A Quick Overview of the Coal vs Nuclear Fallacy

Posted: March 16th, 2011 by: h2

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.

If we want to understand the real world, we must divert our gaze from a hypothetical final outcome and concentrate our attention on the process of change we can observe all around us.
George Soros, The Alchemy of Finance pp. 31

Such an observation shows us that the comparison of the dangers of nuclear power danger to the danger presented by the CO2 released by coal burning is false, both are being extracted and consumed as quickly as possible, and coal consumption is not slowing down, it’s speeding up.

I think the thing that is hard to grasp here is that when we started using nuclear energy, this was basically a tacit admission that we had reached the maximum levels of energy extraction, at least when looking at matters from a relatively sane one or two century perspective (the 7 generation model of decision making). All nuclear energy did was let us dig ourselves a bit deeper, with slightly longer lasting toxic waste as the outcome.

Coal alone is being produced and consumed at maximum levels, barring the global heating induced flooding of Australian coal mines, of course. I realize we have been brainwashed for decades about nuclear power being a replacement, that was the dream promoted in the 50s, but reality soon showed that the old too cheap to meter dream would never happen. And it never has happened.

In a way nukes are the ultimate toy/gadget, only it’s corporations that profit from making these, and so they are understandably reluctant to release the tax payer funded teat. In my view, the actual maximum of overall real energy production happened some time in the 70s, only we are only now starting to see that fact. Nuclear was introduced in order to mask that fact from ourselves, rather successfully I might add, since up to this week it was still being considered as our way out from the pit we are digging ourselves with coal and other fossil fuel generated CO2 gases.

I will repeat this point because it’s important to drive it home: not one pound of coal has not been burned, in the long term, from nuclear power plants being online, but a massive amount of conservation has NOT happened in the first world because of them. These nuclear power plants are just enabling devices, not positive future paths, or solutions to any problems. The developing world is developing on coal, and is adding nukes as well. Besides, uranium is depleting as a resource, and will deplete even more quickly as global demand rises.

I keep seeing this fallacy appearing in even the best of intentioned people, but the facts do not cooperate. The USA has something like 50% of its energy being generated in coal powered plants today. They are adding more I believe, so is China, India, etc. I think even Saudi Arabia is looking to add coal power, because oil is too valuable to burn. If you draw a baseline of generation levels, I will bet that expansion in consumption since the 70s largely matches the expansion of nuclear. Nuclear energy is digging us deeper, it’s not helping us get out of the problem.

Looking globally, coal is now being extracted at the maximum levels the mining industry can manage. It is also rising in price, so clearly demand is outpacing supply, thus no coal burning is being stopped at all, and thus, no CO2 is being stopped from being added to our atmosphere. We are burning coal, oil, natural gas, and uranium, at full speed. There is no surplus coal being produced, no surplus oil, and I believe, no surplus uranium. There is a small uptick in gas extraction rates because the US market is flooded with that quick depleting fracked natural gas, so that’s probably what we should be using as we try to reach a lower level of consumption, before it’s too late, that is. This logic isn’t complicated so I think it’s just mental habits and repeating what we’ve been told rather than any malicious attempt to deceive that keeps most people from seeing these simple facts.

In other words, it appears that we are now on the inflexion point of major change. This inflection point can be determined when the key resources are no longer able to keep up with demand, that is demonstrated by the price the market demands to supply them. The only question now is how long the current levels of consumption can be maintained. Once those cannot be maintained, you will see wars, increasing system instability, and it is this that forms the ultimate reason to stop all nuclear development now. We will not have the resources to correct the failures in the future. Coal is merely the silent killer that creeps up on us, but is even worse, but adding bad to worse in no case results in better. Dealing with nuclear failures requires a huge amount of socially mobilized resources, and a definite level of social cohesion, which can only be found in a functioning and fairly stable society.

These wars and system instability, by the way, are not hypothetical, they are happening now. Iraq is one such, a miserable failure, of course, but still that’s what it is. The Mideast convulsions are one way you can see how systems destabilize, often in highly unpredictable, chaotic ways. Those are the weak links, the way the stronger links manifest these instabilities is not yet known, but one thing you can be certain of, there is no safe predictable future for a nuclear power plant in any nation in the world over the next 100 years. Some may do ok, but that cannot be predicted in any meaningful way.

Both Coal and Uranium are non-sustainable, highly toxic materials, neither of which has any place in any sustainable energy mix, but sadly, both are promoted by entrenched corporate interests who do everything they can to keep these profit generators running. Profit for them, not for us, we pay the price, so does the planet.

And that’s the latest view from the Pit, a view growing more and more unstable and unpredictable by the week I might add. But that’s how it is down in the pit, we’ve left stability far behind, we’re so deep now we can barely even remember what it looks like.

Comments are closed.