Friday, 30 July 2010

Blaaammm - Nukes through the decades

There is a resurgent movement in Australia, one of whose most outspoken proponents is Professor Barry Brook, that claims a rapid expansion of the nuclear industry is the way forward to head off climate change and peak oil etc. Professor Brook holds the Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute. He conducts a lot of research into the serious dangers from climate change… which is good. However, the results of his work seem to have convinced him that the dangers are so real and all-encompassing that the solution must include a big push to bring in a vastly expanded nuclear power industry… which just might not be as great as his blog BRAVENEWCLIMATE reckons.

They claim that generation III reactors are inherently safe and will act as a stop gap until reprocessing of the waste ushers in the fabled generation IV reactors which will be able to use thorium – a relatively abundant material. Thus, their story goes, we will avoid the normal objections to nuclear power such as that uranium itself would be rendered in short supply if a significant part of the world’s fossil fuelled energy supply was replaced by nuclear fission. They claim that the amount of nuclear waste will be less per reactor and that the risks of nuclear proliferation will also be less. Their rhetoric requires a degree of hand waving and some assertion. A big flaw in their argument is the numbers. To make a significant dent in the greenhouse gas emissions of the world, one helluva lot of new reactors would have to be built throughout the world including in such states as North Korea, Iran, various African dictatorships, Indonesia, Palestine, Chechnya, Libya, various Gulf states with much reduced revenues from oil and any states that lose whatever stability they currently have today etc etc. Even if the risks from waste and proliferation per reactor are much reduced, the much greater number of reactors will multiply the odds. Do the math.

This 10 minute video below (the original was 15 minutes long but has been edited to fit YouTube's limit) is a time lapse of every (known) nuclear bomb or test explosion conducted by the Nuclear Weapons States and India and Pakistan. It starts slowly but speeds up dramatically. The following paragraph is taken from the blurb to the YouTube video (one of many) that reposts this artwork:

"1945-1998" by Isao Hashimoto (Japan, © 2003)
“The 2053 nuclear tests and explosions that took place between 1945 and 1998 are plotted visually and audibly on a world map.  As the video starts out detonations are few and far between. The first three detonations represent the Manhattan Project and the two bombs that ended World War II. After a few representative minutes the USSR and Britain enter the nuclear club and the testing really starts to heat up. Even though the video does not differentiate between sub-critical "safety" tests and full detonations, you get a good idea of the fever of the nuclear arms race. The time line does not extent to tests by North Korea (October 2006 and May 2009).”

Those were nuclear weapons/tests over a period of 40 or so years. Relying on nuclear power stations for the next few hundred years, as we would have to under BRAVENEWCLIMATE’s prescription, does not seem, with some likely future geopolitics scenarios, like the sanest way to achieve a sustainable stable future.

Look at the history of the world – do these latter day “energy too cheap to meter” types really think that with a vastly increased nuclear infrastructure in most countries of the world that future geopolitics is going to be lovely and stable with everyone getting along famously – just like they do today? [shome mishtake, shurely? Ed]. Or will there still be the usual international tensions and the usual suspicions that “rivals” will not be coming clean with any necessary future United Nations nuclear inspection force, and that they may be squirreling away fissionable (nuclear bomb making) materials because they can’t ignore the possibility that the other side is too. Not to mention the hugely increased risk of such material getting into the hands of terrorist organisations by theft or covert governmental or intelligence agency support. So much easier to conceal a source when it could be from any one of tens of thousands of places.

Terrorists do not need to actually be capable of making even a crude nuclear device, although this is not as tricky as some might believe – it’s very hard to make an efficient one, but to make the equivalent of a damp squib device that could take out a few blocks rather than a whole city is achievable for the dedicated amateur group who are fanatical enough to not care too much about their own personal safety - plenty of them around nowadays... The real danger from the proliferation of nuclear material, that might find its way into fanatical hands, is from the use of so-called dirty bombs. This is where finely divided nuclear material is the payload of a conventional high explosive bomb, rather than the usual shrapnel, coach bolts etc. The point is to spread contaminating radioactive material widely over an area, thus rendering it effectively unusable and/or by bringing about colossal costs to decontaminate, not to mention any actual radiation sickness incurred by the population. There would also be left a generation of hypochondriacs always thinking that they might be about to come down with some exotic disease or other.

These weapons are largely speculated about so far but the Al-Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah allegedly revealed under interrogation in 2002 that the organisation was close to constructing a dirty bomb. Chechen separatists are thought to have planted two of these type of devices already, although they were never detonated.

Those lauding the virtues of much expanding nuclear to “solve” our energy problems need to  remember this. In the view of one commenter to a Popular Mechanics post, even though the new nuclear reactor designs may be far safer than previous ones there will always remain the human factor.
“Posted by: kh_skeptic_from_nj
Nuclear power could be safe, if it were run by really nerdy boy scouts. Nerdy, so they know what they're doing, and boy scouts, so they always DO what NEEDs to be done.
Nuclear power is like drilling a deep well in the ocean--- it is safe if nothing goes wrong, and nobody messes up.”

Still think that a mostly nuke future is a good idea, Professor Brooks?

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Extreme Hang glider Swooping

Extreme hang glider swooping consists of diving as fast as you can at the ground/lake and then using ground effect to keep flying at almost zero altitude as long as possible. It’s dangerous over ground. At competitions, they always have rescue boats on hand but this video was done just for the h*ll of it. BTW, for the fainthearted, who don't "get" rock and roll, there is a sweary word in the music track at about 53 seconds in...

Wolfgang Siess takes it almost to the limit.


Here's another one where Wolfi takes the (unofficial) world record and tops it off by landing on the pontoon.


Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Food Security - the mess of pottage dilemma

Esau sold his birthright to Jacob in exchange for a "mess of pottage" (meal of lentils) (Genesis 25:29–34). But that was then. Some areas of the world are now selling both the birthright of their own agricultural land and the “mess of pottage” that it can grow to foreign investors and governments!
Developed countries are becoming increasingly aware of the ramifications of global population growth, climate change, peak oil, peak water, peak phosphorus, peak grain and peak fish. These future pressures on developed countries, which will end up with inadequate local food sources, are causing them to invest overseas to help their food security. In Britain it is said that there is currently only between three to nine days food supply available before food riots would break out if the links in the supply chains start to fail.
This image below is taken from ABC news Australia. It shows areas that are having their agricultural resources bought up by foreign nations. Click this link  for the original article  - the map markers in the original article are clickable so you can see who’s buying what, where and why.

agricultural purchases
“Selling the Farm”  on the great Cruxcatalyst blog inspired this post.
During the 2008 election campaign Daniel Wimberley, Chris Perkins, Mark Forskitt and myself repeatedly mentioned that food security would become an issue in the future as the twin drivers of climate change and peak oil disrupted agriculture. I don't think the man in the street has been very well informed by the powers that be of what is in our future.  Whether that is because the "powers" are ignorant, particularly locally, of the facts and the probabilities or whether they are aware but are keeping it quiet, for Machiavellian reasons, is anybody's guess.

I will be commenting on and suggesting things for Jersey's Rural Economy Strategy White Paper, which is open for consultation now, in order to try and give issues such as peak oil and food security the more appropriate higher profile they deserve.  A quick glance through shows that the White Paper contains many switched-on ideas, including the idea of a triple bottom line - people, planet, profit although unfortunately they put them in this order - profit, people, environment!! However, the paper is still a bit coy about mentioning the full scenarios and potential consequences we face. The problem with consultation exercises like this is that when they are finalised, the wording is set in stone, so to speak.  Having taken part in them before, I can assure the reader that the people responsible for collating responses will tend to reject the more hard-line ideas in favour of a sort of bland consensus average - as if this sort of distorted democratic view will somehow accord best with the realities that we need to face up to. It won’t. The popular vote never changed the laws of physics, biology and maths.

Once these bureaucrat-written and edited documents are set in stone, like the Ten Commandments, they tend to become holy writ to some, thus attracting a spurious faith in their content which unfortunately is to often non-divine… If they are not successfully challenged before they are finalised they will become a deadweight in future because their inadequate scope will be used to shape other policies and documents which will just not be sustainable enough - we would end up jumping 6 feet over a twenty foot crevasse which will initially give (to the naive) the impression of moving rapidly towards our sustainability goal but will end up with us broken at the bottom. It was just such inadequate pseudo-sustainability thinking that was in evidence in the decisions and strategy of the T&TS Department vis à vis our almost complete incinerator...

Here’s a video about the general subject of food security and climate change etc.

The Food and Climate Connection from WhyHunger on Vimeo.
Hunger may not just be for others in future… Click for website – food security learning centre


Sunday, 18 July 2010

Irresistible cartoon

Here’s a great cartoon from David Horsey, the political cartoonist, that’s winging its way around the interwebs thanks to an airing on Climate Progress – Joe Romm’s “fierce” climate blog. I like the way that this shows up the madness and stupidity and overwhelmingly idiotic arrogance (you won’t get any retractions from me on this one…) of the denialist/doubter/delayer/inactivist mentality. It really needs saying - people who refuse to accept the scientific position, and choose to swallow and (even worse) promulgate the distorted propaganda and pseudo-science around are mad, bad and dangerous to know. It’s about time that the voices of reason and knowledge stopped being so damned polite. Regarding everybody’s viewpoint as worthy may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but the consequences we are seeing of giving human stupidity free rein show that that idea was pretty stupid itself. We need a rethink.


Thursday, 1 July 2010

Biochar rocks! Incinerator blocks!

Biochar is  making more news. It will probably be a significant part of reducing carbon intensity in the future.

Biochar is a result of pyrolysing biomass such as wood, agricultural waste or indeed anything organic to form biogas (which is functionally equivalent to natural gas) for power generation leaving a residue of "charcoal". We specified pyrolysis/gasification plant in the scheme that myself and some of the other incinerator-alternatives campaigners put forward to avoid Jersey making the gigantic mistake that our ridiculously limited incinerator-friendly bureaucracy and politicians ended up making. The result? An appallingly ugly eyesore, currently being built, is rearing over and blocking the view of the, until now fairly scenic, South coast of Jersey.
The first two images are mock ups done by the Save our Shoreline group before building started.

These next two were taken today from the “Rocher des Proscrits” (rock of the outcasts) where Victor Hugo used to muse over his exile.
incin close up

This last was taken from near the Victorian'ish Havre des Pas bathing pool
 incin bathing pool

So, we have a huge eyesore that cost about twice as much as our alternative, superior scheme - also, we haven't got more advanced technology to deal with and convert our non-recyclable waste to energy whilst we wait for the inevitable drop-off in disposable waste, that waste reduction, redesign and re-use initiatives will create, which would have left spare capacity in the plant in future that could have been used to create synthetic diesel and biochar. Biochar remediation of agricultural soils holds out the simultaneous benefits of being carbon negative (carbon is returned to the soil in the process, rather than it all being exhausted to the atmosphere) and increasing the long term fertility, moisture retention and structure of the soil.

Plans to build Australia’s first commercial biochar plant (see link here) are afoot and, also in Oz, here is Agrichar whose tests indicated a doubling or even tripling of biomass yield in treated soils.