Friday, February 09, 2007

Claiming the Earth Challenge Prize With Nuclear Energy

Yesterday, former Vice President Al Gore and Virgin Airways CEO Richard Bransom announced the establishment of a $25 million prize for greenhouse gas reduction:

Branson, founder of Virgin Group Ltd., will award the Virgin Earth Challenge prize money to anyone who develops technology capable of removing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at the rate of one billion tons a year. Gore will be a member of a panel of judges that makes the award. The two made the announcement at a press conference in London.
That gave Michael Flagg an idea:
Build more nuclear power plants. Ramp up work in South Africa on Pebble Bed Modular Reactors, build those big AP-1000's for major industrial centers and we in the U.S. start recycling used fuel rods.

I just won $25 million!

Party at my place when the check clears.
Who needs to count the emissions prevented by new nuclear build when the exisiting fleet of plants worldwide is already getting the job done. According to NEI's own internal estimates, 435 nuclear power plants in 30 nations produce 16 percent of the world's electricity. By replacing fossil fuels in electricity generation, nuclear plants in 2005 reduced CO2 emissions by more than 2 billion metric tons.

When you have a chance, be sure to go to Technorati to vote on our WTF submission on this topic.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

As I understand it, the contest is to find an invention that will REMOVE CO2 from the atmosphere, not tech to reduce future emissions.

Anonymous said...

"The head of Virgin Group said at the launch in London, UK, that the prize was not for removing emissions from power plants before they reach the atmosphere and storing them deep underground – an existing technology known as carbon capture and sequestration.

Instead, the brief is to devise a system to remove a "significant amount" of greenhouse gases – equivalent to 1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide or more – every year from the atmosphere for at least a decade."

Rod Adams said...

Based on a rough, back of the envelope computation, the quantity of carbon dioxide that would need to be removed is roughly what would be produced by about 60 gigawatts of coal fired electrical power generation.

Please correct me if I am wrong.

Nuclear fission is certainly capable of this scale of development, but if the inventor has to actually put the plan into production before getting the prize, $25 million is a tiny drop in the bucket in the implementation cost.

Of course I know that the nuclear plants will also produce income; my point is that the offer may be just a good PR ploy.

gunter said...

You forgot to read the fine print---
"The winner of the contest must devise a plan to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere without creating new adverse effects."

N-power has plenty of adverse impacts, including;

nuclear waste:
--no accepted or licensed high level nuclear waste facility anywhere in the world after more than 50 years of n-waste generation;
--the opening of the Yucca Mt. project is all but canceled after decades of schedule slippage due to lack of science;
--MIT points out that an increased reliance on nuclear power for rapid climate change would require a new and evermore elusive Yucca Mt. sized dump be opened somewhere in the world every 3 years;

more radiological targets for our adversaries:
--the cost of guarding n-power plants, n-waste shipments and storage units is so prohibitively expensive that the NRC must keep the security bar artificially low leaving our national security vulnerable to attack-- example, the Commisssioners refused to raise onsite security forces to an equivalent to repel an adversary force of 19 men in 4 coordinated teams (the 9/11 strike force) or from erecting passive structural defenses against attack by private aircraft laden with explosive and fuel

Pitting the cost of N-safety against the increasingly competitive cost of electricity from other sources:
---loads of examples where NRC and the nuclear industry are stalling addressing reduced safety margins or sacrificing them altogether for industry production and profit margins (fire protection, age management surveillance and maintenance, QA/QC of replacement parts and new construction, etc.)

The ever present risk of a nuclear accident:
--According to one national laboratory, the Davis-Besse pressure vessel head corrosion came within as close as two months of continued operation would have resulted in a loss of coolant accident and core damage due to undersized containment sump drains.

Gunter, NIRS

Randal Leavitt said...

There are even faster ways than building new reactors to reduce greenhouse gases with nuclear technology. An extensive nuclear weapons war between China and India would get rid of major carbon dioxide polluters, especially if it could be managed to engulf Europe.

The audacity of someone like Gore thinking he can improve the climate makes King Canute look like a genius.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it true that more fossil fuels are burned in creating and maintaining nuclear power than is dirived from it?

Jim

Kirk said...

Nope, it's not true.

Karen Street said...

It turns out that I just blogged on Davis-Besse in responding to Sierra Club's latest magazine.

From the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

"The NRC staff’s calculations estimated how the reactor head damage, combined with design problems in certain high-pressure pumps and issues affecting a water recirculation system component (containment sump), could have led to damage to the reactor core in the year preceding discovery of the head damage. This Accident Sequence Precursor (ASP) analysis concluded the combination of issues at Davis-Besse had 6 chances in 1,000 of damaging the core during that one-year period. The ASP determination does not estimate the likelihood of a radioactivity release, since the power plant reinforced concrete containment structure and other safety systems were capable of protecting public health and safety."

So Davis-Besse could have been expensive, very expensive, but not a health danger.

I've also blogged on life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions from different energy sources, and currently nuclear power is doing better than solar.

I've also blogged on some of the other topics Gunter mentions. Feel free to go to my blog.

Re Rod's point -- I've heard nothing to indicate that there is optimism about this particular solution, it may be PR - but the kinds of GHG reductions needed cannot all be done with nuclear power. Put me in the group that believes we cannot do it without expanded use of nuclear, but there have to be a variety of solutions. I cite John Holdren on this point in a recent blog.

Udo Stenzel said...

Since nuclear power doesn't actually remove carbon from the atmosphere, the prize cannot be claimed. However, it could be argued that actual removal isn't necessary, as follows:

Construct a nuclear power station. With that power, split water into hydrogen and oxygen (thermochemically or by electrolysis, doesn't matter that much). Separate CO2 from the atmosphere (by effusion, by freezing it out or by absorption onto lime followed by blasting, that again doesn't matter much). Use both in Fischer-Tropsch synthesis to get any hydrocarbon desired. Coke it and bury the resulting coal, use the liquid fuel produced.

Of course, building this contraption is nonsense, since by not building it and shutting off a coal power station, you get the same result (as long as there are coal plants that can be shut off). A small demonstration plant, however, could be a good thing, if only to shut up the wackos who claim that nuclear power emits carbon because mining equipment is diesel powered...

greentech said...

The Honesty Challenge: A challenge nuclear energy cannot win, because it seldom ever tries. For all the seemingly bright people working in the industry, most seem to possess a penchant for propaganda. We all have biases that color our worldview, but nuclear has earned a world-wide reputation for dishonesty.
They tell you nukes avoid C02, but not that it takes 73-230g C02 to make a kg or U. This page is typical, with people flat out saying no CO2 is produced by nuclear or claiming it does better than solar. Ludicrous, and quite obviously so. The sad thing is, you could easily check your facts, but you do not want to believe anything from outside the nuclear industry because you think all the liberals are out to get you.
They tell you nukes cost as little as 1-2 c/kWh, but the reality is consumers alway pay more for nuclear (~15-20 c/kWh).
They tell you about miraculous Gen IV plants, but not that the industry itself does not REALLY want to built these for decades because they want to waste money on "intermediate technology" with heavy tax-payer subsidies.
The facts are it takes about $3B and 10 years to build a nuke plant.
Nuclear is the antithesis of the Virgin challenge: a good way to waste money on a non-solution which will prevent us from working on a real solution, such as renewables, which are the only way to solve our energy and climate needs for the future.

greentech said...

The Honesty Challenge: A challenge nuclear energy cannot win, because it seldom ever tries. For all the seemingly bright people working in the industry, most seem to possess a penchant for propaganda. We all have biases that color our worldview, but nuclear has earned a world-wide reputation for dishonesty.
They tell you nukes avoid C02, but not that it takes 73-230g C02 to make a kg or U. This page is typical, with people flat out saying no CO2 is produced by nuclear or claiming it does better than solar. Ludicrous, and quite obviously so. The sad thing is, you could easily check your facts, but you do not want to believe anything from outside the nuclear industry because you think all the liberals are out to get you.
They tell you nukes cost as little as 1-2 c/kWh, but the reality is consumers alway pay more for nuclear (~15-20 c/kWh).
They tell you about miraculous Gen IV plants, but not that the industry itself does not REALLY want to built these for decades because they want to waste money on "intermediate technology" with heavy tax-payer subsidies.
The facts are it takes about $3B and 10 years to build a nuke plant.
Nuclear is the antithesis of the Virgin challenge: a good way to waste money on a non-solution which will prevent us from working on a real solution, such as renewables, which are the only way to solve our energy and climate needs for the future.

Anonymous said...

Nature has the answer and has had for millions of years, we need to exploit it but not harm it - we find natural resources as we need them, e.g. Oil, I believe this needs a fundamental shift in consuner behaviour before we can achieve anything, I have found a workable solution that meets the criteria and have this knocking around for 2 years now - maybe now is the time!

Anonymous said...

As usual, Gunter's comments are meaningless or irrelevant. A couple of them are nevertheless entertaining as flights of fancy.

The "19 men in 4 coordinated teams" chose to overpower helpless flight attendants with box cutters. This "strike force" wanted nothing to do with attacking someone who might actually shoot back. They also realized that in attacking commercial nuclear plants, they would have likely been killed long before they could commandeer anything or harm anyone in the general public.

A private plane? Come on Gunter, attacking a nuclear plant with a commercial jet air-liner, never mind a private plane, is like throwing a beer can at a brick wall. If you're a suicidal terrorist with an explosive-laden private plane, there are many, many easy civilian targets available - namely anything that is not a nuclear power plant.

Gunter is hardly a nuclear safety analyst. If he were, he would not be making an issue over a LOCA at the vessel head, barring any other equipment failures or operator errors. As bad as a failure to initiate recirculation would be, the operators would find a way to refill the RWST, continue injection and preserve fuel integrity. Given a LOCA and failure of HPI recirculation, two additional, improbable, independent events are required for radionuclide releases: failure to refill the RWST (i.e. the operators do nothing), and failure of the containment fan coolers.

None of the above is to downplay the maintenance problems at David-Bessie, but rather to illustrate that the defense-in-depth principles used to build to the plant. Fossil fuel plants don't have these complex issues, of course, because they are free to dump waste into the atmosphere.

Karen Street said...

Again, that assertion that someone needs to be conservative to support nuclear power. Someone who is anti-nuclear occasionally sends me diatribes from anti-nuclear conservatives, because this shows...? Dunno And plenty of liberals I know support nuclear power.

I know liberals who use talking points provided by people who think discussions of climate change are to give the UN control over us.

I have heard of someone, whose politics I don't know, who flies across the world to oppose both nuclear power and water fluoridation.

People love to believe that everyone who is ... believes ..., but it ain't necessarily so folks.

Anonymous said...

Pro- and Anti-Nuclear sentiments aside, I think this is a noble idea. I've always speculated that atmospheric CO2 removal would eventually be needed in addition to limiting future emissions.

But based on the prize description I’ve seen, I think they might be setting the bar a little high for the first go around.

1 billion tons? That averages to just over 1900 tons a minute. With CO2 in the 380-400 ppm range, that equates to removing all the CO2 from over 16 cubic miles of atmosphere every minute!

Granted I'm not an atmospheric scientist and I could have slipped a decimal place here or there, but that seems to be an epically large scale. The capital costs of just building such a facility or infrastructure of facilities capable of handling that rate would be well in excess of the prize money, not to mention the energy and material resources required to operate them. Since this isn’t a perfect world, these types of facilities won’t be built unless there is sufficient financial incentive (i.e. profit to be made) and the market for CO2 gas and dry ice isn’t quite at the 1 billion ton mark and even then I’m sure there’s cheaper ways of producing it.

Of course, nature already has a solution... its called trees. Assuming an absorption rate of 20 lbs CO2/tree/year, it would take 40 million trees to get us to the 1 billion tons per year mark. I have room for about 5 trees in my backyard, how many can you plant in your yard?