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All of the above is no energy policy

By Bill Becker  

"All of the above is no energy policy"


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Our guest blogger is Bill Becker

Several times recently, we’ve heard this argument: When it comes to securing America’s energy future, we need “all of the above” – coal, oil, gas, nuclear, solar, wind, and so on.

That is a not an energy policy; it’s a cop out. It’s how elected officials dodge hard choices about our energy security. It’s how they avoid political backlash from energy interests, especially those with money and clout such as coal, oil and nuclear.

“All of the above” is how elected officials minimize their personal political risk by shifting it onto the shoulders of the American people, who have to live with the consequences.

With the memory still fresh from the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, with new oil slicks appearing in the Gulf from another spill this month, and with Japan’s nuclear disaster leaking radioactivity into the ocean and atmosphere, you’d think policy makers would be reconsidering “all of the above”.

But President Obama is sticking to his position that nuclear energy is a necessary part of America’s energy future and deserves heavy federal subsidies. Pointing to the BP disaster, the President told a CBS affiliate “all energy sources have their downside“.

In an interview with the conservative blog Red County while President Obama was in Brazil, House Speaker John Boehner described the GOP’s “American Energy Initiative” this way:

It’s our all-of-the-above energy policy.  Let’s have more oil and gas exploration, let’s use most of the royalties to help develop alternative sources of energy, but it’s clean coal technology, it’s nuclear energy.

The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. “Doc” Hastings (R-WA) told Fox News:

I’m in favor of all of the above. I’m in favor of nuclear and hydro and wind and solar, but at the end of the day, we need to recognize the resources that we have and we need to pursue that.

Last week as the new oil spill was discovered off Louisiana’s coast, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced his department had approved another permit for deepwater oil and gas drilling and opened another 7,400 acres in Wyoming to coal mining. As he put it:

There’s no place in the country that captures this all-of-the-above approach quite like Wyoming”¦We need to recognize that coal is a very abundant resource in the United States. Coal will be part of the energy portfolio in American for the future.

In London, the Guardian published an op-ed by author George Monbiot (The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order) who argued, like President Obama, that all energy involves risks. “Energy is like medicine,” Monbiot wrote. “If there are no side effects, the chances are that it doesn’t work.”

Even analysts at the Heritage Foundation object to the wisdom of this “everybody wins” approach. As Nicolas Loris of the Foundation wrote in a post late last year:

(The) “all of the above” energy approach”¦guarantees handouts and subsidies for all energy sources to make everyone happy. In other words, all the special interests win and the consumer loses.

There are variations to “all of the above”. One is, “There is no silver bullet” to solve our energy problems. Another is, “Everything should be on the table”.  Let’s review these cop-out conclusions:

First, while it’s true there is no silver bullet to meet our energy needs, there definitely are a number of duds. If we really want energy security, economic stability and some protection against climate change, then we need to take the duds off the table as rapidly as possible.

Second, let’s face it: In a rational national energy policy there will be winners and losers. The winners will be those energy technologies that allow us to thrive in a carbon-constrained, post-peak-oil economy.  The losers will be the carbon-intensive fuels and energy resources whose risks in this new world outweigh their benefits.

Third, it is an insult to our intelligence to put resources such as solar and wind energy in the same risk category as coal, oil and nuclear power. The downsides of  renewable technologies – for example, intermittency and the tradeoffs between solar farms and wildlife habitat — are far less consequential and easier to avoid than the risks of oil, coal and nukes.

What risks? Those who are regular readers of this blog are well aware of them, so I won’t elaborate. I’ll just use some key words:

Nuclear power: radioactive contamination, nuclear weapons proliferation, tempting terrorist targets, finite uranium supplies, big water consumption, endless cradle-to-grave taxpayer subsidies (aka corporate welfare and socialized energy production), high construction costs, long construction periods, high investment risks,  long-lasting radioactive wastes, no permanent storage. (The Associated Press reports the United States – which uses more nuclear power than any other nation — now has nearly 72,000 tons of nuclear wastes spread across 31 states with no permanent place to store them. Temporary storage facilities are at full capacity.)

Oil: In addition to peak oil, wars, military bases in Islamic countries, world demand exceeding production,  more wars, environmental accidents, carbon emissions, extortion by unfriendly suppliers, more money for terrorists, supply disruptions, price spikes, yet more wars, repeated economic recessions and billions in taxpayer subsidies the industry doesn’t need.

Coal: Mountain top removal, ruined rivers, mercury pollution, childhood asthma, trapped minors, black lung disease, safety violations, unpaid fines, avalanches of coal ash, slurry ponds, water contamination, unsustainable carbon emissions, billions in taxpayer subsidies to chase “clean coal”.

Liquids from coal, and oil from shale and tar sands: Water competition with farms and cities, low net energy benefits, high prices, lots more carbon emissions. Oh, and more government subsidies.

Natural Gas: Secret fracking agents, groundwater contamination, unacceptable waste water, volatile prices. Better than coal or nuclear and a good transition fuel IF the industry solves these problems.

One reason these fuels remain on the table is that we don’t fully consider their risks. The traditional energy industries are nimble in hopping aboard any available bandwagon to hitch a ride to the future. Nuclear power is relatively carbon free; don’t worry about the highly toxic wastes.  Liquids from coal, tar sands and oil from shale will reduce oil imports; don’t worry about the carbon emissions or water consumption. If oil is a liability, we’ll drill more at home. Never mind that easy supplies are gone and more domestic production will have little impact on oil prices.

Here’s what we should be doing:

First, we should publicly assess the full life-cycle benefits and risks of each significant energy option – nuclear, coal, conventional and unconventional oil, natural gas, solar power, wind power, biomass energy, hydroelectric power and so on.

Second, we should create a performance standard for federal energy subsidies, defining limits on each resource’s net impacts on water, energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, public health and national security and job creation.  No energy technology or resource should be supported by the federal government if it fails to meet the performance standard and can be replaced by less-damaging options.

Third, we need a comprehensive national energy policy that guides us to a clean, stable and prosperous future. That means on-ramps for truly clean energy and off-ramps for the rest. As others and I have written before, presidents have been required by law since 1977 to develop comprehensive national energy policy plans and submit them to Congress every two years.  The last to comply was President Bill Clinton in 1998. It’s President Obama’s turn.

Whether or not politicians and policy-makers like it, they need to make choices. Some will be hard. As I said, there will be winners and losers, as there are in every major economic transition. But there will be far fewer losers if King Coal and Big Oil know their time has passed and begin investing in – and training their workers for – a clean energy economy.

As for the rest of us?  After Salazar’s announcement of new coal leases in Wyoming, a news story quoted one observer saying, “The president knows his electoral future hangs on coal.” It’s up to us to let national leaders know their electoral futures actually hang on making hard but necessary energy choices. Why? Because our future depends not on “all of the above”, but on leaving the riskiest and most harmful fuels behind.

-Bill Becker, Executive Director, the Presidential Climate Action Project.

‹ March 29 News: Billion people short of water in 2050; As tar sands oil moves south, Americans push back

NASA’s James Hansen: “One sure bet is that this decade will be the warmest” on record ›

38 Responses to All of the above is no energy policy

  1. phil says:

    Could use more non R.E. metals wind turbine designs; suspect we are at 1970s turbines design level of maturity here. Same for all power sources: a saltwater? battery should take precedence over a lithium battery over a platinum battery.

    Tank cars can hold 137T of radioactive water. They can be positioned far away from train engineers using empty or shielding (if straight route) cars. They are single use; don’t need to be emptied at tomb site 15km or more away from Daichii site (elevation renders no Tsunami threat). Could be covered with something before entombing.
    Where water is pooling is where it will be, more or less. Differences in ease of access and radiation levels. Known pools can be proiritizes and unknowns pools detected (ideally before and without inducing radation poisoning). IDK how to pump the water into the cars. I don’t like permanent water pipes or ships. Former tough to service pumps, latter pointless.

  2. Leland Palmer says:

    I disagree, at least partially.

    We certainly need nuclear- it currently generates something like eight percent of world electricity generation, and does so without producing very much CO2- only the mining and extraction operations, and production of concrete for the plants produce CO2.

    Coal fired power plants move a lot of carbon. Right now they move it from the ground into the air.

    They could be retrofitted, though, to move the carbon from the air back underground:

    Wikipedia- BECCS:

    Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is a greenhouse gas mitigation technology which produces negative carbon emissions by combining biomass use with geologic carbon capture and storage.[1] It was pointed out in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a key technology for reaching low carbon dioxide atmospheric concentration targets.[2] The negative emissions that can be produced by BECCS has been estimated by the Royal Society to be equivalent to a 50 to 150 ppm decrease in global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations[3] and according to the International Energy Agency, the BLUE map climate change mitigation scenario calls for more than 2 gigatonnes of negative CO2 emissions per year with BECCS in 2050.[4]
    The concept of BECCS is drawn from the integration of biomass processing industries or biomass fuelled power plants with carbon capture and storage. BECCS is a form of carbon dioxide removal, along with technologies such as biochar, carbon dioxide air capture and biomass burial.[5]

    If we want to artificially move carbon back underground, we will have to move a lot of carbon.

    If we just discard the coal fired power plants, and desire carbon negative energy production, we will find ourselves building something very similar just to move that much carbon, I think.

    Biomass transported to coal fired power plants has one feature that distinguishes it from transport of other materials. That one feature is that it can always be transported downhill, since it can be planted at higher elevations than the coal fired power plants. Since the coal fired power plants are located along rivers, mostly, for cooling water, many coal fired power plants could have biomass supplied to them by river barge transport- the cheapest form of mass transport.

    If we want to do CCS, the oil industry has the knowledge and expertise needed to do it. Finding usable formations for carbon storage, engineering the storage scheme, doing the drilling and so on are second nature to petroleum engineers.

    What we want, IMO, is a practical path to progressively transform existing technologies into desirable technologies. As coal fired power plants add solar steam generation, they become more carbon neutral. As they develop CCS, they become more carbon neutral. As they transition to BECCS, they start to become carbon negative.

    In the end, we could end up with retrofitted coal fired power plants, which actually put massive amounts of carbon back underground, and enable us to reach 350 ppm again within our lifetimes.

    The coal fired power plants are too valuable to be thrown away, IMO. They should be nationalized, and transformed by the modern equivalent of a WWII scale effort, I think.

  3. phil says:

    If some of the cooling pumps can be activated, how long will it be before “complete meltdown” odds or negligible, or are we already past that point? Winter will complicate things if “makeshift water” is the de facto strategy.

  4. Green Caboose says:

    “All of the above” is equivalent to the creationist argument “teach the controversy”. It sounds so reasonable and centrist. It sounds open and accepting. It is designed to win support from low-information voters.

    But it is a lie. We’ve been here before. Remember when the 1980s Heritage Foundation came up with the “Wise Use” slogan for their environmental policy? Who would have guessed from the name that “Wise Use” meant maximum destruction of the environment for maximum profit for a very few wealthy HF contributors? But that’s what the GOP enacted under that slogan.

    All of these are just slogans designed to disguise policies that maximize immediate profits for the very rich at the expense of everyone else.

  5. Leif says:

    “It’s in my back yard!”


    It pays the land owner thousands of dollars a year.
    It pays the neighbors clean water, soil and air.
    It pays the Earth sustainable ecosystems.
    It pays Humanity a FUTURE.
    IT PAYS…

  6. Mike Roddy says:

    This is very good, Bill, and overdue.

    When politicians say “all of the above”, they really mean “gas and nuclear” in addition to the usual suspects. Solar and wind are “unrealistic”, even though they are proven and cost effective even in this early stage. Meanwhile, gas is destroying aquifers and.. we know all about nuclear, which is actually a stalking horse for fossil fuels.

  7. slect says:

    Oil-related risks: let’s not forget the spills. Obvious but still…

  8. catman306 says:

    If Bill Becker didn’t say it:

    All of the above means, simply, Business As Usual.

  9. John Mason says:

    That’s a splendid cartoon. Any objections to my casting it far and wide? People need to see it and consider the issues it so well portrays :)

    Cheers – John

  10. catman306 says:

    How about?

    Oil, Coal, Natural Gas, Nuclear:
    None of the above for a cleaner future.

  11. dorveK says:

    “We certainly need nuclear- it currently generates something like eight percent of world electricity generation, and does so without producing very much CO2- only the mining and extraction operations, and production of concrete for the plants produce CO2.”

    It’s also totally safe, in case you didn’t notice yet…

  12. Jeff Huggins says:

    Great post, Bill. Thanks for it! Among other things, I like the “Here’s what we should be doing” items.

    Something that concerns me are all of the factors — and there are many — that effectively kill the credibility of our political processes, of most of the media, and even of many of our own efforts to prompt change. The repetitive “all of the above” mantra is just one of them. The so-called (false) “balance” thing in the media is another. The unfulfilled promises made by politicians is another. The total lack of respect for science and common sense, shown by half of our politicians, is yet another. Even the jokes that point out the absurdity, but that don’t really lead to positive change (yet anyhow), are another. The net result of all this is that credibility goes down, down, and down, and anyone retaining “hope” finds himself or herself having to make up reasons to justify that “hope” and keep it propped up while breathing its very last breaths.

    Does President Obama understand that his actions (and inactions) and words are actually reducing his credibility these days? I’m getting to the point — very seriously — where I’m becoming more and more likely to vote for a “write-in” candidate for President next time around. I’ll have to figure out who as the time approaches. Someone who will be sincere and actually get the necessary changes made rather than compromising the solutions (and the world) to a slow death.

    In any case, thanks again for the helpful post, Bill.

    Be Well,


  13. Prokaryotes says:

    All of the above very much sums it up.

  14. climate undergrad says:

    … and lets say a windmill robbed a bank.

    Bravo! And all for the effort to push Obama on the national energy plan.

    I truly hope that “his electoral future depends on coal” is not true. This presents a lose-lose situation for this country and the world. It is a lose if any republican gets elected (all of the above, ha) and it is a lose if the national energy policy favors coal, even the yet-unproven-and-probably-super-costly “clean” version.

    We’re in for a wild (hot) ride…

  15. Chris Winter says:

    dorveK wrote: “It’s also totally safe, in case you didn’t notice yet…”

    I recognize your sarcasm, but I think it’s misapplied in this case. In terms of actual human deaths, coal mining and use are far more dangerous, on the record, than nuclear power.

    Certainly we need stricter standards for nuclear plants, and more important a way to enforce them. Those existing plants will be with us for some time. In this respect, the NRC is better than the old AEC, but far from good enough.

    But beyond that we need to fund the continued development of improved designs, because they do promise technical means to improve the inherent safety of nuclear power generation and to greatly reduce the problems of radioactive waste storage and diversion. Also, breeder reactors cooled with sodium, lead or bismuth would make no demands on scarce water resources and would mean far less uranium mining and transport.

  16. Sasparilla says:

    Fantastic cartoon and wonderful article, they needed another image with Solar panels in the desert and the Sierra club (who I agree with on most things) throwing them away because of the damage the extra shade would do to the environment.

    catman306 – very well said (both posts) – Business As Usual which is what we’ve got for the foreseeable future here in the US. I love that tagline, it says exactly what we need for a cleaner future.

    I totally agree with this article – but its not close to something that can happen here in the US (its so far from where we at the national political level these days that I’d have to say the idea of this type of considered policy is basically abstract science fiction – everything starts with a dream I suppose, but this is a long ways off).

    In my opinion, until the Republicans are routed from the House (and no gains elsewhere), future support for renewables is dead (i.e. not even a realistic option), politically speaking. God help us if they (and their lunatic fringe) take the Senate next year (which they and the Koch Bros. are very intent on achieving) – they do that and we ain’t seen nothing yet. While I don’t support it, nuclear is the only relatively CO2 light emissions technology on the menu at the Federal Level for the foreseeable future, everything else has a GOP stake through its heart.

    I also think we’ll be very, very lucky if the Senate doesn’t go along with the House and strip the EPA of its CO2 emissions authority before the end of the year (can’t see our Oil, Nuke, Tar Sands Pipeline, Coal President vetoing it) and once gone it’ll be ridiculously hard to get super majorities to get it back.

  17. KeenOn350 says:

    Not all nuclear reactors are created equal – there are old nuclear reactors, and new nuclear reactors. There are bad designs and good designs.

    Chernobyl was a reactor design which never should have been built – the reactor core had no containment chamber at all. It never has been built, outside the Soviet Union.
    Fukushima is an old GE design – better than Chernobyl (it has at least a decent containment chamber), but still with built-in flaws, especially with regard to the emergency cooling system.

    People who want to participate intelligently with comments on a nuclear power debate should spend a little time getting informed on the historic flaws, and the current and future possibilities for good nuclear installations.

    Excellent information on the rush to build reactors in the 50′s and 60′s can be found in this Adam Curtis BBC documentary – A is for Atom. American and Russian interviews and history. Insight into the “shortcuts” of the day.
    Fukushima was one of these reactors – A GE BWR built in late 60′s and brought online in early 70′s. As George Monbiot says, in spite of that, the Fukushima reactor has hung pretty much together through an unbelievable natural disaster, and the situation has had quite a limited effect on the general public health and safety.

    From the beginning, there were other safer options available for nuclear power generation. Check this video on the Integral Fast Reactor history. Unfortunately, the safer reactor designs were less well adapted to the provision of material for building bombs – so the bomb-builders were what got built in the old days.

    There is no such thing as perfectly safe energy supply.

    Is oil safe? Consider Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon, for starters. Consider the extensive despoilation/damage in Africa where oil is being pumped – Big Oil is not required by laws to be clean there! Consider the devastation in Alberta at the tar sands!

    At Chiba, after the earthquake, a major oil refinery blew up, and caught fire. The initial explosion killed about a dozen people. It burned for 10 days, spewing out massive pollution. We hardly heard about it. So far, the death toll for oil far exceeds nuclear in the current Japanese situation.

    Is coal safe? Consider all the miners who die in it’s production. Consider also the health effects – the UN estimates 2,000,000 (yes, two million) people die prematurely each year from the pollution of coal-fired power plants, and millions more suffer health effects during their lifetime. Again, consider also the damage done by the waste heaps from both mining and burning of coal. And the fact that coal burning plants in operation emit more radiation than nuclear plants.

    Is nuclear safe? Well, if you actually do some realistic research, nuclear power to date has provided the cleanest and safest power overall. Here is a study on the subject .

    We can’t live without some risk.
    We haven’t stopped flying, although occasionally a plane crashes, usually killing all on board.
    We haven’t stopped driving, although WHO estimates 1.2 million people die worldwide in car accidents each year (over 43,000 deaths in the USA) annually.
    We haven’t stopped walking, although people occasionally step in front of a bus.

    Given -
    - the risks associated with the burning of fossil fuels (climate disruption, biosphere and ocean destruction), which may well lead to large-scale disaster for our civilization if continued;
    - the simple fact that one day we must run out of fossil fuel – more likely sooner than later;
    - the growing population in our already over-populated world;
    we simply must find an alternative energy source, soon (like 20 or 30 years ago, preferably).

    Renewables may be a part of the answer, but not likely the whole solution.

    New nuclear (newclear?) power will probably have to be part of the mix.

    Gen III+ and Gen IV reactors can be built. These units have passive safety features ( no need for all those tons of water being pumped in at Fukushima), and will actually clean up the long-lived radioactive waste that is presently accumulating from the old-style reactors.
    More sober consideration of Newclear options can be found here:
    Brave New Climate is an excellent blog providing discussion and in-depth information on the subject of newclear power.
    An object lesson in a 2 minute vido .
    Interesting interview with Tom Blees on the possibilities of the IFR.

    Thorium reactor possibilities - a Google Tech Talk

  18. Zetetic says:

    @ Cris Winter #15:
    I agree that nuclear is safer than coal, but it still less safe than renewable energy (with the possible exception of large hydro facilities, and that is debatable) plus it is more expensive than renewables. All while nuclear plants keep getting more and more expensive over time (in part to make them safer) while renewables keep getting cheaper and more efficient.

    To further complicate the issue, nuclear projects have a rather nasty tendency of being advanced in a way that strips money away from renewable energy funding while leaving fossil fuel plants (and their funding/subsidies) untouched. Therefore it’s not surprising that they are supported by the Business As Usual crowd, please note that I’m not accusing you of such a position. I’d be willing to bet that if nuclear was only funded by taking away money from fossil fuel subsidies/projects and was used to shut down such plants, that it’s support among the Republican party (and some Democrats) would vanish overnight.

    So in nuclear we have a power source that is safer than coal, but less safe than renewables, is more expensive than full portfolio of renewables, and has a historic tendency to take money away from renewable projects (while leaving fossil plants untouched). That sounds at best like bad policy, and seems more than a little suspicious to me, especially considering the political connections of many of it’s most ardent supporters. (Again I’m not lumping you in with them, just pointing out it’s strong connection to the Republican party, especially among those that have historically been fossil fuel supporters.)

  19. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    You mean to say that Obama has exactly the same policy, this time in energy, as the Republicans? That’s simply mystifying, and intriguingly repetitious, not to mention absolutely, ‘bet your life on it’, predictable. Still, I’m sure he’s ‘trying hard’ and ‘doing his best’.

  20. Raul M. says:

    Oh, a conveyer setup with biochar ovens that
    Burn the biochar through the heat collector
    Part and then the ovens dump the biochar
    Out when done gassifying and having emerged
    From the heat collector portion. Then on to
    Refilling and and then to the gassification
    Stage. Could work an a large scale?

  21. Mark Shapiro says:

    Clean energy will make our children healthy, wealthy, safe, and secure.

    And wiser.

  22. Richard Brenne says:

    Zetetic (#18) – Excellent comment, nuanced and using skillful rhetoric, the kind that wins hearts and minds.

  23. David Smith says:

    If nuclear is so great and safe, why do the taxpayers have to guarantee 80% of the cost and insure all of the risk (when something goes wrong?

  24. Zetetic says:

    @ Richard Brenne:
    Thank you for the kind words. :)

  25. I’d also agree with Zetetic (#18) but would add that nuclear’s very long planning/approval times mean that it’s a good excuse for the BAU crowd. Effectively do little for a long time. Fukushima has ensured that this will get longer, and possibly killed off the current “commercial” industry.

    CCS exhibits similar lead times and should attract public funding for sequestration via geologic injection though some of the algal boost options might prove useful in a minor way.

    So the answer is relatively obvious – go for broke with solar and wind plus efficiency and storage. The only nuclear I would support in the long term are the IFR / thorium reactors as they are the only ones that reduce the storage problem to what might be considered reasonable proportions. However this requires more cooperation than the industry has shown and is probably 20 years off at best.

    Before nuclear has regrouped we will know how well SWES has gone and can decide if we need more baseload generation. Here in Australia where the peak demand is during hot sunny days the answer is probably no, but most of the industrialised world requires more storage.

  26. Bill Becker says:

    Thanks as usual for a lively discussion. A couple of responses: I do agree that all energy resources have some downside. What bothers me is the implication in “all of the above” that renewables, fossils and nuclear are all in the same “downside” category. I also agree that we must accept risk. It’s part of our daily lives. But there are good risks and bad risks, smart risks and dumb risks, cost-effective risks and budget-busting risks, clean risks and dirty risks, etc. We need a requirement for an objective risk assessment before the government backs a particular energy industry, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a risk-management plan in place.

    As for Obama, his actions in the past two years have been better than his most recent words. I’ll talk about that a bit in Part 2, hopefully later this week. But he seems to be in the “don’t upset anybody” reelection mode. He’s still a lot better than the alternatives, but wouldn’t it be a pleasant surprise if some of our progressive leaders were as bold in telling the truth as their opponents are denying it.

  27. windsong says:


  28. dorveK says:

    KeenOn350 says:”People who want to participate intelligently with comments on a nuclear power debate should spend a little time getting informed on the historic flaws, and the current and future possibilities for good nuclear installations.”

    Or if you’re in a hurry, just read this excellent piece, by someone reasonably intelligent, who did “spend a little time getting informed on the historic flaws, and the current and future possibilities for good nuclear installations”:

    Here’s the most interesting part, re safety concerns:
    “I am pretty sure that there is enough above-ground radioactive material sitting in spent fuel pools and inside reactors to kill just about everyone. It will stay dangerous for over a million years, which is a lot longer than the expected lifetime of the nuclear power industry, or any industry, or any human civilization, or perhaps even the human race. When nuclear experts say that a nuclear reactor is safe, they can only mean that it is safe for the rest of the afternoon; beyond that they can’t possibly have any actual data to support their claim. All they can do is extrapolate, given a rosy “everything will always remain under control” scenario, and that is not a valid approach. When they say that nuclear power is safe, what they are really saying is that it is safe given their perfect ability to accurately predict that the indefinite future will remain economically and socially stable, and we already know this to not be the case.”

  29. Jeffrey Davis says:

    From AGW, to Peak Oil, to our horrific trade imbalance, to our involvement in the intractable violence of Middle East politics — four of our most dangerous political problems all scream out for Local, Green Energy. Instead, our government bends over backwards to kiss the heinies of oil patch gangsters.

    Our government is so corrupt it defies the imagination.

  30. Zetetic says:

    @ Alastair Breingan #26:
    An excellent point, especially since “delayism” is so common among the BAU crowd.


    Speaking of renewable energy here is a reported breakthrough in a new type of base-load power source that taps into the difference between freshwater rivers and the saltwater of the oceans. They claim a theoretical capacity of 13% of the worlds current energy (2TW) needs can be supplied this way. While I suspect that 13% of the world’s energy may be rather overly optimistic (I’d be glad to be proven wrong on that though) it’s still potentially a big breakthrough in another form of 24×7 power to supplement the other forms of base-load renewables.
    Battery turns entropy into electricity

    Also, there has been progress in artificial “leaves” that breaks-down ordinary water into hydrogen and oxygen at a reported “10 times” the efficiency of natural leaves, and they are declaring that they can push it further. The device is supposed to be simple and cheap to make, and is about “the size of a poker card”.
    Debut of the first practical ‘artificial leaf’
    Interesting if true, it could provide a way for single homes, even in poor countries to store energy by creating hydrogen fuel. Now we just need an inexpensive way to store it safely and a inexpensive fuel cell (or hydrogen fueled generator).

  31. David B. Benson says:

    Here is a serious attempt to quantify the externalities (those actual costs which are not reflected in the price) for a variety of electric generating methods:

  32. David B. Benson says:

    For example (approximately)
    wind: 0.242 cents/kWh
    hydro: 1.41 cents/kWh
    nuclear: 0.423 cents/kWh
    but see the ExternE FAQ.

  33. Lewis C says:

    David at 33 -

    perhaps you should explain how the externalities of nuclear waste, including types with a half-life of around 1,000 generations of humanity, are discounted down to just 0.432 cents/KWhr ?

    Delivery to the moon perhaps ? In those infinitely-safe fifth-generation nuclear-powered rockets ?



  34. adelady says:

    Windsong. I’m not American so I’m not in your position. From this angle, on the other side of the Pacific, Obama looks a bit like a Gulliver tied down and stifled by lots of tawdry little people.

    Get rid of those selfish unimaginative people. Cut his hands free.
    Hope for the best.

    Maybe, just maybe, a tall, strong leader will emerge untrammelled, free to act.

  35. Zetetic says:

    @ David:
    Thank you for the interesting link.


    @ Lewis #34:
    About your question to David, according to the FAQ list they actually leave out a lot of risks for nuclear power because there isn’t enough data (or a good enough method) to calculate it. They also tend to focus on newer future plants. Therefore it seems likely to me that they may have under-computed the externalities of nuclear, but by how much is debatable. For example since the report was last updated in 2005, I have to ask how what is happening in Japan would effect the calculations since much of their focus is on PWR reactors? How would they calculate for different methods of storing spend fuel rods now that Japan clearly shows some of the risks that many not have been considered before, but we still don’t have all of the data for yet?

    Their results page also seems to show a range of variation in costs between countries that I find interesting (I think that David may have been giving an average? I’m not sure.). I also couldn’t seem to find a good explanation of their surprisingly high rating of the externalities of PV solar power, granted I had to skim the report and may have missed it but it seemed high to me, perhaps it’s the intermittent nature of PV solar that has raised it’s external cost? If so then how would concentrated solar rate?

    The report is interesting but a bit dated (IMO) and it does leave some things out. Perhaps a newer and more inclusive update would be a good idea, and more useful.

  36. Joy Hughes says:

    There has been a push-back to big solar and wind, due to the heavy-handed approach to siting typical of oil and gas companies. In order to get renewables implemented, we need to do better than multi-million acre public land grabs, endangered species threats, and impacts to our national parks. Labels like “NIMBY” don’t cut it – we need responsible solar development on lands we’ve already impacted, which can pull the green movement back together and on course to combat AGW on a united front.

    I am meeting with EPA today – they have 15 million acres of brownfields, much ready to go renewable. There are also over 60,000 square miles of paved land in the U.S. – enough to provide our whole electricity needs.

    Who are pushing the big solar plants? We have Chevron, and Tessera solar (with a CEO from BP) – they have an interest in not only putting meters on sunbeams, but also proposing the most egregious solar development possible to divide the greens.

  37. Stephen Watson says:

    Bill Becker says:

    “Here’s what we should be doing:

    First, we should publicly assess the full life-cycle benefits and risks of each significant energy option – nuclear, coal, conventional and unconventional oil, natural gas, solar power, wind power, biomass energy, hydroelectric power and so on.”

    It makes me scream every time I see this sort of approach. What needs to be first is “We should assess our current energy usage and see how it can be reduced with, as a first step, determining what can be cut with minimal impact on our lives – motorway lighting at 3am in the morning, streets and offices lit through the night, LCD displays in shop windows left on all night advertising to non existent customer and so on. This, as they say, is not rocket science.

    Trying to meet an already insane energy demand as a given is the wrong starting point. Every watt not used is one that down not need to be generated.