Germans Push Nuke Plant Moratorium into the Distance

In an impromptu decision made last week, the government in Germany is augmenting the lifetimes’ of the country’s seventeen nuclear plants while the development of alternative energy sources gets underway.

The move is happening in counterpoint with similar lines by Italy and Sweden –both reconsidering the thwarting of example-setting policies –not new – against nuclear power.

As these existing plants continue to pump, new taxes are to be levied on German utility companies to facilitate the development of renewable energy sources. This is according to the word given by one Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

A prior German government passed a law in 2002 that the last nuclear power plant was to be terminated by 2022. These plans for the future of plants were supported by the German public and resented by the nuclear industry; the volume of the clash only intensified in the wake of what happened at Chernobyl.

According to research done by Judy Dempsey at the New York Times, a July poll said 81% of Germans insist that Germany can do without nuclear power. This is up from the 59% of five years ago.

According to Dempsey, the existing plants will be permitted life for another 12 years – the oldest plants, built before 1980 – eight years to live. Newer plants may operate for up to 14 more years.

Nuclear power accidents in Germany:

4 May 1986

Hamm-Uentrop, Germany

“Operator actions to dislodge damaged fuel rod at Experimental High Temperature Gas Reactor release excessive radiation to 4 km2 surrounding the facility 267”

1 December 1987 Hesse, Germany

“Stop valve fails at Biblis Nuclear Power Plant and contaminates local area 13”

24 November 1989 Greifswald, East Germany

“Electrical error causes fire in the main trough that destroys control lines and 5 main coolant pumps and almost induces meltdown”

Ian McEwan Reflects Copenhagen Failure in His New Novel

Ian McEwan Reflects Copenhagen Failure in His New NovelThe British novelist Ian McEwan, inspired by the failure of the Copenhagen climate talks, changed the finished manuscript of his new book about a scientist working on a technology to address global warming.

The end of the book is set in summer 2009, and McEwan introduced a new scene, in the last few pages, in which Michael Beard, the chief protagonist and a Nobel-prize winning physicist, receives an email that invites him to address a meeting of foreign ministers at the coming summit. McEwan said:

“I just slipped something in to reflect the spirit of sadness…Everything has collapsed around him [Beard] and he knows that Copenhagen will be just the place for him. It is where he would be heading to add his confusion to everybody else’s.”

Had the summit produced a successful deal, as McEwen was so rooting for, Beard and his failures would not have fitted in:

“I would not have wanted my man anywhere near it,” said the author. “I didn’t want him there, believe me.”

McEwan said that he had spent four years gathering material for the book, though he had wanted to write about climate change since the mid 1990s:

“I couldn’t see a way in. A subject so weighted with moral and political value is not helpful to a novel. I couldn’t see a way of making it come alive.”

That all changed during a visit of artists and scientists to the Arctic in 2005, when he said he was struck by the contrast between the idealistic evening discussions of global warming and the chaos of the equipment room.

“Clothes and equipment there to save our lives, which we should have been able to look after very easily would go missing, and I thought, for all the fine words and good intentions, maybe there was a comic inadequacy in human nature in dealing with this problem.”

McEwan said he was “baffled” by the media storm over the emails released from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the mistake made in the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):

“I think those involved, in the UEA press office and the IPCC, need to get a little more nimble. These things just surge across the blogosphere.”

He said that he was happy to class himself as “warmer” — a term increasingly used by climate skeptics to describe those who agree with the scientific consensus that human activity drives warming:

“Though I am quite tempted sometimes to be a calamatist. There is something intellectually delicious about all that super-pessimism.”

McEwan added that his research on the climate had forced him to reconsider opposition to nuclear power:

Author Ian McEwan

“We just don’t have anything else that can run our cities on a windless night in February…It is rare that virtue and necessity collide. Sooner or later we’re going to have to find a new energy source for mankind.”

The Ups and Downs of Nuke-Powered Sleds

Did you know that sometime in this remaining lifetime of yours you might find yourself driving a nuclear-powered car? ‘Tis true, ’tis true. You also might be driving a solar-powered, wind-powered, landfill-gas powered, hydroelectric powered, ocean-energy powered, coal, oil or natural gas-powered car. ‘Tis true, ’tis true.

As it stands the US gets about 20% of its electricity from nuclear power and with President Obama’s new commitment for more uranium-fired power plants, we could see that percentage rise a few points. So, depending on what grid your electric car is recharging from, or what time of day it is, your car could very well be storing electricity generated at a nuclear plant. If this is the case, then you will have a nuclear-powered car.

This of course is assuming that someday you shall be driving an electrically-powered car, which is a likelihood that increases daily.

Financial help from Washington, using money on loan from taxpayers is helping to push along the drift toward electric driving. The requirement for automakers to meet new fuel economy standards is also helping the effort.

But government is not the sole force behind this electric drive effort: Small companies and startups are getting into the electric car business because they want to. Large companies too. Many of the majors are guaranteeing that electric cars and trucks are in their model portfolios of the future because they want them there.

Here are some reasons for the interest in electric cars…

1- Zero or largely reduced carbon emissions removes the cars as contributors to climate change.

2- Zero or largely reduced noxious emissions removes the cars as contributors to unhealthy air pollution.

3- Then of course there is the issue of oil supply. Manufacturers have seen the results – the widespread failure of their businesses – due partially to a spike in oil prices.

4- Leaps in technology, particularly in batteries. Lithium-based batteries with less weight and more stored power have improved range. Charging times have become reduced too. High voltage charging (440/480 volt for example) charging times could near that required to fill up a tank with gas. High voltage charging could also eliminate the need for battery swap-on-the fly schemes.

5- There is also battery life and afterlife. The lithium batteries are expected to last roughly the life of the vehicle. Also, when batteries can no longer hold enough charge to propel a car they can work in semiretirement storing electricity from renewable energy from the grid, like solar power.

6- Lastly, there appears to be enough demand in the marketplace. There are those people who want to charge from home, possibly with home-generated electricity. And there are people who want the relative simplicity of electric drive. And then there are the early-adopters who just want electric drive because it is new and different.

So if there is anything which is holding back the commercialization of electric cars it’s the cost of batteries that drive up the cost of the whole vehicle. Further, pure battery electric drive should not be expected to totally dominate the vehicle market for decades. The mix of vehicles on the road will range from conventional vehicles, any combination of hybrids, plug-in hybrids as well as variations of bio-fuel-powered vehicles for many years.

Me last thoughts are these:

President Obama’s yet-to-be-approved budget has $54 billion in federal loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors…you’ve probably heard this. ‘Tis true, the reactors will provide emission-free power, but nuclear power to charge electric cars is not necessarily the “green” way to go.

Can a “nuclear winter” reverse effects of global warming?

A recent article centered around a idea proposed by a scientific aid to U.S. President Obama concerning a way to reverse the currents of global warming by sending up enough dust particles into the atmosphere to block out part of the sun’s radiation and cause global cooling. The idea, proposed by John Holdren, the President’s science advisor, would involve send up enormous amounts of pollution particles, possibly by a “controlled” nuclear blast, that would prevent the some of sun’s rays from reaching the earth, and result in cooler temperatures that would enable the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps to “repair themselves” by freezing over again.

Recent revelations that massive ice shelves are melting at both the extreme northern hemispheres, which would result in rising sea levels and eventual widespread ecological damage to world coastal areas, have caused some scientists to believe that the solution would be for the world to actually cool down by several degrees – even if this might result in severe winter weather to many areas and possibly even a “mini ice age” to countries such as Canada, Russia and others.

While the idea might possible work, at least from a temperature reduction standpoint, the long term effects of such an idea might prove even more damaging to life on earth than global warming itself. Professor Holdren believes that such an idea would reduce the amount of CO2 emissions that the present phenomenon of global warming is causing, creating the so-called “greenhouse effect”. But by blocking out the sun’s rays to kill some of the algae and other micro-organisms the contribute to this CO2 gas, it would also severely reduce the benefit of the sun’s life-giving warmth and light necessary for the survival of life itself – resulting in a nuclear winter effect as has been predicted to be the outcome of a nuclear war.

A number of climate theorists and paleontologists (those who study the earth’s earlier life forms) believe that the extinction of earlier life forms such as the dinosaurs were caused by severe nuclear winter-like atmospheric conditions caused by either a large asteroid striking the earth or by a number of large volcanoes erupting within a short period of time; thus preventing the sun’s rays from reaching the earth, and causing massive starvation to the creatures inhabiting the planet. A similar fate could be in store for us if we are deprived of the sun’s energy which gives life to all living things.