Three things the US has (just about) seen the last of [Crooked Timber Crosspost]

Here’s an assorted list of things that once seemed archetypally American, but have pretty much reached the end of the line. More precisely, there are no new ones, or hardly any, and the existing examples look increasingly down at heel

    Shopping malls
    Nuclear power stations
    Republican intellectuals

Feel free to discuss, deny, add to the list and so on.

121 thoughts on “Three things the US has (just about) seen the last of [Crooked Timber Crosspost]

  1. Nick are you saying a minimum wage night worker (eg cleaner, security guard) should get a $40k Nissan Leaf to commute from the battler suburbs to the CBD? Admittedly it would help if the employer allowed free charging while at work.

    Ikon you seem to find articles that suit your case and ignore others like this
    that speak of 60 new nukes. It’s true nuclear has been slipping in relative terms. Funny how generous subsidies help the opposition, 16 billion euro a year just for Germany shame they haven’t cut their emissions in the last five years.

    Uranium depletion is a furphy. Yellowcake has 570 GJ of energy per kilogram in a 3rd gen light water reactor whereas brown coal has 0.01 GJ/kg with the atmosphere taking the waste products. Olympic Dam alone could supply the world well into the second half of the century. By then we’ll have either imploded or worked out fusion, 4th gen fission or Gwh scale batteries.

  2. Gee, Hermit. I don’t know.

    Do the words: “the cost of the *vehicle* itself needs to […] come down significantly in price to make it affordable to the masses”

    In any way suggest I think someone on minimum wage can afford a $40,000 car?

    Grow up.

  3. @Hermit
    But what about the waste? From the beginning to the end of the nuclear fuel cycle each step is immersed in the US military industrial complex. And you expect anyone to trust this? Dream on.

  4. @Hermit

    On the page you link to the first statement is;

    “Nuclear power capacity worldwide is increasing steadily, with over 60 reactors under construction in 13 countries.”

    How does this square with the paper I linked to “World Nuclear Industry Status Report”?

    It says;

    “The nuclear industry is in decline: The 388 operating reactors are 50 fewer than the peak in 2002, while the total installed capacity peaked in 2010 at 367 GW before declining to the
    current level, which is comparable to levels last seen two decades ago. Annual nuclear electricity generation reached a maximum of 2,660 TWh in 2006 and dropped to 2,359 TWh
    in 2013, which represents however a stabilization (+0.6 percent) after two consecutive years of significant decline (-4 percent in 2011, -7 percent in 2012), corresponding to a level
    previously seen in 1999.”

    One report is mistaken or telling lies. Which report is that I wonder? Wikepedia says;

    “Since about 2001 the term nuclear renaissance has been used to refer to a possible nuclear power industry revival, driven by rising fossil fuel prices and new concerns about meeting greenhouse gas emission limits.[218] However, the World Nuclear Association has reported that nuclear electricity generation in 2012 was at its lowest level since 1999.” The source is the World Nuclear Association.

    It appears the page you linked to tells a bald faced lie straight up! Not a very promising start is it?

    Then it goes on to talk about new plants and plants in the planning pipeline. This can all sound very impressive when listed but a whole lot of detail is being omitted. First, there is no discussion of plants being closed, decomissioned or shut down due to accidents. Second, many of the so-called “planned” reactors are rather speculative plans and might never come off.

    What counts is plants on line and operating. And the total capacity of these is declining with no prospect in sight of a turnaround.

    In relation to Uranium supplies you make an assertion with no sources and pit this against one scientific peer reviewed paper which I quoted.

    Let me sum uop. You accuse me of cherry-picking papers. My first paper provides information backed by other sources. Your first site tells a verifiable LIE in the first sentence and then talks about start-ups and planned start-ups without mentioning decommisionings, accidents and imoperative plants.

    Then when it comes to Uranium sources, I quote one peer-reviewed scientific paper (admittedly only one paper) but you offer a wild and unsubstantiated personal assertion. Hilarious.

  5. I must say I am disappointed that it looks as though nuclear fission and fusion power will play no significant role in future energy supply. A serious amount of human intellectual work has been put into trying to make it work, and for all sorts of reasons including human stupidity, greed, bad luck and poor judgement at critical points, it looks as though it will fade away. Ah well. Not all of our science fiction dreams can come true. But who knows. Maybe in 30 years fusion at least will be economically and ecologically viable!

  6. @John Goss

    It seems to me that a certain percentage of my age cohort can’t accept the way nuclear fission technology has turned out. To them nuclear fission as “the peaceful atom” is forever young and full of promise for the future. Their attitudes to it and hopes for it belong to the 1950s and 1960s. But the promised shiny science fiction utopia powered by nuclear fission simply has not materialised.

    Fission turned out to be difficult, dirty and dangerous. It turned out to rely on another non-renewable fuel. Fifty years or so of progress have shown nuclear fission power to be primitive, crude and outdated. It’s hard for some to accept what they thought was the sine qua non of energy progress has turned out to be a dead end in practical terms though not in pure research terms. It will always hold in important place in the history of physics research. Nuclear science, nuclear medicine etc. are still very important. But nuclear fission power is already in the dustbin of history. All that is needed is to put the lid on it.

    It’s too early to say what might happen with fusion. I won’t hazard a guess on that one. But our current energy future lies with renweable energy especially solar, wind and hydro power.

  7. In case others want to drink the same Kool Aid as Ikon here’s a reminder; in 2013 Australia got 2.9% of its electricity from wind power and 1.5% from solar. Nearly 100% of our transport was powered by oil which we increasingly have to import. There has been no new large (>15MW) hydro built in Australia this century. The much maligned UK nuclear build still works out cheaper and more reliable than the ACT’s new solar farm. With or without carbon issues I suggest we’re headed for energy poverty if we rule out nuclear.

  8. Hermit,

    Just because Australia has a low proportion of energy from RET presently does not mean that this proportion cannot grow. There has been work showing that stationary energy can be made 100% RET – Mark Diesendorf’s book is quite thorough as well as readable in its explanantions, or the Beyond Zero Emissions report, or there is at least one more that I can’t remember.

    Transport is more complicated – but we are better off having more walkable/rideable communities and electrified mass public transport anyhow – and then we can convert lots of the then unnecessary roads to pleasant parks as part of a cooling and beautiful urban forest plan. Roads are a great waste of public space as well as being very ugly and grey – they can take up to 50% of the space in some cities.

    You are quite right energy conservation as well as efficiency will play a part – but many Australians are very extravagant with energy now without giving it much thought so being more mindful of conserving energy would be quite an improvement.

    The problem with nuclear is all the dangerous waste and the prospect of accidents. RET needs to increase its recyclability and non-toxicity, but it is much better on the danger-scale than nuclear.

  9. @Hermit

    You are the one drinking Kool Aid m8. Every time I, or Ronald Brak for example, use referenced claims about facts you ignore them and come back with more personal opinion and assertion without evidence in the attempt to continue supporting a pre-conceived position.

    You are clearly beyond the point where you can learn anything new.

  10. > With or without carbon issues I suggest we’re headed for energy poverty if we rule out nuclear.

    Is this inside or outside the thirty-five year time horizon you think is fine for your pro-nuke planning?

  11. @Collin Street

    Ironic as it may be, it’s physics that’s ruling out nuclear fission power. Uranium is rare. Peak uranium extraction is about now. Fission’s radioactive waste products are physically difficult and dangerous to deal with. And the physics of other energy sources (like solar and wind power) mean they are becoming cheaper and more deployable than fission power.

    There will still be a place for fission reactors particularly for research, nuclear medicine, military (naval) propulsion and unfortunately for nuclear weapons. It’s not the end of the fission reactor. But the next 40 years or so will see the decline and phase out of nuclear fission for civilian and stationary power.

  12. Thank you Ikonoclast for those very pertinent summaries in this thread. I also would like to support you in your pertinent question re

    @John Quiggin
    I would be interested if you could make a specific (hopefully long and a bit wonkish) post on agriculture, cultivation and irrigation from the perspective of taking fossil fuels out of it.

    Because it is crucial to explore how we can or already are successfully untether or unplug our selfs from fossils centralised power. How can we facilitate for fossil energy to follow the pathways of contemporary modern great white elephants such as shopping centres, nuclear power stations, republican intellectuals.

    Btw I do question your petit bourgeoise thesis. Isn’t the contemporary class system nomenclature expressed in percentages?

  13. @Ronald Brak
    I haven’t checked your capex claim. I know some allege solar thermal works out over $20/w. Unit capex is only part of the story other key factors being capacity factor and plant lifetime. A new Gen 3 nuke should run at 90% capacity factor for 50-60 years. PV panels operate at about 16% capacity factor at Melbourne latitude and are expected to need replacing after 25 years.

    Another crucial factor is the costly energy storage needed to make wind and solar energy available on demand. For off-grid solar 2 amp-hours of battery capacity is recommended for every watt of PV generation. Deep cycle lead acid batteries cost about $2 per amp hour. Your $2/w PV now costs 2 + 2(2) = $6 per watt. Those batteries will need replacing three times in the life of the panels. We need more metrics than just unit capex.

  14. @Hermit
    Hermit, you wrote, “We need more metrics than just unit capex.” Would you also agree that we need more than just statements such as, “The much maligned UK nuclear build still works out cheaper and more reliable than the ACT’s new solar farm. With or without carbon issues I suggest we’re headed for energy poverty if we rule out nuclear.”

  15. @Ronald Brak
    A Dorothy Dixer they don’t come up too often. Hinkley C will cost 17c a kwh but is expected to run at 90% capacity factor for 50+ years. Royalla ACT will produce power for an agreed 18c a kwh which on standard data will be for 25 years at 16% capacity factor.

    We will have major energy anxieties in everything except coal before 2020. East Australian gas will be short by 2016. World oil production will dwindle by 2018. See articles in today’s Resilience d0t org about the fracking bubble. Possibly the direct oil price may not increase that much but we’ll consume less my prediction is that food prices will inflate markedly. We’ve got just a few years to get from 4.4% wind and solar electricity to some large percentage plus replace oil in transport and food production. By 2025 or so we’ll need to replace a few ageing coal fired power stations. Then what?

  16. Never too late to start looking at waste and efficiency, considering we are crashing through a information revolution at present.

    I was participating in an energy efficiency and waste audit in a medium size manufacturing plant in the early 80’s. From memory the investment into recommended heat exchangers payed itself off in one year. With some minor, but detailed process changes and the aforementioned heat exchangers, we could, staged, within one year, safe just under twenty percent of our energy costs. That was then, today technology has gifted us with an almost unimatinatory power to process and distribute information. That information explosion needs to be married with energy, to get clever-energy. Copper wire is also a reliable data conductor and has been used as such via ripple control switches. IMHO these were always used way behind the capacity these devices had in those days, where as now we have the ability to marry the two nets.

    Lastly, I am firmly with Iko’s notion of “untethering” or even unplugging, it has legs, so to speak. Also, the mobile device most of us carry, is more than capable to control clever-energy; when you want it, where you want it and how much we want to contribute towards it.

  17. @Hermit
    Hermit, you wrote, “By 2025 or so we’ll need to replace a few ageing coal fired power stations. Then what?”

    In Australia we pay people to supply electricity. If for some reason not enough electricity was being supplied to meet demand then the price of electricity would rise and that would encourage people to build more generating capacity and use it to supply electricity so they could make money from the high electricity prices. The people building generating capacity have an incentive to build less expensive generating capacity rather than more expensive generating capacity on account of they can make more money that way. Because nuclear generating capacity is more expensive than other generating capacity it is very unlikely to be built. Because it would be stupid.

  18. Australia is only about 50% energy self-sufficient in petroleum and this is rapidly worsening. However, if we ceased most petroleum imports and most gas exports and converted our transport fleets to gas and electric we could deal with this. Of course, a transition phase would be required.

    I can think of no other energy source we are short of. We have more coal than can be safely burned so we need to stop using that. We have enormous potential for solar, wind, tidal and possibly some other forms of renewable energy. We even have plenty of uranium relative to our own projected energy needs (though not relative to the entire world’s projected energy needs). We should cease all uranium exports to all countries except some to the USA if they require it. This would be a Realpolitik measure to keep the USA as an ally. Our uranium should be kept as a national emergency power reserve never to be used unless all other energy strategies fail.

  19. @Hermit
    It is untrue that solar panels will generally need replacing after 25 years. They are warrantied to produce 80% of nameplate output for 25 years. Obviously these warranties are conservative; and 80% can be taken as a minimum not a mean. After 25 years you can expect to have a working panel only slightly less efficient than when you bought it. Will it make sense to replace it? In most cases, no. There are 40-year-old panels still going strong in test sites.

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