Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Terrorists, Nuclear Powerplants, and Snakes

Cross-posted from Energy Trends Insider

Nicholas Kristof wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times a few weeks ago titled: "Terrorists, bathtubs, and snakes."

It was about how our evolved abilities to assess risk (which worked great when we were hunter-gatherers) can fail us pretty miserably in the modern industrial world--a point that has been made over and over again by lesser known writers over the last decade about the safety of nuclear powerplants. From the article:
"In short, our brains are perfectly evolved for the Pleistocene, but are not as well suited for the risks we face today. If only climate change caused sharp increases in snake populations, then we’d be on top of the problem!"

"Yet even if our brains sometimes mislead us, they also crown us with the capacity to recognize our flaws and rectify mistakes. So maybe we can adjust for our weaknesses in risk assessment — so that we confront the possible destruction of our planet as if it were every bit as ominous and urgent a threat as, say, a passing garter snake."
Not that it matters, but I strongly suspect that a fear of snakes is largely a learned behavior. In my experience, if you hand a garter snake to a toddler, she will treat it pretty much like anything else and try to chew on it. You can be taught to fear garter snakes just as easily as you can be taught to fear nuclear powerplants, or not, neither of which is an ominous and urgent threat.

Oldest daughter at age five with Puget Sound garter snake and her little sister, age 20, also holding a garter snake (graduating to a wild red-tailed boa in Ecuador).

Garter snake I picked up on trail a few hours before posting this article

Truth be told, none of our power sources are particularly hazardous when compared to common things like cars (one million deaths annually) and cigarettes (five million deaths annually). We wouldn't be debating the relative safety of wind, solar, hydro, and nuclear if it were not for the likes of, say, Greenpeace claiming that nuclear energy is too dangerous to use.

When the Twin Towers were struck, we took our airlines offline, just as Japan did to its nuclear powerplants after the quake struck. However, our airlines were flying again in fairly short order (by the way, if you ever get the chance, go see the play Come From Away) and have been flying every since, while Japan's reactors largely still remain offline.

Science aside, common sense strongly suggests that dumping this much carbon into the atmosphere, combined with ocean acidification, the destruction of old growth forests, peat, and grasslands, is a dangerous experiment. The greatest fear of climate skeptics is that the politics of climate change will wreak havoc on economies while at the same time fail to have any meaningful impact on climate change. There's growing evidence that the skeptics may have a point.

The idea that wind and solar can do it all is a gamble we really should not take regarding our children's and grandchildren's futures. Nuclear energy will be a major part of the mix. The only real question is how much economic damage the anti-nuclear energy ideologues will wreak along the way. Thanks in large part to fear mongering from anti-nuclear energy groups, the combined economic losses as a result of taking their nuclear energy offline in Germany and Japan may approach a trillion dollars in the next decade. In addition, untold millions of extra tons of greenhouse gases are now in the atmosphere.

$35,000,000,000/year Japan, $25,000,000,000/year Germany

2016-2011 = 5 years

5 years x [$35 billion + $25 billion]/year = $300 billion.

$300 billion (2011-2016) + $300 billion (2016-2021) + $300 billion (2021-2026) = $900 billion (note that $1,000 billion = $1 trillion).

The above calculation is oversimplified and rough, but easy to understand and should be enough to give pause for thought.

The goal of a terrorist organization, as the name suggests, is to terrorize people to achieve some goal. But you don't have to use violence to frighten people. You can simply convince them that they are in imminent danger. There is only one reason Germany and Japan have taken their reactors offline--they have been convinced by somebody that it is dangerous and they are frightened.

Figure 1 New Scientist Graphic

Way back in 2011 New Scientist put the above chart together based on:
"...a 2002 review by the IAE [which] put together existing studies to compare fatalities per unit of power produced for several leading energy sources. The agency examined the life cycle of each fuel from extraction to post-use and included deaths from accidents as well as long-term exposure to emissions or radiation."
Let me reiterate that the above graph is not from a single study. The IEA summed up the results of several existing studies, which explains the wide ranges. The only renewable covered in the above graphic is hydroelectric. Another study found that deaths per unit energy from biomass, also a renewable energy source, is greater than gas and nuclear combined.

But you don't have to trust any of these studies when it comes to nuclear safety. You can simply divide the amount of power that has been provided by nuclear by the number of deaths attributed to Chernobyl (4,000, 9,000, or 33,000) to create your own answers to compare to the other sources, as I have done below. This isn't rocket science:

Table 1 Demonstrating Impact of Time Intervals on Chernobyl Latent Deaths / TWh

Latent deaths are estimates from various sources of an increase in cancer mortality in old age in the decades following Chernobyl. For example, 4,000 people did not die of cancer in 1986. This is an estimate for a potential for that many to die of cancer over their lifetimes after exposure (out of the tens of millions who will die of cancer having no exposure), so the exact answer is unknowable but by looking at my spreadsheet it's pretty obvious that no matter what number of deaths and time interval you choose to believe, nuclear is one of the safest sources we have.

Below I go on to demonstrate how, given all of this overwhelming evidence, Greenpeace continues to insist that "...nuclear energy probably still presents the largest risk to lives of the known energy technologies." So feel free to read on if you want to see a five-year-old Greenpeace article get peer reviewed.

Back in 2011, Jan Beránek, head of Greenpeace International's antinuclear energy campaign, wrote a blog post in an attempt to counter articles like the one above from New Scientist that were appearing after the Fukushima triple meltdown.

His concern was with the nuclear safety calculation of 0.04 deaths/TWh originally done in a 2008 Next Big Future article, by Brian Wang.

Figure 2 Calculation for Latent Chernobyl deaths and Data from Original Next Big Future Article

In the Greenpeace article, Beránek repeatedly links nuclear, one of the cleanest and safest sources of low carbon energy, to fossil fuels, calling it dirty, hazardous, and risky, examples of what Wikipedia calls "weasel words."
"...as we actually can and need to get rid of both fossil and nuclear ...we need to get rid of dirty and risky energy sources, be it coal, oil, nuclear, or even gas ...making it clearly the most hazardous technology."
Many readers will gloss over what is to them, the indecipherable head-ache inducing charts and focus on his concluding words, assuming that the charts back up the words, which, strangely enough, they don't. Not to mention, nuclear has no emissions and produces less volume of waste per unit energy than any other source, including wind and solar if you account for the huge amount of material per unit energy used in their construction.
"In the debate about nuclear power, some people argue that the number of fatalities that can be attributed to the coal or gas industry is much higher than caused by nuclear power"
By "some people" he means "an army of researchers from around the globe" have found that fatalities (both latent and immediate) from coal dwarf that of nuclear, hydro, gas, wind, and solar combined.
"– and conclude that this argument successfully makes the case for the continued use of nuclear reactors."
This is his first strawman argument. There are many good arguments making the case for continued use of nuclear reactors other than the fact that they're more than a full order of magnitude safer than coal.
"I find the discussion about which of the dirty technologies (as we actually can and need to get rid of both fossil and nuclear) is largest killer quite indecent and do not want to fuel it by throwing in more abstract figures that never respect the human lives behind them."
Right ...indecent ...says the guy arguing that nuclear kills too many people to be safely used by posting two additional deaths per unit energy figures that "never respect the human lives behind them."
"But for the purpose of getting some clarity around this argument, let’s look closer at those claims.'
"The perhaps most authoritative comparison of fatalities appeared in a number of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) papers during last decade:

1) “Environmental and Health Impacts of Electricity Generation” published by International Energy Agency in 2002"

2) “Risks and Benefits of Nuclear Energy" published by Nuclear Energy Agency in 2007"

3) “Comparing Nuclear Accident Risks with Those from Other Energy Sources”, also published by Nuclear Energy Agency 2010'

4) “Energy Technology Perspectives 2008“ by International Energy Agency.

The arguments on fatalities from those papers have been frequently quoted elsewhere."
For reasons I can only suspect, the author doesn't provide links to the study results which have been freely available on the internet for many years, so I have provided them above.
"The first major problem with the fatalities argument that if one takes the effort to look closely, all the relevant figures and graphs in the OECD publications actually refer down to one single collective of authors, which is the Paul Scherer Institute in Switzerland."
Except a word search on just the 4th source that he referenced (a 500 page document) finds the word "Scherer" a total of three times out of the over 400 references contained on 28 pages of references. I didn't bother looking at the other sources but you can bet the results will be similar.
"Now, having such an important argument based on one single source is not exactly scientific, is it?"
Not only are there many other studies and sources out there other than the ones referenced above, but these four studies are not by any means "based on one single source" anymore than natural evolution is based on a single source called Charles Darwin.
"Let’s look further. Here one fancy version of their graphs, the one that has been reproduced in most influential International Energy Agency (IEA) paper, 'Energy Technology Perspectives 2008':"
Why he chose the graphic from page 295 of the 4th study above, I can only suspect. Because that chapter was discussing OECD countries, it only showed graph (a) for OECD countries (see Figure 3 below). If he had picked the 3rd study “Comparing Nuclear Accident Risks with Those from Other Energy Sources,” he would have found the full graphic shown below in Figure 3 which covers OECD and non-OECD countries:


Figure 3 "Comparison of frequency-consequence curves for full energy chains in OECD (a) and non-OECD (b) countries for the period 1969-2000." Source: Comparing Nuclear Accident Risks with Those from Other Energy Sources , Page 295
"This chart [see Figure 3 and Figure 4]. plots frequency of accidents and their fatalities".
It plots frequency of "events." But before I continue we need to define a few things to avoid confusion. See Table 2 below.
Table 2 Explanation of Terminology

"Accident, acute accident, and event" all mean the same thing in this article.

There are two main categories of fatalities: latent (or eventual) and immediate (or acute).
  1. Nuclear and hydro: events can result in immediate fatalities as well as latent fatalities.
  2. Coal, gas, and biomass: latent fatalities can result from lung disease without being caused by an event.
  3. Coal, gas, and biomass: Immediate fatalities can of course also result from events.
  4. Wind and solar: fatalities tend to be immediate and almost exclusively the result of events (roofing is a notoriously dangerous occupation).
Figure 3 records fatalities from events, although it also generously included latent fatalities in addition to immediate ones for nuclear. I added latent fatalities from hydro. Latent fatalities from coal emissions (which dwarf all other fatalities) are not included in Figure 3.

How frequent are nuclear powerplant events that result in fatalities? There is a total of one data point--Chernobyl, the poster child for how to do nuclear energy wrong. As I stated earlier, Figure 3 does not plot latent fatalities from coal's emissions, or the disease and starvation from the Chinese dam failure, but it does make an exception for nuclear by plotting not only the single event to result in fatalities, but also latent fatalities from Chernobyl, which still pale in comparison to immediate deaths caused by events from all other energy sources.
"Therefore, the closer to the left bottom corner the technology appears, the safer it is – and vice versa, the more towards top right corner, the more risky."
Interesting. I shaded his left-bottom and top-right quadrants above in Figure 3. Note that coal isn't in his "risky" quadrant, and neither is nuclear, while hydro dominates it. To ice the cake, the nuclear immediate fatalities are found in his "safe" quadrant.
Figure 4 Graphic found in the Greenpeace blog post for OECD countries only.

"You need to note two things that are apparently wrong with this chart [see Figure 4]. First, it talks about the OECD – which allows authors to entirely exclude the worst nuclear accident- Chernobyl in 1986 - from the picture."
There is nothing at all wrong with the chart he chose from the 4th study [see Figure 4]. Chernobyl isn't on it because the Soviet Union was not an OECD country. The chapter in the 4th study where the graphic is found (page 295) is about OECD nuclear, not world nuclear. The 3rd study shows the whole picture as seen in Figure 3 above. And later I will show you that he was perfectly aware all along of Figure 3 found in the 3rd study.
"If we were to plot Chernobyl, it would appear at the frequency of once in 8,000 GWy (accumulated nuclear generation history by now), and fatalities in the range between 9,000 (according to World Health Report (WHO) report in 2006, future victims in Russia, Byelorussia and Ukraine) and 33,000 (modest estimate of overall potential death toll based on collective dose, see for example TORCH report from 2006)."
The red line that he plotted in the wrong graphic [see Figure 4]. above is exactly where it was plotted in the non-OECD graph (b) in Figure 3. The fact that he used the exact same 9,000 and 33,000 values found in graph (b) of Figure 3 is proof that he was aware of graph (b) in Figure 3 all along.
"The graph would then actually look like this [see Figure 4], with the red bar showing more realistic range for nuclear power’s record, making it clearly the most hazardous technology:"
Clearly the most hazardous technology? Again, note that nuclear "immediate" fatalities fall in what he thinks is the "safest" quadrant (see Figure 3, graph (b) non-OECD). Nuclear "latent" fatalities are in neither quadrant and clearly have far fewer total deaths than any other source. The authors went to the trouble of plotting latent fatalities for nuclear in addition to immediate ones, generously including not only the estimate of 9,000 future potential deaths, but also the results from two anti-nuclear energy researchers hired by the German Green Party (the TORCH report) to counter the WHO report. Had they plotted latent fatalities (cancers, respiratory illness etc) for coal, the results would have required an entire new graph because of the huge scale difference. I created just such a graph in Figure 10.
"The second thing that is terribly wrong with the original chart, is that while it pretends to include nuclear power, it is using double standards to plot it. Contrary to other technologies, where the risks are taken from real world experience, nuclear risks are based on PSA."
Wrong again. The PSA data only exists in graph (a) of Figure 3 for the OECD countries because there is no "real world experience" to plot. It was generous of the researchers to go to the trouble to plot PSA for nuclear graph (a) of Figure 3 considering that they had no real world data to plot. Note that there is no PSA plot in graph (b) of Figure 3 for the non-OECD countries because there is a single "real world experience" for nuclear.
"This is so-called Probabilistic Safety Analysis and is nothing more than a theoretical modeling of reactor risks. It is acknowledged as a method to identify weak points in the technology, but even the nuclear industry says it is not good tool for coming up with reliable figure (sic) of the overall chance of heavy reactor accident."
As I pointed out above, the PSA calculation was only used in graph (a) because there has been no fatal nuclear event in OECD countries. It was more generous than showing nothing.
"We have seen this method going totally wrong in the case of the US Space Shuttle program, where the engineers estimated a chance of accident as 1 in 100,000 but in fact two of the four Shuttles in the fleet ended up meeting disaster (a great insight by Richard Feynmann can be found here)."
Never assume readers will not follow a link. His link actually says that engineers assigned a range of 1 in 100. The 1 in 100,000 value for the Shuttle (not nuclear power) according to his link, ostensibly came from managers, not engineers. If anyone had asked this engineer (me), I'd have told them that rocket ships are no place for civilian school teachers. And we now have a new data point called Fukushima, which demonstrates that a triple meltdown in a modern reactor as opposed to the now extinct primitive Soviet era design, is a non-fatal event. And many European reactors are even safer than those in Japan, some having radiation filters in their vent systems.
"We can also see how wrong this method went for the nuclear power sector globally: while the industry is assuring us that the chance of a heavy accident involving reactor damage is in the order of 1 in 100,000 years"
Where he got that 1 in 100,000 years number, he didn't say. Is he confusing the 1-100,000 flights estimate that was ostensibly quoted by unnamed managers for the Space Shuttle in his link?
"...in fact we have seen at least five such accident s (one reactor at Three Mile Island in 1979, one reactor at Chernobyl in 1986, and three reactors at Fukushima in 2011) during an accumulated 14,000 reactor-years of experience – this brings the empirical figure of more than 1 in 3,000 chance. Nevertheless, OECD publications use this theoretical calculation, done for a single Swiss reactor (sic!), to make generic conclusions on hazards."
Translation: In over half of a century of generating electricity with nuclear power, there have only been three reactor events of note, and only one, a primitive, now extinct, cold war Soviet era design, caused any fatalities, with an estimated total potential (spread out over the next several decades) to kill less than a percent of the annual death toll on roads. Fukushima demonstrated that modern designs experiencing triple core meltdowns in the middle of magnitude nine quakes and 60 foot high tsunamis don't result in fatalities.
"This is already a third major methodological mistake that makes the original IEA charts figures (sic) heavily biased and unreliable."
There is no methodological mistake, as I explained above. I'm trying to keep a straight face here. Greenpeace charts and figures are not heavily biased and unreliable?
"So the recipe for cooking up false conclusions about nuclear safety is as easy as this:

1) Take your data from one single institute in all publications (there is a lot of referring in circles but finally it all ends up with the Paul Scherer Institute)"
As I stated before, that isn't true. A word search on that 500 page 4th source that he referenced finds the word "Scherer" a total of three times out of the over 400 references contained on 28 pages of references.

Figure 3 above even references the estimated potential future fatalities from the two anti-nuclear energy researchers hired by the German Green Party (the TORCH report) to counter the report done by the World Health Organization.
"2) Ensure sure (sic) you find a methodology that allows you to exclude the worst nuclear disaster in the history from your statistics (such as talking about OECD only)"
As I said earlier, why he chose the graphic from page 295 of the 4th study above, I can only suspect. Because that chapter of the study he chose was discussing OECD countries, it only showed graph (a) for OECD countries (see Figure 3). If he had picked the 3rd study “Comparing Nuclear Accident Risks with Those from Other Energy Sources,” he would have found the full graphic shown in Figure 3 which covers OECD (a) and non-OECD (b) countries.
"3) Use double standards in comparing technologies (theoretical modeling for nuclear versus historical record for other technologies)."
Except, there were no double standards. As I said above, the PSA data only exists in graph (a) of Figure 3 for the OECD countries because there is no "real world experience" to plot. It was generous of the researchers to put any nuclear data at all in plot (a) of Figure 3. Note that there is no PSA graph in graph (b) of Figure 3 for the non-OECD countries because there is a single "real world experience" for nuclear.
"While if plotted properly, you will find out that nuclear energy probably still presents the largest risk to lives of the known energy technologies."
The proper plotting existed all along (see Figure 3) For reasons I can only suspect, Beránek chose not to show it and clearly, nuclear presents one of the smallest risk to lives. There is no evidence presented above to suggest that nuclear is "the largest risk to lives of the known energy technologies." Even the antinuclear energy blogger Joe Romm said "There is no question, nothing is worse than fossil fuels for killing people."
"But there is also an important qualitative difference here."
Actually, there isn't.
"If we talk about accidents in the coal or oil industries, those risking their lives are mostly workers directly involved in the operation."
Not sure what he means by operations. It's mostly workers directly involved in mining, which is also true for nuclear. From New Scientist:
"More than half of all deaths stem from uranium mining."
And those few uranium mining deaths occurred in the early days before safety regulations to make nuclear weapons to close the cold war missile gap. Only ~ 40-50 people were directly killed by the only nuclear event that has resulted in fatalities (Chernobyl) in over a half century of operation ...on the entire planet.
"In that sense, it is certainly their choice by choosing the job and they also have the means to mitigate and control the risks they are taking."
Above, Beránek displays a stunning level of naiveté. Coal miners don't mine coal because they like working miles underground in dark, filthy, dangerous, back-breaking conditions. They would much rather sit in front of a computer and write fairy tales for Greenpeace if they could. But cushy jobs like that are rare as hen's teeth. They mine coal to feed themselves and their families.
"In the case of nuclear power, most of the risk is imposed on a population that has no information, no expertise, no training, and most importantly no choice as they are denied from having the power to decide if they want a nuclear reactor in their vicinity."
Reality check. There has been one nuclear power event involving fatalities in over a half century of global operation, with roughly 41 immediate fatalities in addition to the statistical potential to also cause ~ 9,000 fatal cancers over a several decade long period, which is, in total, a fraction of a single percent of the 1.25 million global annual car deaths. Roughly 1.75 million people die of cancer in Europe every year. The EPA has a list of over 400 known carcinogens.

There is a research reactor at my Alma mater. There was recently one in the engineering department of the university two miles from my house. That university also operates a natural gas power plant.


A natural gas explosion destroyed buildings a few miles from where I live just a few weeks ago: Seattle Gas Explosion Levels 2 Buildings and Injures 9 Firefighters. A few years ago a propane explosion blew the windows out of my neighbors houses one block away. I could see from my front porch the bus accident last year that killed five students from China.

Risk is everywhere and risk is relative. Statistically, it would be much safer if we lived next to a nuclear power plant out in the country somewhere but where we live is safe enough.
"Apart from the International Energy Agency, more graphs and figures have been appearing widely, such as this one:"
Figure 5 The above graphic shown in the Greenpeace blog was created by Seth Godin in a blog Titled "The triumph of coal marketing."

He used the old data from the original Next Big Future blog and I checked to see if his squares matched the data. The only thing he got wrong is the word "watts" in the title. He should have used "watt-hours." The Next Big Future link contains an update to the original data as well as the old data where the 160 deaths/TWh number was split into 100/TWh for electricity, heating, and cooking –world average, and 60/TWh for just electricity-world average.
"This is coming from yet another angle, which is not only looking at fatalities from accidents but also the health impacts of routine air pollution etc. That this approach gives even much more space for voluntary speculation, it can be illustrated by how much the figures differ if they come from different sources."
What is voluntary speculation? The New Scientist figure differs from Godin's figure for two perfectly rational reasons:
  • One is a bar chart using length to designate magnitude, the other uses area to designate magnitude.
  • One measures immediate deaths from events (except Chernobyl latent deaths were included) and one includes latent deaths.
"Take for example the above mentioned blog and source data for those impressive boxes: they attribute 161 fatalities per one TWh (billion kilowatt hours) of electricity to coal, 36 fatalities per 1 TWh to oil, 4 fatalities per TWh for natural gas, and 0.04 fatalities per TWh to nuclear. That would indicate that nuclear is at least by three magnitudes (1,000 times) safer than fossil fuels."
Why all of the words? Why he didn't simply show readers a graph of that data found on the Next Big Future blog post, of which several versions can be found all over the internet, I can only suspect. So I provide a version for you in Figure 6. My guess is that he didn't want to highlight the relative safety records of nuclear (immediate and latent fatalities), hydro (immediate fatalities), wind, and solar.
Figure 6 Sum of latent and immediate global deaths per unit energy from events and emissions using data from original Next Big Future blog (latent deaths from Chinese dam failure not included).
Figure 7 Lives Saved by Nuclear Energy

And if we were to account for the estimated 1.84 million lives saved by nuclear displacing coal over the last half century ...enough said.
"Contrary to that [see Figure 8], New Scientist comes up with figures that still suggest fossil fuels are bigger killers, but the contrast with nuclear is by far less impressive."
Suggest? I guess he's just not easy to impress. From New Scientist:

Figure 8 New Scientist Graphic

"The nuclear figures seem to be in line with what the International Energy Agency reported in 2002, that is, routine nuclear power related fatalities to be in the range of 0.03 and 0.16 fatalities per TWh [comparing the New Scientist numbers when converted from deaths/ten billion KWh to deaths/TWh =0.02 and 0.12 fatalities per TWh] only due to health impacts related to uranium mining – even if we simply forget about reactor accidents including Chernobyl."
One problem. The New Scientist chart makes if very clear that their numbers include the Chernobyl reactor accident.
"So the more proper illustration comparing health and death impacts of energy sources – that is if we skip accidents such as the only accident involving fatalities which was Chernobyl and only talk about standard operation [don't include the millions of deaths caused by coal emissions]..."
Same problem. The New Scientist article did not skip Chernobyl, and neither did the Next Big Future article, ergo, neither did Beránek's own graphic below in Figure 9.
"– would rather look like this (grey and black squares representing the range):"
Greenpeace then converts the New Scientist bar chart into squares with area representing magnitude, adds wind and excludes hydro. I created a graphic to demonstrate how it was done. See Figure 5.

Figure 9 Greenpeace converts New Scientist bar chart into squares with area representing magnitude, adds wind, and excludes hydro.

Below, I overlay the above Greenpeace graphic (black and grey squares in Figure 9) on two other graphics from other sources:
Figure 10 Overlay of Greenpeace version of New Scientist graph on top of Next Big Future and Kharecha/Hansen data.

Independent studies will always result in different values. But you know you have good science when the multiple studies all arrive at the same inescapable conclusion, which is that nuclear is by far and away one of the safest energy sources we have.

"And yes, there is no doubt that for various reasons – including the related fatalities but much beyond – we need to get rid of dirty and risky [weasel words] energy sources, be it coal, oil, nuclear, or even gas."
Then we need to also get rid of wind, and hydro, which, according to Beránek's own graphic and New Scientist, are both riskier than nuclear. He describes nuclear as dirty more than once. I guess he needs to define dirty for us because it has no emissions and less volume of waste per unit energy produced than any other source, including wind and solar if you account for the huge amount of material per unit of energy produced used to construct them.
"The future is with renewable energy technologies which have economic, safety, security of supply, as well as sustainability advantages over fossil and nuclear energy."
None of the advantages he lists are real.
"The fatalities ratio is no differently in clear favour of renewables".
Above, I think he is trying to say that the fatalities ratio clearly favors renewables over nuclear, which clearly, it doesn't.
"The wind power fatalities per unit of energy was reported to be twice as that of nuclear in Germany in 2000 (IEA 2002). In this chart above, we use the figure of 0.15 per TWh copied from the Next Big Future blog. It is probably safe to assume that in past decade, due to significant upscaling of energy output per one wind turbine, as well as maturing of the technology, the fatality ratio has substantially further decreased."
Unfortunately for his anti-nuclear argument, the fatality ratio from new nuclear power plants has substantially further decreased as well.

Greenpeace doesn't get everything wrong of course. They are also against the use of trees to fuel powerplants. It is time to stop harvesting whales. But when it comes to nuclear energy, they really can't be trusted, as the above peer review attests.

Greenpeace is first, and foremost, an anti-nuclear energy organization. It's what they do. It is not an engineering research team. Google once assembled such a team which concluded that renewables alone will barely scratch the surface. Assuming humanity is capable of reining in climate change, you sure don't want Greenpeace telling us how to do it. In fact, when you look at the huge backward steps taken by Japan and Germany with regards to emissions reductions, Greenpeace has become one of the stumbling blocks to fighting climate change. They are quite simply more concerned about the minuscule risks posed by nuclear energy than they are about climate change.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Update on the Progress of the Electrification of Transportation

Graph from Study in Nature Energy Modified by Me to Add Timeline

 Cross posted from Energy Trends Insider

I found this study on Nature Energy, which I subscribe to: Moving beyond alternative fuel hype to decarbonize transportation.

Although I disagree with the study's main conclusion, the above chart they put together (which I have modified) was of interest to me because it suggests that things are finally starting to happen when it comes to electrification of transportation.

The study authors combed through the New York Times archives for stories on energy topics. They summed up negative and positive articles to calculate the number of net positive articles about a given technology which they define as hype.

Had they mined the entire internet instead of just the Times, I suspect the hype about biofuels would have been off the chart, literally. Stories about students piling into biodiesel powered buses to spread the gospel had become a worn out cliché.

They lumped corn ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, and biodiesel into one category. It would be interesting to see which was generating the most hype.

The conclusion drawn by the researchers is that excessive positive mentions in the lay press (their definition of hype) creates unrealistic expectations that, when not met, lead to disappointment and the tarnishing of the reputation of a given technology (think hydrogen and cellulosic ethanol) which in turn, kills future government funding for it. Never mind for the moment that the government is still funding both of them. The authors are still hopeful that hydrogen and biofuels will one day displace oil.

I would disagree. Some technologies will fail the economic and/or environmental viability test, hype or no hype.

Interestingly enough, I recall few positive articles about corn ethanol, yet it is still going strong and still being made the way moonshine has always been made for centuries. So maybe the key to success is to convince politicians to mandate the consumption of your product regardless of its economic viability.

I recall when natural gas made its run. You could spot the occasional pickup truck that had been converted by the tanks of natural gas in the back. It still makes good economic sense for large centralized fleets like garbage trucks and taxi cabs and has carved out a small niche. Seattle’s garbage and recycling fleets run on it. The taxi fleet in Buenos Aires runs on it, etc, etc.

The EV1 was an example of government trying to force a technology into existence before its time. The documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car” insisted that the existing battery technology (Ni-MH) was perfectly adequate. Indeed, according to the film, oil companies had conspired to buy the patents for the large format version of these batteries (about the size of a brick) which prevented them from being available for electric cars.

Considering that you could buy power tools with Ni-MH batteries in them, and in 2000, a Prius, I found their theory to be somewhat implausible. It’s true that they were small battery cells, but no smaller than the lithium-ion battery cells used in the Tesla to this day. Tesla didn’t use Ni-MH batteries for the same reasons no other electric car manufacturer uses them. Electric car economic viability became a potential reality the day the lithium-ion battery was invented. The documentary was a day late and a dollar short considering that the lithium battery powered Tesla Roadster arrived just a few years later.

If you think Musk, a billionaire, had his hands full building an electric car in 2008 using the best off-the-shelf lithium ion battery available at the time, topped off with a body built by Lotus, imagine the innocence of Amory Lovins in 1999 thinking he could design and build a mass marketable, super light-weight, carbon fiber, SUV that ran on fuel cells powered with hydrogen.

Note also in that chart that the Prius was solely responsible for kicking off hybrid technology (which still only accounts for about 3% of car sales).

2005 was an interesting year for two reasons. George Monbiot finally pointed out that the emperor had no clothes on (biofuels) and Joe Romm, who was so fed up with the hydrogen hype that he wrote a book about it. Romm gets it right once in a while. Hydrogen has to be created. It isn’t laying around like Uranium or fossil fuels. You can make it via electrolysis, which is an expensive use of valuable electricity, or you can make it from natural gas, which is a huge source of CO2. Hydrogen is not an energy source. It is essentially a money and energy intensive storage medium, analogous to the potential energy stored in the water of a pumped hydro reservoir.

My Custom Designed Electric Bicycle using A123 Batteries
Custom Designed Electric Bicycle using A123 Batteries
Tesla Bursts Into Flame After Hitting Road Debris
Tesla Bursts Into Flame After Hitting Road Debris

In 2007 the A123 lithium battery was used in the high-end Dewalt power tools. I bought a set and designed the Ultimate Seattle Hybrid Bicycle around them (which has undergone many design improvements since). They were much more thermally stable than the ones being used in laptops at the time and also in Tesla's cars. I’m still using those batteries. I considered investing in A123 but thought better of it. They eventually went bankrupt.

2007 was also the year Jay Inslee published his book "Apollo's Fire" where he predicted that cellulosic ethanol would be widely available by 2011.

Panasonic Battery Pack with Tesla Logo
Panasonic Battery Pack with Tesla Logo

In 2008 the Tesla Roadster was introduced using Panasonic batteries. That was also the year a series of papers in the journal Science cabashed the idea that biofuels are carbon neutral. The carbon from a burned tree will stay in the atmosphere until that tree can be regrown, which depending on the tree could take decades to a century. GreenPeace and FOE are to this day fighting to end the burning of trees to make electricity in Europe. Once in a while, they also get things right.

In 2009 I wrote an article about Panasonic’s new lithium battery which they were marketing as a home storage device, exactly like Musk did six years later with the same (or similar) batteries in his Battery Walls.

The Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf both arrived in the 2010-2011 time frame. I bought my Leaf in 2011. The $70K Tesla Model S arrived a few years later followed by the Model X, joining the $80K Roadster as testament to the maxim that if money is no object, you can do just about anything.

What does the future hold? The approximately 200 mile range, ~$35K Chevy Bolt arriving at the end of this year is bad news for the Leaf if Nissan can’t match the Bolt's range and price. The approximately 200 mile range, ~$35K Tesla Model 3, is expected to arrive shortly after the Chevy Bolt. However, according to Musk, this price is dependent on the performance of his new battery Gigafactory, so, time will tell.


Chevy Bolt Battery Pack
Chevy Bolt Battery Pack

When it comes to electric cars, it's all about the battery. The Bolt is using the LG Chem battery, which has stirred a lot of interest, including Tesla's. Apparently, the LG Chem battery isn't a breakthrough in low cost technology. It's a special deal for Chevy. Other LG Chem customers are paying a lot more for theirs.

For those wanting a hatchback and the assurance of maintenance by any nearby Chevy dealer, the Bolt may be the car of choice. For those wanting that James Bond look who live near an urban center with a Tesla Dealership, the Model 3 may fit the bill.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Ecosystem Restoration Takes Precedence Over Renewable Energy Projects

 Cross posted from Energy Trends Insider.

The front page of last Sunday's edition of the Seattle Times had an article titled Elwha: Roaring Back to Life. It's an update on the many positive impacts to the river ecosystem after removal of the Glines Canyon and Elwha hydroelectric dams. Google the term "Seattle Times Elwha" to get the whole history. It's rare to find such positive news in this age of the sixth extinction event ...just wanted to share. 

Remains of Elwa Dam (photo courtesy Nina Finley)
Emptied Lake Bed Behind the Elwha Dam (photo courtesy Nina Finley)
Salmon Carcasses are an Important Part of the Food Chain for Eagles and Other Wildlife (photo courtesy Nina Finley)
A Pair of Bald Eagles Along the Elwha River (photo courtesy Nina Finley)
 Rather than rehash what has already been said in the Times article, I'll use this opportunity to discuss the "renewable energy trumps local ecosystem protection" argument used to defend environmentally destructive energy projects: expansion of agriculture for biofuels, new hydroelectric dams, solar projects like Ivanpah that not only usurped desert tortoise habitat but also incinerates birds, and wind farms placed in sensitive bird or bat habitat.

The following comment found under a Sierra Club article about some of the 72 dam removals that occurred in 2014:

I was under the impression that hydroelectricity was a renewable green energy source. With so many dams being taken down where does the new power come from? Coal? Nuclear? Just sayn!

Huh, wonder who gave him that impression? One obvious answer would be to replace existing coal baseload power plants which already have power lines and attendant infrastructure, with nuclear baseload power plants, using wind and rooftop solar to minimize the amount of natural gas needed to stitch all three low carbon sources of energy together …just saying. Nuclear may not be renewable, but then, neither are dams, which will all eventually silt up and become useless. The definition of a renewable green energy source is apparently whatever you want it to be.

So, does the "renewable energy trumps local ecosystem protection" argument pass the logic test? Although it’s promoted under the auspice that climate change is the overarching concern facing humanity, requiring every form of low carbon energy at our disposal regardless of its immediate negative environmental impact, those promoting it are ironically, hypocritically, and almost universally, rabidly, anti-nuclear energy. So, no, it doesn't pass the logic test. It's irrational.

Decommissioned Enloe Hydro electric Power Plant

 Above is a video I took a few summers ago of the abandoned Enloe hydro electric power plant. The turbine house and wooden penstock are still in place. Salmon that had reached the end of the road were collecting in a pool below the dam and were being illegally jigged by a handful of shady looking characters.

A river is analogous to an artery. When you block it, or severely restrict it (with fish ladders in the case of a river), you have eliminated hundreds, if not thousands of smaller streams (capillaries), many too small to name, that salmon would have spawned in. A dam like this one disrupts the entire ecosystem food chain deep into the adjacent forests and grasslands.

Although the anti-nuclear energy crowd will use the closure of any given nuclear power plant as evidence that nuclear power is economically noncompetitive, they seem unaware that the country is dotted with hydroelectric plants that were decommissioned when they became uneconomical to operate.

Damaged Wanapum Dam
Sign Restricting Access to the River while the Water Levels Were Lowered

I took the above photos of the Wanapum dam which developed a crack last year that forced the utility to lower the water level behind it until a repair could be made. From the Capital Press:

A 65-foot-long crack, 2 inches wide at its widest point, was discovered at the base of the dam Feb. 27, 2014. The PUD lowered reservoir levels 26 to 30 feet while investigating and repairing the dam. The PUD determined the concrete dam’s inability to withstand five decades of water pressure due to a design miscalculation, causing the crack.

The 1,092-megawatt hydroelectric dam was opened in 1963 and cost $93.3 million to build.

The next reservoir upriver, behind the Rock Island Dam, also had to be lowered and orchardists had to extend irrigation intakes along both reservoirs to obtain water.

Wanapum Dam was stabilized by drilling 37 shafts 16 inches in diameter from the top of the dam down more than 185 feet into bedrock below. Tendons 200 to 250 feet long and 12 inches in diameter were fed into the shafts, grouted into bedrock at the bottom and stretched taunt with 2.5 million pounds of pressure, Allen said. Each tendon is made up of 61 steel cables. The tendons are inside watertight sheaths, allowing them to expand and contract, and are capped at the top.

Tendon installation was finished in early March and remaining work will be finished in June, Allen said. Recreation sites along the reservoir, closed for a year, will reopen this spring, he said.

At the peak, 120 people worked on the project, Allen said. Kuney-Goebel, of Spokane, was the contractor. Repairs, associated costs and partial loss of power generation were initially estimated at $61 million but now are estimated at $69 million, Allen said.

Two-thirds of the cost is borne by a new bond issue, he said. A previously scheduled rate increase averaging 2 percent across all rate classes went into effect Jan. 1 for the PUD’s 45,000-plus customers.

Note that there was no group demanding that it be permanently shuttered in the name of safety as is typically the case when a nuclear power plant goes off line for repairs.


 Native American Petroglyph

This particular dam also displaced native Americans and their ancient salmon fishing weirs. The native American rock art pictured above was found at a visitor's center not far from this dam, which is also where I shot the video below of a herd (flock?) of big horn sheep.

Big Horn Sheep

 Note: Click on any image to initiate a high-resolution slide show.