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On Does Thorium Deserve a Role in Next-Generation Nuclear Energy?

My question is, "What's the hold up?"  Why are they still wanting to build older generation nuclear power plants?

 

Bob "The Clean Energy Guy" Mitchell

November 4, 2013    View Comment    

On What Would Be the Impacts of Shutting Down All Fracking?

John, I enjoyed the debate too!  And I will also see about writing my own post at some point.  Thanks for engaging with me.

 

Bob "The Clean Energy Guy" Mitchell

September 25, 2013    View Comment    

On What Would Be the Impacts of Shutting Down All Fracking?

As with people with a dependency problem, societies don't tend to change unless there is enough pain to make them want to change.  With fossil fuels, people have been able to sweep the negative consequences under the rug in the sense that the external costs and consequences aren't paid for directly by the folks using the fuel.

Combine this with an organized propaganda campaign orchestrated by the oil and gas industry and designed to convince people that fracking is totally safe and that it is that "magic pill" that I talked about in a prior comment and you can understand why the public isn't up in arms in regards to fracking.  Heck, even with the evidence of climate change slapping them in the face with an increase in severe droughts, hurricanes and other weather events, something like 40% of Americans are still denying that man made climate change even exists!  The results are that people are more than happy to be lied to about the true costs and risks of fracking.

Now, I don't know where you got your numbers on how much people would have to reduce their demand for NG if fracking were eliminated, but I have no doubt that you're right to at least a certain extent that there will be pain involved if we don't continue to frack because the price of Natural Gas will more than likely go up...maybe a substantial amount.

BUT, that's not necessarily a bad thing because price increases on a good is what triggers innovation and the adoption of alternatives goods; For example, if the price of natural gas doubles (pulling a number out of my hat), people will start to look at alternative ways to heat their homes and businesses.  One of the alternatives that is available is solar thermal, which is a technology that is ready for prime time right now!

To your point about NG being used in fertilizers and increasing food production, You're making part of my argument for me in that NG is much more valuable in food production than as a fuel.  So, until we can get our population under control and start to reduce it to a sustainable number, we're still going to have to feed these people and rather than waste our time pursuing NG as a transportation fuel or even as a fuel to heat our homes, we should start to wean the public from the use of natural gas as a fuel so that we can indeed use it to grow food.

And while I could go on to write my clean energy manifesto and publish it here, I don't really want to bore people too much.  Suffice it to say that I'm a Capitalist and think that our leaders should put into place incentives that will encourage the free markets to do what they do best.  One of these mechanisms could be a tax on carbon that would put the external costs of burning fossil fuels into the cost of a gallon of gasoline or a cf of NG.  It would have to be phased in so as not to totally disrupt the markets or to cause too much pain (particularly on poorer people), but still allow enough "pain" to encourage people to adopt renewable, sustainable energy schemes.

Once these signals are in place, the free markets will take it from there and you will see an increase in the adoption rates of all manners of renewable energy because with all of the costs of fossil fuels factored in, Renewable Energy is by far less expensive.  That's not to say that we're going to be able to make the switch overnight, but like the adoption of cellular technology or even computers, once the benefits of the new technology are clear and well understood by the public, they will do their part!

Bob "The Clean Energy Guy" Mitchell

 

 

September 25, 2013    View Comment    

On What Would Be the Impacts of Shutting Down All Fracking?

Robert, I agree with you that there aren't a whole bunch of detailed, comprehensive plans on just how we need to go about adopting renewable energy.  There are some, such as the 2009 European Union Renewable energy directive  and it's progress report that was published in 2013   but even these aren't real specific in just how they plan on going about doing it.

That said, I don't know that such a plan would be anything more than an academic exercise because of the very size of our energy markets and the complexities of micro managing the process.  

As a capitalist, I'm in favor of having governments set the stage through policy and incentives that will allow the free markets to do what they do best (Which, if you read the progress report is actually pretty good considering the powerful interests that are aligned against the adoption of renewable energy).

In the future, as it the negative effects of man-made climate change become more and more irrefutable, public demand for a change will increase, as we saw from public opinion polls in the affected areas after Hurricane Sandy. 

Until then, people being people, we will continue to look for that magic pill that will solve our problems.  As of right now, that magic pill is fracking.  But as with most magic pills (my thoughts go to Phen fen, the obesity drug), these pills don't usually turn out to be as great as they initially seem.

In terms of fracked natural gas, the pill comes with the side effects of massive water usage, water contamination, increased seismic activity and increased atmospheric levels of methane.  The list of risks sounds like the tail end of a cholesterol lowering drug ad on the evening news!

The saddest thing about fracking is that, in the long run, it's not really going to make that big a difference for the average person (unless there is an environmental disaster such as a major aquifer being contaminated or there is an fracking caused earthquake that happens to hit a major metropolitan area such as Fort Worth or Little Rock). 

Right now, in the US, gas prices are depressed due to the glut of NG that is currently on the market as the result of fracking, but as soon as ability to export liquidfied natural gas is approved (I believe that 4 permits have been issued so far) and the facilities built or reconfigured our prices for NG will go up to the world levels and we will lose any economic advantages that we are currently enjoying.

In addition, if you look at the current economically available US supply of NG, which based upon current consumption levels is projected to be enough to provide approximately 80 years worth of use and then factor in increased usage in electrical generation and transportation, you'll see that at best this party is only going to last a few decades.

So, rather than "Frack Baby Frack", maybe we should not act like junkies looking for a fix and develop long term policies that will build out our renewable energy infrastructure.  So that you know, while I'm not terribly knowledgable on the nuclear technologies that address the shortfalls in the current nuclear technologies being used, I'm very much in favor of continuing research on them.)

 

Bob "The Clean Energy Guy" Mitchell

September 24, 2013    View Comment    

On What Would Be the Impacts of Shutting Down All Fracking?

Why yes, blocking local shale gas production based upon the totality of the negative effects and the risks involved with the technology is indeed a responsible regulatory/political policy. 

As it is now, the risks are borne by the public and the rewards going to the oil and gas industry!

 

Bob "The Clean Energy Guy" Mitchell

September 24, 2013    View Comment    

On What Would Be the Impacts of Shutting Down All Fracking?

...so John, what you're saying is that we need to add the risk of explosions to the other down sides of fracking? ;-)

And while I say that in jest, I think that the risk of explosions is one of the reasons that they post "No Smoking" signs near these wells.

And while we're talking about methane leakage, I want to point out that the newest study that was recentely released only measures leakage up to "completion" of the well and then only at the well site itself.

It didn't measure leakage that occured away from the exact well site, but that was likely the result of fracking activity. 

Methane concentrations in the atmosphere have been rising since 2007 (in spite of the economic downturn) which, btw, coincides with the increase in the use of fracking technologies and while this rise hasn't yet been pegged on fracking, my gut tells me that it is at least responsible for a sizeable portion of this increase. 

 

Bob "The Clean Energy Guy" Mitchell

September 24, 2013    View Comment    

On What Would Be the Impacts of Shutting Down All Fracking?

Mr. Miller:  I have to start disagreeing with you with your second sentence..."In the case of producing shale gas in an environmentally responsible manner, the economy, consumers, level of U.S. carbon emissions, and the gas companies can and do benefit."


My first bone of contention is that it is far from certain that fracking can be done in an enviromentally responsible manner.  As a matter of fact, based upon it's track record and the studies that have been done so far, fracking has a documentable failure rate.  And while this failure rate is small, it is real and cannot be denied.

There is at least one aquifer in Wyoming that was contaminated with chemicals that have no other known origin other than fracking operations that took place nearby.  There have also been hundreds of cases of water contamination throughout the country and particularly in the states like Pennsylvania  and New York..  The New Your Times did an extensive review of these contaminations.

Also, while you're right that Natural Gas emits less carbon than coal when it's burned, that statement doesn't take into account the gas that leaks from areas that have been fracked.  While the industry has tried to minimalize this fact and focus on the emissions, the facts of the matter are that methane is 21 times more potent as a green house gas than carbon dioxide (according the the US EPA) and fracked gas fields leak!  Now, there isn't yet any comprehensive national monitoring program in effect, so we can't say definitively what percentage of the gas recovered instead leaks into the atmosphere, but studies from Cornell University as well as The National Oceanic and Atmosphereric Administration in conjunction with the University of Colorando - Bolder have both measured leakage in excess of 7% with averages well in excess of the industry's estimates of 1.5%.

So, as the result of fracking we have documentable cases of ground water and aquifer contamination, as well as increases in the net accumulation of greenhouse gases, but we really don't even have to go that far to see that it's simply not worth the risk.  To do that, all we have to do is to look at the amount of fresh water that is used in the process.

While you state that the water consumption is taken into account during the permiting process, I have my doubts that most folks realize just how much water a fracked well uses!  And not only does fracking use an average of about 7 million gallons of water per well, between 20% and 85% of this water is lost during the process (where it can then migrate towards our water supplies).  Of the water that is recovered, it is then hauled away to be injected into the earth (where it has been documented to cause the lubrication of fault lines and in turn earth quakes).

The industry's claim that this usage is minimal compared to other uses such as the watering of lawns or power generation is ridiculous  because when you water your grass or turn water into steam while making electricity, that water is returned to the planet's hydrological system and will eventually be used again.  The vast majority of Fracking Fluid (which the now heavily contaminated water is called after the chemicals and sand are added to it), is either lost in the fracking process or interned and therefore won't be able to be used again anytime in the foreseeable future.

Lastly, regarding your statements on renewable energy not being ready for prime time, I have to agree with you to a certain extent.  This is because our fossil fuel infrastructure has about a 100 year or so head start!  It's no wonder that our energy infrastructure, which was designed around centralized production of energy with an energy dense fuel might have problems accomadating renewable energy.

That does't mean that we can't redesign and rebuild our energy infrastructure so that it can accomadate the lower energy density, as well as the variability of renewable energy. 

If you think about it, isn't investing in renewable energy technology and it' s related infrastructure a much wiser investment than risking our water and astmoshpere pursueing a resource that with any significant increase in consumption will be depleted within a few decades?  I don't think so!

 

Bob "The Clean Energy Guy" Mitchell

 

September 19, 2013    View Comment    

On What Would Be the Impacts of Shutting Down All Fracking?

It still comes down to a risk vs reward argument.

IF there are no major environmental disasters, such as a major aquifer being contaminated or a sizable earthquake as the result of injecting the waste water into the earth, then the oil and gas industry makes some extra money.

 

However, if the established failure rate of fracked wells hold true (or gets worse) then the costs of the disaster will be borne by us all after the oil and gas industry blames it all on a sub contractor and that company goes bankrupt.

Its simply not worth the risk or the resources (each fracked well takes over 7 million gallons of water on average and in the long run, the water is much more valuable than the natural gas), for a resource that will be depleted in just a few decades at any increased level of consumption.

Also, it's not like we don't have alternatives to natural gas (which actually has a higher carbon footprint than coal when you factor in leakage).  Before we risk and waste our water on NG, lets improve our renewable energy infrastructure, as well as our efficiency of using our current resources.

 

Bob "The Clean Energy Guy" Mitchell

 

September 18, 2013    View Comment    

On Fukushima Radiation Affecting US Tuna

Paul:  I've been reading posts on this site for a couple of years now and I've never seen an "editor's note" directing people to articles written by opposing points of view.  While Rod seems to be very knowledgeable on the topic of nuclear energy, he also seems to be anything but objective.  The second article that they linked to seemed to be pretty much just propaganda.

I personally, and as an advocate for renewable energy, am not totally against nuclear energy,  IF IT CAN BE SAFELY!  (which I'm convinced that it can't be with the current design of nuclear power plants - based upon the established failure rate of nuclear power plants).

I also have some major concerns about uranium as a fuel source due to the environmental costs of mining it, as well as it's limited economically recoverable supply (about 80 years based upon current consumption)

Now, there might be something to be said for future, experimental designs for nuclear power plants that utilize other fuel sources and have built in shut down features that would prevent catastrophe's like fukishima, but these designs always seem to be "just down the road". 

Regarding Eric's quote about "I can't say that I totally disagree with him.  While I'm not all that into calling people names based upon their educated and rational opinions and beliefs, I don't know that a lot of pro nuclear people are all that rational in their discounting of the dangers involved with nuclear power (at least current generation nuclear power).

I would also suspect that he is right in saying that conservative people would tend to support nuclear power more than liberal people.  This is borne out by a Gallop poll from March of 2010 that stated that 23% more Republicans supported nuclear power than democrats.

As far as these people being "wackos or nutties", I'm sure that some are, but that most are simply placing more or less weight on certain facts. 

An example of this, related to this article, is the health effects of eating Pacific Blue Fin Tuna.  While some have discounted the danger to the point of saying that it doesn't exist in practical terms, I and others have pointed out that even using the numbers put out by the pro-nuclear side (I think that it was something like an increase in cancer occurences of about 2 per 100,000???) that it equates to an additional 1,600 hundred cases of cancel (many of which will be fatal).  

So, while I might think that this is unacceptable, you or other pro-nuclear people might consider 1,600 people, who otherwise wouldn't have gotten cancer, getting cancer is acceptable?  I also think that pro-nuclear people tend to not consider intricate details such as the fact that these statistics (such as the 2 per 100,000 additional cases of cancer due to the Fukishima disaster) isn't going to be felt uniformly throughout the world - people who live on Pacific Islands and who eat fish as a larger percentage of their diet will be disproportionately affected.

Lastly, I'm going to turn your last statement on it's ear....that is, "Nuclear Power should stand on their own merrit (sic) without needing to spin and inaccurately vilify other sources, beside GW causing sources?"

As an educated person who has a background in energy and who has accepted that for the foreseeable future that we can't maintain our western lifestyles without nuclear power, I don't know that nuclear power meets your standard (at least not in the long run with currently available technologies)

 

Bob "The Clean Energy Guy" Mitchell

September 9, 2013    View Comment    

On Fukushima Radiation Affecting US Tuna

I'm a bit disappointed that The Energy Collective decided to show it's bias towards nuclear energy by inserting it's Editor note into this post.  I followed the links and found both to be very bias articles that dismiss the concerns that a lot of scientists have about the increased exposure to radiation as the result of the Fukushima disaster.

While I'm not any kind of expert on radiation exposure, I am smart enough to realize that it's not quite as cut and dry as the articles referred to attempt to make it.

From what I've read, no additional dose of radiation is "safe" and while some exposures are unavoidable and others are deemed worth the risk, even a small increase can have negative health effects for some.  And while that number may be small, it's still a major bummer if you happen to be the one that ends up with cancer because their lunch put them over a threshold that they wouldn't have gone over if it hadn't been for the fact that nuclear power has a failure rate!

Another problem I have with the media's focus on just the Pacific Blue Fin Tuna and the small additional dose of radiation that it now likely to give you is the fact that while this might not be a problem for the average American who doesn't rely upon fish as a staple of their diet, there are all kinds of people who do. So, while my twice a year eating of a tuna steak might only increase my odds of getting cancer by a small amount many times less than an average dental xray, it would make a difference if I ate that tuna for my lunch every day! 

Another thing to consider is how ingesting radioactive material affects your body as opposed to a one shot dental xray.  From my understanding, when you eat radiation it tends to be deposited in different parts of your body depending upon which particular type of radiation you are talking about.  And depending on where it ends up (as well as it's particular 1/2 life), it can have different effects upon the body and even the body of the person who ingested it's off spring.  Cesium for example tends to be deposited uniformly over the entire body which leads to it's contribution to genetic changes.

Here is an interesting article on ingesting of radiation that I found that was done for the National Institute of Health http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1373387/?page=1

So, all together, I don't know that you can simply sweep the effects of this nuclear disaster (and nuclear power over-all) under the table.

 

Bob "The Clean Energy Guy" Mitchell

 

September 6, 2013    View Comment    

On Update on Fukushima Leaks: Unrepresentative Sampling Supports Fear Mongering

Excellent spin!  Michael J. Fox couldn't have done any better!

September 6, 2013    View Comment    

On The Future of Energy: Why Power Density Matters

George:  You asked for it, so here goes! 

"The allowable radiation exposure limit in Japan was moved up to 20 mSv which is about equal to the radiation dosage of getting 2 abdominal CT scans over a three year period."

The problem with that statement is magnitude.  If ONE person has two abdominal cat scans within three years, they raise their risk of developing cancer by a relatively small amount.  However, if you 100,000 people have two cat scans within a three year period, someone is going to die! 

Actually, it's worse than that!  Cat scans subject the recipient to about 150 to 1100 times the radiation that they would be exposed to by a conventional xray or about one years worth of exposure from natural sources.  In 2007, that amounted to about an extra 29000 cases of cancer just in the US.  One study estimates that there is an increase of about 1 extra case of cancer for every 400 to 2000 chest cat scans.  Now, times that increase by being exposed to this additional radiation every day for the next couple of hundred years due to the fact that Cesium 137 (which has become inextractably lodged in the soil, plants and water of the area) and that has a 1/2 life of about 30 years...with it taking about 10 one half lifes to completely dissipate and you can see why they've declared the area "uninhabitable".

If they had stuck to their original "safe" limit and the one still held on to by the US and many other countries, the exclusion zone would have had to be extended much further.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-much-ct-scans-increase-risk-cancer&page=2

http://www.psr.org/environment-and-health/environmental-health-policy-institute/responses/costs-and-consequences-of-fukushima.html  (This group, Physicians for Social Responsibility, won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize)

Regarding the reasons that Fukushima failed, does it really matter?  Loss of electricity here, a stuck valve there, leaky pipes on this one or a fire at that one.  When the next nuclear disaster happens, it could be one of these reasons or one of a thousand other ones that we haven't considered...such as where to place your back up cooling generators in the event of a Tsunami... The fact of the matter is that there is indeed a failure rate!  And while this rate might be small, the results of a failure can be catastrophic! 

Also George, if we build out all of these new nuclear plants that you apparently want, where is the fuel going to come from?  While I'm open to considering Thorium realtors, they apparently aren't quite ready for prime time yet and nobody really knows when and if they ever will be!  So, as of right now, based upon current usage, we have about an 80 year supply that is economically recoverable.

Double the number of reactors and that number will drop to 40 years...seems like a long time unless you're a Cub's fan?? (which for some reason I think that many proponents of nuclear power as being our energy savior seems likely to be the case).

So no, barring a major game changing development, I don't see nuclear as being that savior.  A band aid for right now, but long term I really don't see an alternative to renewable energy...even if you're willing to insure the world based upon your misguilded opinion.

 

Bob "The Clean Energy Guy" Mitchell

 

 

August 20, 2013    View Comment