Archive for March, 2011

A Critical View of Nuclear Energy and Radiation

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

As pro-nuclear energy spin and PR damage control go into high gear as Fukushima continues to unravel and expose the type of lies and deceptions that have misled even well intentioned commentators, like George Monbiot, into accepting the negatives of nuclear energy for some (deluded) idea that it is a lesser of evils (this concept is itself a notion created by the nuclear spin industry, I am virtually certain) certain parts of this project become increasingly well defined. The thing I find most revealing is the notion, put forward by pro-nuclear apologists, innocently, or less so, that normal people are suffering from an irrational fear of radiation.

These types of falsehoods and misrepresentations of what is actually going on form the essence of all modern public relations, especially for heavy industrial consumers of non-renewables of all types, constitute a steady chipping away at a very accurate human response towards radiation, one that I would suggest is in fact highly rational. It is especially discouraging to find such things repeated by those who might otherwise pride themselves on being somewhat critical in their view of modern society.

What I find totally and utterly irrational is that when faced with the total inability to handle a process that was never meant to exist on earth, people continue to pretend that it’s a rational decision to create it. This is simply false. It was a refusal to start winding down power consumption, coupled with a military requirement to obtain nuclear materials for nuclear weapons, that was directly responsible for humanity entering this lunatic course of action in the first place.

The entire nuclear project has always been totally irrational, on so many levels it’s really hard to pick just a few, but here’s some: assumption, despite ALL history as positive proof against this faith, that societies will. continue to be able to handle these toxic systems as they change in fundamental ways. Poster child for this? Ukraine, today, requiring about 2 billion euros to create a new sarcophagus for Chernobyl.

The Doomer World View vs. History and Sustainable Views

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Now and again it’s worth looking at some of the points raised on issues of sustainability and the end of life as we know it.

I see as a given that our current system is going to change, and change fundamentally, as resource depletion continues to alter the ease with which we extract, and waste, non-renewable, or not quickly enough renewable, raw materials. I find myself tending to agree with John Michael Greer (aka: the ‘Arch Druid’) re the time frames over which the ensuing changes will occur, mainly because Greer’s views tend to match reality as we find it documented in our histories.

Greer also makes an effort to study actual history and related areas that touch on these questions, unlike most of the other commentators out there, and he also is pushing out information that tries to help deal with the issues, which you’ll see at the end of this essay, is really the core difference between those prophets of doom and those who will actually find the way forward as our present grows into the future.

However, I also believe that significant portion of people who think we will see a sharp steep global collapse are simply confusing a drop in available consumption levels with the end of all life (aka: The End of Life as We Know It).

A Realistic View of Real-World Change

The way this so called collapse (better called: change, adjustment, alteration in prevalent mythologies and deeply held cultural biases) develops will be regional, not global. I’ve thought that for a while now. This is, by the way, another reason I don’t consider myself a ‘doomer’. Regional alterations do not make for a unitary moment of doom, they are something we have seen throughout history. Remember, Italy in its center was largely empty after the Roman Empire moved its center to the east, and the Barbarians had invaded one too many times. Then time moved on, and Italy wasn’t empty any more. Norway’s northern regions were emptied of Norwegians after the black plague, but NOT of human habitation, the Saamies (Lapps) were happy to move back in and occupy the land with their nomadic reindeer herding way of life until very close to the modern era. There is, I think you have to agree, a certain ethno-centrism involved in the belief that the failure of a single means of human social organization is somehow ‘doom’, when for others, it might be the ticket to the possibility of living a real life again, freed from the bonds of industrial non-sustainable production. It all depends on your point of view.

The notion, presented by Greer, among others, that changes will occur in staircase form I think doesn’t require much of a leap, since changes are coming in staircase form already. Just as an example: Colin Campbell (retired petroleum geologist, and prominent peak oil observer and analyst) points to the technical peak of global oil extraction as being marked by extreme social, economic, and political volatility. I look around myself in 2010 and find just that. Resource wars ongoing, political instabilities, ongoing. So that part seems pretty much right on.

The Real Turning Point

I don’t like getting into more sci-fi speculations, but to me, it’s fairly obvious that the reason 1970 was the real turning point for the global human culture based on non-sustainable resource exploitation is that is when the global population went into serious overshoot, beyond carrying capacity. The real warning flag back then was the requirement of instituting industrial, non-sustainable farming techniques, called, in Orwellian style, the ‘green revolution’ in order to avoid famine and provide enough food stuffs to feed the now clearly non-sustainable population numbers created by ceaseless population growth.

Review – Oil: Money, Politics, and Power in the 21st Century – By Tom Bower

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

I like to keep up on the latest major books written on crude oil in order to get a sense of how the industry actually is evolving over time as we surf the bumpy plateau that was promised by so called peak oil theorists like Colin Campbell (official ASPO website). One noteworthy thing about guys like Campbell and Kenneth Deffeyes is that they are being proved disturbingly right in their longer term predictions, as is, sadly, M. King Hubbert.

The first really significant book released, right on the dawn of the current production plateau first reached in about 2005 was Matt Simmon’s Twilight in the Desert, which was essentially the first real shot across the bows of prevailing cornucopian (the belief that finite raw materials are in fact infinite) views held by both insiders and outsiders of the oil industry. While Simmons appeared to suffer a decline in the last year of his life, don’t be fooled, Twilight was a very well researched book on Saudi oil production, probably one of the best ever written, if not the best.

However, it’s also good to read some of the major works dealing with oil that don’t come from exactly the slightly outsider, critical, peak oil perspective, but which also contain a wealth of information about various aspects of the oil industry that might generally go less considered, such as speculation, refinery utilization and tuning for different oil types, and the role of public relations, as well as general styles of corporate governance among the Western majors.

Oil: Money, Politics, and Power in the 21st Century (OMPP) goes a long way towards explaining some of the more technical intracies of how and why oil speculation can work, how big Western oil companies work from the inside, how PR is handled, and a wealth of specifics on topics such as refinery tunings towards various oil grades and sources. These specifics can help us understand how intertwined the entire process of modern oil, extraction, finance, governments, and corporate power, truly are.

For example, we learn that it is not simply how much raw oil in barrels there is on the market any given day, but how much per refinery per type of oil there is (heavy/light, sweet/sour, and a variety of combinations of these different grades). This is why, for example, you might hear Saudi Arabia claim it is producing extra, but then also complain that there are no buyers.

Since Saudi Arabia’s new production is now almost all what is called sour crude, that’s sometimes why more per day is not purchased even when it’s been extracted and is ready for shipment, it can’t be used, since there are no contracted refineries for that specific type of crude oil. I didn’t realize the requirements of matching refinery tuning to crude type was so specific. This book made me stop thinking of oil as one thing, just what they call petroleum liquids, like butane, propane, etc are also not properly assigned to that one thing, oil (plus liquids).

Examining the Fiction of Safe, Clean Nuclear Power: Case Study

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Although I try to avoid verbatim repeats of people’s comment postings, this one is so clear and coherent that it really has to be preserved from the daily disappearing and endlessly scrolling comment threads appearing now daily at theOilDrum.

This is precisely the type of understanding the nuclear industry as a whole does not want people to have, and they try to keep these daily realities out of the media and public eye as much as possible in order to maintain the fiction of safe, clean power.

ransu on March 19, 2011 – 9:00am, Drumbeat discussion

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in this field. I work with metrology of physics standards.

If you ever walk into a nuclear power plant, you will see danger signs with either or both of these written on them:



Basically there are two kinds of exposure to radioactivity: the direct exposure to radiation where an external source emits EM energy in the form of particles or energy which hit your body – let us call it external. For example walking alongside the waste pool now exposed and without its blanket of water between you and the rods, would mostly likely give you a lethal dose.

In a nuclear power plant areas marker with DANGER! DOSE RATE are areas where you are close enough or unshielded from the reactor core, waste pool or primary circuit. You need to wear a dosimeter and the time you spend there is monitored and limited. This part of radioactivity is what we can directly measure in units called Sievert with portable counters and indicators and the one currently quoted all over the media.

However it is contamination which is in many ways is a far greater danger. In order to have radiation you need something that radiates – a decaying radioisotope. Normally all these isotopes remain safely in the reactor core – and the extremely pure circulating primary water holds almost no radioactive isotopes (except for some very short lived temporarily created by the intense core radiation). However over time, and if you have abnormalities, especially accidents, core radiation can change the surrounding materials into radioactive isotopes – which is why you choose all materials and fluids very carefully and control their purity – and keep everything absolutely clean around there!

Areas of a nuclear power plant with DANGER CONTAMINATION include areas for fission material handling and areas indirectly exposed to intense radiation – where there is a possibility that some radioactive particles have either escaped or formed around surfaces where you might touch them, carry them with you, even inhale them. In these areas you need to wear a protective suit, and everything you carry with you outside, including yourself, needs to go through decontamination – meaning lots of scrubbing. You don’t want to get stuck with even one of these nasty particles because they can enter your body and literally give you “the dose of your life”.

A Quick Overview of the Coal vs Nuclear Fallacy

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Sometimes a comment is made in an online discussion which really warrants a response on a much deeper level, because it reveals so much about how we look at our world and planet.

It’s very important to look at such views and see what’s actually driving them, because to do so gives us a way to learn how to see our real world environment.

“if the Worst Possible Scenario happened at all the world’s gas/coal power generation stations simultaneously” – well it happened, in part, there, we call it global warming these days. Not as spectacular as exploding reactor roofs, not as fast as a cloud of radioactive debris, but the effect is here with all of us, it is enormous and irreversible. But it’s out of interest when people make their judgements.

If all four units in Chernobyl would have burned as #4 obviously it would have been much worse, yes, it would have contaminated Europe badly, but far from inhabitable. And that reactor design was a goddamn pit of hell compared even these 40yr old BWRs. Now Fukushima looks like crap, it will do some harm, it will hurt people, but not to the extent you believe.

Of course nuclear waste from all plants must be taken care of, there is research, I believe there are already finished plans for reactors that besides producing power, burn this “spent” fuel to shorten it’s dangerous effects to about ~2 centuries, which, while I agree is a lot of time, still looks somewhat shorter than it would take to remove all those greenhouse gases your gas/coal plants gushed into the atmosphere.

60 years of nukes vs. 120 years of ff power generation, yet the negative effects are hard to compare.
(src: theOilDrum 2011-03-16)

No known human non-sustainable, large scale, centralized, culture has been able to correctly predict the condition of that human culture 2 centuries in its future.

Just 65-70 years ago bombs were being dropped on all key facilities in Europe, Russia/USSR, China was being bombed, Japan was bombed. That’s only 70 years, not even remotely close to 2 centuries. And that’s only one way things can and do go bad.

Yes 2 centuries looks shorter than multiple thousands of years, but there is no way this heavily industrialized system is going to exist in 2 centuries, sorry. It’s a blip in history, a dip at the bottom of the pit. Also, what we have to look at is our present, not some uncreated future.