Saturday, May 21, 2016

Top Climate Scientist Advocates Nuclear Energy As A "Bridge" Energy Source

In his recent Esquire interview (May, p. 136, 'James Hansen Goes Nuclear') Hansen takes no prisoners in attempting to inject a note of reality into alternative energy discussions. For those who may not recall, Hansen was one of the climate researchers (including Michael Mann)  whose email directories were criminally hacked to attempt to expose their scientific "bias" and "cherry-picking of data."

In case folks missed it, these climate scientists were subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing or appearance of such. According to an EOS Transactions article on the outcome ('Report on Climate Change Emails Exonerates Scientists', Vol. 91, No. 29, July 20, 2010):

"The report (Commissioned by the University of East Anglia) specifically refutes a number of concerns raised about tampering with scientific data and notes that allegations about CRU (Climate Research Unit) scientists misusing the IPCC's process 'cannot be upheld'"

The main fault lodged against the scientists was the failure to share information with critics. (Somewhat understandable when the would-be sharers beheld how so much data already shared-  as appeared in a 2003 paper by Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas -  was misrepresented. This was to either hide trends they didn't like or diminish their import, i.e. relative to "natural cycles". . (In their paper, the pair cleverly omitted the 30-year interval data that would have disclosed anthropogenic warming dominates over solar influence.)

Anyway, James Hansen - like me, has put the kibosh on the notion that the December Paris Climate Summit produced anything of significance other than feel good PR. I pointed this out in my blog post of December 13, e.g.

Wherein I observed:

"what these Paris summit leaders have proposed is literally 'a day late and a dollar short'. Like the Warren Commission whitewash, it is a politically expedient charade designed to mollify global citizens and offer a PR "solution" . While the WC lulled Americans into a false political security, i.e. that no real conspiracy took out their president, this Paris summit has lulled the world's people into false security that the pitiful steps and "suggestions" in Paris will avoid a burning planet. This is because the REAL steps needed to even have a chance of limiting the increase to less than 4 C by 2100 (still less than the runaway threshold) are too much to bear. They would exact economic pain the likes of which can barely be comprehended - say a $5 carbon tax on every tank full."

As for Prof. Hansen, we learn (p. 137):

"At the international climate talks in Paris he played the role of the skunk at the garden party. Because he called the conference a lie and a sham, the most famous and distinguished climate scientist in the world couldn't even get a pass to the 'blue zone' where the bigwigs gathered."

And what reasons did Hansen have to expose this conference as s sham? As the article notes:

"Look at the data. The developing nations of the world are never going to stop using oil and coal as long as they're the cheapest forms of power. Also, the hope of the environmentalists that wind and solar will solve everything is just happy talk."

This first part ought to need no explanation. One only needs to check out recent news clips of the polluted skies over Beijing or other Chinese cities. It is abundantly clear to anyone with eyes they are using degraded forms of energy, often coal, or the fracked shale crap (kerogen) the U.S. is offloading on them.

As Hansen observes (ibid): Rising concentrations of CO2 are at the center of the greenhouse issue. The temperature of the planet is currently out of balance by 0.6W/ m2  and this is almost entirely due to the annual rate of CO2 concentrations increasing. Every increase in CO2 concentration by 2 ppm increases the radiative heating effect by 2 W/ m2.

Go to climate research centers such as at the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska- Fairbanks and you will find atmospheric science researchers examining ice core samples dating from nearly 600,000 yrs. ago showing rising CO2 concentrations coinciding with much warmer periods.

In addition, one has permafrost - bearing methane, as in interior Alaska. When the permafrost melts, the methane can be released. For example, the submerged East Siberian Arctic Shelf contains much of the same stored carbon as the dry tundra to the south but also at least 17 teragrams of methane. (One teragram is equal to one million tons). See e.g.

In regard to the second aspect of environmentalist "happy talk" over alternative energy sources, Hansen is blunt (ibid.):

"If we are to avert catastrophic climate change we have to build nuclear power plants on a massive scale and crank them out fast enough to stop all fossil fuel emissions by 2050."

What is the basis for this? According to The Physicist's Desk Reference (Table C, p. 187, Energy Generation by Type) the projections for the most energy-intense uses  (aggressive consumption category, I) for all forms of solar, geothermal and wind add up to only 6 exajoules (EJ) by 2020. This compares to 24 EJ for oil (including kerogen), 16 for coal, 9 for natural gas and 6 for nuclear. Thus, ALL the usual "green" alternatives" are projected to barely add up to what nuclear will deliver on its own.  Hence, to phase out fossil fuels we need to not only restrict and curb their use but also enter nuclear into the "bridge" source mix - preferably enough to eventually trump natural gas as well. (Which releases methane, another greenhouse gas, into the environment).

Meanwhile, exacerbating the problem of finding and implementing adequate (aggressive consumption) fuel -energy sources is the continually increasing population. Global energy consumption rose from barely 21 EJ in 1900, to 318 EJ in 1988, to close to 400 EJ today. Solar, geothermal + wind by the end of this year, will therefore have contributed only:

(6/ 400) x 100% = 1.5% of the total global demand

But this is exactly the rate of increase in global population per year! In other words, the added total alternative energy benefit is exactly lost because we added an extra percentage of humans to consume the benefit!  This is why the economists proposing increased global population to enhance GDP are shooting themselves in the foot.

The stage is set to add 50% MORE humans by 2050, topping off at 9 billion, which will necessitate - if we still plan to retain solar in the mix - converting an area the size of Europe to solar panel arrays. In addition, to feed all those hungry mouths, we will need to add an agricultural area the size of the whole continent of South America - especially given how the eating habits of Chinese and Indians have now altered to become more "American" .

What about nuclear fusion power as our savior? Alas, there is little probability of that happening anytime soon, see e.g.

With fusion too long delayed to address pressing energy needs the only alternative is nuclear fission power plants. In Hansen's words (p. 141):

"Only nuclear can produce the quantity of clean energy the world needs. It is the rational solution."

Hansen has been joined on his pro-nuclear quest by three other distinguished climate scientists: Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution, Kerry Emmanuel of MIT and Tom Wigley of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. As Prof. Emmanuel puts it (ibid.):

"We're scientists, we can do the math. If we are truly sincere about solving this problem, then unless a miracle occurs, we are going to have to ramp up nuclear energy fast That's the reality."

How fast? From the EJ projections earlier, we need nuclear ramped up to at least provide a total of 11-15 EJ by 2030, and at that time the collective alternative sources should be at around 8 EJ. With natural gas likely down to 6 EJ from increasing operations costs that would total an optimum "bridge" amount of  34 EJ. But even this will be insufficient unless population growth is brought under control, and conservation dramatically increased. Else, we will surely exhaust all useful energy stores by 2050 or earlier - with Peak Oil still looming despite babble from the deniers. See e.g.

What about the safety of nuclear energy? Hansen and his three pro-nuclear power colleagues point to dramatic  new processing and safety measures already in the planning pipeline including "pyro-processing" or burning nuclear waste in safe containment enclaves.

The biggest hurdle, however,  will likely be constructing the thousand or so nuclear reactors - including with new safety features such as "pyro-processing"  that will be needed before 2030. After Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, especially,  too many nations will not want to go that route.

Which means we will surely see much worse climate catastrophes, as well as an eventual austere energy landscape.

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