free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 117. IS IT TOO LATE TO SWITCH TO NUCLEAR?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005



In the long run, the solution to peak oil works like this:

1) Conservation to reduce demand for energy (liquid fuels in particular) to the lowest possible level. This will involve retrofitting first world cities to eliminate the need for cars in ordinary life.
2) Using replacements (tar sands, natural gas, GTL, ethanol, coal liquefaction etc.) to substitute for liquid fuel demand which cannot be eliminated.
3) Shifting as much of the electrical grid as possible to nuclear (supplemented with wind/solar) to free up natural gas and coal for transport and feedstock applications (see #42).
4) Managing with nuclear and the remaining fossil fuels until plentiful, clean space energy (see #5, #33, #51, #104) can be brought on line.

Nuclear energy is a critical part of the solution, and the doomers often criticize it for it being unscalable. They say:

i) It takes 10 years or more to build a nuclear power plant.
This is a myth.
The new-generation nuclear reactors being talked about after a pause of three decades are not much different from those of the past, though the designs should make them safer, more efficient and easier to build.


Here are some characteristics of each of the top three light-water reactor designs and a next-generation gas-cooled reactor:

The Westinghouse AP1000:

This would have one-third fewer pumps, half as many valves, and more than 80 percent fewer pipes than current reactors. It can be built using modular units manufactured in a factory and transported to the reactor site, cutting construction time to three years.Source

ii) Nuclear power can't be scaled up quickly.
This is false. Nuclear power generation rose from 21.8 billion kilowatt-hours in 1970 to 576.9 billion kilowatt-hours in 1990 (Source: DOE Annual Energy Review 2004, P. 275). That's an increase of 2500% over 20 years -- a growth rate of about 17.7% per annum.

iii) We won't be able to build nuclear plants after peak oil because building nuclear plants is dependent on oil.
This is also false, as can be seen from the history of the late 1970s/early 1980s, when world crude oil production dropped by -15%, while nuclear power in the U.S. rose by +60% (see #69).


At Wednesday, September 28, 2005 at 8:10:00 PM PDT, Blogger James Shannon said...

That's a good blueprint for navigating the energy ship through the rapids of the 21st century. Part of the focus of this site IMO should be turned towards to developing specific plans like you did with this post!

P.S. Turn on word verification in the options part of Blogger to block the spam that's been cropping up on this site. I had the same problem, and doing that took care of those spammers!

At Wednesday, September 28, 2005 at 8:30:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so nuclear power rose 60%? Big deal. How much did it offset petroleum consumption? Zilch. You don't run your car on nuclear energy, you idiot.

At Wednesday, September 28, 2005 at 8:51:00 PM PDT, Blogger JD said...

You don't run your car on nuclear energy, you idiot.

Cars are an unnecessary luxury. The vast majority of the people in the world get by just fine without them.

At Thursday, September 29, 2005 at 4:38:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done JD, good work. I'll be making a post in the Google group about Hong Kong as a 'non car' city.

At Thursday, September 29, 2005 at 10:07:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think JD has hit it on the head with his blog and overall views, the car (at least what we use for cars, the petrochem variety) do not need to exist, they are the problem and figuring out a way to get by without one will ensure your own personal success in the future.

That said I don't think cars will ever go away, I just think well be driving tiny electric vehicles 30 years from now, and for short distances everybody will ride bikes (during the gas shortage of the 1970s bike sales went up 300% practically overnight, this is a hard statistic for the doomers because it shows people will change their habbits if they have to)

At Thursday, September 29, 2005 at 10:17:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting points, though I think the waste issue is a large consideration that you didn't mention: where are we going to put it all?

At Thursday, September 29, 2005 at 10:56:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Every job in the auto industry creates 10 other jobs.Are you advocating we purposely crash the economy in order to satisfy your bizarre anti-car fetish? You're one sick bastard.

At Thursday, September 29, 2005 at 11:45:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No just realistic.

At Thursday, September 29, 2005 at 12:56:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Every job in the auto industry creates 10 other jobs.Are you advocating we purposely crash the economy in order to satisfy your bizarre anti-car fetish? You're one sick bastard.

One, something will be needed to substitute for cars. That will create economic activity, as will the basic matter of retrofitting infrastructure.

Two, peak oil is going to fark the economy even worse if we don't do something to prepare. Denying that we might have to get rid of cars doesn't help.

At Thursday, September 29, 2005 at 3:23:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The key to this is *REDUCE THE NEED FOR CARS*

Cars are really good at some things, getting to very rural areas, around in the middle of the night and carrying a lot of goods home (Although in the future that can be done by electric vans from distribution centres, ordering via the internet).

Cars are not very good in cities and they are a dammed inefficient way of moving people about, both in terms of energy as well as congestion. Some intercity journeys planes and trains are better, although the former is going to be hit by PO and not all that great for getting people right into the middle of where they want to go.

I don’t see that cars will ever be completely replaced, but moving to less car dependence where it could be done, is very wise, not only for energy but it would save money, fuel and make the economy that much more efficient.

A small electric car in a multi-modal set up really is the way to go, it keeps jobs in the auto industry, saves money, time and fuel.

At Thursday, September 29, 2005 at 3:26:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok...there has been much confusion about what Peak Oil means.

1. It is not a statement that we will run out of oil.
2. It is not a statement that we will run out of cheap oil.
3. It is not a statement about the PRICE at all.

What it is:

Peak Oil is merely a point at which the ability to sustainably INCREASE supply
rate goes away and is replaced with decreasing supply rate. It is not an idea.
It is not a theory. It is a physical property of oil fields.

In short, oil distribution in a field is on a distribution curve of the easiest
up to the hardest to extract oil. So, of course, everyone goes for the easiest
stuff first and that is why you can increase supply year over year before Peak.
You're getting all the easiest oil. Once you cross the Peak, all of the
easiest oil is gone. Now, there is only the right side of the curve left,
where ALL of the oil gets HARDER to extract than the oil to the left of it.

This is why you cannot grow supply, because once you pump a barrel out, EVERY
barrel left in that field is HARDER to extract than the one you just pumped.
Even if price goes up artificially, each barrel is still harder to pump out
than the last one.

Peak Oil is thus independent of price. It sets price, not the other way
around. It is easy to see that on the upslope, price can control supply rate.
If everyone is producing easy oil, you can slow your pumps and produce less.
But, once you cross the Peak, you cannot meet a demand or price increase with a
matching supply increase. You cannot increase supply at all. This is the Peak
Oil phenomenon.

What it means:

First, we have to define industrialism. British Industrial Mercantilism, is,
in short, the reconfiguration of raw materials into more useful configurations.
It depends, like all processes, upon energy. Industrial economies are
replications of this basic premise across entire societies. Built into such
economies is a desire for increase in wealth. Basic human greed drives this.
To generate more wealth on a societal scale, output must grow beyond the rate
of population growth. This is per capita GDP, for instance, a measure of a
society's wealth. This is why every corporation seeks revenue, sales, profit
GROWTH. The economy must GROW. It's never, "hey, we've got a big enough
economy," it's always "we must grow the economy." This is so standards of
living rise. That's what people want. And industrialists want more consumers,
to make more money than they did last year, to sell more steel, more computers,
more tires, more of everything. To grow. Like Ray Kroc put it, "if you're not
growing, you're dying." That is industrialism.

The unfortunate part for us is that we live in a universe where there are laws
of conservation of energy and other pesky principles which mandate that if
you're going to increase the amount of shit you reconfigure into useful
articles, you must increase the amount of energy you use. To make more steel
requires more energy. To lift more concrete requires more energy. And, since
everyone isn't content with just lifting today as much concrete as they did
yesterday, their energy needs grow. I.e., power consumption grows.

So, it's easy to see how industrialism, by its very nature, requires an ever
increasing supply of energy. And, this is an exponential growth problem
because the economy's growth rate and the growth rate of everything is
compounding. If something grows by 5% yearly, the 5% this year represents more
than the 5% last year because of the compounding. Populations do this because
all those kids you have are having even more kids. 2 parents are turning into
4 children which turn into even more little destructo machines. People are
multiplying. So, to make sure that each one of them has his own large single
passenger SUV or whatever other measure of wealth our greedy asses desire, we
must consume an exponentially growing rate of energy to keep those roadhogs

Now, when you see an exponential growth in demand in order to maintain standard
of living and you scroll back up to the Peak Oil discussion of BELL CURVE
shaped supply rates, you must immediately spring to the conclusion "god damn,
that Trav character sure is smart, because he has shown me that there is no way
in hell this particular energy source can support limitless exponential growth.
Its supply curve hits a peak and then declines!" And, you would be right on
both counts.

Some of those who fancy they're smart might say, "but Ironhead, what about
nuclear?" Listen chump, that's being tried right now. Other nations have
addressed their domestic energy growth problems thus far with expansion in
nuclear power. And, once saturated, they can't add more supply because their
rivers get too hot. So, they have to shut plants off when they need power and
they die in droves. If people are dying because of power shortages, imagine
what this is going to do to their industrial base's ability to grow its own
output. They have reached a functional cap in power supply. To get out of
this box, they need another energy source. So, they turn to the easiest one,
the free one...oil. Cuz, tall mountains and dammable rivers and windy plains
aren't something you can import. It's either oil or no more industrial growth.

Others may say, "but, Ironhead, won't we just find more oil?" The complex
answer is "fuck no." Oil discovery is also on a bell curve, idjits. We've
already FOUND the easiest oil! That'd be the first oil that we'd find, duh.
It's the blind squirrel principle. He finds the easiest nuts first. The
biggest nuts have already been found hanging below my dick and the blind
squirrel will work his way downward from there until reaching much smaller
nuts. The asymptote of infintesimally smallest nuts would belong to Ronnie.
But, I digress and I hope everyone sees the point I'm trying to make here. All
future discoveries will involve ever harder to get at oil. Deep water shit,
oil shales, tar sands, stuff that is harder to extract. As prices rise, yes,
the EASIEST to get at of these harder reserves WILL be extracted along with the
harder to get at of the easier reserves. And, this is precisely what happened
in Alberta. They took the top 7% of tar sands oil first and now they are
forced into harder to get at buckets and their field obeys Peak principles too.
All of them do. The world petrochem situation does.

So, with all of these issues coming together, the implication should be
patently clear. Without energy supply growth, there cannot be industrial
growth, which means that if there is population growth, there will not be
increases in average wealth, there will be decreases. Less shit to go around.
Less H2s. Less Porsche Cayennes...less of a lot of absurd shit that are status
symbols in western society.

Is this a catastrophe? Well, does the prospect of sustained, irreversible
global recession sound catastrophic to you?

At some point it does. Because, after a threshold level of poverty, societies
collapse. Most of the world is living in a collapsed or nonexistent society.
In fact, there are relatively few NON collapsed societies out there.

BTW, this has happened before with food supplies and other things. At some
point, the rate of consumption growth exceeded the rate of supply growth or
there were supply decreases due to decreases in production capacity. Soil
destruction, drought, crop disease. All of these things replicate Peak Oil
curves. And, we know from history what has happened to societies that went
through them.

People might just naively believe that we can start replacing oil supply with
some other form of energy, but that is foolish. To continue living as we live,
we need GROWTH, not just replacement. So, we have to replace our existing oil
usage with some other energy source PLUS account for our desire to continue to
grow. And, we have to do this as the inherent cost of manufacturing wind
turbines and nuclear plants continues to increase. This is kind of like
bailing yourself out of near bankruptcy while at the same time trying to save
for your kids' college education. We cannot "phase out" oil. We have to look
to phase out power growth coming from oil and then decrease our usage of oil.
This is a far harder effort. Let's just say it's impossible to meet all of
these demands simultaneously.

The world cannot phase out oil with something else and meet economic growth
expectations. Can't be done. You're talking about almost half of existing
power production and the wide majority of projected future production. If our
power consumption in this nation increases by 7% annually, we will need to
double our total power production in 10 years. That's it, just 10 years to
replicate every single power plant we have right now. Does that sound like
something that can be done with nuclear plants and wind turbines that haven't
been built yet? Just to meet our growth needs would require a herculean effort
without petrochem, much less total replacement of our current oil consumption
rate. And, the kicker is that we're trying to hold our oil consumption steady
while oil supply is decreasing. Everybody else will have the same ideas.

If we discover fusion, we're home free. If someone invents an alchemical
process to turn water into oil or we find that there are a gabillion tons of
methane under the Caribbean and we can stick a hose into it and we effectively
quintuple current energy reserves, then we'll revisit this discussion in 2030.
Nobody sane is betting their ass on this happening.

At Thursday, September 29, 2005 at 5:53:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After all that old blather, yes we know this. But in the real world we aren't all going to sit around and do nothing, alternatives will be looked for. And if means becoming less car reliant so be it (that's 50% of oil for a start.) It doesn't mean less economic growth, it may actually mean more as cars have huge external costs to society.

You can create growth/money from almost anything, sectors are created (IT, medical drugs) and destroyed (coal mining, horse shoe making) and have different energy intensities. For example luxury transport has a very high energy intensity compared to prostitution.

At Thursday, January 10, 2008 at 7:08:00 AM PST, Blogger axel said...

First of all, remember that economic modelling (ref: Holland, University of North Carolina)tells us that the real indicator of oil scarcity is not peaks in production, but rather price.
Are oil prices increasing ? Despite what you may think, recent apparent rises in oil prices do not reflect rising prices, but just the declining value of the US Dollar. Producers are fed up being paid in dollars. They want EUROS or any other reasonably stable currency. And in EUROS prices are actually quite stable. The other problem are all the green men and women trying to milk energy consumers and increasing taxes on fuels of all kinds. So we are seeing a simulated peak oil phenomenon. Perhaps all to the better to make us think of alternatives and save a bit more. But stay put for wide price gyrations up and also down again !


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