Friday, January 14, 2011

Nuclear Matters in America

granholm Michigan Live talks to for EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. We already know Whitman because she is the co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, which is a grassroots organization supporting nuclear energy.

But what about Granholm?

For Granholm, the energy portfolio of the future would include wind, solar, lithium ion battery, biofuel, nuclear and some measure of fossil fuel generation.

She’s especially enthusiastic about solar energy and battery technology, likely due in part to the car industry centered in her state, but, like Whitman, her broad based energy interests avoids putting too much weight on one technology.

The writer, Kirk Heinz, a local radio personality, decides that Whitman’s focus on nuclear energy suits him better.

I share Granholm’s enthusiasm for other green energy technologies, especially solar and battery, but I have come to the conclusion that we need to invest more resources in the rapid expansion of nuclear energy production.

I’m not sure it’s an either/or proposition – and reasonably sure neither Whitman nor Granholm think it is – but it leads Heinz to lay out the case for nuclear energy:

*Nuclear energy plants emit virtually no greenhouse gases; in fact, nuclear energy already provides 75% of the U.S.’s emission-free energy.

*You would have to live near a nuclear power plant for several lifetimes (even centuries) to get the same amount of radiation exposure that you get from one diagnostic medical x-ray.

He lists more points, but you know them all by now. Heinz hosts a show called “Greening of the Great Lakes” and interviewed both Whitman and Granholm on it. This page has a little more about his conversation with Granholm, but I didn’t find it very enlightening. I wonder if Granholm, like Whitman, will maintain an interest in energy issues in post-political life.

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Speaking of Christine Todd Whitman and CASEnergy, the latter has started up its own blog and Twitter feed. The blog is called Clean Energy Buzz, which you can find it here. Still early days, so not a lot of content yet, but that’ll change as it goes along. The new Twitter feed’s been a little busier. Head over here to see if you’d like to follow them.

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Media Matters for America spends most of its time calling out media personalities for saying things that are not backed up with facts. This isn’t that hard to do, since the give and take of conversation doesn’t allow for a quick check of the Brittanica. But as a way to squelch misinformation, it’s not bad sport.

The reason to mention it in our context was this entry:

On his Fox News show, Neil Cavuto hosted Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to argue against the effectiveness of federal subsidies for the solar industry and claim that there would be no solar industry but for these subsidies. In fact, solar energy receives significantly fewer subsidies than fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

Let’s not worry about what Media Matters counts as subsidies. Instead, let’s look at the fact set that it uses to knock back the argument about solar power:

In 2008, Biggest Beneficiaries Of Federal Energy Subsidies Were Oil And Gas Industry. According to a 2008 Nuclear Energy Institute study titled, Analysis of Federal Expenditures for Energy Development:

The study is here, by the way.

  • Oil and gas received approximately 60 percent ($436 billion) of federal spending to support energy since 1950. Oil alone received more than three-fourths ($335 billion) of this amount.
  • Coal received approximately 13 percent ($93 billion) of federal spending.
  • Nuclear received approximately 11 percent ($81 billion) of federal spending. Hydro received approximately 11 percent ($81 billion) of federal spending.
  • Wind, solar and geothermal received approximately 7 percent ($50 billion).

I’ve mentioned various times in the past that an organization such as NEI cannot expect to have its arguments regarding nuclear energy believed if it is perceived to be “cooking the books” for its own benefit. But if Media Matters, which similarly must not combat bad information with more bad information, considers NEI a source for good information, that’s good, too.

And NEI is a good source of information. Browse around.

Jennifer Granholm.

8 comments:

Brian Mays said...

Well, in this case, I wouldn't worry about Media Matters's sources of information. They seem sound enough. It's how they choose to spin this information that is disturbing.

In fact, their argument is misleading to the point of being outright dishonest. It is much like trying to argue that CEO's of Fortune 500 companies are underpaid because the total amount of compensation paid to the CEO's is significantly less than the total amount of wages paid to other employees. The numbers might be correct, but they don't support the conclusion.

When it comes to salaries, the numbers are almost meaningless unless they are specified per individual. Similarly, numbers for energy subsidies have little meaning unless they are expressed per unit of generation.

Media Matters is trying to pull a fast one, so they choose, for example, to show Table 30 from the Energy Information Administration report, which gives the total 2007 subsidy for each program. Table 35 of the same document, on the other hand, tells a far different story. When the subsidy and support per unit of production (in dollars per MWh) is compared, we find

Coal: 0.44
Natural Gas/Oil: 0.25
Nuclear: 1.59
Solar: 24.34
Wind: 23.37

Thus, wind and solar received subsidies that are an order of magnitude larger than fossil fuels and nuclear. The only technology that receives more subsides per unit of generation is "refined coal" at $29.81/MWh.

Since revenues come from electricity generation, I think that it's safe to say that without federal subsidies for the solar industry, there would be no solar industry. The same goes for wind.

On this point, Cavuto is right, and Media Matters is the one peddling misinformation in need of correction.

gunter said...

Greetings,

It is disingenuous to claim that nuclear power plants emit "virtually no green house gas emission" in comparison with renewable energy technologies.

Its false advertising given that nuclear power plants cannot operate without the uranium fuel cycle which in fact does have significant greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, in considering license extensions for old reactors vs building new renewable energy facilities to replace those nukes,
when the fuel cycle emissions for the twenty year extensions are considered versus new construction emissions for, say, the equivalent in replacement wind technology, the already constructed nuclear power plant still emits 5 times more carbon emissions because of the uranium fuel cycle.

The truth is wind and solar do not have fuel cycles and therefore are by definition renewable energy.

Nukes are not by definition a renewable energy technology. Any effort to twist it otherwise is to put the wolf in sheeps clothing.

Anonymous said...

Greetings,

It is disingenuous to blame nuclear for any carbon emissions that come from the fuel cycle. Any that are result from duplicitous anti-nuclear agitators and misguided "environmentalists" who delay or cancel nuclear build that would otherwise displace carbon-based generation that powers the fuel cycle infrastucture. You could run the entire nuclear fuel cycle infrastructure with nuclear generation, using GCEP or AVLIS technology, which is at least an order of magnitude less energy-intensive than GDEP, and have essentially zero carbon emissions. Any that remain are a tiny, tiny amount related to uranium ore extraction, which is dwarfed by the damage caused by natural gas extraction, the fuel of choice to back up "renewable" generation and it's lousy 15-25% capacity factor.

So greet that...

SteveK9 said...

Gunter: Windmills use huge amounts of steel and concrete. Far more than nuclear plant construction. 11.5 X the steel and 4.6 X the concrete (Per Peterson, UC Berkeley). That requires a lot of energy. But, in any case if the energy is cheap enough (as it is with nuclear) you can simply use it for mining (electric vehicles or synfuels), which would make it 100% carbon free.

Adam Hoffman said...

Contrary to gunter's claims, there have been dozens of studies of the nuclear fuel cycle greenhouse gas emissions that have overwhelmingly concluded that life cycle emissions from nuclear are comparable to renewable technologies. Most studies range from about 2 to 50 g CO2eq/kWh, with 20 being typical.

A handful of outliers attribute higher emissions to nuclear (upwards of 200 g/kWh), and even a cursory review will reveal the unfavorable assumptions necessary to achieve that result. Some examples include assuming a 20 year operating life for new reactors, capacity factors of 70% or less, indefinite reliance on energy-intensive diffusion enrichment, indefinite use of high GHG energy (e.g coal-based electricity) to power the fuel cycle, the use of increasingly poor grade uranium ores (ignoring the cheaper re-enrichment of depleted U and recycling U and Pu from used fuel), or even absurdly attributing the CO2 emissions of the cities in the world burning to the ground in nuclear holocaust.

By the same token, those studies that conclude that nuclear is on the very low end (< 10 g/kWh) typically neglect one or more energy inputs to fuel cycle.

Although both extremes are unrepresentative of the future of the nuclear fuel cycle, only the former leads to substantially different conclusions about the implications of nuclear energy on greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, the emissions from nuclear are in the same ballpark as other "clean" technologies, whether they are 2, 10, 20, or even 50 g/kWh. It is only through the unrealistic assumptions listed above that one can maintain the fantasy that nuclear energy entails substantial greenhouse gas emissions.

Jack Gamble said...

@Gunter,

I certainly hope you are enjoying the ability to comment on NEI Nuclear Notes. You'll find that pronukes do not engage in the unethical practice of deleting comments from blog posts that do not subscribe to our thought process, as antinukes commonly do. I also notice that beyondnuclear.org does not allow comments on their website. Why does your organization find it necessary to silence dissent? Perhaps you might look in the mirror prior to throwing around accuasations of 'disengenuous' next time?

To your point about the Uranium fuel cycle - when powered by nuclear reactors, as the George Besse II enrichment plant in France is, the enrichment of Uranium emits zero greenhouse gasses. Furthermore, centrifuge technology advances now mean that Uranium enrichment requires less than 1/50th of the energy that gaseous diffusion required. This means that there is even less energy needed in the Uranium fuel cycle. Kindly check your facts, sir.

Brian Mays said...

Eh ... Gunter is a troll, pure and simple. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I stand behind my classification.

Of course, he doesn't play fair, Jack. Why would you expect him to? His whole side depends on not playing fair, which is why he posts these hit-and-run comments on the NEI blog, but doesn't let any critical comments get through to Beyond Nuclear's web presence.

Frankly, he just doesn't have the balls to host a web site where just anybody can respond, because poor Paul Gunter is a dinosaur from a bygone era. He is accustomed to the way things used to be, when a sympathetic media with an "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality would provide an uneven playing field in the public forum that he could exploit. Groups like the Clamshell Alliance used to milk this attitude for all that it was worth.

Think about it. Which story is the local news crew more likely to cover: "Nothing unexpected happened today at the local nuclear plant" or "What you don't know about radiation from the local nuclear plant might kill you ... details at eleven"?

For dinosaurs like Gunter to survive, they need to have complete control of their message -- all effective propagandists who publish lies do. They simply cannot last in an environment like this blog or your blog, which invites discussion from the public.

gunter said...

You dont find my comments at least entertaining? I'm crushed.

Look, its your blog and if you open it to public comment, you get them, so quit your whining.

You can discriminate against commentors with some rule that only posts those in agreement.