)
(I own shares in it)
posted by flabdablet at 6:35 PM on May 1, 2006


wilful, you have some *interesting* ideas.
'since nothing has happened there in 10 million years'
I think we can agree that this is an exageration.
'a nuclear waste repository would protect them from far bigger dangers like mining and recreational 4WDers.'
Not sure I follow you there. There would not be a nuclear waste repository where there was potential for mining.
I am assuming digging a whole for the stuff and covering it over is the idea, as buildings that last in excess of 100,000 years are not possible. So not sure how the bilbys will benefit.
Recreational 4WDers? Not sure how that factors in. As long as they are shooting pigs, there is something to be said for them!

Disposing of nuclear waste is a global issue and it is possible that Australia could play some part in dealing with this issue, however this would go against the long standing 'nuclear free zone' status that many Australians are proud of.

Nobody wants a nuclear power station near them (whether or not this is based on realistic probabilities) so as the only places they will be viable are near Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Perth, Cairns and Darwin they are going to be difficult to sell. Putting them in the back of beyond is not a good idea due to the losses from transmission.

There are plenty of ways that Australia could reduce power consumption, including insulating houses (with wool insulation to stimulate the moribund wool trade), heating homes more efficiently and turning off the lights on all those skyscrapers. Hot water heating via solar power should be standard in Australia, as it is in the Greek islands.

Manufacturing may not be a problem for much longer as China takes over regional dominance of that field. Sad but true.
posted by asok at 6:47 PM on May 1, 2006


Any fuel gas (or vapour) is amazingly explosive in a confined space. In an unconfined space, an accidental hydrogen burn is less unsafe than an accidental gasoline vapour burn (less radiated heat from the combustion zone because the flame doesn't contain white-hot soot particles).

More hydrogen background here.

And things are looking up on the liquid fuel front, too.
posted by flabdablet at 6:49 PM on May 1, 2006


Wilful, it's also worth bearing in mind that our existing electricity grid would work just as well for consolidating the output of millions of household microgenerators as it does for distributing centrally generated electricity to millions of households. Transformers don't care which side is the input.
posted by flabdablet at 6:58 PM on May 1, 2006


Ah, speaking of subsidies, news from yesterday:

It's costing Americans $1.4 million a day to build a facility to safely treat millions of gallons of radioactive and toxic waste stored in the Hanford Nuclear Reservation's leak-prone underground tanks.
posted by salvia at 7:13 PM on May 1, 2006


flabdablet, the solar tower isn't going to be built. Sorry about that. (sincerely, I might add). And IIRC that's a 200 MW plant, 1/10th the size of our important generators.

asok, for the geological structures we're talking about, 100 My actually isn't an exaggeration. Geologically, time has stood still for at least 300 million years. Of course, a nuclear waste repository only needs to last a small fraction of this time.

Bilbies would benefit because the area would presumably be verboten to unauthorised uses, and managed as a form of sanctuary. In the same way that the Pripet marshes are flourishing post Chernobyl. No pigs in the deep outback, it's too dry, but there are amongst the last remaining wild camel populations.

References to Australia being proudly nuclear free are politics, which if you've paid attention is something that I've said is an impossible hurdle in the Australian context. But that doesn't mean it's objectively wrong. And thanks for telling me about efficiency, noted.

As for distributed microgeneration, when the machines turn on at 8 am and off at 5 pm, the network would handle that?
posted by wilful at 7:23 PM on May 1, 2006


flabdablet, the solar tower isn't going to be built. Sorry about that. (sincerely, I might add).

Why not?
posted by homunculus at 8:14 PM on May 1, 2006


So you were suggesting the desert as a good place for the burying of nuclear waste, objectively and not taking into account the reality of the political situation.

Not to mention the land rights issue.

My argument is that there is no need to worry about power generation short fall until all the avenues for sustainable living have been exhausted. We are a long way from that.

Talking of insurmountable political hurdles do you think the Australian population would rather cut their extravagant usage of energy or replace their current fossil fuel power generation with nuclear?
posted by asok at 8:43 PM on May 1, 2006


flabdablet, the solar tower isn't going to be built. Sorry about that. (sincerely, I might add).

Why not?


Finances, risk averse Australian non-entrepeneurs, the failure to expand the Mandatory Renewables Energy Target certificates.


So you were suggesting the desert as a good place for the burying of nuclear waste, objectively and not taking into account the reality of the political situation.


yes. precisely. Though land rights probably aren't much of an issue, most of them have proven they can be bought, and large tracts are not only uninhabitable, they haven't maintained continuous connection.

Talking of insurmountable political hurdles do you think the Australian population would rather cut their extravagant usage of energy or replace their current fossil fuel power generation with nuclear?

I think the turds would build a new coal fired station. That's my biggest fear.
posted by wilful at 9:03 PM on May 1, 2006


"nuclear power stations are big. Conclusion: we must immediately start building nuclear power stations."

Did I not clearly say that for simple reasons of prudence, we need to do something immediately, and that time is of the essence?

That means that we need all *existing* experts and power industries to help solve the problem... even the clean coal people, if only to reduce emissions on pre-existing plants before they are replaced. We also need a massive effort to increase nationwide power efficiency, raise CAFE standards, etc.

That doesn't mean that there won't be a massive ramp-up of wind, solar, or hydrothermal power... far from it! But realistically, it could take 50 years to have wind, solar, and other clean solutions get rid of all the dirty ones... and that's time we may not have.

Nuclear is the big non-greenhouse industry, and not using their industry to provide non-greenhouse power is like asking the strongest person on the theoretical sinking boat with the biggest bucket not to bail, because he's got irritable bowel syndrome.

As for biodiesel, it should be pointed out that using biodiesel still produces greenhouse gas emissions, although it does reduce them by about 70%. Also, a recent Cornell/UC Berkeley study reports that all existing methods of producing biodiesel require more more fossil energy than the fuel produced.

George Monbiot, a very green individual and one of the best ecological reporters out there, says that "the adoption of biofuels would be a humanitarian and environmental disaster."

Using algae for biodiesel is interesting, so long as you're not having to use a ton of petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides to do it, but it's only really interesting if it requires less fossil energy to produce than it delivers. Otherwise, it simply won't do any good, except in the case of using it to help reduce CO2 emissions from existing power plants, which is an interesting stop-gap idea. I have no doubt that groundbreaking things could be done with algae in the future. Unfortunately, most of them can't be done today, and that is what matters.
posted by insomnia_lj at 2:16 AM on May 2, 2006


For those interested, George Monbiot recently crunched the numbers on getting rid of greenhouse gasses for Britain -- a country particularly well-suited for wind and tidal power -- and concluded that using wind, tidal, and other clean methods could only account for 19 gigawatts out of a needed 41.9 gigawatts of power.

The only options he sees available to with the remaining 23GW would be nuclear power, combined with conventional power plants that used carbon burial (pumping the carbon dioxide into salt aquifers or old gas fields).
posted by insomnia_lj at 3:01 AM on May 2, 2006


It should be pointed out that Monbiot's figures would only take care of electricity needs, and not the needs of vehicles, which are a major source of the problem. I suspect they'll need more electricity than that, to power clean cars and address future demand.
posted by insomnia_lj at 3:03 AM on May 2, 2006


^^^ what he said.
posted by wilful at 4:35 PM on May 2, 2006


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