28 May 2006

I Decidered to Make the Energy Pie Higher

So... it looks like George W. Bush has switched gears on the issue of climate change, although there's some fuzzy logic involved. Apparently the 'how' isn't important − we wouldn't want to point any fingers at corporate donors − but we should get beyond whether or not CO2 causes global warming and just reduce the amount of man-made emissions.

I make no secret that I think that 30-40 % of our power mix needs to be stable baseload in order to have a chance of managing the intermittency of renewables. Hydroelectric power is not available in sufficient quantity outside of Canada and is too valuable as a scalable, load-following source of electricity to use as baseload. This leaves nuclear as the primary option for baseload. New reservoirs for dams are environmentally much more destructive than building nuclear reactors by any realistic measure.

If I was the Leader for the nukulear power industry I'm not sure I would want Bush speaking on my behalf. In fact, I think I would be running from Mr. 30 % Approval Rating as fast as my legs could carry me. Bush's record on bringing domestic programs to a successful end is not inspiring; one could almost say that anything he touches at this point becomes radioactive.

Last Wednesday Bush said that nukulear was "an overregulated industry." Sorry George, but laissez-faire is not an attitude that's applicable to nuclear. The worst attitude any nuclear engineer can maintain is the idea that an accident could never happen. From my experience with Atomic Energy Canada personnel that attitude is strongly discouraged although it doesn't stop them from being snarky towards anti-nuclear activists. Nuclear power can be outstandingly safe, but it requires vigilance, not faith.

The problem with the nuclear industry lobby as I see it is that they seem to see renewables as their competition. In reality, the competition to renewables is coal. Both coal and nuclear are basically means of powering a steam-turbine to produce electricity. Since they do not

While coal has gotten much cleaner and centralized since the days of London Fog that killed thousands of people it is still the dirtiest electricity producer around. Here's a list of pollutants you would see for emissions from a coal power plant: CO2, As, Cd, Cr, Cr-IV, Formaldehyde, Ni, Nitrates, NMVOC, NOx, Pb, PM10, PM2, PM2.5–10, SO2, Sulfates, Radionuclide emissions. Lead, arsenic, and chromium-IV are some of the nastiest pollutants around. The median for all of those from a nuclear power plant is zero.

The first reactor in the western world to be commissioned in quite a long time will probably be the European Pressurized Reactor in Finland, which was approved four years ago. Finland has good reason to do this: they import a lot of their electricity from a Russian RBMK reactor on the Kola peninsula. It doesn't take a genius to understand that taking the market away from RBMKs is a good idea. The Green party has come over to this viewpoint.

Nuclear reactors are constantly evolving thanks largely to construction projects in Asia.

As an aside, I should also direct people to Joel Achenbach's piece in the Washington Post Magazine on global warming skeptics. Achenbach is a humour writer, but there's only a few clever twists of phase in a overall neutral article.

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