Sunday, April 30, 2017

Diablo Canyon Nuclear - Power Replacement via Solar

Subtitle: Replacing Nuclear with Solar also Requires Storage

An interesting question was posed to me on Dr. Curry's post recently at her blog Climate Etc. The question and my answer are shown below, but first a bit of background. 
Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant, via Google Maps 2016.
Arrow idicates twin reactors.   Pacific Ocean to the bottom right. 

California has but two nuclear power reactors left running, both at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant near Morro Bay, right on the Pacific Ocean shore.  The 40-year operating license for each reactor expires in a few years, and PG&E announced it will not seek a 20 year license extension but will shut them down in 2024 and 2025, respectively.   Also, PG&E announced it would compensate for that power by a mix of renewable energy, conservation, and grid storage.  My June, 2016 article on this on SLB is at this link.   The increased renewable energy likely poses several issues for the grid operator.   

A commenter on Dr. Curry's post put the following question to me:

“. . .does California have enough regulatory authority to demand PG&E replace Diablo Canyon only with the renewables and with energy conservation measures; and further, to directly and explicitly prevent PG&E from placing greater reliance on natural gas for servicing California’s electricity demand?”

The short answer is probably Not. The long answer is more complex.

Renewables generation in California are regulated under multiple regulations, including (but not limited to) the RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standard). see link to

The law requires PG&E (and other Public Owned Utilities) to procure 33 percent of their power sold in 2020 from renewable sources. PG&E is reported to already have under contract 43 percent renewables for 2020.

The next milestone for RPS is 50 percent by 2030. Clearly, PG&E must find a source of more renewable energy to meet the 50 percent requirement. With Diablo Canyon nuclear to close the reactors in 2024 and 2025, that gives PG&E an opportunity to obtain approximately 2,200 MW of power from renewable sources. However, RPS does not work on installed capacity, it requires kWh delivered to be from renewables.

As most everyone knows (and detractors cannot stop shouting it), wind and solar renewable power do not run 24/7, they have approximately 25 percent annual capacity factor in California. Thus, about 8,800 MW of either wind, solar, or both, would be required to replace the retired nuclear output. However, installing that much renewables would likely create grid issues, and put PG&E in the 60-percent range for RPS.

The state does not have very much, if any, untapped wind resources left, so the new installations will be solar. The economics of solar thermal are not as good as solar PV, therefore the new installations will be solar PV.

The main point is that solar PV must have some form of backup due to intermittency with sunshine. Those aspects are well known, from night, to clouds in daytime, to seasonal variation, to solar eclipses (a big one is coming in August 2017), and to normal outages for maintenance.

The usual backup in California is natural gas-fired plants that use combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) technology. Indeed, CA law requires a minimum efficiency for fossil power plants that essentially dictates that only CCGT can be built. Therefore, it is safe to conclude at this time that PG&E will very likely build, or purchase power from, approximately 8 to 10 GW of new solar PV in the next 7 to 8 years. That will also require the installation of some amount of gas-fired CCGT.

The situation would change if and when grid-scale batteries (or other storage) are sufficiently economic to be installed for baseload power. The economics for batteries are already good for peaker power plants. Whether the battery installed cost declines sufficiently by 2022, when investment decisions must be made, of course is not yet known.

I do not always agree with what Planning Engineer writes, but on one thing we do agree: a large amount of solar power on a grid creates the problematic Duck Curve. California is already managing very well with a substantial Duck Curve, with recent numbers showing thermal generation in mid-day at 11 GW and 26 GW at the peak 8 hours later (data from 4/29/2017).

However, if an additional 8 to 10 GW of solar generation is installed, the grid would have thermal generation of 2 to 3 GW in mid-day, then must produce 26 GW only 8 hours later. That is a problem for the grid planners and operators. It remains to be seen how all this will play out.

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2017 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved

Topics and general links:

Nuclear Power
Climate  and here
Fresh  and here
Free Speech.................... here

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Electrical Grids - Coal-fired Baseload and Batteries

Subtitle: Can Coal-Fired Power Exist with Grid-Scale Batteries

There is an increasing interest in what the electrical grids of the near future will have as generating assets and loads, as evidenced by a short memo from Secretary of  Energy Rick Perry this past week.  see memo below. 

This 4-14 Memo is quite interesting for what it says, and what it does not say.  Others have reacted (apoplectically and hysterically, in some cases) to the absence of the word "environment" or derivatives thereof.   

The Secretary did use the words reliable and resilient, affordability and fuel assurance, technologically advanced, affect the economy and national security, diminishing diversity of generation mix, changing nature of electricity fuel mix, previous policies to decrease coal-fired power generation, market-distorting effects of federal subsidies, regulatory burdens, but no mention of environment. 

First, the overview of what the Secretary is doing here.  This is entirely my judgment and not based on any insider information.   This 4-14 memo is part of the President's policy and campaign promises to revive the US coal industry.  Most of the coal production has provided electric power in conventional, Rankine-cycle steam power plants.  Recent regulatory changes by the Obama administration resulted in many coal-fired power plants closing.  Essentially, the coal-fired plants closed because they are now required to remove various pollutants from their stack gases, but cannot afford to retrofit the plants with the pollution control equipment.   This is a part of the "regulatory burden" the Secretary referred to. 

The balance of the intent is to study grid reliability as baseload power is reduced, primarily from coal-fired plant closures.   For background, in recent years the overall US grid has had nuclear and coal-fired plants retired, with natural gas-fired plants, solar, and wind power plants installed.  

So, there is the intent: can the policies of former administrations that brought abrupt closure of so many coal-fired power plants have an adverse affect on grid reliability, resiliency, and electricity affordability?  Next, how can the Trump administration justify bringing back coal-fired power?

Second, a brief analysis of each of the terms featured above, with emphasis on coal-fired plants and renewable power plants..

Reliable and Resilient

Electrical power grids are required, by law, to provide safe, reliable, affordable electricity to consumers of all types, be they residential, commercial, industrial, transportation, or other.   It is interesting that the 4-14 memo does not mention safety.   Perhaps that is simply assumed.  Some states also require an environmental aspect of generating plants, based on pollutants such as sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and in California's case, carbon dioxide emissions. 

Reliability on a grid means that the power is available when the consumer wants to use the power, or on demand.   The electricity must meet certain quality standards, such as but certainly not limited to frequency and voltage.  Interested readers are encouraged to read the IEEE publications on grid reliability. 

Resilient means the grid supplies power as required under any scenario, planned shutdowns, emergency shutdowns, long-term drought, but not necessarily severe weather events such as ice storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes.   Generating assets are expected to stay online during severe weather, but transmission and especially distribution lines will likely be disrupted for a short time.  As an aside, the NRC safety regulations require that a nuclear plant be shut down in advance of a predicted hurricane that could or will put hurricane-force winds at the nuclear plant.   The grid must take all this into account. 

Coal-fired plants historically have good reliability and resiliency, that is, if they have sufficient fuel on hand.  That topic is addressed next. 

Affordability and Fuel Assurance

Affordability is not only a goal for electrical power grids, but is required by law.  The agencies that oversee electric utilities typically allow the electricity rates to provide the utility a modest return on investment, such as 10 percent.   The idea is that the electric utility should not get rich by having an exorbitant return on investment, such as for example alcoholic beverage companies enjoy.   At the same time, a utility cannot just break even else the bonds that finance spending would go unsold.  

The crux of the matter is that different generating technologies have different wholesale costs for the power produced, if all are to obtain the same 10 percent return on capital employed.  Many studies of actual investments, and projected investments have been performed and typically conclude as follows: lowest-cost generating assets are natural gas-fired combined cycle plants (CCGT), natural gas-fired steam plants, large high-pressure coal-fired plants, and hydroelectric plants.   The most expensive, or highest-cost are nuclear, simple cycle gas peaker plants, solar thermal, and offshore wind.    The others are somewhere in the middle, solar PV, onshore wind, geothermal, and a few others.   Nuclear plant advocates will dispute this, of course, but they cannot rationally defend their position. 

However, as stated above, coal-fired plants are shutting down in record numbers because they cannot afford to install the required pollution abatement equipment.  

Fuel assurance is a topic that has several aspects, most notably the variability of wind and solar power.  This is no surprise, wind has always varied, and the sun's intensity at the ground is affected by many factors including season, and clouds.   In fact, a notable event will occur in California's solar plants this year as a total eclipse of the sun occurs in August. 

Coal-fired plants are touted as having substantial fuel assurance with 60 days or more fuel supply stockpiled at the plant.   This is not always true, as coal deliveries are affected by rail shortages, shipping delays due to ice on lakes, and other reasons.  see link to a recent SLB article on coal fuel supply problems. 

Technologically Advanced

A grid that is technologically advanced could mean any number of things.  Recently, the term "smart grid" has been advanced.   More on that in a bit.   Coal-fired power is one of the oldest and not-advanced forms of power generation.  Coal-fired power certainly predates nuclear power, modern solar PV, modern wind turbine power, and CCGT.   There are and have been some advances in coal-fired power, however, such as pulverized coal, high-pressure designs, and more recently, coal gasification with gas turbines.   It is not entirely clear if the 4-14 memo intends to investigate all the various forms of coal-fired power plants.  Clearly, if any of the coal technologies were economic, they would have great market share.  The fact is, they do not have much market share.  

The smart grid concept has many aspects, however one aspect worth noting is the consumer has a display in his home or business that indicates the cost if more load is added to the grid.  The consumer can then decide to flip the switch right then, or postpone the power consumption to a later time when price are cheaper.  

A smart grid from the generation aspect can provide reliable power when intermittent generation is providing power, such as wind turbines and solar PV.   One key aspect of the smart grid is grid-scale storage by batteries or other means.   More on that below. 

Affect the economy and National security

Economic effects due to grid reliability are well-known, where blackouts disrupt commerce.   The argument for coal-fired plants is that they have been highly reliable (again, when fuel is available) and it's not their fault that blackouts sometimes occur. 

What the Secretary means by including national security is a bit obscure.  Certainly, military installations are grid-supplied.  However, they also have more than adequate back-up plans for self-sufficiency when needed.  

Diminishing diversity of generation mix

As stated above, coal-fired plants are closing in record numbers.  The grid is stable, though, because more than enough wind, solar, and natural gas-fired plants are installed.   On a state-wide basis, the generating mix in California has also changed.  Specifically, half of the nuclear plants were shut down almost 5 years ago, and substantial solar power has been installed.   The state has transitioned from 4 GW of nuclear and almost zero solar, to 2 GW of nuclear and 10 GW of grid-scale solar production.   It is noteworthy that grid stability remains, and power prices have not skyrocketed.  

The Secretary is more concerned with the national mix, and primarily the coal-fired plants located east of the Rockies.  Those states do not have superb solar resources, but they do have outstanding wind resources in many areas.  

Changing nature of electricity fuel mix

This is essentially the same as the previous topic, diversity of generation mix. 

Previous policies to decrease coal-fired power generation

This is a direct reference to the various environmental laws that the Obama administration placed on coal-fired power plants.   The result is clear, as above, with coal-fired plants closed or closing in record numbers.    This is a tangential reference to environmental aspects. 

Market-distorting effects of federal subsidies

The issue of federal subsidies for power generation has a long history and much debate.  Various camps shout that the "other guys" are being subsidized, but their favored technology is not.   Accusations abound, but a rational, fact-based analysis shows that almost every form of electric power generation has grants, loan guarantees, tax credits on investments, direct subsidies, regulations that favor that technology, and many more.  SLB has extensive articles on this.   Nuclear power, for example, has subsidies in the form of direct payments for new nuclear plants of 2.3 cents per kWh generated for the first ten years, complete indemnity under the Price-Anderson Act for harm caused by a radiation release (above a modest insured amount), changes to safety regulations to allow continued operation, new plant construction loan guarantees, direct subsidies for existing plants to keep operating as a jobs-protection program, and others.    Nuclear power itself resulted from government research, and was promoted by Eisenhower as a way to show the world that atomic power has peaceful uses, not just the terrible destruction from atomic and hydrogen bombs. 

Coal-fired plants enjoyed a long, many decades period of exemption from the Clean Air Act laws under the "grandfather" clause.  

Solar, wind, and other forms of renewable energy have various forms of subsidy, including investment tax credits, direct subsidy of 2.3 cents per kWh, and in some cases, construction loan guarantees.   Renewables also have a priority in the generation mix, however curtailment certainly occurs under some conditions.  

Finally, almost all of the hydroelectric power in the US was built by federal funds.   The Hoover Dam and its power plants on the Nevada-Arizona border is but one example. 

Regulatory burdens

This is a reference to much of what is already written above, the various regulations on subsidies, environmental exemptions, but also state-mandates for Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS).   RPS typically requires utilities to obtain a stated percentage of all power sold from renewable forms.  Such renewables include wind power, solar PV power, solar thermal power, geothermal, biogas, biomass, and small hydroelectric.    Many states have RPS or a functional equivalent; California's RPS requires 20 percent renewables by 2010, 33 percent by 2020, and 50 percent by 2030.  The state easily met the 20 percent requirement, achieved 27 percent in 2015, and has contracts for 43 percent by 2030.    Hawaii has one of the most ambitious RPS, with 70 percent by 2040 and 100 percent by 2045.    see link

The concern, clearly, is what will become of coal-fired baseload generating plants when RPS standards are implemented.  It is notable that California has no problems with its substantial renewables, primarily due to the lack of exactly such intractable baseload coal and nuclear-powered plants.   Flexible natural gas-fired CCGT provides California with more than adequate ability to meet power loads with approximately 10 GW of grid-scale solar, 4 GW of wind on a good day, and 2 GW of steady geothermal and other renewables.  

No mention of environment

Memo 4-14 does not explicitly mention the environment, but as above, makes passing reference to such in regulatory burdens and previous Administration policies.   This was very likely by design, as there is substantial pressure to re-open the pollution debate over coal-fired power plants. 

Grids and Batteries

The major unknown at present is the technology for grid-scale batteries.  SLB has several articles on grid-scale storage and batteries.  The fact is, such batteries already exist and are operating in many locations.   The problem today is their cost to install.  That cost is steadily declining, however.  Also, new battery technologies are in research and development.  Great advances are being made.   

The coal-fired power industry, and all those involved from mining, transportation, power plant design and construction, pollution control systems supply, plant operation, all are keenly aware of the dramatic transformation that awaits when, not if, such batteries do achieve reduced costs for installation.  

Such batteries then allow wind and solar power to be stored as that power is produced, then fed back into the grid on demand for load-following or even baseload power.    

An application already under construction in Los Angeles, California for Southern California Edison is to use solar-powered batteries to replace a costly gas-fired peaker power plant.   Also in California, batteries are used on Santa Catalina Island to allow diesel-powered generators to run at a steady pace.  The batteries are charged at night, then discharge to meet demand each day.   Grid-stabilizing electronics already exist, the only issue is cost of the battery systems.  

As with many technological advances, the early systems have a high cost and will supplant only the highest-cost production.  This is the case today in Los Angeles, with the batteries replacing the high-cost peaker power plant.    As more batteries are installed, as technology improves, costs will be less.  As those cost reductions occur, less-costly power generation can be replaced.  

There may actually be a need for a small amount of baseload, rotating-generator power generation such as coal-fired steam plants produce.  (In California, coal is not allowed so that would be from natural gas-fired baseload power).   Presently in California, where the grid peaks at approximately 50 GW, the baseload is approximately 30 percent of that at 15 GW.   These issues are different for each state.  Some of the key factors are the amount of industrial load and building cooling load.  California, of course, has very little of either.   Illinois, on the other hand, has the industries in Chicago and a great number of nuclear plants and coal-fired plants. 


The results from the 4-14 memo from Secretary of Energy Perry will be quite interesting.  The memo requires the study to be delivered in 60 days, so on June 18, 2017. 

It will be interesting to see the arguments, and based on what facts, to keep existing coal-fired power plants open.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2017 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved

Topics and general links:

Nuclear Power
Climate  and here
Fresh  and here
Free Speech.................... here

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Fun with Marching False-Alarmists

Subtitle:  Still No Warming Despite Marching Protesters

Yesterday, April 22, 2017, was not only Earth Day but was the date a few thousand people "marched on" Washington, D.C. to protest what they believe is unfair treatment of scientists.

Apparently, there is some concern that government funding of certain areas of science is about to be reduced or eliminated.   

I'm a big fan of science when it is conducted properly, but not a fan at all when false-alarmism is the result.   Regular readers of SLB will know that AGW, or anthropomorphic global warming, and CAGW, or catastrophic AGW, is entirely bunk.  I have written many thousands of words on the subject.  

How do we know what is proper science, and what is false-alarmism?   That one is quite easy, it is clear by the evidence when compared to the predictions.    I can toss a dense ball exactly 32.2 feet up into the air, near the sea shore, and that ball will hit the sand exactly one second after pausing at the peak of the upward travel.   The theory of gravity predicts that exact outcome, and the measured data shows that to be true.  Every time.  

False-alarmism is what CAGW scientists are doing, with false statements such as the real data shows real warming.    Below is a graph of surface temperatures in California, in the 20th century, segregated by size of population in the county where the measurements were taken.   These were taken and published by James Goodridge, retired California State Climatologist. 

A proper scientist would know that the hypothesis is that man-made CO2 causes global warming over decades and centuries.  What is improper is for scientists to lump together all the data, cities and rural, and call that proof that global warming is real. 

As the Goodridge graph shows, there was no warming for almost the entire century in small counties that had less than 100,000 people in the 1990 US Census (the lower line on the graph).   Since proper science is not arbitrary nor is it capricious, it is not possible for CO2 in the atmosphere to selectively warm the cities and ignore the low-population rural areas.  

Goodridge's findings are borne out in many other states, where large cities (New York City, Boston) show steady and substantial warming, while small towns and rural areas show no warming at all, or a cooling occurred.    What is even more instructive is the proximity of a large, warming city to a small, cooling town or village.   

These are just a sample of the kinds of issues that President Trump and his advisors know to be true, and the basis for reduction or elimination of funding of junk science.  

I watched the various news and media reports on the scientists' march on Washington and other cities yesterday, and with great amusement.   It is actually quite sad to see the tactics now that the false-alarmism is exposed, and the methods are known that produce a trend of warming where none exists. 

The proper scientific term is proper attribution of causation.  Cities are known to warm by many factors, at least ten such factors are written about on SLB.   It is quite instructive to note that the false-alarmists refuse to construct a temperature trend that uses only valid data from rural areas.  

There is no warming.  There is also no cause for alarm.   There is, though, great need to review federal and state funding of science research and stop the waste of taxpayer dollars on junk science. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2017 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved

Topics and general links:

Nuclear Power
Climate  and here
Fresh  and here
Free Speech.................... here

NRC Seeks Public Comment for SMR Safety Regs

Subtitle:  SMR Safety - So Small They Are Intrinsically Safe

Here's the chance for all the nuclear power pundits, the arm-chair experts, those with far more faith in nuclear designers than in wind and solar designers, and in grid-scale battery designers, to show the NRC what few safety regulations are really required for those (so-called) ultra-safe SMR (small modular reactor) nuclear plants.   Just show up in Maryland on May 10, 2017, and make your case for why these SMR plants are so safe they don't even require emergency preparedness..  

After all, it's just nuclear fission at issue.  With all the deadly, radioactive byproducts like Plutonium.   There's clearly no problem with the residual heat from nuclear fission, so clearly there's no need for safety cooling systems.   And it's smaller, so no need for spent fuel storage systems to safely contain the radioactive byproducts of fission.    There's absolutely no need to consider a LOCA, loss of cooling accident, which would trigger an emergency evacuation.  

Go ahead.   Make your case.    Recall, though, that this is a public venue and all comments will be recorded for posterity.  

NRC posted this notice at see link

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is seeking public comment on a draft regulatory basis for
new emergency preparedness requirements for small modular reactors and other new technologies, such as non-light water reactor facilities.

"In addition to accepting written comments, NRC staff will conduct a public meeting May 10 to
discuss the draft regulatory basis. The meeting will be held from 9-11:30 a.m., in the Two White Flint
North auditorium at the NRC’s headquarters in Rockville, Md. Visitors will need to enter through One White Flint North, 11555 Rockville Pike. Additional information on the meeting, including a telephone bridge line, will be made available in a public meeting notice.

"A regulatory basis is an early stage in the rulemaking process in which the NRC staff explains
the rationale for developing new regulatory requirements and seeks input from the public. After the
regulatory basis is finalized, the staff will develop a proposed rule, which will also be issued for public comment before the staff produces a final rule. The draft regulatory basis, in part, explains why the NRC believes the existing regulations should be updated, revised, and/or enhanced; presents
alternatives to rulemaking; and discusses costs and other impacts of the potential changes.

"The nuclear power industry is developing small modular reactors and other advanced reactor
technologies that differ in size, scope and hazard from the large light-water reactors operating in the
U.S. today. Their smaller size or innovative safety features are likely to lead to lower risk or less
challenging accident conditions than today’s reactors. This rulemaking would establish emergency
preparedness requirements appropriate to these technologies. Existing requirements for current reactors will not be part of the scope of this rulemaking."

Note that NuScale Power LLC see link has already begun the NRC safety review process for their 50 MW, 12 module (600 MW total) SMR nuclear plants.  Their design, as published, is hopelessly complex and uneconomic with 12 large pressure vessels, equipment, piping, and pumps just to supply 600 MW of electricity.    However, the NRC does not pass judgment on economics, but evaluates only the safety aspects.  The market will judge the economics.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2017 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved

Topics and general links:

Nuclear Power
Climate  and here
Fresh  and here
Free Speech.................... here

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mars Mission Poses Deadly Radiation Risks

Subtitle: No Known Preventive Measures for Deep Space Radiation

The recent article, "NASA Likely to Break Radiation Rules to Go to Mars," see link, gives an overview of the radiation hazards a manned Mars mission will encounter. 

Excerpt:  “Based on current knowledge, astronauts on a mission to Mars would exceed NASA’s career radiation dosage limits. Although the Agency plans to continue efforts to develop countermeasures to address the radiation risk, NASA is likely to seek an exception from the current standards for those that cannot be fully mitigated.”

Deep-space radiation in the form of galactic cosmic rays is deadly to humans.  The Sun's massive magnetic field deflects most such GCRs away from Earth; however the Sun's magnetic field is weakening.  NASA has various satellites "up there" that monitor such things.   

And, if death is not the immediate result, several other debilitating illnesses or diseases result: ". . .  cancer-inducing radiation can also cause cardiovascular and degenerative diseases—like cataracts, premature aging, and endocrine problems—a risk “of much greater concern than previously believed.” It can also rejigger the central nervous system, screwing with everything from cognition to spatial perception to hand-eye coordination. Then there’s the infertility, the cataracts, the slow wound healing, and the problems that astronauts could pass on to future children if they make it back from the long trip to Mars and manage to procreate."

SLB has a few earlier articles on a manned Mars mission, 

"Mars Colony - A Bad Idea"  see link

A portion of "A Week That Was July 2016" - excerpted below:

o  A serious doubt for the future of manned space exploration re-surfaced this past week, with evidence and a report that lunar astronauts suffer (and some have died) from much higher incidence of cardio vascular disease; almost none of the non-flying astronauts, nor the low-earth orbit astronauts have this; the explanation is exposure to intense deep-space radiation and ionizing high-energy particles (galactic cosmic rays) by those astronauts that flew past the Earth's Van Allen Belts and went to the moon.   This has deep implications for the proposed moon-orbiting manned space station, any manned Mars missions, and especially a Mars colony.   The long-term orbiting astronauts on the International Space Station provide valuable data on some medical aspects of space life, but that is all within the protective shield of the Van Allen Belts.  see link to Nature article on deep-space radiation effects on astronauts, "Apollo Lunar Astronauts Show Higher Cardiovascular Disease Mortality: Possible Deep Space Radiation Effects on the Vascular Endothelium"

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2017 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved

Topics and general links:

Nuclear Power
Climate  and here
Fresh  and here
Free Speech.................... here

NRC and DOE to Hold Third Advanced Reactor Workshop

Subtitle: With BWR and PWR Failures; Now Vendors Grasping Desperately

From the NRC news site for April, 2017, this item 17-016 (see link) is excerpted below   

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Department of Energy are continuing their joint
workshop series on innovative reactor technologies, April 25-26, in Bethesda, Md.
“We are encouraging interested parties to continue discussing the most efficient and effective path forward to safely develop and deploy advanced reactors in the United States,” said Vonna Ordaz, acting director of the NRC’s Office of New Reactors. “We expect to discuss topics such as modeling and testing innovative technologies, as well as how vendors might approach getting their designs approved for U.S. use.”

"The NRC defines advanced reactors as those technologies using something other than water to cool the reactor core. The NRC is currently discussing one such advanced design with a vendor considering applying for design certification. The NRC remains available for early-stage discussion with other potential advanced reactor vendors." -- end excerpt

Sowell Comments

The NRC reviews and approves nuclear reactor designs only on the issue of safety; it does not concern itself with costs to design, to construct, to operate, to refuel, to repair, to perform maintenance, nor to decommission.  These advanced reactors, as NRC defines them, would include reactors that use things such as molten salts, liquid sodium, helium, and supercritical CO2 as the primary coolant.  

What is most interesting is the question: "Why even consider advanced reactors when existing nuclear power plant designs are supposedly the safest, most reliable, and cheapest form of electricity on the planet?"  That question is, of course, posed in jest by me but the claims are stated loudly and often by the nuclear proponents.   The facts are quite the opposite, as shown in the 30-article series on SLB "Truth About Nuclear Power."  (TANP)  see link

Just on the construction cost basis, nuclear power plants that use the PWR (pressurized water reactor) technology such as Westinghouse AP-1000 cost 9 to 10 times as much for the same output, compared to natural gas-fired CCGT (combined cycle gas turbine) plants. 

Operating costs on a $/MWh basis are also higher or about the same for PWR plants, when compared to the CCGT plants.  

Load-following is quite easy and very safe for CCGT plants, but a PWR nuclear reactor has great difficulty in adjusting load.  Operating at reduced rates to follow the load requires the nuclear plant to increase the sales price of electricity to obtain a constant revenue stream.  PWR plants are already too costly to operate, as evidenced by the many shutdowns in the US. Increased operating costs to load-follow make a bad situation even worse.  

Given all the above, and those points to not include any safety nor decommissioning costs, perhaps it is no wonder that nuclear designers are back at the drawing board, scratching out new designs in an attempt to overcome the failures of BWR and PWR reactors. 

Two of the new technologies are discussed in the TANP series, with thorium -powered molten salts, and gas-cooled high-temperature reactors in Articles 28 and 29, respectively. 

Perhaps this time, some creative nuclear designer will find a way to make nuclear power safe, cheap, and reliable.   It is instructive to remember that if all power plants were nuclear-powered, the changing loads on the grid require that the plants run at approximately 50 to 60 percent on an annual average basis.   Minimum loads occur at night in the Spring and Fall seasons, and typically reach approximately one-third to one-fourth of maximum or peak load.   Peak load typically occurs in mid-afternoon on a late Summer day.    However, some grids have peak loads in the Winter as heating demands are greatest.    These issues are discussed in some detail in Article 2 of TANP (see link)  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2017 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved

Topics and general links:

Nuclear Power
Climate  and here
Fresh  and here
Free Speech.................... here

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Climate Science - Dr. Curry Says a Ruling Theory is Premature

Subtitle: The Evidence Shows No Climate Change from Human-caused CO2

At the recent Congressional hearing, see link,  and this link,  Dr. Judith Curry emphasized the fact that "the climate community has prematurely elevated a scientific hypothesis on human-caused climate change to a ruling theory through claims of a consensus."  Also, that claimed consensus results in stifling dissent from those not in the consensus and harm as uncertainties are not given proper consideration. 

A few observations on this.  First, Dr. Curry's blog ClimateEtc has quite a number of articles that explore the topic.   Next, a few points of my own on why many engineers (such as myself) understand that global warming is merely false-alarmism. 

This post uses the time-honored principle for ascertaining the truth, in four steps: first, posing an issue, second, stating the rule or rules that govern that issue, third, applying the rules to the facts of the issue, and fourth, drawing a logical conclusion based on the facts and application of the rule. 

Dr. Curry's conclusion is set out above: "the climate community has prematurely elevated a scientific hypothesis on human-caused climate change to a ruling theory through claims of a consensus."

First:  The Issue

The issue, then, is Do human activities that release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere cause climate change?   This is the scientific hypothesis, which must be verified or disproven by the collection, then analysis, of appropriate data.  

Second:  The Governing Rule

The basic and essential rule in science is to pose a falsifiable hypothesis, then verify that hypothesis by obtaining and comparing appropriate, valid data to what the hypothesis predicts must be true.  If the data agrees with the predictions from the hypothesis, one continues with the hypothesis while even more data is collected.  Over enough time, and with enough data that confirms the hypothesis, the hypothesis may be upgraded to a proven theory.   A proven theory has no valid data that contradicts the hypothesis.  

An example of a proven theory is gravity, which holds that just above the Earth's surface, an object is accelerated (falls) toward the Earth at a rate of 32.2 feet per second-squared.   However, it is known that some objects fall faster than do others, for example, a feather falls slower than a small stone.   Such differences were studied and correctly attributed to the effect of air resistance, with a feather's fall slowed noticeably by air resistance.   The theory was then modified to state that "in a vacuum, objects at or near the Earth's surface are accelerated toward the Earth at a rate of 32.2 feet per second-squared."  There is no evidence to the contrary for that statement of gravity.  

However, where the data disproves the hypothesis, or the data is mixed so that some data agrees while other data disagrees, the hypothesis cannot be upgraded to a proven theory.  Instead, the hypothesis must be discarded, or revised if possible to encompass the data.  As above with gravity, the presence of air was determined to require a slight modification of the basic statement.  In some areas, no revision or modification is possible to explain the data, or to have agreement with the data, so the hypothesis must be discarded.  

Third: Applying the Rule to the Issue

In applying the rules to the facts of the issue, we examine the issue very carefully.  "Do human activities that release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere cause climate change?"   Stated as a scientific hypothesis gives: "Human activities that release CO2 into the atmosphere causes climate change."   In its simplest form, this equates to "X causes Y."

Parsing this into "Human activities that release CO2 into the atmosphere," it can be seen that non-human activities must also exist that release CO2.   These are the natural emissions of CO2, among which are ocean warming as waters flow from the polar regions to the tropics, decay of vegetation, forest fires from natural causes (lightning strikes), animal respiration (breathing out CO2), and volcanic eruptions where magma hits limestone such that CO2 is released.   This is very important, because this requires that actual causation, if any exists at all, must be correctly attributed to the CO2 source.  

There are equally a number of human activities that release CO2 into the atmosphere.  Among these are the burning of fossil fuels in power plants, industrial furnaces, and combustion engines.  It is well-known how much of each fuel is burned each year, including methane as a component of natural gas, petroleum products, and coal.   Other human activities also release CO2, including fermentation of sugars to produce alcohols, calcining of limestone to produce cement, carbon anode conversion to CO2 in aluminum production, smelting of various metal ores, and others.  Extracting raw natural gas from the ground and processing the raw gas into pipeline-quality natural gas also produces CO2 that is released into the atmosphere.  

An additional complication arises because some compounds that are sent into the atmosphere decay at a later time into CO2.  Methane is one such compound.  Therefore, natural and man-made methane releases must be considered.  

The remainder of the statement parsed above is simply ". . . causes climate change."

The preliminary step in evaluating the hypothesis is to determine if there is any climate change, or not.  Much effort has been devoted to measuring aspects of the climate over time, especially average near-surface air temperatures.   Considerable doubt exists as to the accuracy of such temperature measurements, especially as measurements were made with little care.   Modern scientists have adjusted temperature records, not just once, but time after time.  That alone calls the accuracy into question.    Climate scientists, at least a few of them, have concluded that climate change has already occurred.  As Dr. Curry stated, climate scientists claim to have a consensus on this matter.   It is certainly not a 100 percent consensus, however the claim of 97 percent consensus is widely stated.  Even that number is unproven, and inaccurate depending on the statistics one employs. 

The next step is to determine if there is any demonstrable link between atmospheric CO2 and climate change.  Scientists have constructed time-series graphs of both CO2 in the atmosphere and global average air temperature anomaly, which show some apparent correlation.   The anomaly is the slight difference between a baseline temperature and measured temperature.  

Using that correlation between air temperature anomaly and CO2 in the atmosphere, scientists concluded that human-produced CO2 is responsible for the warming.   The scientists dismissed the natural emissions of CO2 and methane that decays into CO2, instead blaming the rise in temperature on man-made CO2.   Note that this violates one of the essential basics of good science: correct attribution of causation when multiple causal factors exist.  This is discussed in more detail below. 

Scientists then developed very complex computer models to predict various outcomes if CO2 from human activities continues to increase.   These predictions are listed on various publications and websites, with many of them listed below.   The success or failure of the various predictions can be ascertained by measurements, and the validity of the basic hypothesis determined.   It is well to recall that any contrary data must result in rejection of the hypothesis, or sufficient modification as was done with the gravity hypothesis to account for air resistance.


1 Atmosphere hot spot in tropics
2 Less snow 
3 Arctic ice disappearing
4 More hurricanes, more powerful hurricanes (and tropical cyclones)
5 More tornadoes, more powerful tornadoes
6 More drought, worse droughts
7 More floods, worse floods
8 Warmer average temperatures, especially winter nights
9 Agriculture harvests worse as hot summers and droughts occur
10 Sea level rises, islands underwater, cities at seashore flooded
11 Glaciers receding and disappearing
12 Tropical diseases found farther from equator
13 Ocean surface hotter
14 Antarctic Ice breaking up, floating away     UPDATE 4-15-2017: Several more predictions exist; some are added below. -- 

15.   Ocean "acidification" - a misleading scare tactic, oceans are alkaline 
16    Prolonged heat waves, more heat waves
17    Polar bears' numbers falling, extinction looming
18    Many other species extinction looming or will occur
19    Coral reefs bleaching and dying off
---- end update ----   

Each of these initial 14 predictions is discussed next. 

1.  Atmosphere hot spot in tropics --  This is a measurable phenomenon that should happen if the climate change due to CO2 is correct.  The short version is that no hot spot has been detected despite many years of hard effort by many scientists.  Dr. John Christy has an excellent discussion on this in his Congressional testimony.  

2.  Less snow -- This is also a measurable phenomenon predicted by the climate models.  As Dr. Christy has shown, there is no reduction in snow.  In many places there is more snow.  

3 Arctic ice disappearing -- the measurements of Arctic ice are limited, going back to 1979 when satellites began observations.  Before that, very little data exists.  The climate scientists love to point to this as proof of man-made climate change, as there is some data that shows less Arctic ice now than in 1980.  However, there are multiple problems with their causal determination.  First, for many years there was almost no change in ice extent; then for a few years a rapid decline occurred; but in recent years the decline stopped and has been stable or ice has slightly increased.   There is strong evidence to suggest that pattern is consistent with dark particles of coal soot and jet airplane exhaust deposits on the ice that accelerates melting.   There is also evidence that underwater volcanic activity heats the ocean currents that enter the Arctic region.  A line of volcanoes and vents along the mid-Atlantic ridge heats the water. 

There is also substantial evidence from boulders carried by icebergs that fell to the ocean floor as the icebergs melted that Arctic ice has retreated and advanced many times in the past.  The boulders have been identified in the Atlantic offshore of North America.  Such ice retreats before 1960 could not have been caused by the increase in human-related CO2 that started in approximately 1960.  

4 More hurricanes, more powerful hurricanes (and tropical cyclones)  -- the data shows the opposite, there are fewer hurricanes and tropical cyclones.  Worldwide ACE (accumulated cyclone energy) has been collected for many years.  ACE is at or below 1970 levels. 

5 More tornadoes, more powerful tornadoes  -- the data for tornadoes also shows fewer, not more, and fewer of the largest F-5 rated ones. 

6 More drought, worse droughts -- the data shows no more and no worsening of droughts when compared to the modern record of the past 150 years (more or less); and recent droughts are no match at all for those recorded in geological evidence.  

7 More floods, worse floods  -- as with drought, the data shows no more and no worsening of floods when compared to the modern record of the past 150 years (more or less); and recent floods are no match at all for those recorded in geological evidence.  

8 Warmer average temperatures, especially winter nights  -- the data shows that some places do have warmer winter nights, however these are in more densely populated areas where warming from increased building proximity is known to create local warming.   There are at least ten known factors that cause local temperatures to increase, but none of those ten are increased atmospheric CO2.  (1.  Increased population density in cities (more buildings in a small area); 2.  Increased energy use per capita (each building uses more energy, and people use more); 3.  Increased local humidity due to activities such as lawn watering, industry cooling towers; 4.  Prolonged drought (the opposite, regular rain, reduces temperatures in arid regions); 5.  Reduced artificial aerosols via pollution laws being enforced; 6.  Change in character of the measurement site, from rural to more urban with pavement and other artificial heating; 7.  Wind shadows from dense buildings prevent cooling winds from reaching thermometer; 8.  El NiƱo short-term heating effect in many areas (e.g. the US South and Southeast); 9.  Reduced sunspot activity and number that allows more cloud-forming cosmic rays to reach Earth; and 10.  Fewer large volcanoes erupting with natural aerosols flung high into the atmosphere)

The consensus scientists point to the average temperature increasing, which is after their multiple adjustments.   However, and this is critical, there are many hundreds of locations that show zero warming or a cooling trend over a century or more.  James Goodridge published the data for California in the 20th century that shows exactly that: areas with low population had zero warming or had a cooling, but densely populated areas showed a warming.  The average of all locations showed a modest warming.   Small towns across the US also show no warming.  

9 Agriculture harvests worse as hot summers and droughts occur -- harvests are the same or better than in the past.   Some harvests are worse due to local cold conditions. 

10 Sea level rises, islands underwater, cities at seashore flooded -- the data shows some evidence of shoreline cities flooding, but the causal factor is accelerated land subsidence due to human activities such as pumping groundwater.  The rate of sea level rise itself has not increased for decades.

11 Glaciers receding and disappearing  -- the data shows glacial retreat began approximately 150 years ago, long before increases in CO2 occurred.   There is nothing to suggest that human-produced CO2 is a factor in glacier retreat. 

12 Tropical diseases found farther from equator -- there is no evidence to support that claim.  Some diseases are brought to foreign shores by people, however. 

13 Ocean surface hotter -- some areas of the ocean appear to be warmer, however, that is consistent with fewer hurricanes and tropical cyclones.   It is known that hurricanes and tropical cyclones act as cooling mechanisms for the ocean surface.  Satellites can detect the path of hurricanes just by observing the ocean surface temperatures. 

14 Antarctic Ice breaking up, floating away -- there is some evidence of large chunks of Antarctic ice breaking off the ice shelves and entering the ocean currents.  However, the area where the ice chunks originate is known to be above an active volcanic zone on the Antarctic peninsula.  Other areas of Antarctic ice are growing and overall ice extent is at record high levels since satellite records began in 1979. 

Fourth: Logical Conclusion

As above, any contrary data refutes the hypothesis.  With the fourteen items discussed above, almost all represent contrary data and therefore refute the hypothesis.   The few that did occur are due to non-CO2 factors.  Where multiple possible causal factors exist, good scientific method requires every competing causal factor to be eliminated, leaving the one standing.  In this case, the evidence is overwhelming that human-created CO2 is NOT causing climate change.  

UPDATE 5-15-2017: It is certain that it is premature to elevate a disproven hypothesis on man-made global warming to a ruling theory.  -- end update. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2017 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved

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