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Our Nuclear Future: Why Fossil Fuels Aren't On The Agenda

by richardk Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 05:38:11 AM EST

The Christian Science Monitor just ran an article about planned Coal To Liquids refineries. Of course the proponents of the technology are pushing it as the saviour of Business As Usual. Meanwhile, the environmentalists are all in a tizzy about the GHG emissions of CTL. Both sides are liars of course since even the best-case figures they produce show there is no future in CTL.

Here's what they have to say:

If all nine plants were built, they could produce about 3 billion gallons of fuel a year - not enough to meet the president's goal. But if federal tax incentives and state subsidies kick-start the industry, coal-based fuel production could soar to 40 billion gallons a year by 2025 - or about 10 percent of forecast oil demand that year, the National Coal Council reported to the Department of Energy (DOE) last year.

10% of oil demand? That isn't "soaring", that's not even hovering 30 centimeters above the ground! Oil imports are going to plummet more than 10% every two years come 2025. We're supposed to be reassured by a technology that will in 18 years build up enough capacity to make up a shortfall of only two years' oil depletion?

But it gets even worse when we look into the finances:

The $800 million project, which would make 5,000 barrels of CTL fuel a day in Gilberton, Pa.

5000 barrels a day, eh? Multiplied by 365 days in a year and 60 USD per barrel oil that's still only 109 million dollars in yearly revenue. So in 8 years this refinery will have made enough money to cover its capital investment. But not the interest on that capital and not its operating expenses.

As comparison, a hypothetical 1000 megawatt Nuclear Power Plant operating at 91% capacity produces just shy of 8 million megawatt-hours of electricity. Sold at 30 USD per megawatt-hour that's 239 million dollars in yearly revenue. Meaning, in 6 years an NPP has covered its capital investment.

Of course, this is in no way comparable since a CTL plant has to pay for coal whereas an NPP only has to pay for uranium. And coal is expensive and limited whereas uranium is practically free and inexhaustible.

The conclusion is obvious, CTL is nothing but a smokescreen. For whom? Well there's the business as usual crowd of course, but let's not forget the eco-zealots. After all, we wouldn't want to forget the big deal that's made out of the A1FI (fossil fuel intensive) scenario in the IPCC report. A scenario that assumes 1) peak oil never happens, 2) "unconventional" oil materializes out of nowhere, and/or 3) CTL (and a massive increase in coal mining) magically becomes feasible.

The reality is there aren't going to be any fossil fuels by 2050. No petrol, no natural gas, no tar sands, no oil shales, and no coal. Except as reducing agents in the production of steel, copper and concrete. But burning hydrocarbons for fuel? No way.

So when environmentalists predict that world CO2 emissions are going to rise in the future, don't believe them. They are going to fall. If CO2 emissions stay at current levels in 2025 or fall less than 60% in 2050, I will be very surprised. And it will be no thanks to politics or the environmental lobby either, but due only to geology.

I would prefer digging some deep holes and pomping  energy form mother earth.

i think the geothermal power is an elegant way to go :


by fredouil (fredouil@gmailgmailgmail.com) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 06:07:45 AM EST
I am not so hot about this anymore after they started a project here in Basel. Well, we had a series of earthquakes because of that and they had to stop the drilling.

I linked to this story in the Salon, but I seem to be a little dense in using the search program, can't find it anymore - it was this year anyway.

by Fran on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 06:26:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We discussed it on January 8.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 06:34:08 AM EST
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How did you find that??????? :-) and thanks!
by Fran on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 06:49:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I searched the archived comments for "earthquake".

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 06:50:12 AM EST
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We never came around to resolve that one, did we? I'm still not sure -where- they're actually drilling. If you look at their cross section (small pdf!) , I get the feeling they could have sunk shafts down onto the major fault surface. Does anyone know what the "ungef. Position Riehen 1 + 2" means - that's the critical area.
by Nomad (Bjinse) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 07:52:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That would mean approximate (ungefähr) position, right?

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 07:57:19 AM EST
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Okay! Riehen, Voltaplatz and Otterbach are the towns/villages, I guess. I still don't get at what locations they are drilling. If they sunk a shaft at Voltaplatz and Otterbach and the geology is correct, there is little reason to be mistrusting. Riehen is the interesting one.

Right. Found it.

The test sites are at Otterbach, they drilled 2 wells, with the first one not successful so they had to start all over again.

From this graph it seems they are drilling the real thing at the Voltaplatz. (Fran, any chance you could confirm this?) So they're not on top of the brittle fault, but I'm really curious if people know how the main fault starts behaving at greater depth...

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 10:27:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks Nomad, I have to find out. The Voltaplatz is a place/square more or less in the middle of the city and Kleinhüningen is a part of the city, more on the outskirts. As far as I know Otterbach is the "Zoll" between Weil und Basel.
by Fran on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 10:30:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, it is not that urgent anymore. The earth here has calmed down again, no more quakes the last few weeks.
by Fran on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 10:27:37 AM EST
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I question the rationality of anyone using the term "mother earth" in anything but a sneering sarcastic manner. Anthropomorphizing complex abstract systems such as the biosphere is a sign of mental handicap even more surely than praising God and talking in a hick accent.

Geothermal's economics haven't changed substantially in a very long time. Furthermore, it requires water as input, which automatically nullifies it as a serious contender.

It's the same reason why conversion of tar sands and oil shales isn't feasible as a large-scale project. Because water is an incredibly scarce and precious resource. And you can forget seawater since it's highly corrosive and would clog up the works with salt.

Heat pumps, yes. Geothermal, no.

Here's your handy cheat sheet:

  • anything that uses biology is going to be expensive
  • anything that uses freshwater is going to be impossible to scale
  • anything that uses seawater is going to be destroyed
  • anything that produces little, dilute or intermittent energy is not industrially sustainable (this includes wind)
  • conservation means poverty, mass starvation and death

Trains, transit, district heating, heat pumps, are all excellent energy para-technologies. You'll notice that they fulfill all of the criteria set above. But none of them qualify as a source of primary energy. And what's the only source of energy that fulfills all of the above criteria? You have 1 guess because this one's easy.
by richardk (richard kulisz gmail) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 07:44:42 AM EST
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Do not be so definitive, guys who are investing on it are not totally stupid, and water is not scare every where, only drinking water is.

we will find a solution with Gaia.

by fredouil (fredouil@gmailgmailgmail.com) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 08:14:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Water may not be everywhere but human beings are everywhere and electricity needs to follow them. Not just everywhere but at all times. If 50% (the theoretical maximum which wind can provide) isn't good enough then what makes you think 1% is?

And what makes you think the guys who are investing in geothermal (or wind or anything else really) are looking for a way to power humanity? They aren't. They're looking to make some money, that's all.

Your Gaia obsession is not endearing in the least. It only makes me feel like I'm being massively stupid for taking a schizophrenic seriously. Please stop or tell me I'm wasting my time.

by richardk (richard kulisz gmail) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 09:32:36 AM EST
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richardk this is a interesting dairy and would be even more so if you please could stop insulting people who do not fit into your way of seeing the world.
by Fran on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 10:03:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you described a right-winger as uncaring of justice, would this be an insult? No, it would be a tautology. Describing magical thinkers ("intuitionists") as mentally handicapped is not an insult, it's a tautology. None of this is "my way of seeing the world", what it is is FACT. Verifiable and documented.

And I find YOUR way of seeing the world, and especially your way of degrading documented facts to the status of mere opinion, to be insulting in the extreme. What does it say about you if you claim to care so much about insults yet you freely offer them to others? It says you're a liar and a hypocrite. But then that's the problem with being an intellectual relativist, it's an inherently hypocritical point of view. Because it's self-contradictory nonsense and the mere pretense that it's meaningful is automatically a lie.

You might also like to consider your double standard of liking a diary I wrote with the express goal of destroying lies and prevarication, of destroying the cornucopians' and marketroids' "way of seeing the world" and then of whining and complaining when I turn around and do the same thing to your friends. You don't get to use truth selectively, as a weapon aimed only at your enemies. And if you choose to then don't expect me to be so shallow.

by richardk (richard kulisz gmail) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 11:04:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Richard, your face is going red.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 11:49:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
you should put one or two opale under your pillow to reduce your stress.
by fredouil (fredouil@gmailgmailgmail.com) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 02:23:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
that's 239 million dollars in yearly revenue. Meaning, in 6 years an NPP has covered its capital investment.
That means the NPP would cost only 1.434 billion dollars. I'd rather put that number at 2 billion dollars which means the investment is covered in 8,4 years.

Still, then it operates with almost no fuel cost, and only with O&M costs for another 51,6 years.

A very good deal, in my opinion.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 10:58:50 AM EST
I still can't figure out the discrepancy between the construction cost of an NPP (1,200-1,500 per MW) and the total cost of a nuclear project (~2,000 per MW). They can't mean financinng because financing costs much more than this and is much too variable anyways. So what can they mean? Grounds preparation? Generators? Surely the cooling pool doesn't cost that much.

Another excellent reason to invest in nuclear power, even if it's no more cost-effective than either conservation or wind turbines, is in order to build up expert knowledge. Conservation will never be able to magic steel and concrete into existence. And wind turbines will never be able to provide 100% of all energy. If the costs and benefits are roughly equal then nuclear must be considered to have a decisive advantage.

by richardk (richard kulisz gmail) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 11:29:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is Nuclear Power a Viable Option for Our Energy Needs?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 12:24:29 PM EST
Thanks Jerome, this is a great reference.  Here is another that I've found to be good (not that you need it but others may find it helpful), and it has some good links as well.  They are all produced by industry, so obviously they have a point of view and an agenda.  But still, it's a good tutorial.
by wchurchill on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 03:33:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think your diary is spot on.  I guess we're not the only ones that think that, as the price of uranium has soared.  That's not really a big deal though, as I imagine you know, because the cost of the uranium itself is a very small part of the cost of producing power with uranium.  Actually the surprising thing really is that there has been minimal press regarding this explosion in the price, and in the uranium mining stocks.  It sometimes seems it's almost a secret.
by wchurchill on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 03:29:15 PM EST
So light water reactors are inherently stable to first order. Of course things can and do go wrong

Well, yeah.  

The liquor cabinet is empty so we are drinking the shaving lotion.  We'll start in on the rubbing alcohol next.  


The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 10:54:50 PM EST
your comment about conservation leading to starvation is a dick cheney talking point.

i'm sure he will make a killing if you're right about NP.

well said gaianne, this is patho-logic at its sneering worst.

and rk, your tone goes well with your position, as well as your trashing fran's comment.

thoroughly nasty and rated accordingly.

i like having oppositional viewpoints, and wchurchill plays really nice, making him a pleasure to read and respond to.

between starvid and nnadir, i think the pro-nuke camp is already well enough represented here without any further propaganda from individuals who dig shit-stirring for twisted kicks.

rk, your attitude sucks, imo.

even more than your opinion, lol!

can't you find some other site to regale with your bitter gall?

a peaceful, nuke-free sunday to all.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Mar 4th, 2007 at 02:46:07 AM EST
thank you melo.  I know the comment regarding me was not your main focus, but it warmed my heart.  It was a kind and generous comment.
by wchurchill on Sun Mar 4th, 2007 at 04:15:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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