Author Archives: ChrisB

About ChrisB

A lifelong "armchair scientist", I have previously spent 19 years in management and systems analysis, with some conflict resolution. For the last few years I have worked as a cab driver - and enjoyed it.

A New Fire is Spreading

 The New Fire 
A Film by David Schumacher

Review by Christopher Bergan
This is an incredible documentary: possibly the first of a kind as far as shining a positive spotlight directly on advanced nuclear power. You read that correctly. Though this was the directorial debut for David Schumacher, this pro-nuclear film is a collaborative project by persons who have previously won awards for making films and other audiovisual content.

I was fortunate to be able to attend the premiere at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, Indiana back on October 14, 2017. There was a light breeze on this partly sunny day in Indianapolis, though I drove through a couple rain showers back in Illinois to get there. The film has since been shown in Cambridge, UK; and in Zürich, Switzerland. It will be shown several other places back in the USA through 2018.

NOTE: This event at the Heartland Film Festival had nothing to do with The Heartland Institute. It’s common to find a Heartland-something-or-other in nearly every county of the mid-west United States – which locals consider to be “The Heart of America”.

There was a tent just outside the mall, with room for about 100 attendees to chat and take selfies in between sips of local craft beers. Inside the theater there were specific lines for the various film festival attendees. It seemed to be a well organized event. I should also mention that this showing had sold out, though there were a few empty seats in the theater. Apparently unanticipated road construction delays and at least one nearby university homecoming celebration disrupted traffic enough to severely delay a few attendees.

The tent just outside of the Heartland Film Festival, Indianapolis

The actual film was nearly what I expected, though many of the specific details still surprised me. This documentary was centered on people and their passions, as any good tale should be. Here their common concerns include energy poverty, climate issues, and improving the human condition. Frustration with sharing this vision has driven each group of self-admitted science geeks to embark on a journey to fan the entrepreneurial fires of change – with the flame-less fires of neutronic activity.

This emerging industry took some in Washington by surprise, and brought lots of attention to the huge economic and security benefits of advanced nuclear. But here’s the thing… we aren’t the only country trying to commercialize advanced reactors and reap their rewards. Just check out the links at the end of this review!

There are several angles by which this documentary could be marketed. There’s the obvious Women in Nuclear tie-in which greatly supports girls involvement in STEAM education. There’s the entrepreneurial angle where young persons (women & men equally!) start a business with university-honed credentials. Or some may take a more traditional route, getting hired by a cutting edge multi-national company. Some will appreciate the zero GHG angle of climate change environmentalism. There’s even an advocacy-by-opera moment! One of many enjoyable moments was hearing nuclear scientists discuss characteristics of a vehicles’ automatic doors – something a few in the audience might relate to.

For the Q&A immediately after the film producer Ross Koningstein was on hand to lead off.

The Q&A session at The New Fire Premiere

Also present were cast members Dr. Per Peterson, Eric Meyer, Dr. Nick Touran, and Tom Blees. The director arrived a few minutes into the Q&A session, as he had flown in from a private engagement connected with this film in another state.

Though not planned, this documentary about new, advanced reactors is an excellent follow-up to the 2013 documentary Pandora’s Promise by Robert Stone. Personally I’m looking forward to the eventual DVD release of The New Fire: the DVD extras just might be the best part of the project, as they were for Pandora’s Promise (at least in my opinion).

There is at least one other pro-nuclear documentary in the works as well. The industry seems to be greatly  changing from what it was a decade ago – from all angles. Despite the huge impact these advanced reactors will have on both climate efforts and industry when they start hitting the market in less than a decade, we already have a few images to help us understand where and how they’ll fit into our communities.

I hope that The New Fire will be seen by many people and become a point of discussion between those persons who are interested in clean energy sources. Just as there are many types and sizes of automobile engines, there are many possibilities for clean, planet-friendly energy sources. These various advanced nuclear concepts are a few dozen of the many options we need to rationally assess and implement a better future.

Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear  (GAIN)

Additional information about The New Fire cast and advanced nuclear-power.

On The Ecomoderist Podcast, Rick & Gabe interview Emmy-winning director David Schumacher on his new documentary, The New Fire, which tells the story of the scientists and activists who are trying to save the planet by promoting nuclear power. One of the featured scientists, Dr. Leslie Dewan, is also interviewed.

On another edition of The Ecomodernist Podcast, Gabe & Rick talk with Rauli Partanen and Janne M. Korhonen, co-authors of Climate Gamble: Is Anti-Nuclear Activism Endangering Our Future?. This is a highly insightful book tackling one of the biggest problems of our time, climate change; and one of its most misunderstood solutions, nuclear power.

How will changes in the US government impact the advanced nuclear industry? This video has Oklo co-founder Caroline Cochran discussing issues of advanced reactors with NuScale Power’s John Hopkins and Southern Company’s Nick Irvin.

China’s first Gen IV reactor is scheduled to go online in 2018 – the Chinese pebble bed!

Dick Engel & Syd Ball discuss their time at Oak Ridge National Laboratory where they built and operated a proto-type Molten Salt Reactor – back in the 1960’s!

Tireless nuclear energy advocate Scott Medwid says “I used to oppose nuclear”!

Dr. Sunniva Rose at TEDx speaks out for interdisciplinary approaches to life, which for her includes nuclear physics and the color pink!

Skeptic Thomas Jam Pedersen explains at TEDxCopenhagen how he became a reluctant fan of Thorium.

Urs Bolt, Director of the Swiss chapter of Energy for Humanity, was a guest on ANC Headstart (a Morning Show in the Philippines) 7 November 2016.

How Thorium can save the world: Salim Zwein shares a friendly lecture at TEDxBeirut 2012.

Ted Rockwell’s interview from 2002; during the early days of the Manhattan Project, nuclear was never just about the bombs. He also explains how radiation is everywhere & is quite safe in moderation.

Author and inventor Christopher Carson gives a very nuanced & slightly technical talk about nuclear energy and how he views the many facets of nuclear issues.

Overview of US Territories Energy Infrastructures

With the infrastructure of Puerto Rico recently devastated (October 2017), this might be a good time to review the other four US territories. After all, they could be hit next year! In a nutshell, lots of imported oil and hopes about RE. The good news is that none of them use LNG or coal! They currently rely primarily on diesel gas/oil imports though, just as they have since vacuum tubes were considered modern technology.

This tends to leave the whole energy infrastructure (electricity, transportation, & local industries) of each territory exposed to the price fluctuations inherent in sometimes volatile oil prices.

Propane tanks on St. Croix Island, Virgin Islands. These eight tanks hold about 19 days worth of power.

The following US Energy Information Agency (EIA) data was updated in September 2017 – weeks before the US Territory of Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria.
Be sure to browse the three tabs on each EIA link; Overview, Data, & Analysis.

American Samoa Quick Facts

  • American Samoa uses imported fossil fuels for almost all of the territory’s energy needs, including transportation, water treatment, and most of its electric power generation.
  • A significant amount of American Samoa’s electricity is used to pump and treat drinking water and to collect, pump, and treat wastewater.
  • Electricity prices in American Samoa vary with world petroleum prices; in mid-2017, they were 2.3 times the U.S. average, and comparable to Hawaii’s rates.
  • In 2016, the largest island in American Samoa’s Manu’a group, Ta’u, converted to 100% solar PV electricity generation, replacing the use of about 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel per year.
  • American Samoa Renewable Energy Committee has adopted a goal of getting 50% of American Samoa’s energy from renewable energy resources by 2025 and 100% by 2040.

Guam Quick Facts

  • Largest island in Micronesia, is located about three-fourths of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines. Guam has no fossil energy resources and meets nearly all of its energy needs, including electricity, with petroleum products shipped in by tanker.
  • To meet its energy needs, Guam imports petroleum products and uses its wind and solar resources to generate electricity.
  • Guam’s population is estimated to be about 162,000, plus more than 12,000 military personnel and their families. The U.S. military plans to move some personnel from Okinawa (Japan) to Guam, bringing a substantial influx of people to the island.
  • Guam has set a goal of cutting petroleum consumption by 20% from the 2010 level by 2020.
  • In 2016, the number of Guam Power Authority’s customers exceeded 50,000 for the first time.
  • Two of the four generating units at Guam’s main power plant were destroyed by an explosion and fire in 2015.
  • Wind turbines requires special engineering to cope with Guam’s earthquake and typhoons.
  • Two ocean-based technologies being investigated are Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion and Sea Water Air Conditioning These applications may be limited by pipe impacts on the fragile coral reef surrounding Guam.

Northern Mariana Islands Quick Facts

  • The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) meets nearly all of its energy demand by importing petroleum products, including 22 million to 24 million gallons of diesel fuel annually to run the islands’ electricity generating plants.
  • The Commonwealth Utilities Corp. is looking at long-term alternatives to petroleum-fired electricity generators, which are aging and cannot run at full capacity.
  • Active volcanoes make the CNMI–particularly the islands of Pagan and Saipan–unique in Micronesia in having significant geothermal energy potential.
  • The CNMI’s renewable portfolio standard requires the islands to get 20% of their net electricity sales from renewable energy if cost-effective resources are available, but, so far, only small-scale wind and solar resources have been built, mostly at government and school facilities.

US Virgin Islands Quick Facts

  • The U.S. Virgin Islands is about 600 miles southeast of Miami, Florida. Like most Caribbean islands, the USVI has no fossil energy resources but does have some renewable resources.
  • The USVI imports petroleum products to meet most of its energy needs, including electricity and desalination of ocean water for its public water supply.
  • The U.S. Virgin Islands is shifting from fuel oil to propane to generate electricity and produce public drinking water.
  • The USVI has two separate island grids that must each maintain generation backup and reserves.
  • Distributed solar generation on consumer rooftops can provide up to 15 megawatts of capacity. The island has nearly 230 MW of electricity capacity currently.

Puerto Rico Quick Facts (before Hurricane Maria)

  • Petroleum products fuel transportation, electricity generation, and industry in Puerto Rico, supplying three-fourths of the energy consumed in the commonwealth.
  • In 2016, 47% of Puerto Rico’s electricity came from petroleum, 34% from natural gas, 17% from coal, and 2% from renewable energy.
  • Two wind farms supplied nearly half of Puerto Rico’s renewable generation in 2016; one of them, the 95-megawatt Santa Isabel facility, is the largest wind farm in the Caribbean.
  • As of June 2017, Puerto Rico had 127 megawatts of utility-scale solar photovoltaic generating capacity and 88 megawatts of distributed (customer-sited, small-scale) capacity. In the first six months of 2017, more renewable electricity came from solar energy than any other source.
  • Electricity fuel surcharges have decreased with world crude oil prices, but, in mid-2017, Puerto Rico’s retail consumers still paid more for their power than consumers in any state except Hawaii.



Additional Resources:
In the US territories, the average residential rate for electricity has been about $0.37/kWh—about three times higher than the U.S. national average cost of electricity.

Though running power lines hundreds (or thousands) of miles under the ocean might be a poor idea, utilizing these recently confirmed mid-ocean winds for islands seems like a possibility worth studying further.

Start-up companies which are working on SMRs using spent uranium fuel include the Bill Gates backed TerraPower, Transatomic, and Terrestrial Energy. Another start-up, Oklo, seeks to create 2-megawatt reactors that fit inside shipping containers to provide electricity for remote off-grid locations. Toshiba has worked on a micro nuclear reactor that is designed to power individual apartment buildings or city blocks.

Ta’ū Island is all of 44.3 sq km (17.1 sq miles), and the population has grown to about 800 in recent years. In the 1920’s well-known anthropologist Margaret Mead conducted her dissertation research here. A solar + battery system was recently installed, designed to power the entire island for three days without sunlight and fully recharge in seven hours.

The well known wind-driven hydro system of El Hierro Island (Canary Islands/Spain) has shown improvements, but can still vary wildly from month to month. As of the end of September 2017, GdV [Gorona del Viento] had supplied 42.3% of El Hierro’s electricity demand since project startup in June 2015, up from 41.5% at the end of August; and 9.7% of its energy demand, up from 9.6% at the end of August.

For a rather nutty look at renewable energy on an island, try coconuts!

Making Nuclear Power an Environmental Topic

Written by Christopher Bergan

I have recently had my suspicions reinforced that all people can be like sheep (sheeple?) – and to be perfectly frank, I have sometimes been in that category also. I am not talking specifically about work or politics here, but just being a member of society. None of us really has time to become an expert in all things so we take mental shortcuts, which psychologists and philosophers call heuristics. No this isn’t an academic paper – more of a lament that many important issues like the environment, energy infrastructure, and climate change are only superficially understood by otherwise well informed people. Most will nearly always trust simplistic ideas or even gut reactions rather than explore any topic deeply for themselves.

What I’m trying to describe are issues in which a person is willing to donate time, money, or become otherwise proactive. Yet few ever take the initiative to actually learn about these issues on their own and confirm the information being presented to them. Generally people will make a conscious decision to trust what a knowledgeable person says, with little regard as to whether there might be any bias or hidden agenda. The hard questions almost never get asked.

There’s a local group in Iowa which is very passionate about the environment, called 100 Grannies. Several members are well educated and many are semi-retired. They are willing to travel several hours to a protest, just to show solidarity with oppressed groups and occasionally get arrested. I do admire them for that tenacity. I found a post on their website about another environmental arrestee: Dr. James Hansen. The Grannies entry concerned Hansen’s trip to the COP21 meeting in Paris and his promoting of the Carbon Fee & Dividend as proposed by the Citizen’s Climate Lobby. The Grannies don’t mention Hansen’s views on nuclear energy – neither does the CCL site, even though they also quote him from COP21 – which is where he & three scientist friends specifically stated that nuclear power must be part of the solution.

I’ll add that the 100 Grannies usually meet only a few blocks from the Van Allen building on the University of Iowa campus, named after the university professor that mentored Hansen back when he was a student at U of Iowa. Ironic.

What did Hansen & friends actually say about nuclear at COP21? That video can be found with Energy for Humanity, a group co-founded by award winning documentary film-maker Robert Stone. EFH Director Kirsty Gogan introduced these Four Climateers (if I may be allowed to co-opt Victor Hugo’s term), and here are some of their statements:
There’s really only one technology that I know of that can provide carbon free power when the sun’s not shining or the wind’s not blowing at the scale that modern civilization requires – and that’s nuclear power.” Dr. Ken Caldeira

There are a lot of people who see this as an opportunity to advance one agenda or another….; but why are four climate scientists, who don’t have strong backgrounds in nuclear physics, here today talking to you about nuclear energy? It’s because we are scientists and we can do the math. If we truly are sincere about solving this problem – unless a miracle occurs – we are going to have to ramp up nuclear energy very fast! That’s the reality.” Dr. Kerry Emanuel

But the decisions we make in the next 5, 10, 15 years will determine what’s possible after 2030. So this initial period – ratifying the INDC, making sure we don’t just look for a Renewable Energy targets but we look for a clean energy target future – that’s the primary concern of this particular meeting.”
Dr. Tom Wigley

We have to use all of the things that we have at our disposal, and clearly nuclear power – next generation nuclear power especially – has tremendous potential to be part of the solution.” Dr. James Hansen

We can scale up solar and wind pretty quickly up to a certain limit, and then we run headlong into the barriers dictated by intermittency.” Dr. Kerry Emanuel

We shouldn’t be building new fossil fuel power plants. It doesn’t make sense.”
Dr. James Hansen

Sweden, for example, they have carbon free electricity. That’s the solution to the climate problem. If we had carbon free electricity in all countries, you solve the problem! Because we can make liquid fuels for transportation from energy if you have abundant, carbon free electricity.”  Dr. James Hansen

CO² / KWh

There’s also a blogger named Paul Beckwith who attended COP21 and filmed a different talk Dr. Hansen gave there. Mr. Beckwith is a physicist/engineer from Canada. I can almost understand Beckwith not mentioning any energy source as, in the three part video (which Beckwith recorded himself), Hansen doesn’t really talk about any energy source except to say that fossil fuels are bad for the climate. What is discussed in these videos is the magnitude of climate change, CCL’s Fee & Dividend proposal, and socio/political implications. So actually Hansen might be partly to blame for confusing his message by not mentioning nuclear energy as one of the climate solutions at every opportunity. But it has been a part of his climate change message for awhile now – just as carbon fee & dividend is. In my opinion it is only those that turn a deaf ear that can’t hear the nuclear aspect which many of the best informed & honest environmentalists advocate.

A Dutch acquaintance of mine named Joris van Dorp recently found a similar problem in his country. He wrote:

I had a discussion recently with some members of the Dutch Green Party. Here are my findings. The party has just unveiled its party program for the 2017 elections. It has made the immediate shutdown of Dutch nuclear power a central part of its political program, as well as a ban on new nuclear power plants.

As such, the Dutch greens have clearly torn-up the IPCC AR5 assessment of climate science, which states that a quadrupling of nuclear power is consistent with most assessed pathways to the timely and sufficient reduction of co2 emissions. They do this while continuing to claim that climate change is a priority issue for them. Obviously, it is not.

Interestingly, the party members I discussed this with eventually admit that they don’t personally agree with their party’s insistence on shutting down nuclear power.

In the past, I’ve grudgingly accepted the Green party’s open assault on nuclear power, because I knew that quite a few party members didn’t support the party line. In fact, the majority of the party’s scientific committee was in favour of new nuclear, even after Fukushima. I calculated that the 2017 elections might well include the greens on a pro-nuclear platform, especially since the IPCC made the importance of nuclear for climate clearer than ever before in its history.

Now that my hopes have been proven naive, and given the fact that there is no more time to wait for action on nuclear for climate, I feel I must now drop my traditional tolerance of the Dutch green party’s antinuclearism. In the coming months, during the political discussions I’m going to have, I’m going to be recommending that people do NOT vote for the greens, if they value the environment.

Any other party is better than the greens, where climate is concerned. Even the nationalist brown party is a better choice, mostly because they (alone) are actively pushing for an ambitious nuclear power program. They deny that AGW is a problem, but they do believe in the value of environmental protection and they fully accept the superior environmental performance of nuclear power.

This avoidance of clean & powerful nuclear energy by environmental groups has become de rigueur. No doubt most find it easier to delete “uncomfortable subjects” rather than twist the truth. This is likely why the well known anti-nuclear advocate Helen Caldicott has said, “We don’t need to talk about nuclear as we all know it’s dangers”. I am not claiming any of these groups are actually evil or have nefarious agendas, but a few who are considered environmental leaders are also being disingenuous by ignoring nuclear as part of the solution. They should acknowledge and discuss all aspects of climate change instead of burying some topics under cheap and often unsupported assumptions. There are several environmentalists who have been through this process already.

A June of 2015 article in The New Yorker had a great phrase; “Conservation requires conversation; protecting nature while still using it to meet human needs is a paradoxical mission, …”. People tend to trust what organizations say, and when messages are severely edited proper solutions can become hidden for decades. It’s time to tell the whole message, whether gently or blatantly. Let’s move past the hand wringing and empty gestures to begin implementing solutions. If the human race can assess any progress along the way with honest and critical evaluations, poor solutions can be weeded out and the better ideas will remain. In the meantime the Energy Reality Project will try to share this whole message as best we understand it. It’s “the rest of the story”, as news commentator Paul Harvey used to say; and there are often a few more bits of vetted information that can be added to the tale. So please, leave any insightful comments below and be part of the solution.

It’s time to create an abundance of objective discussions. As Dr. Hansen recently wrote on his CSAS blog, “There is a dearth of objective discussion of the role of advanced nuclear power in the future of clean power and the phase-out of fossil fuels.”

Let’s include nuclear power as an environmental topic.

Additional Information: James Hansen Lecture at Univ. of Iowa Oct. 2014

Ocean Acidification: An Immediate Threat or Why all the Hubub About Climate Change?

By Christopher C. Bergan

The whole world is talking about Climate Change. Anthropological Global Warming. Global Disruption. This is planet wide terra-forming with Green House Gasses (GHG) as the primary modus operandi, and it seems that a few billion people weren’t expecting this challenge to our collective survival. 195 of 196 nations were charter members of the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was first proposed at the Rio Conference in 1992 and entered into force in March of 1996. That’s a lot of delegates! And after years of being confronted with melting glaciers, expanding deserts, extended droughts, record flooding, and record hurricanes; these delegates have finally agreed that steps need to be taken to mitigate any human-induced factors which might have created this climate change. This is a first step. The other important step was to agree to continue to meet and reassess every five years. It is my belief that the greatest danger of climate change is not the warming or the rising seas, but the changing chemistry of those seas. This effect is a lowering of P/H levels which acidifies the oceans. By the end of this century most life may be extinct in the oceans, which will mean greatly lowered oxygen levels for humans and other creatures as well as the possibility of a runaway greenhouse effect. This all centers on tiny plankton. But first allow me to backtrack a bit.

History of CO² knowledge.

Many reading this will have already heard of the Swede, Svante Arrhenius. In 1896 he was finishing up some complicated equations to explain how CO² might have affected the ice ages and glaciers. He then turned to a colleague, Arvid Högbom, to get some assistance on natural CO² cycles from volcanoes and oceans. Then Dr. Arrhenius decided to include factory emissions (mostly coal at that time) – and things got interesting. He calculated that within three thousand years mankind could raise the planet’s temperature by as much as 6°C! OK, not quite a compelling problem. Dr. Arrhenius eventually wrote a book which was published in 1908. Upon revisiting his calculations he looked at continued coal emissions, and calculated that mankind now would cause significant global warming in less than a millenia. Other scientists glanced at this work, did some independent calculations of their own, and had quite different outcomes. In short, Dr. Arrhenius’ work was labeled as flawed and was soon ignored by the majority of the science literate. In 1938 an English engineer, Guy Stewart Callendar, began to champion the idea of global warming. But since he was an amateur meteorologist, the minimal factors which were accounted for in his papers left room for doubts by many professionals. In the 1950’s and 1960’s some better work was done by Kaplan, Suess, & Revelle which paved the way for the acceptance of Arrhenius’ work. Then C. David Keeling began tracking CO² levels and published his Keeling Curve Chart. A detailed account of this history is found here. About the time Herr Hitler succeeded Gen. von Hindenberg as German Chancellor, a graduate student in Chicago was starting his master’s thesis on the quantum aspects of the infrared absorption spectrum of CO². In later years, when Dr. Alvin Weinberg was Director at ORNL, he continued to have an interest in the work being done on the implications heat absorption by CO². After being “ousted” from ORNL in 1973, Weinberg wrote a paper on the energy economy which included possible global warming scenarios – which were now anticipated to be only a century away. These concerns were presented to Congress in 1975 – and politely ignored. In 1981 a ten page article in Science Magazine titled Climate impact of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide introduced a new name into this tale, Dr. James Hansen of NASA. In 1988 Dr. Hansen testified before congress and the hubub about climate change finally began to be taken seriously by the general public.

What does plankton have to do with climate change?

The oceans are 99% of the known livable space on the earth. In spite of the fact that human beings are mostly excluded from that living space, there are several thousand known plants & animals that do live in the oceans. So I’d like to repeat that phrase: The oceans are 99% of the known livable space on the earth! That fact is important. There are now about 5,000 species of plankton in the world. One of the 3 types of plankton is Phytoplankton (theses include both fresh water or oceanic organisms), which absorbs sunlight and carbon dioxide. Abundant yet tiny, phytoplankton forms the bottom of the water-based food chain. Phytoplankton (mostly single celled plants) does three things;
  1. Phytoplankton are sometimes eaten by small animals and baleen whales, forming the base of the oceanic food chain. Nearly half the human population lives within 60 miles of the ocean and is a part of that food chain. The seas also provides the biggest source of wild or domestic protein in the world.
  2. Phytoplankton absorbs CO² and sequesters it in their tiny shells which eventually fall to the bottom of the ocean – should they not get eaten first. By total mass, nearly half of all life in the oceans are comprised of these tiny plankton!
  3. As these bits of plankton take in CO² for nourishment, they also give off oxygen. In fact, it has been estimated that up to 80% of the earth’s oxygen is produced by phytoplankton! Breathe deeply as you consider this fact.

What happens when plankton becomes scarce? Or extinct?

It is known among scientists that nearly 40% of the plankton around the world has disappeared in the past 50 years. In fact, Professor Jean-Pierre Gattuso believes that arctic plankton could be completely extinct before 2030! These aren’t random hypotheses – the process is being documented now! Whether passively or specifically, some people are defiant when confronted with the urgent context of this situation. They believe that taking back democracy from the super rich will save our preferred climate – as if Dr. Lovelocke’s conception of Gaia (Mother Nature if you prefer) cares how we distribute and use her resources. It matters not how morally those natural resources are used; if they are used too quickly the planet cannot keep pace with these induced changes and there are penalties. The penalties for dumping GHG into the environment include terra-forming the planet so that glaciers melt and increasing water acidity changes habitats so that many become less hospitable to life. We need to admit that this is a global chemical & energy problem! Yes there are societal implications, both for humans as well as mammals, insects, & fish (they seem to have a type of society too). But terra-forming the earth (or Geo-Engineering) is real science, & Ocean Acidification (in my opinion) is the biggest problem associated with anthropological climate change! Here’s how I see it:
  1. The oceans absorb CO² & heat.
  2. This process is exacerbated by excess CO² absorbing infrared wavelengths.
  3. Plankton use that carbon to make billions of tiny shells each month.
  4. Plankton makes a lot of oxygen. More than land-based plants actually!
  5. Some plankton are eaten as the base of the food chain.
  6. Tons of uneaten plankton fall to the ocean floor – providing natural CO² sequestration
  7. Some minute amounts of CO² are not made into plankton shells, but instead become carbonic acid.
  8. Carbonic acid interrupts the life cycle of plankton by dissolving shells – no circle of aquatic life!
  9. Activies #1-6 slow and eventually stop occurring in increasingly acidic oceans.
  10. Goodbye oxygen for fish & mammals. Goodbye ocean food chain.

Hello global starvation and extinctions! Hello runaway greenhouse effect – Venus gets a twin!

Not to worry though; Gaia will likely create another intelligent being after Homo “Deluded” Sapien disappears. Just a shame we might take a few thousand other creatures with us into extinction. The earth will continue to spin and orbit – in the next billion years there will likely be several intelligent new species similar to chimps, dolphins, ants, cats, dogs, and such. Perhaps the dominant species of the next great era will be more similar to a grasshopper or octopus rather than the ape? I insert one question at this point for social activists who have been so busy as of late:  How could “taking back democracy” actually impact activities #7-10 as listed above?  How are populations of fish schools coupled with the distribution of wealth within capitalistic land-based societies? Does the voting record of union members change how CO² absorbs in three distinct spectrums? Global Chemistry is a hard science best solved by those trained in STEM education. We laypeople need to listen and learn about scientific convention, not fight against those that best understand how to mitigate Global Climate Change.  [end personal rant]

No need to take my word for all this.

I would suggest watching a talk entitled Acidification, Climate & Energy by Dr. Alex Cannara. This was given in June of 2015 at the TEAC7 conference. He has other talks online as well. Then there’s also an excellent documentary called Racing Extinction by Oscar winner Louie Psihoyos. This is an excellent overview the many of the problems which all inhabitants of the earth are facing. While I didn’t personally care for the “Save the Whales” mentality which bookends this documentary (Sorry, but I am also a hardcore fan of Star Trek TOS and just didn’t appreciate that aspect of the fourth movie – at the time), I do recognize that this over-fishing issue is a point to which the general public can relate. The core of the greater issue is found in the middle third of the Racing Extinction film: Ocean Acidification. To summarize yet again; currently several species of plankton are already under duress and numbers have begun to dwindle. I would ask what good is saving whales, dolphins, turtles, tuna, lobster, or seahorses in the 21st century if all sea life will be extinct in the 23rd century? Kelp and jellyfish excluded. It is this issue of ocean acidification which excess CO² exacerbates. So please, watch that middle portion of the Racing Extinction documentary a second time. Then perhaps watch a Ted Talk or use the internet to find recent information directly from researchers.

Context: the long view is equally important.

Can we avert this mass extinction scenario? Is it too late to avoid even some of these effects? We all should think carefully about this in the coming months, then act decisively in accordance with good science and engineering precepts – not fantasies based on feel-good ideas. I will say here that neither journalism nor political science are actual sciences. Valid scientists interact with dozens or even hundreds of fellow experts to build a solid story from their research. Less trustworthy scientists often rely on a very few cohorts (or on themselves alone!) to support a position. So let’s find actual experts & learn the basic science of climate change. Then find qualified engineers & architects that can build what science experts tell us are the best solutions. Yes there are short term societal concerns to keep us busy, but the hubub of daily concerns won’t matter much if we have no descendants to remember us. We must make the time in this century to return the earth to it’s proper, natural climate cycle. If our global village procrastinates even a few decades, our wealth of information and many achievements may disappear from the face of the earth in the coming centuries with only the distant artificial satellites of Pioneer & Voyager to mark our temporary learning curve.  

Perhaps the greatest commitment to come out of the recent COP21 is the agreement to meet again. Cop22 is in 5 years & COP23 in 10 years. We absolutely have to get it right by then – or else!


This is how the ocean makes Earth livable

Racing Extinction Documentary panel @ UCTV

Phytoplankton fading global seas

Meeting the Renewable Energy Challenge: James Hansen Lecture

Nature decline ocean phytoplankton global warming boris worm

What is ocean acidification?

Arnold Schwarzenegger Climate campaigns need focus right now not 2050?

DCFC: An Ecologically Friendly Technology

Direct Carbon Fuel Cells are based on coal gasification technology. This technology has already been around for about a century and may yet prove to be a 21st century base-load energy source, and help free our grids from the emissions of traditional coal and natural gas.

Basically, after a high temperature conversion process gasified coal can be consumed by an electrical power station and generate nearly twice the energy of coal while halving the GHG waste! For those concerned with emissions or climate change, this means that modified coal could emit about 250 grams of CO² per KW/hr or 550 pounds of CO² per MW/hr – however you’d prefer to measure emissions. This is about the levels originally outlined in the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, but much closer to needed reductions. Also, gasifying the coal will eliminate solid fly ash and allow extraction of other impurities.

DCFC's will have a capacity factor of 65 percent - with ultra low emissions.

DCFC’s will have a capacity factor of 65 percent – with ultra low emissions. Graph based on NEI data.


The Energy Reality Project would like to re-post two pieces on this subject.
One from (Th)e Kral Spaces, a blog generally concerned with the nuclear biosphere. The other is a guest post by Robert Steinhaus at the Molten Salt Science International’s beta site.
Please, feel free to leave any constructive comments or questions below.


Coal energy cheaper than coal energy”
as originally posted at

The only reason China is investing in everything possible for their energy mix is because they need more energy then they can generate. Once their energy catches up to their demand they will be able to take a serious look at what energy sources are the most efficient and narrow their scope to what can be considered clean energy. Once their focus on quantity is turned to quality, hopefully they will still include fossil fuels. Really?

There is a needed mix for energy and it includes fossil from my perspective. I struggle to understand why the Obama Administration wants to throw coal under the bus. If we change the way we look at coal, it too can be a cleaner energy source. If we convert coal to electricity via electrochemical oxidation without burning it, we can generate twice the electricity with half the coal and manage the waste without a variety of toxins ever getting release into the atmosphere. We have managed nuclear waste for 60 years so we already know how to do it safely.

The concept is called Direct Carbon Fuel Cells (DCFC) and Lawrence Livermore National Labs (LLNL) has demonstrated this technology as far back as 2005. Why no one is interested in this solution stuns me just like the Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) oversight for clean safe nuclear energy did fifty years ago. Natural gas and oil can also be used as a source for this DCFC process and the best part is that it already comes with an existing commercial electrical power generation infrastructure.

I’ve written a short paragraph about DCFC in a previous column but I strongly believe the Unites States Coal Industry needs to take a serious look at this potential technology. There are several reasons why I take this position and the first and most obvious is that the Coal Industry is on the chopping block with the latest EPA regulations. The new regulations have to do with clean air and water from the coal burning process to generate electricity. The EPA itself admits that the plan’s usefulness against the threat of climate change will be so small that it will be impossible to measure. If you eliminate the ‘burning of coal’, you eliminate the need for new regulations and many of the older regulations as well.

Coal is the cheapest source we have to generate electricity today. The fact that there is already a well established infrastructure for mining coal, it only makes business sense to leverage that infrastructure and only change that process which needs to be changed – the burn. At a fraction of the cost to build an equivalent nuclear power plant or renewable wind and solar farm, a new DCFC Converter can be built right next to the existing coal furnaces and the output fed directly into the electrical grid without having to go through a secondary steam turbine process. Wow! That would lower the cost of processing tremendously and make electricity generation from coal cheaper than coal. There is a little sarcasm in that last sentence because coal is the cost baseline for all other energy sources.

There is a book I read recently titled “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels” and it addresses the abundance of what fossil fuel has contributed to our extraordinary life style. Even as an advocate of nuclear energy, I just don’t understand the reasoning behind those you want to shut down coal production when clean coal can be achieved if we wanted to commit the effort to it.

DCFC Ref. Link:

DCFCs can give twice the efficiency of a coal plant for about half the price
as originally posted at

Robert Steinhaus contributed this about Direct Carbon Fuel Cells that can run on coal granules.

Molten Carbonate salt Direct Carbon Fuel Cells do not use a turbine-generator to convert heat to electricity. Each DCFC collects electrical charge internally on graphite electrodes inside the cell so a DCFC directly converts the chemical energy in coal into DC electricity. DCFC cells operate at high temperatures comparable to Molten Salt Nuclear Reactors (about 750 degrees C) and high temperature steels have to be used to make the fuel cells.

It is a feat to make a high temperature coal fired plant operate at more than 44% thermodynamic efficiency. DCFCs convert the chemical energy in coal to electricity at a repeatedly demonstrated efficiency of 80%. There is not Brayton turbine-generator on the planet that can approach the efficiency of DCFCs, and DCFCs do their job much more inexpensively than Brayton or Rankin turbines, have fewer moving parts, and require less maintenance.

Some downsides of DCFCs –
DCFCs have to operate at elevated temperatures between 700 – 750 degrees. To initially start a DCFC you have to heat the cell from an external source, although once started, internal exothermic heat of reaction will keep a cell at temperature.

DCFCs tend to be physically large cells for the power you can instantaneously draw from them (lower power density by weight). A DCFC might typically be 4X the volume of a natural gas or hydrogen PEM fuel cell which supplies the same amount of electrical power.

Since turbine generators are about half or more of the cost of most thermal fossil plants like coal fired power plants – not requiring a precision high temperature turbine-generator saves about half of the cost of a traditional coal power plant and make DCFCs very very high efficiency (80%) and very cheap (about half the cost of the nearest coal fired power plant competitor).

Small several hundred watt practical DCFC cells have been built at LLNL National Lab and operated for several months demonstrating 80% conversion efficiency. Commercial DCFC cells would be much larger and perhaps produce 10s of Megawatts of power each. Such large cells would turn high chemically energy dense coal into electricity directly without burning the coal. How often you have to replenish the DCFC cell would depend on how much power you draw out of the cell. You would get twice as much electricity from a given amount of coal using the fuel cell as you would get from burning the same amount of coal in a coal fired power plant.

The vast majority of the volume and weight of coal that you load into a DCFC fuel cell disappears into clear, colorless, and odorless CO2 gas that goes up a vent to the atmosphere or can be can be used in an industrial process or sequestered underground (no smoke, particulates, radiation, or other pollution into the environment to foul the local air quality). There is a ash or char produced by the cell which is around 5% by weight of the coal loaded into the DCFC. This ash/char has to be periodically removed from the fuel cell and disposed (when processed and the molten salts recycled – the char makes decent soil amendment for agricultural soils)

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Direct Carbon Conversion” by John Cooper

Editors Note: Here are some additional web-sites to learn about DCFC and the coal gasification process.  Start with an animation profiling the full process-

Atlanta based Southern Company is an energy provider with a DCFC program-

A more technical look at DCFCs, which will likely have capacity factors of 65%.

China has a strong program for alternate uses of coal as well-

The R. E. Ginna Nuclear Power Plant’s Future Is Important

by Michael Mann

The R. E Ginna nuclear power plant was planned and built in the early 1960’s during a time of great hope, fear and idealism. Here is an excerpt from a speech by then president JFK; “…we must hasten the development of low-cost atomic power. I think we should lead the world in this. By 1967, 1968, 1970, in the Northeast United States, where power rates are nearly double yours, we are going to find atomic power increasingly competitive, and by the end of this century this is going to be a tremendous source. Our experts estimate that half of all electric energy generated in the United States will come from nuclear sources.” JFK seems to have had a strong opinion on this subject.

The Ginna plant is located in western NY State along Lake Ontario. It earned an operating license in 1969 and started producing safe, reliable, clean power (without producing greenhouse gasses!) for the customers of RG&E in 1970. It has continued to do so ever since. Currently this is the most reliable source of electricity in the region with a capacity factor (the ratio of the theoretical maximum it could produce compared to the amount it actually produced) of over 95% – for more than a decade! It has had continuous upgrades for both safety and reliability; and is even safer and more reliable today than when it was built. This hasn’t happened by accident, but by honest and sometimes painful self-evaluations by the industry.

We at Ginna start our Institute of Nuclear Power Operations / World Association of Nuclear Operators plant visit and evaluation this month. A little explanation for those not in the nuclear power industry: for the next 2 weeks a couple dozen experts and peers from nuclear plants around the world will observe, interview, and examine every aspect of how the plant is run – both operations and maintenance. A couple months ago they were furnished with 4 years of our operational data to look for any mistakes, trends, or weaknesses. This will then be judged, not against regulations or specifications which are are already quite stringent, but against an imaginary vision of excellence which even they acknowledge is unattainable.

Their focus is on human performance, plant material condition, policies and procedures and how these things impact safety and reliability. No other industry I know of puts themselves through this kind of crucible, it is painful but the results are the safest most reliable method of producing electricity in the world. My plant happens to be the longest running nuclear power plant in the USA: it is in better material condition today than when it was built. Ginna is run by amazing, dedicated operators and maintained by the best maintenance people in existence. Now is our opportunity to prove it to our international peers!

The R.E. Ginna NPP is the longest running nuclear power plant in the USA, not simply because it is older; but because it has run better due to superior engineering, operation, and maintenance. This is something to be proud of! It has been determined that Ginna prevents the release of more than 2 million tons of carbon dioxide annually (the equivalent of taking 400,000 cars off the road), which is an important factor for the state to reach its clean air goals.

Ginna also contributes greatly to the quality of life in the local communities. It is the largest contributor to the United Way in Wayne County and actively supports the annual “Day of Caring.” Ginna employees serve their communities as volunteer firefighters, scout leaders, emergency medical technicians, and board members. The people who work at Ginna are your neighbors, your friends and your family.

There have been rumors of closing down the Ginna plant. Shutting down Ginna prematurely would force most to leave the area. This (coupled with the loss of tax revenue, local charity donations, and patronage of area businesses) would be devastating to the local economy. Where will Western New York rate-payers’ power come from when when Ginna shuts down? I doubt it will be produced locally. Instead of being recycled into the community, that money will go elsewhere to a dirtier baseload and RE backup power producer. It’s no coincidence that opposition to the continued operation of Ginna is from outside the local area. Reduced electric supply will inevitably cause rates to increase and reliability to decrease. Shutting down Ginna will be painful, like running into a brick wall.

Lets not accelerate into this crash. Let’s instead look for ways to avoid damages and use the time until 2029 (when Ginna’s current license expires) to find the best way to replace Ginna’s power, or re-license Ginna through 2049 – whatever is the best solution. Robert E. Ginna and John F. Kennedy shared a vision of clean, reliable and affordable power. That nuclear goal is still a good one.

Additional information can be found at:

Michael Mann is a 27 year veteran of the energy industry, with an additional 8 years as a reactor operator on nuclear US Navy submarines, currently employed at the R.E. Ginna Power Station. The opinions expressed here are his own and may differ from those of his employer.