why nuclear power doesn't help right now

a few days ago, in this space, i started a thread on nuclear power that was picked up by the folks at the nei blog. Eric McErlain posted an entry that linked to me and posted a comment as well. so, a conversation is begining. thus i begin some posts aimed at parsing out some details and evoking some responses from the eric and others. let's see how it goes...

too bored to read it all?

for those quick-surfers out there, here's the gist:

  • 70% of the u.s. oil consumption goes to transportation
  • 90% of the u.s. coal consumption goes to electricity
  • we've got @ 50 years of oil to work with
  • we've got @ 200 years of coal to work with
  • nuclear is not going to help solve our immediate problem

two broad issues

to my mind, there are two key issues in play when discussing the future of power production and consumption:

  • energy
  • climate

while tightly linked, these two are (in my experience) too often co-mingled so as to cloud the details. i'd like to avoid that and take each in turn. let's start with energy.

for the environmentalists reading this, you'll notice i will *completely ignore* the climate implications of energy production for now. keep your powder dry, we'll get to that soon enough. fwiw, for the economists here (really? ya think?), i'm not only ignoring the economic details of all this, i suspect i don't understand them at all[grin]. i'm hoping someone will jump in at the appropriate time and enlighten me.

energy issues

first, by now, most all know that the u.s. consumes the lion's share of the world's energy supply (25% in a recent report). no need to get into arguments about whether our consumption is justified by the quality and quantity of our output, etc. related to this, is the fact that a great deal of our consumptions is oil-based - about 21 million bpd (barrels per day) and rising. i'll point out that today, 70% of the oil we consume is for transportation. this was not always the case. during the last oil shortage (1970s), businesses accounted about 50% of the nation's oil consumption (someone help me with a citation here?). after that painful lesson, most companies moved away from oil for power and back to coal. in europe, the march toward nuclear continued. i suspect this is because they had little coal to work with (again, citaions? counter-arguments?).

today, the u.s. consumes a bit under 100 million 'short tons' of coal each year - none of it imported (right?) and 90% of the coal we consume is for creating electricity. this represents about 50% of our total electricity generation - the rest from natural gas, water, nuclear, etc. (any one help me with the figures on these?).

i outline these percentages (90% of coal for electricity and 70% of crude oil for transportation) to show just where things are headed. keep these figures in mind as i move to the next point - finite resources.


thanks to the work of shell oil employee m. king hubbert in the 1950s most folks agree that there is a knowable curve (hubbert's peak) to the discovery, extraction, and depletion of any non-renewable resource. most figures i've seen indicate we have (with a margin of 50% either way) the following remaining years of fossil-based non-renewables:

  • 50 years of oil
  • 100 years of natural gas
  • 200 years of coal

i realize these numbers vary widely depending on the source. i don't think the exact figures are at issue, just the details. i've seen a few try to make a case that these figures are rubbish and that we can expect to find enough crude to last well over one hundred years. usually, the folks carrying this line are policy or paid representatives of industry groups, not well-respected geologists.

so, taking the time estimates and the percentages of use from above tells me we've got about two generations to figure out new transportation methods and about ten generations to figure out new electricity generation methods. i understand that economics and other factors can change this arm-chair prediction, but the general point should sink in. there's a limit and before we reach that limit, we'd better have a solution.

ok - notice that, so far, the word nuclear has not appeared. here we go.

the nuclear option

if nuclear is to be a big contributor, it's not going to be on the transportation end - not any time soon anyway. nuclear *can* help with the electricity side of the problem, though. but that's the problem that is about ten generations out - not the one that is two generations out. if we were all driving electric cars, then it would be a different story. but for now, focusing on nuclear seems to miss the point. we have to solve our oil problem asap.

also, i was not able to put my fingers on data covering the amount of uraninum we currently use for energy production or the amount of uranium deposits in the u.s. and around the world. this is important information. since uranium is a non-renewable resouce, knowing the projected rate of consumption over the available supply is critical to evaulating the proper importance of nuclear energy.


our current (20 year horizon) 'pain-point' is crude oil for transportation. firing up nuclear plants won't help us. our long term (100+ year horizon) problem is coal for electricity. nuclear *can* make a difference here, but i'm missing details on the supply, rate of consumption, and hubbert's peak deatils for uranium.

so now what?

ok, i've tossed this out there. what are the details of nuclear's role in solving our problems? i'm looking for facts and figures, time-projections, expected outcomes, etc. in the meantime, i'm open to hearing from others who can blow holes in my narrative to this point. i'd like to tighten it up, get my facts straight, and clear out wobbly arguments.

the next primary point to review would be environmental details.

writely invites for everyone!

Writely Discussion Group: Getting Started
We have lifted the limit on invitations. You can now invite as many people as you would like to use Writely.

writely just lifted the limit on invitations [yay!]. just in time as i was down to my last few invites to share with others. i've also noticed that almost every day, writely updates their code-base on the servers. i just love the 'freshness' of internet-hosted apps!

still don't have a writely account? post a comment to my original post and i'll get you started. wanna check it out yourself? visit the writely homepage.

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self-repair for brain and other cells found

Triggering stem-cell growth could help brain recover after a stroke.
Ronald McKay and his colleagues at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland, have now shown that one protein, called Notch, can boost the survival of three different types of stem cell1. Notch sits on cell surfaces and is vital for the correct growth of embryos.
interesting advanced research into tirggering cell growth in areas once thought impossible. this has special implications for stem cell research, too.

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senate heading toward net un-neutrality

Senate deals blow to Net neutrality | CNET News.com
By an 11-11 tie, the Senate Commerce Committee failed to approve a Democrat-backed amendment that would have ensured all Internet traffic is treated the same no matter what its "source" or "destination" might be. A majority was needed for the amendment to succeed.

this is the start of the downhill slide toward internet access based on your ability to pay. corporate interests are trumping community rights.

not sure what this is all about? check out my posts here and here.

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i am not 'on board' with nuclear power

NEI Nuclear Notes: More Advice for Al Gore From Robert Scoble
UPDATE: Scoble friend Mike Amundsen is on board too.

the nei blog points out that a recent post of mine admitted that we might need to use nuclear power to bridge an expected gap between fossil-based, and renewable energy sources. however, my position does not constitute 'on-board-ness'[g].

i do not trust the current nuclear power community to build safe, reliable facilities that can properly store and dispose of the highly radio-active waste created by these facilities. also, i am not at all confident that the mining operations needed to produce the uranium needed for power-plants will be environmentally sound. finally, it is my understanding that nuclear power is (behind solar), the most expensive form of energy today. i need to learn more about who will be subsidizing this form of power and how that will work over time.

i stand ready to learn more on how safe nuclear plants can be sited and built and encourage nei and others to show me the details.

until then, count me 'off-board.'

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spain considers granting rights to apes

Demanding rights for great apes
Spain's parliament is to declare support for rights to life and freedom for great apes on Wednesday, apparently the first time any national legislature will have recognized such rights for non-humans.

first it's emotionally-aware computers, now it's basic rights for non-humans. the religious fundamentalists (of all types) must be ready to explode.

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electric car from silicon valley

Silicon Valley to market electric cars
Silicon Valley thinks it can do what Detroit could not — create a thriving business selling electric cars.

another california company built a car in the 80s called ev1. general motors bought the rights to ev1 and, within ten years had completely removed the car from the market.

a new movie on the subject (who killed the electric car?) is due in u.s. theaters in the summer of 2006.

the internal combustion engine is over 100 years old. i find it incredible that, with all our technological advances, it is still in use today. you don't see a lot of steam-powered vehicles (stanely steamer) any more, eh?

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has the anti-evolution crowd made a tatical mistake?

The Other Intelligent Design Theories
One has to appreciate not only irony, but an implied tribute to the scientific enlightenment, when we realize that openness to criticism, fair play, and respect for the contingent nature of truth are now the main justifications set forward by those who still do not fully accept science.

in an article in a recent editon of skeptic magazine, noted author david brin exposes a flaw in the most recent encarnation of the anti-evolution arguments. I like this quote near the end of the piece:

I doubt that the promoters of Intelligent Design really want to see a day come when every biology teacher says: “Okay, you’ve heard from Darwin. Now we’ll spend a week on each of the following: intelligent design, guided evolution, intelligent design of intelligent designers, evolution of intelligent designers, the Hindu cycle of karma, the Mayan yuga cycle, panspermia, the Universe as a simulation…” and so on.

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ars technica picks up on the telco grab for internet power (aka. net neutrality- *not*)

Jon Hannibal Stokes
Don't let the telcos break the Internet.

last week i posted an entry on this blog that pointed out the importance of the 'brand x' case and how telcos want to escape 'must-carry' rules to start restricting internet access to those who don't want to pay for extras.

i see that the folks at ars technica are also onto the telcos game. but is it all too late?

track the net neutrality bills in the u.s. congress here:

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emotionally-aware computers: part 2 - the videos

Emotionally Intelligent Interfaces - Demos
The following examples demonstrate how our system analyzes a video stream containing head and facial displays of a person to infer that person's mental state.

the link above points to several fascinating video demonstrations of an'emotionally-aware' interface for computers. cambridge students have already begun creating demonstration versions of 'real-world' applications that use this technology.

are we ready for computers that know what we are thinking/feeling?

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al gore avoiding an inconvenient truth?

Dear Al Gore: here’s some inconvenient truths
Hey, Al, even you aren’t willing to propose one of the best answers: nuclear power.

my friend and well-known blogger, robert scoble, points out one topic missing from al gore's new hit movie 'an inconvenient truth' - nuclear power. this jibes with 'Hubbert's Peak' author Kenneth S. Deffeyes. in hist latest book (Beyond Oil), the princeton professor emeritus points out that we've waited too long to be able to solve the world's energy needs without resorting to nuclear power generation - at least until we ramp up our technology to be able to generate, store, and transfer renewable sources on the scale human populations require.

not sure what 'peak oil' really means? check out this graph that shows world oil production is on the decline and start reading about peak oil at wikipedia.

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shoving carbon dioxide underground

Japan has ambitious plan to fight warming - Yahoo! News
The proposal aims to bury 200 million tons of carbon dioxide a year by 2020, cutting the country's emissions by one-sixth, said Masahiro Nishio, an official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

and what do you think will happen when all that co2 suddenly escapes the underground vault?

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writely invitations almost 1/2 gone

just a quick reminder that, since i posted my announcement to share my writely.com invitations (I have writley invitations for you), i have distributed almost one half of my 50 allotted invites.  if you still need a writely account, be sure to post a comment to the original thread and i'll continue to pass out invitations until they are all gone.

if you're not clear on what writley.com is about, check out their home page.

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school grades pushes teen to arson

Teen burns down house over test grades
A Japanese boy burned down his home, killing his stepmother and two younger siblings, for fear his parents would find out he had lied about his score on an English test.

maybe this teen should have been using drugs to raise his test scores?

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better learning through pharmaceuticals

A Dose Of Genius
Memory drugs will soon make it to market if human clinical trials continue successfully. There are lots of the first-generation drugs around. Total sales have increased by more than 300 percent in only four years, topping $3.6 billion last year, according to IMS Health, a pharmaceutical information company.

high school and college students are already abusing prescription drugs to improve their grade-points. now drug companies are poised to make this a profitable market. and who do you think will be able to afford these 'memory-enhancement' drugs? not low- and middle-income families.

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cambridge scientists develop 'emotionally-aware' computers

Coming soon -- mind-reading computers
An 'emotionally aware' computer being developed by British and American scientists will be able to read an individual's thoughts by analyzing a combination of facial movements that represent underlying feelings

do we really want this?

UPDATE (2006-06-27):watch the videos

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net neutrality is *not* about who pays for the internet hardware

Telecoms giants threaten freedom and equality on net while most folks fume about equal access, they are unprepared for a key argument of the anti-neutrality crowd. i found this line of reasoning quoted in the above article: "...behind the speeches and slogans urging politicians to maintain freedom and equality on the web, there is an argument about who should pay for the urgent need to upgrade the internet..." so the argument would be that, if we want the telcos to upgrade the system, then we have to allow them to change the rules about who gets charged and who gest access? - rubbish! but buried in all the hype is another anti-consumer decision made last year the the u.s. supreme court. known as the "brand x" decision, it ruled that while current law forces telephone companies to offer equal access to all, internet providers over *cable lines* did not have to do the same. so this upcoming bill is more about giving the telcos the same 'right of refusal' as the cable companies. instead of fixing the existing law to make cable companies offer equal access, the current congress is poised to offer the same 'anti-neutrality' rights to telcos - dumb! danny ayers has an interesting take on all this in his piece "Does the Internet really need the US?" Technorati Tags: , ,