Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Failed Experiment of the Past?

logoSmall The Los Angeles Times ran an editorial on nuclear energy this past weekend. It’s pretty weak tea.

Senate Republicans and many moderate Democrats are seeking to lard up prospective climate and energy bills with billions of dollars in loan guarantees and other subsidies for nuclear power, even though it makes no sense as a solution to climate change and is a terrible option from an economic, environmental and national-security standpoint.

Lard. Pork. Get it? We understand that the Times doesn’t like nuclear energy – and they have every right not to – but the arguments, like the one above, are flatly contradicted by, how shall we call it, reality.

Like a lot of absolutist anti-nuclear advocates, the Times gets a little stuck when trying to figure out what to do about climate change, which it clearly views as a problem.

And renewable-power plants can be built almost immediately, without the long permitting delays faced by nuclear reactors. Some clean-energy strategies, such as energy efficiency and combined heat and power systems, actually end up saving money rather than costing it.

Well, sure, except you have issues of siting, transmission, individual mandates to get through Congress and a host of other issues. We have no beef at all with these methods, and think they ought to be pursued aggressively, but pretending they’re issue-free is dishonest.

And here the Times get a little more stuck:

Electricity can be generated by pumping water into hot, permeable rocks deep underground, and as the technology improves, the potential for geothermal is enormous. According to an MIT study, in fact, geothermal plants could eventually supply as much power as the nation currently gets from its nuclear reactors -- without producing any radioactive waste.

But as the Times admits, the technology isn’t where it needs to be yet and, as it doesn’t mention, siting is really an issue, as one basically has to go where the geysers are. (And you have to spend an impressive amount of money for what may prove a dud well. And there are greenhouse gas emission issues, though far less than fossil fuels.) Again, no beef from us, really, but looking to nascent technologies when you have one that is well understood just seems stubborn.

The Times also takes a run at the “myth” of intermittency (wind and solar) but you can take that one apart yourself.

Nuclear power is a failed experiment of the past, not an answer for the future.

A failed experiment that produces 20% of America’s electricity capacity despite a 30 year issue-free hiatus. If that’s failure, The Times really has no definition of success.


Anonymous said...

One should expect no better of the liberal mainstream media. After all, they all majored in journalism, not engineering. (That's so they can make a difference in the world. Snicker.)

harlz said...

The LA-LA Land Times is a failed experiment of the past, and before the end of the next decade will find its coffers as bankrupt as its philosophy.

T-Squared said...

NEI may want to point the LA Times in the direction of David MacKay's on-line book "Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air" at David, who is the UK's Chief Scientific Advisor on Energy and Climate Change, had the following to say in his book on geothermal energy:

"The difficulty with making sustainable geothermal power is that the 
speed at which heat travels through solid rock limits the rate at which heat
 can be sustainably sucked out of the red-hot interior of the earth. It’s like 
trying to drink a crushed-ice drink through a straw. You stick in the straw,
and suck, and you get a nice mouthful of cold liquid. But after a little 
more sucking, you find you’re sucking air. You’ve extracted all the liquid 
from the ice around the tip of the straw. Your initial rate of sucking wasn’t

If you stick a straw down a 15-km hole in the earth, you’ll find it’s nice
 and hot there, easily hot enough to boil water. So, you could stick two 
straws down, and pump cold water down one straw and suck from the 
other. You’ll be sucking up steam, and you can run a power station. Limit-
less power? No. After a while, your sucking of heat out of the rock will 
have reduced the temperature of the rock. You weren’t sucking sustainably.
 You now have a long wait before the rock at the tip of your straws 
warms up again."

David isn't the only one who probes beyond the warm, fuzzy facade of renewables exposing their serious drawbacks and the specious reasoning of their acolytes. The folks at "Brave New Climate" ( have put together a great series entitled "Thinking Critically About Sustainable Energy" (TCASE), which should be required reading for any journalist wanting to write about energy and climate change.

Marcel F. Williams said...

Too bad we didn't continued that failed experiment. If we had, perhaps 80 or 90% of our electricity would come from carbon neutral nuclear energy.

And if Diablo Canyon had been allowed to increase the number of nuclear reactors from two to perhaps 4 to 6, then state of California wouldn't have to import nuclear electricity from Arizona.

Ioannes said...

Whatever the case may be, using athropogenic global warming as the reason to build new nukes is disingenuous at best. See:


And the Obama Administration continues to pursue economically injurious policies based on the East Anglia lie.

We need nuclear power because in the long run it is low cost, because it doesn't pollute the air (regardless of global warming), because the fuel source (with breeders) is virtually limitless, and because it makes us as a country a whole lot less reliant on foreign energy sources.

None of those things are the goals of the Obama Admin or the liberal Dems in general. Period. Anyone who believes any differently is dillusional.

Global warming is a lie - one that the Obama Admin is happy to embrace with all its heart.

Anonymous said...

If the LAT wants to complain about a "failed experiment", they should start with their own state. Here is an American version of a socialist experiment: very liberal welfare and immigration "laws", high taxes, proliferate spending on truly failed social programs, strong emotional investments in "renewable" energy, shutting down nuclear plants for no good reason, and what has it got them? State budget deficits running into the tens of billions of dollars annually, productive citizens and business fleeing the state in droves, high energy prices on top of electricity shortages, some of the worst air quality in the nation, out of control crime and gangs running wild in the streets, etc. The so-called "failure" of nuclear energy pales in comparison to the woeful condition of the state of CA. The LAT would do well to consider the failures of the policies it advocates before pointing to the supposed "failures" of others.

Anonymous said...

The other issue with geothermal energy is that high-temperature water literally dissolves rock (silica). Where the heat is transferred from the water the rock precipitates and plugs stuff up. So geothermal involves constant headaches with maintenance.

Anonymous said...

"One should expect no better of the liberal mainstream media."

If the industry doesn't want the media to stereotype the nuclear industry, with TMI and Chernobyl cliches etc, the industry shouldn't stereotype journalists. Seems only fair and consistent.

And the industry would also do well to steer clear of those like Ioannes who seek to capitalize on and distort the climate e-mail story. Tempest in a teapot, and they're now trying to claim it proves there's no human link to global warming. Right...

Anonymous said...

"Where the heat is transferred from the water the rock precipitates and plugs stuff up. So geothermal involves constant headaches with maintenance."

How is this a showstopper? Steam generator tubes get clogged all the time, yet no one gives this as a reason not to use PWRs.

David Bradish said...

If the industry doesn't want the media to stereotype the nuclear industry, with TMI and Chernobyl cliches etc, the industry shouldn't stereotype journalists.

I would hardly say an anonymous commenter and Ioannes represent the nuclear industry. Our blog is a place where diverse views are expressed. We also make it clear on the front page that "the opinions expressed on NEI Nuclear Notes do not necessarily reflect official policy of NEI or its members."

If you have a problem with what Ioannes says about Climategate, you're free to prove him wrong with links and facts anytime.

Brian Mays said...

Right, David. The last thing that this blog wants to do is to start censoring comments, unless they are truly egregious or completely off-topic or both.

I mean, if this blog started censoring comments simply because the moderators disagree with what they say, then this blog would be ... well ... it would be (Sorry, I couldn't resist the cheap shot.) ;-)

Anonymous said...

Who's calling for censorship? I'm just asking for consistency from certain posters, who I assumed work in the nuclear industry. I never said their posts here formally represent the industry's position.

Don't stereotype journalists if you don't want your industry stereotyped. That seems a reasonable request for consistency.

David Bradish said...

Don't stereotype journalists if you don't want your industry stereotyped. That seems a reasonable request for consistency.

Who's doing the stereotyping? It's the first anonymous commenter who we have no clue about. I don't see how you can call for consistency when comments are made by anonymous people. Are we supposed to consistently accept comments from only one point of view? Who's POV should we only accept, yours (another anonymous' position)?

If you have a problem with the first anons' cheap partisan comments, then rebut him. Don't complain about us that we allow such POVs.

David Bradish said...

anon at 5:53, I see that you're only trying to look out for the industry. To me, I believe readers of this blog are smart enough to know the difference between legitimate comments and junk. Thus why no one (except you) has even engaged in the first anons partisan comment. This blog strives hard to be neutral in politics. I don't recommend taking anonymous comments so seriously.

Brian Mays said...

The comment policy on this blog is quite liberal: comments are moderated and blocked if they are inappropriate, but that almost entirely applies only to spam and abusive language.

One shouldn't assume that all, or even most, of the people who comment here work for the nuclear industry. A frequent visitor to the comments section of this blog is Paul Gunter, who works for the anti-nuclear groups NIRS and Beyond Nuclear. We welcome his participation on this blog, but he certainly does not work for the nuclear industry nor does he represent the "industry's position" (by which I assume you mean the NEI's position).

Anonymous said...

There it is, right in the previous comment's first sentence... proof that Ioannes is right! Liberal policies do reign supreme on this blog!!


gman said...

"Steam generator tubes get clogged all the time, yet no one gives this as a reason not to use PWRs."

Um, no they don't get clogged

Anonymous said...

What about when foreign objects end up in steam generator tubes?

Perhaps what the poster meant to say is, many PWR steam generator tubes are deliberately plugged when they develop cracks, yet no one says this is a reason not to use PWRs. Point is, the generators remain functional, and so do geothermal systems.

Brian Mays said...

"Nothing's perfect" does not imply that "anything goes."

PWR steam generators are deliberately over-designed to function at their normal operating conditions with a certain fraction of their tubes out of commission. Thus, deliberately plugging some of the tubes is not a problem -- up to a point. Eventually, too many tubes can become plugged and the steam generator must be replaced. Again, that's OK, because nobody today expects the steam generators to last for the entire lifetime of the plant. Then again, you wouldn't want to have to replace them every other year either.

Note that this is in a system where the coolant loop is closed and the chemistry is carefully monitored and controlled. Compare that to a system where the chemistry is determined by what is dissolved from hot rock that is deep underground. The headaches involved with maintenance of a geothermal installation are an order of magnitude or more larger than the headaches associated with maintaining PWR steam generators. It doesn't make sense to compare the two as if they were equivalent.

Anonymous said...

"The headaches involved with maintenance of a geothermal installation are an order of magnitude or more larger than the headaches associated with maintaining PWR steam generators."

Could you please provide a source, web link, or hat from which this order-of-magnitude figure was pulled?

Are you saying that geothermal system designers, in contrast with reactor designers, are NOT aware of this issue, and DON'T design with it in mind? I find that hard to believe.

Brian Mays said...

It's simple common sense, anonymous. Although a PWR's coolant loop has a little bit of "crud" in it, this material is relatively benign compared to what is in geothermal water. There's no silica or high concentrations of other minerals. Deposition of these minerals results in fouling, which accumulates over time and clogs the pipes, wells, and heat exchangers of a geothermal plant.

Of course the designers of geothermal plants are aware of this problem. This is why researchers at the Lawrence Livermore and Brookhaven labs have been working in recent years on methods to extract silica from geothermal water. Some people are hoping to make money by selling some of the materials that are extracted from this water.

Nevertheless, this is a huge maintenance issue, that requires either regular cleaning or a special dedicated system to deal with the problem.