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May 01, 2009

Comments

"... could be used to give consumers rebates or reduce other taxes ..."

lol. yeah. right.

I think this misses a point, which is that cap and trade, even if it only marginally reduces energy consumption, will also shift it towards more expensive sources.

0h, and let me join in: "Yeah, right."

Honestly, I'd be a lot more impressed with Mr. Audacious if he'd announce that he was responding to global warming with an immediate drive to build more nuclear plants.

Or, you could just call it the biggest (regressive) tax increase in history…

President Obama's climate plan could cost industry close to $2 trillion, nearly three times the White House's initial estimate of the so-called "cap-and-trade" legislation, according to Senate staffers who were briefed by the White House.

I hardly ever agree with Krugman, but I’ll admit he is a smart guy. Too smart not to know that this will directly impact the 95% Obama claims will be getting tax relief under his proposals.

And we don’t have to speculate about whether or not it will work – it doesn’t. It’s been tried and the result is “epic fail”. It will just be another boondoggle. Some people will get very very rich but the average consumer will just get screwed, and it won’t have a bit of impact on the climate. Company A figures out how to emit a little less, Company B pays them some money so they can emit a little more – net carbon output is the same. Meanwhile it’s a free for all in India and China.

I suppose that if you really put your mind to it you could come up with a better way to cripple economic recovery, but it would be a challenge.

Brett, without engaging with your "yeah, right" echo, I'm a bit confused by your last comment: are you somehow under the apprehension that nuclear power is inexpensive? My understanding was that while the fuel costs were in theory low and the power output high, the capital costs and other operating costs (such as waste handling) are so immense as to make nuclear one of the most expensive forms, far more than, say, wind (although I don't know to what extent such comparisons factor in the grid upgrades or backup fossil fuel plants necessary for when we are becalmed and cannot get wind power, or it's too dark out for solar power).

No, I'm somehow under the impression that nuclear power doesn't emit greenhouse gases, and is a reliable source of baseline power, capable of powering an industrial civiliation.

I'm also under the impression that countries where the regulation of nuclear power hasn't been captured by anti-nuclear activists somehow manage to make it work. Maybe we could import some French engineers.

OCSteve, you're mentioned in that NY Times article you linked to:

“People who don’t want to do anything about carbon emissions in the United States are quick to say the European system was a failure,” said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in Washington. “But they don’t understand this was an experiment to learn how to get things right.”

Can all the free market believers here address hilzoy's last paragraph?

Brett, my understanding is that those nations that use a lot of nuclear power do so for reasons other than cost, whether it's national pride, dual-use (which was at least at various times the case in France, Japan, Taiwan, Brazil, and Israel, not to mention India, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea) or strategic views of resource limitations (Japan has iirc no oil or coal). I don't think their costs are lower than ours, or their waste issues easier - Japan, for example, sends its used fuel rods through the worst pirate-infested waters in the world for reprocessing in France, and reprocessing does not eliminate the waste question.

I'm also not aware that the problems of nuclear power are about excessive regulation - regulation is more intrusive than it was before Three Mile Island, but it's far from obvious that this is a bad thing.

Did Brett just say that France has less meddlesome big-government liberal regulation than the US does?

When proposals to put a simple limit on emissions are discussed, conservatives object and say that a market based approach is needed.

When a market based approach is put on the table, conservatives object because it might raise the cost of energy.

Either fossil fuel emissions are a problem, or they aren't. If they are, we need to address them.

It's unlikely that there will be any solution, or any part of a solution, that is free of any cost or downside, *otherwise we'd probably already be doing that*.

Conservatives wanted market, now you got market. Enough with the whining already.


Ok. I don't think it's really been established that there IS a straightforward market failure here.

But, assuming there is, are you willing to let the market solve this without massive subsidies for wind, solar, and you name it? Without artifical impediments to disfavored solutions like nuclear?

If not, you're not talking a market solution. You just want to slap a quick coat of "free market" paint on the usual top down regulatory solution.

People here may be interested in the FIT (Feed In Tariff) that is being used to promote renewable energy. One of the fathers in the PTA here works with issues involving this and we had an interesting talk at our PTA father's drinking party. He said (if I understood the Japanese correctly) that Japan was looking at the German model, which had created a huge uptick in solar power installations.

And we don’t have to speculate about whether or not it will work – it doesn’t. It’s been tried and the result is “epic fail”. It will just be another boondoggle.

We don't have to speculate about whether or not OCSteve's marriage will work: it won't. It's been tried (back when Brittney Spears got married) and the result is "epic fail". It will be just another disaster.

I mean, if someone screws up something once, obviously that means that no one could ever possibly do it right. The logic is unassailable.

Pay no attention to other cap and trade regimes like the one currently in place for SO2.

When a market based approach is put on the table, conservatives object because it might raise the cost of energy.

It's not completely a market-based approach, russell, if participation in the market is mandatory. The "cap" portion of cap-and-trade might tend to drive prices significantly higher, or maybe just a little bit higher. I'd want to see the analysis, first. Krugman's column is not "the analysis", it's his opinion of how things might pan out. Frankly, it sounds like a bit like magic, the way Krugman explains it. Someone's incurring some additional costs under cap-and-trade, and Krugman seems to think that said costs aren't going to be passed on to the customer. I'd want to see the math, really.

Honestly, I haven't given this a great deal of thought, yet, but that's the way it looks to me. Also, it's really, really odd to me that belief/disbelief in markets seems to switch purely as a function of political convenience. And I include myself emphatically as one source of said oddness.

if participation in the market is mandatory

By that I meant: if the new part of the market (cap-and-trade) is actually a better market, then the mandatory participation should be unnecessary. I think it's necessary because someone is going to be losing out in a way that they wouldn't be under the existing market.

...but, as always: IANAE.

In theory I have no objection about C&T, and I do think we ought to be eliminating our emissions whenever possible. Has it worked so far? Not in Europe. Worse, there are likely unintended consequences, including some that are counterproductive.

No, I'm somehow under the impression that nuclear power doesn't emit greenhouse gases, and is a reliable source of baseline power, capable of powering an industrial civiliation.

That's an interesting impression. The notion that nuclear power does not emit any greenhouse gasses is, of course, absurd. The question is how much GHG are emitted per kW-Hr of energy generated. That question in turn depends heavily on the ore grade of Uranium we use to power these nuclear plants. Uranium is very common but is typically found in very low densities. Most Uranium deposits require more energy to extract and process than can be provided by using the Uranium in a reactor. So the real question is: are there enough high grade ore deposits to power the world for a few decades? If you can't answer that question, you have no business talking about the GHG output for nuclear power.

Of course, there are more efficient nuclear reactor designs that are theoretically feasible yet are so problematic in practical terms that no one has ever managed to build real commercial implementations. I'm assuming you're only talking about reactor designs that can actually be built and operated commercially rather than completely infeasible magical technology.

A quick comment and a question for the many folks out there who know a lot more about this topic than myself...

First, a quick observation on comments that have been made earlier regarding 'free market' approaches to energy. I would argue that there are several ways in which energy markets are not free in the traditional Econ 101 sense. Regarding carbon based energy, consumers don't directly bear the true cost of consumption which includes not only the environmental impact, but in the case of oil, the cost of our military involvement with the middle east. Additionally, carbon based energy forms do not have an elastic supply...I'm sure that there are many smart economists who understand and model markets with static supply and increasing demand, but I'm going to guess that most of us armchair analysts who believe in the efficiency of free markets typically assume some elasticity of both supply and demand. So, it's completely unclear that the traditional advantages inherent in a free market system translate to energy markets.

That's my observation...Now, I have a question to ask the community. What are the pros/cons of cap and trade vs. a simple carbon tax. It seems that if the goal is to discourage the behavior of consuming carbon based energy, then the simplest approach would be to apply a simple carbon tax.

Anyone want to enlighten me?


Anyone want to enlighten me?

Not really, but here goes:

A tax is simpler, but unwieldy. For example, if you tax, say, gasoline a bunch, then some new technology (say, petroleum extraction) makes gas much cheaper relative to other energy, then there will be a shift to more gas use, and more carbon into the atmosphere. So with a simple tax, you're going to reduce carbon, but you don't know by how much.

By the way, the goal isn't just to discourage behavior, it's to reduce the carbon output to sustainable levels. That's where the cap and trade scheme shines. Is XX parts per billion the goal? Fine, that's the cap. So what energy sources do we use? Nobody cares, as long as you don't bust the cap--let the market sort that out.

That's on paper. In reality, there are other problems. Who will run and monitor the permitting system? There's a potential to rig that sucker. Taxes are also evaded, but not as easily as bid-rigging apparently. But then there's the problem of selling the plan. "Tax" is still an ugly word, which is why the Republicans keep calling cap and trade a "tax." C&T is a market-based plan, easier to sell to market worshipers. That's why C&T is the way to go, in my opinion.

That help? At all?

When a market based approach is put on the table, conservatives object because it might raise the cost of energy.

It's not completely a market-based approach, russell, if participation in the market is mandatory. The "cap" portion of cap-and-trade might tend to drive prices significantly higher, or maybe just a little bit higher. I'd want to see the analysis, first. Krugman's column is not "the analysis", it's his opinion of how things might pan out. Frankly, it sounds like a bit like magic, the way Krugman explains it. Someone's incurring some additional costs under cap-and-trade, and Krugman seems to think that said costs aren't going to be passed on to the customer. I'd want to see the math, really.

How is participating in this market 'mandatory'? That doesn't make any sense to me at all.

Drats, it looks like typepad has suddenly started omitting links. Mine were there a few minutes ago, now gone. Oh well.

If not, you're not talking a market solution. You just want to slap a quick coat of "free market" paint on the usual top down regulatory solution.

If there are subsidies for solar, then cap-and-trade won't produce an economic incentive for carbon-emitting industries to adapt their operations?

That doesn't make any sense. Nobody's talking about doing cap and trade because it's the most awesomest free market capitalist thing evah, but because it's a way to harness market forces to accomplish a desirable end - an argument that has absolutely nothing to do with whether Ludwig von Mises would do a happy dance reading about it, and which none of the more-markety-than-thou commenters seem willing to address.

"Most Uranium deposits require more energy to extract and process than can be provided by using the Uranium in a reactor."

Ok, that's just your typical anti-nuke factoid, and by "factoid", I mean the origial sense of something that looks like a fact, but isn't. That might have once been the case for reactors dependent on highly enriched fuel, inefficient enrichment, and really lousy ore, but we've got reactor designs now that run off native isotopic ratios, don't need enrichement at all. And even the reactors using enrichment are quite a bit more efficient about it now. Finally, it assumes you're going to throw away almost all of the fuel, by neither reprocessing or breeding.

And nobody who's promoting wind power and solar is in any position to demand that nuclear adovocates stick only to reactor designs that are in commercial use already. Apply that to most 'green' energy sources, and they're complete non-starters.

"So the real question is: are there enough high grade ore deposits to power the world for a few decades?"

A few tens of millenia, sure.

Uranium is very common but is typically found in very low densities. Most Uranium deposits require more energy to extract and process than can be provided by using the Uranium in a reactor. So the real question is: are there enough high grade ore deposits to power the world for a few decades? If you can't answer that question, you have no business talking about the GHG output for nuclear power.

Whoah!!!! I'd have to say that unless you're using some idiosyncratic definition 'uranium deposits' that this is an extraordinary claim that demands a rather extraordinary level of proof. Are you claiming, for example, that uranium salts dissolved in the ocean are 'uranium deposits'.

Further, even proven or suspected sources of uranium at present grades feasible for processing are:

According to the summary of uranium resources published jointly by the Nuclear Energy Agency of the OECD and the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, known reserves of uranium from conventional sources are slightly more than 3 million tonnes. Reactor requirements are fairly steady at about 60,000 tonnes per year. Thus there is about 50 years supply of uranium known at this stage to be available. This is, however, an oversimplification of the situation. It is now clear that uranium is not scarce and it is known that it averages almost two parts per million of the Earth's crust. There are substantial resources that are not yet fully proven. These so-called speculative resources are likely to be of the order of 10 million tonnes, about three times the known reserves. While prices remain low, there is no incentive for exploration activities to identify new deposits. Experience with other commodities has shown that increased demand has led to increased prices, and a subsequent increase in exploration and discovery.

That's without the breeder option.

Many environmentalists really do support nuclear as a component of the solution. Conservative nuclear proponents might wish to consider taking "yes" for an answer, at least if that is what they actually want.

Scientists know the gross tonnage of CO2 that the earth's atmosphere can process annually.

Every person on the planet has an equal claim to a fraction of that number.

Let's have a cap and trade system on a per capita basis.

Whoah!!!! I'd have to say that unless you're using some idiosyncratic definition 'uranium deposits' that this is an extraordinary claim that demands a rather extraordinary level of proof. Are you claiming, for example, that uranium salts dissolved in the ocean are 'uranium deposits'.

I was referring to Uranium deposits in the ground. I'm not aware of any technologically feasible processes for extracting Uranium from seawater, but if you are, I'd love to hear about them.

known reserves of uranium from conventional sources are slightly more than 3 million tonnes. Reactor requirements are fairly steady at about 60,000 tonnes per year. Thus there is about 50 years supply of uranium known at this stage to be available.

Perhaps I'm confused, but I don't think talking about how much Uranium is available in total is at all relevant. There is Uranium in almost every bit of rock and soil on Earth. But the density of Uranium in almost all those bits of rock and soil is so low that extraction is energy prohibitive. What matters is how much rock you can find on Earth that has the very high density of Uranium needed to make extraction worthwhile.

While prices remain low, there is no incentive for exploration activities to identify new deposits. Experience with other commodities has shown that increased demand has led to increased prices, and a subsequent increase in exploration and discovery.

This is ridiculous. There have been no major oil discovery finds in years, certainly nothing comparable to the large fields in Saudi Arabia for example. And yet discovery has continued as prices have risen. The notion that we can just assume that Earth has an infinite amount of whatever we want today is silly.

That's without the breeder option.

There is no practical breeder option. Breeder reactors have never amounted to anything usable on a commercial scale. Right now, there are no functioning breeder reactors on Earth. That's because while the theory behind breeder reactors is elegant, the technology doesn't work.

I notice you cut the bit about 10 million tons. Why? This isn't a particularly controversial figure? Nor is there anything particularly wrong with breeder technology.

I'm curious - do you apply the same standards to things like wind power, solar energy, etc? If not, why not?

This is ridiculous. There have been no major oil discovery finds in years, certainly nothing comparable to the large fields in Saudi Arabia for example. And yet discovery has continued as prices have risen. The notion that we can just assume that Earth has an infinite amount of whatever we want today is silly.

Er, can you point to anything I've written that would make you think I believe this? I suspect from what you've written that you don't particularly care for nuclear energy, and in fact prefer 'renewables'. Is this true?

I was Ia bit gobsmacked by your claims, so let me get back to this:

Perhaps I'm confused, but I don't think talking about how much Uranium is available in total is at all relevant. There is Uranium in almost every bit of rock and soil on Earth. But the density of Uranium in almost all those bits of rock and soil is so low that extraction is energy prohibitive. What matters is how much rock you can find on Earth that has the very high density of Uranium needed to make extraction worthwhile.

What evidence do you have that "Uranium is very common but is typically found in very low densities. Most Uranium deposits require more energy to extract and process than can be provided by using the Uranium in a reactor."? This seems to be - I repeat - a highly idiosyncratic definition that you are using.

How is participating in this market 'mandatory'? That doesn't make any sense to me at all.

It's the "cap" part of cap-and-trade, unless I've badly misunderstood. Which is a definite possibility.

If not, you're not talking a market solution. You just want to slap a quick coat of "free market" paint on the usual top down regulatory solution.

It's not completely a market-based approach, russell, if participation in the market is mandatory.

I'm at somewhat of an advantage in this discussion, because I'm basically a lefty, and generating and distributing electrical power is the kind of naturally monopolistic, centralized, infrastructure level thing that IMVHO naturally belongs in the public sector.

So, were we to decide tomorrow that were basically going to nationalize electrical power generation, and we were going to directly subsidize emerging power generation technologies just to see how they'd work out, I wouldn't lose any sleep. I'd say fine, sounds good to me, let's get on with it.

I'm not a hard-core ideologue about it, so if we can think of a purely market solution, or a mixed top-down-and-market solution, I'm also fine with that.

Ditto the nuclear issue. There are lots of problems I can see with nuclear, but it has its upside. Put it on the table and see what the numbers say.

Whatever works best. I just don't see lot of inherent political agenda in generating and distributing electrical power. It's not free speech, it's not habeas, it's not one person one vote, etc. It is, literally, keeping the lights on.

Just get it done.

I'm also enough of an environmental wacko to see this:

Is XX parts per billion the goal? Fine, that's the cap.

As being self-obviously reasonable.

Between coal and oil, we've had a great ride for the last couple hundred years. Hasn't been exactly free, but it's been about as low cost as you could expect a portable, flexible, reliable, high-density energy source to be.

But if the folks who see a connection between climate change and CO2 levels are to be believed, the party's over. Time to suck it up and do the next thing.

For my money, the great unrecognized high-bang-for-the-buck option is conservation, but for some reason nobody seems to have any interest in that. Beats me all to hell why that is so.

The cheapest energy in the world is the energy you don't use.

We don't have to speculate about whether or not OCSteve's marriage will work: it won't. It's been tried (back when Brittney Spears got married) and the result is "epic fail".

Wait, OC was married to Britney Spears?!?

Sorry, it was irresistable.


How is participating in this market 'mandatory'? That doesn't make any sense to me at all.

It's the "cap" part of cap-and-trade, unless I've badly misunderstood. Which is a definite possibility.

Posted by: Slartibartfast


That's not what I'm saying. If I were to drive down the road dumping my trash out the window every week, the kitty litter, coffee grounds, used q-tips, etc, should I be 'forced' to 'participate' in some sort of garbage control scheme?

I notice you cut the bit about 10 million tons.

Because I don't think it is relevant. Look, most Uranium on Earth cannot be used as nuclear fuel because it is embedded with other crap that makes the cost of extracting it too energy expensive. This is not just my opinion. Do you really think it makes sense to extract Uranium from the dirt under your feet to fuel a reactor even if you'd have to spend a lot more energy on extraction than you'd get from the power plant? If not, then why is that Uranium relevant to the discussion at all?

This isn't a particularly controversial figure?

There are many uncontroversial figures that are utterly irrelevant to the discussion at hand. You have two eyes. Not controversial. Totally irrelevant though.

Nor is there anything particularly wrong with breeder technology.

Indeed. Please list the breeder reactors that are currently operating. Please note which reactors are operating on a commercial scale.

I'm curious - do you apply the same standards to things like wind power, solar energy, etc? If not, why not?

What standard is that? Here's what I know: the US government has pumped a fantastic amount of money over the course of decades into nuclear power. And what we've gotten is power that is far more expensive than other options. We've known about breeder reactors for decades and have yet to see a commercially viable one anywhere in the world. I don't think I've answered your question very well here because I'm still not sure what you were asking, so a clarifying question would help.

Er, can you point to anything I've written that would make you think I believe this?

Sure. "Experience with other commodities has shown that increased demand has led to increased prices, and a subsequent increase in exploration and discovery."

I suspect from what you've written that you don't particularly care for nuclear energy, and in fact prefer 'renewables'. Is this true?

Here is what my policy preferences are. I think we should price carbon. I think we should not give large explicit subsidies to either the nuclear power industry or any other. To the extent that nuclear power plants benefit from pricing carbon, I've got no problem. But I don't think they'll be able to benefit in large numbers. I'm neither pro- nor anti-nuclear power: I just don't want to continue our non-sensical policy of pumping massive subsidies into the industry no matter what happens.

should I be 'forced' to 'participate' in some sort of garbage control scheme?

You already are. That market rule, to stretch the analogy just a tad, is already in effect.

What evidence do you have that "Uranium is very common but is typically found in very low densities. Most Uranium deposits require more energy to extract and process than can be provided by using the Uranium in a reactor."? This seems to be - I repeat - a highly idiosyncratic definition that you are using.

Wikipedia claims that "Uranium is a naturally occurring element that can be found in low levels within all rock, soil, and water. Uranium is also the highest-numbered element to be found naturally in significant quantities on earth and is always found combined with other elements...Uranium's average concentration in the Earth's crust is (depending on the reference) 2 to 4 parts per million,[6][9] or about 40 times as abundant as silver.[7] The Earth's crust from the surface to 25 km (15 mi) down is calculated to contain 1017 kg (2 × 1017 lb) of uranium while the oceans may contain 1013 kg (2 × 1013 lb).[6] The concentration of uranium in soil ranges from 0.7 to 11 parts per million (up to 15 parts per million in farmland soil due to use of phosphate fertilizers), and its concentration in sea water is 3 parts per billion.[9]...Uranium is more plentiful than antimony, tin, cadmium, mercury, or silver, and it is about as abundant as arsenic or molybdenum.[5][9] Uranium is found in hundreds of minerals including uraninite (the most common uranium ore), carnotite, autunite, uranophane, torbernite, and coffinite.[5] Significant concentrations of uranium occur in some substances such as phosphate rock deposits, and minerals such as lignite, and monazite sands in uranium-rich ores[5] (it is recovered commercially from sources with as little as 0.1% uranium[7]).

I don't see why my claim is strange. There is a lot of Uranium on Earth. You can find some in any patch of soil or piece of rock. That means that the total amount of Uranium on Earth is huge. But by the same token, any patch of soil or chunk of rock will have only a low density of Uranium. So extracting Uranium will not pay off energy wise.

Do you understand what's involved in extracting and processing Uranium? Do you understand how energy intensive smashing chunks of granite together into fine dust and then chemically leeching out the Uranium molecules is?

"There's no earthly reason why anyone who believes in the marvelous benefits of markets to decide that when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, those benefits will magically cease to exist."

I have to echo Slarti, it is strange how belief in the power of evolution to solve problems in innovative ways seems to switch purely as a function of political convenience. That said, i'm very confident that if we enact some sort of cap and trade, the market will allocate just fine if we let it. See for example paper mills making things less environmentally friendly to get government credits. But the question really is "what target should we set?" If we let it, the market will evolve to find the most efficient use given whatever limit is set, but that doesn't automatically mean that whatever level you set is a) good for the economy, b) the right level necessary to help with global warming, or c) [flip side of b] enough to help global warming.

Btw, are we really going to let the undistorted market allocate? I seriously doubt we will be able to avoid set asides and special rates for ‘group X in need’.

Turbulence, there are these volumes called "ore bodies", where the concentration of Uranium is a bit higher than it's average concentration in the Earth's crust.

SoV, let's assume that you're numbers are correct: let's assume that all these deposits are of such high ore grades that the extraction energy cost is comparable to what we see today from the highest grade deposits. Since nuclear power currently generates about 10% of power used, a 50 year supply would only last 10 years assuming we displaced crummy coal, oil, and natural gas power generation since, after all, nuclear power is so much cheaper and better for the environment right?


Ok, that's just your typical anti-nuke factoid, and by "factoid", I mean the origial sense of something that looks like a fact, but isn't. That might have once been the case for reactors dependent on highly enriched fuel, inefficient enrichment, and really lousy ore, but we've got reactor designs now that run off native isotopic ratios, don't need enrichement at all.

Really? Can you provide a link to a webpage describing a commercial reactor that runs on native isoptopic ratios and thus needs no enrichment at all?

When you say designs, do you mean wonderful idea that has never been tested in the real world or do you mean plan that has actually been implemented on a large scale and tested?

And even the reactors using enrichment are quite a bit more efficient about it now. Finally, it assumes you're going to throw away almost all of the fuel, by neither reprocessing or breeding.

As I mentioned above, breeder reactors have been a colossal failure.

Turbulence, there are these volumes called "ore bodies", where the concentration of Uranium is a bit higher than it's average concentration in the Earth's crust.

Really Brett? Gee, I guess it is a good thing that I reviewed Figures 4, 5 and 7 in this paper before commenting (see http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es702249v when Typepad inevitably scrubs the link for no apparent reason). Amazingly, my comments also apply to large Uranium mines too. And in fact, there are a lot more low grade ore mines than high grade ore mines. And energy and CO2 costs for producing Uranium fuel is much higher at the low grade ore mines than the high grade ore mines.

What, you never heard of the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CANDU_reactor>CANDU reactor, runs off native U using heavy water moderator? They're all over the place.

And, like I said, nobody who's touting solar or wind has any business demanding that new reactor designs be off the table.

I've always been puzzled by the variance hilzoy and Slartibartfast point out. I seem to remember one account, out of the about the proposed Kyoto Treaty during the ratification debate, that projected costs of the arrangement out as far as 2060. This from the same quarter that had said, about various past predictions of "overshoot" crashes, that technological advancement and market adaptation would make such a seamless web of changes that supply and costs would be so redefined that the predictions of doom and the specific numbers used would simply be meaningless by the time they came due. It has been as if there was something magical specifically about "progressive" cost impositions that would freeze market adaptations and the state of technology in place.

The thing to do (under any frame) is to avoid thinking about economies implicitly as if they are static. If different costs change the incentive picture - not merely for purchase of present options, but for investigation and development of previously-unused arrangements - that is what is going to, over many iterations, transform the game in the untrackable smarter-than-us way that market enthusiasts have always talked about. Markets do nothing but adapt to and around price constraints.

Sebastian's point about tinkering with the arrangement bothers me most at this point... I am thinking about the things that Kevin Drum discusses here, with "reasonable" air being let out of the whole arrangement so that to some degree it appears to be being imposed but isn't. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2009/04/cap-and-trade

should I be 'forced' to 'participate' in some sort of garbage control scheme?

You already are. That market rule, to stretch the analogy just a tad, is already in effect.

Posted by: Slartibartfast

I'm not following this at all.

About nuclear power, amounts of uranium available, the question of breeder reactors (presuming they can be made to work - which is not the same thing as whether they are working now): I have always found this Science 2002 article fascinating. It attempts to put numbers on all of the possibilities, with consideration of how they could be used in combination - which should at least have been the beginning of a huge discussion with a lot of disagreeing and contending numbers. Here it is in PDF:

Advanced Technology Paths to Global Climate
Stability: Energy for a Greenhouse Planet
http://fire.pppl.gov/science_adv_energy_103102.pdf

Note that it includes other possibilities than those previously mentioned, for example what we could expect from nuclear fusion - as in the effort presently going on at ITER in Cadarache - if it can be managed. Which brings up a separate sort of question of avoiding thinking of the system(s) as static. It is a mistake to rank choices of things to steer toward purely on the basis of how strong they're looking in operation right now.

I notice you cut the bit about 10 million tons.

Because I don't think it is relevant. Look, most Uranium on Earth cannot be used as nuclear fuel because it is embedded with other crap that makes the cost of extracting it too energy expensive. This is not just my opinion. Do you really think it makes sense to extract Uranium from the dirt under your feet to fuel a reactor even if you'd have to spend a lot more energy on extraction than you'd get from the power plant? If not, then why is that Uranium relevant to the discussion at all?

You seem to be dancing around the point about 'uranium deposits'. The 10 million ton figure is highly relevant, because it represents not just your energy break-even material, but because it is economically feasible to mine.

What you are claiming is that the entire crust of the Earth constitutes a 'uranium deposit'. That's not the typical use of the term 'deposit' when used in conjunction with 'mineral' - else the ocean would be a 'gold deposit', a 'platinum deposit', etc.

Why can't you just admit that your usage of the term 'uranium deposit' is, shall we say, highly idiosyncratic? It's not a big deal, but your reluctance to do so is a symptom of an ideological commitment to some proposition.

Do you understand what's involved in extracting and processing Uranium? Do you understand how energy intensive smashing chunks of granite together into fine dust and then chemically leeching out the Uranium molecules is?

Posted by: Turbulence

Do you understand how incredibly patronizing that comment is?

What constitutes a feasible uranium deposit depends on energetics of extraction, AND efficiency of utilization. I think it's not irrelevant that people who dismiss fission as an option are, without any exception I've noticed, assuming a VERY low efficency of utilization, basically one pass through a crude light water reactor, and then burial. Even ruling out breeding, this makes no sense, fuel rods become 'poisoned' with neutron absorbing isotopes long before they've 'burned' most of the U235 in them. You take them out, reprocess them, and they're good for another go.

This is not a fuel cycle that was rationally designed, it's a fuel cycle that results from efforts to kill nuclear power off by every regulatory means available short of outright banning it.

SofV, Turbulence didn't even know CANDU reactors existed, I suspect he got everything he 'knows' about nuclear power from anti-nuclear screeds.

You seem to be dancing around the point about 'uranium deposits'. The 10 million ton figure is highly relevant, because it represents not just your energy break-even material, but because it is economically feasible to mine.

SoV, I haven't read the document you quoted, but the bit that you quoted does not seem to indicate that at all; it makes no claims about the density or ore grade of those ten million tons, and the fact that it mentions total Uranium density in the Earth's crust suggests that that number has nothing to do with high grade deposits as such.

Why can't you just admit that your usage of the term 'uranium deposit' is, shall we say, highly idiosyncratic? It's not a big deal, but your reluctance to do so is a symptom of an ideological commitment to some proposition.

Um, what ideological commitment would that be? That carbon should be priced and that we should not give large direct subsidies to either nuclear power plant builders/operators or their renewable equivalent? Do you even disagree with that position?

Why can't you just admit that your usage of the term 'uranium deposit' is, shall we say, highly idiosyncratic? It's not a big deal, but your reluctance to do so is a symptom of an ideological commitment to some proposition.

SoV, why don't you take a look at the figures I mentioned in the paper I linked to above and get back to me? I'd say that my claim that most Uranium deposits are not energy effective holds up pretty well based on the data presented there.


What constitutes a feasible uranium deposit depends on energetics of extraction, AND efficiency of utilization.

I agree. Given magical reactor technology, we could run the world on a gram of Uranium forever. Where we part ways is on the question of how feasible and practical higher efficiency technologies and processes really are. Despite decades of research and investment, we have no breeder reactors. Reprocessing is still very limited; there seems to be only one single facility that is reprocessing serious amounts of material.

OCSteve quotes a prediction that "President Obama's climate plan could cost industry close to $2 trillion".

Never mind whether the prediction is high or low. I want to know what it means for something to "cost industry" $X trillion.

If "industry" ends up paying $X trillion, who does "industry" pay it to? How can money be spent by "industry" without becoming income to somebody?

If, instead, "industry" is predicted to lose $X trillion of income because of cap-and-trade, what does that mean? Presumably, it means "industry" produces less stuff than it otherwise would. But compared to what? If compared to the stuff it could produce at emmission levels that doom the planet, we might ask: what planet does "industry" live on?

N.B.: I acknowledge that "doom the planet" is a figure of speech. The planet will carry on even if climate changes drastically. Human civilization, maybe not.

--TP

Any thoughts from anyone about stuff like this?

Mini-reactors, about the size of a garden shed, you bury it and, other than refueling it every 7-10 years, you forget it. Powers about 20,000 homes, costs about $25M.

There are 20,000 people in my town, and we just signed up to float $21M in bonds for school buildings and repairs. If this stuff is for real, for that same expenditure we could be more or less self-sufficient power wise. Maybe we could sell some back to the regional power company and make money on the deal.

Toshiba is planning to market a smaller 200kw model.

What's the downside? Just curious.

Thanks -

Tony P: "OCSteve quotes a prediction that 'President Obama's climate plan could cost industry close to $2 trillion'."

This reminds me of a headline that appeared in the paper some years ago, along these lines: "Businesses likely to pass postal increase on to customers."

Duh.

Businesses have to meet their expenses and make some profit -- even I can see that. ;)

So the idea that it's some kind of surprise that increased expenses might mean increased prices should not be news.

The relevance to Tony's quote of Steve's quote is that saying that something is going to cost "industry" is the same as saying it's going to cost everyone. Because "industry" isn't going to eat the expense; just as with postal costs, "industry" is going to pass the cost along in increased prices, which we will all pay, directly or indirectly.

This seems fair and sensible to me; how else could it work? But both headlines/quotes were really meant to scare someone and make a villain of someone else. Opposite villains -- business in one case, environmentalists and lefties in the other, I suppose -- but the same manipulative stupidity either way.

It's tiresome.

So, for people happy to quote the unimaginable costs that'll be created by taking any action whatsoever to prevent climate change, what do they think of the costs of not doing anything and the ensuing resource disruptions, adaptation costs, starvation, war, etc that would happen if we don't do anything?

Or am I interrupting the theoretical argument about nuclear power?

SoV, I haven't read the document you quoted, but the bit that you quoted does not seem to indicate that at all; it makes no claims about the density or ore grade of those ten million tons, and the fact that it mentions total Uranium density in the Earth's crust suggests that that number has nothing to do with high grade deposits as such.

Why can't you just admit that your usage of the term 'uranium deposit' is, shall we say, highly idiosyncratic? It's not a big deal, but your reluctance to do so is a symptom of an ideological commitment to some proposition.

Um, what ideological commitment would that be? That carbon should be priced and that we should not give large direct subsidies to either nuclear power plant builders/operators or their renewable equivalent? Do you even disagree with that position?

So, no subsidies to renewables/nuclear energy. Just what is your proposal for dealing with fossil fuel depletion in the coming decades?

I'm genuinely curious.

Further, looking at your own sources:

The Earth's crust from the surface to 25 km (15 mi) down is calculated to contain 1017 kg (2 × 1017 lb) of uranium while the oceans may contain 1013 kg (2 × 1013 lb).[6] The concentration of uranium in soil ranges from 0.7 to 11 parts per million (up to 15 parts per million in farmland soil due to use of phosphate fertilizers), and its concentration in sea water is 3 parts per billion.[9].

10^17 kilograms is 10^14 tons, or one hundred trillion tons. The last time I looked, 100 trillion!=10 million; in fact, it's 10 million tons squared, ie, a potential energy source for 100 million to 1 billion years. By your cite. So claiming that 10 million tons has no relevance as a figure of merit is, to put it bluntly, poppycock.

One last time, yes or no: is the entire continental slab from the Rockies to Appalachians a 'uranium deposit'? This really isn't a hard question; pleas stop ducking.

One last time, yes or no: is the entire continental slab from the Rockies to Appalachians a 'uranium deposit'? This really isn't a hard question; pleas stop ducking.

No. Happy?

Now, perhaps you can address some of the questions I raised for you in my last few comments?

Your quote:

Er, can you point to anything I've written that would make you think I believe this?

Sure. "Experience with other commodities has shown that increased demand has led to increased prices, and a subsequent increase in exploration and discovery."

Does not support your claim that I believe:

The notion that we can just assume that Earth has an infinite amount of whatever we want today is silly.

Number one, that's not anything I've said; number two, no one has conducted anything like the search for oil. Mapping has been cursory, due to the fact that there simply hasn't been that much demand for uranium ore. Obvious, given that at this point nuclear competes with cheaper traditional alternatives.

Number one, that's not anything I've said;

We'll have to agree to disagree then.

Mapping has been cursory, due to the fact that there simply hasn't been that much demand for uranium ore. Obvious, given that at this point nuclear competes with cheaper traditional alternatives.

So, if at this point we have no basis for believing that there are significant high grade ore deposits that are readily accessible, then shouldn't we avoid major investments until we, you know, verify that such deposits exist? Or do you think we should just assume that they have to exist because that would be really convenient?

I mean, if it is really so obvious that some kind of carbon pricing is coming and if it is so obvious that nuclear power produces so few GHG, then shouldn't we see lots of exploration and discovery right about now? Shouldn't nuclear technology be a sure fire investment opportunity? You've put your money into stocks for nuclear power companies, right?

Going back to some of your other points:

That's without the breeder option.

There is no practical breeder option. Breeder reactors have never amounted to anything usable on a commercial scale. Right now, there are no functioning breeder reactors on Earth. That's because while the theory behind breeder reactors is elegant, the technology doesn't work.

Posted by: Turbulence

Is just plain wrong, as even a cursory search proves:

Notable Breeder Reactors

* Experimental Breeder Reactor I (U.S., decommissioned 1964, world's first electricity-producing nuclear power plant)
* BN-600 (Russia, end of life 2010)[12][13]
* Clinch River Breeder Reactor (U.S., construction abandoned in 1982 because the US halted its spent-fuel reprocessing program and thus made breeders pointless)[14]
* Monju (Japan, being brought online again after serious sodium leak and fire in 1995)[15]
* Superphénix (France, closed 1998)[16]

Further:

This is of interest largely because next-generation reactors such as the European Pressurized Reactor, AP1000 and pebble bed reactor are designed to achieve very high burnup. This directly translates to higher breeding ratios. Current commercial power reactors have achieved breeding ratios of roughly 0.55, and next-generation designs like the AP1000 and EPR should have breeding ratios of 0.7 to 0.8, meaning that they produce 70 to 80 percent as much fuel as they consume, improving their fuel economy by roughly 15 percent compared to current high-burnup reactors.

Breeding of fissile fuel is a common feature in reactors, but in commercial reactors not optimized for this feature it is referred to as "enhanced burnup". Up to a third of all electricity produced in the current US reactor fleet comes from bred fuel, and the industry is working steadily to increase that percentage as time goes on.

And in fact:

Several prototype FBRs have been built, ranging in electrical output from a few light bulbs' equivalent (EBR-I, 1951) to over 1000 MWe. As of 2006, the technology is not economically competitive to thermal reactor technology; but India, Japan, China, Korea and Russia are all committing substantial research funds to further development of Fast Breeder reactors, anticipating that rising uranium prices will change this in the long term. Looking further ahead, three of the proposed generation IV reactor types are FBRs:

* Gas-Cooled Fast Reactor (GFR) cooled by helium.
* Sodium-Cooled Fast Reactor (SFR) based on the existing Liquid Metal FBR (LMFBR) and Integral Fast Reactor designs.
* Lead-Cooled Fast Reactor (LFR) based on Soviet naval propulsion units.

As well as their thermal breeder program, India is also developing FBR technology, using both uranium and thorium feedstocks.

And that's old, traditional stuff, well known. At any rate, it contradicts your claim about no functioning breeder reactors operating.

Again, if renewables and nuclear energy are off the table, what do you propose to do instead? I hardly think of this as a gotcha! question.

Number one, that's not anything I've said;

We'll have to agree to disagree then.

Well, no, that's not anything I've said. Period. If you look, that's something being quoted from a cite.

But if you want to disagree . . .

Well, no, that's not anything I've said. Period. If you look, that's something being quoted from a cite.

My mistake. I foolishly assumed that by citing material, you were endorsing it. Were you actually just citing that line because you disagreed with it? Or did you simply pick it at random without giving any thought to what it said?

Nuclear would be a sure fire investment opportunity in this country, were almost all of the risk associated with investing in it not political in nature. Having a product that works, and a market for it, doesn't get you very far if you have to worry that you might get shut down for political reasons at any instant.

SoV, none of the breeder reactors you listed are online right now, correct? I mean, many of these reactors haven't been touched in decades. The most active one, Monju in Japan suffered a catastrophic accident almost 15 years ago and still has not been brought online.

For such simple and elegant technology, breeder reactors sure seem fragile and delicate. Do let me know once we gotten a few to stay online for a few years. Then they'll amount to something more than a research toy.

Nuclear would be a sure fire investment opportunity in this country, were almost all of the risk associated with investing in it not political in nature. Having a product that works, and a market for it, doesn't get you very far if you have to worry that you might get shut down for political reasons at any instant.

First of all, many American companies do business abroad and many foreign companies are either listed on American exchanges or otherwise available for American investment. I'm fairly certain that plants operating outside the US are not subject to NRC regulations.

Secondly, the nature of these political risks is fascinating. I mean, the federal government provides unlimited liability coverage for the nuclear power industry and guarantees them waste disposal. I suppose business is very risky indeed when the government swoops in and legally absolves you of liability no matter how badly you screw up. My good libertarian friends at the Cato Institute have rightly condemned these mass cash giveaways to the nuclear power industry.

The government provides unlimited liablity coverage for accidents which careful design and operation can arbitarilly reduce the probablity of, a form of insurance which I don't believe is really needed for modern plants. And in return imposes the risk that, when your plant is 95% complete you'll be told that you have to change the design or not be licensed.

No insurance against THAT risk.

Well, no, that's not anything I've said. Period. If you look, that's something being quoted from a cite.

My mistake. I foolishly assumed that by citing material, you were endorsing it. Were you actually just citing that line because you disagreed with it? Or did you simply pick it at random without giving any thought to what it said?

Posted by: Turbulence

Er, no, I endorse a certain interpretation of those words. That interpretation does not include the idea that "we'll never run out of uranium". If I had said something like it, given the effort I've already had to devote to your novel notion of 'uranium deposits', I would have specifically, explicitly excluded the interpretation that you seem to have place on it.

Nothing mysterious about that at all. Nor was this a random inclusion; I dislike being quoted out of context, so I try to present as much material as possible to put the salient points in context - do unto others and all that. So what I quoted was the material under the heading 'Current Situation', ie, I quoted to the end of the paragraph.

SoV, none of the breeder reactors you listed are online right now, correct? I mean, many of these reactors haven't been touched in decades.

No, read the second line:

* BN-600 (Russia, end of life 2010)[12][13]

Further, prototypes have been built, and some breeders have already been run through their life cycle and then decomissioned. This is hardly untried, unproven technology, which I have the impression is what you think.

For such simple and elegant technology, breeder reactors sure seem fragile and delicate. Do let me know once we gotten a few to stay online for a few years. Then they'll amount to something more than a research toy.

See above. The problem, as you've been told several times now, is not one of technical feasibility but rather commercial viability. The state of the art is getting better all the time, and cost profiles are such that even in the absence of further advances, breeders will at some point become economical to run.

Again, nothing new, mysterious, or partisan. This is old stuff.

Let me be clear about something: I don't particularly care one way or the other about nuclear power. I merely put it into the mix of energy options. But while I'm not an active booster for it, neither am I blindly against any large scale implementation.

Any thoughts from anyone about stuff like this?

Mini-reactors, about the size of a garden shed, you bury it and, other than refueling it every 7-10 years, you forget it. Powers about 20,000 homes, costs about $25M.

There are 20,000 people in my town, and we just signed up to float $21M in bonds for school buildings and repairs. If this stuff is for real, for that same expenditure we could be more or less self-sufficient power wise. Maybe we could sell some back to the regional power company and make money on the deal.

Toshiba is planning to market a smaller 200kw model.

What's the downside? Just curious.

Thanks -

Posted by: russell

Well, decommissioning is always a bear :-) But the word on the street is that these folks might just be on to something. I should note that for many years research into nuclear power stagnated both because of the cultural and political climate, and because the economic alternatives were far, far cheaper.

That's changing, and so you see relatively new stuff coming out now like pebble-bed reactors, subcritical fission, etc.

"What, you never heard of the CANDU reactor"

OK, so now both I and my wife have spent the evening humming a medley from "Guys And Dolls".

Damn your eyes Brett!!!

Well, decommissioning is always a bear :-)

As I understand it, the deal is that you replace the fuel assembly every 7 to 10 years and leave the rest in the ground.

Apparently, no "decomissioning" to speak of.

The fuel is not weapons grade, the reactor part per se has no particular moving parts and needs no operational oversight.

It's just a hot thing in the ground.

Don't know if the concept has legs or not, but I'm curious.

Unfortunately - and this is true even for the so-called clean fusion reactions, neutron activation is inevitable. Just as inevitably, no matter whether you employ secondary or even tertiary heat exchangers the main unit will become radioactive. There's an inverse sweet spot in the decay series of various isotopes that is the nasty spot: not a short enough half-life to get away with storage of a few decades, but not a long enough half-life to make radiation health issues negligible. Tritium with a half-life of 12 years decays (beta, iirc) to nothing in a century. U-238 with a half-life of hundreds of millions of years is a weak emitter. Radium? That stuff is nasty. And has a half-life of around 5,000 years. That's the really dangerous stuff.

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