Saturday, September 29, 2012

Energy Sources, Costs and Global Warming

Last month the Wall Street Journal (8/18/12) published a breakdown of federal subsidies for electric power production, citing the U.S. Dept. of Energy and the Institute for Energy Research as sources. Here is the comparison of subsidy costs per megawatt hour:

Fuel Type              $ Subsidy per megawatt hour
Oil and Gas           $0.64
Coal                       0.64
Hydropower           0.82
Nuclear                  3.14
Wind                    56.29
Solar                  775.64

Solar and wind are horrendously more expensive, but they are the fuels favored by the Obama administration. The fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) are by far the most economic. Nuclear power is the next most efficient power source, but no new nuclear power plants have been build in the U.S. for thirty years. Obama says nuclear power has a place in his energy program, but he has effectively eliminated it. One of his first acts as president was to emphatically announce his elimination of the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada for storing highly radioactive nuclear waste. He said his administration would be quick to offer an alternative, but he has been president for almost four years now and has failed to live up to his word.

In 1982 Congress directed the government to assume responsibility for commercial nuclear waste. In 1987 it singled out Yucca Mountain for evaluation as the repository because of its remote and dry location. After years of research, Congress in 2002 endorsed the Yucca Mountain site. The $13.5 billion spent there since 1987 included boring a five-mile tunnel into the mountain, along with numerous niches for testing, and hundreds of studies to determine the safety of storage there for thousands of years. The industry was also forced to pay $22 billion to the Energy Department for establishment of the repository. Obama is not a scientist, and his decision was not made from a review of the scientific research. His Energy Secretary Steven Chu is a scientist but had been on the job only a few weeks, and in that time couldn't possibly have read more than a tiny fraction of the hundreds of studies before announcing his support for Obama's decision. Obama flouted decades of study and countermanded the explicit decisions of Congress. He called for more study of the issue. (Over 20 years of study was not enough?) Government contracts obligated the government to begin taking wastes in 1998. Obama apparently thinks nothing about abrogating a government contract, but the industry may sue for return of the $22 billion utility companies paid for the repository plus extra storage costs of the wastes. The New York Times says, “Lawyers are predicting tens of billions of dollars from suits by utilities that must pay to store their wastes instead of having the government bury them, with the figure rising by about a half-billion dollars for each year of additional delay.” As usual, Obama shows little concern for another extravagant waste of taxpayers' money.

Until a deep permanent repository is established, the 104 nuclear plants operating in the U.S. are required to store their radioactive wastes temporarily in steel and concrete casks near their reactors. Plants running short of temporary storage space would like to vitrify the wastes, which would turn them into a stable glass form—which is highly desirable—but the Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires that high-level waste be disposed of in a deep geologic repository after the vitrification plant starts operating. So plants can't start vitrifying until there is a repository. The lack of on-site storage space for nuclear wastes is now being used as an argument for denying license renewals for existing nuclear plants. Re-licensing of existing plants is crucial just to maintain our current nuclear generating capacity, which provides 22.5 percent of the nation's electricity.

The most ridiculous aspect of the government fiasco regarding nuclear waste disposal is that the whole problem was precipitated by government. It need never have occurred at all. France has 59 nuclear plants, which produce 80 percent of its energy—and it stores all its 30 years of nuclear waste beneath the floor of one room in Le Hague. No problem.

France and other nations with nuclear plants recycle their spent nuclear fuel. To them, it is not nuclear “waste” but a resource. France even imports this resource from Italy (Caorso) and United Kingdom (Sellafield) for reprocessing, which recycles about 98 percent of the material in spent nuclear fuel rods. One percent is the fissionable uranium isotope U-235. Ninety-five percent is non-fissionable U-238 and can't be used for bombs; it's no different than the U-238 in 1 percent of the earth's crust. Plutonium 239, which is fissionable, is formed when small amounts of U-238 absorb neutrons; it is one percent of spent fuel. It is reprocessed and put back into a reactor as “mixed oxide fuel” of uranium plus plutonium.

Why doesn't the U.S. reprocess spent fuel as other nations so successfully do? Because in 1977 President Jimmy Carter foolishly established a permanent ban on reprocessing, in the belief he was reducing the risk of bomb-making material being stolen. President Obama has flatly refused to allow reprocessing, saying it is “not an option.” But the risk of theft from nuclear waste is misguided. Uranium 235 in a reactor is only 3 percent. You couldn't blow up a reactor with it if you tried. To make a weapon from it, it would have to be enriched to 90 percent, an extremely difficult industrial operation. The concern is over the 1 percent of nuclear waste that is plutonium 239. Reprocessing allows this to be consumed by putting it back into a reactor as fuel.

In spite of the fact the Obama administration has effectively shut down nuclear power development, it spends far more on subsidies for it than for the economical fuel sources. Another waste of taxpayers money. And it spends still more on subsidizing the most inefficient sources, solar and wind. An even greater waste.

Fuel Type            Subsidy $ in millions
Hydropower              215
Oil and Gas               654
Solar                        968
Coal                     1,189
Wind                    4,986

Obama seeks to create jobs in wind and solar industries, but without subsidies they can't compete with the more efficient forms of energy. Furthermore, the latter pay billions of dollars in taxes while solar and wind energies are draining taxpayers' money from the U.S. Treasury. Obama preaches about creating jobs, but you can't create lasting, profitable jobs and competitive industries with uneconomic energy. All of the energy subsidies are a waste and should be terminated. The inefficient solar and wind industries are obvious wastes, and the fossil fuels and hydropower are efficient and thus do not to need them.

The argument is made that solar and wind energies must be used even if uneconomic in order to save the planet from global warming. Almost every month new scientific research emerges to further discredit the whole idea of anthropogenic global warming. Almost as often a new baseless scare is voiced not just that the climate is warming but that man is the cause.

The latest concerns the widely publicized stories about the melting of Arctic ice. These usually say the ice is the lowest it has ever been in recorded history. That sounds really serious, doesn't it? They don't tell you that “recorded history” they refer to began in 1979 with the advent of satellite photography. Nor do they tell you that the area they bemoan for having melted recently was open water in 1904 and 1905, when Roald Amundsen as well as other Arctic explorers sailed their ships there. Nor do they tell you that there have been many times in the past when Arctic ice completely disappeared and always returned.

Nor do they tell you that while Arctic ice has been melting, Antarctic ice has been growing at a record rate. How can there be global warming when at one pole the ice is melting while at the other it is increasing? Which pole should be used for evidence of global temperature change? You could make as good a case for global cooling by looking solely at one pole as you can for global warming by looking solely at the other.

Far more convincing is evidence that earth's temperature changes are due to the sun. Orbital changes produce long-term climate cycles by varying the distance of the earth from the sun; shorter-term cycles are determined by changes in the surface of the sun itself. The sun's radiation is not uniform but varied by disturbances on the surface of the sun, called “sunspot cycles.” Magnetic fields rip through the sun's surface, producing holes in the sun's corona, solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and changes in the “solar wind,” the stream of charged particles emanating from the sun. The solar wind, by modulating the galactic cosmic rays which reach the earth, determines both the formation of clouds and the carbon dioxide level in the earth's atmosphere—which has nothing to do with emissions from factories or automobiles! Sunspot cycles cause only slight changes in the sun's radiation, but these changes are amplified many fold by interaction 1) with ozone in the upper stratosphere, and 2) with clouds in the lower troposphere.

Mars is experiencing global warming and so are Jupiter, Pluto, Neptune, and Triton, the largest moon of Neptune. These heavenly bodies have never had humans to create man-made global warming, and the warming they are experiencing correlates not with carbon dioxide changes but with solar cycles—as does the warming of the earth. (The correlation is much better than with the earth's carbon dioxide levels.) How can the sun be causing global warming elsewhere in our solar system but not on earth? And if the earth's warming is not caused by solar activity, what explains the warming of Mars, Jupiter, Neptune and its moon Triton, and even distant Pluto?

In any case, the overwhelming portion of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is produced by nature, not man. Joseph D'aleo, first director of meteorology, the Weather Channel, has stated, “If the atmosphere was a 100-story building, our annual anthropogenic (man-made) contribution today would be equivalent to the linoleum on the first floor.”

Reid Bryson, founding chairman of the Department of Meteorology at the University of Wisconsin, has said, "You can go outside and spit and have the same effect as doubling carbon dioxide."

Claims that temperature records for the past century, which show a slight warming of about 1 degree, cannot be taken as evidence of global warming, for this assumes no warming at all without humans. Australian researcher John McClean, who has spent more than 25 years studying global climate, says “No century has ever had such a stable climate, but for the [computer models to show anthropogenic forcing], this assumption must be made. The probability of a flat background natural climate is less than one in a million; hence, the statistical significance of these apparently successful models is also less than 1 in a million.”

Over the last several years I have made more than twenty blog postings on global warming. I'm sure you are unlikely to read them all, but if you read only one, let it be this one:

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