Friday, December 2, 2016

Entering 2017...a new era

Susan and I are off to the Bahamas for a week, where we hope to isolate ourselves from the “reality” that is occurring in America and the rest of the world.  As 2017 looms, interesting changes will most probably happen in everything, especially in energy policy and deployment for the next few years.  The new administration’s apparent rejection of climate change will have an impact on the inevitable transition to renewables.  How much of a setback will depend on many factors.  First of all, calling climate change a hoax does not make it go away.  As I said before, the biggest “hoax” has been the deliberate suppression and obstruction campaign hosted by Exxon, the fossil fuel industry, and the media.  Eventually, the US will join the rest of the world when the true economic, social, and political costs of ignorance and greed overwhelm the increasing damages that will happen to the planet. 

The dream that we will go back to burning coal, and increasing our use of oil, flows contrary to what is happening here and around the world.  “The renewable train has already left the station!” Renewables are already cheaper than most hard technologies, even without subsidies; and the “old” jobs saved or created can’t equal the huge potential of good, clean, local jobs.  Again, it’s a matter of who profits most…huge corporations or the 90% of people who want to work and have a fair chance in life.

As for the nuclear industry, things look grim, in spite of all the positive spin being thrown out there.  The “carbon-free” advantage just went out the window.  Finishing the four reactors under construction, the hope of new small modular reactors, thorium and advanced breeders, and even fusion will never happen because of the enormous costs associated with not just their development, but also with their necessary infrastructure and wastes.  Reprocessing is the basis of most of these new technologies, and it is very complex and expensive in so many ways, that without huge government subsidies, they won’t even begin to compete with the near term development of cheaper renewable generation and storage.

Then there is the issue of nuclear wastes.  A brief overview of some of the current issues show that costs will begin to mount astronomically, because we really haven’t addressed them in the past.  The new official Japanese government cost estimate for Fukushima has just risen to over $178 billion, and they still don’t know what they are going to do.  Check out the video (link below) of the new $1.5 containment structure for Chernobyl, which should enshroud the facility for 100 years; whether any progress on melted fuel removal occurs in that time frame is anybody’s guess, as well as at what cost.  The $2 billion accident at the 15-year old WIPP waste site in New Mexico sends our scientists back to the drawing board.  The cleanup of the radioactive dump in St. Louis, and the never-ending mess at Hanford, have both been pushed forward for 40+? years.  The new interest in Yucca Mountain does not change the scientific, technical, and social problems that need to be overcome.  Europe is experiences similar economic and technical obstacles to their nuclear programs.  In spite of the media push by the industry (the recent headlines of a diamond/nuclear waste battery solving the waste problem is absurd), it’s the same misinformation (post truth, or whatever you want to now call it) playing on the emotions of the ignorant masses wanting simple solutions to very complex and expensive problems. 

On a positive note, the Humboldt Bay Nuclear Power Plant is now in its final major decommissioning phase.  Everything above ground has been pretty much deconstructed and trucked off to Texas and Utah. The remaining below grade contaminated concrete reactor caisson, as well as the soil, will be removed from a hole 120 feet in diameter, and 190 feet deep.  All this will be sorted, packaged, and shipped away. This phase will cost about $300 million, involve about 3000 truckloads to Texas, and take another 15 months to complete.  Following that, final site restoration work will begin in earnest.  Surprisingly PG&E is still near the estimated budget of $1.18 billion.

Another bright note is that in spite of our tax dollars being spent on these fiascos, the future of a lot of our electricity use will be dictated by businesses (like Apple, Google, GM, Walmart, etc, who find it cheaper to generate their own electricity), individuals who will cut into utility profits with their small rooftop systems, the growth of local community based generation, and the huge savings from energy efficiency.  I am fortunate to live in California, which through its example, will lead the nation forward.  There are going to be major changes, and it’s too bad a lot of our tax dollars probably won’t be directed to this clean, affordable, and sustainable future.  As usual, I am optimistic that people will eventually figure out that the quality of the water they drink, the air that they breath, and the landscape they pass on to their children is worth more than the corporate profits of the few.  It’s called a revolution, and the citizens are arming themselves in more ways than one.

Power to the people; and God bless America!

Just a few:

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