Saturday, November 06, 2004

Nuclear Spring

The 21st century will be a time of transition in resource production and use. People are only starting to realize that cheap oil is a thing of the past. There is still much denial that oil prices will not be going back down to the historically low prices of the 90s, but will continue to climb as it becomes evident that peak oil production has occured. Nuclear power, much maligned here in the US since the incident at Three Mile Island in 1978, and the later disaster at Chernobyl in 1986, is in prime position for a major comeback.

Peter George has written an informative article on this impending transition. He first takes on the irrational nature of the nuclear protest movement:

Even today, when the man in the street confronts the concept of 'atomic power,' he often thinks first of bombs and radiation. He can largely thank the 'Greens' and their political cousins in the 'Anti-War Brigade' for most of these distorted perceptions. In a fit of blind zeal the 'Greens' were set to ditch baby and bath water both. It was not always that way.

By the end of the seventies the nuclear option was gaining ground everywhere. The US had 100 Nuclear reactors in operation, 20 under construction and 100 more planned. The world had successfully constructed over 400 in total: then came 'Three Mile Island" (1979) and Chernobyl (1986). Most of the US '20' were halted. Those on the drawing board got cancelled. TMI was an American phenomenon. The world largely ignored it and waited for Chernobyl. The 'Greens' and their 'fellow-travelers' blew a minor glitch at TMI out of all proportion. Later, they and others totally misrepresented the true extent of 'fall-out' from Chernobyl
(1986). On the back of both they sowed a wind of invective against anything nuclear which succeeded in gutting it as an energy source for the next quarter century. The process was aided and abetted by a 20-year downtrend in oil and commodity prices. This helped defer decisions by skewing the economic risk from nuclear, to less complicated fossil fuels like oil, coal and more recently, liquid natural gas.

A quarter century later, thanks to the misguided efforts of the 'Greens,' the world looks set to reap a double whirlwind - a crisis in oil and gas supplies, coupled with a menace in 'global warming.' The former could see oil prices spike ten-fold in a decade. The latter could spawn increasingly nasty side-effects, ranging from 'acid rain' and radically changing weather patterns, to melting perma-frost and sharply rising sea levels. If at some point in the future every identifiable 'Green' is punched black and blue by an angry world, it would be no more than their just deserts.

If we look at the environmental impact of nuclear power harnessed to the production of electricity and hydrogen in comparison to the ongoing impact of greenhouse gas emissions and other air and groundwater pollutants that would be the result of extracting the dirtier grades of petroleum from tar sands, oil shale and other low grade deposits, it is exceedingly obvious which path leads to a healthier world. Nuclear hysteria has been overblown, and the economic impact of higher and higher oil prices will not allow Americans to indulge in the luxury of feel-good Greenie environmental romanticism in this century. Hopefully the victory of George Bush will set the stage for bold, pragmatic steps in the right direction for energy production In the US, including the licensing of new nuclear power plants. The Greenies are down, it is time to act.


Blogger Michael Herdegen said...

Well, hang on a sec.

In the first place, although it's probably true that oil gluts are a thing of the past, it's NOT true that oil production has peaked.
EASY oil production has peaked, but fully half of known oil sources remain to be tapped, if the price is right.
And it will be.

Peter George's assertation that oil prices could rise "ten-fold", especially "in a decade", is cheap hyperbolic doom-saying. Short of an all-encompassing nuclear war in the Middle East, that just ain't gonna happen.
Why didn't he claim that oil prices would rise "one hundred-fold" ?
That's just as likely to be true. (Read as: Not).

Nuclear power...

Although the new pebble-bed reactors promise to be much safer than previous designs, they still produce waste that will be toxic for at least 10,000 years, far beyond the ability of any living human to safeguard it.
If the ancient Egyptians had had nuclear reactors, their waste could still have killed the 19th century explorers burrowing into the mysterious "safety" pyramids.

As a society, we should ask ourselves if nuclear power, considering the TOTAL economic cost, is the way that we want to go. Cheap electricity is sometimes expensive, once all costs are factored in.

Peter George claims that the 'Greens' did in the American nuclear industry, but clearly, it was the industry's own slapshod construction, incompetent administration and operation, and near universal disregard for the public's safety that brought on their downfall.

It's all in the public record:
Unreported radioactive gas and water leaks, missing fissionable materials, intimidated and assassinated whistleblowers, an industry regulated by the Federal agency charged with promoting civilian nuclear power...

No wonder most people have a dim view of the nuclear power industry.

As for myself, I'm cautiously optimistic about the potential for net good operating pebble-bed reactors, and nuclear power would clearly be the best way to go should we find ourselves entering another ice age.

November 09, 2004 4:28 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

The theory of Peak Oil, or Hubbert's Peak takes into account lower grade and more expensive oil deposits. At the same time that those reserves are being brought online, existing oil fields are being depleted. The theory describes a bell shaped curve representing oil production over time. On the upward slope, easy and cheap deposits are being discovered and exploited. At the peak of production, the rate of new production capacity coming online equals the rate of existing field depletion. On the downslope, more expensive and dirtier grades are being exploited, but the depletion of existing sources continues to outpace new production capacity.

If you read the article linked above, you'll see that there are predictions across the range as to when oil production will peak, from 2008 to 2050 or so. I believe that it is within a decade, I don't buy the more optimistic estimates. But even if the peak is further along, worldwide demand is still growing much faster than production can, so the world will be experiencing ever tighter supplies relative to demand.

November 10, 2004 6:52 PM  
Blogger Michael Herdegen said...

Sure, oil is going to get more expensive, and stay there, but Peter George is predicting massively more expensive oil, not 50% higher prices.
That's just not going to happen.

As for "peak production", I don't believe that we'll hit it within a decade.
There are still colossal deposits in Russia and Canada that have yet to be fully exploited.

We'll have to compare notes in 2010, and see who was right.

November 10, 2004 9:42 PM  

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