Sign up | Login with →

Comments by Rod Adams Subscribe

On Limitations of Unreliable Energy Sources, aka 'Renewables'


With regard to point #6, how do you propose to expand wind to a point at which it can make a significant dent in overall greenhouse gas emissions if you are depending on the present power plants on the grid to supply the flexibility needed to provide power when the wind is not blowing? As you know, about 75% of our current electricity is supplied by burning either coal or natural gas.

In the Pacific Northwest, where there is plenty of hydro, a week long loss of 4500 MW of wind due to a high pressure zone is no real problem from an emissions point of view, but what happens when similar events take down large quantities of wind in other parts of the country? (By the way, the BPA balancing site shows that there have been two separate occasions in the past couple of months when virtually all of its 4500 MW of distributed wind generation has been missing in action for a week or more.)

With regard to point #2, I will agree that transmission upgrades are often beneficial, but specifics matter. When the upgrades occur in parts of the grid that is already developed, there is an improvement in flexibility. When the transmission project is solely aimed at connecting a nearly unpopulated area with reasonably good wind or solar resources into the grid, there is no overall benefit. The cost of that connection should be born solely by the developer of the remote resource.

BTW, transmission upgrades are generally included in the budget for new nuclear projects as a result of Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules regarding backup power supplies.

Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights

December 3, 2013    View Comment    

On Military Continues to Move Forward on Clean Energy

I served as a requirements officer in the branch of the OPNAV (Chief of Naval Operations) staff - N4 - that deals with energy and fuel issues. I would be much more impressed by the DoD programs to mitigate climate change if the leadership would have opened their eyes to see that the US Navy already contained one of the world's formost nuclear energy organizations and owned technology that has been proven to provide battle capable power without producing any emissions at all. 

As we learned when the USS Nautilus first went to sea in January 1955, nuclear fission energy is both clean enough to run inside a sealed submarine and powerful enough to drive that submarine at unmatched speeds. The first Nautilus core propelled the ship more than 62,000 miles; the most recent cores being installed in Virginia class submarines will last the life of the ship - perhaps 1,000,000 miles.

The reception I got when pushing an expanded nuclear energy program was discouragement from the politically appointed leaders in uniform. I kept showing them the numbers; they kept saying that nuclear was not popular. During the huge run up in oil prices prior to 2008, my efforts started to gain some traction, but short memories took over once the prices fell during the recession.

Many of the budget types informed me that it was always easier to get Congress to approve a supplemental budget request if fuel prices skyrocketed than to get them to approve ships that cost 20-30% more. They said that future fuel costs disappear in their spreadsheets - I kept pointing out the dishonesty and the lack of historical understanding.

Eventually I retired without having made as much of an impact as I desired, but the truth remains that nuclear energy works. It is zero emission and it provides reliable power on demand. It is the right choice for an organization that already knows how to build some of the best power plants in the world.

I've provided this response because I am quite aware of the fact that the NRDC discourages the use of nuclear energy. I recently had a lengthy conversation with Tom Cochran, who has now retired from your organization; he was insistent that, somehow, the US Navy's nuclear propulsion program contributed to the risk of nuclear proliferation. That makes no sense at all considering the measures taken to provide security to all military systems. 

One more thing - the cost of military nuclear power plants is higher than it should be, but that is mostly due to the very low production rate environment of today. The recent cost reduction program for the USS Virginia demonstrates how production rates can make a big impact on system costs.

Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights

CDR, USN (ret)

December 3, 2013    View Comment    

On Climate Scientists Propose Radical Solutions, Including Nuclear Energy

@Bob Meinetz

I'd guess that the low CP2 per unit energy of travel in France comes from the nuclear powered grid that supplies French railroads.

Do I get a gold star?

December 2, 2013    View Comment    

On Limitations of Unreliable Energy Sources, aka 'Renewables'

@Ed Dodge

We agree. With abundant nuclear energy, there are no real limitations on the amount of hydrocarbons that are available. However, for ship propulsion, it would be very "Rube Goldberg" to build reactors on land to produce heat to manufacture synthetic hydrocarbons and then regularly load those synthetic hydrocarbons onto ships so they can be burned to produce heat in a heat engine.

It would be a lot easier, cheaper and functionally more effective to simply do what we learned how to do about 60 years ago - put the reactor on board the ship and turn the heat directly into motive force on board the ship. That gives the ship a long lasting, emission free, low fuel cost, abundant power source that can propel the ship at high speeds.

There is no reason to think that fission is just an electricity source; it is a heat source with substantial advantages over combustion.

November 23, 2013    View Comment    

On Limitations of Unreliable Energy Sources, aka 'Renewables'

@Ed Dodge

I have not consumed any petroleum industry kool aide. I'm way out in left field - along with a few petroleum geologists like Arthur Berman and an oil economist named Powers - but I am pretty confident that methane prices are going to equalize around the world at levels closer to those of Japan than the artificially low prices current available in North America. Squeezing shale is far more capital intensive than conventional drilling; production comes in quickly, but the high rate lasts for a depressingly short period before slowing down.

According to data from Barnett wells, a shale well owner can expect half of the production that the well will ever produce to come out during the first two years.

I never said that nuclear would be used to power true "boats" like Boston Whalers, but it is fully capable of powering anything larger than about 2500 tons displacement. That is a pretty small ship in today's market. Obviously, the early adopters of the ultra low emission, ultra low fuel cost machines are going to be the larger ships, but the revolution will not stop there if the machinery is properly designed for high unit volume production. My colleagues and I computed optimal engine size of 10 - 20 MWe. Larger ships will just use more engines, analogous to the multiple machines used when QE II was repowered with 9 diesels.

Anyone who is serious about low emissions and low fuel costs should look to nuclear, not LNG.

November 23, 2013    View Comment    

On Limitations of Unreliable Energy Sources, aka 'Renewables'

@Ed Dodge

Are you aware of the cost per unit heat of LNG (it ranges from about $10 to $20 per MMBTU right now) and the volatile nature of methane pricing? 

Unless the vessel is already an LNG carrier, why would the owner invest the capital required to burn such an unreliable and expensive power source? The added demand on the natural gas production and delivery system will simply add to the upward price pressure.

Commercial nuclear fuel has an average cost of about 70 cents per MMBTU with little variation around the world or over time -- for the past 25 years.

And who said anything about "handing out the technology"? Governments that have control over nuclear ship propulsion might be interested in the revenue potential that would result from enabling a highly competitive shipping industry and the shipping industry might be willing to pay a substantial amount for technology that enables them to operate at high, efficient speed without being beholden to multinational petroleum companies.


November 23, 2013    View Comment    

On Limitations of Unreliable Energy Sources, aka 'Renewables'

@Ed Dodge

Thank you for the kind words, but allow me to continue disagreeing about the possibility of relatively near term nuclear ship propulsion. It is not limited to "the biggest ships", the USS Nautilus only displaced 2500 tons and the NR-1 was a nuclear powered research vessel that only displaced a total of 400 tons - including all of its research capability AND the nuclear propulsion unit.

Though we do not need to turn the technology over, it would certainly give commercial nuclear ships a huge jump start if we selectively used the engine technology that the US, Russian, Chinese, British, and French navies have refined during the past 60 years. 

You might be interested in my recent post on just that subject:

Rod Adams

Publisher, Atomic Insights

November 22, 2013    View Comment    

On Naval Reactors Should Be Empowered to Show the Way Again

@Michael Keller

I am doubtful that the government is the salvation for nuclear power. Rather, a "better-nuclear-mouse-trap that makes money" must emerge.

Please do not misunderstand my proposal. I did not suggest that "the goverment" save nuclear energy. I suggested a very specific, uniquely successful, highly respected, well qualified, experienced, small government organization as a potential leader of an effort to increase the commercial prospects of nuclear energy.

November 19, 2013    View Comment    

On Naval Reactors Should Be Empowered to Show the Way Again

@Michael Keller

Why would the oil & gas industry have any desire to dominate the masses? They are a business, not a political philosophy.

Perhaps I phrased my comment incorrectly. I did not mean to refer to the "industry" but to the specific individuals that lead the industry and make its decisions. That includes the banks that have been a vital part of enabling the extremely capital intensive nature of the search for underground wealth since 1859.

The industry may be a "business" with no personality or philosophy other than making money, but the people involved have a whole range of ideologies and philosophies. They are very much a part of the elite that very definitely desires to maintain their place in the world, often at the expense of the masses.

Further, they do quite well financially, with a free and open market place providing the necessary checks and balances.

Perhaps more than any other business on the planet, the oil and gas industry has been subjected to wild swings between boom and bust, often driven by characteristics that are not well regulated by the free market. That is why there have been a number of different price setting cartels and regulatory bodies established, including the Texas Railroad Commission, the Seven Sisters, OAPEC, and now OPEC. There are any number of good books about the history of the business, perhaps the best is The Prize, the 1991 best seller by Daniel Yergin.

OPEC is a cartel intent on controlling the price of oil so they can make lots of money at everybody else's expense.  Such an operation needs to be crushed through the forces of the free market, including increased supply and reduced demand through better efficiency.

You did not answer my question. The specific tool that OPEC uses to attempt to control the price is an allotment system where each member has a production quota that gets adjusted up or down depending on whether OPEC is satified with the current pricing and believes that the market can accept more supply without a profit destroying collapse in prices or if it believes that prices are too low due to oversupply. 

My reason for asking that question is to get you thinking about OPEC's natural response to the development of an energy supply like nuclear energy that can flood the energy market and drive down prices without any influence from the quota setters at OPEC. 

By the way, OPEC has been in business since I was in elementary school. I am now a grandfather in my mid 50s. The forces of the "free market" are not even trying to crush OPEC; the multinational oil and gas companies enjoy the profits that they make partially as a result of the way that OPEC instills some discipline and prevents overproduction that would result in a price collapse. It has not always been effective (note the low prices that were in effect during the period from 1986-2000), but it has done a pretty good job - for the oil companies and their financial backers - over the years.

November 19, 2013    View Comment    

On Naval Reactors Should Be Empowered to Show the Way Again


Here are a few questions that I hope stimulate some critical thinking:

1) What makes you think that the oil and gas industry is NOT part of the elite seeking to dominate the masses?

2) Why do major oil and gas companies spend so much advertising their investments in unreliables like wind, solar, and biofuels from algae?

3) What is the specific lever that OPEC uses to influence world oil prices?

i think we are close in our evaluation of the overall situation, but it appears that you have bought into the John Wayne version of the independent oil man.

November 16, 2013    View Comment    

On Naval Reactors Should Be Empowered to Show the Way Again


On Atomic Insights, I have been gradually collective evidence of the involvement of fossil fuel interests who oppose the use of nuclear energy. Those posts can be found with a search for "smoking gun".

i know there are parts of the antinuclear opposition that do not seem to be well funded when seen from the trenches, just like there are portions of the energy industry that do not provide lucrative paychecks for the workers.

However, when you look at the annual budget figures for some of the major international groups that are significant participants in activity meant to slow nuclear energy development, you can perhaps see the reason that I call the movement "well funded". Friends of the Earth, UCS, Sierra Club, NRDC, Public Citizen and RMI are just a few example members of the long running coalition against nuclear development with annual budgets in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars.

in addition to the sources documented in the smoking gun posts on Atomic Insights, consider the fact that major foundations supporting "environmental" groups that are almost uniformly opposed to nuclear energy include the Pew Charitable Trusts, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller Foundation, and the George and Cynthia Mitchill Foundation. The common thread of all of these groups is that their wealth came from oil and gas.

Finally, do not limit your view to the US. The Green Party in Germany has received substantial support from both domestic coal and Russian gas suppliers.

Individuals have also "made bank" after working hard to slow nuclear energy. Two small examples out of many: Gerhard Schroeder, the German Chancellor that was the architect of Germany's initial plan to phase out nuclear energy, went to work for Gazprom immediately after he left office

Joschka Fischer, a Green Party founder who was Germany's longest serving foreign minister became an advisor to the Nabucco pipeline coalition to bring natural gas from the Caspian Sea to central Europe. (Oil Road: Journeys From the Caspian Sea To the City of London pg 326

November 16, 2013    View Comment    

On Energy Risk: Radiation Superstition

@Michael Berndtson

I also like rules and regulations; I am, after all, a retired US Navy nuke who spent a portion of my career training prospective officers at the Naval Academy.

However, human imposed rules are subject to change. They should be changed when they are not based on correct science. The motivation to seek change comes when one realizes that the rules of the game have been purposely chosen to benefit the established players at the expense of all other potential participants.

Appropriate reviews of established regulations don't happen by magic, especially when there are people that like the way things are today. They start when people, some of whom may be outside of the industry, point out the fallacies and incorrect assumptions. The reviews continue when people who have struggled to implement the rules and recognize their extreme costs speak up. (That is not easy, by the way. One person's extreme cost is another person's generous revenue stream. Something tells me that you have spent your career on the revenue side of implementing regulations.)

I've been in the industry and struggled with the excessive costs. I've seen the size of the design teams, and the cost of the excessively redundant layers. I've seen the numbers associated with meeting dose rate limits in the case of the "worst case scenarios" that that include magical dispersal of the entire core volume and give little or no credit for physical boundaries like 7 inch thick pressure vessels installed inside containment buildings that have 1 inch thick steel walls surrounded by 3 foot thick concrete shield buildings. Ten mile emergency planning zones are part of that cost, even though the State of the Art Reactor Consequences Analysis (SOARCA) indicated that there was little to no possibility of any injury outside of the plant boundaries.

I've watched the situation in Japan, where tens of thousands of people have been forced to abandon their homes in order to protect them from minor contamination that would give them an annual dose rate that is less than half of what I was allowed to receive as an occupational worker when I first started my nuclear career - and the Navy has kept extremely careful records for more than 50 years that show those limits were quite conservative already. The cost of evacuating people from their homes is almost incalculable, but one indication of the cost is that somewhere close to 1,000 people suffered an early death as the result of the process and the stress involved.

Finally, I have done enough review of the projected design of waste repositories to know how much additional cost was added due to the EPA setting a limit of 15 mrem per year - which is about 1/20th of average background exposure in the US not including medical - and establishing a requirement that the designers seek to ensure that the repository meet that limit for a million years into the future. 

We need to challenge the basis for the regulations so that we can make intelligent design choices that balance safety with cost. The alternative to addressing nuclear system cost is to keep pricing it out of the market and encouraging more fossil fuel consumption by default. That is not the safe path.

This is as good as any place to keep the discussion going and to increase the pressure for sensible change.

Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights

PS - I have no worries that sensible radiation dose rate regulations will change the economics of oil and gas production. That industry already has sensible limits because they have convinced their regulators that radiation from Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) is somehow less damaging to human health than radiation associated with nuclear energy production. When doses are equal, human bodies cannot tell the difference between natural and "artificial" radiation.

October 23, 2013    View Comment