Do we have five years left…….?

23 10 2016

You may remember the articles I recently published about the twilight of the age of oil by Louis Arnoux….. well Raul Ilargi from the Automatic Earth has published them too, and this time, there’s a video to go with them. It’s very informative, and led me to understand all sorts of things, not least why the price of oil can never go back up. Basically, as less and less net energy is present in each new barrel of oil extracted, it’s simply worth less….

I was getting very enthusiastic about this presentation, right up until the end when Arnoux starts pushing this ‘green box’ of his, the logo for which appears (I now realise) in the bottom corner of all his slides. It’s called the nGeni. And it all sounds too good to be true, especially after telling us all that the economy probably has just five years left, and will grind to a halt…..

Here’s the video

After watching it, I then googled nGeni, and found this website trying to crowdfund it. I’d love to know what DTM readers think of this, because it all sounds like snake oil to me…..




46 responses

23 10 2016

I searched Louis Arnoux on the U.S. Patent and Trademark site and came up with 6553355. Not sure if it is the same guy, but equally indecipherable.

Peter T


23 10 2016

At 4cents/kwh & vg eroi, that might get some more oil out of the ground after all. However not convinced on the magic green box myself.

There is a new catalyst that converts c02 to ethanol.

Oil price won’t be getting any cheaper in the long term – ridiculous. Short-term maybe.

23 10 2016

Your right Mike, snake oil it is. Unfortunately there is no solution to continue business as usual.

24 10 2016
Bruce Teakle

Morning Mike! I had a look at the ngeni video too. All they are asking is for crowd funding a product which appears not to have any sort of prototype built, using innovative but secret technologies, and which promises to solve all mankind’s energy problems. I don’t see why you’re so suspicious.

24 10 2016

You know me Bruce……. always the skeptic!

24 10 2016


Must get one. I’m sure I heard him say that it will cure my ingrown toenails as well.

24 10 2016

The idea that the oil price will go to zero doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe from a pure thermodynamic argument a barrel of oil will eventually be worthless, but the economy doesn’t run according to the laws of physics. There are plenty of things in the world that are “worthless” (art, big screen TVs, whatever), but people perceive value in them and are willing to pay hard earned money for them. The same goes for oil – we have had a century of investing the world’s capital resources into building oil dependent stuff, so there is more value in a barrel of oil than just its net energy content (which may be zero). So there will still be demand, and as supply drops off the price will increase. The system may eventually go down, but the existing way of doing things will drive a lot of perverse market outcomes for a while longer I think.

And regarding nGeni, it’s hard to tell from the limited information they are giving away, but it just looks like another attempt at using technology for delaying the inevitable. I like Nicole Foss’s line of reasoning – renewable energy and other technology based solutions to energy descent all rely of fossil fuel based industries to develop and maintain them. When the oil runs out all of this technology will be stranded. We should be using what resources we have left to build resilience, not new technologies.

26 10 2016

When the oil companies all go tits up, and nobody is pumping oil, I don’t know what one will have to pay for a barrel of the stuff. More to the point, HOW will you use a barrel of oil if the Matrix is no longer working?

I often think about how I will use my solar power station in the future…. if Makita goes down, will I be able to get new batteries for my cordless tools? If the TV stations all go broke, what will I watch on TV, if I can get a replacement one when the current one dies? Where will a replacement laptop come from? Who will still be running the internet? More importantly, who will fix my pumps so I can get water out of my taps….?

It will be one giant world of ‘ifs’…..

24 10 2016

These people are out of their minds.

25 10 2016
Eclipse Now

5 years left? My goodness, we’re doomed! But hang on… TWELVE years ago you claimed that by now we’d be facing something like $200 a barrel oil, or even rationing! How’d that pan out?

26 10 2016

Ah yes, I was delinquent then, not realisisng that debt would destroy demand so much, a global glut would be the outcome of extracting really low net energy oil….. you’re entitled to think the current situation is better than $200 oil, but it doesn’t change the fact we are facing the thermodynamic black hole……

Either way, we would be facing 2025 as the end of the world as we know it. And every day, we get closer and closer, and every day there is more information/data on just how this will happen, so it’s always a work in progress.

In the end, Limits to Growth takes no prisoners.

26 10 2016
Eclipse Now

We’re no where near the limits. 10 billion can live first world lives on this planet in modern, convenient eco-cities, just with today’s nuclear technologies. Tomorrow’s breeders will convert longer-lived nuclear waste into fuel, and then America will have a MILLENNIA of free fuel just in their nuclear waste & warheads, and close down uranium mining for 1000 years. Energy is the key, and nuclear is the answer.

26 10 2016

But then, if you look at the last graph on part 4 of the Hills group analysis ( or it suggests that in 2020 the economic activity powered by a barrel of oil will be $11.76. How many oil producers will collapse before that price point? It looks to me like even 3 years is optimistic.

26 10 2016
Ertimus Waffle

Eclipse Now …Do you own a Uranium mine or a nuclear power station. Without cheap oil and cheap coal there is no future for nuclear power, haven’t you heard of the OIL age, there is no Uranium age because it’s just like expensive coal but a hell of a lot more dangerous.

26 10 2016
Eclipse Now

So Ertimus, electric diggers and electric trolley trucks and electric conveyor belts and other electric mining systems haven’t been invented yet? (Slaps hand to forehead). The irony here is that old Hubbert himself predicted a nuclear age that could stretch out a few hundred years, and by then everything will be breeders and uranium from the oceans will last us a billion years. Erosion tops up the oceans with uranium about 3 times faster than a world of 10,000 breeder reactors could ever use it.

27 10 2016

Abandoned Uranium mines in JUST the USA.....

27 10 2016
Eclipse Now

Hi Mike, lovely graphic. But totally devoid of science. Where are those ‘sciencey’ things we call numbers? I regard that “25 MILLION” and “DANGER” as despicable, retarded, unscientific FUD. Where are the NUMBERS? How many mSv / year are we talking? EG: Fukushima press releases often say “Highly radiactive water has been released into the bay” blah blah blah and they are talking about TRITIUM WATER! Tritium! I kid you not. You know you can DRINK that stuff and not die, right? So until you can quote something with actual measurements with actual radioactive units, I’m treating this poster with the contempt it deserves.

PS: (Whispering quietly.. radiation wasn’t the subject: the ability of reactors to supply ALL the world’s energy needs for a BILLION years was. Have you conceded that already?)

28 10 2016

Safety issues aside, how long do those breeder reactors and support systems take to build? Is there enough time? Is there enough investment right now to get it done in time? Is such investment even possible in the current circumstance?

24 02 2017

What about the oil in the trucks to dig up the resources sand/cement/rock/metals(for reinforcing, piping, electronics etc)/plastics from oil for the fittings etc to build the reactors and the oil in the trucks and ships to transport materials to site. Even supposing that there is efficient design and economies of scale, I think “Eclipse” you may be running too late. Oh and if you are thinking Boron might be used as a fuel you need to factor in conversion of vehicles and re-fueling facilities and the fact that boron in liquid gel form is heavy to pump oh and that little fact that boron fuel is highly toxic in exhausts. Besides all this costs money and if you hadn’t noticed the economy is a little heavily weighted to the debt side to be able to raise funds. You may also think that fascists in power may be able to push through this financial and energy malaise but even they are bound by a limit to growth on a finite planet.

25 02 2017
Eclipse Now

Hi GraceR,
Boron to replace oil is discussed in Prescription for the Planet, a book Dr James Hansen recommends. See Chapter 5 “The fifth element” on page 155.
It describes how the air would be *cleaner* than with oil.

There are many, many things we can do in a sudden oil crisis.
EG: Half of world shipping is moving fossil fuels around. If the demand for coal drops as nations quickly move to nuclear, can you imagine how much ship oil we’d drop?
EG: “Half the world’s population lives within 60 km of the sea, and three-quarters of all large cities are located on the coast.”

We could replace much long distance trucking with SAIL POWER if a really bad energy crunch were to hit. Australia had plans to erect big masts on old cargo-ships to turn them into sailing boats.
France built out 75% of their grid in just 15 years as nuclear.
An NREL study concluded that 86% of cars and *light* trucks could be replaced on today’s American grid. Other nations use half the oil per capita of America, and so they’ll be even further along. So EV’s can replace petroleum. Diesel is trickier, but that’s where boron comes in, or even synthetic diesel from CO2 & Hydrogen in seawater. Nukes can do that.

Dr James Hansen says 115 GW of reactors a year (slower than the French build out in the 70’s) would replace all the world’s fossil electricity, including population growth and providing a modern lifestyle to the poor, by 2050. Double that for the power to generate the synthetic diesel or boron, and it’s STILL a small fraction of the world’s GDP, even at $5BN per reactor. But by then we should have streamlined GenIV’s coming off the production line at around $1bn per reactor, especially if a big government emergency roll out happens.

Then there’s peer-reviewed science that says ALL our energy and ALL our food could come from giant kelp and associated seafood farms. Tim Flannery has referenced this paper, and it is amazing. The paper below says it would give us:-

* half a kilogram of seafood per person per day, to feed a world of 10 billion people!
* all the biofuels and biogas we could need to replace fossil fuels, let alone being the ultimate backup to wind and solar power through fast ramping gas turbines
* remove ocean acidity
* restore our atmosphere to 350ppm by 2085
In other words, seaweed is a silver bullet to feed the world, save the oceans, and save us from climate change, all in this free PDF. “Negative carbon via Ocean Afforestation”. Just register, and download it for free.

28 10 2016

This article should make itt all clear As it comes to Oil and its demise it is probably true maybe the time frame can be adjusted give and take a few years . But as far this green box solution and some of the comments on the saving grace of nucear etc it is just all a fantasy of uninformed wishful thinking

29 10 2016
Eclipse Now

Hi Etyere,
why so dubious? France exists. It runs mainly on nuclear, and as oil becomes more expensive the benefits of extra trains, trams, and trolley buses become obvious. Oil won’t run out overnight, and so society has time to adjust. NREL has said that over 80% of America’s car fleet could be converted to EV’s and charged on the *existing* grid, without building a single new power station, because of all the excess electricity overnight. (Which would charge about 45% of the cars).
This denial of the nuclear potential is a doomer fantasy not based in reality. The REALITY is that nuclear reactors exist, abundant uranium exists, and transport can mostly be electrified, with nuclear-generated synfuels for airlines. There’s enough uranium to run today’s normal AP1000’s for hundreds of years, all the while creating the perfect fuel for breeder reactors. And when true GENIV breeder reactors like GE’s S-PRISM arrive, they’ll come off the production line so cheap that they’ll be cheaper than coal.

29 10 2016
Eclipse Now

Here’s a summary Etyere, I think you need to catch up. After you’ve read all these links, you’ll sound less like myself 7 years ago (I was anti nuclear back then before I understood the potential). You’ll be able to have a more informed say on nuclear power. Mike already knows all of this, but just lives in denial anyway. What can you do? There are climate deniers, and nuclear deniers. There’s no way to change them, but I’d hate for you to fall in the anti-nuclear camp just from sheer ignorance.

Breeder reactors burn the longer lived actinides in nuclear waste, eventually burning the nuclear waste down to the fission products which only stay hot for 300 years.

But in reality, new designs could make breeders cheaper than traditional once-through reactors like Light Water Reactors! There are 2 types:

1. Fast Neutron reactors.

Russia had the old BN-350, and then built the Bn-600. Note: the Japanese paid Russia a billion for the technical specs on their old BN-600, and “The operation of the reactor is an international study in progress; Russia, France, Japan, and the United Kingdom currently participate.”

They just opened the BN-800 (and sold the plans to China).

They are building 11 new normal reactors over the next few years, including 2 whopping great BN-1200’s!

G.E. have the PRISM ready for commercial prototype testing (as the original proof-of-concept testing was done decades ago in the EBR2). They are basically ready to deploy in the first country that will let them.

China will mass produce breeder nukes cheaper than coal in just 6 years!

2. Thermal (slow neutron) reactors run hotter
My favourite thermal reactor is the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor which CANNOT ‘melt down’, as it is already a liquid! See China’s plans!

China will mass produce breeder nukes cheaper than coal in just 8 years!

America has enough nuclear waste to run her for 1,000 years and this has been estimated to be worth $30 TRILLION dollars!

The United Kingdom has enough waste to run her for 500 years.

When we finally run out of today’s nuclear waste to burn in 500 years my guess is we might not even need fission reactors any more. But if we do still need to use IFR’s and LFTR’s, what then? Uranium from seawater is ‘renewable’ in the sense that erosion constantly tops up the uranium particles floating in the ocean, 3 times faster than we could use it. It will last us a billion years.

WASTE? Once the actinides are burned out, the fission products only stay ‘hot’ for 300 years. Just vitrify it into waterproof ceramic blocks, and store in carpark depth bunkers. Done. Trivial. Not an issue!

29 10 2016

Just in 25 years we had not one but two catastrophic meltdowns had they turned out totally out of control the Chernobyl one would have made all of Europe the Fukushima all of Tokio and area possibly japan as a whole uninhabitable possibly the whole northern hemisphere even as they are now the need constant care for thousands of years . How long until the one malfunction makes the world uninhabitable And that`s just on the safety side of things . All your reactor types and methods you are listing here are unproven technologies . Even if they are being circulated as viable or potential methods these are only kept alive of some internet blogs since talk is cheap on the internet and cater to wishful thinkers . The scientist have long forgotten them already . I rest my case

30 10 2016

Besides which, giving our growth model any amount of ‘unlimited energy’ is pure recipe for disaster…… how much more Koala habitat will we destroy to house more people, how much more of Amazonia or Indonesia will we cut down to grow enough food to feed Eclipse’s ten billion people? I wouldn’t actually take a lot more energy to dio the world over, for good..

Craziest idea ever, not even worth thinking about..

30 10 2016
Eclipse Now

Hi Etyere, about SAFETY:-

First, think about solving global warming from a risk assessment point of view. Just imagine what would happen if we shoot through to 6 degrees because we absolutely COULD NOT solve the intermittency of wind and solar, and then the world’s various climate feedbacks take us to 12 degrees of warming! That’s bad with a capital B. That’s game over. Which is worse: a runaway climate catastrophe that ends civilisation, ora Fukushima every 30 years? (Not going to happen, see Third point below).

Second, what are you upset about? RIGHT NOW COAL IS ABOUT 650 CHERNOBYL’S A YEAR! You’re worried about 1 Chernobyl from 1986, and one Fukushima (far less worrying) a generation later. I’m worried about nearly TWO CHERNOBYLS a day! Put simply, coal kills 2.6 million people annually which is just short of 1.75 Chernobyl’s casualties every single day of the year! short URL
As George Monbiot says: “Coal kills more people when it goes right than nuclear power does when it goes wrong. In fact coal kills more people every week than nuclear power has in the entire history of its deployment.”

Third, banning safe modern reactors because of dangerous old reactors is like banning modern aviation because of the Hindenberg. Another Fukushima is *not* going to happen with these modern reactors. There are plenty of old reactors out there we still need to retire, and even if one of these blows in the next few days, I’ll STILL be a fan of nuclear power because there are *totally* different reactors coming!

Modern nukes would *easily* have survived the Fukushima power outages. Older reactors required power to cool, today’s reactors require power to work!!! Without power they shut themselves down, automatically. Indeed, some modern reactors like the LFTR cannot EVER ‘melt-down’ because they are already a liquid, and require power to keep the liquid in the core and not simply drain away and harden into passive safety mode.
I have collected more details here:-

Also, radiation is just not that bad. We could fence of the Chernobyl and Fukushima power plants, and some of the red forest outside Chernobyl, and move back in to most of those territories. They’re just not as radioactive as some places are naturally!

31 10 2016

You just don’t get it…… NOTHING will ‘solve’ climate change, and certainly NOT building more crap.

Every time we build anything, whether it’s solar, fossil, nuclear, EVs, my own house, MORE CO2 is added to the atmosphere. And not one of those things built removes any of it.

Two degrees is already set in concrete. We have to end all industrialisation NOW, not after we’re finished building your wet dream. It’s probably too late already for my kids generation. We’re already seeing extreme weather at 1C, how bad will it get at 2C?

The problem is NOT the nuclear power we are not using…… it’s the power we are using today. We have to end all consumption, today. Which is why I sincerely hope we have only five years left of this madness…..

31 10 2016
Eclipse Now

Deindustrialise? Ha ha! Well, Mike, if that’s your only answer, good luck with that. At least the Ecomodernist Manifesto has a chance.

31 10 2016
Eclipse Now

Also, we can reduce the rate of warming for around a $2 billion a year just by dumping dust in the upper atmosphere. Climate models indicate we can knock off about half the rate of warming by cutting a tiny fraction of incoming sunlight. Trying to cut *all* the warming would have various very bad side effects, so we wouldn’t do that. There is also a range of carbon sequestering schemes like huge afforestation plans, kelp farming, Polyface farming that locks carbon in the soil, olivine dust spreading (which also de-acidifies the ocean), biochar, and many other schemes that can work together to gradually return CO2 levels to normal. We have the technology to restore this planet. All we need is the willpower to use it.

31 10 2016

Like I said……. you really don’t get it. Technology got us into this mess, and technology won’t get us out. One has to recognise when to stop digging. Before the hole’s too big to get out of.

30 10 2016
Eclipse Now

Hi Mike,
If you got out of doomer land and started reading the Ecomodernists, you would realise abundant cheap energy is the only thing that is going to save the environment through factory farming. Housing is only 3% of the land surface of the Earth, but farming and grazing take up about half. Cheap enough reliable electricity + RED light LED’s = vertical farming, even Acropolises that feed themselves. There can only be abundant room for nature when our technology has decoupled us from it!

20 12 2016

“There can only be abundant room for nature when our technology has decoupled us from it!” Seriously??? It is the decoupling of us from nature and lack of understanding nature that has us in this mess.

21 12 2016

You bet…… we took dominion of the Earth, and stuffed it right up.

21 12 2016
Eclipse Now

Hi Noptomistic,
World leading environmentalists like Stuart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue, really GET the nature of the crisis out there. But they still co-authored and signed on to the EcoModernist Manifesto. I suggest actually READING the manifesto before parroting off some hippie rubbish.

30 10 2016
Eclipse Now

Have you read the EcoModernist Manifesto yet?

31 10 2016

Really cannot be bothered….. it’s what we should have been doing forty years ago when the Limits to Growth Report was published. Now it’s just putting bandaids on a cancer……

1 11 2016

Mike said: “Technology got us into this mess, and technology won’t get us out.”

Mike, that seems like an ideology rather than a fact. With plentiful clean electricity, at least two things become possible:

1) Low-efficiency, low-EROEI liquid synfuels
2) Low-efficiency carbon sequestration

That humanity has used repeatedly technology to cause more damage than it has repaired, doesn’t logically prove that that will always be the case. There are examples, but I don’t wish to widen the discussion.

Mike said: “Really cannot be bothered”

That’s really disturbing. This means you’re closed to new ideas, new (contradictory) information, and challenge of your mindset. This is cognitive dissonance, and it’s dangerous.

Mike, you and I are a lot alike – we’ve both made significant life-path choices on the assumption that the scary and sad environmental and society trends will continue and result in calamity. I’ve got a strong math and science background, so I believe my understanding and worry is deeper than most people’s. However, I’m open to the idea that I’m wrong. Worst case, that means I’ve spent years working outside, surrounded by healthy food, soil and water on my property. Big loss! That result might be the best of both worlds.

How about you?

I’ve watched Eclipse argue on the net before. He is a bottomless pit of available time. However, I value his opposing view and links to facts, since the ‘echo chamber’ that the internet allows is also dangerous. Based on my past experience, might I recommend that:

a) I/you/we ignore his insults and baiting, while assessing the points
b) Resist temptation/baiting to widen the argument.

To that end, Eclipse – I am still not very well read on the nuclear technologies nor their progress. Can you tell me why there seems to be so much time, money and effort being put into fusion when the technologies you point at seem so much more feasible and close? Is it just a media bias?

4 11 2016

Hi gbell…. as a follower of this blog, I am frankly surprised you wrote the above.

The “Technology got us into this mess, and technology won’t get us out” line was in response to Eclipse’s geoengineering proposal. Google it, and you will find lots of science saying it’s a dangerous idea. We constantly see unintended consequences of ideas like this…

Plentiful clean energy? From where exactly…….? Have you not seen Ozzie Zehner’s video

There’s no such thing as “clean energy”. It all involves fossil fuels use, and lots of mining. There are so many abandoned mines now, and I mean everywhere in the world, leaching toxic waste down rivers and streams and killing wildlife as well as humans that in the coming fifty years, it will become a huge problem… because most of the big mines have only been dug up in the past twenty five years… and yet, they want to keep doing this?

I have actually read Eclipse’s ecomodernist manifesto. We have known each other a long time, he was part of the roeoz list I started fifteen years ago. He’s been banging on about this for at least that long, and what has been done about it? A big fat ZERO… He doesn’t even believe in limits to growth for pity’s sake…..

On top of that’we are heading into the mother of all economic crises. How on Earth will any of this hi-tech solution bullshit come to fruition without a working economy and ERoEI of ALL energy sources falling off a cliff?

Like you, I’m actually open to the idea that I’m wrong…. when I see data that shows me so. I would love TO BE wrong in fact.. because the future looks pretty grim compared to what we’ve been taking for granted for the past fifty years.

I know, I should have ignored him, but something he wrote, which I now can’t even remember triggered my instinct to challenge him.

Lastly, money is invested in all sorts of crazy ideas like, as you point out, fusion. The reason this happens is because it helps to keep the economy going a little bit longer by creating more debt money for someone to absorb as more wealth. And greenhouse emissions to boot.

The world’s gone mad, and I don’t want it to get any worse.

4 11 2016
Eclipse Now

Hi GBell,
great question! Why fusion? Put simply, while today’s fission could power a world of 10 to 20 billion for a billion years (with uranium from seawater in breeder reactors), with fusion, the sky’s the limit. If we can fuse deuterium we’d be in a far better place than with fission in terms of some of those pesky proliferation issues (solved with Pyroprocessing of fuel) and waste disposal issues some people worry about (but really is no biggie as it’s only hot for 300 years after breeding).

But if we can learn to fuse vanilla hydrogen, the potential benefits are almost too mind boggling to comprehend. Try this futurist with a quaint Elmer Thudd speech impediment.

In defence of fission: it’s already the ‘forever machine’ that could power us till the sun expands and wipes out life on Earth, and there’s enough thorium on Mars to build a wonderful civilisation and even terraform that planet over time. Given the urgency of climate change, I would simply do what the French did and nationalise energy and pump the reactors out ASAP. I’ve quoted Hansen before, but it’s worth saying again. On a reactor per GDP ration, the French *already* built nukes *faster* than what is required to totally clean up the world’s energy system in time to prevent global warming.

And if we move to EV’s, most of our cars can be charged on the existing grid, with about half charging overnight. Car clubs running synfuel vehicles or even ‘rechargable’ boron can pick up the slack for those longer trips, and trucking will move to whatever synfuel / boron / hydrogen mix works out cheapest.

For more on boron, see Dr James Hansen’s summary at point 7 below.

4 11 2016
Eclipse Now

Gbell, PS! there is media bias. There’s a deep anti-fission bias in all our thinking and culture. It’s a sad, misinformed legacy of the Cold War. For a quick introduction check out my summary page (from a lay-person interviewing the experts, and written for lay people like myself), and especially watch the 3 movies at the bottom.

But if you only have time for ONE 2 hour doco, this is the one. As well as raving about the Molten Salt Reactor, it feels like a complete history of the nuclear age. Grab a coffee, and watch in half hour chunks.

4 11 2016
Gary D

Does this discussion about technologies need to be grounded by the question: What is the problem that is being addressed? If the problem is narrowly defined as keeping business as usual while addressing climate change, then maybe nuclear technology has a place.

But if the Limits to Growth forecasts are even partly correct, we are approaching a time when many problems will have to be confronted. Over population, over consumption, increasing inequality, increasing conflict, economic instability, pollution, resource depletion, coral bleaching, species extinction etc. are all evident. They are not just technical problems – there are associated intractable political, social, economic and human problems as well. Even if nuclear or renewable power can keep EVs running and consumerism in full swing for the lucky few, the world is overflowing at the seams and it doesn’t address the emissions from the rest of the world. It is hard to imagine how such technology can be made available to the masses without exacerbating the burden on the planet.

Given the current state of play in international and Australian politics, I despair of any way out of this mess.

5 11 2016

The way I see it, our problems are not technological, they are social. People just want too much…….

5 11 2016
Eclipse Now

Mike, holding the old 1950’s promise of nuclear electricity “Too cheap to meter” against it today is now so irrelevant to the discussion of modern nuclear technology is a perfect example of “Poisoning the Well”.

“Poisoning the well (or attempting to poison the well) is a fallacy where irrelevant adverse information about a target is preemptively presented to an audience, with the intention of discrediting or ridiculing everything that the target person is about to say.”

Yes, at the time they were making such astonishing advances in nuclear power they seemed to be on an exponential curve where the end was hard to imagine. The first bombs quickly led to the first ever reactors. The energy potential was vast, with a milk-crates worth of uranium only going into a reactor every quarter year. Splitting the atom has a million times the energy density of chemical fuels. The potential seemed limitless.

Then they built the first ever nuclear powered subs and aircraft carriers. The military was in awe. The world was in awe. Task Force One tore around the world breaking all records for force-projection speeds at sea, without refuelling! Just look at the sailors standing on parade, formed up in the famous “E = mc2”

At the time projecting that we would one day have power ‘too cheap to meter’ seemed entirely in the realm of possibility, just as early 2000’s peaknik projections that oil would be $150 a barrel by today looked credible as well. Both were wrong. The early nuclear engineers probably winced when the ‘too cheap to meter’ meme got out there, as they had a better idea of the sheer capital investment of a nuclear reactor will always maintain the price at a certain reasonable level. We cannot condemn all nuclear power cost estimates because certain ancient prognostications turned out to be false, just as we cannot condemn the complex nuclear safety story by trite references to Chernobyl and Fukushima. Doing so would be akin to screaming that we’ve got to shut down modern aviation because of the Hindenburg: it’s just plain irrelevant — again, it’s “Poisoning the Well”. So is holding peer-reviewed engineers to account for a sensationalised media: what has an publicised ethanol’s-going-to-save us piece got to do with actual peer-reviewed scientific debate and engineering reports on nuclear power?

So how expensive is nuclear power? Is it, as American writer Amory Lovins says, dying of an ‘acute attack of the marketplace’? No. Amory is over-simplifying. That is a particularly American problem, due to their unique regulatory framework that cripples their nuclear. There are countries building nuclear *far* cheaper than America.
“In contrast to the rapid cost escalation that characterized nuclear construction in the United States, we find evidence of much milder cost escalation in many countries, including absolute cost declines in some countries and specific eras. Our new findings suggest that there is no inherent cost escalation trend associated with nuclear technology.”

As I have mentioned before, GenIV nuclear-waste-eating breeder reactors will not be an evolutionary step but revolutionary change to nuclear power, including safety and cost advantages:-
* GenIV breeder reactors will have standardised safety and parts, and come off a production line. China are planning an assembly line GenIV nuke cheaper than coal in just 6 years!
* Many GenIV breeders will not use water as a coolant. This is a big deal for cost, as it lets them build a room pressure core, not the extremely huge single-cast steel reactor core of today that has to survive over 150 atmospheres of pressure! 
* The assembly line will build the modular components in climate controlled factories, avoiding delays due to bad weather. Then the final pieces will be trucked to site for fast assembly. The whole process will crash prices, giving the world abundant and *reliable* clean power that can close coal ASAP. 
* It will not be ‘too cheap to meter’, but may indeed get as low as $1 billion per GW, cheaper than coal! Indeed, some say some nukes are already there.

If you account for the externalised public health costs of coal and the absolutely unfathomable ‘costs’ of climate change (although ‘costing’ the potential end of civilisation is a pretty meaningless exercise!), nuclear power may already be cheaper than coal.

So basically, if all you have against nuclear power is a half-century old hype piece, then I can I suggest you give it a rest? You’re embarrassing yourself.

6 11 2016

America’s largest source of zero-carbon power is in serious trouble. And I’m not talking about wind or solar. They’re doing fine. The trouble is with nuclear power, which still provides about 19 percent of the nation’s electricity.

Since 2013, the United States has lost five nuclear power plants, retired before the end of their natural lifespan for economic reasons: Crystal River in Florida, Kewaunee in Wisconsin, San Onofre in California, Vermont Yankee, and, just at the end of October, Fort Calhoun in Nebraska. They’ve generally fallen victim to cheap natural gas, unfavorable market policies, and/or local opposition.

That’s a huge chunk of emissions-free power — gone. Those five plants alone produced nearly as much electricity as all of America’s solar panels last year. That’s not a knock on solar at all; it just shows the scale of what’s being lost here.

Ohhhhhh…… and the reason oil is NOT $150 is because capitalism is BANKRUPT. It’s also the reason no more nukes will ever be built….

6 11 2016
Eclipse Now

Hi Mike,
The EcoModernist’s I read completely and wholeheartedly agree with everything you said in the last post. They’re pointing exactly that out, in TED talks, in online articles at The Breakthrough, and even in local activist groups like “Mums for Nuclear” or the equivalent “Mums for XYZ power station” etc. This sentence is spot on: “They’ve generally fallen victim to cheap natural gas, unfavorable market policies, and/or local opposition.” Governments should roll the nukes off the factory line as the French did in the Messmer plan, educate the public, and fix the unfavourable market policies by nationalising a government controlled electricity sector, all the while educating the public to how nukes are 4000 times safer than coal, and that’s before we discuss resource depletion and climate change! That’s just the public health record!

5 11 2016

In the 1950s, during the high times of the “atomic age”, someone had the unfortunate idea of claiming that nuclear technologies would give us, one day, “energy too cheap to meter.” We might call it “the mother of all promises” and, of course, it was not maintained. But, as propaganda often does, it stuck in people’s minds and it seems that many people still believe in the concept that energy too cheap to meter is just around the corner. Many seem to expect it to come with one of the many scams about “free energy” or “cold fusion” that litter the Internet today.

But breakthroughs bordering on miracles are claimed also in other fields of science and some scientists seem to have made a point in saving the world every two weeks or so. The latest scientific claim that went viral on the web is about a catalyst able to turn CO2 directly into ethanol. It is likely that many people understood as a miracle that would remove the dreaded CO2 from the air and transform it into something useful at little or no cost.

Yet, if you look at the original article, you will find nothing that suggests that this catalyst is ready for practical, real-world applications. There are no data about how long it can last in operating conditions, nor are there calculations that would tell us how efficient would be the whole process, considering that one has to saturate the electrolyte with CO2. The authors themselves state that “The overpotential (which might be lowered with the proper electrolyte, and by separating the hydrogen production to another catalyst) probably precludes economic viability for this catalyst.” So, we have something that works in the lab, which is fine, of course, but we should never forget that the graveyard of failed inventions is littered with tombstones with the inscription “in the lab, it worked.”

In the discussion that took place on Facebook about this story, some people asked me why I was criticizing this paper so much; after all, they said, it is a legitimate research report. It is true, but the problem is another one. What is the public supposed to think about this?

Most people will see only the press release and they lack the intellectual tools needed to understand and evaluate the original. And from the press release they will understand that scientists are making a new claim of a further scientific miracle that will solve some important problem at some unspecified moment in the future. And then the whole story will be forgotten and the problems of climate, pollution, depletion, etc., will still be there; worse than before.

It is true that the myth of the scientific miracle is stubborn, mainly because it is a comfortable myth: nobody has to do anything except giving some money to our priests in white coats. But that can’t last forever. Science, as all human enterprises, doesn’t live in a vacuum, it lives on its reputation. People believe that science can do something good for them because science has done that in the past. But this reputation is being tarnished a little every time some hyped scientific claim falls into oblivion, as it is destined to do. The reserve of trust that science has accumulated in the past is not infinite.

Already today, you can see the decline of the reputation of science with the many people who believe that no man ever walked on the moon. Even worse, you can see it with those (nearly 50% of the American public) who believe that human-caused climate change is an elaborate hoax created by a cabal of evil scientists who are only interested in their fat research grants.

So, what happens when the reserve of trust in science runs out for good? I don’t know, but wouldn’t it be a good thing for scientists to be a little more humble and stop promising things they know they can’t maintain?

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