Science


San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant

San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, cc: photo by exquisitur

A gentleman from Wailuku quoted the Wall Street Journal while arguing that nuclear power was a reasonable long term solution for reducing the high cost of Hawai’i electric power.

I believe Mr. Kunishige overlooked a few points en route between the WSJ and his letter.

Government investment: Nuclear power is price competitive because of heavy government direct investment and subsidies. After World War II, the Federal Government funded considerable R&D for military and civilian nuclear energy. It has and continues to provide: risk insurance, which no private insurer will issue; billions of dollars in low interest loans and loan guarantees; storage facilities for radioactive waste and decommissioned reactors.

Therefore, moving government investment heavily into renewable energy sources would fit with existing practices, and as the HSBC report forecasts, will lead to competitive costs within this decade.

Scale: For the investment to be worthwhile, plants are typically sized for at least 1000 MW, more than the entire electrical output for the state in 2009. To justify a plant of that size, all of the islands would need to be linked via undersea power cables, with some of the routes over two miles deep.

NIMBY: It is highly unlikely that any county will wish to give up any of their shorelines for a plant site, since almost all suitable shores are the focus of visitor and resident recreation. Even if set inland, plants at likely sites would be considered eyesores, visible from most major towns and resorts. It is highly unlikely that the Legislature or the PUC would approve the plant and spent fuel storage ponds.

While the State is looking hard at non-fossil fuel energy supplies, it is looking at building up capacity in stages. The state has enough solar, wind, wave, geothermal, and ocean temperature gradient potential, that – coupled with the enormous up-front costs of nuclear plants – nuclear has not and will not be seriously considered.

Last week, we had two correspondents chime in on the subject of climate change, each featuring favored skeptics in academia. A gentleman from Hana references a Dr. Nicholas Drapela, currently an instructor at OSU, and a report from Dr. Alan Carlin from the EPA, while a gentleman from  Wailuku highlights a Dr. Richard Siegmund Lindzen of MIT.

Dr. Drapela’s skepticism rests on two pillars: that he thinks Dr. James Hansen of NASA is over the top regarding his position on climate change, and that research shows CO2 levels rising behind (and presumably in response to) rising temperatures over the last 400,000 years. While there’s no accounting for his feelings regarding Dr. Hansen, his CO2 level analysis is a failure. Previous warming phases preceded the Industrial Revolution, and there was no claim that CO2 caused them. Today, CO2 levels have climbed to levels beyond the recorded natural cycle, and it leads the trend of rising temperatures.

Dr. Lindzen’s climate change skepticism also has a couple of weaknesses. First, his criticisms seem to rest largely on his mistrust of computer climate models, while neglecting the actual data collected in the field. Dr. Lindzen also been on retainer to ExxonMobil. The corporation hired the same firms that organized the tobacco industry’s long battle to unlink tobacco consumption from disease, and redeployed them with millions of dollars to create the appearance of significant debate over the science of climate change.

Dr. Alan Carlin is an economist at the EPA. He gained notice from a climate denial report he prepared on his own time, and submitted to the EPA panel tasked with drafting a new policy on CO2. They reviewed the report, found it to be unsound and told Carlin to get back to doing his real job.

A commenter found my statement that the modern day increase in CO2 levels leads the global temperature increase to be “quite amazing”. I find it quite obvious.

Global Temperature & CO2 Levels (1959 = 100)

Global Temperature & CO2 Levels (1959 = 100)

Chart data sources:
http://cdiac.ornl.gov/ftp/trends/temp/lugina/Nhemsea.dat
ftp://ftp.cmdl.noaa.gov/ccg/co2/trends/co2_gr_mlo.txt