Author Archives: Martin Kral

About Martin Kral

Retired, just having fun writing about energy.

Waste, a liability or an opportunity?

My wife and I took a recent road trip to Midland TX to visit the Petroleum Museum. We drove south on TX 385 towards Odessa and I notice an unusual amount of old rusted machine parts spewed about in the fields. There are two ways to look at all the junk; as a recording of the last 100 year history of the area or as a real eye score on the environment. Either way, that stuff should be recycled or stored in a safe place to protect the public.

This visual experience got me to thinking about all the wind turbines and solar panels we are spreading out all over our beautiful landscape. Will there be a day when they look just like all the trash along highway 385? The answer to that is a very possible ‘yes’ because the turbines and panels are evolving as new innovative designs and materials come to market. The older obsolete technology has to be done away with when new non-toxic solutions come on-line. The obvious answer would be to recycle them, but there is a hidden problem with that solution. Not all the materials are recyclable.

There are several toxic materials used to manufacture both wind turbines and solar panels. The industry is in a fast forward development cycle and has not addressed the day when these toxins have to be stored somewhere and managed. Doesn’t that sound so much like other industries where we build them now and worry about the waste later?

Big wind has a dirty little secret. I am not talking about wind installations that injure, maim, and kill hundreds of thousands of birds each year in clear violation of federal law. No, I am talking about the toxins used to manufacture these ever growing in size machines. Manufacturing wind turbines is a resource-intensive process. A typical wind turbine contains more than 8,000 different components, many of which are made from steel, cast iron, and concrete. One such component is magnets made from neodymium, a toxic silvery – white metallic element and dysprosium, a rare-earth metallic element, highly reactive and paramagnetic.

Solar energy also has a dirty little secret. Any form of energy production has its dirty side and solar is no exception. Photovoltaic modules are made from many toxic chemicals. Arsenic, cadmium telluride, hexafluoroethane, lead, and polyvinyl fluoride are just some of the chemicals used to manufacture various types of solar cells. Solar panels in use are safe but the problem comes at the beginning and end of a panel’s life cycle.

According to a Silicon Valley Toxics report, “but the toxic materials contained in solar panels will present a serious danger to public health and the environment if they are not disposed of properly when they reach the end of their useful lives.” That is a renewable problem for both wind and solar and that is a business opportunity just on the horizon (pun intended).

These toxins can be safely managed and stored some place, but where? Whoever decides to take this risk and responsibility will net some huge revenues for the surrounding communities. Carlsbad NM is benefitting from WIPP (transuranic radioactive materials), Eunice NM is benefitting from URENCO (uranium enrichment), Andrews TX is benefitting from Waste Control Specialist, (low-level radioactive waste) and all of Southeast New Mexico is benefitting from Big Oil.

WIPP is an example of how to store and manage the radioactive materials used in the many years of nuclear bomb development. However, we have not resolved what to do about all the radioactive unused uranium fuel left over from the nuclear power industry. Currently that material has been stored in large airplane crash proof canisters at every nuclear power plant facility for the last 50 years.

Back in 2007 the opportunity did present itself to Chaves County but the community at that time was not well informed and rejected the idea of temporarily storing spent nuclear fuel 40 miles east of town along the Eddy County line. Well, that opportunity went south to Andrews County TX, on the immediate border with Eunice NM.

Now there is a potential for a renewable energy toxic waste market for the Chaves County site known as Triassic Park. It’s time to look into deep borehole waste management.

True costs of Germany’s nuclear shutdown

Germany is experiencing one failure after another all because of political pressure from environmental groups, as well as the political Green Party itself. As Germany is implementing a conversion from nuclear to renewable wind and solar, it has become apparent that both projects are failing their original objectives. Coming to America, soon!

Problem one: German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2011 decision to rapidly phase out the country’s 17 nuclear power reactors has left the government and utilities with a massive problem: How to clean up and store large amounts of nuclear waste and other radioactive material. This is turning out to be a major cost.

Problem two: The proposed replacement for phasing out nuclear was to replace it with wind in the northern part of the country along the coastline and solar panels on every structure throughout the country. So far, most of the replacement electricity is coming from the purchase of France’s clean nuclear powered sources and the building of new coal fired generation plants, which are cleaner than the old coal plants but still produces CO2 emissions. This too is turning out to be a major cost.

Problem Three: Elections are forthcoming. The country has struggled to meet its pollution-reduction targets. Germany committed to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent in 2020 compared to 1990 levels but had managed just a 27 percent reduction at the end of last year. The commitment of 95% by 2050 is now the paradox facing Merkel, who’ll campaign for a fourth term in 2017. This is also turning out to be a major cost.

If you were to look closely at Germany’s energy policy and its problems, you will see the making of the same energy issues here in America, except NG would replace coal. The US has just shut down five nuclear power plants and replaced the electricity generation with natural gas, not wind and solar. Each of those plants has to store high-level nuclear waste (fuel) on site until the US can develop a workable solution.

Germany still hasn’t figured out what to do with their high-level waste — mostly spent fuel rods — that are now in interim (100 years) canisters located in a dozen specialized warehouses near existing nuclear power plants. Any future waste repository will have to contain the spent uranium fuel for up to a million years, unless they change policy and implement next generation reactors to consume it.

In Germany, a government commission on highly radioactive nuclear waste spent the last two years working on a 700-page report which was supposed to recommend a storage location. Instead, the report estimated that Germany’s final storage facility would be ready “in the next century.” Costs are expected to be astronomical. In reality, that means they don’t have a solution to store or consume the waste as fuel.

China is leading the world with its investment in implementing the molten salt reactor (MSR) technology. I can not leave out Canada, which will probably have the first commercial MSR. There are many other companies/countries that are committed to MSR technology and the elimination of the high level waste material created by the early generation reactors over the last 60 years.

Germany has an additional problem with low-level waste storage and management. Most of the material originated from 14 nuclear power plants from 1967 until 1978 was stored in an underground facility that now has a serious water seepage problem. All the material stored there has to be removed and restored. A 2015 report by Germany’s Environment Ministry noted, “There are currently no technical plans available for the envisioned waste recovery project which would allow a reliable estimate of the costs.”

“Nuclear in Germany is not popular,” said Claudia Kemfert, head of energy, transportation, and environment at the German Institute for Economic Research. “Everybody knows it is dangerous and causes a lot of environmental difficulties. Nuclear [is being] replaced by renewables – we have no need for nuclear power any more.” It is that consensus that has created an enormous technical and costly problem. Hindsight is always 20/20 and Germany is now seeing the results of their hasty planning or lack of.

On the other front; renewable generated replacement electricity has not materialize as expected either. While the wind and solar already implemented has the capacity, actual production has fallen far short and is very expensive. New coal plants are being built to augment renewable (now called clean) energy. Germany has plenty of coal and I would have to say, the concept of shutting down nuclear without increasing fossil fuels may not be possible. Germany is still fossilized and this is the true face of their ‘energiewende’.

Letter to Governor Brown of CA

This week, I would like to share a letter about how nuclear energy is essential to fighting global warming, sent by Dr. James Hansen the leading climate scientists in the world, plus a long list of other environmentalists, to the State of California. This letter applies to every state in the Union.

The Honorable Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Governor of California

August 11, 2016

Dear Governor Brown,

Several months ago we wrote to you to raise our concerns about Diablo Canyon, California’s last nuclear plant. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) has now agreed in a Joint Proposal with Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility and other groups to close the plant in 2025.

We request that you ask the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) to delay consideration of that and any other proposal to close Diablo until the legislature and the public, who will have to foot the bill, can openly debate how California can most quickly and cost-effectively stop the damage to the climate from our electrical system emissions. There are serious questions about whether this proposal is good for ratepayers, the environment and the climate.

Retirement of the plant will make a mockery of California’s de-carbonization efforts. Diablo Canyon’s yearly output of 17,600 gigawatt-hours supplies 9 percent of California’s total in-state electricity generation and 21 percent of its low-carbon generation. If Diablo closes it will be replaced mainly by natural gas, and California’s carbon dioxide emissions will rise.

The economic losses from Diablo Canyon’s premature closure will also be substantial. Electricity rates will rise from the replacement of cheap nuclear power with more expensive renewable power. According to the Joint Proposal, ratepayers will pay a “non-bypassable charge” to make good decommissioning costs that would have been funded had Diablo completed a typical 60-year service life. San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties will lose $27 million per year in local tax, 1,500 well-paying jobs at the plant and a yearly payroll of over $200 million that indirectly supports a further 2,800 local jobs.

These problems are all familiar from the closure of the San Onofre nuclear plant a few years ago. Despite environmentalists’ hopes, San Onofre was replaced mainly by gas-fired generation. Greenhouse emissions and electricity rates increased. California’s share of gas-fired generation immediately rose from 45 percent to 61 percent.

That gas dependency will increase further, to 70 percent or more, if Diablo Canyon closes. When natural gas prices rise again, higher dependency will mean economic vulnerability as well—and undermine California’s reputation as a leader on climate policy. Under your own administration, the percent of electricity generated in-state from clean sources declined, mostly because of San Onofre’s closure.

Given the serious harm to the environment, the economy and ratepayer interests that will flow from Diablo’s closure, we are deeply troubled by the lack of democratic process surrounding the Joint Proposal. It was decided in secret negotiations between PG&E and unaccountable anti-nuclear groups, some with financial ties to the renewables sector.

[removed unnecessary paragraph] to size the article for publication in local paper.

The loss of one-fifth of California’s clean electricity is of such significance as to merit the direct attention of the state legislature. These questions deserve a broad, considered and transparent discussion by the public and their elected representatives. We ask you to support this position, and to help initiate the public debate that needs to happen.

It would be a tragedy if we were to allow irrational fear to harm the climate and endanger the future our children and grandchildren. As California’s governor you have an opportunity to safeguard your environmental legacy by overcoming anti-nuclear prejudice that is jeopardizing our progress on clean energy.

Sincerely,

James Hansen

The Energy Policy should not be bi-partisan

The US energy policy and the world energy policy should be viewed as a betterment of humanity. Energy should be viewed as a whole and not as the individual sources that make it up. Energy should provide humanity and its environment with abundance, whatever that might be, to improve living as we know it today with a long term perspective in hundreds of years, not every four year.

None of the political parties are actually looking at energy with this perspective. The choices so far are 1) no fossil, 2) fossil or 3) what ever the market will bear. None of these are really appropriate because they are basically a pick and choose winners and losers. Each individual energy source has its advantage and drawback depending on where and how it is used. Some are cleaner, safer, cheaper, more efficient and reliable and the list goes on.

The goal of an energy policy should be based on what is best for each geographic center. What is best for California is not necessary the best for Iowa or New York. With 50 individual states, all with different ecosystems, economics and political ideals, a universal mandate from the Federal Government is completely the wrong approach. The Federal government should set guidelines for safe energy and let the market determine the best approach.

For example, the federal government has flat out mandated the elimination of coal mining and burning for generating electricity through non-congressional regulations. This type of policy has a critical impact on several states livelihood. How does this elimination improve the lives in those states and other states that depend on coal shipments? Coal has always provided abundance for all the people but has also created a concern about pollution of the air, water and land. Instead of eliminating coal, it should be made cleaner through technical innovations to directly address the concerns of pollutions.

Another example would be the nuclear power industry. For the last 40 years the federal government has placed regulation upon regulation that it has basically chocked the industry into near non-existence. Nuclear energy has already proved itself to be the most reliable and efficient source of clean energy. But that doesn’t seem to matter when you have selfish advocates against it and fossil fuels (Craig). Nuclear is the safest energy ever devised.

Subsidies and Natural Gas (NG) have been the saving grace for the federal governments preferred choice for electricity generation – wind and solar. While wind and solar do have their benefits in certain ecosystems, they are not the most reliable or efficient source for the national power grid. Subsidies should be removed or all sources of energy should be subsidized equally per actual Kwt, not capacity like wind and solar is today.

Almost 90% of America’s low-carbon energy sources come from hydropower (21%) and nuclear power (67%). It is ironic that the two largest providers of low-carbon electricity, hydro and nuclear, have the most onerous regulatory hurdles that make construction lengthy and expensive. Ten years is common for merely licensing either. Once built, however, both enjoy the longest of facility life-times, the lowest production costs per kWh, and produce vastly more power than any other type of energy facility before they are ever shuttered.

Good News – maybe: The most recent report from the Federal Government (ORNL) is to expand hydropower by 50% through electrifying existing dams and emplacing pumped hydro storage at existing non-powered dams to facilitate more intermittent renewable like wind and solar onto the electric grid. Only 3% of American dams generate electricity. The others provide navigation, flood control, irrigation, water supply and/or recreation without power, but most can be upgraded to supply electricity. However, no new dams are in the report and no mention of droughts.

Of all the energy sources, coal, gas and nuclear fuels are not dependent and have centuries of inventory, most not discovered yet. Uranium can be extracted from our oceans and thorium is just sitting there on every beach. The capacity inventory reaches into the billions of years when you consider the inventory on our moon and Mars, two locations we are destine to conquer.

“All of the above” is the policy that all political parties should be endorsing. Each energy source can be used collectively to achieve the arbitrary goal or limitation set on increased global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius by COP 21 (2015). Global Warming does not care what technology is used, just how much carbon is emitted.

 

If one term doesn’t work, try another.

The term ‘Global Warming’ isn’t working anymore because the earth hasn’t warmed in the last 18 years so let’s try ‘Climate Change’ instead because it’s always happening naturally or man made, whether mildly or catastrophically. Better yet, we could just use the termed ‘Climate’ because for the first 4.5 billion years the earth’s biosphere has always been changing. Consensus or Me-tooish is not proof that something is true.

Now the term ‘Renewable Energy’ is no longer working for a number of reasons demonstrated over the last 40 years so let’s change it to ‘Clean Energy’ instead because that is what can work for ‘all of the above’ energy sources. Clean is the new catch all; clean food, clean water, clean air, clean coal, clean nuclear, etc.

The terms, global warming and renewable, turned out to be too restrictive and did not include the source of efficient energy that does work to create base load electricity and transportation fuels: fossil, hydro and nuclear. Solar energy just passed 1% of global electricity generation. World energy usage will probably triple by 2050. Therefore, a new term was needed in order to expand the definition to include the final four: coal, gas, hydro and nuclear.

Coal is the primary source of energy that has provided us with the bounty we share today. Burning coal has also created problems with the environment and has caused some concern. However, the elimination of coal as an energy source to produce electricity is not reasonable to fight environmental concerns like climatic changes in weather patterns, allegedly caused by CO2 increases.

A better solution is to remove the toxins and particles when burning fossilized materials like coal, wood and dung. Better yet, gasify the coal into a liquid form removing most of the bad carbon at the same time. Coal is still the number one source of energy around the world and in some places is actually increasing in usage.

Through innovative technology, natural gas has become so plentiful here in the U.S. that it has become the new base load source for electricity generation. Fracking, another one of those terms that needs to be redefined for political reasons has allowed horizontal drilling to capture NG deposits otherwise unavailable through normal vertical drilling.

Nature gas is about half as bad on the environment as coal but can also be improved, especially the methane leaks. NG is so plentiful, therefore cheaper, and is becoming a major export product from the US to EU and Asia, competing with the Russians. Like coal, NG is being discovered everywhere with new technology locating and accessing the deposits. A most recent discovery is in the Mediterranean Sea along the coast of Israel and Egypt. The NG supply chain doesn’t have a firm sunset date yet because of new discoveries year after year, but it is probably less than coal.

The one term that is completely misunderstood is nuclear. There is a scientific and a political definition of the term. The science is very simple; nuclear is the action of splitting or bonding atoms that creates heat and also other isotopes within the periodic table. Most of those isotopes are actually unused fuel that can be completely consumed to create more heat. The political definition is based on ‘fear’ of the nuclear bomb.

One of the newer terms being used for advanced or next generation nuclear energy is molten salts reactors (MSR). These newer designs have addressed most of the concerns of previous generation reactors, especially waste and proliferation.

Each fuel and technology used to generate electricity has its own benefits.  However, nuclear energy brings distinctive attributes to the power grid— large-scale, affordable, zero-emission, 24/7 reliability. These are critically important every day, but especially so during severe weather events like a polar vortex or the dog days of August, when other fuel sources may not be available or responsive.

So what energy policy should our presidential candidates articulate? Clinton advocates wind and solar (the unreliables) and Trump advocates fossil (the dirty guys). However, both are short sighted when it come to nuclear (MSR), the long term future of energy. We should always use the best technology available.

Good fences make good neighbors

Given how many different cultures have versions of this proverb, it represents a very common sentiment among neighbors and countries everywhere around the world. The most notable use of the quote in English Literature belongs to Robert Frost who used the line in his poem “Mending Wall.”

This proverb poses the question: How can neighbors come together if they are divided by fences? This quote seems to be contradictory in nature but it actually ‘is not’. When boundaries are clear, relationships can better prosper.

The world of walls is changing. Sixty-five countries have erected fences on their borders as governments try to hold back the tide of migrants. That is four times as many as when the Berlin Wall was toppled in 1989. Every single one of these fences/walls is designed to restrict movement of people and vehicles coming into a country. Sections of the famous Berlin Wall are now scattered around the world including Roswell, NM (by the Iron Cross along Spring River).

The Great Wall of China was built to protect the Chinese states and empires against the raids and invasions of the various nomadic groups of the Eurasian Steppe coming from the north. No longer needed, the wall has become one of China’s biggest tourist attraction and movie backdrop.

The next tangible wall that is getting a lot of attention is the Israeli-Gaza solid concrete wall that is being constructed tens of meters under and above ground along the border that divides Israel and the Gaza Strip. The purpose is to deter Hamas from tunneling into Israel at the same time still allow for trade to continue with the local merchants. I suggested that they need an In-N-Out Falafel at every entry/exit security check.

Fences or walls are used to prevent entrance, to confine, or to mark a boundary. If you look around Roswell and the County you will see fences everywhere. Most are used to control the movement of livestock and others are for people, whether law abiding or unlawful activity. There are many other uses of the word ‘fence’, such as the fence on my table saw. It is there for my protection just like any fence or wall – safety and protection.

We basically have two choices to protect our southern border with Mexico. We either build a beautiful Trump Brand wall or we fill the Rio Grande with robotic alligators and the land areas with robotic snakes. Hey, it might sound ridiculous but the technology is there. And the best part is more people fear alligators and snakes than security guards with AR-15’s. Deterrence can come in many shapes and sizes.

If we look just south of Roswell we will find WIPP, which has multiple cyclone fences around it, as well as sensors and cameras. Those fences are there to protect stupid people from wondering into a restricted area. WIPP is being a good neighbor by maintaining this protective fence with warning signage in English, Spanish and non-verbal symbols.

If you look to the north of Roswell you will find several solar farms with cyclone fences around them too. Again, those fences are there to define the boundary of the farms and to protect the animals from wondering in. In some cases, the animals are actually placed inside the fences to eat the vegetation under the solar panels.

One of the worst plagues that we are experiencing in the world today is unchecked migration. As you may recall in my previous article about the zika virus and others, the human is the host by which the virus moves around. Recently a man died in Salt Lake City from the Zika virus that he contracted in South America. There are no zika carrying mosquitoes in Utah. Also, the first Zika carrying mosquito has been ID’d in Florida and probably came into the country in someone’s backpack.

Another problem that is escalating from unchecked migration is the re-occurrence of diseases that we have already eradicated in the past through immigration practices that kept those diseases in check. When you have complete anarchy on the southern border with Mexico, you will never be able to keep the people of the United States safe and protected, whether it be from viruses or terrorist.

If Mexico were a good neighbor, they would help maintain a good wall between our two sovereign nations.
 

Climate Change vs. World Migrations

I spent a lot of time using the on-line dictionary when writing my articles because different word synonyms can completely change the intent of a description. All words matter! One noun that I have struggled with is the definition of climate change. It is one of the more complex word combinations to get a full understanding of.

In my research of science and technology, I have always tried to find out the history and evolution of a particular science discipline. Today, one of those sciences is climate change. I am not sure you can say climate change is a science all by itself because it is made up of many different physical, biological and chemical sciences as well as many political or social interpretations.

If we follow the flow of ecological climate change from the beginning of the earth to the present we will easily see how migration was a huge part of disseminating life around the earth. If we narrow down this migration to just the human species, we know that it originated in the eastern part of Africa about 200,000 years ago and over time worked its way north through Europe, east through Asia and finally across the Bering Straights into the Americas 12,000 years ago. Climatic conditions have always influenced migration and now migration is starting to influence climate conditions.

One of the most recent mass migrations has been from Syria to the European Continent. This migration or refugee movement has it roots in the civil war going on in Syria that was originally cause by the lack of water to grow food for the people. An extended drought cause by a climatic shift in the weather failed to provide enough rainfall for survival in farming.

Many farmers moved into the cities seeking work opportunities and found little to none. Civil disobedience eventually developed into all out civil war that has now drawn other counties and warring factions into it. There is no reasonable life to live in Syria or Iraq so the population was force to migrate to other places and that creates a strain on those ecosystems.

The planet’s environment is a precondition for human life. Early migration has always had time for assimilation with the ecology and other human tribes in the surrounding areas. But it also created warring faction when there wasn’t enough land, food or water, and other resources like energy.

Israel, just south of Syria, is a completely different world. Craved out of a similar arid landscape as Syria, Israel used modern technology to overcome the harsh climate. As a Jewish State, like minded Jews from around the world migrated to Israel and developed an intellectually based economy.

With limited natural resources like its neighbors, Israel developed solutions for the lack of water, food, energy and limited usable land. Migration has been very restricted in the number of people migrating to the nation so that everyone had time for assimilation and law and order could be maintained.

What has been effecting climate change the most in recent decades is the exponential increase in world population year after year. This puts a strain on the various ecosystems to sustain the increase. While there is the capacity to produce enough food for the world today, the production and distribution of that food is being corrupted by greedy little men.

Technology and energy have always improved the lives of millions, maybe billions around the world. One of those technologies that have increased the life span of humans has been refrigeration. We are able to store food longer and provide medicines where they are needed. Refrigeration requires electricity and that is why we need to electrify the world with clean sustainable energy (nuclear is my preference).

However, The Secretary of State, John Kerry, has really stepped in it this time. He has stated that air conditioning is worst than terror conditioning when it comes to priorities the world needs to be concerned with. I have no idea how he could have come to that conclusion, except that it was planted there by the Obama Administration for political reasons.

In an indirect way, Kerry could be right. Air conditioning is allowing people to live longer, thus increasing the world population, creating more migrations and affecting the climate. That is a stretch, but I was trying for balance. It is up to you to determine if you want to give up your air conditioner this summer to protect the planet.