environment,energy,greenhouse,gas,carbon,dioxide,global,nuclear energy,clean energy,emissions,global climate change,environmental impacts, Nuclear Energy Can Save US: 2008

Nuclear Energy Can Save US--America�s 100 nukes equal four million barrels of oil per day.

Billions of lives and civilization itself may be at risk from the Global Warming & End of Cheap Oil, Crisis. Rising sea levels and rising oil prices could be the end of civilization as we know it. The problem is so huge that the most powerful answer, many nuclear plants, must be deployed. Currently, America‘s 100 nukes deliver the energy of four million barrels of oil per day. Wind and solar cannot do the job, and may delay the real answer too long. Still, all kinds of clean energy, plus conservation, plus reducing deforestation, will be needed to help the poor half of the world, and for civilization to survive through this century.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Rising Seas: Not the Only Danger of CO2.

As discussed in the August, 15, 2008, post, our sun, the star Sol, may be entering a cooling phase, which in turn could be related to sunspot cycles. As a slightly variable star, Sol's cyclic changes in heat output will take centuries to determine. However, a possible few decades of cooling could give Earth some relief from rising seas, i.e., if cooling is not extreme (See also August 15 post). However, other dangers of CO2 can't be muted by a cold spell.

30-50% of the world's CO2 is absorbed in the ocean, about the same also in plant life on land. Another serious danger of CO2, is that the ocean's acidity is increasing. Per LA Times articles, resurgence of ancient conditions, poisonous jellyfish, burning seaweeds, and toxic clouds from algae blooms are already being detected in many oceans. Important lakes, and rivers like the Hudson in New York, can be saved from pollution death by decades of effort, but what could be done for 140 million square miles of ocean if we let it get out of hand.

Luckily, efforts to fight deforestation (20-30% of CO2 emissions), are increasing. Per Project Earth show on the Discover channel, studies of large-scale forest reseeding from aircraft look practical. Also, discussions at Bali, for a treaty to replace Kyoto, seem headed toward financial incentives for indigenous people to save their forests. About time! Last year, the World Bank announced that they had G-8 support for a $250 million forest rescue fund, but they were not certain of investor response unless a new treaty covered the risks. (Even so, $250 million is not much money for the work that is so critical.) If most of this CO2, say 20% of the world's emissions, could be averted, it would be like 900, one-gig nukes, replacing 900, one-gig, coal-burning plants.

PS: Sol is at the low-point in its 11-year sunspot cycle. Sunspots should not be frequent, but last month, August 2008, was the first, full-month in a century, which has passed without a single visible sunspot (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, SOHO, satellite).
Some experts think this may presage a cooler sun and cooler weather for Earth, but no one knows for certain.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Reprise: Will the Earth Get Hotter or Colder?

Why is the Earth's weather an emotional, political subject? There are scientific facts that can be found, and that should be reported precisely, so that over decades the public can clearly see how the Earth is doing. Scientists of good will can debate what the facts mean, and over time the public will come to understand who is on the right track.
The following statement was in my July 30, 2007, post: "Within the Little Ice Age, another drop of 3-degrees F, occurred worldwide for 70 years (1645-1715), due to lower Sun energy, in the so-called Maunder Minimum of sun spots. Sol is a slightly variable star. If such an event occurs now.....it would offset Global Warming to some extent." However, the world may get more than I bargained for. The WWW.dailygalaxy.com (2008/06), reported that there are currently no sunspots on the sun, and that the world cooled 0.7C, in one year through January 2008. Whether no sunspots means cooler sun is still debatable. This is the minimum period of the normal sunspot cycle, but some say “the sun looks dead” and some others are worried about how long it will continue.
In Nature, 326:52, 1987, Ribes E., et al, reported that during the Maunder Minimum of sun spots, the sun’s angular diameter was larger, and rotation slower, probably leading to a cooler sun for 70 years. This would certainly trump any human influences.
Per a statement in Scientific American, the ocean level rises two millimeters each year. Why do we not take a million or so satellite readings each month, and report the actual mm rise, even to the second or third decimal place? Why don’t we average millions of temperatures worldwide and give the Earth’s temperature each month as well? Why don’t we also measure “The Solar Constant” (misnomer or not) by satellite, and tell each month whether the sun is giving more or less heat? The heat may or may not relate to sunspot activity, but in decades, we should know where we stand.
Regardless of the climate, air pollution from fossil fuels, especially coal, will still be a problem, and fresh water will be critically scarce. Thousands of nukes, or millions of wind turbines, or some combination, will still be needed to get us through this century.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Jatropha Trees; Good; But.

Much is being made nowadays in newspapers, magazines, TV and websites about the remarkable jatropha tree. This oil bearing tree can produce good biofuel from marginal land. It does not need to use good farmland the way corn ethanol does. Furthermore, it is claimed that this tree can thrive in arid climates; it would therefore be drought resistant to a large extent. (This does not mean it couldn't do better with good soil and water.) This tree might be a better solar energy source than photovoltaic (pv) cells. Organic materials need no factory, just progressive growth by generations, from nursery to deployment. It would be labor-intensive, which could also be a good thing in poorer countries.
There is good data about India's large-scale jatropha tree farming for their national railways in 2006. From CNBC-TV, India produced 350,000 tons of biofuel from 650,000 acres (1,000 square-miles) (no info given on land/water quality).
Per google, one barrel oil is about 1/8 ton--India therefore produced 2,800,000 (2.8M) barrels on 1,000 square-miles in one year (BUT, this yearly crop is equaled by just 70 days average energy production from one, one-gig nuke; there is no free lunch with solar). Globally, if as much as one million square-miles (1000 times India's railway farm) suitable for jatropha could be planted (an enormous undertaking, but doable), 2,800,000,000 (2.8B) barrels of clean biofuel could be produced. This would be about 1/11 of the 30 billion barrels of current world oil consumption; 4% of the world's total current energy, since oil equals 40% of the world's energy supply. It would also be equivalent to about 200, one-gig nukes.
Subsistence farmers in poor countries, aided by government-supplied, seedlings and training, could hope for cash crops worth more than $2000/acre at current prices; even more money in coming years. African tree farms, possibly with millions of bored water wells, would be a natural benefit for rich European nations to use as Kyoto Treaty carbon offsets.
PS: Per Bloomburg.com, Japan, Italy and Spain face combined fines of as much as $33 billion (B) for failing to reduce emissions as promised in their agreement to the Kyoto Treaty. Just think how far tens of $billions would go toward starting a Green Revolution for Africa.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Is Ted Turner Right About Cannibalism?

Ted Turner was widely quoted recently, saying that starvation and cannibalism is facing the Earth within a very few decades. Cannibalism is not humanity's normal response to starvation; there has been much starvation in our past, and even today here is massive silent starvation in the form of malnutrition among the world's poor. America's agricultural policies are largely to blame and should be changed; but that is another subject.
However, Mr. Turner is probably alluding to runaway heating of the atmosphere and spreading droughts; much more serious even than the problem of rising sea levels. Climate change is surely happening, but not on the scale he threatens, unless he means an era of methane eruptions from frozen hydrates in tundra and oceans. Geologists believe that such eruptions occurred 55 million years ago, and raised atmospheric temperatures by as much as 14-degrees C. This era saw a large-scale die off of many species, our species could certainly not survive such a change.
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is currently studying the frozen hydrates, which dwarf the
combined known oil and natural gas reserves, to see what conditions might cause large eruptions, or "burps" of methane. I would like to ask the ORNL if it would be possible to mitigate this very serious problem, by flaring-off the plumes, if they should happen to occur. It is certain that the plumes could be detected by satellite; it seems likely that flaring would cause orders of magnitude less heat than letting this potent greenhouse gas spread through the air for decades; could plumes be ignited by incendiary rockets, lasers, or some such?

Monday, March 31, 2008

Greens Get Silly, But Are Very Right At Times.

To me, fighting construction of the Tellico Dam to save one unimportant species , the Snail Darter, was silly. Nature has tried and discarded gazillions of species over geologic time.
(To digress, it would be interesting to have a guess of how many different species there were in humanity's family tree, from the earliest forms of life to ourselves. My Christian educators never said that evolution could not have happened. Couldn't God have started life on earth, knowing that the Infinite Intelligent Design of the DNA molecule, would inevitably evolve creatures in God's image? God's Image could mean intelligence; i.e. intelligent creatures like ourselves capable of contemplating God's existence. The form that we would arrive at might not have mattered.)
Back to the Greens. They were right about the hole in the ozone layer. With that heads-up, the world is in process of trying to stem the problem. Couldn't loss of the ozone have forced us to live some form of nocturnal life, since sunlight would become deadly?
Likewise, I am firmly convinced that they are right about climate change, and the very serious consequences future generations will face. However, they then get all ideological and fight the hard-headed answer, nuclear energy. Since it is so difficult to get everyone moving in the same direction, I believe that diffused (weak) solutions, from conservation, efficiency, and better forestry, to solar, wind and biofuels will take too long to work. The massive, concentrated energy of nuclear plants is the best chance that humanity has for survival.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

One Nuclear Kilowatt Equals Five of Solar

As a senior, concerned for humanity's very survival, who thinks that nuclear is the only clear answer, I would still be delighted to see 100,000 square-miles of pv cells, and thousands of concentrated solar energy plants in our future. However, there is not enough manufacturing capability in the world to produce such an immense array of structures this century, not even in several centuries beyond. This huge quantity would be needed because solar energy is so weakly diffused. In 12 hours of daylight, a pv cell can only accumulate 4, or at most 5, hours of sunlight for rated output. A nuke delivers rated energy more than 22 hours of the day, 95% of the hours of every year.
Solar enthusiasts make the most of the situation, by saying that a solar cell produces the energy during the heat of the day when it is most needed for air conditioning. This is only a small percentage of the electric energy a household needs. (NOTE: It is my belief that by 20-30 years from now, all air conditioning may well be outlawed; people will be able to survive without air conditioning.)
Other proponents point to houses constructed by experts, that have every possible detail of shape, materials, insulation, heat pumps, etc. in the design. Such houses can be energy neutral, or better. However, America's 300 million people, possibly 75 million households, are not likely to find more than a million with enough enthusiasm and resources to make this a practical part of the energy solution. Government programs can help, but only as a percentage play; unless climate change becomes so serious that everyone must sacrifice and join the fight. If we wait too long to see if to see if solar energy will work, this enlightenment may come too late. The massive potential of nuclear energy would give a much more certain future.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Scary Climate Modes: Universe Today Report (Part Three)

The so-called Greenhouse (GH) Effect is not similar to that in greenhouses for flowers. The real GH however, is in fact, essential to all organic life on Earth. The partial blanketing of Earth by water vapor, CO2 and other gases keeps our atmosphere near +15-degrees C (above freezing), rather than the minus 15-degrees C (a frozen planet), that it would otherwise be. Relative to life, CO2 plays a zero-sum game. Plants absorb CO2, helping them to grow with the C (carbon), and giving off the O (oxygen) . Plants then take back the O, combine it with C, to emit CO2 when they die and decay, or are burned. Higher up the food chain to animals, and humans, all other life operates the same way. This interchange is, and has been for millenia, in equilibrium; but in modern times the system has changed. Fossil-fuel burning creates excess CO2, deforestation (slash and burn) adds 30% more. Rich and poor nations therefore each have there own fronts on which to fight the anti-GH war. http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_effect.

Some respondents to the UT report, mentioned that humans and animals exhale CO2. Though that is right, its simply part of the life/CO2 equilibrium. However, there is a more dangerous gas, methane, that results from eructation (burping) and flatulence from cows, sheep and other ruminants. They can eat cellulosic food like grass, and digest it with unique microbes, producing the methane. Methane is only 6-7% of GH gas but stays longer in the air and is more efficient at increasing heat than CO2. Seemingly, there is no way to mitigate this gas, so we must do what we can about CO2; build thousands of nukes, and millions upon millions of wind turbines.

Some respondents acted as though the GH is ideological, especially because of Al Gore's climate proposals. He is a good man, but some seem to say there is no problem, simply because Al says that there is. This is as silly as extremists of the opposite stripe, who say that there must be skeletons of LGM at Roswell, because the USAF says there are none

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Scary Climate Modes: Universe Today Report (Part Two)

Several comments to the climate report brought up good subjects.
One person said that sea levels had risen and fallen 30-feet, from time to time in the past. These were likely minor cycles, within the thousands-year-long Ice Age histories. My environmental bible, National Geographic, says that Ice Ages are probably caused by cyclical changes in the Earth's oval orbit around Sol. From the height of the last ice caps, 18,000 years ago, the oceans have risen 360 feet. Since 360 feet is 1/15 of a mile, about 11 million cubic-miles of ice must have melted, spreading 10MCM of water over Earth's 140,000,000 square-miles of ocean.

The remaining ice in Greenland (which is melting more rapidly each year) has the potential to raise sea levels by 20-22 feet. The West Antarctic ice shelf contains slightly more ice; enough for an additional 24-foot rise. This shelf has disappeared several times in geologic history; the last time being 600,000 years ago, so experts are clearly worried about its stability. The East Antarctic ice cap is even more massive, and its melting could raise levels more than 200 feet. This is not a worry to experts, since this ice cap has been stable for 15 millions years.

Another comment was about Sol, our Sun. Sol is a variable star, but just slightly; its output changes only slowly over long periods. During 70 years, near the middle of the Little Ice Age (1645-1715), Earth's temperature dropped an additional 3-degrees F, due to lower energy output from Sol. Something like this, right now, would give humanity time to get its clean energy act together, but that can't be estimated because long-term data is not yet available. However, Sol's energy can be measured quite closely. From 1955 to 2000, Earth's oceans have warmed by 0.7-degrees F, but Sol's energy output has increased less than one-tenth of one-percent, not near enough to cause the warming (Scripps Institute of Oceanography).

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Scary Climate Modes; Universe Today Report (Part One)

A recent post on Universe Today quoted scientists who are worried about two special aspects of the Earth's climate changes. Computer models show that no reduction in CO2 emissions, except to zero, will stop the Earth's climate from heating. Climate scientists also worry about the "tipping point" problem; runaway processes that could occur, that cannot be reversed. (See my Feb. 4, 2008 post on the same subject.)

For the computer models, the old, Greek philosopher Xenophon may have been onto something, when he proposed that you cannot walk across a field. To do so, you have to walk halfway, then half of the remainder, then half again, ad infinitum; and you can never get there. Good silly fun, but just suppose that it relates to what the computer models are finding.

A very good book on Earth's geologic history, Stepping Stones, by S. Drury (1999), said that in 1997, the CO2 emissions were about 30 billion tons. Furthermore, one half of the CO2 is sequestered in the ocean as calcium carbonate, in the rain of shellfish exoskeletons to the ocean floor. If we could cut CO2 in half to 15 billions tons, we would seem to be home free; 15 billion tons could be sequestered. However, according to theory, the ocean would still only sequester one-half, or 7.5 billions tons, and so on, and so on.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

America's 100 Tiny Nuclear Plants

America's 100 tiny nukes produce energy equal to 4 million barrels of oil per day (4MBPD) (1.5BBPY). This fact doesn't seem to impress anyone; I still cannot understand why.

Per Google, 250,000 deadweight-ton VLCC's (supertankers) carry two million (2,000,000) barrels of oil. These ships are near 1000-feet long, 150-feet wide, with 60-feet draft. It would take 750 of these behemoths to import the 1.5BBPY that would equal the energy from America's 100 tiny nuclear plants. Such a fleet, aligned end-to-end, at five ships per mile, would stretch 150 miles. This is power almost beyond words; but is just 2% of the world's energy generation.

Per the EIA (eia-doe-gov) spokesperson at the Bali Climate Conference, the world needs to produce 50% more energy by 2030. Also, to avoid the worst problems, 19/42 of 2030 energy must be from zero-CO2 sources, therefore giving 15% less CO2 than right now. Since the world's fossil (oil, coal, gas) energy now is equivalent to 200MBPD, 75BBPY, 7,500 miles of VLCC's, 50% more energy would take 11,625 miles of supertankers. Since 19/42 of this total must be clean energy, the energy from 5,000 miles of supertankers would have to be eliminated. At 100 nukes per 150 miles, this would equal 3300 more, one-gig nukes; obviously impossible to build by 2030. All other clean energy sources must be developed with urgency, even frenzy, if this goal is to be met. Anyone who thinks it would be easy is flat-out wrong.
PS: Currently, worldwide, about 450 nukes of various sizes, produce energy of 350, one-gig plants. This is 7% of total world energy production, oil equivalent of 14MBPD (better than Saudi Arabia), versus 84MBPD of oil consumed. Also equal to 500 miles of supertankers.
PPS: Our 100 plants save 150 miles of supertankers, equal to import costs of $150 billion per year for $100 oil, $300 billion per year of $200 oil, etc.; prices will fluctuate, but inevitably go higher, decade by decade. Each 100 new nukes will save equal $ imports each year.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Negative and Positive, Energy/Climate Feedbacks

A negative feedback mechanism could be a silver lining to a bad process, that reverses the damage automatically. Naively, I thought that the disappearance of oil might have this effect. As oil is used up, the world will have to substitute for its loss with clean nuclear and wind energy, and oil will not be pouring CO2 into the air. However, a recent History (HIS) channel program, shot down this hope. Their take is that oil is primarily responsible for doubling the atmospheric CO2 from the level before the Industrial Revolution. Also, the oil remaining would easily cause another equal increase, which could be catastrophic.
Even worse, are the positive climate feedbacks scientists are talking about now. As the air heats, forest fires burn more frequently, and fiercely, which heats the air more. As floe ice melts in the arctic, less of the Sun's energy reflects into space, and is instead absorbed by the water. As areas of frozen tundra thaw, methane hydrates percolate into the air, and methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.
This leads to the idea of a "tipping point". There is a slim, but real, danger, that a point may be reached where no amount of nuclear and wind energy can stop the feedbacks. Also, rising sea levels may not be the most serious problem. Per the History channel program, in past geologic times, atmospheric CO2 several times higher than current levels produced a Venus-like Earth. If the world does not press nuclear and wind energy, right now, we will be playing with fire.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bottlenecks to the Coming Nuclear Renaissance

The world is ready for nuclear energy, to prevent climate change; America's NRC expects 30 applications for plant licenses within the next few years; 70 nations have announced interest in nuclear energy; a Global Nuclear Uranium Partnership is in the works; the US has let contracts to study reprocessing of spent nuke fuel (which is not waste); both China and India each seem poised to build 300, one-gig nukes during this century; and uranium mine production is rising everywhere; but can all the needed plants be built and staffed? All countries must rely on the same worldwide resources for engineers, and specialized factories.

There are at least three potential bottlenecks for deployment of enough plants to save our world economy and civilization itself--concrete, staffing and ultralarge forgings for the reactor vessels. Reactor containment structures will have to compete for concrete with the footings for millions of wind turbines. Concrete, currently in short supply, can probably ramp up. However, this will add to emissions; concrete production causes 4% of the world's CO2 right now. Nuclear staffing will be a race of long lead times for plants vs. retirement of industry old timers.

The most critical looming shortage is massive forgings for reactor vessels; and The Japan Steel Company, is the only one in the world that can do this work. Since 31 nuke plants are in the worldwide pipeline now, and Japan Steel has a 3.5 year backlog; will they be able to handle demand from 70 nations in coming decades? Last month, two American companies announced that they had placed orders for vessels even though they do not yet have licenses; a gamble they felt was necessary. Its past time, for some American company like GE, or foreign facility such as ThyssenKrupp to see the enormous business potential, and build a second plant for the world--before it is too late.