Stewart Brand vs. Mark Z. Jacobson: Does the World Need Nuclear Energy? - a rebuttal to Jacobson

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A rebuttal to Mark Z. Jacobson's assessment of Nuclear Energy in his debate with Stewart Brand

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The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author
Dr. Patrick L. Walden
Nuclear Physicist retired and TRIUMF experimenter emeritus.
TRIUMF only provides the server for this wiki.

August 15, 2015

Mark Z. Jacobson left and Stewart Brand right as they appeared for the TED debate on nuclear power
Mark Z. Jacobson left and Stewart Brand right as they appeared for the TED debate on nuclear power

February 2010: Stewart Brand of The Whole Earth Catalog fame and an old sixties hippie faced off against Mark Z. Jacobson, an environmental engineer and anti-nuclear ideologue, on the question of whether nuclear power is really necessary. This was, as far as I can judge it, one of the more highly popular events from the TED series of debates and lectures that are all done within 20 minutes. The debate can be viewed on the TED talks internet site, Does the World Need Nuclear Energy?[1]

Contents

[edit] Preamble

Up until recently, I had never read any of Mark Z. Jacobson's stuff, but I was aware of Jacobson's assertion that the world could be powered 100% on renewable energy and that there was no need for nuclear power. As I first watched this debate several years ago, I regarded Mark Jacobson's method was to pull out a lot of bamboozling information that was difficult to digest unless one had time to think about it. Of course in a debate you do not have the time to think about it, and Stewart Brand, in this role, was a celebrity, not a nuclear expect. Hence Jacobson, who is a supposed expert in energy analysis, pulled a fast one, and left Brand a bit flat footed. Jacobson's charging of all the CO2 emissions of an equivalent fossil fuel power plant to nuclear for the entire duration of the nuclear plant's construction is a cheat which Brand did not catch. Thus I got the impression that Jacobson was tricky and devious in putting forth his arguments.

Jacobson also worked from the a priori claim that nuclear power is an insidious power source and should be dismissed out-of-hand for any reason that can be invented for the purpose, true or not. This beginning pre-judgemental attitude to dismiss nuclear as a means to mitigate global warming lead me to not hold any of his claims in high regard or to read anything that he had written.
However I did read of Jacobson's solution from a derived source on the blog Skeptical Science. I was curious as to what Jacobson and associates had to say about the intermittency problem.[2] They had this list:

  1. Interconnect the grid so that areas can be supplied with a mix of wind, solar, and water energy (often when the sun isn't shining, the wind is blowing, and water power is consistently available)
  2. Use a consistent source, like hydroelectric or geothermal, to fill the solar and wind gaps
  3. Create a smart grid to use energy most efficiently
  4. Use energy storage technologies
  5. Build more WWS than needed, so that there's still supply when wind and sunlight are low
  6. Use electric vehicle batteries as a storage medium
  7. Utilize weather forecasts to anticipate energy demands

Looking over the list I surmised that they considered everything that I had considered regarding the the intermittency problem. Numbers 1, 3, 5, and 7 do not solve the problem, only alleviate it, and putting them all together does not help either. Number 2 works, but hydroelectric and geothermal are not available everywhere. The solution actually requires a miracle, a breakthrough in energy storage technology, which are numbers 4 and 6,[3] and they are banking on it. That is probably why they are not promising their solution of 100% power 100% of the time from 100% renewables until the year 2050. It gives them 40 years (I think their plan is circa 2010) for the miracle to happen just like the case put forward for fusion power.
I am quite concerned that everyone seems to be hopping on the renewable bandwagon[4] and as far as I can discern it is going to lead to a disaster (We will find renewables are not going to mitigate global warming and by then it will be too late). We should be developing along with renewables alternatives like nuclear, which do not have the limitations that renewables have. Now is not the time to risk the future of the planet by imposing ideological stances and praying for miracles. The idea is to get off of a dependence on fossil fuels by the fastest and most pragmatic means to do so.

[edit] Presentations

Stewart Brand's slide showing g(CO2e)/kWh emissions for various means of producing electricity
Stewart Brand's slide showing g(CO2e)/kWh emissions for various means of producing electricity

Stewart Brand was the first to lead off with a presentation. His report was straightforward, to-the-point, and a fair evaluation of nuclear power and its contrast to renewable energy. He did not state the reason why nuclear power is necessary,[5] but he did favourably contrast nuclear with renewables. His main point stressed how dilute was the energy density of renewables. As a result huge swaths of land would have to be turned over to generating renewable energy with unacceptable environmental impacts that would entail. Brand received some polite applause for his presentation, then the floor was turned over to Mark Jacobson.

Jacobson’s first slide (below right) showing g(CO2e)/kWh emissions[6] of green house gases (GHG) for various means of producing electricity directly contradicted the similar slide shown earlier by Brand (see left). There are two figures for nuclear GHG emissions in Jacobson's plot. The low one he stigmatizes as the estimate from the nuclear industry. The high one he claims is the average of 103 PEER REVIEW JOURNAL ARTICLES calculating the same, showing 66 g(CO2e)/kWh, which would make nuclear the least emissions free of the so-called emissions-free sources of power, wind, CSP, solar-PV, geothermal, tidal, wave, and Hydro. Which figure is the audience going to believe? Why the latter one of course. Who would believe the nuclear industry? Hence since Brand's figure agrees with that from the nuclear industry, it makes Brand look like a toady of the nuclear industry. This went way over Brand’s head. He never responded to this figure and right here he lost the debate. But in fact the 66 g(CO2e)/kWh figure is wrong, and I believe Mark Z. Jacobson was well aware of this. The figure shown by Brand in his slide, the one Jacobson alleged to have come from the nuclear industry is, in reality, the correct one.


Mark Jacobson's slide showing g(CO2e/kWh emissions for various means of producing electricity. The figure for nuclear is in stark contradiction of the figure shown by Brand.
Mark Jacobson's slide showing g(CO2e/kWh emissions for various means of producing electricity. The figure for nuclear is in stark contradiction of the figure shown by Brand.

When Jacobson mentioned 103 peer reviewed articles, I knew immediately that this figure came from only one paper, the meta-analysis of Benjamin K. Sovacool,[7] except that these 103 papers were not all peer reviewed. I am sure Jacobson knew that. Sovacool’s paper was peer reviewed and its publication made much hay within the anti-nuclear circles being over-used to demonstrate that nuclear GHG emissions were higher than renewable energy sources. However the paper contained some bad methodological errors, which were noted almost from the day it was published (June 2008). Apparently Sovacool placed too much emphasis on the faulty NON-PEER REVIEWED ANALYSIS of Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen,[8] Who pushed a value of 100 g(CO2e)/kWh.[9] Sovacool was or should have been well aware of the problems with van Leeuwen’s analysis, but he used it anyway. Indeed he used 3 versions of the van Leeuwen data in his analysis as if they were statistically independent, while rejecting other studies that were. To get his final result he took a mean of the studies, which is sensitive to outliers (van Leeuwen's) instead of a median, which effectively dumps outliers as being incorrect. He ended up with the result of 66 g(CO2e/kWh.[10] Thus the higher value of GHG emissions shown by Jacobson for nuclear came mainly from a problematic and largely debunked non-peer reviewed study contrary to the claims of Jacobson. The problems with Sovacool’s analysis were not published in the literature until Dec 2009[11], so Jacobson may not have been aware of the problem when the TED debate was filmed (Feb. 2010). However Jacobson is a professional, Sovalcool’s analysis was available since June 2008, and it is quite apparent Sovacool made heavy use of Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen (2005). It was known that the European Green parties, who are notoriously anti-nuclear, commissioned the van Leeuwen study and hence there should have been suspicions that there may have been problems with the work as indeed there were. Now Sovacool, with a background in socioeconomics and business, may be forgiven for not connecting with the implication of using van Leeuwen, but Jacobson is an engineer studying energy technologies and he should have been well aware of the problem. Be that as it may, Jacobson nevertheless, with foreknowledge or not, insinuated that the nuclear industry artificially low-balled their GHG emissions while independent researchers came out with a much higher figure. This had the effect of immediately putting nuclear energy in a bad light for the rest of the TED debate.

In 2014 the IPCC, an organization whose prime interest is the amount of green house gases that are being emitted into the atmosphere and with no obligatory connections to the nuclear industry, published a medium figure of 12 g(CO2e)/kWh for nuclear GHG emissions from available studies,[12] and in 2011 the figure they published was 16 g(CO2e)/kWh.[13] These figures are on par with the alleged industry figure shown by Jacobson, and in agreement with the earlier figure presented by Brand. The 2014 figure put nuclear emissions as being essentially equal to that of wind (11g(CO2e)/kWh), the lowest GHG emission of any renewable. Thus the figure of Brand was vindicated. It is too bad that this did not happen during the debate.

After sticking nuclear energy with an incorrect and anomalously high lifecycle CO2 emissions figure of 66 g(CO2e)/kWh, Jacobson compounds it by ascribing to nuclear the emissions emitted by a coal fired plant while the reactor is being built. He highballs the time it takes to construct a reactor, 10 to 19 years, and produces a graph showing nuclear emitting 17 times the equivalent emissions of wind and solar, most of which was emitted by the coal plant. He then ends with the absurd claim that nuclear kills more people than wind and solar through air pollution! Deaths all caused by the coal plant that was running while the nuclear plant was being built. This is absurd! How can he justify this? Because he claims it takes next to no time to put up wind and solar plants. Hence there are no coal plants producing CO2 while they are being constructed. But while I maybe wrong in this, is he not comparing the time for wind and solar to put up mega-watts of power to the time it takes nuclear to put up giga-watts?[14] That is a factor of a 1000!
Let us check this out.[15] For example take the Ivanpah solar plant. Its gross peak output is 392MW. Construction started in 2010 and finished in 2014. That is

392MW/(2014-2010) = 98MW per year.

Now look at a nuclear facility such as the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. Its gross output is 3,942MW. Construction started in 1976 and finished in 1988. That is

3942MW/(1988-1976) = 328.5MW per year.

But that is not all. Ivanpah is rated to operate at only 31.4% capacity. That means it is intermittent and "on" only 31.4% of the time. Hence the real build rate of the solar power plant is

98MW/y x 31.4% = 30.8MW per year.

The nuclear facility is "on" 85% of the time. Hence the real build rate for the nuclear power plant is

328.5MW/y x 85% = 279.2MW per year.

Thus nuclear out builds solar by a factor of

279.2MW/y ÷ 30.8MW/y = 9.1
Jacobson's plot of the death rate for nuclear power compared to other sources of electric power. This is concocted nonsense.
Jacobson's plot of the death rate for nuclear power compared to other sources of electric power. This is concocted nonsense.[16]

Thus the assertion of Jacobson is false, and the plot showing nuclear killing people through air pollution is a pure Jacobson concoction. He doubles down on that by conjuring up a hypothetical nuclear war, because of nuclear proliferation through nuclear power, has a bomb dropped on Mumbai, and dumps all the deaths in the nuclear column. This is nuts. The nuclear genie is out of the bottle, and banning nuclear power is not going to end nuclear proliferation. If a country wants a bomb, it doesn’t need nuclear power to get one.
I could just as easily concoct a scenario that because we do not have nuclear power, global warming will not be mitigated, because renewables will fail to do so as they most assuredly will, and civilization will collapse resulting in billions of deaths. We can dump all those deaths onto wind and solar because that is where the renewables only strategy will lead us. That will dwarf deaths from any other source. So enough of these concocted and purposefully misleading graphs putting nuclear into a false light. Nuclear energy is one of the, if not the safest means of generating electricity[17] and the juggling of figures and facts is not going to change this.

The real death rate for various sources of electric power per trillion kWh. The units are in 100,000 deaths per PWh. Nuclear has the lowest rate. Graph is taken from a Kerry Emanuel lecture
The real death rate for various sources of electric power per trillion kWh. The units are in 100,000 deaths per PWh. Nuclear has the lowest rate. Graph is taken from a Kerry Emanuel lecture

Next up, Area! Jacobson would have us accept that the wind turbine footprint on the land is just the pad that is placed on the ground. Is it really? The birds, bats, bees, and other flying insects would think otherwise.[18] The air above is compromised and perhaps deadly. And on the ground? Grass and cereal crops maybe OK. Fruits and vegetables? There maybe a lack of pollinators. How about animals? Herds of cattle maybe forced to accept the whirling of the rotors and the grinding sound of the turbines, but I doubt that the stressful environment created by the wind turbines would have no effect on the animals. Would they eat properly? Would they find shade trees? How about wild animals? The land below is not a wild habitat and wild animals cannot be forced to occupy the land. Why would they inhabit such a stressful environment? There will be no trees (not tall ones anyway), no forests; the varied natural eco-systems would be gone.
Civilization? There will be few buildings, and certainly no towns or cities in the area occupied by a wind farm. People living near such farms are already complaining of the noise. No, the land occupied by a wind farm is not virgin land free for unrestricted uses and environments. It is compromised land with limited applications and scope. No, the area occupied by a wind farm cannot be construed to be just the area covered by the footpads of the wind turbines. It is the total area occupied by the wind farm (see the figure of the BC wind farm, below right).

Jacobson would have you believe that a 5MW turbine can be supported on a tower 4m in diameter. Here is a picture. The tower base is obviously larger than 4m in diameter. The anchor pad is maybe 30m in diameter. And this is for a 2.5MW turbine! Jacobson's figure is wrong.
Jacobson would have you believe that a 5MW turbine can be supported on a tower 4m in diameter. Here is a picture. The tower base is obviously larger than 4m in diameter. The anchor pad is maybe 30m in diameter. And this is for a 2.5MW turbine! Jacobson's figure is wrong.

Jacobson would have you believe that 109,000 5MW wind turbines would occupy only 2 km2 of land. That is the area occupied by their footpads. This would dictate a pedestal that was only 4.3 m in diameter to support each tower. This is not believable (see wind turbine tower base and anchor pad in figure left). Digging into references[19] indictates that the pedestal diameter is more like 35m in diameter, and 109,000 of them would occupy an area of 133 km2 Furthermore a 5MW rotor has a diameter of 124m that can be rotated to face any direction. You cannot compact wind turbines any closer than that. That says 109,000 5MW wind turbines occupy an area of 1676 km2. Jacobson has overstated his case by a factor of 838. His 2 km2 figure is simply incredulous. He quotes,
“the footprint on the ground for wind is by far the smallest of any energy source in the world”
Don’t you believe it. Jacobson seems to be juggling the figures again.


Mark Jacobson says the foot print on the land is only limited to the area the tower occupies on the land. Here is a wind farm in BC. Do you see the pristine ecosystem under the wind turbines? It is a clear cut! So do not believe wind power advocates. The ecosystem under the wind farm is totally devastated! Wind power maybe GHG emissions free, but it is not green.
Mark Jacobson says the foot print on the land is only limited to the area the tower occupies on the land. Here is a wind farm in BC. Do you see the pristine ecosystem under the wind turbines? It is a clear cut! So do not believe wind power advocates. The ecosystem under the wind farm is totally devastated! Wind power maybe GHG emissions free, but it is not green.

For maximum efficiency the wind turbines must be spread out and the land below is thus compromised. Stewart Brand listed it takes 250 sq.mi. for wind and 50 sq. mi. for solar to produce one GW of power. A compendium of wind farms[20] gives for the first 10 farms on the list an average figure of 295 sq.mi./GW and for the whole list, the average is 391 sq. mi./GW. Hence Brand's 250 sq.mi./ GW for wind is more than reasonable. For the Ivanpah[21] and Topaz solar facilities[22] we have 45 and 76 sq.mi./GW respectively. Thus Brand's 50 sq.mi./GW for solar is also reasonable. Now Jacobson wants to determine the area various energy sources require to supply power to the entire U.S. vehicle fleet, which according to Jacobson requires some 545 GW continuously 24/7.
(aside the wikipedia article Energy in the United States gives approximately 843 GW 24/7 to power the U.S. fleet in 2011)
Hence to supply power the entire U.S. vehicle fleet with wind power at 250 sq.mi./GW would require an area of 136,250 sq.mi., an area the size of Montana. Hence in one fell swoop the entire natural environment in the state of Montana is gone. Except for wheat and grass, this will be compromised land. No forests or varied environmental niches. No cities. No Billings, no Bozeman, no Butte, or Helena. The land for the whole state would be severely limited in its further use. However, Jacobson shows the same land requirement and it is only about a tenth the size of Montana. Why? It could be a compacting of the wind turbine spacing, but that would require 25 sq.mi./GW and there is no wind farm example that has such a compacting. It could be that Jacobson assumed that wind power was operating at maximum power 24/7. If so, this is wrong as wind power, on the average, is only “on” 34% of the time.[23]However this capacity only accounts for a factor of 3 in area. No matter what is the problem; the area shown by Jacobson is not easily reconciled to known wind energy potential to area.

A uranium mine. A blight on the environment according to Jacobson
A uranium mine. A blight on the environment according to Jacobson

The same goes for solar. Brand’s figure would require 27,250 sq.mi. of solar to power the U.S. fleet. That is the size of the state of West Virginia. But Jacobson’s solar footprint only covers an area about the size of Connecticut. This is off by about a factor of 5. Jacobson could have incorrectly assumed solar is providing peak energy 24/7, day and night, as this accounts for at least a factor of 4.[24] Again, no matter what is the problem; the area shown by Jacobson is not easily reconciled to known solar energy potential to area.

Thus from independent sources, it is hard to believe that Jacobson is being truthful about the area of land solar and wind must occupy in order to deliver the power required.

As for nuclear, Jacobson talks about a 17 km2 buffer zone around nuclear power plants. I know of no such zone, and the only reference I can find for it is just in this TED talk. Using data from the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant, the site occupies 4000acres (16.2 km2, 6.25 sq.mi.) and has an output of 3.3 GW, giving a land use of 1.9 sq.mi./GW.
Using data from the Turkey Point Power Plant, the site occupies 3300acres (13.4 km2, 5.16 sq.mi.) and has an output of 1.3 GW, giving a land use of 4.0 sq.mi./GW. However Turkey Point is scheduled for an additional 2.23 GW of nuclear in 2019 giving a future land use of 1.5 sq.mi./GW. In addition Turkey Point operates 2 fossil fuel plants producing an additional 1.95 GW. Thus this land use area is a very soft number. Nuclear plants occupy only a small part of their allocated land. The rest can revert to whatever use is necessary within legislated limits, not imposed limits due to the technology. Actually land use areas are hard to come by since this question for nuclear power is somewhat moot. This brochure, Nuclear Power: A Sustainable Source of Energy, gives 2.5 km2/GW or 0.965 sq.mi./GW. In this reference, Ivanpah's land footprint, the land sprawl and environmental impact taken up by the Ivanpah CSP solar facility is compared to the area required for two Babcock and Wilcock 180 MW small reactors, which deliver the same amount of power.[25] The reference states that the reactors can be placed on 38 acres of land giving a land use area of 0.183 sq.mi/GW. Thus the land use area figures for nuclear are quite soft and they can be very small indeed. For the purposes here we will choose 1sq.mi./GW. In this case the energy for the U.S. vehicular fleet can be provided in 545 sq.mi, which is about half the size of the state of Rhode Is. If necessary the area can shrink even further.

An iron mine. Wind turbines are built from steel. Jacobson's world plan calls for 3.8 million of these turbines. Thus we will see many sights like this, a blight on many an environment.
An iron mine. Wind turbines are built from steel. Jacobson's world plan calls for 3.8 million of these turbines. Thus we will see many sights like this, a blight on many an environment.

Jacobson almost gets this right. He says the area is the size of Rhode Is. However Jacobson’s area for nuclear is larger than what would be expected and his areas for wind and solar are considerably and unreasonably smaller than what is to be expected. He seems to be attempting to show that renewables have similar energy densities to nuclear, but this will be impossible to show as nuclear power starts off with more than a million times the energy density of renewables and no amount of nuclear inefficiency such as U-235 to U-238 ratio, shielding, heat engine inefficiency, uranium mining, or efficiencies on the renewable side are going to make up for it. The footprint for nuclear is always going to be very much smaller than renewables no matter how you choose to interpret the figures. The point is that the land use area for nuclear is not all that much of a concern, whereas the land use area of renewables is going to have a devastating environmental impact on large swaths of land, and this fact has to be acknowledged by the proponents of renewables instead of being ignored, covered up, or reduced by juggling figures.

A point in passing, an image of a uranium mine was shown by Jacobson to make a point of how nuclear power blights the environment. That comes across a bit like the kettle calling the pot black. I would note that to build the renewables in Jacobson's plan to power the world with 100% renewables[26] will require a lot of resources, such as iron, copper, concrete etc. For example Jacobson calls for the construction of 3.8 million 5MW wind turbines to supply 50% of the world's energy and just considering the base of each turbine alone, and giving no consideration for the tower, blades, and nacelle, will require about 64 tons of rebar and 890 yards concrete for each turbine. The magnitude of the resources that will be required to built this wind turbine fleet will be enormous, and these resources will have to be extracted from iron, copper, and gravel mines. These mines are every bit as devastating to the environment as those for uranium and there will be more of them. So Jacobson is amiss by only showing a uranium mine, to be fair he should show the dirty laundry of renewable energy industry as well. I have rectified this (see image above right).

Mark Jacobson's slide showing how to match intermittent wind and solar energy to the demand. As Brand commented, "it was a sunny day and a windy night". But what if there were no wind or sun on that day?
Mark Jacobson's slide showing how to match intermittent wind and solar energy to the demand. As Brand commented, "it was a sunny day and a windy night". But what if there were no wind or sun on that day?

Finally Jacobson deals with intermittency. The problem is solved, he claims. We just juggle several renewable non-reliable sources to meet the demand. He shows a 24 hr. graph for one particular day. Is the problem solved? No it is not. What happens if there was no solar or no wind that day? It can happen.[27] The analysis looking at aggregate probabilities on a random basis for the intermittency factor shows that this juggling will not work. This fact will necessitate, in the end, a back up source for power, which Jacobson incorrectly claims will not be needed. Jacobson's plan[28] does have base load power, hydro and geothermal, but that only totals 8% of the supply in his plan, it will not be sufficient and will not be available everywhere. Think of Kansas. Jacobson claims, “base load is actually irrelevant”, but in fact, it is quite relevant.
The only choices for providing base load power, as Brand's presentation illustrated, is fossil fuel, hydro, and nuclear. Fossil fuel is out because it emits GHGs. Hydro is out because there is not enough of it. We are left, as Stewart Brand concluded, with nuclear. There is no other choice.

In view of the difficulties pointed out in Jacobson’s presentation, his ranking of energy sources is questionable, and can be safely ignored. With regard to melting ice caps, it will probably be more likely the ice caps will melt if we use renewables rather than nuclear. Nuclear can be built 9 times faster, remember. And to end his presentation with a nuclear bomb shows just how weak his argument is. He has broken Walden’s law. If you have to resort to nuclear bombs to prove the renewable case over nuclear, you have brought in a red herring, and you have lost the debate.

In their comebacks after their presentations, Brand and Jacobson pass through the night. Brand shows he is totally confused as to where Jacobson got is high CO2 emissions for nuclear and decides they come from burning cities after a nuclear war. Well he is incorrect about that, the real reason is that Jacobson CO2 figures for nuclear are just simply wrong. However Brand's error got him going off on a tangent about nuclear weapons and nuclear power, which allowed Jacobson to comeback with a snappy reply. Jacobson, on his part, doubled down on his solution to the intermittency problem. He stated by fiat that it was solved and nuclear was not necessary. It does not matter how many times he repeats it. It simply is not true.

[edit] The short, crisp, pungent, and powerful points

Chris Anderson, the moderator of this debate, stated that after the presentations by Brand and Jacobson, he wanted, "two people on each side of this debate in the audience to have 30 seconds to make one short, crisp, pungent, powerful point", before Brand and Jacobson summed up. Well I am not sure these comments were all that. Watch, listen, or read the comments and judge.[29]
The first from Rod Beckstrom was supposed to be for nuclear power, but I am not sure if he thought about what he was going to say before he said it. Paraphrasing, "have carbon caps legislation pass in the senate and then Mark Jacobson's solution will save the world". What? That was pro nuclear? I am not I quite sure what to make of that, and neither did the two contestants in this debate. Rod's point was simply ignored. Carbon caps from the U.S. senate? What about the rest of the world? The logic behind Beckstrom's statement seemed to be missing something.
Next is up David Fanton. He is against nuclear. He had a warning about nuclear propaganda. It is very, very strong. We have heard the nuclear side of the argument and not the other. We have? Was Stewart Brand's presentation propaganda? How so? Was not Jacobson's response, despite its errors, the other side? Actually, in the media, the propaganda direction is just the opposite. It is the anti-nuclear propaganda we hear and it is very, very strong.[30] The voice from nuclear experts is mostly silent, and nuclear advocates, like Stewart Brand, are few and far between. Such is the way of the world; if the true situation does not quite exactly make your point, as is Fanton's case here, state the opposite.
Anyway Fanton offers up another bit of the propaganda by bringing up nuclear waste. I was surprised Jacobson did not bring it up earlier. Maybe he did not bring it up because Brand had already dealt with it via his coke cans of uranium vs. railway cars of coal. However what concerned Fanton was transportation accidents transporting nuclear waste from point A to point B. The truth of the matter is that nuclear waste, what there is of it, occupies a very small volume.[31] It can be safely stored on site until it is ready to be moved. Because the volume is small the number of containers and the number of railway cars involved is also small. Super strong containers impervious to accidents are used to transport the waste. They are for all practical purposes indestructible. We can do this because the nuclear waste amounts are small and containable, unlike the amount of coal fly ash at coal plants, orders of magnitude larger, which contain heavy metal toxins.[32] Fanton's concern may exist, but in reality it is moot. There will not be "hundreds, if not thousands, of trucks and trains, moving through this country every day" transporting nuclear waste. There are not going to be accidents putting "material into the environment that is poisonous for hundreds of thousands of years". And terrorists? What are they going to do with it? I doubt if they would be able break open the container, but their reward, if they could, would be a lethal dose of radiation. They lack the infrastructure to handle it.
The point is, nuclear waste can be safely stored on site until interred in deep underground storage in stable geological formations. The problem is solved except for the bureaucratic entanglement effectively blocking the solution in which anti-nuclear lobby groups play no small part.[33] They have created the problem of which they speak.

Brand's Choice for base load powerIf we want no GHG emissions, there is only hydro and nuclear. Hydro is geographically limited, and that leaves only nuclearThere is no 4th choice.
Brand's Choice for base load power
If we want no GHG emissions, there is only hydro and nuclear. Hydro is geographically limited, and that leaves only nuclear
There is no 4th choice.

Then we have Alex next. He is for nuclear. He says, "ultimately, the arithmetic problem (i.e., the capability of renewables doesn't add up) isn't going to go away. We're not going to get enough energy from renewables alone. We need a solution that generates all of the time. If we're going to keep the lights on, nuclear is that solution". This was the solution presented earlier by Brand. With regard to not adding up, Alex was speaking of the intermittency problem which has been already discussed here.
Finally an anonymous person gets to give the last point against. He points out the dichotomy of Alex stating that renewables cannot supply that 100%, and Jacobson who says that they can. This can be resolved. Jacobson is wrong. However our anonymous person dismisses Alex because essentially he lacks the authority and prestige of Jacobson.
Anonymous then points out that whatever failings renewables have now, the passing of time will rectify it. He says,
"So you can't look at state-of-the-art technologies in renewables and say, 'That's all we have.' Because five years from now, it will blow you away what we'll actually have as alternatives to this horrible, disastrous nuclear power."
His presumption that nuclear power is horrible and disastrous, is a sign that anti-nuclear propaganda is working, and presumes technological developments in nuclear energy are at a standstill. The latter seems to be an almost universal failing of the anti-nuclear movement. Their concept of nuclear power is stuck back in the 1980s with Three Mile Island and the movie, The China Syndrome. In actual fact nuclear technology advances just as does renewable technology. The newest technology GEN IV reactors will make Fukushimas impossible and expand the nuclear fuel supply by a factor of 500 or more by using thorium, uranium-238, and nuclear waste as fuel. There will be enough fuel to power the world, at its present level, for about 300,000 years. That "will blow you away".

[edit] Summary

Each speaker was given an opportunity to sum up their position.

Stewart Brand in his summary finally brought up the matter of nuclear waste, probably in response to Fanton. He pointed out that the thousands of years that nuclear waste would have had to have been sequestered will never happen because the GEN IV reactors, as I have just pointed out above, will burn the waste as fuel. All that is needed is legislative action to proceed to the biggest energy bonanza that mankind has ever seen.

Stewart Brand also saved a few words to go after Jacobson's figure showing the balancing act going on to get renewables to meet the electricity demand. He rightfully pointed out that there would be a problem in a cold spell where there is no wind, and gave an example of where it did happen, England right now at the time of the debate. They had to buy nuclear power from the French to make it up. Jacobson for his part did not refute, but just repeated his previous argument,

How Jacobson ended his presentation. Scaring people by implying nuclear energy means nuclear war.If you have to resort to nuclear bombs to win a case for renewables over nuclear power, you have lost the debate.
How Jacobson ended his presentation. Scaring people by implying nuclear energy means nuclear war.
If you have to resort to nuclear bombs to win a case for renewables over nuclear power, you have lost the debate.

"we've analyzed the hour-by-hour power demand and supply...And you can match that demand, hour-by-hour, for the whole year almost."
He added an "almost". I would be interested in that "almost". The fact is you cannot supply 100% of the energy demand with intermittent renewables.[34]
Jacobson ends by showing that there is enough wind energy to supply the world's energy needs many times over. But this is not enough. The energy must be captured, extracted and concentrated from a very low energy density source. That is a process working uphill against the natural direction of entropy and it is very inefficient. To give an extreme example, there is enough zero point quantum energy to power the universe, but by the laws of thermodynamics it can never be accessed to produce any useful work whatsoever, not even one erg. Wind is like that, however but not so extreme. You can extract some of the energy, but not all of it.
Jacobson says,
"There's plenty of resource. You can make it reliable."
Yes there's plenty of resource, if you are willing to convert an area the size of Montana into a wind farm. No, you cannot make it reliable unless you have energy storage. Energy storage is not available in the amounts that will be needed, and it is unknown when sufficient energy storage will be available. It will require a technological miracle that is currently unforeseen.

The problem with Jacobson’s approach is that he has automatically ruled out nuclear a priori in finding a solution to solving our energy crises. His solution is ideological and not pragmatic. On the whole I would say Stewart Brand gave an honest presentation. From what I have researched, I would have difficultly to say the same for Mark Jacobson.

[edit] references and footnotes

  1. Link to the transcript
  2. This is the problem that the major component of renewable energy, wind and solar, are not available on a demand or dispatchable basis, but only on an uncontrollable random basis. This problem leaves dead periods where wind and solar are not available. The solution so far has been to back up renewable with fossil fuel power. But this partially defeats the raison d'être for renewable energy, to cut green house gas emissions. Renewable sources of dispatchable power such as hydro and and geothermal are not available everywhere, and of course nuclear has been a priori dismissed. Thus the intermittency problem involves the reliance on fossil fuel energy.
  3. There are many partial storage solutions like batteries, molten salt, air pressure, pumped water storage, etc. However none of them can be economically scaled up to the capacity that will be required world wide. Batteries for example have a resource problem. If lead acid batteries were to be used, there would only be enough lead in the world to supply 1.6% of the U.S. requirement let alone supply the rest of the world. Lithium batteries have the same problem, there is not enough Lithium. Bill Gates gave a TED talk, Innovating to Zero. At 11:40 into the talk, Gates said this,
    "And, finally, this storage problem. And, to dimensionalize this, I went through and looked at all the types of batteries that get made -- for cars, for computers, for phones, for flashlights, for everything -- and compared that to the amount of electrical energy the world uses, and what I found is that all the batteries we make now could store less than 10 minutes of all the energy. And so, in fact, we need a big breakthrough here, something that's going to be a factor of 100 better than the approaches we have now. It's not impossible, but it's not a very easy thing. Now, this shows up when you try to get the intermittent source to be above, say, 20 to 30 percent of what you're using. If you're counting on it for 100 percent, you need an incredible miracle battery."
  4. There is the tendency towards hype and Polyanna headlines such as this this one, Wind power generates 140% of Denmark's electricity demand. Yes, Denmark generated all of its electricity demand and then some for part of a day. An enthusiastic spokesperson for wind energy declared, “it shows that a world powered 100% by renewable energy is no fantasy”. However generating over 100% of electrical demand for part of a day is not generating 100% of the demand 24/7 for 365 days in a year. The spokespeople for wind energy and renewables need to calm their manic enthusiasm and temper it with reality. The reality is that it is quite impossible to power the world with 100% renewable energy without an energy storage miracle, and this reality does not make such rosy headlines. Here are two headlines, Germany gets only 3.3% of its energy consumption from wind and solar. Ignore the headlines and Reality Check: Germany's Defective Green Energy Game Plan. Perhaps a call for more realistic assessments of the capabilities of renewables on the part of its proponents would be more productive.
  5. The real reason why it is necessary is that renewables, because of the intermittency problem, cannot supply 100% of the power 100% of the time. Renewables require backup power. This backup can be either fossil fuels, which defeats the point of going to renewable energy, or nuclear. Nuclear is the required backup base load power if we wish to reduce green house gas (GHG) emissions to zero. Stewart Brand did touch on this topic but failed to push through the necessity of it. The argument can be mathematically demonstrated.
  6. CO2e means carbon dioxide equivalents in terms of green house gas potential. Methane, for example, CH4, gram for gram, has 25 times the green house potential as carbon dioxide. Therefore 10 grams of methane would count as 250 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent.
  7. Valuing the greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear power: A critical survey by Benjamin K. Sovacool
  8. Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen's study can be found here.
  9. A discussion of problems with van Leeuwen’s analysis can be found in the Wikipedia article, and a more negative but still valid assessment is to found on the Rationalwiki
  10. Benjamin K. Sovacool’s problems of relying too heavily on Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen are discussed in the Rationalwiki and in the Wikipedia. The Wikipedia article has a reference to Sovacool's most severe critic Greenhouse gas emissions in the nuclear life cycle: A balanced appraisal Jef Beerten, Erik Laes, Gaston Meskens, and William D’haeseleer Energy Policy 37, 5056 (2009).
  11. Beerten et al. see previous footnote.
  12. 2014 IPCC, Global warming potential of selected electricity sources
  13. 2011 IPCC aggregated results of the available literature
  14. I find this is a fairly common assertion from the anti-nuclear faction. They continually assert that it takes too long to build up nuclear so that it can never be built up at the rate required to supplant the use of fossil fuels. Whereas renewables can be built up quickly. Hence nuclear should not be considered as a replacement for fossil fuel power. However nuclear was built up very quickly in France. They went from next-to-nothing to over 70% of electrical production in 10 years, 1977 to 1987. The delays being experienced recently in nuclear construction are in no small part due to the legal road blocks to block construction being put up the anti-nuclear lobby. The assertion that nuclear takes too long to build is another unsubstantiated anti-nuclear talking point that has been repeated so often that it is mostly accepted as being true. In fact it can be quite the opposite. read on.
  15. For a complete comparison including capital costs read Comparison of Capital Costs and Construction Speed of Nuclear vs. Solar for both CSP and PV solar. For Nuclear vs. CSP Solar, it has nuclear going up 9 times faster per MW (see calculation in this article) and being 2.4 times cheaper. The same calculation vs. a Solar PV plant has Nuclear going up 7.2 times faster and being 1.7 times cheaper. These numbers are not quite accurate, as they were written before said article was written but they qualitatively correct.
  16. I understand deaths per TWh but deaths per year? What is this normalized to? The number of current U.S. reactors? And how are the deaths from other sources normalized? Also what does "Low/High U.S. Air Pollution Deaths/yr For 2020 Upon Conversion of U.S. Vehicle Fleet" mean? Jacobson doesn't really explain. I gather Jacobson uses what is probably a meaningful plot only for effect. He has no time within the time restraints of the debate to explain it.
  17. It can be shown that nuclear has the least impact on public health of any known way to generate electricity, nuclear accidents included. Kharecha and Hansen wrote about the number lives saved by displacing fossil fuels with nuclear power, Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power. Table 1 compares mortality rates between fossil fuels and nuclear power.
  18. The Spectator Wind Farms vs. Wildlife
    US Windfarms Kill 10 to 20 Times more Previously than Thought Save the Eagles International
    Since this is a debate I will mention nuclear power reactors do not kill any birds nor other wildlife.
  19. Aero-Structural Optimization of a 5 MW Wind Turbine Rotor M.Sc. thesis of Richard W. Vesel Jr. and
    Wind Farms Construction
  20. Areas of Industrial Wind Facilities
  21. Ivanpah Solar Power Facility
  22. Topaz Solar Farm
  23. Annual Energy Outlook EIA U.S. Energy Information Administration
  24. see EIA efficiencies in reference of previous footnote
  25. No they don't. The Ivanpah facility delivers 392MW and the two Babcock and Wilcock reactors deliver 360MW. But Ivanpah is only on 31.4% of the time, so it delivers only
    392MW \times 0.314 = 123MW on average 24/7, whereas the Babcock and Wilcock reactors deliver 360MW 24/7. Thus the reactors deliver, on average, 3 times the power. This makes the comparison of environmental impact of Ivanpah on the land as compared to the reactors even worst than it seems.
  26. A Plan for a Sustainable Future or How to Get all Energy from Wind, Water and Solar by 2030 by Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi, Scientific American, November 2009, page 58
  27. U.S. Clean Energy Suffers from Lack of Wind
  28. see previous reference A Plan for a Sustainable Future
  29. watch and listen, read
  30. Anti-nuclear scare tactics from Environmentalists vs. Nuclear Energy by P. Walden
  31. As demonstrated by Brand with his coke cans of uranium vs. railway cars of coal
  32. it is claimed that the coal fired plants actually put more radioactivity into the environment than nuclear plants. The claim is backed by a Scientific American publication and an Oakridge National Laboratory review. Both articles claim that the population effective dose equivalent from coal plants is 100 times that from nuclear plants. The Oakridge piece has impressive data and figures to back up the claim. Burton Richter, the noble prize winner in physics for co-discovering the J/Ψ particle, does not mention this factor of 100 in his book, Beyond Smoke and Mirrors. References for these claims and this exact wording can be found in The Facts from Environmentalists vs. Nuclear Energy by P. Walden
  33. Summary and Conclusions, reflections on nuclear waste storage from Environmentalists vs. Nuclear Energy by P. Walden
  34. Renewable energy cannot deliver 100% of the power 100% of the time This reference has been used twice already, but it bears repeating. It is the crucial problem with renewable energy. It is the renewables' Achilles heel.
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