Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Talk with Al Gore

I just read Al Gore's book, The Assault on Reason. He's such an intelligent guy, don't you wish you could sit down with him over coffee and talk about global warming? I've got some thoughts on nuclear energy to share with him. He doesn't say much in his An Inconvenient Truth book on the subject, but he appeared at a House of Representatives hearing last year and nuclear energy came up. Imagine what it would be like if we were in on it:

Mr. Gore says (to Mr. Hastert):
      You mentioned nuclear. I am sure that will come up again. I
am not an absolutist in being opposed to nuclear. I think it is
likely to play some role. I don't think it is going to play a
major role. But I think it will play some additional role, and
I think the reason it is going to be limited is mainly the
costs. They are so expensive, and they take so long to build,
and at present, they only come in one size: extra large. And
people don't want to make that kind of investment on an
uncertain market for energy demand.

Heck, Al, renewables cost more to build than nuclear plants. Look at this. If we're going to replace all the fossil-fired plants in the US, do you really think size is going to be a problem?

(To Mr. Inglis)
      I think that decentralization is the wave of the future.
And also on liquid fuels for road transport, by the way, and
the next generation ethanol the enzymatic hydrolysis stuff that
is coming on line. But on your core choice, I am not opposed to
nuclear. I have deep questions about it. I am concerned about
it. I used to be enthusiastic about it. Back when I represented
Congressman Gordon's district, TVA had 21 nuclear power plants
under construction. And then later, I had represented Oak Ridge
where we were immune to the effects of nuclear radiation so I
was very enthusiastic about it.
      But 19 of those 21 plants were canceled. And I am sure Bart
gets the same questions I used to get about whether those
partly finished cooling towers might be used for a grain silo.
But people are upset still that they have to pay for them and
not be able to get any electricity for them.
      And I think the stoppage of the nuclear industry was really
less due to 3-mile island and Chernobyl and environmental
concerns and more due to the fact that after the OPEC oil
crisis of 1973 and 1979, the projection for electricity demand
went from 7 percent annualized compounded down to 1 percent.

You're right on that one, Al. Growth of just about everything died when Jimmy Carter was president. Then natural gas drove out all its competition. Clean and cheap; what else could anyone want?

(To Mr. Upton)
I don't recognize the quote that you used as one
of mine. I am not saying it wasn't, but I don't really agree
with the way that was phrased.

[Quote from Nuclear Energy Information Resource Center: "I do not
support any increased reliance on nuclear energy; moreover, I
have disagreed with those who have classified nuclear energy as
clean or renewable."]

Yeah, you can't trust anything anti-nukes say.

      I am not a reflexive opponent of nuclear power,
Congressman. I am just a skeptic about nuclear power's
viability in the marketplace. I think that if we let the market
allow the most competitive forms to surface, what we will see
is decentralized generation, widely distributed, we will see an
emphasis on conservation and efficiency and renewable energy.
But where nuclear power is concerned I have expressed my views,
previously, I am not a reflexive opponent, I think there will
be some new nuclear power plants.
      But you mention China. Look at their 5-year plan right now.
You are right, they plan 55 new coal fired power plants per
year. Only three nuclear plants per year. Now why? They don't
have any opposition that they can't overcome pretty easily from
Beijing. But they see the same problems just in practical terms
that a lot of our utilities see. These things are expensive and
complicated. They take a long time and the fragility of the
operating regime has already been seen. I have been to
Chernobyl. I have been to Three Mile Island and I don't want to
exaggerate those problems.
      I think that we can come up with solutions for the dangers
of operator error. I think we can come up with solutions for
long term storage of waste. I don't think Yucca Mountain is it.
And I think if you don't skate past the real scientific
evidence of what they found at Yucca Mountain. What they found
on the geology there makes it simply wrong to put stuff that is
going to need to be contained for tens of thousands of years in
a place that is really not appropriate for it. Now that is my
reading of what the geological survey has said about that. But
I am not opposed to it as a category.

I don't think any of this is wrong, Al. But nobody has suggested an easier way to stave off global warming. Maybe we could ride bicycles and starve like the Chinese did fifty years ago, but I'm guessing that's not going to catch on. If we leave it up to the market to decide we'll just keep on using coal because nothing is cheaper; not nuclear or renewable energy and not even conservation. So to beat global warming we have to start building renewable energy sources and nuclear plants because that's the only way we can grow our construction capacity. The other choice is sitting on our hands and watching the habitat melt away. What do you think?


DV8 2XL said...

By the time the last nuclear power plant came on line it was no wonder that its cost of producing electricity was not “competitive” with other sources. The actual cost of building plants had been declining for years. But the costs of dragging out construction for decades, and paying a king’s ransom to borrow money, as well as the fear any utility would have of starting a project that could put it into bankruptcy court, had driven nuclear power out of the energy picture.

Nuclear power plants that should have cost between $500 million and $1 billion, had their final costs escalate up to 10 times that amount, over the course of construction, thanks to unreasonable regulations by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the stretch-out of schedules over bogus “environmental and safety” concerns. Note that GE and other U.S. firms currently build 1,000 MW and larger nuclear units in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan in 4 to 5 years.

No matter what plans the nuclear industry may put together, however, only a complete reversal of the financial and political policies that have wrecked the development and deployment of nuclear technology over the past 40 years will make a difference.

Red Craig said...

dv8 2xl, you paint a grim picture. Maybe it'll go better this time, since all our backs are up against the wall with global warming. The NRC insists it's got its procedures patched up and won't change the rules once construction is started on new plants. Congress has even authorized helping with costs that come from licensing delays. Equipment suppliers are already receiving new orders.

When I talk to people I hear a wholly different attitude than ---say--- ten years ago. Most people have caught on that Three Mile Island didn't hurt anyone and that Chernobyl was a Soviet monstrosity. Looking at blogs I see many more articles expressing rejection of anti-nukes than articles agreeing with them.

It's a shame the way things happened. If the world had built nuclear plants as it should have, the environment would be cleaner and global warming would be farther away and we'd be in a stronger position to deal with it. At this point, though, we just have to go forward as best we can.

Thanks for your comment.

Matt Granz said...

I like your Al Gore post... I find it funny that he is the global warming guru while, if I'm not wrong here, I've heard that his family fortune was founded on coal production. Is he still receiving dividends from that source?

Red Craig said...

Hi Matt,

I suppose that any rich family in Tennessee would have investments in coal. But Mr. Gore is campaigning pretty heavily against it, as shown here.

He seems to have an unjustified confidence in carbon sequestration, which could possibly allow coal use but he hardly can be accused of pushing it over other solutions. And he's positively against turning coal into oil, as shown here.

Your comment raises an interesting question that ought to be considered, but I haven't seen any sign that he has some selfish interest he's covering up.

Marcel F. Williams said...

If Gore is so afraid of nuclear energy then why was he on board a nuclear submarine in his film?

There's never going to be any serious reduction in global warming until this nation finally begins to fully utilize nuclear power.

David hawk said...

I do not like this article, I don't believe that global warming has many ties from nuclear energy. I believe it is just something to be complaining about because of the danger factor.