Mayor Bloomberg is trying to claim that Sandy had something to do with "climate change." He's full of crap. Sandy was a freak storm that hit as it did due to a high pressure system in the middle of Atlantic that forced it westward, amplifying with forward motion the normal easterly wind of a tropical system. While the central pressure was very low as hurricanes go it was a yawner.
In terms of storms the United States hasn't been hit by a Cat 3 or better since Wilma; seven years of time have passed. If human-caused "Glo-bull" warming is responsible for more and more-furious storms, where are they? Missing, that's where.
Mayor Bloomberg intentionally forgets that in the 1950s three successive storms in one year's time hit the east coast and each of them individually did far more damage than Sandy. Yet the 1950s were well before the alleged "explosion" in man-caused Glo-Bull warming took place.
Humans put about 3.5% of the total CO2 into the atmosphere via fossil fuels. Of that the OECD nations, that is developed nations, are responsible for about half. The rest is from developing nations such as China and India. China and India are not going to stop developing, and they are projected to be emitting far more CO2 than we within the next 10 years, with that trend continuing onward. Yet they are explicitly omitted from any alleged forcible plan to play "tax the rich", which means that any such plan will do exactly nothing to address this non-problem and the promoters of these taxes know it.
And that, my friends, is granting the premise that humans are actually responsible at all for changing climate. The problem is that there's scant evidence to back that up and what does exist is tainted by intentionally-tampered with data, selective editing of data sets out of thousands of samples with the others obscured or destroyed, knowing modifications to analyticalk software complete with comments that document an intentional skewing of results to fit a desired claim and more.
This is nothing other than a scam and people like Bloomberg ought to be ejected from the public square and politically hung for running it. Theft is against the law in both custom and fact, and those who commit it by fraud under color of law or authority deserve the harshest of punishment.
We do have a problem with fossil fuels but it's not what's presented. Rather, the problem is that this rock is finite and the easily-accessed sources have been burned up. We have intentionally ignored the inescapable fact that there is no such thing as a free lunch but there are paths forward that can work which we as a people have ignored on purpose due to conflicts of interest both financially and within our military machinery for war-fighting materials. We also allow to go unanswered ridiculous and facutally bereft scaremongering on nuclear power predicated on our current installed base of technology after we intentionally crippled it by refusing to both close the fuel cycle and exploit known nuclear technologies that are both safer and provide a means to produce fossil-fuel "lookalikes" that can run our transportation infrastructure.
The simple fact of the matter is that energy lies at the root of all economic progress. I don't care whether people like this fact or not, it is a fact. While Bloomberg is somewhat less-strident than many in this regard the simple reality is that you cannot have both economic progress and a stifled energy infrastructure, and the so-called "green alternatives" are thermodynamic frauds when one attempts to actually replace what's being done today.
We can either face these facts and develop reasonably economical alternatives, including nuclear power, or we will have the choices made for us as the cost of continued extraction and production of energy, including so-called "green" power, goes through the roof. Down this road lies the precise disaster that Bloomberg cares to claim we can avoid. Indeed it is that inherently evil called diesel fuel that enabled the NY Stock Exchange to open Wednesday morning.
Bloomberg would like you to forget that.
I don't intend to let him get away with it.
A Chesapeake Energy Corp.-backed company and Oxford Catalysts Group Plc are planning U.S. factories to make diesel, gasoline and jet fuel from gas, which fell to a decade-low price this year. Their goal is to make motor fuels more cheaply and easily than oil-based products produced at giant refineries, and all within two years.
That's Fischer-Tropsch, which I have highlighted before. It works with any carbon source, and natural gas is of course CH4 (mostly.)
The key is of course the cost of not only the feedstock for it but also the energy required to put into the system in order to get the liquids.
This is half the puzzle.
Between the two we can solve the problem.
Right now, we can significantly help when it comes to liquid fuels.
We just need the will. It is not a question of ability.
The solution to half of our budget problems -- those centered around defense -- is found here. Forward progress will make a monstrous difference in our economic future.
As noted, this is not new technology -- the Germans figured it out long ago. It's simply technology, like LFTRs, that we refused to exploit -- even though we do know how.
We must stop being stupid for our own good.
Those who refuse to investigate the premise behind their opinions often find themselves on the wrong side of a debate through ignorance rather than circumstance.
About 40 percent of the world’s electric power is generated from burning coal, which is second only to oil in contributing to global energy use.
And affordable coal may soon be running out just as fast as affordable oil is.
No resource can withstand the pressure of an exponential growth in demand. China burned 3.7 billion tons of coal in 2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, compared with 1.2 billion tons in 2000. Today, China uses almost twice as much coal as the U.S. while possessing only half of its reserves.
That last statement is true. Now if we could just get people to recognize that exponential growth never works forever -- and usually results in tears for those who try to press it well into the range where pairs of exponential functions start to diverge from one another.
Like, for instance, debt and GDP.
But let's talk about coal and nuclear energy again, because people seem to forget.
I used to be a strong advocate for conventional nuclear energy -- the sort we all use today. The reason is simple -- E = MC^2 is one of those rare physical phenomena where the "law of large numbers" works for you instead of the other way around.
Specifically, "C" is a very big number. And C squared is a monstrously big number. This allows for very small amounts of "M" (matter) to be turned into enormous amounts of "E" (energy.)
That's the "magic" of nuclear power. That's all it is, when you get down to it -- the exploitation of a physical fact that is embodied in that simple equation.
Conventional nuclear power has a number of drawbacks. Our original design for nuclear energy in the United States, and most other nations, involved a fairly complicated fuel cycle. Natural uranium ore contains a tiny bit of U-235, the only naturally-occurring isotope (in any rational quantity) that is fissile -- that is, which will split when struck by a neutron, releasing that aforementioned energy.
There are several features and misfeatures of this fuel cycle. Let's go over the misfeatures first, because the list is long and troublesome.
First, traditional "light water" reactors produce relatively-poor quality heat energy. This is due to the critical temperature of water and the fact that light water reactors use the water as both a moderator and coolant. The moderator is necessary to slow down the neutrons; without it they are traveling too fast for optimal fission and the chain reaction cannot be maintained. This also means that the reactor must operate at extremely high pressures, as keeping water in liquid form at temperatures over 100C requires elevating the pressure in the system. Any loss of integirty in the reactor vessel or its plumbing is catastrophic as water heated to beyond 100C will instantaneously flash-boil to steam when the pressure is released, leaving the fuel without coolant. Since the fuel continues to generate heat from decay products for quite a while after the reaction ceases maintenance of system integrity and circulation of the coolant (as well as having a place to reject the heat to in the event the generators are unavailable due to being offline or damaged) is a must.
The poor-quality heat energy also limits where one can place such a reactor for power purposes. The maximum theoretical efficiency of any thermal system is limited by the difference in Kelvin between the temperature of the heat source and that of the heat sink; that is, the turbine inlet and outlet. Since water freezes at 273K (0C) and the critical temperature is 647K (374C) the maximum theoretical efficiency is about 58%. In actual operation this is not achieved as the operating temperature is typically around 300C and efficiency is further limited by the cooling water source and heat transfer to it in the condensers. Typical actual operating efficiencies are around 33% and achieving this requires extremely high volumes of cooling water for the condensers, which is why modern plants are all built near large rivers, lakes or oceans.
Finally, conventional uranium-fuel-cycle plants inherently produce both lots of long-lived transuranic and actinide elements, including plutonium. Plutonium is fissile itself and can be chemically separated, as it is a distinct element and then burned for nuclear fuel. But transuranic and actinide elements tend to be extremely dangerous as they have very long half-lives and thus remain radioactive at hazardous levels for thousands of years or more. Plutonium is inherently produced by any reactor that has Uranium-238 in the fuel, as U238, when irradiated by neutrons, captures a neutron and then undergoes two beta decays to become Neptunium-239 and then Plutonium-239.
Now the rub -- these nasty elements, along with some shorter-lived ones, have to go "somewhere" and the fuel that is used has to be dealt with. The original design of our nuclear system in this nation envisioned both reprocessing of spent fuel and a crop of fast breeder reactors, cooled by liquid sodium, to produce fuel at a higher rate (that is, to produce fuel at a rate more-quickly than they consumed it.) But the fast breeder design is even more dangerous to operate than a light water reactor in practice, as the coolant is liquid sodium metal, and that coolant reacts explosively with the water vapor in ordinary atmospheric air. As such an accident in which contamination of the coolant has occurred (say, due to rupture of a fuel pin) and that coolant is then released into the environment produces an instantaneous airborn release of huge amounts of radioactivity as the sodium burns immediately on contact with the air. (For the record, we came relatively close to exactly that sort of nightmare scenario at Fermi I in Monroe MI, a commercial Fast Breeder which has since been de-commissioned. It suffered a meltdown due to a cooling passage becoming blocked.)
Jimmy Carter added his 2 cents to this mix through executive order, shutting down reprocessing. Ronald Reagen immediately reversed that order when he took office, (correctly) deducing that not reprocessing fuel would eventually lead to a dearth of fuel availability and a pile-up of waste products. But the damage had been done; private industry was unwilling to risk losing their investment and today no commercial reprocessing takes place in the United States despite an abortive attempt to restart it beginning in 1999 (yes, 13 years later, there is still no reprocessing going on.)
Years ago, despite all of these limitations, I was a strong proponent of "conventional" nuclear energy. The reason is simply thermodynamics and the reality of economics -- behind every unit of GDP is a unit of energy, and if you cannot exploit the energy your economy will stall and ultimately fall back. Risk is part of every human endeavor, and the fact of the matter is that using coal for electrical generation causes deaths as well -- they just happen to be diffuse and occur one at a time. Humans are terrible judges of both diffuse and point-source but unlikely risks -- we are scared to death of nuclear accidents and radiation poisoning but dying from lung cancer and asthma attacks caused by coal-fired power plants one at a time doesn't seem to bother us so much, even though something like 10,000 people a year in the US (and many more in places like China) succumb.
There is, however, a better way.
We experimented with Thorium as a nuclear fuel in the 1950s and 1960s. Carried in a molten salt there are a number of significant advantages to this fuel cycle. Chief among them is that the reactors operate at atmospheric pressure, have a strongly-negative temperature coefficient (that is, reactivity drops as temperature increases) and because they operate with their fuel dispersed in the coolant and rely on a fixed moderator in the reaction vessel shutting them down is simply a matter of draining the working fuel into a tank with sufficient surface area to dissipate decay heat. This can be accomplished passively; active cooling of a freeze plug in the bottom of the reactor vessel can be employed during normal operation and if for any reason that cooling is lost the plug melts, the coolant and working fluid drains to tanks and the reactor shuts down.
In addition thorium is about as abundant in the environment as is lead, making its supply effectively infinite.
Finally, these reactors operate at a much higher temperature; the units we have run (yes, we've built them experimentally in the 1950s - 1970s!) run in the neighborhood of 650C. This allows closed-cycle turbine systems that are more efficient than the conventional turbines in existing designs, making practical the location of reactors in places that don't have large amounts of water available. That in turn means that the risk of geological and other similar accidents (e.g. tsunamis!) is greatly reduced or eliminated. Finally, the fuel cycle is mostly-closed internally; that is, rather than requiring both fast-breeder reactors and external large-scale reprocessing plants to be practical, along with a way to store a lot of high-level waste these units burn up most of their high-level waste internally and produce their own fuel internally as well as an inherent part of their operation.
So why didn't we pursue this path for nuclear power?
That's simple: It is entirely-unsuitable for production of nuclear bombs as it produces negligible amounts of plutonium.
That's the bottom line folks.
Now here's the other part of the story. Bloomberg also talks about how coal is getting more expensive as we've burned up most of the easily-accessible anthracite coal and are chewing through bituminous coal at a prodigious rate. This is true, and is going to turn into a bigger problem over time.
But the LFTR -- thorium based nuclear power -- can solve this problem and our oil problem.
As I've previously written and feature in Leverage, there is thorium in coal. We can extract it, use the thorium to produce energy, and then turn the coal into synthetic fuel.
The latter half of this was proved during WWII by Germany and today produces fuel in South Africa; Sasol runs a coal-to-liquids plant using conventional energy and it produces fuel at a very viable cost.
The clever part of this scheme when it comes to LFTRs for the power source is that it's thermodynamically reasonable. LFTRs produce process heat at about 650C and the Fischer-Tropsch reaction requires heat in the 300-350C range. As such a combined plant that does both, without first going to electricity (and suffering the loss of efficiency involved in doing so) is quite practical, with the remaining heat used for electrical generation. Envision a plant that produces both electricity and liquid hydrocarbons for our cars and trucks.
Now add to this that what is little-understood about CTL is that it's not COAL to liquids, it's carbon to liquids.
And carbon is, quite literally, everywhere -- including in the atmosphere.
The only barrier is cost, and as coal becomes more expensive we will find it economically feasible to condense CO2 out of the atmosphere as is done today for commercial production of CO2 and use that as the carbon feedstock required for liquid hydrocarbons.
But all of this, along with a secure energy future, requires that we have an abundant source of energy to begin with.
There is no such thing as a "free lunch" but the closest we can reasonably accomplish is in fact nuclear power, and there are far safer and more-efficient means available to us than what Bloomberg and others, who are all looking at the "conventional" option as the only choice, opine upon.
My largest concern at the moment is that we're not getting honest information from anyone. Unfortunately, I am forced to conclude, after significant effort, that Mr. Jaczko's credibility is questionable - and that's being kind.
In order to support a fission-based nuclear program of any sort in fact, despite whatever jawboning you might do, it is necessary to support reprocessing and burn-up of reaction products. It is also necessary to support production of new fissile materials from fertile ones. This isn't conjecture, it's fact.
That was March of 2011. Today?
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The U.S. government said it will stop issuing permits for new nuclear power plants and license extensions for existing facilities until it resolves issues around storing radioactive waste.
Now we're f*ed. There are 14 reactors that are awaiting license extensions. Without them when their existing authorizations expire they will be forced to shut down.
All of this over politics, specifically Mr. Harry Reid, who is very interested in derailing the Yucca Mountain storage facility -- a facility that Jaczko killed through a procedure that was arguably illegal.
Behind every unit of GDP is a unit of energy. We either resolve this problem, and we should resolve it using something like this proposal (or its expanded cousin in Leverage to the right) or we're in real trouble in a few years as these licenses expire.
Last year, Kirk Dorius and I travelled to London to participate in the kickoff of the Weinberg Foundation, an advocacy group for thorium energy. I am pleased to announce with them the formation of an “All-Party Parliamentary Group” or APPG that contains members of both the House of Commons and House of Lords, to consider the potential of thorium as an energy source.
In a word, "Duh."
Here's the thing folks, when you boil it all down -- thorium is a no-brainer when it comes to a nuclear fuel and fuel cycle, assuming you want power and not bombs. It also is the enabling pathway to petroleum independence without changing the consuming end of the pipeline.
Many "green" evangelists are all ga-ga over electric cars. But they forget that while chargers are quite efficient (~80-85%) and electric motors are too (~85% for the best of what we can offer today) the fact remains that batteries have a crap energy density (meaning the amount of energy the contain per unit of both mass and volume is poor), they have a poor energy acceptance rate (how quickly you can charge said battery, requiring hours .vs. minutes to fill a fuel tank) and in addition they simply shift where the energy production takes place (to the coal plant behind the undesirable neighbor's house.) In other words they simply move the exhaust pipe instead of getting rid of it.
Indeed when you stack the inefficiencies electric cars don't look so good. A typical gasoline or diesel car is somewhere around 30% efficient end-to-end (that is, the number of BTUs of energy that go into the fuel tank .vs. the amount of energy that actually moves the car.) The rest is lost as heat in some form or fashion, whether out the tailpipe, rejected by the radiator or as friction somewhere in the middle.
But neither do electric cars. When we stack efficiencies we see the problem quite quickly:
30% (conventional nuclear or coal) to 50% (combined-cycle such as natural gas) at origin.
90% efficiency in transmission (transformers, loss on the electrical line, etc)
85% efficient (battery charger)
80% efficient (battery itself, assuming 50% charge state -- much less at 85%+ of full charge, perhaps as little as 50%)
85% motor, controller and gearing (in the car)
15.6 - 26% end-to-end
Oops; that's no better and if you start with 30% gross at the generating end it's actually worse!
So the argument for "energy efficiency" doesn't work in favor of electric.
Why does this mean we should use thorium?
Simple -- thorium reactors can be run not on pellets of fuel as conventional reactors using water as both a moderator and coolant, but rather with the fuel dispersed in a molten salt used as the working fluid and a fixed moderator in the reactor chamber.
This is a huge win for a number of reasons:
This is not necessarily a "cheap" oil replacement, but "cheap" is relative. Can we produce $20/bbl equivalent oil products with this technology? No. Can we match $100/bbl oil? Probably, and that's the point -- we can both produce electricity and 100% independent liquid hydrocarbons to fuel our buses, trucks and cars.
In addition we would be using a far safer technology than we use today for nuclear power.
I highlighted this alternative in Leverage for a specific reason -- behind every unit of GDP is a unit of energy. If we are to ever rationalize our federal government spending on all things, including most-particularly our military, we must become energy independent.
We proved that these reactors can work in the 1950s and 60s at Oak Ridge. This is not "pie in the sky" technology or the subject of science fiction. It is a matter of science fact that we can, if we're willing, exploit to resolve our domestic energy requirements.
It appears that Britain is going to join China and India in heading down this road, leaving America behind.
We cannot afford to be left behind.
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