Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Japanese Scientist Explains The Fukashima Crisis

I just got this email from my friend Dr. Hogetsu in Kobe Japan. He explains the crisis and events at the Fukashima nuclear plant. I want to thank Dr. Hogestu for his contribution to Green Explored. This is a very trying time for the Japanese people and we should all pay our respects to those who died, those who were injured, those who became homeless, and the whole country that grieves.

Here is Dr. Hogetsu's email to me

Nuclear Power Generation and Tsunami

The North East Japan was devastated by triple tragedies of earth quake, tsunami, and radioactive contamination. One of the serious problems is collapse of nuclear reactor and auxiliary facilities by tsunami.

A lot of people say that tsunami this time betrayed human expectation. However Asahi News Paper dated March 25, 2011 disclosed that gigantic tsunami had been pointed out by Mr. Okamura, the Active Fault and Earthquake Research Center (AFERC) of National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) at the meeting of Reviewing Credibility of Aged Nuclear Power Plant against Earthquake held by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in September, 2009.

His warning was based on two evidences of (1) an ancient writing told huge tsunami had devastated the same area in 869, (2) AIST found the trace of muddy soil in the same area from several kilometers from sea coast, which was washed out by huge tsunami from sea in around 1,500. These triggered to study how to strengthen the safety measures of nuclear power plant for tsunami and the Seismic Research Committee of Japanese Government watch dog started the survey. However, industrial companies involved in nuclear power generation business persuaded government not to revise the safety standard in order not to be interrupted the contracts under the construction rush of nuclear power station.

Of course there were nuclear power plants which followed AIST advice. Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant of Tohoku Electric Power Plant which is located 120 km north from Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant of Tokyo Electric Power Plant (TEPCO) wasn’t broken by tsunami this time because this power plant provided seawall with 9.1 m. On the other hand Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant of TEPCO has seawall with only 5.4 m. The tsunami this time exceeded 3 times higher of this seawall.

The electricity is indispensable for industries and our life style being used to electrification so that the countries like Japan without energy sources of oil, coal and gas have to keep the nuclear power plant from now on. The safety measures should be learned with sincere attitude from this disaster and then the necessary money should be invested in the safety measures both hardware and system, which is a wisdom of human beings, I think. The lost money this time exceeds not only several thousand times of these safety measures but also will cause a lot of causalities.

It is not accepted for me that a lot of people are saying only “ we are against nuclear power” . If against, alternative idea of energy sources shall be proposed and discussed its feasibility from the stand points of economics and environmental impacts.

March 29, 2011

Dr. Akihiko Hogetsu
Kobe International technologies

Monday, March 28, 2011

Power Plays in Environmental Justice

How do dimensions of power affect the outcomes of environmental justice cases? In Chronicles from the Environmental Justice Frontline, authors Roberts and Toffolon-Weiss make the point that environmental protest movements prove successful only when the powerful stakeholders in a conflict disagree1. This idea supports the neo-pluralist ‘grand majority’ theory that businesses have a privileged position “affecting significant economic interests over which the public can exercise only limited influence.”2 I would argue, however, that this only partially explains the policy outcome that took place in the Louisiana Energy Services (LES) consortium’s failed attempt to build a uranium enrichment facility between two rural black communities in Clairborne Parish, LA in 1994. Pressure from environmental protests played an important role in fragmenting the producer-government coalition of power, causing delays in decision-making that eventually killed the project.

According to neo-pluralist theory, businesses not only “exercise power through their ability to mobilize resources in the political arena,” but also contain structural power due to their importance in the capitalist economy3. LES certainly had insider status while lobbying Louisiana Senator Johnston, Chairman of the Energy Committee, for privatization of enriched uranium supply. In addition, the town’s leaders were businessmen on the Industrial Development Board who recruited LES for development of the facility. Furthermore, Louisiana policy is so growth-oriented that new factories are granted a ten-year exemption on property tax payments4. Yet despite all of the powerful interests in favor of development, environmental racism concerns brought out by protest pressure, along with economic deterioration of the proposal over time, shifted the position of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission against permitting the facility.

Another dimension of power at play in the LES case involves the neo-Marxist theory that the ruling elite define issues in ways that produce a systematic bias in favor of capitalist accumulation2. Roberts and Toffolon-Weiss point out that a paradox repeatedly arises where “environmental justice rulings can hurt the communities they seek to protect by undermining job creation efforts.”5 The ideology that only economic growth is a priority in community governance is pervasive in our capitalist society. The fact that many people in Clairborne Parish wrote letters in favor of the LES facility because of the potential for job creation shows that political institutions have succeeded in shaping citizen preferences to reflect the interests of capital.2 However, a small group of dedicated citizens in Clairborne Parish, with the help and resources of the NAACP and Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, were able to delay and eventually overcome the powerful elite’s bias toward development. The power narrative for environmental justice cases was forever altered by the LES case, despite the authors’ downplaying its importance.

~Mark Bremer, Green Explored Contributor


[1] Roberts, J. Timmons, & Melissa Toffolon-Weiss. 2001. Chronicles from the Environmental Justice Frontline. New York: Cambridge University Press. (p.87)

[2] Carter, Neil. 2007. The Politics of the Environment: Ideas, Activism, Policy. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press. (p.185)

[3] Carter, Neil. 2007. The Politics of the Environment: Ideas, Activism, Policy. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press. (p.184)

[4] Roberts, J. Timmons, & Melissa Toffolon-Weiss. 2001. Chronicles from the Environmental Justice Frontline. New York: Cambridge University Press. (p.69)

[5] Roberts, J. Timmons, & Melissa Toffolon-Weiss. 2001. Chronicles from the Environmental Justice Frontline. New York: Cambridge University Press. (p.92)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

China's membership in WTO exacerbates environmental problems

Since 1978, China’s rapid industrialization and trade liberalization policies have led to the country becoming the international dumping ground for environmentally damaging pollutants and dangerous hazardous wastes. China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 has only exacerbated its ecological problems1. Since then the scale of economic activity has grown to more than offset technological gains in efficiency. Overall, compliance with environmental regulations is lax due to institutional weakness. In addition, the income gap is widening causing threats to the environment by escalating consumerism and high unemployment survival strategies1. Radical policy changes are needed to address China’s worsening environmental problems.

China’s industrial structure and natural resource endowments have favored pollution-intensive growth in coal energy production to meet the rapidly expanding energy demand of the exploding manufacturing sector. Air pollution has increased dramatically from the growth in coal and automobile industries. Small, low-tech, labor-intensive textile operations produce particularly dirty industrial sewage. Small firms account for the vast majority of production and are difficult to regulate and monitor1. These structural and resource factors have made China a free-for-all ‘pollution haven’ within an explicitly expansionist economic policy.

Numerous improved environmental standards have been adopted, but feebly enforced due to institutional weakness. China’s administrative structure is highly fragmented allowing economic ministries to focus on the “pursuit of narrow sectoral objectives with little consideration for the environment”2. Enforcing environmental regulations became even harder as the industrial ministerial structure was dismantled in the transition to comply with WTO rules1. In effect, the lack of enforcement has caused a ‘regulatory race to the bottom’ as China competes for foreign investment.

Socio-economic changes brought about by China’s WTO membership have magnified some environmental problems. China’s economic growth due to the reduction in trade barriers has boosted incomes of its urban populace and caused them to increase consumption of food, goods, and energy. On the other hand, high unemployment and reduced purchasing power means many people are engaged in heavily-polluting natural resource extraction survival strategies1.

China’s membership in the WTO will continue to allow a rapid expansion in the scale of industrialization and intensive energy consumption at the expense of the environment. Only a radical policy change could alter China’s trajectory of environmental degradation. Sudden crises such as food safety scares, climate change effects, or natural resource scarcity have the potential to cause large enough public concern for officials to contemplate serious policy changes. Or when a large social movement demands enforcement of environmental regulations, China may begin to prioritize environmental protection. Until then, China is unlikely to enhance regulatory enforcement or choose to fundamentally shift its development away from environmentally destructive practices.

~Mark Bremer, Green Explored Contributor


[1] Jahiel, Abigail R.(2006) 'China, the WTO, and implications for the environment', Environmental Politics, 15: 2, 310 — 32.

[2] Carter, Neil. 2007. The Politics of the Environment: Ideas, Activism, Policy. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press (p.189)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Is Nuclear Power Green or Gangrene?

Continuing on the theme started last week on the greenness of geothermal power, this week I will opine on the green or gangrene character of nuclear power. The events in Japan are horrific and I am truly sad for the Japanese people. I wrote a book back in 2003 on the Hope and Hype of Hydrogen. A good friend, Dr. Hogetsu, who lives in Kobe Japan translated the book into Japanese. The book has been published and used as a university level text for students of energy policy and thermodynamics. I was with Dr Hogetsu in Kobe back in 1997 just after the Kobe quake. I therefore have a particularly strong bond with Japanese people and words cannot express my sorrow for their suffering.

I will put aside the safety concerns of nuclear power in my analysis of the shade of green or gangrene nuclear power should be given. Let’s simply analyze the marginal cost of avoided carbon dioxide emissions when compared to a state of the art combined cycle gas fired power generation station. This is the same comparison I did for the Bloom Box and the Raser geothermal plant in Utah. The capital cost of a state of the art nuclear power station is now pegged at $ 10 million per megawatt of capacity. The natural gas fired generation station by comparison has a capital cost of approximately $1 million per megawatt. Amortizing the added $9 million per megawatt over five years (a not too fast payout) the utility will need to charge an extra $1.8 million a year for the capital recovery alone. Let’s assume the uptime is 8,400 hours per year for both types of generation stations. This equals $214 per megawatt hour of power generated. At $5 per million BTUs and a heat rate of 7,000,000 BTU per megawatt hour the operating cost for natural gas is $35 per megawatt hour. Giving nuclear a similar operating cost for uranium, labor, security and waste storage for thousands of years is likely not to be the case but for argument sake let’s say the operating cost of the nuclear station equals that of the natural gas station we have an added marginal cost of $214 per megawatt hour.

To be kind to the nuclear option I will not assign greater carbon footprint for the mining and enriching of the uranium when compared with the extraction of natural gas from the ground. I am certain that the nuclear plant has a carbon footprint disadvantage in getting the fuel from the earth and ready for use in the generation station but I will set that aside. As I stated last week the carbon dioxide emission per megawatt hour of power generated from a state of the art combined cycle natural gas fired station is 0.37 tons. Dividing the $214 per megawatt hour by the 0.37 tons we get the marginal cost for avoided carbon dioxide emissions for the nuclear power plant to equal $578 per ton. Only the Bloom Box is worse and this is twice as bad as Raser the wealth eraser.

Perhaps that horrible dictator Mr. I Am A Dinner Jacket who lives in Terror Ran should read this blog. Iran has the second largest natural gas reserves in the world (second only to Russia). If the holocaust denying dictator wants electric power instead of absolute power he would better serve his people by installing combined cycle natural gas power generation stations rather than his “peaceful” nuclear stations. The truth is he want bombs not electrons and he does not give a hoot about the marginal cost of avoided carbon dioxide emissions. If he stopped breathing the earth will save about 400 pounds a year of carbon dioxide emissions and I would gladly pay a high marginal cost for these avoided carbon dioxide emissions. The latest news on Colonel Klink in Tripoli is that he has a no fly zone over him. It may be better if he too had a no breathe zone. One question about the Colonel is does he buy his outfits from Dior? Time to show him the Dior as well.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Geothermal – Green or Gangrene

The green machine is pondering whether geothermal energy is green or gangrene? Certainly it is green from a carbon emissions point of view. The question is whether it is green or gangrene form the point of view of its marginal cost of avoided carbon emissions. I have opined that the Bloom Is Off Of The Rose Box that Alaric La Deux King of the Visigores is promoting is gangrene when the marginal cost of reduced CO2 emissions is considered. The Bloom Box has a marginal cost of avoided CO2 emissions of over $1,000 per ton. This blog will calculate the marginal cost of avoided CO2 emissions from a geothermal facility.

The wealth erasers at Raser Technology are on their last legs. They announced they are investigating strategic alternatives and their stock that was delisted from the NYSE is now trading near a fifteen cents. These guys were developing geothermal generation in Utah, Nevada and the North West. They had Senator Oren Hatch under their spell when he drove the purported 100 mpg Hummer that Raser invented. Not only did Senator Hatch drive the Bummer around the Capitol he was proud to have his name on the geothermal plant Raser built in Beaver County Utah. This is from Raser’s website that still is live but may be dead real soon. Note Anaheim is the home to Disneyland.

“April 16 2009
Raser Technologies, Inc. (NYSE:RZ), a leader in energy technologies, announced that the Hatch Geothermal Power Plant, Beaver County, UT, began delivering clean, renewable electricity to the City of Anaheim, California today.
The Hatch Plant, named after U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, is expected to produce 10 to 11 megawatts (MW) of geothermal power, enough to light up about 9,000 homes in Anaheim, when fully operational. The City of Anaheim signed a 20-year power purchase agreement to receive electricity from the Hatch Plant.
Brent M. Cook, CEO of Raser, said, “We are very pleased to have achieved yet another milestone in the development of this giant innovation in power plant design.”
The Hatch Plant sits on a large geothermal resource leased by Raser, a portion of which is estimated by independent geological engineers to have more than 230 MW of geothermal power potential, a resource large enough to power one-third of the homes in Utah.”

Well I did some checking of the Hatch Plant. In the 92 days between July 1, 2010 and September 30, 2010 the plant sold 11,686 Megawatt-hours of power. This means the plant averaged 5.29 megawatts for each of the hours in the 92 days or about half of the stated name plate capacity of the plant. Raser had entered into a fixed price contract to sell the power to the City of Anaheim for $78 per megawatt-hour. That they are about to end operations tells me they have a cost to generate power that is higher than $78 per megawatt. I place their cost at $150 per megawatt if they are going to make a real profit and a real business out of the geothermal power generation. By comparison with natural gas selling at $5 per million BTU delivered to a combined cycle natural gas generation station, the plant cost including profit is approximately $50 per megawatt hour. The added marginal cost for using the geothermal generation instead of natural gas is therefore estimated at $100 per megawatt-hour. To generate a megawatt hour of power in a state of the art combined cycle gas powered station we have associated carbon dioxide emission of approximately 740 pounds or 0.37 tons. Therefore the marginal cost of reducing a ton of CO2 emissions from a geothermal plant is $100 divide by 0.37 tons or $270 dollars per ton. While this is far better than Alaric La Deux’s Bloom Box, the cost is still highly unaffordable.

Raser was not very good at constructing or operating a geothermal plant and perhaps some other company may improve the power generation economics. The Hatch facility was equipped with turbines that were supplied by United Technologies a company in the Dow Jones 30 stocks and certainly a company that claims leadership in geothermal turbines. Perhaps United Technologies should change their name to Ignited Technologies as they also produce Pratt and Whitney jet engines. Raser can simply change their name to Eraser as they are rubbed out. Right now we have to hold off giving a green star to geothermal power until a more adept and qualified company or group of companies can bring down the marginal cost of avoided carbon dioxide emissions to about $200 a ton. It should be noted that the traded value of carbon dioxide emissions in Europe is only about $25 a ton. In the USA the value of a carbon credit is almost worthless.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Is the Problem the fuel or the fool?

This week my blog draws upon an article that appeared in this weekend’s Haaretz a newspaper in Israel. The article written by Aluf Benn is copied below. This is a well written article by an intelligent man. Alas Aluf you like Thomas Friedman and many other popular columnists have never studied thermodynamics and you all wish for a green brick road that simply replaces the incredible energy content of oil with fanciful photovoltaic cells and batteries. Your call for natural gas vehicles is the only plausible partial solution to transportation fuels. Not so Shy Agassi is Lost in Space with Better Place and bio fools (fuels) are plain dumb like 99.99% of humanity. So I challenge you to think not of the alternate fuel but of the alternate lifestyle. Your article should not deal with the alternative to petroleum but the alternative “western lifestyle” that is not based on conspicuous energy consumption. That we have to use a car to buy a loaf of bread or get a cup of coffee from Starbucks is the problem. The fuel in the car is not the problem. That we live 40 miles from our jobs and move our fat asses driving alone in a 4,000 pound hunk of steel is the problem. That we have houses that are 4,000 square feet with lawns that are 40,000 square feet is the problem. That we eat 4,000 kilo calories a day of meat and processed food is our problem. That we don’t recycle aluminum and plastics is our problem. That we have religions that want us to go forth and multiply is our problem. The best use of a chemical is probably in birth control not a battery and that no leaders of religions or countries will tell the 7 billion folks who walk erect that their birth rate is a problem. That Yemen has seen population growth of almost 4% a year for 40 years is the problem. That we have almost a billion internal combustion engines firing up every day is the problem. That we use the resources of three planet earths is a problem. Mostly that otherwise intelligent people like you can be led around by the nose by a thermodynamic fake like Shai Agassi is the problem. Wake up there in Israel Shai is not an energy Prophet he is just making a profit out of energy.

"What about a revolution in oil dependency?
As the countries owning most of the planet's oil reserves confront growing political turmoil, the economic stability of the whole world will remain at risk - until an alternative to petroleum is developed.
By Aluf Benn
The repeated warnings that the world economy is relying on a dwindling resource lying deep down in the earth, underneath unstable states, are proving true before our very eyes. The popular uprising in Egypt and the civil war in Libya have sent prices soaring at gas stations. And this is nothing compared to the growing fear that Saudi Arabia, the most important state in the world oil economy, will also ignite in the flames of revolution. If the Saudi oil industry enters into a period of crisis and uncertainty, the soaring prices could undermine the world order.
Columnist Thomas L. Friedman has been sounding the alarm for years about "America's addiction to imported oil." Electric car entrepreneur Shai Agassi is busy developing an alternative to the black gold. But admonishing articles or an energy initiative are not enough: The priorities of the developed nations must change and they must make it their top priority to reduce their dependence on petroleum. There is no greater danger to their national security and
The petroleum era began 150 years ago at a drilling site in Pennsylvania and since then consumption has only gone up. Petroleum is more convenient to produce, transport and use than any other energy source. Of the 10 biggest companies in the world, five are oil companies. There is no other commodity that is so affected by political developments and that has such a great influence on the global balance of power.
The graph of oil prices during the past 40 years precisely depicts the relations among the major powers. The soaring prices in the 1970s in the wake of the Yom Kippur War and the revolution in Iran had a very negative effect on the status of the United States - the world's largest oil importer - and strengthened the Soviet Union, whose economy relied on exported energy. The crash of oil prices at the end of the 1980s toppled the USSR. Its economy was not able to bear the burden of maintaining the Soviet empire without the flow of petrodollars.
The price of oil shot up again in 2008 and presaged the world financial crisis, which knocked out America and undermined its self-confidence. The big beneficiary that time was China, which also imports oil but whose economy is still less dependent on it than that of the United States. The financial crisis led to a political turnaround, which brought President Barack Obama into power. Oil prices dropped again, and revived with the rise in demand last year. Ultimately, America's weakness affected the oil exporters: The shock waves sparked by the financial crisis are now causing the collapse of the regimes in the Arab countries, which enjoyed the sponsorship and protection of the United States.
Cars, ships and planes, and a large proportion of the trains in the world, are powered by gasoline or diesel fuel. The modern way of life depends entirely on these means of transportation. Gal Luft, an Israeli researcher who during the past decade has been preaching to the Americans about "energy security," gives an example in a lecture that everyone understands: In certain rural or suburban communities in countries like the United States, it is impossible to buy a loaf of bread without getting into the car and driving to the store. This means that without available petroleum, these areas' inhabitants will simply starve. In large cities like New York and Chicago, the trains may run on electricity, but the supply of food from the countryside to the city depends on petroleum.
The United States guzzles up about one-quarter of the world's oil production. Last year for the first time, the Chinese surpassed the Americans in overall consumption of energy (from all sources and for all uses ). The more the Chinese migrate from the countryside to the city and move from bicycles to motor vehicles, the more they need gasoline and diesel fuel. Today China consumes about one-tenth of the world's oil production, and according to the British Petroleum forecast it will surpass America in 2030.
The Chinese demand for petroleum, more than any other factor, will dictate developments in the global energy market. Most of the oil from the Middle East is already being exported to Asia, mainly to China and Japan. Until now, America has been in control of most the sources of supply, thanks to defense treaties with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates, and the military occupation of Iraq. In the coming years, there will be sharper competition for control of the oil wells between America and China, which today supports Iran. The new regimes that will arise in the Arab countries will no doubt try to shake off the American embrace and play the powers off against one another in order to increase their own influence and their economic profits.
Global oil consumption is now at a record peak of about 88 million barrels a day. The two largest producers are Russia and Saudi Arabia, which together supply about one-quarter of the market. The largest proven reserves are also in Saudi Arabia. Only that country has surplus production capacity, by which it is able to take up the slack in the event that one of the smaller producers is in trouble - as is the case now in Libya. All the other exporters are pumping oil at their full capacity.
Like nearly everything else in the oil market, the extent of Saudi Arabia's reserves and its production abilities have been the subject of doubt and are enveloped in conspiracy theories. The figures, however, are less important than the expectations, which dictate the price and the consumers' behavior. When Saudi Arabia coughs, the economies in the West and in Asia tremble.
The energy crisis in the 1970s led to the decline in the use of oil as a source for electricity production. It was replaced by coal and natural gas. This transition was relatively easy in the electricity economy, where it is necessary only to get the fuel to a few fixed power stations, as opposed to the millions of cars driving on the roads.
Now the time has come for a change in transportation as well. Gasoline and diesel fuel have three possible replacements: fuel produced from vegetation (biodiesel ), natural gas converted into vehicle fuel, or electricity. The use of electricity affords the most flexibility because its infrastructure can be set up nearly everywhere, and its energy can be supplied from a number of sources: from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, from nuclear reactors, and in the future also from wind and the sun. These sources of energy are not concentrated in a few countries, most of which suffer from instability and are not democracies - as is the case with petroleum reserves. If we travel in electric cars, or cars fueled by natural gas, we will not be concerned about the thrones of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and his counterparts in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
Electric or natural gas-powered cars will not solve the problems of the environment, air pollution and global warming. At most, they will move the soot and the stink from the streets of the crowded cities to the chimneys of the power stations. Their benefits will be political and strategic, not environmental. Only when the technological breakthrough occurs in the development of renewable energy from the sun and the wind will it be possible for electricity to be green as well. At present, however, it is necessary to deal with the politics of energy and not to fantasize about a pristine world without pollutants.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu correctly identified the need to free the world from petroleum and initiated a national program to develop alternatives. After delays and bureaucratic arm-wrestling, the plan was approved in the cabinet last month. Within the National Economic Council headed by Prof. Eugene Kandel, a small administrative apparatus for the project has been established.
The project leader, Sagi Dagan, is looking for small-scale initiatives that could bring about the change. There is a precedent for this in the world of the Internet, where Israeli companies have earned influence and a significant market share in essential niche areas like encoding. At the NEC they believe that with a push and aid from the government, more Shai Agassis will arise here.
The challenge that will be facing them is enormous: According to the British Petroleum forecast, electric cars will have an effect on the market only 20 years from now. This is a transitional period, during which the influence of the oil producers will reach its peak in the face of swelling demand.
America and its allies, including Israel, will have to maintain as much strength as possible as they face these days of rage. The faster the alternatives to petroleum reach the market, and knock it off the top of the heap, the better. The revolutions in the Arab countries are sounding the alarm to get moving on the change that is so essential to the energy economy."