Nuclear Power: Fiction, Fear, and Facts

“And Lord, we are especially thankful for nuclear power, the cleanest, safest energy source there is. Except for solar, which is just a pipe dream.” -Homer Simpson

If you’ve been reading or watching the news, you’ve probably been hearing a whole lot of information about the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

And how the recent earthquake and tsunami have combined to turn the above scene into a potential disaster.

At present, however, contamination has been minimal, and the damage — thus far — has been practically zero.

What do I mean? Let’s explain — in the simplest terms possible — how radioactivity works. In order to understand it, we need to go inside the building blocks of matter — atoms — to their very cores.

The nucleus of atoms contain over 99.9% of their mass, and are made up of neutrons and protons. The number of protons determines what type of atom you are; for example, hydrogen has one proton, and is the first atom. But you could have different numbers of neutrons and still be hydrogen! Hydrogen actually has three different known isotopes, depending on whether it has zero, one, or two neutrons.

And while hydrogen and deuterium are stable, tritium is not, which means it’s radioactive! And radioactive materials emit radiation of three different types: alpha, beta (which is the case for tritium), and gamma radiation.

And these three types of radiation do damage when they penetrate living tissue. What can they each penetrate?

Well, alpha radiation is the least damaging; a single sheet of paper (or the top layer of dead skin cells on the human body) is enough to stop it. Normal (unenriched) uranium gives off alpha radiation, and basically the only way to harm yourself with alpha radiation is to eat it, which is famously how Alexander Litvinenko was murdered, and how this drastic change (below) happened over the course of about three weeks.

Beta radiation is a little worse, and requires about a centimeter of wood, plastic, or a thin sheet of aluminum to stop it, but by far the most dangerous type of radiation is the high-energy gamma radiation.

Believe it or not, the human body actually, naturally, contains trace amounts of radioactive elements such as uranium and thorium. That’s why encountering another human being will actually expose you to a small amount of radiation!

Image credit: Ellen McManis, an undergraduate across town from me at Reed College.

The “unit” that we measure radiation in humans in is a Sievert (Sv), and it takes a dose, more-or-less, of about whole Sv over the course of a year (or less) in order to do some real damage to a human being. Note how even the largest dose in the chart above, for a professional radiation worker, is 50 milliSieverts, or just 5% of what it would take to
damage you.

Well, Randall of XKCD has created a beautiful chart showing just how much radiation came from nuclear “disasters” throughout history, including the present one in Japan. Here are some screen captures.

So, each daily dose for an “average” person very close to Fukushima is just 3.5 microSieverts, or less than what the “average” person in the middle of nowhere receives on a daily basis.

And if you look up the maximum level of radioactivity from Fukushima so far — at the two sites 50 km NW of the plant — here’s how that compares.

First off, note that Three-Mile Island, the previous record-holder for second-worst nuclear disaster in history, was less bad for the worst person experiencing it than getting a mammogram is. And the worst dose anyone near Fukushima received is just 0.0036 Sieverts, or an amount you’d have to receive every single day to have anything to worry about.

It would seriously take a Chernobyl-style disaster to cause people to die from radiation poisoning, which is a gruesome way to go.

So — some of you have emailed me — if radiation is so bad, what’s the deal with Ann Coulter?

With apologies to Stan Lee.

Radiation is awful for human beings. Awful, terrible, and destructive to life, the only reason we ever treat anyone for anything (like cancer) with radiation is because we hope the radiation kills it faster than it kills you.

You want improved health because of radiation? Your only hope is to go live in a comic book Universe.

Also, with apologies to Steve Ditko. Thanks, Tony @6!

We have lots of good reasons to be appropriately afraid of nuclear physics, radiation, and radioactivity. The problem with energy and the environment — as I see it — is that we aren’t afraid enough of coal, oil, and natural gas, all of which are worse for the environment than nuclear. But nuclear energy still has its problems, and a big one is that, if that 9.0 earthquake actually had its epicenter on the Fukushima reactor, we just might be talking about another Chernobyl.

But if I were in charge, and I had my choice of how to power the world, what would I do?

Image credit: Sun Power Corp.

Rather than considering it a “pipe dream” like our beloved Homer Simpson, let’s take a good look at what solar panels are actually out there. The best ones can get about 19% of the incident solar energy converted into electricity. At sea level, that means about 19% of 700 Watts for every square-meter of solar panels we have.

See the “A” on the map above? Make a solar array about that size — 35 miles by 35 miles — and you can power the entire United States. Period. Day or night, winter or summer, rain or shine. No emissions, no pollution, no risk of radiation, no dependence on oil, coal, gas, no damage to the environment.

And if we did it — if we invested in it and made it happen — I think it would fix a huge number of our domestic problems: the economic ones, the employment ones, the manufacturing ones, etc.

How to make it happen? I wish I knew. We live in a world where Ann Coulter is on television telling people that radiation is good for you, and the informed citizen with a Ph.D. in theoretical physics has a blog with a few thousand readers on the internet. All I can do is hope that someone with the power to make it happen reads this, listens, and acts. We can all hope.

Comments

  1. #1 Gary Anderson
    March 21, 2011

    I’ve been reading about thorium-based reactors and how they are “safer” for a variety of reasons. China, among other countries, is researching these and may build one. Can you tell us about thorium and it’s use for power generation?

  2. #2 anthrosciguy
    March 21, 2011

    Solar has one really big problem — it’s far too easily decentralised and therefore can be used by small companies and individuals without as much need for big power companies. This creates a really big incentive for those companies to do whatever they can to hijack the political process as well as spread FUD. While large solar installations could be run by power companies, and while there would be large companies making lots of money selling solar panels and installations, the fact that cutting out these entrenched powers can more easily be done makes them really scared that it will be done, and they can and do spend lots of money and time trying to maintain their hold on the power supply.

  3. #3 doug l
    March 21, 2011

    It’s pretty interesting. Can you imagine who would howl the loudest if such a project on this scale were ever seriously suggested?
    So while an approach to practicality it isn’t, it is a great expression in just how poorly understood to most of us is the geographic scale on which our human occupation and activity happens. I recently read that every human on earth could be fit within the confines of Los Angeles County, and sometimes I get the distinct feeling everyone of ‘em are trying as hard as they can to get there as soon as possible, and failing that they’d like a lifestyle just like the ones experienced in Sherman Oaks.

  4. #4 Chris Lindsay
    March 21, 2011

    My understanding of thorium-based reactors is that it’s still at the “proof of concept” phase. There’s no certainty that it can be scaled up.

    This 35 mile solar field is interesting. I thought that solar power generation out in the desert is impractical because it requires lots of water?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_thermal_energy#Use_of_water

  5. #5 Benton Jackson
    March 21, 2011

    Most people can’t tell the difference between Fusion, Fission, and Fiction.

  6. #6 tony
    March 21, 2011

    Actually I think you need to apologise to Steve Ditko rather than Jack Kirby no?

  7. #7 dominic
    March 21, 2011

    @Chris Lindsay, I think he was referring to photovoltaics and not solar heating. At least this is what I imagined. Photovoltaics don’t need water.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photovoltaics

    I’m still waiting for fusion!! I guess I’ll keep waiting. :(

  8. #8 Laura
    March 21, 2011

    David MacKay extensively discusses our energy options in the book “Sustainable energy without the hot air”. He has a section on North America. He says that an array of solar panels 400 km x 400 km – about half the area of Arizona – would provide enough power to give 500 million people the average American’s energy consumption, which is 250 kWh per day. He explains his calculations and I think debunks the 35 mile x 35 mile claim somewhere. There are all sorts of innumerate claims out there.
    250 kWh per day is our total per capita energy consumption, it includes industrial and government consumption and the energy embodied in consumer goods, as well as personal energy use.
    How much would it cost? I calculated 86 trillion dollars just for the giant solar farm, that’s not including a distribution system etc. That’s on the basis of 250 kWh/day per person; 310 million people in the United States; large scale solar power cost of about $5 per peak watt; solar illumination equivalent to about 4.5 hours of peak sunlight per day. The United States national debt is about 14 trillion.
    So no, we can’t afford it right now. Even if the price of solar power came down drastically there would be a huge ecological impact from covering so much land with solar panels. The Sierra Club is currently suing a solar farm for endangering species.

  9. #9 Laura
    March 21, 2011

    ps David MacKay’s book “Sustainable energy without the hot air” is available free online at http://withouthotair.com

  10. #10 daedalus2u
    March 21, 2011

    You can get higher efficiencies with solar thermal.

    https://share.sandia.gov/news/resources/releases/2008/solargrid.html

    Here they got 31.25% conversion.

  11. #11 Laura
    March 21, 2011

    pps An 80 MW solar farm in San Joaquin covers 640 acres, or one square mile.
    Scaling that up, using the 250 kWh/person/day energy use and 310 million people in the United States, a solar farm 215,000 square miles in size would be enough to supply the energy use of the United States.
    That’s 464 miles x 464 miles. David MacKay’s calculation is actually much more optimistic than scaling up this actual solar farm.

  12. #12 Laura
    March 21, 2011

    David MacKay actually said that a 600km x 600km solar farm filled with concentrating solar power, could provide 500 million people with 250 kWh per day. See http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c30/page_236.shtml
    I guess his calculation is more optimistic than my scaling up of the existing solar farm because concentrating solar power makes more efficient use of land.

  13. #13 sng
    March 21, 2011

    Laura,

    And that doesn’t take into account transmission loss. Which is at about 7 percent right now and increases dramatically as you add distance. So going to over 2000 miles you would take a pretty big hig.

  14. #14 Randy Owens
    March 21, 2011

    Yes, I’m here to nitpick again! Alexander Litvinenko was killed with polonium-210, not any form of uranium, as you seem to say here. Still radiation within the body, of course, so your point stands.

    The other point I would make about solar power (& other renewables) is that, if we do make enough of a serious commitment to it that we can start shutting down power plants, the coal-burners should be the first to go, and we’d really have no business shutting down typical nuclear plants* until every last coal plant is closed. Then the oil, then the natural gas, and then the nuclear plants. Those other plants are killing about one person every half minute, half a million to a million per year, on average, but we just shrug it off because it’s not spectacular, and it’s just people steadily dying, dying, dying, and it’s usually hard to pin any individual death on the air pollution.

    * I can imagine exceptions for old or poorly sited plants.

  15. #15 Mark York
    March 22, 2011

    “I recently read that every human on earth could be fit within the confines of Los Angeles County,”

    You mean they aren’t? The real nuclear problem is Hanford, WA, the largest superfund site in the country. Nuclear bombs were made there. The real issue is how do we get rid of coal. We’re toast if we don’t.

  16. #16 Alex
    March 22, 2011

    Laura, here is the page you’re looking for, I think:

    http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c25/page_178.shtml

    I second the recommendation of this book.

  17. #17 rozza2012
    March 22, 2011

    Google talks has 2 great talks on fusion/fission options . Still working at proof of concept work is *dense plasma focus, I like it cos it exploits collapsing plasma bursts rather than
    holding plasma in a constant state. The other talk is about the *liquid thorium flouride reactor which existed at small working model size, factors cheaper cleaner & safer, just 1 bad point for the 50s , no usable fissile by products, so no bombs so, we dont know about it.

  18. #19 Jesse
    March 22, 2011

    Y’know, there’s no reason — especially with transmission losses — to build a solar plant in one big location, which is I think the point.

    If I need 400km x 400km, then that means 1600 plants that are 1 km by 1 km and can be located a hell of a lot closer to where I need them then Arizona is.

    And it needn’t be a big square. What if we located a 10m-wide strip of solar panels all along the highway? Put it along I-10 and you have 500 km = 500,000m x 10m = 5,000,000 m^2, or 5 square km. Do the same all along I-40 and you get another 5, at least. That’s enough to power a sizeable chunk of Arizona’s needs.

    Rinse, repeat for the whole southwest. And you needn’t locate them all along the highway. I could dot several areas in Florida too. All those shopping mall parking lots need shade anyway. THink of the savings in automotive A/C (remember, in the sun you blast the A/C when you get in, as anyone who has entered a hot car can attest).

  19. #20 islami sohbet
    March 22, 2011

    Suudi Arabistan’dadüzenlenenCidde
    EkonomikForumu’nda “Küresel Liderler Diyaloğu” konulu oturumda konuşan Başbakan ErdoğanLibya’ya düzenlenen operasyonu değerlendirirken, “Libya halkı mutsuzken biz mutlu olamayız. Biz bölgemizdeki her ülkenin toprak bütünlüğü bağımsızlığına saygılıyız

  20. #21 Sophos
    March 22, 2011

    I live in Malaysia. The Deputy Prime Minister here insist on having a nuclear plant in Malaysia and claimed that it is necessary despite of the incident in Fukushima. We have so many rivers in Malaysia and we have rain all year round to have enough energy produced from hydroelectric.

    I have no idea why nuclear plant in Malaysia. DPM claimed that Malaysia is safe because there is no earthquake here. Then again, we don’t need an earthquake here for the office building to leak water, for the roof of buildings to drop down…even a stadium collapsed without earthquake.

  21. #22 Daniel
    March 22, 2011

    Jesse, for 400x400km, you’ll need 160,000 plants at 1km^2 each, not 1,600. That’s more than 500 plants for every major U.S. city (100,000+ inhabitants). Only 37 cities in the U.S. are large enough in terms of area to even contain 500 plants – 2/3rds of NYC would have to be converted into a solar farm, for one example. If you went with the roadside idea instead, you’d need a more than 2km wide “strip” along the entire U.S. highway system.

  22. #23 Mark
    March 22, 2011

    It seems to me that you are overly optimistic about the promises of solar photo-voltaic technology:

    “…Day or night, winter or summer, rain or shine…”

    Day or night? You won’t get much solar flux at night… Maybe you are planning on getting an excess of energy during the day and storing it for the night… Possibly by pumping water up a mountain in the daytime and letting the water flow down through a hydroelectric plant during the night. As far as I know, chemical batteries really arn’t an option for storing this much energy.

    “No emissions, no pollution,… no dependence on oil, coal, gas, no damage to the environment.”

    I agree that in operation the solar array will not pollute, however, the environmental impact of manufacturing 35 square miles of solar cells is not insignificant. I have seen estimates of the energy payback period for solar cells between 1 and 25 years (http://www.energybulletin.net/node/17219) and that does not begin to account for whatever system is used to store energy to be released at night.

    I agree that the environmental impact of electrical generation with fossil fuels is very bad, however, I would need to be convinced that a solar installation on this scale is better than getting an equivalent number of kilowatt-hours of electricity from nuclear power plants.

  23. #24 tütüne son
    March 22, 2011

    I live in Malaysia. The Deputy Prime Minister here insist on having a nuclear plant in Malaysia and claimed that it is necessary despite of the incident in Fukushima. We have so many rivers in Malaysia and we have rain all year round to have enough energy produced from hydroelectric.

    I have no idea why nuclear plant in Malaysia. DPM claimed that Malaysia is safe because there is no earthquake here. Then again, we don’t need an earthquake here for the office building to leak water, for the roof of buildings to drop down…even a stadium collapsed without earthquake.

  24. #25 Jesse
    March 22, 2011

    @Daniel — sorry for that miscalc, but the idea of the 10m strip along the roadside still works. That math I know I got right — it works out to a 10km^2 plant for just 2 highways.

    If 400km x 400 km is enough for 500 million people, and if that is 160,000 1 km^2 plants, then 10 km^2 is enough for 31,250 people, which is a sizeable town. Assuming zero conservation, by the way.

    Make it 20m wide instead and you get 60,500 people, 11% of the population of Tucson. And there is no reason on earth it can’t simply cover the highway. Or partial cover, there are loads of configurations you could try for maximum aesthetic/environmental payoff. The other great advantage is locating solar farms near to where people are reduces transmission losses.

    And again, I think of how much land is covered by parking lots. The ones in Rochester, NY that I remember by the big Wegman’s was easily a couple of square kilometers. By MacKay’s calculation (the same one I used) that would be enough for 60,000 people, which is 1/4 of the city of Rochester’s population. There’s another parking lot down the highway (rt 15) that was the same size.

    Rochester isn’t the sunniest place in the world (though you’d be surprised at the number of days) but assuming the lots in say, Disney in Florida are the same size, (they are not, they are bigger) you have a lot of power potential that right now is just heating asphalt and making cars hot to no good purpose. I’d bet Disney’s parking lots, all by themselves, could essentially separate the whole facility from the grid with some left over.

    Add up all the parking lots in the US. There must be thousands. Let’s knock out the ones that are small. That still leaves just about every airport in the southwest and southeast that currently has a giant heat engine just sitting there making people uncomfortable. There are malls everywhere with roofs that are going to waste. If the malls in Florida had solar panels on the roof powering the A/c, even only halfway, that would be a huge cut in grid power use, no?

    All this stuff adds up. And even if it didn’t supply all of the electrical needs for the US (I don’t think anyone expects it would), it would make a serious dent if you implemented it. And again, we assume no conservation at all.

  25. #26 Rina
    March 22, 2011

    The cost of solar power stations construction – 86 trillion $ – to support the US need is impressive enough. The United States national debt is about 14 trillion is already a disaster. The solar power enthusiasts are probably not good in math as some bloggers here. In the meantime, nuclear power is the cleanest and most effective energy at the time. The modern nuclear power stations are very safe.

  26. #27 OKThen
    March 22, 2011

    Solar power has been following Moore’s Law for 20 years. And the price continues to drop exponentially, while it’s use (currently LT 1% of WW energy) continues to grow exponentially; and continues to scale. The tipping point is now through next twenty years. The only question: will U.S. become dependent upon cheap Chinese solar panels; instead of cheap Middle East oil?

    Whereas nuclear power is getting more expensive.
    — The cost to build or maintain a nuclear plant just went up
    — The politics of nuclear energy just got worse.
    — There is no permanent storage for nuclear waste (after $13 bil Yucca Mt is closed)
    — Nuclear storage is a 1000 year superfund problem.
    — Cleanup of Three Mile Island took 14 years and cost $1 Bil. Not bad?
    — Japan’s 40% increase in daily radiation dose. Just say no to local grown vegetables.
    — We don’t know yet; if we have another Chernobyl.
    — Nuclear energy is treated by business as a natural disaster waiting to happen. Without goverment insurance, it does not get built.
    — Thus, nuclear energy is good; if only we could shrink it down to the size of an automobile engine block.

    Yes coal is more dangerous on a day to day basis than nuclear.
    — But shutting down a runaway coal plant is a whole lot easier.
    — And try selling your house in a town near Three Mile Island

  27. #28 Nomen Nescio
    March 22, 2011

    Yes coal is more dangerous on a day to day basis than nuclear.
    — But shutting down a runaway coal plant is a whole lot easier.

    the problem isn’t shutting down a runaway coal plant, if there is such a thing. the problem is shutting down a coal plant in ordinary, everyday, profitable production — or, scaled up, the currently-runaway coal power industry with all its lobbying might — before its externalities wreck the planet.

    (pebble bed reactors and thorium reactors are both passively safe designs, by consequence of the laws of physics. the simplest way to shut either of them down is to just walk away.)

    (i guess what i’m saying is that primitive, decades-old fission power technologies are technologically dangerous to their local and regional areas, whereas modern, up-to-date fossil fuel burners are politically and financially dangerous to the entire world; and the latter kind of problems are much, much harder to solve than the former kind. enjoy your new global climate, it’ll be a-changing. we can no longer build enough nuclear power fast enough to prevent that fact. instead, we’ll have to deal with more radioactive emissions from coal-burner exhausts, on top of the greenhouse gasses.)

  28. #29 Laura
    March 22, 2011

    Jesse,
    First: I misquoted David MacKay at first, and corrected myself later. He said 600×600 km = 360,000 square km to supply 500 million people with 250 kWh/day.

    Second: He was talking about concentrating solar power, to get the land area that small. That involves lenses or something. It’s not a solar road.

    There ARE ideas for solar roads. See for example http://www.physorg.com/news171545860.html The cost of the panels (not including installing them) is about $4/peak watt, similar to the cost of large scale solar power that I quoted earlier. I asked one inventor whether his solar road power system would survive an electromagnetic pulse (from solar storm or from a nuclear bomb high in the atmosphere) and never got an answer. So it probably isn’t EMP-hardened.

    Third: For a 10-meter wide strip at the side of the highway, you would have to cover 36 MILLION km of road with it. Do we have that much highway? I don’t think so.

    Fourth: Solar panels are much more efficient in southwestern deserts, that’s why the idea of concentrating them there.

    Fifth: This is talking about generating ALL of our energy use with solar power, not just the electricity. Perhaps the 35×35 mile solar farm would generate our ELECTRICITY needs. Or maybe solar panels on the rooftops could do that.

    But, our electricity use is a small part of our total energy use!!

    And, our electricity use will be going up, if we have any sense about pollution and global warming. Electric cars are more efficient, again from MacKay’s book. Electricity can be used to power heat pumps, which give you maybe 4 times as much energy as heat for the electrical energy you put in. Even if the electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels, it is still a low-carbon heating solution. Burning natural gas to make electricity to power a heat pump is more efficient than burning the natural gas for heat.

  29. #30 Seti
    March 22, 2011

    Rooves.

  30. #31 Laura
    March 22, 2011

    We have VERY serious problems coming up in this century. I see the MOST serious ones as being:
    Global warming
    Nuclear proliferation
    Resource depletion. Shortages of fossil fuels, food and water.
    This century will likely be a time of wars over resources. And given nuclear proliferation, it’s likely that there will be nuclear wars over resources. Since this would be a calamity worse than about anything else, energy independence and filling the world’s energy neeeds is SUPER important.
    That is why, despite the real issues with nuclear power, I think developing it is probably a good idea.
    The ironic thing is that nuclear reactors are much less safe than they need to be BECAUSE of popular opposition to nuclear energy. The old reactors (like Fukushima) need to be scrapped and rebuilt. The nuclear waste couldn’t be disposed of safely in Yucca Mountain because people didn’t like the idea, so it’s stored unsafely onsite at nuclear reactors, possibly vulnerable to terrorists.

    I get very frustrated, living in a lefty alternative little college town, hearing people say blithely “we should start developing renewable energy”, and they blame “big corporations” or the government that we don’t have all the power we need from solar energy. And they don’t do the research to check out their ideas.

  31. #32 The Other Doug
    March 22, 2011

    The problem with solar panels is that, like all semiconductors manufacturing produces toxic waste. Giant panels produce giant waste. Now, mostly is happens in Asia, so we here in the USA can mostly ignore it.

    Fortunately, our domestic plants are Gen III, not Gen II like the Japanese one, and are thus much, much safer, but we really should get the Gen IV ones off the blueprints. (The French even use theirs for peak power…fascinating stuff.)

  32. #33 islami chat
    March 22, 2011

    Obama, Libya’daki gelişmeleri özetlleyerek başladığı açıklamasında BM’nin Libya kararı doğrultusunda Libya’ya müdahalede bulunulacağını, yaptırımların uygulanacağını ancak bu müdahalenin kara kuvvetleri kullanılarak yapılmayacağını söyledi

  33. #34 islami chat
    March 22, 2011

    BM, Libya’da sivilleri koruma amacıyla uçuşa yasak bölge oluşturulmasına yetki veren, Libya’da derhal ateşkes sağlanması çağrısında bulunan ve rejime yönelik yaptırımların daha da sıkılaştırılmasını ve genişletilmesini öngören karar tasarısını kabul etti

  34. #35 BenHead
    March 22, 2011

    It’s true we should be going nuts on solar. If they can’t produce PV panels fast enough, solar thermal works, too. But I agree on the benefits of nuclear also, even in the wake of the problems in Japan. Proper operation to prevent accidents is critical, and what to do with the waste is a real problem, but compared to global warming, it’s nothing.

    Even if ITER and its followers work flawlessly, fusion remains a couple of decades away (as it perpetually seems to be). Even if it does turn out to be a magic bullet (and almost nothing ever is), we may not have that long to get our emissions back down to a reasonable level before we devastate the ecosystem.

  35. #36 Harold
    March 22, 2011

    The biggest problem with nuclear energy is, in my opinion at least, not the occasional powerplant explosion or test gone wrong, it’s the storage of all the waste.
    I recently saw the documentary “Into Eternity”, about Onkalo in Finland, an ambitious project to store nuclear waste for up to 100,000 years. The project itself will not be complete for another hundred years.
    One of the biggest worries they have is that if civilisation collapses and reboots after a few tens of thousands of years, how will you warn those far removed people that they should never ever go to this place.
    http://everwas.com/2010/05/onkalo-long-term-planning.html

    I highly recommend the film for it’s deep perspective on time and the problems we’re creating. We need vastly more resources spent on renewable energy sources and ways to make them economical. While we still have the spare energy to do so.

  36. #37 Uncle B
    March 22, 2011

    America chose to follow George Bush and spent $650 Billion U.S. dollars on pummeling Iraq into the ground in hopes of cheaper gasoline at home. The pummeling is almost never done,is your gasoline getting cheaper? Are you facing high taxes to pay off the government debt for this foray into Saudi/Bush,oil baron, fantasies?
    Had America invested the same $650+ Billions of U.S. dollars in conventional, Solar/Thermal electric plants, across the South Western U.S.A., all Americans would be gainfully employed today. America would have a cheaper, cleaner, radiation free, renewable, or perpetual if you please, domestic, energy source, and be quite capable of competing with a nuclear/electric Asia.
    America! Your government is Corporately controlled, and does nothing in your interest, but caters to only the lobbyists with the biggest bribes! This is why you are falling behind China! This has to stop! Even your Supreme Court Judges favor Corporate interests over yours! Democracy? Vote controlled? I think not! Time for Change, Damn right!

  37. #38 Dale Sheldon-Hess
    March 22, 2011

    To the people concerned about nuclear waste storage: read the links from the people excited about thorium reactors.

    Over 98% of the uranium that goes into a nuclear reactor comes out as uranium. That’s what “spent” fuel is. Thorium reactors (and other breeder reactors) can use all of their fuel, which means no waste. With just a little bit of reprocessing, they can even re-use all the “spent” fuel sitting in pools across the US.

  38. #39 Nomen Nescio
    March 22, 2011

    I recently saw the documentary “Into Eternity”, about Onkalo in Finland, an ambitious project to store nuclear waste for up to 100,000 years. The project itself will not be complete for another hundred years.

    how long is Finland likely to keep operating nuclear power plants? unless the answer there is a lot less than a hundred years, closing up the end repository for their spent fuel before its usefulness is over would seem to be silly.

    and yes, Onkalo/Olkiluoto is what i usually cite as an example of the right way to solve this problem. Yucca Mountain by comparison looks like a bunch of kids playing with thermite and plastic explosives in their back yard.

    One of the biggest worries they have is that if civilisation collapses and reboots after a few tens of thousands of years, how will you warn those far removed people that they should never ever go to this place.

    “this place” is a mineshaft half a kilometer straight down into the Finnish bedrock. which is planned to be backfilled-in as storage space is used up. those far removed people would need excavating equipment quite advanced enough for them to also bring some geiger counters.

  39. #40 Michael
    March 22, 2011

    @Daniel #22 “…2/3rds of NYC would have to be converted into a solar farm, for one example”

    Two thirds of NYC is rooftops. Put your solar panels there.

    Or, there’s new solar panel technology out there that can be used to apply a partially transparent power generating coating to windows. Since every skyscraper window is already partially light blocking, you could turn entire buildings into self-sustaining power plants, taking them off the grid, effectively.

    The technology is there, or getting there, the political will is not. Likely, it never will be.

  40. #41 Mark Baker
    March 22, 2011

    Some other guy named Mark asked about storing the power for use at night. I did not see a response. Is there a solution for solar power at night besides pumping water up a hill or storing it in batteries/fuel cells?

  41. #42 Lotharloo
    March 22, 2011

    @Laura:

    I’m suspicious of MacKay’s claims. I see no citation for this 15W/m^2 claim. Digging a bit in wiki, yields this: “under these test conditions a solar cell of 12% efficiency with a 100 cm2 (0.01 m2) surface area would produce 1.2 watts of power” which implies an output of 120W/m^2 rather than 15W. If you have solar cells with double the efficiency, this can go up to 240W/m^2.

    To be honest, I find that a bit unbelievable that we need to cover 1/150th of the land area of the earth with solar panels to get our energy needs.

  42. #43 Lotharloo
    March 22, 2011

    @Mark Baker

    In a perfect world, I would assume the countries will try to exchange energies.

  43. #44 Tristan
    March 22, 2011

    So, giving credence to the 160,000-360,000 square kilometers number, let’s put that into perspective.

    About 3.7 million square kilometers of the US is currently used for farmland. It’s 5-10% of that. How much of that land could be freed up if, say, meat consumption was cut in half?

    There’s approximately 80 million detached houses in the US. Conservatively, that’s 1000-2000 square kilometers of south-facing roof area. Add industrial and urban buildings, and I guess you could at least double that.

    Roads have already been covered to some extent, as have parking lots. Also there’s things like all the space between runways at airports.

    Then, of course, there’s the few tens of percent that can be saved by efficiency gains.

    Especially given that thin-film is now below $1 per peak watt, it’s entirely do-able. Probably the biggest challenge is now low-cost, high efficiency energy storage.

  44. #45 Juice
    March 22, 2011

    See the “A” on the map above? Make a solar array about that size — 35 miles by 35 miles — and you can power the entire United States. Period. Day or night, winter or summer, rain or shine. No emissions, no pollution, no risk of radiation, no dependence on oil, coal, gas, no damage to the environment.

    The “no pollution” and “no dependence on” fossil fuels must rely on some magical solar panel manufacturing process that itself relies on some sort of magical mining process that I am unaware of. It must also manufacture solar panels that produce more than 3 times the power needed to manufacture them.

  45. #46 Juice
    March 22, 2011

    Speaking of putting things along highways.

    How about growing hemp (not marijuana) along the medians of all interstates. With hemp you basically just throw the seeds down at the right time and wait. It’s super easy to harvest and process into oil.

  46. #47 Juice
    March 22, 2011

    Chris Lindsay

    Here’s a nice little intro for anyone interested in thorium breeder reactors.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWUeBSoEnRk

  47. #48 Meade Franco
    March 23, 2011

    All nations with Nuclean Power Plants should learn a major lesson from this disaster. If it can happen in Japan it could happen anywhere else.Are we prepared? Are we ready for such disasters? Take for instance the Pickering Power Plan in Ontario god forbid such thing happen here. I don’t think the Canadian government nor its public is prepared for such a disaster.Preperation is a MUST before its too late.
    http://superacai1200.com/

  48. #49 Shane
    March 23, 2011

    “See the “A” on the map above? Make a solar array about that size — 35 miles by 35 miles — and you can power the entire United States. Period. Day or night, winter or summer, rain or shine. No emissions, no pollution, no risk of radiation, no dependence on oil, coal, gas, no damage to the environment. ”

    We have 16 solar panels on our roof producing about 11-15 kWHours per day plus two hot water panels.. But at night there is nothing zip – How do we run the country – all the industrial processes all the hospitals etc at night if we have no alternative for base load??

    Its not a facetious question seriously how could it be done?

  49. #50 islami chat
    March 23, 2011

    Fukushima Santralinden çevreye nükleer tehdit oluşmaması amacıyla Japon makamlarının mümkün olan her türlü çabayı gösterdikleri bilinmektedir. Bununla birlikte, ihtiyati tedbir olarak, Kuzeydoğu Japonya ve Tokyo’nun da içinde bulunduğu Kanto bölgesinde yaşayan vatandaşlarımızdan, bu bölgelerde kalmak için zorunlu sebebi bulunmayanlar ile özellikle çocuklar ve hamilelerin, söz konusu bölgelerden mümkünse ayrılmalarının ve ülkenin güney ya da güneybatısına gitmelerinin yararlı olacağı değerlendirilmektedir

  50. #51 Eric
    March 23, 2011

    @ Shane

    … batteries, pumping water uphill into lakes then using hydroelectric.

    I just wanted to say as well that roofs and parking lots are prime places to put solar panels. The amount of space that is “wasted” from these two things alone is enormous. At my university they’re also beginning research into embedding solar panels into the roads themselves. Creating green roofs is a very good idea.

    However, solar panels need to reach a tipping point: they need to be cheaper and more efficient to be feasible. I think it’s fairly clear the numbers don’t add up currently.

  51. #52 OKThen
    March 23, 2011

    Safe generation of energy
    Safe removal and storage of waste
    Round the clock cheap energy

    50 years ago, even 25 years ago I believed that nuclear energy technology could assure these three energy requirements.

    A proper assessment of nuclear risk depends more upon politics, corruption and the unintended consequences (over 1000 years); than upon nuclear energy technology.

    What humans, can and will, do is much more important than technology.

    The U.S. can’t keep drugs out of federal prisons. Can we keep corruption out of supply chain, production, logistics & waste disposal processes of nuclear energy?

    “The introduction of more rigorous environmental legislation in the 1980s made illegal waste dumping a lucrative business for organized crime groups in Italy.” Wiki

    “But with only room for 500 drums on a ship waiting at the northern port of Livorno, 100 drums were secretly buried somewhere in the southern Italian region of Basilicata. Clan members avoided burying the waste in neighbouring Calabria, said the turncoat, because of their “love for their home region”, and because they already had too many kidnap victims hidden in grottoes there.”

    Now Japan has a once in a 100 or even 1000 years earthquake!

    But the US has over 100 nuclear power plants; the world over 400!! What are the odds, in a given years, that one will experience 1 in a 1000 year serious natural or human event?

    “The cost of resettling inhabitants, sealing off Chernobyl’s contaminated area and paying medical claims may rise to $235 billion”

    —”But, one course of action that makes no sense at all is just to let the waste keep piling up at more than 100 nuclear plants across the nation…
    —German Chancellor Angela Merkel… told her parliament that the Japanese crisis made her realize that Germany must make a “measured exit” from nuclear power and “reach the age of renewable energy as soon as possible.”
    —Merkel temporarily closed seven of Germany’s oldest reactors as a first step. After Japan, “business as usual” is not an option, she said.”

    Note that in solar energy, “Germany leads the European Union and continent in general by producing 3,063 megawatts itself, powering 2.4 million homes.”

    Solar energy has the technology potential; but its problems of politics, corruption and unintended consequences are on a business as usual rather than nuclear scale.

    Yes, the idealists of environment and nuclear technology recently aligned to battle climate change. They are too late; climate change is upon us. Any future nuclear plant will have less impact than a tax of $1 per gallon (equivalent) on all fossil fuels.

    But there is political will neither to open Yucca Mt. nor to tax fossil fuel.

  52. #53 samk
    March 23, 2011

    I read in a news article today that 13 “neutron beams” have been detected at the plant. Can anyone explain what a neutron beam is and the significance of these detections?

    “Neutron beam observed 13 times at crippled Fukushima nuke plant TOKYO – Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Wednesday it has observed a neutron beam, a kind of radioactive ray, 13 times on the premises of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after it was crippled by the massive March 11 quake-tsunami disaster.”

  53. #54 Cambrico
    March 23, 2011

    360.000 Km2 is the extension of Montana. So, to satisfy US energy needs you have to cover a whole state with solar cells. Yes, I understand you don’t need them in one place. But Montana is too cold and cloudy. You can cover the desert in Arizona, so you will need one and a half Arizonas or the logistic and maintenance nightmare of having thousands of miles of solar cells running side by side with the highways. And the environmental problems product of covering all tha desert surface? Coyotes, cactuses and snakes have a right to live too (I am not kidding). Besides, solar cells need maintenance, cleaning (they get dusty and efficiency decreases) and don’t work very well under cloudy wheater or at all during the night. Built a good nuclear plant in the middle of the desert in 10km2 and you will solve a lot of problems. I am not against solar cells, but I think many people dream romantic scenarios and don’t realize that you have to take into account many variables and facts. And not all of those facts are the evil machinations of nuclear power tycoons.

  54. #55 Nomen Nescio
    March 23, 2011

    I read in a news article today that 13 “neutron beams” have been detected at the plant. Can anyone explain what a neutron beam is and the significance of these detections?

    as best i can tell, that means next to nothing.

    fissioning uranium emits neutrons. one would expect to detect neutron radiation near uranium, unless it’s shielded by enough concrete and steel. so, taken that way, this just means the containment has been breached — which is deplorable and bad, but we already knew that. once the reactor core containment is busted, we should expect to start detecting neutrons around the place.

    it’d be more useful to know how much radiation, of each type, has been detected exactly where, and over how long a time period. news articles never seem to report such details, however. and no, “13 neutron beams” is not a useful level of detail.

  55. #56 David B
    March 23, 2011

    You say ‘But nuclear energy still has its problems, and a big one is that, if that 9.0 earthquake actually had its epicenter on the Fukushima reactor, we just might be talking about another Chernobyl’

    My admittedly lay understanding of plate tectonics tells me that there are few, if any areas of the world where such an earthquake would have its epicentre on land.

    If there are any, then they should be avoided for nuclear power stations, as should areas where very large volcanic eruptions might occur.

    I think I’ll copy paste this to the Eruptions blog, to see if the experts there agree with me.

  56. #57 Wow
    March 23, 2011

    “First: I misquoted David MacKay at first, and corrected myself later. He said 600×600 km = 360,000 square km to supply 500 million people with 250 kWh/day.”

    That would mean that solar photovoltaics were 0.0016% efficient.

    I doubt that.

    A solar array 231km on a side with 3-5% efficiency is enough to supply the world’s projected energy needs in 2050.

  57. #58 Wow
    March 23, 2011

    “We have 16 solar panels on our roof producing about 11-15 kWHours per day plus two hot water panels.. But at night there is nothing zip – How do we run the country ”

    You won’t, not with 11-15kWH.

    However, a sensible country would use molten salt to store heat and use that heat overnight.

    google CSP.

  58. #59 Doug Little
    March 23, 2011

    With regards to solar the panels are just one of the challenges. I just glanced through the replies so I don’t know if anybody has bought this up yet so apologies if I am repeating what has already been said but how do you store all that power that has been generated by your massive solar farm for overnight use. I don’t know the numbers but that many batteries would seem to be another potential environmental disaster waiting to happen. I suppose you could use a massive capacitor bank or hydrolysis to separate H2O into H2 and O2 so that they can be combusted when you need the juice without access to the sun. Actually that sounds like a reasonable idea.

  59. #60 matt
    March 23, 2011

    Hmmm. Posted a link and I think I got flagged as spam.

    Boeing has achieved 41.6% efficiency with a pv cell. The DOE “independently tested the efficiency of the Spectrolab cell in June, validating that it surpassed the previous record of 41.1 percent held by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany.”

    At this efficiency how big would an array have to be? I understand the production/cost issue and would like to ignore it for the moment. Simply wonder what the math is and figured this was a good bunch of people to ask.

  60. #61 javad
    March 23, 2011

    Thank you for another great article. I learnt so much like every time I read your articles.
    I hope one day, mankind understands his fragile situation on the earth, when, it is not too late. I hope.

  61. #62 AngelGabriel
    March 23, 2011

    Apparently, the Japanese consulted 300 years of historic geologic activity data before building the Fukushima nuclear power plant. No country is more careful.

    But who knew that the same area of Japan had a tsunami and giant earthquake in July, 869, over 1000 years ago that killed over a 1,000 people. see NYTimes Mar 21, 2011

  62. #63 abadidea
    March 23, 2011

    May I put in a formal request to have the spammers posting in Turkish banned?

    As well as anyone whose URL has “a – c – a – i” in it…

  63. #64 Shane
    March 24, 2011

    “You won’t, not with 11-15kWH.

    However, a sensible country would use molten salt to store heat and use that heat overnight.

    google CSP.”

    If you mean concentrated solar power it looks impressive and I have no doubt solar power will be a major part of our energy mix. It still needs sunshine.

    Have any feasibility studies been done regarding using molten salt to power an industrialised country the size of the USA during the hours of darkness? Most of the projects appear to be limited to small scale time limited studies.

    Spain appears to be the most successful country to use solar on a national basis – even then it only produces about 10% of their energy needs at present.

    11Kwh a day is more than enough to reduce my power bill to zero and start selling the surplus back to the national grid.

  64. #65 Wow
    March 24, 2011

    “If you mean concentrated solar power it looks impressive and I have no doubt solar power will be a major part of our energy mix. It still needs sunshine.”

    That’s OK.

    There aren’t many people live around the arctic circle and until the earth goes nova in about 7 billion years (where we’ll have a surfeit of energy for a while…), this is not a problem.

    “Have any feasibility studies been done regarding using molten salt to power an industrialised country the size of the USA during the hours of darkness?”

    Yes. Since the salt is cheap as chips (well, it’d have to be otherwise you’d put something cheaper on your chip supper), it’s not a problem money wise. Volume, do you know how easy it is to make salt (they probably won’t use table salt, mind)? And since it’s so bloody hot, conversion efficiency is around the 95% mark.

    Absolutely not a problem. The bigger problem is getting enough workers to build the stuff quick enough. Which can’t be so easily outsourced, unlike most jobs in the west below upper-middle management…

  65. #66 Wow
    March 24, 2011

    “At this efficiency how big would an array have to be?”

    At 3-5% you can supply the earth’s entire energy consumption with an array 231km on a side.

    At 45+% you’d only need about 80km a side to manage the earth’s energy needs.

    NOTE: fly in the ointment is that these efficiencies in photovoltaics (if it is PV) are usually because the array is mostly lenses concentrating the solar power. Efficiency increases with intensity.

    This may mean that to get 45% efficient, you’d need thrice the area or more, which offsets the shrinkage.

    Note: plants are generally much less than 1% efficient. Even so, they’re green because they don’t need all that energy and need to throw it away. By reflecting it.

  66. #67 OgreMkV
    March 24, 2011

    Much of the issue between nuclear and renewables (I prefer wind so that’s what I mainly discuss, but solar works) is not only energy and cost, but also construction time.

    Texas’ Comanche nuclear facility is considering expansion, adding another 3.4 GW to capacity. It’ll cost between $10-$20 billion dollars and take between 10-16 years.

    If you go with a wind farm instead, you get 10GW nameplate capacity (which roughly translates to 3.4GW produced) and can build the whole thing in one, maybe two, years.

    So we get between 8 and 15 years of clean energy while the nuclear plant would be building and coal plants are taking up the slack.

    On Pollution: Several studies have been made regarding lifecycle pollution costs. Wind is the absolute best in regards to lifecycle pollution production. Solar thermal and hydro are next, with solar PV after them. There’s a pretty big gap, then you get geothermal and nuclear. Then there’s a HUGE gap to get to the fossil fuels.

    That’s lifecycle (building, operations, fuel, and decommisioning), not operations.

    I’ve got more on my blog: http://ogremk5.wordpress.com

    Click on Renewable Energy in the categories for more like the above.

    Oh BTW: Wind can be base load power. There is at least one peer-reviewed study that supports this.

  67. #68 Wow
    March 24, 2011

    Shane, Denmark managed 20% of their power from renewables early 2000′s. Scotland managed a peak of 27% of their power from renewables.

    France, running nuclear power for 80% (?) of their needs had to import 20% of their power summer 2007 (? again, it was a large but not phenomenal).

    Scotland intend to get 80% of their power from renewables and the UK as a whole could extract 3x their power consumption from their wind energy assets alone, if they were to implement shallow offshore windfarms.

  68. #69 酔生夢死
    March 24, 2011

    You couldn’t just politely disagree with Ann Coulter? Instead you have to wring your hands and ask others to take a stand on putting forth the idea, and take a cheap shot at someone you haven’t even met and most likely took completely out of context?

    I can’t /stand/ that.

    If you are so passionate about spreading the word about the benefits of solar power, don’t sit there and insult an icon to a good percentage of the American population, and then have the gall to wonder why conservatives don’t listen. We don’t want to if it means listening to jack-asses talk about how brilliant they are implying the opposite to those who may disagree because they don’t have all the facts. If they don’t have the facts and you do, THEN SAY SOMETHING.

    Ann Coulter doesn’t have a PhD in science, 95% of the people who listen to her probably take that into account. Good thing about media is the more clamoring of the correct opinion (or good idea) there is, the more likely people are to start listening.

    I stumbled across this blog and even bookmarked it after a couple of posts I read. But it’s such a turn-off to be enthusiastically reading something and to suddenly have a private aspect of my life insulted. Besides that, the basest sense of humor is denigrating another human-being.

    Nuclear energy is great. Solar energy /would/ be better. And if everyone of the liberals here really cared about spreading the message of cleaner energy to the whole country they’d keep their insults to themselves and appeal to EVERYONE with their good ideas, and save the need to be “edgy” for friends.

  69. #70 Wow
    March 25, 2011

    “You couldn’t just politely disagree with Ann Coulter?”

    Ann Coulter can’t just politely disagree with progressives. And you’re here impolitely disagreeing with “I can’t stand that” concern trolling with people you’ll probably never meet.

    Tell you what, you deal with life your way, everyone else deals with it their way.

    Deal?

    “Ann Coulter doesn’t have a PhD in science, 95% of the people who listen to her probably ~DON’T~ take that into account.”

    Fixed that for you. They still believe her. So if they are taking her lack of education into account, why are they believing her rather than people who DO have a PhD in science?

    “If they don’t have the facts and you do, THEN SAY SOMETHING.”

    In the words of Jack Nicholson, they can’t handle the truth.

    You see, facts have a well known liberal bias. It’s why Fox avoids them in all possible cases.

    You can see the problem with “THEN SAY SOMETHING” when you look at the climate zombie arguments. Like “It’s been cooling for the past 15 years”. When you show them the data and show it’s been warming, the argument doesn’t go away. Someone else turns up and says “It’s been cooling for the past 15 years!”.

    So SAY SOMETHING means nothing.

    Because the people you’re saying something to don’t want to believe it.

  70. #71 Nomen Nescio
    March 25, 2011

    You couldn’t just politely disagree with Ann Coulter?

    why on earth should anyone ever disagree politely with ann coulter? it’s not as if she’d return the favor.

  71. #72 Lotharloo
    March 25, 2011

    #69:

    It’s nice of you to leave your cave and read some science blogs for a change. Do it for a while and then you’ll figure out why Ethan was being extremely polite to Mrs C. given the depth of her stupidity.

    For me, politeness comes from a sense of respect. I have no respect for Ann Coulter so why the hell should I respect that pile of filthy lies?

  72. #73 Craig
    March 26, 2011

    @Wow, I agree with building lots of solar, but I disagree with some of your calculations (#57, 66). In Phoenix, average solar raw power is 224 W/m^2. So the raw power achievable with 360,000 km^2 is 360,000 km^2*1e6 m^2/km^2 *24 hrs/day *224 W/m^2*1e-3 kW/W=1.9e12 kWh/day (raw). Divide by 5e8 people, that’s 3800 kWh/day at perfect efficiency. So 6.6% efficiency (which would be fantastic to achieve on a large scale) gets 250 kWh/day for North America’s 500 million people from a 600×600 km solar array.

    David MacKay’s book is very well-argued and well-sourced, and gives numerous real options for our energy future. Solar will be a key part of the solution, but won’t be easy.

  73. #74 Azkyroth
    March 27, 2011

    the average American’s energy consumption, which is 250 kWh per day

    The HELL? How was that calculated? That’s just under my average monthly electric bill!

  74. #75 James Hanley
    March 27, 2011

    Azkyroth–that’s figured by taking all energy consumption in the U.S. and dividing it by all Americans. I can’t vouch for that exact number, but your “share” of American energy usage includes all the energy used by factories, retail stores, etc., etc.

    I find the claim that a 35×35 mile solar array could meet all our energy needs very fascinating. But I take exception to the claim that it would solve all our economic problems. Energy is only one factor in the economy–and important one to be sure, but only one. And as to our manufacturing “problems,” U.S. manufacturing output was at record levels of real output just before the recession. Manufacturing jobs have declined in the U.S., but actual output has increased. We’re doing more with less, which means we’ve become more productive in our manufacturing base. Siegel’s obviously very intelligent (I doubt someone who’s not very intelligent could become a theoretical astrophysicist), but native intelligence in itself is not sufficient to result in intelligent comments outside one’s field.

  75. #76 tütüne son
    March 27, 2011

    It’s nice of you to leave your cave and read some science blogs for a change. Do it for a while and then you’ll figure out why Ethan was being extremely polite to Mrs C. given the depth of her stupidity.

    For me, politeness comes from a sense of respect. I have no respect for Ann Coulter

  76. #77 AngelGabriel
    March 28, 2011

    #76, yes Ethan was being polite.

    #69, as well Ethan was being humorous.

    I live on a cloud not under a rock.

    Might I recommend a little book titled
    That’s Offensive: Critcism, Identity, Respect
    by Stephan Collini
    quote from page 1:
    “‘I find that offensive’
    ‘Tough. It’s not my fault that you have crazy and confused beliefs.’
    ‘You don’t understand. This society already treats me like dirt. I don’t need some sneering know-it-all like you making fun of the things I really care about. Not on top of everything else. You ought to show respect for my beliefs, even if you don’t agree with them’
    ‘Respect? Why should I? I think your views stink and I have a right to say so.’
    “Well f**k you!’
    ‘Yeah, and f**k you, too!’

  77. #78 Clausentum
    March 29, 2011

    Wow #68 :

    the UK as a whole could extract 3x their power consumption from their wind energy assets alone, if they were to implement shallow offshore windfarms.

    So MacKay got it badly wrong.
    Could you tell us how?

    Clausentum

  78. #79 Wow
    March 29, 2011

    “Could you tell us how?”

    By using maths that proved what he wanted to see, not maths that should be applied.

    Rather like Monckton.

  79. #80 Clausentum
    March 29, 2011

    Wow :
    “David MacKay FRS is a Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of the Royal Society.
    He was appointed Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change.”

    He has a considerable reputation to lose,
    Until you come up with something concrete you are just a blusterer.

  80. #81 Wow
    March 29, 2011

    “He has a considerable reputation to lose”

    Hmmm. Argument by authority?

    Until you actually say what it is you think he has right and I’ve got wrong, all you have is the echo chamber from the denialists.

  81. #82 Clausentum
    March 29, 2011

    If you check out the link in my note, you will see that he sets out all his assumptions and shows his working.
    That doesn’t apply to you, on your statement on wind power supplying 3x the UK’S needs, so you’re the one arguing from the authority you appropriate to yourself.

  82. #83 SocraticGadfly
    March 29, 2011

    My off the cuff guess is that, with something halfway like a “Manhattan Project,” the U.S. could get 20-25 percent of its electric power from non-hydroelectric renewables by 2030.

    There’s MANY issues in electric power, some of which have yet to be touched on this thread.

    1. With climate change, damns in the western U.S. will be producing electricity at lower and lower fractions of their originally-designed peaks. Hoover Dam is already a good example.
    2. On the environmental issues, western dams and western salmon are going to be butting heads harder and harder.
    3. For other reasons, a push to decommission more and more smaller dams will continue.
    Ergo, addressing America’s electric future is going to have to address replacing some of its current electric generation, too.

    4. It’s not just nuclear that has NIMBY (over waste, primarily) issues. Let’s not forget the offshore Cape Cod wind farm, opposed by such good liberal environmentalists as RFK Jr. Likewise, what if somebody said the area near Aspen, Colo., or Sedona, Ariz., would be good sites for solar projects? (They would.)
    5. Environmental issues will affect not just siting of solar, whether solar thermal or PV, and wind. It will also affect siting of transmission lines from this new sites.

    6. On this thread, even, there could be more talk of conservation. That could include:
    A. Mandatory minimum insulation standards for all new construction in the United States.
    B. Mandatory housing density and shopping availability.
    Etc., etc.

  83. #84 Wow
    March 30, 2011

    “If you check out the link in my note, you will see that he sets out all his assumptions and shows his working.”

    I did.

    But still doesn’t answer my question.

    What does he say that gainsays what I put down?

    Have you actually read the piece, or are you just going on what the denialist echo chamber tells you is there?

    Go ahead, show me what he shows I have wrong and where.

  84. #85 Wow
    March 30, 2011

    PS you still haven’t shown that his assumptions are right.

    As I said about what he has wrong before:

    “By using maths that proved what he wanted to see, not maths that should be applied.

    Rather like Monckton.”

    This is in addition to my query about what he says that gainsays my post about offshore wind power availability.

  85. #86 Wow
    March 30, 2011

    “5. Environmental issues will affect not just siting of solar, whether solar thermal or PV, and wind. It will also affect siting of transmission lines from this new sites.”

    Those other power stations will need their transmission lines too. If a problem exists with all forms, then it’s a moot problem, since it exists whatever you do to generate power.

  86. #87 Wow
    March 31, 2011

    Clausentium?

    You still there?

    Seems like you haven’;t read MacKay’s piece after all. Here’s your problem: he doesn’t talk of offshore wind.

    Other problems: he assumes 5x the distance then assumes that all this land is used, then assumes 30% utility, then assumes 6w/m^2, then assumes only 10% of the LAND is used (when in fact that really turns out to be 0.4% of the land used, and not even all that, since that assumes the land that the turbine falls on is considered “used”, which is definitely NOT the case).

    bummer for you, huh?

  87. #88 Clausentum
    March 31, 2011

    Yes, I’m still here.
    “I haven’t read MacKay”,”Here’s your problem; he doesn’t talk of offshore wind” :
    I’m looking right now at his book (hardcopy), page 60 chapter 10, title “Offshore Wind”, and 2/3 of the way down is a subsection “Shallow offshore”. There’s also section “B Wind II” pp 263-268.

    I questioned was your assertion:

    the UK as a whole could extract 3x their power consumption from their wind energy assets alone, if they were to implement shallow offshore windfarms.

    which has absolutely nothing to back it up. I can’t point out what you got wrong then because there’s nothing there.
    “you still haven’t shown that his assumptions are right”: you’re the one making contrary allegations, you have to show his assumptions are wrong and to set yours out.
    This is scienceblogs: heard about falsification?

  88. #89 Wow
    March 31, 2011

    “I’m looking right now at his book (hardcopy), page 60 chapter 10,”

    Hmm. Hard to hyperlink to a hardcopy.

    Oopsie.

    Funny, neither do MacKay’s assumptions. Even HE considers “…if the assumption … is correct…”.

    “”you still haven’t shown that his assumptions are right” you’re the one making contrary allegations”

    Excuse me?

    I say that the UK can get 3x their needs from shallow offshore.

    MacKay says you can’t (according to you).

    And ***I*** am the one who is making contrary allegations?!?!

    There was me thinking that at the very least BOTH of us were.

    So, go ahead and prove YOUR contrary allegation.

    I’ve already given you pointers.

    1) 5x exclusion zone
    2) 6w/m^2
    3) 10%

    And probably quite a few others.

    PS: http://www.envirobusiness.co.uk/our-sectors/on-a-off-shore-wind

    That 49GW capacity based on current technology…

  89. #90 Wow
    March 31, 2011

    that was 466GW, not 49GW.

    Total consumption: 38GW.

    466/38 equals what?

  90. #91 Clausentum
    March 31, 2011

    Sorry, I didn’t realise you don’t know what you’re talking about and are just a purveyor of word-salad.

  91. #92 Clausentum
    March 31, 2011

    Seems like you haven’t read MacKay’s piece after all. Here’s your problem: he doesn’t talk of offshore wind.
    ..Hard to hyperlink to a hardcopy.

    The sections on offshore wind can be just as easily found in the online version.
    You seem either to have very poor intertubes skills (charitable assumption) or are just a confused, dishonest time waster or,(being charitable again) just one of those.

  92. #93 Wow
    March 31, 2011

    Nope, I know what I’m talking about.

    You, however, have left the clue at the station.

    Wind power available offshore UK estimated: 466GW.

    UK power use: 49GW.

    MacKay: wrong.

  93. #94 Clausentum
    March 31, 2011

    “I know what I’m talking about..” : well, you’ve now upped your estimate of 3x total UK power from offshore (#68) to 10x. You are obviously very gifted, if not entirely consistent.

    I’d assumed this blog was inhabited by sciency types who know how to make a technical argument and are basically honest. This and your statement that MacKay doesn’t talk of offshore have, amongst other things, shattered my illusions.

  94. #95 Ivar
    March 31, 2011

    @15 innaccurately reports that “Hanford made a nuclear bomb”. Bombs were made in New Mexico, and later in Texas (I believe, at least important parts of them). Hanford does house something over 50% of all the nuclear “waste” in the US, true. Nuclear war is a bitch, and nuclear power is a life-saver.

    One poster implied that in a thorium reactor that all fuel is consumed in somehow a beneficial way. That is perhaps an overstatement, as fuel rods cannot be used to exhaustion and the fission products remain. Thorium doesn’t “poof” 100% into energy. The fission products that need to be handled, just as with a U235 reactor.

  95. #96 Wow
    April 1, 2011

    “well, you’ve now upped your estimate of 3x total UK power from offshore (#68) to 10x”

    Good, so you believe that MacKay is wrong too. Well done.

    (and 33% of 10x is..? plus if you have 10x the amount, can you extract 3x what you need and leave the remainder?)

    But I accept your agreement that MacKay has it wrong.

  96. #97 islami sohbet
    April 1, 2011

    Libya’nın yönetimi konusunda aşiretlerin uzlaşabileceği, birçok Arap ülkesinde de kuruluş aşamasında aşiret liderlerinin siyasi süreçte aktif rol oynadığı belirtildi.
    1993 yılında aşiret liderleri Kaddafi’ye karşı darbe girişimde bulunmuştu. Şubat’tan bu yana devam eden çatışmalar sırasında da Tuareg, Varfela, Migraha gibi aşiretler Kaddafi’den desteğini çektiğini açıklamıştı

  97. #98 OgreMkV
    April 1, 2011

    @83,

    Obama’s just released Blueprint for America’s Energy Future (I think that’s the official title) will attempt to have 80% of all US electricity produced by ‘clean methods’ by 2030.

    Note that in ‘clean’ he includes natural gas and clean coal (no such animal). So it’s not all that good.

    But the critical piece, to me, which was mentioned twice, is the removal of subsidies for fossil fuels.

    I’ve got a summary and a link to the official document here: http://ogremk5.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/the-whitehouses-blueprint-for-a-secure-energy-future/

  98. #99 altın çilek
    April 2, 2011

    Rinse, repeat for the whole southwest. And you needn’t locate them all along the highway. I could dot several areas in Florida too. All those shopping mall parking lots need shade anyway. THink of the savings in automotive A/C (remember, in the sun you blast the A/C when you get in, as anyone who has entered a hot car can attest).

  99. #100 SocraticGadfly
    April 3, 2011

    @Ogre @98 … meanwhile, we have what I consider the VERY scary specter of geoengineering raising its head this weekend> My take: http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2011/04/geoengineer-against-climate-change-eff.html

  100. #101 SocraticGadfly
    April 3, 2011

    @Ogre .. I agree on the “rebates” idea. But .. as you noted, with the 80 opercent including “clean coal” … (we’ve seen how hard Obama pushes “clean coal” in particular, and his appointment of Kenny Boy Salazar shows just how “much” of an environmentalist he is in general) … I’m still kind of skeptical.

  101. #102 Sphere Coupler
    April 3, 2011

    #98
    The blueprint should also include holding other nations to higher standards and not gut the coal beds in America in a greedy race (coal exports up 5.6 million short tons to 65.6 million tons exported) to make a quick buck and reduce the viability of clean air by shifting the burning over seas, just to waft over the oceans to still pollute air space.
    Limit production of coal exports and export clean renewable technologies instead.

    And redistribute some of the 3.4 billion for the fantasy driven clean coal technologies to battery research focusing on a diverse array of technologies or direct funding to the nations electrical coops to switch to renewable power where feasible, there are 900 of them and they service 42 million people, it would be an agressive step in the right direction.

  102. #103 semiyun
    April 4, 2011

    @Ogre .. I agree on the “rebates” idea. But .. as you noted, with the 80 opercent including “clean coal” … (we’ve seen how hard Obama pushes “clean coal” in particular, and his appointment of Kenny Boy Salazar shows just how “much” of an environmentalist he is in general) … I’m still kind of skeptical.

    +1

  103. #104 Neil B
    April 4, 2011

    It seems that in theory, solar is the best overall. But we likely in practice need to mix different types of power source. I used to work as civilian support for the US Navy nuclear program. Mfrs. keep turning out power plants for ships and subs, and it’s rather efficient and safe all these years. It seems to me it wouldn’t be too hard to divert production of similar plants for power generation (and with engineering trade-offs favorable from not needing as many specs and independence.) I’m not going to be happy with brush offs like “if it was a good idea they’d already …” and want some serious feedback.

  104. #105 Hank Roberts
    April 4, 2011

    > 35 x 35 miles

    The Interstate Highway system in the US is about 47,000 miles long. I wonder what the surface area is of the billboards along its length.

  105. #106 MadScientist
    April 6, 2011

    Solar Photovoltaic is probably not as useful as some currently proposed solar thermal plants. The idea is to cycle a working fuel such as ammonia. The sun’s heat is used to convert ammonia to nitrogen and hydrogen, and other tricks are used to recombine the two gases to regenerate ammonia and release huge amounts of heat. There is at least one solar thermal plant which has been in operation for years; I don’t know what scheme they use though – but they use some direct heating method rather than a regenerated fuel as in more modern proposed schemes. Unfortunately the last time I checked, the regenerated fuel schemes were only small laboratory setups. The direct heating schemes are pretty good though – they just can’t store energy for as long as a regenerated fuel. There is no shortage of good ideas to try out though (lack of funding cripples much of the work) and there are also no end of quack ideas.

    As for nuclear, the folks on site have far bigger problems. In the case of a core breach people may be exposed to neutron bombardment (in addition to high doses of gamma) – and that’s really nasty stuff. Another problem is that the damned reaction conditions are so good at producing radioactive iodine, and to some extent radioactive strontium (and numerous other things). As in the case of nuclear bomb fallout, iodine can accumulate to nasty levels in the thyroid gland. Strontium can also be a problem in cases since the human body does not discriminate so well between strontium and calcium.

  106. #107 OKThen
    April 7, 2011

    Yes, we need to go full out to develop solar. So there’s that.

    But let me argue with myself about nuclear. WW there are 500 2nd and 3rd generation nuclear power plants WW (US, 100). That’s a lot of nuclear waste.

    “Relative to current nuclear power plant technology, the claimed benefits for 4th generation reactors include:
    *** Nuclear waste that lasts decades instead of millennia
    *** 100-300 times more energy yield from the same amount of nuclear fuel
    *** The ability to consume existing nuclear waste in the production of electricity
    *** Improved operating safety” Wiki
    Yes, there will be start up problems, technical and human.

    But could 4th generation nuclear power really clean up the worlds 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation nuclear waste in reasonable time, e.g. 100 years?

    If the 4th generation nuclear plants could rid the world of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation nuclear waste during their lifecycle; that would be a bargain.

  107. #108 Wow
    April 8, 2011

    “If the 4th generation nuclear plants could rid the world of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation nuclear waste during their lifecycle; that would be a bargain.”

    Indeed and, if we consider them as an option for cleanup primarily, then the cost of fuel is offset by the cost of other cleanup operations.

    They still take too long to build and they are not in this scenario being considered as an energy source.

    And spending money we don’t have on this when we need to replace the power sources of those 500 stations before they age and go boom is not a good move.

    If denial delay hadn’t stolen the last 20-30 years, we could now be at the happy situation of a firm renewable roll out in place and the time and resources to investigate the happy situation of waste cleanup having an upside.

  108. #109 Wow
    April 8, 2011

    “I used to work as civilian support for the US Navy nuclear program. Mfrs. keep turning out power plants for ships and subs, and it’s rather efficient and safe all these years.”

    One reason for that is that you’re not an engineer of the same level of training and rigour as the gas boiler man engineer. And the military ships are expensively kept in top condition, which is a drain on profits (if it were a commercial enterprise). Then too your nuclear warship doesn’t let anyone on board and even on those allowed on board, those who are allowed in the reactor spaces and the restrictions on what can be done there are severe restrictions that only a strict command heirachy such as a military organisation can afford to implement.

    Yet there are still tragic nuclear accidents on military ships.

    There are a lot of things helping keep power plants safe no nuclear military ships. Moving them to even merchant shipping would require a lot more thought in making them idiot proof and yet more thought making them malice proof.

    Plus you can’t sue your employer for radiation poisoning if you’re military personnel who signed up voluntarily for a nuclear warship rota. Soverign immunity for private corporations would not work well.

  109. #110 Removals Liverpool
    May 20, 2011

    The fact that if an array of sloar panels measuring 35 x35 miles lay across the Nevada desert could power the whole of the United States is incredable. Now im not saying that you should cover the whole desert with them, but surely 35 x 35 miles can be spread out across the whole country?

  110. #111 Eric Murray
    July 17, 2011

    Any form of burning a substance to create energy has ethical issued and nuclear power should be no exception.

  111. #112 Dave Oasis
    September 11, 2011

    This is one of those articles that could be featured in a science class – especially with all of the intelligent comments that are after it, great job scienceblogs :)

  112. #113 Hugo
    October 12, 2011

    Bang this 

  113. #114 Hugo
    October 12, 2011

    YOu hippies stop sending me stuff im ot gay you guys are stalkers wachting me run around my apartment naked.

  114. #115 Ryan
    October 12, 2011

    Bro thats messed up. Bang this $

  115. #116 hugo
    October 14, 2011

    Im sorry about my comments my friend took over my computer for a day i actually use this site for most of my research.