It's a conspiracy I tells ya!

Derek Wall, principal speaker of the Green Party of England and Wales, appeared on 18 Doughty Street's Cross Talk programme on the 12th July, where he faces simultaneous questioning from a left wing angle by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and from a right wing angle by Iain Dale.

Okay, so we don't expect much lucidity from the head honcho of the Green Party. We barely expect it from the Lib Dems and they're mainstream. But this guy really seemed off it. Yasmin asked him at one point to list the straight forward reasons behind their anti-nuclear position. So we get terrorism, waste, etc, but apparently the Green Party of England and Wales also opposes nuclear power because it is a threat to civil liberties. Wall seems to believe that a "nuclear state" will have to cut back on civil liberties for some reason (probably because he knows his lot will wage a campaign of what is euphemistically called "direct action" ie aggrevated trespass, intimidation, vandalism, and sometimes full blown terrorism).

At its heart, this seems to come from the mindset that nuclear power and nuclear weapons are as intertwined as electric and magnetic fields; that one cannot exist without the other. Derek Wall seems unable to disconnect the two. This is exemplified, not only by his use of the term "nuclear state" to describe a country with nuclear power stations, when it is usually for countries with nuclear weapons, but also by his response to Iain's question on why some European countries like Denmark had slowed their renewables project. He suggested it's just because they have "right wing governments that obviously prefer nuclear power and nuclear weapons". Of course, in the case of Denmark, the statement is ridiculous anyway because that country has neither.

It's almost a throwback to the acid soaked 60s mentality of raging against the perceived "military-industrial complex". Nuclear power cannot just be seen a technology for generating electricity. It can only be seen as part of "The Machine" controlled by moustache twirling villains hell bent on destroying the planet and oppressing the people for some reason.

Bring back Caroline Lucas. At least she appeared somewhat rational in her opinions, even if she was woefully misinformed.

The one benefit though is it makes you somewhat appreciative of the lot we have in government. At least they're not the Greens.

Have the Tories just saved their immortal souls?

The Conservative's Quality of Life report is coming out soon, part of the blitz of reports launched by Cammy with policy ideas for the party to pick and choose as they please (essentially a smart way of testing the waters before commiting to anything). I don't know how it got that name because it seems to be more of a report on Greeniness.

The report was written by John Gummer (eww!) and Zac Goldsmith (triple eww!). Naturally, our hopes were not set high. However, latest leaks appear to suggest it isn't as bad as we think. If these leaks are true, Gummer managed to swing Goldsmith round to accepting nuclear power.
Gummer, whose constituency includes the Sizewell B nuclear power station, will also signal Tory support for nuclear power. Tests will be set for the industry, but Cameron will be given an escape route from his description of nuclear power as an option of 'last resort'.

Signing up to nuclear power marks a major shift for Goldsmith. Only three months ago, he told The Observer that he would 'fight like hell' if the party declared that nuclear power was good.

Good news! I'll give Goldsmith credit for moderated, though I would still prefer if Susan Kramer held her seat (not often I want a LibDem hold).

EDIT: Whoops! Spoke too soon.
The group will also suggest scrapping Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of the nation's success in favour of a model that measures people's happiness drawn up up by Friends of the Earth.
Never mind the twatological use of "happiness" as some kind of scientifically measureable quantity, if Cammy chooses to trust Friends of the Earth's assessment of the success of the nation, then the Conservatives are due for a 97ing. But let's give him the chance to reject this first. Iain Dale has suggested Cammy is rejecting large sections of the report anyway on the grounds that G&G are muppets (it's why I'd reject it).

How passive does passive have to be?

It's a cerebral day (easy to happen when you've been waiting two days for the production techs to change a simple needle valve on top of a well head).

Safety mechanisms are often broken down into two categories: active and passive. Active is where an operator or an automatic system must sense and take action to correct for a fault. Passive is where such action will happen without the need for anyone or anything to decide where it happens.

There are obvious examples of active and passive safety. Active safety was a pump must be activated in order to supply emergency cooling water. Passive safety is where a the natural effect of Doppler broadening will cause a pebble bed reactor to become sub-critical if the temperature rises too high, such as in the case of a loss of coolant accident.

But what about the more grey areas? In boiling water reactors, control rods are inserted from below due to the fact that attempting to control the reaction from the steam laden upper portion of the core is ineffective. To aid safety, these control rods are spring loaded. During operation, they are withdrawn against the resistance of the springs trying to push them back in.

Is this passive safety? From one perspective it is. In the event of a total loss of electrical power to the control system, the springs will force the control rods into the core without any outside assistance. However, this is still dependent on the operation of engineered components unlike the PBR system, which depends solely on the immutable Laws of Physics.

The PBR case is an example of inherent safety. The BWR case is an example of a system designed to fail safe. Can these two types of safety be described in the same manner?

Is nuclear the most independent energy source?

All energy sources rely on natural resources to make them go. Nuclear relies on actinides. Coal, oil and gas rely on their respective fossil fuels. Wind relies on wind, solar on sunlight, geothermal on subsurface heat. This means that the economics of each power source is dependent upon these inputs to a large degree. If fossil fuels are expensive in a particular area, the fossil fuel economics will be comparatively poor. If availability of wind or sunlight is poor, then ditto for those energy sources.

Nuclear is like fossil fuels in that it depends on a market commodity, whose price can vary. However, unlike fossil fuels, it is not vulnerable overall to that price because the requirement for fuel is only a small fraction of the overall cost. Like renewables, nuclear is mostly capital intensive, with most of the money going into building the power station in the first place. However, despite this, nuclear avoids the pitfalls of renewables of being dependent upon the quality of natural goods in the area.

It looks like nuclear is relatively independent of either critical factor for other energy sources. Does this mean that nuclear economics should be the least variable of all energy economics?

Time to get tactical

I said before that the nuclear vote should rally behind the Conservatives as the best hope of getting new nuclear build in Britain. The situation may have changed. Teddy Bear Brown has bounced like a ping pong ball. The Conservatives have had a row over grammar schools and have had embarassingly disappointing results in two high profile by-elections. The knives are now out for Cammy.

Whether or not Cammy holds on, the very fact that the public see the Tory desire for self-destruction reappearing once more means the next election is now lost. Given the lead they need due to the Labour bias in the electoral system, it is unlikely they will emerge from the next general election as the largest party. Therefore a Conservative government, even a minority one, is no longer on the table.

So the credible choices are Labour majority government or Lab-Lib coalition. Therefore, the nuclear vote must now rally behind Labour to ensure they hold their majority at the next election. It's our best hope.

A side note on the possible confidence motion for Cammy: what planet are these MPs living on? Do they really believe for a moment that ousting a leader mid term for the second parliament in a row would actually do anything for the party other than damage it? If the election is lost with Cammy, changing the leader will not save it. It will simply make the humiliation of defeat even worse and damage the party's chances of rebuilding in the aftermath. Not only that, but rather than allowing Cammy to be the one to fall on his sword after the election, someone else will have to do it, meaning the Conservatives are wasting a potential talent in a no-hoper election.

Whatever have to the British stiff upper lip? I thought Conservatives of all people would be the ones to appreciate that. Take your defeat like men! You can either lose with dignity, or lose in disgrace.

The search goes on

I previously posted about decorating a swimming pool with Cerenkov radiation. Cerenkov radiation is cool. My original suggestion was to use strontium-90 because it is a (almost) pure beta emitter (aka emission of a high energy electron). I had to rule out the idea, because yttrium-90, the decay product of strontium-90, emits powerful gamma emission, which cannot be realistically be shielded by the water.

But some more in depth calculation reveals a further reason to reject strontium-90.

Cerenkov radiation is caused by sub-atomic particles exceeding the speed of light in water. The speed of light in water is 0.75 times the speed of light in vacuum (the maximum speed in the universe). The question is how much energy an electron would need to achieve this speed.

In 1905, Einstein had an Annus Mirabilis. As part of that, he published his Theory of Special Relativity. Within that included an important equation on the energy of a particle.

E is the energy of the particle. m0 is the mass of the electron. c is the speed of light in vacuum. v is the speed of the electron. Putting in all these numbers, an electron travelling at 0.75 times the speed of light will have an energy of 0.775 MeV. But the electrons from the decay of strontium-90 is 0.55 MeV. This means these electrons have insufficient energy to exceed the speed of light. So in fact strontium-90 is not capable of generating Cerenkov radiation in the first place.

Oh well, back to the old drawing board.

Define "unsafe"

I sense that it may be necessary to add the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa incident to the Other accidents page, since it has been exploited by the fuddites far more than I had (naively) expected. Over at NEI Nuclear Notes, a commenter is milking it for all its worth.
Secondly, NEI can try to mitigate reality all they want...this quake has shown nuclear reactors to be unsafe, and with each passing hour, the number of SIGNIFICANT issues at the world's largest reactor site continue to grow.

This raises one important question: what does "unsafe" mean? Does it mean that the device is impervious to all forms of damage and fault? Or does it mean that the device is suitably designed so as to prevent harm to the public?

It is universally agreed that cars themselves are safer than they were decades ago. That is not just due to inventions such as seat belts and airbags. It is also due to the engineering of the vehicle itself. Such advancements are commonly made the subject of some adverts.

One such advancement is the inclusion of crumple zones. These are areas of structure in the front of the car built to collapse in the event of an impact. In collapse, they absorb the energy of collision, thereby ensuring it does not pass to the occupants, hurting or killing them. The car essentially is designed to fail, sacrificing itself, in order to save the occupants.

So safety of cars was improved by allowing them to be more heavily damaged from collisions. The importance of this is the fact that those automotive engineers had a very clear idea as to what constitutes safety. Safety is about protecting people from harm, not about protecting equipment.

If we apply this to Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, we reach one inescapable conclusion: the power station is safe. This is because no-one has been hurt as a result of it. Some equipment, especially the transformer that caught fire (not a nuclear event anyway), was damaged. Some LLW containers were knocked over (and I'm sure LLW storage methods will be reviewed), but the radioactivity released was less than the radioactivity from the hordes of feral journalists hunting down the Tepco officials for a statement.

Did the earthquake do damage to other parts of the massive facility? There's a good possibility of that and safety critical equipment should be checked as soon as possible. But equipment fault does not equate to lack of safety as long as it does not endanger the public.

We have no evidence of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa bringing credible threat to the public, certainly not on the scale of the devastating earthquake itself, which has killed 8 people and injured hundreds more. Therefore, to say the power station is unsafe, is pure FUD.

On a more general note, Japan has been waiting a long time for an overdue earthquake. Let us hope this was it.

BBC loves homeopathy

So no wonder they pounce upon this opportunity with a particularly polemical article.
Japan is the only country to have suffered a full-scale nuclear attack, and the only country to have suffered massive casualties from radioactive fallout.

It seems odd, then, that it is so addicted to nuclear energy, operating more reactors than any other country after the United States and France.

This is pathetic. If someone almost drowns in a swimming pool, it doesn't mean they stop drinking water, or if they get stabbed during a mugging, they suddenly decide to stop using cutlery (it might have a bit at first, but after a while, they'd be expected to get over it).

The Japanese are often at the forefront of technological progress. You don't reach this point by embracing CND superstitution and maintaining that because nuclear weapons brought horrible death and destruction upon your country, you cannot use a beneficial new technology that harnesses energy from the same source.

Then there's the use of the word "addicted". A more shameless use of negative connotations there is not. And only 30% of their electricity comes from nuclear power stations anyway, so their dependency is exaggerated (the Beeb exaggerating? Surely not!).

Every day in the North Sea, some platform spills a few barrels of hazardous chemicals overboard and at best gets a strongly worded letter from the DTI about it. Nobody else cares. But it seems the decades old habit of running around like a headless chicken at the mention of the words "nuclear" and "radioactive" lives on.

Homeopathic godzilla

There is word coming out from TEPCO about the scale of the leak from Kashiwazaki-Kariwa. It is may have come from LLW storage drums, which tipped over due to the quake. 1.5m³ total was discharged into the Sea of Japan with a total activity of 60 kBq. In other words, a similar activity to the human body. Of course, this is now diluted across a very large expanse of water making it negligible.

Unless of course you're one of those naive people, conned into buying distilled water in slick packaging because it is branded "homeopathic" (because technically we could argue the Sea of Japan is now radioactive in a homeopathic sense), there is nothing to worry about.

Japanese earthquake causes coolant water leak

Almost breaking news from the BBC and AFP. The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, the world's largest nuclear power station with a combined output of over 8GWe from its 7 BWR units, was close to the epicentre of the earthquake.

No details on exactly the source of the leak nor any figures on the levels of radioactivity released (unlikely in mass media articles anyway). The leaked water is said to have been released into the sea and in both articles, TEPCO is quoted as saying the quantity was not hazardous.

There was also a large fire, again of unspecified origin, though it is likely to have been on the generator side of the process.

We'll see what more information comes out in the coming days.

CNN confirms it was a transformer fire. It also says 315 US gallons of water was released. No indication of the total activity of that volume.

Edit edit:
It appears that 315 gal is the total amount that was spilled. The discharged volume was actually just 1½ litres, which is 0.4 gal, or less than 1% of a barrel.

Edit edit edit:
NEI Nuclear Notes is on the case. Still no mention of the origins of the water.

Thermal physics and fusion

A letter to the Scotsman published over at SONE gets it a bit wrong.

the temperature required for a deuterium-tritium reaction is about 300 million degrees, not 100. This is nearly 20 times hotter than the temperature at the centre of the Sun. A device containing plasma at such a temperature has a high potential for catastrophic failure.
This is the classic mistake of confusing heat and temperature. Heat is the energy in matter that gives it its temperature. Temperature is the behaviour of the particles of the matter due to that heat. If you have bath tub full of hot water and a lit match, the flame of the match will have a higher temperature, but because there is so little of the gases, which cause the flame, the actual amount of energy is very limited. The bath tub on the other hand, may be relatively cool, but because there is so much water, there is a lot of heat.

The torus of plasma in a fusion reactor actually has a very small mass, less than a gram in the case of ITER. So even though it is at a phenomenally high temperature, the total energy is not as much as you might expect. If confinement fails, the torus rapidly expands and cools in the process. That's adiabatic expansion at work.

Almost a good idea

One of the coolest things about nuclear reactors is Cerenkov radiation. The Theory of Special Relativity is pretty unambiguous about the speed of light in vacuum. It is unreachable. Any object attempting to approach the speed of light will have to be fed an enormous amount of energy. Since energy and mass are the same, the object will get heavier as it speeds up. This means it takes yet more energy to get it to speed up further, which means it will get heavier still and so on. In order to reach the speed of light, the object will need infinite energy, something which is of course impossible.

So even high energy beta particles spewed from decaying radionuclides, travelling as fast at 290 million metres per second, will still be below the speed of light in vacuum.

However, 200 million metres per second is faster than the speed of light in water. And when an electron travels faster than the speed of light the same thing happens as when an aircraft or a bullet travels faster than the speed of sound. There is a sonic boom, or in this case a luminal boom. This takes the form of bright blue glow known as Cerenkov radiation.

The important question that must now be asked about this phenomenon is, how can this be used for decorative purposes? The obvious answer is in lighting for a swimming pool. A swimming pool illuminated from the bottom by an eerie blue glow would be awesome.

Strontium-90 would be a rather handy isotope to use. It is a pure beta emitter, which means that the radiation will not penetrate beyond a few centimetres. Strontium can also be manufactured into the durable ceramic, strontium titanate. Small sheets of high enriched ceramic could be placed just above the bottom of the pool. A mesh barrier would be placed a few centimetres above the ceramic blocks to ensure no swimmers got within range of the radiation.

So you have a cool lighting setup and free heating to go along with it.

Unfortunately, there is a problem with this. Strontium-90 emits purely beta radiation but it decays to yttrium-90, which emits beta radiation along with some powerful gamma radiation. A few centimetres of water is not going to shield against that.

You could also raise questions about high energy ultraviolet from Cerenkov radiation, but given how many people regularly like to lie in ultraviolet grills, this particular fact wasn't considered a showstopper.

Oh well, back to the drawing board for the next million dollar idea.

I was right

I said before that the Cammy and the Conservatives are the best bet for seeing Generation III+ in Britain.

It turns out I was correct after all. Although Tony Blair may have been a cause for optimism, tomorrow he is gone, to be replaced by Gordon Brown. El Gordo is not someone I was that worried about either. He seemed to fairly behind Blair's position on this. However, when it comes to the Labour party, you must be careful not to confuse backing up with back stabbing.

But now, Harriet Harperson has been made the deputy leader of the Labour party and by all accounts, she is decidedly anti-nuclear. That rather wrecks everything. El Gordo might have supported nuclear power in the right circumstances, but I don't think he's that behind the cause to want to pick a fight with his new deputy.

That therefore leaves us with only one party in British politics willing to entertain the idea. All our hopes rest on Cammy.

Political and energy independence are different priorities

So it seems according to our new Exalted First Minister. Hunterston B trips after a control sensor fault. This particular development is 30 years old and is coming to the end of its life. Naturally, especially given it's an AGR, is getting a little long in the tooth. It will be shutdown for good in 2011 as planned as it is, unlike some other AGRs, not in a fit enough state to continue for much longer.

Alex Salmond has ruled out any new nuclear power stations in Scotland, a decision not likely to be reversed now the Greens are his partners in Holyrood (Will the last person to leave Scotland please turn out the lights?). This means that the home nation's position in the continental energy market will change over the coming decades. The idea that a bunch of windmills will achieve the Exalted First Minister's "Green Energy Day" is delusional. Tidal power makes reduces it from merely delusional to merely wishful thinking. Still, the fact remains there is a large energy gap to be filled. 40% of Scotland's installed capacity is nuclear. If that is allowed to disappear over the next decade or so, at the same time North Sea hydrocarbons will decline, where is the rest of the energy going to come from?

The only option is England of course. But England isn't looking much healthier either, unless some momentum builds in Westminster and soon. El Gordo is not hopeless cause in this regard, but if the deputy leadership contest is any indication, he may not be as reliable as we might hope. If Scotland does go independent, then the Conservatives are a shoe in to take control of Westminster and that may give cause for cautious optimism.

Of course, if El Gordo or Cammy are lame ducks, there is always France. Flamanville-3 on the way and President Sarkozy is a relatively safe bet for seeing more in the future.

It always comes down to the French it seems. So under Alex Salmond's leadership, Scotland may become a politically independent country, but his determination to match that with energy independence seems rather lackluster. If you made the Liberal Democrats support independence, then they would be indistinguishable for the Scottish National Party. Both are wet, populist, scientifically illiterate and like local income tax.

Incidentally, in the comments section in that Scotsman article, the Greenpeace random number generator is coming back into play with 6 figure waste lifetimes being bandied about. How sad and ignorant!

Nuclear renaissance on BBC News 24

A recent episode of Our World entitled 'Old Man Atom' has just aired on News 24. Not entirely expected of the BBC, it was rather positive in its outlook. The beginning focused on a GE facility in North Carolina, which manufactures fuel rods for export. According to the program, the business is thriving as demand has never been higher.

We then moved onto India, insatiably ravenous for more reliable supplies of electricity. After the nuclear walls have come down between the West and India over its weapons program, GE forsees new opportunities for nuclear expansion on the sub-continent, which is desparately needed to curb the damaging power cuts constantly being faced.

There was, however, a public perception problem in Mumbai as a significant number of people there were not really aware of the significance of nuclear energy in electricity generation and merely saw it as a tools of the military. One person was not even aware India used nuclear power for electricity at all (it's not too shocking really when you consider neither Sarkozy nor Royal knew of its importance to country of which they wanted to be president).

A particularly interesting part was the focus on India's attempts to develop thorium reactors as a way of improving energy security and ensuring non-proliferation (the regular fuel cycle isn't particularly useful either, but with thorium it's pretty much impossible). These reactors were touted as the future of energy in India. I was just impressed that a Beeboid had heard of thorium at all.

Kirk will be pleased.

It was an interesting programme and a reassuring one to any nuclear supporter. The attitude to nuclear power was positive. The featured sites looked professional. The personnel, all speaking up for their energy source, were likeable. Anyone would leave with the impression that a nuclear renaissance was underway and just warming up.

The nuclear crash

A month ago, I argued that the Conservatives were a safer bet when it comes to getting more nuclear power stations in the UK. One of my arguments was that the Conservative back benches are more favourable than the front benches meaning the pressure would be on a Conservative government to push more towards nuclear as compared to a Labour government, which may be hindered by the back benches and especially any potential coalition partners (no-one other than the Ulster Unionists like the Tories so there's no worry about coalition partners with a Conservative Hung Parliament).

Mark Field, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, validates my point by writing a neat article arguing for stronger support for nuclear power.

A lot of what he said we've been saying for ages of course, but there were a few interestings things. One point was how nuclear proponents in Britain are not attacking the opposition head on with their doom-mongering and falsehoods, but rather trying to sidestep their issues by arguing the situation with global warming and energy security is so dire we have no choice but to accept these negatives.

Another point, which got me thinking, was the factors that led to the halt in nuclear construction in the 1980s. It is easy to always blame an overburdeonsome regulatory framework, one which imposed unecessary and unproductive red tape on the industry, on this dry spell. That is of course a major factor, but there are other issues of the time, namely the oil shock, and the 1980s high interest rates.

Mark correctly points out that the oil shock caused a dramatic reduction in energy consumption. Lower than expected demand is not good for nuclear. Similarly, high interest rates affect nuclear economics far more dramatically than fossil fuels.

This is because of the difference between CAPEX, capital expenditure, and OPEX, operating expenditure. In the context of power stations, CAPEX would be the cost of building the facility in the first place, while OPEX is the cost of running the facility, including the cost of the fuel.

Comparing fossil fuels and nuclear, one thing becomes abundently clear: fossil fuels are OPEX intensive, while nuclear is CAPEX intensive. Fossil fuels need a constant supply of fuel to keep the plant going, so they have the burdeon of this constant expense throughout their life. Nuclear fuel on the other hand is only a tiny proportion of the overall cost. The energy density of uranium is so great that a few tonnes of uranium will keep a reactor going for a year. However, a nuclear reactor, with all its sophistication (anyone can burn some coal, but making uranium go critical on water is not a job for the sloppy) and its need for containment structures and the like, entails comparatively higher construction costs.

This is to nuclear's disadvantage. It's better to be OPEX intensive than CAPEX intensive. The neat thing about being OPEX intensive is that you spend your money as you are making money. Sure the incessent cost of the fuel must be a pain, but at least your generating power - and revenue - as you buy. If you're CAPEX intensive, all your money is paid up front and you have to hope your forecasts were correct because you are dependent on many years of production to earn back the money.

The drop in consumption after the oil shock is a problem for a CAPEX intensive energy source since there is less demand for its energy without a corresponding drop in investment. For a fossil fuel power station running on reduced power because of a lower than forecast market demand, at least they have the consolation of not having to pay as much for fuel, reducing OPEX. And naturally, since those fat loans are going to be used to cover CAPEX rather than OPEX, it goes without saying that the high interest rates of the 1980s were not kind to nuclear prospects.

So that's another couple of reasons to add to the grand list of factors bringing about the nuclear crash.
  • The oil shock reducing energy demand.
  • High interest rates.
  • High regulatory burgeon.
  • Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.
  • CND smears.

What we're up against

A short, rather laughable tirade over at BAUT.
The toxic wastes from atomic power systems will poison planet Earth for thousands of years to come. Our soil and water are being poisoned by the widespread burying of nuclear waste on land and sea! Atomic energy is always in conflict with all Life, because the very nature of 'atom-splitting' is destruction not construction. For this reason, it can never be used for peace or peaceful activities. How can peace be achieved by that which is by nature unpeaceful? Splitting atoms disrupts the flow of force through them.

Never mind the tired regurgitation of blatantly misleading hyperbole about waste and pollution at the beginning. What's really interesting is the pseudo-scientific tone of the rest of it. Nuclear fission is apparently bad because splitting atoms is "in conflict with all Life" because it is "destruction not construction".

Now, what the hell does that have to do with anything?

Natural radioactive decay, the kind of decay, which fuelled the primordial vents from where life first sprang, is the destruction of atoms. Metabolism is the destruction of all sorts of molecules.

This really sums up the quasi-religious core at the heart of many environmentalists. Allusions to vague concepts such as "the flow of force" through atoms are as far removed from really scientific basis as you can get. And yet this particular guy is basing his nuclear opposition on that.

In a scientific debate, we can run circles around your average environmentalists. But if they fuel their position with this New Age, junk science rubbish, how are we supposed to tackle them. If nuclear must be opposed because splitting atoms disrupts the flow of force through them, given that the statement is nonsense, how can we argue against it.

You show an argument is nonsense, when that is what it is meant to be from the start.

Mandate to blog

For those not familiar with affairs of B-stories in British politics, the situation is this:

  • David Cameron MP, leader of the Conservative party and HM Loyal Opposition in the House of Commons, started a video blog to better communicate to the electorate without having to depend on the rather undependable mainstream media. Good idea.
  • Sion Simon, labour MP for the constituency of Birmingham Erdington, didn't like it.
  • Simon prepared a spoof video in which he parodied Cameron by doing a poorly written rap, which included offering to sell his children and prostitute his wife.
  • Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East, prolific blogger, posted the video on YouTube.
  • The video got multiple thousand hits.
  • The spreading of the word that Cameron sells his children and prostitutes his wife caused massive controversy.
  • Simon appeared on Sky News to answer questions about his video.
And here it is.

It wasn't the best of interviews from the perspective of the Labour spin doctors, since he came off as rather petulant. But more importantly, he said some things that were rather questionable.

Tom's a proper blogger, who's been a computer blogger for years; Britain's first blogging MP. He's serious about the video blogging. It's a medium he's committed to. I, for instance, am not particularly interested in blogging. It's not my thing. Neither is David Cameron. He self-evidently isn't. His blogs, what he talks about, is empty, is meaningless, is shallow. It's patronising. It's just the way to turn young people off. The idea that politicians only engage with the medium when it's got something in it for them. If you're really serious about it, do it properly. If you don't mean it, don't do it.

It is pretty clear Simon disapproves of Webcameron. Specifically, there are two criticisms. The first really isn't a problem with the blog itself, but with Cameron's act in general, which is faithfully reproduced in the blog. So we'll ignore that. The second is that Cameron isn't really a committed blogger, but is merely using the blog to further his own ends (which involves getting his message across to the electorate so that they might vote his party into government at the next general election).

In Simon's view this is wrong. It is apparently only right and proper to blog when the blogging is an end in itself, as is supposed to be the case with Tom Watson, rather than when blogging is purely a means to an end (such as conveying your message to advance the standing of your party), as in the case of Cameron.

I will agree with Simon that I don't think Cameron is committed to the medium and that he is only using it because he thinks it will serve his political aims. But I fail to see any problem. You don't have to be "committed" to the medium to use it. As Simon confesses, he is not a blogger himself. So I suppose we can forgive him for missing the point completely. The point of blogging is to communicate with the wider world,free from the limitations and exclusivity of the mainstream media. If you have something you want people to hear, you can blog. David Cameron is in that position. He has something he wants to say to the electorate and he uses his blog to say it.

That's what it's about. If it wasn't, then we could criticise the countless blogs, some created years ago, that have seen only one post. The bloggers who created them had something to say on that day, and then nothing after that. We can safely say they aren't committed to medium (assuming they are still alive and well and capable of blogging if they wanted). Does Sion Simon disapprove of their rather limited blogging activities?

Many prolific bloggers enjoy blogging for its own sake in addition to the message they're conveying. But that isn't a requirement. There is no obligation to say a pledge of allegience to the blogging community. No condition that you join the National Union of Bloggers. No need to get a tattoo saying, "Born to blog!"

Sion Simon seems to view blogging as some kind of after-school club that Cameron has gate crashed simply to avoid playing afternoon sports. Perhaps if he paid more attention to his friend's outreach activities, he might have understood how false this is. It is a good thing that Cameron is contributing to the alternative media, regardless of how important the medium is for its own sake in his eyes, just as it is a good thing that Tom Watson is. It's about the message, and here we have just a couple of people spreading theirs.

Another note: the growing populating of politician bloggers, particularly those "not committed to the medium", speaks volumes for the growing power of the alternative media.

For the love of neutrons NO!

The rumour spread by Iain Dale is that Al Gore is joining the British government.

Well there goes our energy security.

I hope exploration in the North Sea is going well because if Gore is here, our energy consumption will go through the roof. And of course, none of it can come from nuclear reactors (unless they are unseen across the Channel) so demand for hydrocarbons will spike more than when David Cameron is cycling to Westminster (ably followed by his armoured motorcade).

Wally Schirra has died

Three days ago, USN Captain Wally Shirra died at the age of 84. Schirra was one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts and a true man of the space pioneers, flying on all three of the great space programs: Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.

On Sigma 7, the fifth Mercury mission, he spent over nine hours in space, a record for the American space program at that point. He tested star navigation techniques and space photography and made the first ever live radio broadcast from an American spacecraft to listeners on the surface. But most importantly of all, he became the first astronaut to have a wee nip in space after smuggling a small bottle of whiskey on board. A true test pilot of the age.

Gemini VI marked another important space first for this remarkable, often underappreciated space program: the first space rendezvous. Schirra redefined the meaning of space rendezvous from the low hanging, Soviet definition of rendezvousing spacecraft passing with several miles of each other (a definition which suited their purpose so they could claim Vostok 3 and Vostok 4 marked the first ever space rendezvous), to the proper definition of coming within feet of each other and stationkeeping. With his co-pilot, Tom Stafford, Schirra achieved the first one, meeting Borman and Lovell (of Apollo 13 fame) in their Gemini VII spacecraft at an altitude of 270km.

Schirra's final flight was Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission and the return to flight after the Apollo 1 tragedy. During the eleven days in Earth orbit, the crew, including rookies Eisele and Cunningham, proved the Apollo spacecraft fit for purpose and laid the groundwork for its operation on the subsequent flights to the Moon. They also made the first live TV broadcast from an American spacecraft, an Emmy award winning broadcast at that. Colds struck the crew for the first time in space and only generous doses of Actifed kept them sane for the duration of the flight. Schirra went on to make some heartfelt ads for Actifed after that.

John Glenn and Scott Carpenter are the only surviving members of the Mercury 7.

You know you're a pro-nuclear nutter when...

... any solution you suggest to solve problems with oil and gas wells involves radioactive material!

How do you solve the problem of power supply in remote sensors placed down the well? Do you make batteries easier to fish and replace? Do you develop a way for the component to extract energy from the heat of the well or the kinetic energy of the fluids? Of course not! You use an RTG!

How do you solve the problem of gas well deliquification (liquids accumulating in the bottom of the well blocking the flow of gas)? One possible option is to boil off the liquids. But how to deliver the heat? Microwaves? Damned efficient, but no. Place a radioactive heat source down the well.

Nuclear power: the answer to all of life's problems!

Energy quote of the day

Three days and counting until Scottish politics is potentially turned upside down. North of the border, the Scottish parties are even more wet than their national counterparts. For example, the Scottish LibDems for example want Scotland to be 100% renewable (ie energy sources they like) within 20 years. Just when you thought that party couldn't get more deluded, you go North and they surprise you.

This month's energy supplement in the Press and Journal contained some analysis and opinion about the political landscape from the perspective of the energy industry. A most excellent comment sums up the situation.
So really, these are not energy policies at all. They are, if you will
pardon the mixed metaphor, cherry-picked slices of apple pie.

How to have a British nuclear renaissance

Election season is in full spin throughout much of Britain with devolved legislatures and local councils going up for election. So who cares? The important one is the election in 2009 or 2010, which may very well see the Conservatives returning as the largest party in the House of Commons, if only in a hung parliament.

In the interests of nuclear power, that most cuddly of energy sources, would it be better to have the Blue-Green warrior in Downing Street, or would we rather keep the Dour One?

Yesterday, Iain Dale interviewed the Shadow Secretary of State for Trade, Industry and Energy, Alan Duncan MP. Yes those subjects are part of the same office. It's hard to keep track sometimes and parties keep on changing their mind how they organise their Cabinets.

Iain cut straight to the point and asked the Right Honourable Member Rutland and Melton what the Conservative position on nuclear power is. Okay, anything short of him standing up a yelling in Tom Cruise fashion that he's in love with every fissile nucleus in the universe is bound to not be enough for me.

But objectively I have to say he made the Conservative position look rather favourable. He said the LibDems have their heads in the clouds with their unequivocal opposition and that simply depending on renewables alone to fill the energy gap in the face of a need to reduce fossil fuel use is somewhat impractical.

He also said that a Conservative government would aim to streamline planning regulations to avoid prohibitively burdeonsome enquiries and that with the new level playing field, they would support any investor building a new reactor if they desired.

Still, he said Tony Blair's commitment to bring nuclear power back with a vengeance was a little too extreme. I like vengeance, but to be fair to Duncan, he was right when he said that Labour has yet to demonstrate any policy to back up that rhetoric.

Essentially, both parties are the same. They want to level the playing field for new nuclear build and depend on the market to make the choice. That's perfectly fine for both parties. While the Labour vengeance rhetoric is enjoyable, I suppose the Conservatives deserve credit for being more transparent about the reality of their policy.

So who to vote for?

To split the difference between Lab and Con, look at the wider parliamentary parties. The Labour front bench is more pro-nuclear than the back benches, meaning a Labour government may face internal strife over giving too much support. Bad. The Conservative front bench is less pro-nuclear than the back benches, meaning a Conservative government may face internal strife over giving too little support. Good!!

And then there's the LibDems. A hung parliament is the most likely outcome of the next general election. The tipping point will be who is the largest party. Ming the Merciless of the LibDums has already implied, if not admitted, that he would go into coalition with El Gordo long before Cammy. Essentially, the big competition is between a Conservative minority government and a Lab-Lib coalition (which worked so well in the late 70s).

I think it's pretty obvious which one would be better for the nuclear revival in the UK. The Conservatives are the safer bet.

Vote Blue, Go (annoy a) Green!

(See the interview with Alan Duncan at 18 Doughty Street.)

The big time!

You know you've hit the big time when you are quoted on none other than the BBC itself.

Okay so it's only the Action Network bit that no-one pays any attention to, but we all have to start somewhere. They described me as a campaign group. Excellent. Now all I need is to find a group.

Watch out Iain Dale!

(hat tip: niof)

The battle for fission will be fought...

... in Richmond Park?

Cammy has been remarkably silent on the issue of nuclear power overall. On the other hand, just about every other Conservative not in his intimate circle has been positive about it. Ken Clarke has had a couple of appearances on Question Time recently in which he's pushed for more nuclear power. Then we had Michael Portillo's brilliant remark about the sinful nature of denouncing it. It did seem that following Cammy's wet rebranding exercise (which seems to have done a lot of good for the party if the opinion polls are any indication) the Tories would be getting harder on some key issues and there was hope that they, at least, wouldn't oppose it.

But things have turned ugly. Zac Goldsmith has been selected as the Conservative candidate for Richmond Park. At the next general election, he'll be standing to become their MP. Now that he's true blue, Goldsmith is to become the face of Green Conservatism. Horror!

To be fair, the stuff he says in the Telegraph is actually pretty reasonable. It's all about Pigouvian taxation and how conservation can prove cost effective (unfortunately, some evangelicals then presume that because there are many examples of when being energy efficient is economical, that this is deterministic rule for all cases of perceived energy efficiency).

Given the chumminess between Cammy and Goldsmith as well as Goldsmith's clearly preferred field, if he's elected, he will become very important to Conservative environment policy. Peter Ainsworth is the Shadow Environment Minister at the moment. Goldsmith can't take that job because he is not an MP, but I expect Ainsworth's position to be shortlived if he does become one.

And given the polls at the moment, there is a clear and present danger that Goldsmith won't be the Shadow Environment Minister, but the real one.

If Zac Goldsmith is to be the Secretary of State for the Environment, then we need all the Ken Clarke's we can get prevent the country from falling into darkness... literally!

Rebranding radiation

The IAEA are now launching a new radiation hazard symbol.

The objective is to make sure that people understand when they are close to a large and dangerous source of radiation, the traditional symbol not having really been adopted for any negative connotation so far.

This new one seems much more intuitive. Clearly it shows that a stinky propeller can be smelt at the emergency exit and while watching Pirates of the Caribbean.

There could be an advantage to this rebranding exercise. Since the Usual Suspects have a habit of marking nuclear installations on the map with the old radiation symbol (while not extending the same courtesy to coal fired power stations), this could remove the obvious negative imagery they are trying to evoke.

The disadvantage is that it sucks. It lacks grace. There is elegance to the simplicity of the old symbol. Besides, logically, any facility that allows people near to dangerous sources of radiation without even ensuring they are knowledgeable of hazard symbols, can't be trusted to use the signs in the first place.

Who dug him up?

As we continue to reel from the news about Greenpeace's High Court victory over the Energy Review, more phantoms rise on the British horizon.

The Dark Lord Meacher is going for Number 10.

This guy once said we need nuclear power like we need a hole in the head. He also said that men are like lice on the Earth, so this particular arch misanthrop would probably go for it.

He also plutonium was the most dangerous substance known to man (making him a liar).

Fortunately, El Gordo is too powerful for this moonbat to get anywhere (there is doubt over whether or not he could get enough votes to get even nominated). El Gordo has also said he supports Blair's line on more nuclear power.

British Energy on the move

British Energy say they want new nuclear build by 2016.

BE is in the doldrums financially at the moment, saddled with the legacy of trying to make a profit with inefficient gas cooled reactors while everyone else makes an slaughtering with cheap North Sea gas.

With North Sea production becoming ever less able to meet energy demand in the UK, it makes the prospects look better. The threat at this point is interest rates and the Usual Suspects.

Chances are, they would get support from Europe, which would inevitably lead to the EPR being built. Still, if they are going to build loads of LWRs, there's always room for a couple of HWRs to reuse of the spent fuel.

Opposing nuclear power is a sin

The Church has now decided that global warming can serve the same purpose for them as it does for the Green lobby: serving as an opportunity for its elites to be smugly sanctimonious and preach upon us unwashed evil-doers (while often being the worst "sinners"). A Bishop has declared that flying is a sin.

Well alright. If global warming is the apocalypse caused by our straying from the path of righteousness then surely anything contributing to the wrath of the deity must be a sin.

Michael Portillo agreed last night on This Week. By the same logic opposing nuclear power is also a sin.

Questions and obvious answers

The questions:

Will TVA finish Watts Bar 2?
What types of reactors will TVA build as part of their plan to build two new units?

The obvious answer:

EdF has ordered the EPR for Flamanville-3. It's still great to see so new projects getting underway.

Currently, in the A vs A vs G vs W war, A is making a clean sweep.
Areva: 2
GE: 0
Westinghouse: 0

The battlefield is of course still young.

Nothing new to see here

A commenter referred me to an anti-nuclear page here. When Helen Caldicott is quoted in the second line, you know they're in trouble.
There was a disaster at Windscale in 1957 (that would have been much worse if the wind
had been blowing inland instead of out to sea),

A 50 year old accident at a military facility doesn't exactly have much relevance to today.
There was a partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979, The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 released large amounts of radioactivity over a very wide area,

Old news.
There has been extensive
radioactive contamination from the Dounreay nuclear reactor,

Hardly the first facility to release some dangerous material and it certainly won't be the last. But given the rather limited effect this has actually had, despite the fear mongering, this is hardly a reason for blanket opposition to nuclear power as a whole, particularly given the advances that have led to Generation III+.
In late July 2006 there was an accident at Sweden's Forsmark nuclear power station which was described as a near-meltdown by Lars-Olov Hoglund, a Swedish nuclear expert (see Spiegel Online, 2006-08-07, and report in the International Herald Tribune, 2006-08-04).

A more recent example of FUD.
Nuclear reactors, nuclear reprocessing plants and the trains that carry nuclear materials around the country are inviting targets for terrorists (see how a Daily Mirror reporter planted a 'bomb' on a train carrying nuclear waste, July 2006). In a similar way, nuclear materials being transported around the world can easily be attacked or hijacked by terrorists.

Tabloid journalism at its worst.
When all the overt and hidden subsidies are taken into account, nuclear power is much more expensive than any other source of power, including renewable sources (see some
figures on costs quoted in "Is it all over for nuclear power?". There is a much fuller account in Helen Caldicott's book.).

That source uses the junk study from the non economics foundations as its reference, which basically consisted of saying, "Ooh, let's add another couple of pennies for this thing and how about another penny here. Wow, look how expensive it's become!"
Significant amounts of CO2 are released by the nuclear industry:

If junk science was the same as junk food, the authors of this website would be diabetic.
Nuclear power may consume more energy than it produces.

Caldicott said that, did she? She's even more insane than I realised. I suppose France has discovered the secret to perpetual motion then.
No solution has yet been found to the problem of disposing of dangerous nuclear waste, much of which will remain dangerous for more than 10,000 years. No human institution has ever survived that long.

Closer than the other website, but still the cigar is way off.
Contrary to what many people imagine and often suggest as an advantage of nuclear power, it is not available 24/7 throughout the year. Just like wind power, and all other sources of electricity, nuclear power is intermittent.
Nuclear power stations stop producing electricity during routine maintenance and unscheduled breakdowns, and the 'load factor' (the amount of electricity that is actually produced compared with the theoretical maximum) is normally well short of 100%.

Capacity factors are now about 90%. Much better than solar or wind. If 90% isn't good enough, then 30% definitely isn't.
In its 'normal' operation, the nuclear industry releases radioactivity into the environment that causes damage to health.

What dark fear mongering is this?
The wide distribution in the world of plutonium and enriched uranium increases the chances that terrorists will be able to get hold of enough to make either a 'dirty' conventional bomb or even an atom bomb.

Why bother? There are so many easier ways to cause mass destruction.
The technology for nuclear power has much in common with the technology needed for the production of nuclear weapons.

Not quite. Swimming pools have much more in common with the weapons the Nazis used to kill their prisoners. I suppose swimming should be banned too?
Security of supply: some uranium comes from politically-unstable countries like Kazakhstan and those supplies cannot be guaranteed.

Very, very deceptive! Most comes from Australia and Canada. Just think of what the Bloc Quebecois would do to us!
In recent heat waves, nuclear power plants have been shut down owing to shortages of cooling water and unacceptable damage that would be caused by the discharge of hot water into the environment (see Our nuclear summer). This kind of problem is likely to become worse as global temperatures rise.

Coal power stations have the same problem. The wind turbines weren't turning much either.
Risk of flooding.

Here's an idea. How about not building them in a floodplain?
Nuclear power is an inflexible source of electricity that is only suitable for 'base load'. It cannot respond quickly to peaks in demand for electricity.

That's why we have hydroelectric power or gas or any manner of other power sources that can be cycled rapidly in conjunction with a nuclear baseload. Wind and solar are not predictable and therefore not controllable so they cannot respond at all to peaks in demand, quickly or slowly.
Nuclear power only provides electricity. It does not address the problem of reducing CO2 emissions from space heating and road transport (except under the unlikely scenario that nuclear electricity would be used for a significant amount of space heating and charging of electric vehicles).

Neither do solar or wind.
It has been calculated that, if enough nuclear fission reactors were built to meet most of the world's demand for electricity, exploitable sources of uranium would be exhausted in about fifteen to twenty years (see Energy Beyond Oil by Paul Mobbs, Matador, 2005, ISBN 1-905237-00-6). If the more risky fast breeder reactors could be made to work reliably (not an easy job), this might yield fifty or sixty years of electricity. In a similar way, thorium could in principle be converted into nuclear fuel but this has not yet been shown to be practical and supplies of thorium are in any case limited.

I'm impressed they knew about fast reactors and thorium. Still, there figures are way off. And if the supply is so limited, what are they worrying about? It will guarantee than the next generation of nuclear power stations will only be used as a stop gap measure for renewable expansion since there couldn't be another generation after that.
As exploitable sources of uranium become exhausted, prices will rise. And as higher-grade ores are exhausted, more energy will be consumed and more CO2 will be released in processing the lower-grade ores that remain.

That junk science addiction repeats itself.
Opportunity cost: As Friends of the Earth and others have been pointing out, money spent in propping up the nuclear industry is money that would be much more profitably spent on expanding renewable sources of energy.

Now the reality. Much more money will be spent on expanding fossil fuel use to fill the energy gap left as renewables can't expand sufficiently rapidly.

What is a cooling tower?

A curious confusion of nuclear image continues to endure. This is a cooling tower:

And this is the emblem of the campaign group Nuclear Free Vermont:

As Stewart Peterson raised, this clearly shows that NFV are opposed to cooling towers. I say we bring them to Britain, because their campaign against cooling towers will favour the nuclear industry there. In Britain, most nuclear reactors are on coast lines and as such use open cycle cooling. This means they don't have cooling towers. On the other hand, coal power stations are dotted inland across the country and frequently feature a field of these things, for example Didcott or the area formerly known as Drakelow.

It would seem more logical for the glorious containment domes to be the image associated with nuclear power, but in fact it is the cooling towers, more accurately to be associated with coal, which have stuck to nuclear. Even the banner of the main website, made by a kind supporter of nuclear party (in the Liberal Democrat party no less), makes focus of cooling towers. In fact, I suspect the power station featured may indeed have been Drakelow coal power station in the Midlands of England. I certainly know I had to paint out a chimney stack before using it.

It's probably no surprise myths about nuclear power last if such a fundamental and emperically disproveable perception remain fixed in the public mindset.

While on the subject of Nuclear Free Vermont...

How can it be "clean" when it produces lethal radioactive waste that will be
dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years and for which scientists have not
yet found a permanent solution?
The Greenpeace random number generator makes a return appearance. The worst datum that could be used is ten thousand years and even that betrays the reality of the situation because that is the time it takes unreprocessed spent fuel to decay to below the activity of the original uranium ore, itself not the most lethal material found in nature.

If nuclear power were "safe", why would all the towns surrounding the reactor
need an Evacuation Plan that requires hundreds
of hours from local officials and volunteers for meetings,
trainings and drills, a Plan that many citizens doubt would work if there were a
serious accident in Vernon?
That is obviously because ignorant organisation such as NFV perpetuate fear of nuclear power forcing city planners to react by creating the assurance of an escape route. Incidentally, other types of facilities often have emergency escape plans. Curiously, the nuclear ones are needed the least.

The many non arguments of the anti-nuke

The Dallas Morning News cover the potential American nuclear renaissance. (Remember the present real nuclear renaissance is taking place in Asia whether Gunter likes it or not!) There's some nice positive stuff, particularly the bit about reliability improving moving capacity factors to above 90%, but then there's the negative...
Some industry critics say the regulatory changes have lowered safety standards,
increasing the risk to the public.
Since emperically, the risk to the American public from nuclear power has been 0, nil, negligible, nadda, zip, even before the 70s and 80s regulatory ratchetting and despite the relatively limited knowledge and experience, this statement amounts to pure FUD.

Lessons from past accidents and near-misses, they say, are being written off.
Well the worst past accident has been Three Mile Island, which would be included in that zero risk bit. The lessons of TMI and other incidents have already been learnt and incorporated into the new, sophisticated Generation III+ designs.

Critics of nuclear power warn that the bullish environment could end with a
single accident.
That could be true, but only because those critics will exploit any accident to the full power of the propoganda machine.

They cite one of the most recent close calls, in 2002, when workers at the
Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Ohio found a football-size hole in the nuclear
reactor vessel head caused by a boric acid leak. If the hole had opened up, it
could've caused a meltdown.
A simple statement masks a huge complexity of implication. In order for their to be a meltdown if- that's if- the hole had opened up, all the emergency safety systems would have to fail as well. NIRS is washing over that little detail with a double coat of FUD.

But what if a meltdown had happened? That's the operator's problem, not the public's. The public is only to be concerned if they are threatened by it and before they would be threatened, the radioactive material would have to get past the infamous containment structure. It's a MacGuffin for a reason. It's all part of failsafe engineering.
At the time, 72 out of the nation's 113 licensed reactors were found to have
parts such as fasteners, valves and circuit breakers that did not conform to
their safety specifications. Some were provided by counterfeit suppliers that
later faced criminal charges.
And yet nothing happened. It is of course right for those who breach regulations to face the consequences, but the whole point about the NRC reforms is that those regulations are not necessarily boosting safety.

Coming soon to Freedom For Fission... Browns Ferry and Davis-Besse.

Wanted dead or alive!

The recent dash of British politicians into the Green abyss was bound to have differing consequences depending on the participent. For the LibDems, they come across as a cuddly protest party. For the Conservatives, it helps them among the soggy chattering classes but hinders them among those who want a government to deal with their more immediate concerns. For Labour, it's the most damaging since they are the ones in government.

Michael O'Leary of Ryanair is not impressed.
Ironically though, the party whose Green antics are the most damaging are in fact the party currently with the clear commitment to nuclear power.