Climate Change skeptics? [ot]

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Chiloe

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Feb 12, 2015 - 09:54am PT
Yes, I understand that salt structures have advantages for some nuclear waste disposal in terms of heating problems. Looking at geologic appraisals (always complicated) it's hard for me to get a sense of the tradeoffs, and DMT is right the decision will have to be political. Given the strength of NIMBY efforts that could mobilize anywhere it seems the political decision is most likely to be to do nothing.

Regarding small modular reactors, there's been much hype including endorsements by some environmentalists and climate scientists (James Hansen for one). However, the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote a skeptical report a few years back that's worth looking at too. Excerpt:

Are Small Modular Reactors Safer?

One of the chief selling points for SMRs is that they are supposed to be safer than current reactor designs. However, their safety advantages are not as straightforward as some proponents suggest.

* SMRs use passive cooling systems that do not depend on the availability of electric power. This would be a genuine advantage under many accident scenarios, but not all. Passive systems are not infallible, and credible designs should include reliable active backup cooling systems. But this would add to cost.

* SMRs feature smaller, less robust containment systems than current reactors. This can have negative safety consequences, including a greater probability of damage from hydrogen explosions. SMR designs include measures to prevent hydrogen from reaching explosive concentrations, but they are not as reliable as a more robust containment—which, again, would add to cost.

* Some proponents have suggested siting SMRs underground as a safety measure. However, underground siting is a double-edged sword—it reduces risk in some situations (such as earthquake) and increases it in others (such as flooding). It can also make emergency intervention more difficult. And it too increases cost.

* Proponents also point out that smaller reactors are inherently less dangerous than larger ones. While this is true, it is misleading, because small reactors generate less power than large ones, and therefore more of them are required to meet the same energy needs. Multiple SMRs may actually present a higher risk than a single large reactor, especially if plant owners try to cut costs by reducing support staff or safety equipment per reactor.
Roger Brown

climber
Oceano, California
Feb 12, 2015 - 09:56am PT
A couple points on the Nuke stuff since I work in the industry and I see things first hand.
Storing spent fuel on site. "Dry Cast Storage" = Above ground concrete tombs, earthquake proof, way above sea level. From a distance it looks like a small concrete building, but with no way in or out.

Burial in salt mines is OK, if you can get permission to cross state lines with the stuff. You know that will never happen. I like the Dry Cast Storage myself. It is right there, safe, and you can see it. It is not even in the protected area, you know, it's outside the fence. I am going over to Google Earth and see if I can see it
EDIT: Google Earth pictures show the Dry Casts but I can't tell which concrete building is the one the full ones were encased in.
Chiloe

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Feb 12, 2015 - 09:58am PT
Roger, what's the half life of the materials stored, in relation to the lifespan of the storage structures?
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
Maestro, Ecosystem Ministry, Fatcrackistan
Feb 12, 2015 - 10:34am PT
Burial in salt mines is OK, if you can get permission to cross state lines with the stuff. You know that will never happen.

When the oil runs out state lines will prove inconsequential.

DMT
McHale's Navy

Trad climber
From Panorama City, CA
Feb 12, 2015 - 11:04am PT
It seems like we are all in agreement that more CO2 in the atmosphere is not good. Whether things warm or get cooler from natural cycles, we will still be pumping more and more CO2 into the oceans. Geo-engineering will not solve that problem. Hopefully we are on a route of real change.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
Maestro, Ecosystem Ministry, Fatcrackistan
Feb 12, 2015 - 11:07am PT
Yes McHale, there is growing common ground, even in this thread :)

I am so glad the incessant insults have died down.

Good riddance.

DMT
Roger Brown

climber
Oceano, California
Feb 12, 2015 - 11:15am PT
Chiloe,
Good question, I understand half/life because everyone who works in the industry has to, but I don't have an answer for you. I will ask, but ED probably knows the answer right off the top of his head.

The Chief,
Also a question I have no answer for. I do know that ship/boat systems are a world apart from civil systems. Way smaller and different fuel.
As far as what they do with military spent fuel, you probably know more about that than most of us here on this forum. I doubt that they ask permission for movement of anything nuclear from the states they have to cross. My guess is they recycle like the French. Don't even ask why we don't, that's good for a whole new thread:-)

EDIT: Google says military fuel is recycled and the waste from recycling is stored in New York-Washington-South Carolina and Idaho.
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Feb 12, 2015 - 12:06pm PT
Every option I've seen is imperfect (or imperfectly safe, or both). When we discuss options, we can't have meaningful comparisons without dealing with the imperfections of other options.

I support cap and trade as the most efficient way to reduce any effluent emissions, because it leaves the implementation to those who know best how to accomplish it, and makes people put their money where their mouths are. Of course, at least two problems with cap and trade remain:

1. Who decides how much to reduce what? and

2. How do you deal with the tax proceeds?

I also happen to support some of almost every other energy option, including hydroelectric, solar and nuclear. I oppose, however, the heavy subsidies the government gives to its preferred method du jour. The government lacks the ability to determine the optimal method. As long as each method pays its marginal cost, market forces will allocate the generation more efficiently than the government's diktat.

Incidentally, I disagree that most dams in and around the San Joaquin Valley, at least, were built for hydroelectric generation. While that's certainly true of the dams upstream from Millerton Lake on the San Joaquin River, most of the dams were for flood control and irrigation.

John
Chiloe

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Feb 12, 2015 - 12:49pm PT
John, I'm mostly in agreement (though I have no expertise about cap & trade vs. a revenue-neutral carbon tax). However I'd say more about the wicked problem of externalities, a sort of "natural subsidy" for our current destructive ways -- basically treating the ocean, land and air as free and unlimited sinks. Somehow those diffuse and longterm costs have to get brought into the economic system for anything to change, but it seems very hard to do that.

Although the focus in this thread is on the atmosphere as our infinite sink, in practice I suspect it may be ocean ecosystems, where it all washes down, that could bite us back first and irreversibly worst.

As for waiting until there's a disaster to take action, that might be how we roll but on this scale it looks like a fatal flaw. As Jay Forrester pointed out generations ago, growth + limits + adaptive delay = overshoot and collapse.
k-man

Gym climber
SCruz
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 12, 2015 - 12:59pm PT
Speaking of free externalities, are you in need of a special day that is guaranteed to be rain free?

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Gary

Social climber
Desolation Basin, Calif.
Feb 12, 2015 - 01:06pm PT
2. How do you deal with the tax proceeds?

In California a very significant portion of that will go to replace the dwindling gas tax revenue. At least that's the present plan.
Bob Harrington

climber
Bishop, California
Feb 12, 2015 - 02:00pm PT
What is the source of nuclear waste that goes to the WIPP in New Mexico? Is it military or strictly DOE?
wilbeer

Mountain climber
Terence Wilson greeneck alleghenys,ny,
Feb 12, 2015 - 02:25pm PT
JE,I believe the western European model would work fine,where as ,the model of car or truck and how much emissions they discharge would dictate the rate of tax,as collected by motor vehicle departments.

Insurance rates will also deter gas guzzlers.

I am not saying you cannot own one ,but ,if you do you would have to pay more of the above rates.

All encouraging cleaner vehicles.

As far as PP's ,the same system could work,with the EPA administering a tax per rate of emissions.Some regulatory authority would be needed,only using the EPA as an example.

Again encouraging cleaner PP's.

I do not like the USG running these proposals,but, someone would have to.






In NY ,near me ,along Seneca Lake is the retired Sampson AFB.
The old cold war missile silos [underground,and many] are now used for spent Nuclear .

That has been controversial since it's inception.

Chiloe

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Feb 12, 2015 - 02:44pm PT
Fukushima did nothing to quiet my low-level concern about the 1.2 mW plant not too far from where I live, sitting 21 feet above sea level with spent fuel rods accumulating on the site.
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Feb 12, 2015 - 02:44pm PT
However I'd say more about the wicked problem of externalities, a sort of "natural subsidy" for our current destructive ways -- basically treating the ocean, land and air as free and unlimited sinks. Somehow those diffuse and longterm costs have to get brought into the economic system for anything to change, but it seems very hard to do that.

It isn't easy, Larry, but it's possible. The German experience with the Ruhr shows that. They set a tax for effluent discharge at a rate that kept the fish alive, and an almost dead river returned to vitality. And they did all this in the 1960's when environmental concerns were much less popular, and environmental law and economics much less developed.

John
Chiloe

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Feb 12, 2015 - 04:14pm PT
You've thought this through a lot farther than I have. Any insights on communicating with those who reject all taxation or government-intervention policies on ideological grounds?

That seems to be the big solution-aversion stumbling block. If the externalities problems like pollution cannot be addressed by market forces alone (without some intervention), and yet intervention is off the table, then we're led backwards to the certainty seen here that pollution really can't be a problem.
TGT

Social climber
So Cal
Feb 12, 2015 - 05:20pm PT
Isn't it supposed to be summer at that end of the world?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/australiaandthepacific/australia/11407894/Ice-breaker-rushes-to-free-stranded-fishing-vessel-stuck-in-thick-Antarctic-ice.html
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Feb 12, 2015 - 08:38pm PT
Isn't it supposed to be summer at that end of the world?
what would lead you to that? reading The Telegraph and taking it seriously?!



WIPP is the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
http://www.wipp.energy.gov/index.htm
in Carlsbad, New Mexico.

The word "waste" is of course an interesting one that generally has to do with a cultural view of the stuff rather than some "hard and fast" definition. We recycle a lot of material once thought of and treated as "waste," we just didn't have the economic incentive to recycle and reuse.

Paper is made from wood pulp, and at a time when there was a lot of available wood pulp, and processing it into paper was relatively inexpensive, it was cheaper to throw the used paper into the city dump.

The production of paper in pulp mills pollutes the air, water and land. Municipal land fills are about 1/3 paper by weight. Paper recycling produces ink sludge which can be problematic to dispose of.

Paper production uses about 1/3 of the harvested trees, if harvested from plantations these trees contribute to monoculture plantings which have deleterious ecological impact.

While the first effect of local regulations of the paper making process is to drive the manufacturing to other less regulated venues, eventually the effect of regulation increases the cost of paper making and results in the increasing value of waste paper as a source to be recycled in the paper making process.

The "waste" paper is then not waste, but "raw" material of some value in the process.

Perhaps an over simplified example, but it gets the idea across...



The meaning of "waste" is something that I heard in a talk by Ernie Moniz at MIT a few years ago where he introduced an interesting idea regarding nuclear "waste."

It turns out that reactor fuel is processed from Uranium ores so that the isotopic fraction of U235 is 3 to 5%, natural abundance of U235 in ores is 0.71%...

The fuels are burned in reactors and the "spent" fuel has about 0.83% U235 at the end of the fuel cycle. 1% of the fuel would be Pu239 or Pu240 the fraction of each depending on how the reactor was run.

Most of the fuel is U238, which is naturally occurring.

In some ways, these components of the waste are nearly the same as the original ore. The half-lives of these elements are relatively long.

A long half-life means a low level of radiation.

The more problematic radiations are from very short lived isotopes, generally fission fragments which are radioactive isotopes.

If we could separate these short-lived isotopes from the U238, U235, Pu239, Pu240 parts we could "recycle" that fuel making more fuel, and have a very low mass and volume of radioactive material to store.

What we consider to be "waste" would then have value in the fuel cycle.

The problem is that we don't know how to do that yet, and there is no economic incentive to develop the technologies.

The good news is that we don't have to rush, the "spent fuel" we have will be potentially useful for about 100 years. We have time to figure out how to accomplish this "recycling" step and turn nuclear waste into stock for the fuel cycle.



The major problem with fission power is the production of fissile material. We recognize U235, U233 and Pu239 as fissile material, material which can sustain nuclear chain reactions, and can be used as an explosive.

The creation of a nuclear fission powered energy economy necessarily implies that a lot of this material is created, and the challenge becomes how to manage the material so that it is not diverted to the production of weapons.

The difficulty in controlling this material was well known to people like J. Robert Oppenheimer, who had advocated for the international control of nuclear energy. Interestingly, these ideas have reentered the political discussion.

Currently, the cost of fossil fuel generated energy is less than that of nuclear fuel generated energy. Ironically, we worry about the cost of storing the "nuclear waste" as a part of the consideration of nuclear energy, but we do not include the costs associated with the exhausting of fossil fuel combustion products into the atmosphere.

Until the "true costs" of fossil fuel generated energy are levied, it is likely that the fossil fuel costs will continue to favorably compete against alternative energy sources. This is part of the logic of a carbon tax, it alters the market allowing for alternatives.

While this appears to make energy costs rise, that illusion is generated by the fact the the bill for fossil fuel costs has not been sent to us, yet... and probably won't be until we're all dead and gone. But that bill will arrive.


TLP

climber
Feb 12, 2015 - 08:59pm PT
If I'm understanding the various posts above correctly, I very pleased to see that there is at least one thing that the posters on this thread are nearly unanimous on, and that is that the idea of trying to actively intervene in the climate system is one of the most staggeringly ill-advised ideas there has ever been. Hypothetically, there may be a future millenium when we would know enough about the system that applicable technology could theoretically be devised, and one might then evaluate whether it was advisable or not (my 2c is, it would almost certainly still not be a good idea), but that's a LOOONG way in the future.

It's incredibly ironic that some of the same entities (emphasizing that I'm not referring to anyone here) that express such skepticism that climate science is good enough that it is semi-accurately modeling the system, are now jumping on the bandwagon to acclaim that we have good enough knowledge to start messing with it willy-nilly. Unbelievably idiotic and hypocritical. Oh, it's hot today, I guess I'll just bust some big holes in the roof. Oooops! now the snow is coming in, I guess I'll just set the furniture on fire. Yay, I'm engineering the climate!

In another direction, regarding some of the discussion about energy sources, it's all very simple, just like Mom harangued me and my siblings: clean up your own mess. For petroleum/gas, that's CO2, habitat destruction, and trashed miners; for nuclear, it's safety, mining, and waste disposal; for large scale solar, it's, well, it needs to be decentralized. And so on.
wilbeer

Mountain climber
Terence Wilson greeneck alleghenys,ny,
Feb 13, 2015 - 02:38am PT
http://video.pbs.org/video/2365423718/


The hydroelectric feature I talked about is online now.
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