Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Carbon Dioxide and Nuclear Energy: The Great Divide and How to Cross It

"Cult Versus Cult" on Global Warming

The Whole Earth Catalog
William Tucker, author of Terrestrial Energy,  has a provocative posting in Nuclear Townhall: When it Comes to Nuclear and Global Warming, It's Cult vs Cult.  Basically, many nuclear supporters believe that global warming is not happening. Meanwhile, people who are eager to prevent global warming are often anti-nuclear.

To some extent, these attitudes show logical disconnects.

Nuclear is a low-carbon choice. If a person claims to be very concerned with global warming and is also against nuclear energy---that person is showing a logical disconnect, in my opinion.

Nuclear is preferable to fossil. Even without considering global warming, there are many reasons to prefer nuclear to fossil power. I moved into nuclear energy in the early 80s. (I had been working in renewables and fossil.) In those days, people were not concerned about global warming.  I still saw many advantages of nuclear over fossil fuels.

An Interview with an Environmentalist

Carbon Dioxide Chart
In the "Cult Versus Cult" article, Tucker quotes William McKibben, a well-known author and Scholar in Residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.  McKibben is very active in fighting global warming. He founded,  which describes itself as a "global movement to solve the climate crisis." (I am happy to note that the website doesn't bash nuclear.)

In the article, Tucker describes a scene at a solar festival.  McKibben had just addressed the group. Tucker notes that many of McKibben's followers are wearing "Close VY" buttons, and Tucker asks McKibben why he doesn't support nuclear power. Tucker wrote:

McKibben looked wistfully at the hillside filled with long-haired hippies.  "I understand what you're saying," he said.  "But supporting nuclear right now would split this movement in half."

UPDATE: Bill McKibben has emailed me to say that this quote does not reflect his opinions.  He has also commented on this post.  You can read his comment below. The major thrust of the comment is that this story about him is not accurate, and he has been opposed to Vermont Yankee for a long time.  Please see his entire comment at the end of this blog.

Founding a Movement

With, McKibben founded a global movement to solve the climate crisis.  In the quote above, he says that supporting nuclear would hurt that movement.  To me, this implies that he is more interested in the growth of his movement than in carbon dioxide results for the planet.

But what about me?  There's an old saying that when you point a finger at someone else, look where the other fingers are pointing.

I just pointed at McKibben, and the other fingers are pointing back at me.  I'm trying to encourage people to support the continued operation of Vermont Yankee.  It's a smaller scale movement than "solving the climate crisis," but Howard Shaffer and I are growing a pro-nuclear, pro-Vermont Yankee movement.  What are we willing to do to support it? Well, among other things, in order to support the pro-Vermont Yankee movement, I rarely talk about global warming.

The Divide

I personally think the world-wide carbon dioxide increase is mostly man-made and causes some level of global warming. I think global warming is a threat to human life and health, but it is not the most over-arching threat we face.

In the past few years, many environmentalists have embraced nuclear power because of their concern with global warming. However, a significant portion of the people who support Vermont Yankee do not think global warming is a threat.

This divide is not just an issue for Vermont.  It's a bigger issue. Global warming divides people in many areas, and it divides the pro-nuclear community. For example, one pro-nuclear discussion board has banned discussion of global warming because people were getting too acrimonious.

For myself, I rarely talk about global warming in context of Vermont Yankee.  I know the discussion could get too acrimonious, and I could alienate some of the plant's supporters. Apparently, McKibben doesn't talk about nuclear power in his "solve climate change" movement. He probably has the same reasons: talking about nuclear power could get too acrimonious, and he could alienate some of his supporters.

Are McKibben and I birds of a feather? At one level, yes.  We are two people, dealing with the huge climate-change divide and trying to keep our supporters . At another level, our strategies are quite different.

Though McKibben and I seem to be good illustrations for the problem, I don't want to keep writing only about the two of us. "How people speak about global warming" is a more  general issue.

The Difference

Census map of Vermont
If a pro-nuclear speaker decided to talk about nuclear energy as helping to prevent global warming, that person would gain some supporters and lose some.  If an environmentalist admitted that nuclear energy could help prevent global warming, that person would also gain some supporters and lose some.  So far, the situations seem parallel.

However, these strategies are not actually parallel.

If the nuclear supporter decides not to talk about global warming, that person is choosing her rhetoric, not her technology. I can make several arguments in favor of nuclear power. Global warming is one pro-nuclear argument, but I rarely use it. In other words, I select my rhetoric: global warming is very controversial, and it pulls the discussion into directions which are not relevant to Vermont Yankee.

However, if an environmentalist decides not to talk about nuclear for fear of losing followers, that person is  selecting technologies based on what the followers will accept. That is more than a rhetorical choice. The choice of technologies will affect the results of climate change strategies.

Another Environmentalist (maybe) for Nuclear Power

Stewart Brand 
Some environmentalists have embraced nuclear energy, but others have not.  I am cheered by the ones (like Stewart BrandGeorge Monbiot and Gwyneth Cravens) who endorse nuclear power.  I hope that McKibben may someday bridge the great climate-change divide and join them.

Still, in the bottom line, this is not about McKibben, and it's not about me.  The problem is the great Climate Change Divide. It's almost impossible for anyone to have  a truthful conversation amidst so much acrimony and hatred.

I started this post with the Whole Earth Catalog cover from 1969.  Steward Brand was the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog. For this cover, Brand  initiated a public campaign to have NASA release the then-rumored satellite photo of the sphere of Earth as seen from space, the first image of the "Whole Earth." He thought the image might be a powerful symbol, evoking a sense of shared destiny and adaptive strategies from people. As mentioned above, Stewart Brand is a supporter of nuclear energy.

Small update: I was pleased that blog post was cross-posted by The Energy Collective.  I am always delighted when they chose one of my posts for their site.  The Energy Collective version was also listed among Best of the Blogs at Nuclear Townhall.


Anonymous said...

It is worthwhile to note that even aside from GHG emissions, use of nuclear avoids other forms of pollution. No particulates or PAHs, for example. Even been to a coal plant equipped with scrubbers? Chances are you'll see a sludge pond covering vast amounts of land, and the stuff in it isn't very environmentally friendly. You get none of that with nuclear. Very small land use compared to equivalent generation capacity by things like wind turbines. Very little environmental impact in the fuel transport step (ever get stopped at a railroad crossing by a uranium train?). Overuse of depletable resources (petroleum, natural gas) is avoided. I know the emphasis here is on climate change, but in addition to helping on that aspect, nuclear helps the environment in other ways. Pointing that out can broaden the base of support among those skeptical of climate change, as well as those who are concerned about other aspects of environemnat impact.

Aaron Rizzio said...

It is interesting to note from the end of Tucker's column that the NYT's long time beat reporter on nuclear energy issues thinks that any attempt to promote nuclear energy amounts to a religion, and I don't think he means it in a good way.

There are many potential alliances to be made between, for example, organized labor and domestic manufacturers and power producers who may both be willing to embrace "Global Warming" politics if it means the imposition of a huge tariff on Chinese (PRC) manufactured imports (legal under WTO rules only for environmental reasons) which would be perfectly logical since the PRC is such an intensive coal and carbon generator any carbon tax imposed on the US would likely lead to additional "carbon outsourcing".

Since any logical domestic anti-AGW plan would include firstly backing out of coal with lots--~250GW(e)--of non-carbon baseload generation (and we know only one form of energy that fits the bill), revenue collected from the PRC carbon tariff (a 25% tariff on PRC manufactured imports would raise something like $100b) would go to decommissioning old pulverized coal power stations (say @$2000 per kW of installed capacity), the owners of which could then only re-invest the money on a replacement source of carbon-free baseload generation nicely capable of being plugged right into existing brownfield & local transmission-lines and switchyard infrastructure that already line both sides of the politically pivotal Ohio river valley.

Kit P said...

Stewart Brand, George Monbiot and Gwyneth Cravens are writers. While the subject is the environment, their work is not the scholarly work of environmental professionals.

The disconnect is the result of being concerned but not becoming educated about your concern. I have encountered many who get hysterical at the mere mention of radiation yet have not personal experience to justify this concern.

Anonymous said...

@Kit P
I see those people as intermediaries and starting points. If I´m curious or concerned about some subject I won´t start with the most in-depth study I can find, I wouldn´t have the knowledge yet to understand it. Starting with popularizing writers will help fill the chasm, the They clarify at the laymen´s level. I think these writers are very important because of this.


Steve Aplin said...

McKibben's position is typical of those in the "green" movement who have avoided (or who claim to have avoided) the mob-rush of antinuclear superstition. He's more concerned with preserving his precious group than with solving the problem which is his group's ostensible raison d'etre.

It's actually a typical problem of organizations: once established, their existence tends to trump their original organizing principle when it comes to choosing the specific activities in which they engage.

At this point, McKibben's group might serve a purpose in a rhetorical way, but it's probably a mistake to count on any meaningful help from them -- they're too bogged down with internal politics. I'll pay more attention to you, Meredith. You're advocating a solution, not just more handwringing.

The pressure for meaningful action is building. This year is the warmest on record in the U.S. NOAA just issued a report saying the severity of last year's Texas heat wave has its roots in AGW. What can we DO about this?

Anders said...

I think your argument would have merit if expansion of nuclear energy was the only thing needed to mitigate climate change. It's a very important factor no doubt but other things such as getting away from an inefficient fossil fuel-based transport system is equally crucial. To my eye it therefore becomes a moral obligation to inform the pro-nuclear community of the scientific facts of climate change and advocate solutions. We already have the benefit of agreeing on one of the major solutions and that should make it easier to get over denialism which otherwise is an attractive alternative to the fruitless despair of anti-nuclear environmentalists. It obviously won't be a piece of cake to get a SUV-driving conservative to accept that we probably have to move towards more public transport and that technology transition (including nuclear) is going to require massive government infrastructure investments, but I've yet to see any credible alternative strategy.

Aaron Rizzio said...

Actually the burning of coal for electricity generation has historically been responsible for more GHG emissions than automotive transport. We can substitute coal and baseload natural gas easily enough with fission and use the natural gas to run our cars and trucks. Biogas (from landfills & livestock), basically the same methane, could even be considered "renewable" under current regulations and burning it into carbon dioxide emissions is less potent of a GHG than methane itself.

Kit P said...

@ Twominds

Since you just posted on the internet, can I assume you use it to get information? What I do when reading an article written by a mere writer after reading the first paragraph is check the qualifications of the writer and then go to find the actually report on the internet.

What I have found over the last 20 years is that 9 out of 10 times that the only thing you can learn from the writer is the agenda of the writer.

For example on the day that it was available on the internet, I down loaded the NATIONAL ENERGY POLICY (May 2001), NAS report on AGW, the 2005 Energy Bill, California Energy Policy (about 2005) for a total of about 5000 pages of reading material.

I always find it amazing when writers publish an article faster than they could have possible read more than the first paragragh. My point twominds is that the writers are not clarifying anything just making up stuff. If you want to be well informed, do your home work rather that getting info those who are too lazy to do good research.

Since the subject is AGW, California Energy Policy spends lots of time talking about renewable energy to replace coal-based power. However the overarching ramifications of the policy is to ban new nuke plants and build lots of gas fired power plants. This is a very effective way to increase ghg emissions following the lead of Germany and Spain. Once you get past the pretty pictures of solar panels and wind turbines and check the results, the result in more ghg emissions.

The bottom line is that there are very few good science writers.

bill mckibben said...

This story about me isn't accurate. I've been opposed to Vermont Yankee for a long time--it's badly run, and its owners have repeatedly lied to people. I believe Vt. is completely capable of replacing (and far more) its power output with renewables, which is why my roof is covered with solar panels.

Bill McKibben

Karen Street said...

This is an important question, and I applaud your addressing it! I personally see an overlap which is important to examine, the unwillingness to challenge like-minded people, even when they are part of the culture wars which discourage so many of us from participating. To me, and I believe to most social scientists studying how we think about controversial social issues, the challenges are parallel. And while climate change is not the only important environmental concern, or the only important environmental concern for which nuclear is an important part of the solution, it is large enough that wriggling out of talking about it doesn't work for those of us who might be alive mid-century, when analysis indicates that most of North America might have moved into moderate to severe drought, just one example of what scientists are predicting (

Fortunately, all of the nuclear lists I'm on allow discussions of climate change, at least in terms of policy implications for nuclear and conversations with the public. Very few on the lists want to hear from those who claim that Earth is not warming, or that the cause is somehow "natural" (particular natural mechanism is omitted). These advocates are a minority of the posters, but produce the emotionally most memorable posts.

Kit P said...


Can I you use as a bad example? You are missing the point when citing ghg reduction properties of using manure from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO).

How many of your family members have died of cholera? Animal waste, including human is a huge environment problem. AGW is a tiny problem. It is true that biogas is one of the lowest cost sources of renewable energy and most cost effective ways to reduce ghg emission. The real benefit is capturing the nutrients and recycling it. It is possible to recover 100% of the phosphorous and 90% of nitrogen using anaerobic digestion in a compost like form that increases the efficiency of plant uptake of nutrients. More energy is saved nutrients recycling than produced by biogas.

Most of those concerned with AGW do not take a holistic approach to environment problems. They just look coal plants and the carbon cycle and not the nitrogen cycle.

The simplistic views of many environment says nuke, coal-based power, and CAFOs are bad. All these bad things provide energy and protein for a million people with a actual foot print of a few acres. They all have NPDES permits regulating water emissions.

I will admit that 100,000 cow CAFO is a really ugly thing but it make collecting the manure with automatic systems easier. I would be interested in how much land100,000 free range cows need and and the fate and transport of the manure. Look at statistics for dysentery and cholera for third world countries. A few CAFOs might reduce malnutrition too.

It is a matter of scale too. If we collect all the manure from dairy cow in the US, we can replace one large coal power plant. Not saying biogas is a bad thing, just saying it is not going to do too much to reduce coal use.

Gwyneth Cravens said...

Meredith, I appreciate your thoughtful comments. It has also been a puzzle to me that plenty of people in the nuclear world do not respect the tens of thousands of data points and numerous scientific studies going back decades that support the concept of anthropogenic global warming. However, carbon isotopes in the atmosphere reveal the source of the upsurge in heat-trapping CO2:

Utilities tend to own both fossil fuel plants and nuclear plants and so those nuclear people employed by such companies are often afraid to say anything bad about coal, oil, and gas. NEI, for example, has to tread carefully. The natgas industry has been happy to donate to environmental groups and anti-nuclear power groups--the Sierra Club being just one example.

My conversion to pro-nuclear took years and a lot of study and many conversations with scientists from many disciplines. The end notes in my book detail my sources and documents anyone is free to check. The book was vetted prior to publication by several scientists, radiation experts, et al.

Lastly, I want to commend Bill McKibben for his many years of nonstop, heartfelt devotion to waking tens of thousands of people up to the facts of anthropogenic global warming. For many, his message has been the first step toward understanding the reason that we need to stop burning fossil fuels and focus on low-carbon resources, one of which must inevitably be nuclear power--the only other provider of large-scale base-
load electricity.

Aaron Rizzio said...

@Kit P
Peak Phosphorous was something Alvin Weinberg used to worry about in the late 60's & early 70's; yet another reason to oppose ethanol fuels. Biogas, along with the "fossil" natural gas is best used as part of our transportation economy, that was my larger point. Biogas is by far the cleanest biofuel resource however.

Kit P said...


I am a big supporter of processing out the excess energy from corn to make ethanol leaving behind the protein as animal feed. This good engineering practice also produces organic fertilizer.

People who produce food and energy do not invent reasons to against something but look for better ways of doing it. This provides an alternative explanation to what Karen Street suggests. Since I work in nuclear, it would be human nature to think up reasons to be against coal-based power. However, when I look at how my utility, AEP, produces electricity with coal I am very impressed with the care they take protecting environment. Since I am in the business of checking my facts, it carries over to other things and judging how others produce things that my family needs.

I would tell Karen Street that AGW is a minor concern at best. North America has had many severe droughts over the last 10,000 years. However, during the last period of glaciations when a large part of North America were covered with ice and the rest of it was cold and dry.

Warm is better! Of course I grew up at a time fear mongering authors were talking about the next ice age. As we grow older we are more skeptical of claims the sky is falling.

@Gwyneth Cravens

Let me explain the your puzzle. AGW is a theory. Many years ago there was a theory that we could release energy from the atom by converting mass to energy. Today we produce power based on validating the theory. Energy released from the atom is not a well established property of matter just as is the temperature that water freezes and boils.

AGW is a very bad theory. It is one hell of a leap of logic to go from an atmosphere that provides a stable climate to thinking that small changes in a trace gas will change the stable system. For the record, that is what 'the tens of thousands of data points and numerous scientific studies going back decades' shows. It does not support your fear mongering.

A second reason is that people like Gwyneth Cravens have been fear mongering the nuclear industry for decades. While is nice that she has done some research and changed her mind about nuclear but style has not changed. Being skeptical of a dubious theory is a little different that denial of Hitlers atrocities.

A third reason it that electricity provides huge benefits.

Meredith Angwin said...

While this hearty discussion was taking place, I was busily emailing back and forth with McKibben about whether he had been misquoted, mis-represented, what to do about it, journalistic ethics, mutual friends, and more! Whew!

I have amended the blog post to include McKibben's statement, and I hope people realize that McKibben never said that Tucker had misquoted him, but more that the article gave the wrong impression of McKibben's views.

Okay. Whew! Now, joining this conversation for a change.

I fully agree that I can make excellent arguments for nuclear power without mentioning climate change, and I do so. I also worry that saying "nuclear isn't the complete answer," while true, is not particularly useful. NOTHING is the complete answer, and nuclear is a large part of the answer.

Kit, I disagree with you in two areas, though I don't think I will change your views, or you will change mine. The two areas are as follows:
1) I think global warming is caused by greenhouse gases, and is a problem.
2) "That person is just a writer" is not something I can agree with at all. Good writers don't "make things up." Good writers (and there are many of them, including Gwyneth Cravens) do research and effectively communicate what they have learned.

And of course, thank you all for your comments!

Aaron Rizzio said...

@Kit P
Sure we are living in a highly anomalous period of global warming called the Holocene interglacial about ~8-10 degrees centigrade warmer than the "normal" prevailing temperature over the past million years at least; perhaps a little warmer than the Medieval Warm Period but not quite as warm as the Holocene Optimum 6-9k years ago or the peak temperatures of the last interglacial ~130k years ago!

AGW politics aside coal emissions shorten more lives in the US alone than any conceivable nuclear accident or IPCC scenario. If you don't buy into AGW the SO2 fallout demographic death plumes surrounding most coal plants are VARY well documented and irrefutable. There are better things to do with coal than pulverize it and burn it e.g. IGCC, methanation, methanol, DME, F-T process diesel, jet fuel, and (MTG process) gasoline.

Meredith Angwin said...


I have a new IPad and perhaps clumsy fingers. I touched "publish comment" for Kit's comment on the IPad, and it deleted the comment instead! I must have touched "delete" by mistake. This touch screen stuff can be dangerous.

Luckily, Blogger sends me the comment in email also, so I was able to copy and paste from the email. Here is Kit's comment.

“I think global warming is caused by greenhouse gases, and is a problem. ”

I agree Meredith, no need to change my mind. Now can I get you to go out on a limb and quantify the problem. Let me start and make it personal. Would having an inadequate supply of energy during the winter be a problems? How about a adequate supply of clean drinking water? How about having enough food? Of course all of things are provided by poor writers like me.

On the other hand adjusting to 1-2 degrees of average temperature change over a century seem to be such a small problem that we would not know we even had such a problem if it were not for fear mongers.

“Good writers don't "make things up." ”

Again we agree.

So Meredith are you a believer in 'catastrophic' AGW?

If not then you are wrong about Gwyneth Cravens being a good writer because that is what she writes about just as she writes about the amount of people die from making our electricity in North America.

When Meredith writes about corrosion she demonstrates what it is to be a very good. While I am knowledgeable about corrosion issues at nuke plants, it is not a waste of my time to become better informed reading Meredith.

“are VARY well documented and irrefutable. ”

Aaron this concern is poorly documented and easily refuted. Credit for the graphics goes to Meredith.

“There are better things ”

That is a very weak argument against making power with coal. I will agree that there are many ways to meet are energy needs.

Meredith Angwin said...

Kit. A quick answer to your question. I don't think global warming is headed to being catastrophic very quickly. However, I do think that any change in seawater pH could be catastrophic. At this point I am going to do something you may think is a cop-out. Is seawater pH changing? I don't know. There seems to be some evidence, but I am not sure.

Now, why don't I study up on this? Well, I don't have time. I don't use global warming in my usual talks, So more expertise in the area would not help me. Meanwhile I have to investigate everything in the world, it seems.

I am a corrosion chemist who has now looked up the literature, interviewed people and published blog posts on several blogs about decommissioning nuclear plants. (it's not a billion-dollar jobs bonanza, as Governor Shumlin has claimed.)

Then there are the fish. In a debate, Gundersen claimed that due to Vermont Yankee, there are only 16 shad in the Connecticut River. (And, I suppose, someone caught every last one of them to get that number!) With a blog called "Yes Vermont Yankee" I needed to answer that. Again, this took getting data and interviewing people.

You see, I write about more than corrosion, so I am a writer/ reporter, in my way. However, I mostly write about subjects near to home, and keeping up with these matters keeps me very busy. So I haven't investigated the ocean acidification data, and I can only say it worries me.

I completely agree with you about the importance of energy in making life...well, staying alive. I think poverty and disease and (yes) overdependence on fossil fuels, which has led to several wars, including the part of WWII that was about the Japanese quest for oil...I think these are all bigger problems.

Aaron Rizzio said...

@Kit P
"Aaron this concern is poorly documented"

"poorly documented"?

We'll I read your guest post but I didn't actually see any peer reviewed literature backing up your bold assertion. Did I miss something?

You can hardly just dismiss concerns about the massive health impact of coal emissions with any credibility, this is a small sample of relevant scientific literature:

HSPH: Uncertainty and Variability in Health-Related Damages (PDF):

"In this study, we modeled the monetized damages associated with 407 coal-fired power plants in
the United States, focusing on premature mortality from fine particulate matter (PM2.5)."

From Gregory A. Wellenius, & Edgar A. Diaz, et al. "Electrocardiographic and respiratory responses to coal-fired
power plant emissions . . .":

"Source apportionment studies
in a number of US cities have found that coal-fired power
plants contribute significantly to ambient PM levels,primarily in the form of secondary sulfates formed from oxidation of SO2 and nitrogen oxides (NOx) from stack emissions (Laden et al., 2000; Maykut et al., 2003; Brown et al., 2007; Duvall et al., 2008; Sarnat et al., 2008). For example, Duvall et al. (2008) estimated that secondary
sulfate from coal combustion contributed 24–48% of fine
PM mass
at six sites across the United States."

"Short-term elevations in ambient particulate matter (PM)
have been specifically implicated in the triggering of acute
cardiovascular events including myocardial infarction
(MI) (Peters et al., 2001; Zanobetti and Schwartz, 2005), ventricular arrhythmias (Peters et al., 2000; Rich et al.,
2005), heart failure exacerbations (Schwartz and Morris,
1995; Dominici et al., 2006; Wellenius et al., 2006), and
ischemic stroke (Tsai et al., 2003; Wellenius et al., 2005)."

"Several source apportionment studies have reported that coal-fired power plants are significant contributors to sulfate, and as a result, fine particle mass in urban atmospheres (Watson et al., 2002; Chow et al., 2004)."

2001 Dec 1;35(23):4604-21.
Atmospheric aerosol over Vermont: chemical composition and sources.
Polissar AV, Hopke PK, Poirot RL.:

"[T]wo receptor modeling methods, PMF and PSCF, provides an effective way in identifying atmospheric aerosol sources and their likely locations. Emissions from different anthropogenic activities as well as secondary aerosol production are the main sources of aerosol measured in Vermont. Fuel [e.g. coal] combustion, local wood smoke, municipal waste incineration, and the secondary sulfate production collectively accounted for about 87% of the fine mass concentrations measured in Vermont.

Meredith would you happen to know offhand how many thermal power plants are located on CT river? How many dams? If Gundersen is claiming VY for the shad problem maybe these other obstacles had something to do with it.

VY backers & supporters should issue a challenge: they'll shut down the evil NPP just as soon as protesters can generate 4.7 million kWh of carbon free & particulate free electricity within any single year inside the state of VT. VY will be set for the next 20 years at least.

Meredith Angwin said...


There are several thermal plants on the Connecticut. I don't know how many, but there's at least a coal plant (Mt. Tom) not far downstream from Vermont Yankee, below Vernon Dam and just over the border in Massachusetts.

The dams themselves are a huge problem. Female shad are too heavy to swim up fish ladders, and they are sometimes trucked around the dams by fish and wildlife people! This is not natural for fish...Also, bass have found that if they wait near the outflow of a dam, they can catch lots of young shad with very little trouble. So the dams hurt the shad, both coming and going.

The biggest problem for the fish is the pumped storage project not far downstream of Vermont Yankee, the Northfield pumped storage project. When Howard Shaffer heard about Gundersen's remarks, Shaffer's first comment was something like "what about the effects of the Northfield pumped storage project?" Other people who are expert in fisheries have also written about this. Here's something worth reading, published just two days ago in Vermont Digger. Howard has a comment at the end of this post, answering the implication that Northfield Pumped Storage is allV Y's fault.

Aaron Rizzio said...

Thanks Meredith,

Above I should have said 4.7 BILLION kWh of low carbon/zero emission electricity inside VT, those pesky 3-order-of magnitude errors get me all the time.

Kit P said...

“Now, why don't I study up on this?”

No need, aced my masters level environmental chemistry course. Also read lots of papers on this subject.

Would you like to debate the fugacity of CO2 in seawater? Basicly (pun inteneded) the ocean is one huge alkaline system with huge buffering capacity. The pH varies slightly season depending on the amount of sunlight and nutrient in the water.

The ocean is not a small fresh water lake subject to acid raid. Should coal plants have pollution controls for SOx and should we remove sulfur from diesel fuel? Yes, of course but those are examples of problems that have already been fixed.

Understand how the environment affects nuke plants is very important and besides I find environmental science very interesting . For example, MIC. Those bugs just love to cause pin hole leaks in my safety related piping.

'Ocean acidification' is an example of fear mongering. It is a play on words building on the real problem of small fresh water lakes. So Meredith if you skip past the press releases and executive summary to read the science, I think you will be less concerned. It is a sad state of affairs that our scientist have to resort to get funding. Ever notice that NASA fear mongering on the hole in the ozone corresponded to congressional budget hearings?

“decommissioning nuclear plants ”

I am an expert of the environmental impact of building and tearing down nuke plants. The impact is quantified in terms of 'per kwh'. If you divide the fixed impact by the power generated over 60 years vice 40 years, make nuke plants last 60 years is the equivalent of an environmental free lunch.

“including the part of WWII that was about the Japanese quest for oil. ”

An important part of learning the lessons of history is to actually get the history right. Germany invaded Poland and France not for oil but because they were weaker. Japan invaded China invaded because China was weaker. Because of our isolationist policies, the US was also weak. The only thing we could do is not sell oil and scape metal to countries that were invading.

Things are different today. The US has assume military superiority. The US has over capacity to produce fossil, we are not overly dependent on fossil fuel. China is a different story. China is a different story. China is militarily inept. It depends on US Navy to keep the sea lanes open. It now must import coal and almost of all of its oil. China can not meet the power demand in either winter of summer.

China depends on the US, France, and Russia for nuclear technologies.

Meredith Angwin said...

Kit P and Aaron

Two things. Kit and Aaron are writing informative posts here, and I wish more people would see them. I mean, they are hidden away in the comment section. It isn't like this blog is obscure, it has about 9,000 page-views per month, couple hundred a day, but I do wonder how many people read the comments.

Anyhow...if I can figure this out, I will. I had Kit do a guest post once. Maybe Aaron can also do one? Maybe Aaron AND Kit (that would be something!) Just thinking.

Just a note to Kit. There are many possible views of the roots of WWII. I stand by my statement that Japan's quest for oil was part of the cause. Please don't imply that I don't "have the history right" if I say that Japan was resource-poor and that was part of their motivation for embarking on the war.

Mexico is weaker than the US, but we haven't been invading them in the last hundred years or so. "They invaded because that other country was weaker" is not a complete explanation of a war.

And though you may want to answer this, please let's drop this subject. I added one sentence about one reason that I think nuclear is better than fossil fuels, and I don't want this to comment thread to become a discussion of military history.

Kit P said...

Part 1

“Did I miss something?”

Yes , you are asking me to prove a negative. I know that no one has been hurt by radiation from commercial nuke plants in the US. I can not prove it. When I was responsible for radiation safety on my ship all I could do is provide records of low exposures. Proof of harm is the responsibility of those making the claim.

I do not dismiss something until after I read it. Did you read it? Here are links:

“we modeled”

Using old data!

“Fig. 1. Location of 407 coal-fired power plants and their annual emissions in 1999 of SO2 by quintile.”

Looking at one of the black dots, this coal plant put on scubbers in the year 2000 and had changed the source of coal to PRB which is now sulfur coal. Also there are very few people down wind because of the big mountains.

“PM2.5-Mortality Relationship
Although multiple publications have established a linkage between PM2.5 exposures and premature mortality,(24–26) we build our concentration-response function from a publication(27) that considers nonlinearities in this relationship and allows for characterization of uncertainties related to functional form while addressing questions about the time period in which effects are observed. Briefly, this study fit a number of piecewise linear functions to data from the Harvard Six Cities Study(25,26) with possible slope changes at 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 μg/m3 of annual average PM2.5,”

I have also read these references. Really old data and not link to coal plants. Before cars and truck had pollution controls and the CAA had not kicked in for factories.

This is a new study I have not read before, kind of funny actually.

“Short-term exposure to primary and unneutralized secondary PM formed from aged emissions from a coal-fired power plant, as simulated by the POS scenario, may be associated with increased risk of ventricular arrhythmias in susceptible animals.”

Is this the smoking gun? I wonder what will happen if you take some really sick lab animals and expose them to very high levels of pollutions.

“Rats with acute myocardial infarction “

“Results: POS exposure (fine particle mass = 219.1 µg/m(3); total sulfate = 172.5 µg/m(3); acidic sulfate = 132.5 µg/m(3); organic carbon = 50.9 µg/m(3)) ”

Wow, compare these levels to those in the above study. To find these levels of pollution you have to go to a third world country where heating and cooking with biomass. The solution is using coal to make electricity.

“Similar experiments at another power plant were attempted but were unsuccessful.”

I would like to know what was different. Could it be that the experiment was successful at showing pollution controls fixed the problem?

Kit P said...

Part 2

Six cities denote 30 year old data that has nothing to do with coal plants.

“Preliminary analyses of heart chemiluminescence data from Power Plant 1 suggested no health effects under any scenario, so experiments using the acute MI animal model were not carried out at Power Plant 1. ”

Then there is this,

“Given that coal-fired power plants in the United States have adopted controls to reduce the emission of primary particles, the relevance of toxicological studies using primary emission PM is unclear.”

“Aerosol chemical composition data for PM2.5 samples collected during the period from 1988 to 1995 at Underhill, VT, were analyzed. Sulfur and black carbon mass concentrations ranged from 0.01 to 6.5 microg m(-3) and from 0.05 to 2.2 microg m(-3), respectively, while the total fine aerosol mass concentration ranged from 0.2 to 51.1 microg m(-3). ”

Translation, old data shows Vermont has good air quality at this reporting station.

“indicating a strong local influence from residential wood combustion in northern New England and southwestern Quebec.”

That is called renewable energy. Not saying it is a problem.

“You can hardly just dismiss concerns about the massive health impact of coal emissions with any credibility, this is a small sample of relevant scientific literature: ”

Aaron I read all of your references and provided links. Not only did I not find any 'massive health impact' from coal, no health impacts from coal were documented at all.

Furthermore, since the CAA of 1970 air quality has be significantly improved so that we have very good air quality. Regulation in the last 5 years to remove sulfur from diesel fuel and stricter controls on coal-based emissions will improve air quality from good to good. The cost of the diminishing return regulations only serves to give places like China an economic advantage for pollution.

Aaron Rizzio said...


You're perfectly free to cut and paste all the citations to science journals dealing with harmful impacts of coal power. All I did was a simple web search and cut and paste job myself (that's why it is so out of alignment on the page) on a bunch of science articles. I wanted to include a link to the HSPH article
from 2009 but the blogger comment box won't let me use http links for some reason.

I'm a NH native from the Monadnock region so VY really benefits my neck of the woods even more than the extreme SE corner of VT.

I read the article you linked to @ too bad I imagine the FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain pump storage station doesn't draw 1/10 the public protest movement that VY does. I saw the video of the Trojan cow; nostalgic VT reminded me so much of the 70's. Too bad they were so quick to shut down Yankee Rowe the pumped storage wouldn't be necessary, but I suppose they don't make that connection. I'm sure the wind turbine interests are eager to replace VY and pump away their off-peak random load power, they think the pumps and gates operate randomly now!

I also understand that only ~1/2 of VT's electricity is generated in-state. Do you know where VT imports the balance of its demand? Hydro Quebec?

I have been doing a little bit of research on Entergy's proposed Enexus spin-off that fell through in 2010. Entergy's non-utility nuclear assets are

Vermont Yankee
Indian Point

am I correct?

Gwyneth Cravens said...

According to chemical oceanographers I have interviewed and papers written by chemical oceanographers, the excess CO2 released as billions of tons of fossil fuels are burned annually winds up mostly in the ocean, where it combines with water and becomes carbonic acid. It is well documented that in the shallower waters along coastlines the ocean is acidifying at a rapid rate. This affects all shelled marine organism, including oxygen-producing microorganisms that produce about 40% of the world's oxygen. The uptake of alkaline materials from dust storms and erosion of limestone formations, etc. is lagging behind the uptake of CO2 in the oceans. The impact is clearly seen among corals, affected also by the heating up of the ocean due to heat-trapping greenhouse gases produced by fossil fuel emissions, rice paddies, natural gas extraction, and livestock.

I get my information from real scientists who do real, peer-reviewed research published in peer-reviewed journals.

The fossil fuel industry is pouring lots of money into deceptive advertising and bogus think tanks and the war on science. It may be difficult to imagine why the fossil fuel industry would want to keep people in the dark about its toxic and ultimately climate-changing, ocean-altering emissions. I suggest that anyone in doubt follow the money. You will find that the websites that promote the fossil fuel agenda about climate, etc., are backed by Exxon-Mobile and other mega-corporations.

Meredith Angwin said...


Nobody seems to care much about the effects of that pumped storage project.

I THINK those were the plants involved in the Enexus spin-off idea, but I would have to look it up, and I have a fair amount on my plate right now.

However, at least I can help with the Vermont sources of electricity! Basically, it's about 1/3 VY, 1/3 HydroQuebec, and 1/3 "other" where other includes a fair amount (10% of demand) of in-state hydro. There's a really good chart from the Dept of Public Service a few years ago. The chart is out-of-date in that it shows VY as going away in 2012, and doesn't account for the 60 MW purchase from Seabrook. The new HQ contracts supply somewhat less power than the old contracts, but the same order of magnitude. They are shown on the chart. I have not seen a chart from DPS that is up to date, but I should probably look again. Until then, here's the link to the old chart
(SPEED and Standard Offer are renewable feed-in programs of various types, VT hydro is significant, we have two biomass plants etc.)

Meredith Angwin said...

Kit P and Gwyneth and Aaron

I wish I were enough of an expert to cut through to the real truth about coal pollution. I did work in that area for a while. I will just give my opinion, and I realize I am not backing it up enough.

Kit is right that the data used in the Harvard study Aaron quotes is old data (1999) but that is actually not very misleading, because as I recall, most of the ESP, baghouse installations were in the 80s and early 90s. Sulfur scrubbers came later, well, mostly later.

Cleaning up coal has been a continuing process. But 1999 data is relevant, IMHO. I am relying on memory here, though, about when the baghouses and ESPs mostly went in.

As for the ocean. It's not monolithic. Shallow areas, continental shelves, arctic areas, deep oceans. All different. I just don't know enough to agree with either Kit or Gwyneth on this one. I think there are vulnerable areas, but I can't prove it.

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments.

Aaron Rizzio said...

@Kit P
So now you concede that up to the beginning of the 21st century at least these health impacts were real? You simply quibble with the data from the 80's & 90's, it's no longer relevant because now coal has completely cleaned up its emissions so its just as good as fission? You do accept the basic science that inhaling SO2 is a bad thing right?

Mar 08, 2011
Report: U.S. coal power plants emit toxic air pollutants

"Coal-fired power plants release more toxic air pollutants such as arsenic and lead than any other U.S. industrial pollution source, says a report Tuesday by the American Lung Association.

"It's time that we end the 'toxic loophole' that has allowed coal-burning power plants to operate without any federal limits on emissions of mercury, arsenic, dioxin, acid gases such as hydrogen chloride and other dangerous pollutants," said Charles D. Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, in announcing the findings.

"Power plant pollution kills people," Connor said, citing a recent estimate that it causes 13,000 deaths each year. "It threatens the brains and nervous system of children. It can cause cancer, heart attacks and strokes."

"400 plants in 46 states spew 386,000 tons of 84 separate hazardous air pollutants. It adds:

Their emissions threaten the health of people who live near these plants, as well as those who live hundreds of miles away. Despite the concentration of these plants largely in the Midwest and Southeast, their toxic emissions threaten the air in communities nationwide.

The process of burning coal releases chemicals into the atmosphere that threaten not only the air Americans breathe, but the water they drink, the soil they live on and the food they eat. EPA classifies many of these chemicals as "hazardous air pollutants" or "air toxics," a category that means they are known or reasonably expected to harm human health or the environment or both. Hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants include:

• Acid gases, such as hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride;
• Benzene, toluene and other compounds;
• Dioxins and furans;
• Formaldehyde;
• Lead, arsenic, and other metals;
• Mercury;
• Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH); and
• Radioactive materials, like radium and uranium.

The report summarizes a technical analysis of coal-burning plant emissions prepared for the Lung Association by Environmental Health & Engineering Inc."

I wonder if you could produce a single peer reviewed paper that refutes the correlation of demographic county and regional mortality statistics (which take some time to gather and study) surrounding coal burning power plants? Does the INDUSTRY ITSELF ever issue even a denial in a single press release that you can find? What does that say do you think?

There is plenty of scientific dispute over global warming and industry denials. But even the coal industry doesn't dispute the science linking particulates with verifiable health impacts; according to the National Academies National Research Council 2009 report health costs externalities of coal production totaled >$100 billion per year in 2005.

Kit P said...

“Aaron quotes is old data (1999) but that is actually not very misleading, “

The data is from the 70s. The pollution is is from cars, trucks, and buses. It is certainly an organized lie if if you blame coal in the abstract but your data is from places that do not have coal plants but cars, trucks and buses.

“So now you concede that up to the beginning of the 21st century at least these health impacts were real? ”

Stop playing word games Aaron and read the links I provided.

Further more, the is the concept of 'no observable adverse effect level' or NOAEL. For example, we might be able to detect increased white blood cell count at 50 Rem so we set the limit for occupational workers at 5 Rem because we monitor them for health effects. We set the limit for everyone else at 5 mrem. In Japan, they will be monitoring children for known health effects from I-131 but I do not think we will see any.

It is the dose that make the poison. There is a systematic approach to evaluating environmental impact.

“Charles D. Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association ”

He is lying. It is a carefully crafted lie but a lie none the less. There is not one child in the US that has mercury levels above NOAEL.

If Charles D. Connor would write such things in a EIS he would be subject to criminal penalties.

“Radioactive materials, like radium and uranium ”

At level below the threshold of harm or NOAEL. We take nuclear safety very seriously and we must carefully design and operate nuke plants so we do not release fission products above levels of harm.

In the US, are customers are not harmed be producing power. We in the power industry are in the business of producing power not issue press release for every piece of junk science that is out there. Gwyneth Cravens and Aaron demonstrate the futility of this.

I have had such blog debates with an anti-nuke that went over 200 comments. I answered every question but at the end of the day there were too many unanswered questions.

Gwyneth Cravens said...

Latest from the publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on ocean acidification:

Kit P said...

@Gwyneth Cravens

Your link does not provide any information because it is just a press release. It can be assumed that you did not read it.

Here is more info:

“There, the pH value will drop to 7.8 by 2050. “Considerable changes in the ecosystem along the west coast of the USA are bound to occur,” explains Dr. Gruber.”

This is called not telling the truth. A model show something or other.
“A new computer model developed in Switzerland shows that the pH of the ocean waters off the west coast of the US will fall over the next four decades faster than previously thought.”

It appears that one model is scarier than the other, but the ocean is not becoming more acidic but less alkaline.

Here is a paper for any who would like to understand the science.

Aaron Rizzio said...

@Kit P
The concept of "No Observable Adverse Effect Level" or NOAEL is a useful one but of course the HSPH and NAS/NRC and Environmental Health & Engineering Inc studies did document OAEs -- as you know since you always read the reports.

The concept of "opportunity cost" is also a useful one. Utilities have invested tens of billions of dollars on retrofitting modern pollution control technologies into old generators over the past 40 years; a few years ago Merrimak, a relatively small generator in NH, spent $400 million on wet scrubbers which remove 90% SO2 emissions just since 2005, but now coal is being rapidly displaced by natural gas.

Concerning the release of uranium and thorium (along with their secular daughter products radon & radium) in coal fly ash, the absurdities of the concern over used fuel from NPP's compared to the routine releases of coal burners are brought into perspective. It was first pointed out in the late 70's, just as the no nukes movement was reaching a fever pitch, "Radiological Impact of Airborne Effluents" was published by a team of researchers from ORNL. Coal samples examined by the USGS indicate that both uranium and thorium exist naturally in coal deposits in a concentration of about 1-4ppm. Considering the US has burned about a billion tons of coal per year for the past 25 years or so that means that, conservatively, each year about 2000 tons each of uranium and thorium have been released into the environment as coal sludge behind impoundment dams or just vented into the atmosphere. This is a mass of radionuclides greater than the accumulated used fuel stockpile now much of it comparitively neatly arranged outside many NPPs these days. Used LWR fuel is typically >95% u238, the same natural isotope coal burning randomly injects into the biosphere by such a huge volume.

Jack Eddyfier said...

The OP is slightly exaggerated. There are plenty of conservatives who accept climate science, lots of pro-nuke lefties, and even some greenish eco-modernists. The ultra-green anti-nuke, so-called climate campaigners and the anti- climate campaigners generally never talk to each other and too many people try to force everyone into one camp or the other.

This issues is more acute over energy solutions. Anti-nukes promote a fantasy 100%- renewable energy future. Hard-core pro-nukes denounce to hubris of large-scale grid intermittent renewables. A 3rd group in the middle can't understand why we're not in one big tent.

Meredith Angwin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Meredith Angwin said...


I agree. There are lots of pro-nuke people in every political party, and we should meet in the middle in a big tent.

Thank you for sharing the goal (bringing pro-nuke people together). The goal is important.

It is easy to get caught in the crossfire of the "this way or the highway" people on both sides of the issue.


(I deleted this comment and re-entered it. The first version had a spelling error, and I cannot edit comments. The software won't allow it, which is probably a good thing, so bloggers can't edit the comments they receive.)

Erik Sundell said...

Bill McKibben, I'm like you for being a person I'm confident shares so much values with me. But there is one thing of technical concern to me, you wrote:

"I believe Vt. is completely capable of replacing (and far more) its power output with renewables, which is why my roof is covered with solar panels."

What concerns me is that with this accounting, by replacing nuclear instead of coal and gas, we do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions as nuclear is also a low-carbon source of energy.

For the sake of the world, I really hope we manage to clearly aim to become 100% fossil free as fast as possible before something else. I hope you can relate to this.