The scariest charts you’re likely to see

9 12 2016

I have now seen one of the charts below, the one I’ve called ‘tipping point’, several times on the internet. I have searched high and low for its origin, and have now finally discovered it…. the Notre Dame International Security Center. It hardly sounds like a left wing University. From its own website, it states…:

The Notre Dame International Security Center was established in 2008 to provide a forum where leading scholars in national security studies from Notre Dame and elsewhere could come together to explore some of the most pressing issues in national security policy.

The center is directed by Professor Michael Desch.

At this site, you will find loads of climate data in graphic form……. and it’s where I discovered the two gobsmacking charts below.  Does this mean the NDISC is taking Climate Change as a serious threat to the security of the US?  We can only hope so, and also hope that they somehow get the ear of the Trumpet…..

You may or may not know that the Arctic polar region has experienced unprecedented temperatures; as high as twenty degrees C above normal. Places where the sun doesn’t even shine (because it’s winter…!) have even been above freezing, for days and days.

The result of this, it appears, is that the sea ice is not reforming. Dare I say, not reforming at all…? This anomaly is so extreme that it’s in the sigma 8 territory of statistical numbers.  σ8 is so weird, that were climate change a gambling game (and you have to wonder sometimes, looking at the policies of the morons in charge) that statistically it would be as uncommon as willing lotto….. or maybe, even more impossible.

Of course, it will almost certainly get colder again before the Northern Summer takes a grip again next year, but surely, we have reached a tipping point…. will next Summer be ice free? Watch this space…..



Tipping Point…..?

Peak fossil fuel won’t stop climate change – but it could help

26 02 2015

The Conversation

Peak fossil fuel means it’s unlikely the worst climate scenario will come to pass. Gary Ellem explains.

What happens to coal in China will play a big role in deciding which climate road we’re all on. Han Jun Zeng/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Fossil fuels are ultimately a finite resource – the definition of non-renewable energy. Burning of these fuels – coal, oil and gas – is the main driver of climate change. So could the peak of fossil fuels help mitigate warming?

The short answer is maybe … but perhaps not how you might think.

In a paper published this month in the journal Fuel, my colleagues and I suggest that limits to fossil fuel availability might take climate Armageddon off the table, although we will still need to keep some fossil fuels in the ground for the best chance of keeping warming below 2C.

But more importantly, the peak of Chinese coal use is changing the face of global alternative energy industry development, and is soon likely to impact on international positioning for a low-emissions future.

Now for the long answer.

Predicting climate change

Predicting future climate change is dogged by two fundamental uncertainties: the dosage of greenhouse gas that human civilisation will add to the atmosphere, and how Earth’s climate and feedback systems will respond to it.

In the absence of a crystal ball for the future of emissions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has adopted a scenario-based approach which highlights four representative concentration pathways (or RCPs). These are named after how much extra heating they add to the earth (in watts per square metre).

The relationship between emissions, and temperature projections. IPCC
Click to enlarge

From these scenarios the IPCC has developed temperature scenarios. So the RCP2.6 scenario is expected to restrict climate change to below 2C, whereas RCP8.5 represents catastrophic climate change of around 4C by the end of this century, rising to perhaps 8C in the ensuing centuries.

Fossil fuels forecast

The key thing to note here is that the emissions scenarios are demand-focused scenarios that have been developed to reflect possibilities for potential fossil fuel consumption. They explore a range of scenarios that include increasing global population and living standards, as well as the possible impact of new alternative energy technologies and global emissions-reduction agreements.

Instead of examining demand scenarios for fossil fuels, our work has focused on supply constraints to future fossil fuel production. Our work is not a forecast of future fossil fuel production and consumption, but rather seeks to determine the upper bounds of the geological resource and how it might be brought to market using normal supply and demand interactions.

We developed three projections based on different estimates of these Ultimately Recoverable Resources (URR). URR is the proportion of total fossil fuel resources that can be viably extracted now, and in the future (this accounts for some resources that are technologically inaccessible now becoming extractable in the future). The low case used the most pessimistic literature resource availability estimates, whereas the high case used the most optimistic estimates.

We also included a “best guess” estimate by choosing country-level resource values that we considered most likely. We then compared the resulting emissions profiles for the three upper bounds to the published IPCC emissions scenarios, as shown in the figure below.

Our projections for fossil fuel supply (black) matched with emissions scenarios (colours). RCP8.5 is the worst, RCP2.6 the best. Gary Ellem
Click to enlarge

In comparison to the published emissions scenarios, we found that it was very unlikely that enough fossil fuels could be brought to market to deliver the RCP8.5 scenario and we would recommend that this be removed from the IPCC scenarios in future assessment reports.

Mining out the optimistic fossil fuel supply base could perhaps deliver the RCP6 scenario, however, our best guess limit to fossil fuel availability caps the upper limit of emissions exposure to the RCP4.5 scenario (roughly equivalent to a median estimate of 2C warming).

But even under the low resource availability scenario, it will be necessary to leave some fossil fuels untapped if we are to meet the conditions for the RCP2.6 scenario or lower (to have more than a 90% chance of avoiding 2C temperature rise).

To sum up, our supply side assessment suggests that even if the climate Armageddon of the RPC8.5 scenario were desirable, it is unlikely that enough new fossil fuel resources could be discovered in time and brought to market to deliver it. To be clear, there is still much to worry about with the RPC4.5 and RPC6 scenarios which are still possible at the limits of likely fossil fuel resources.

So a simple reflection on global fossil fuel limitation won’t save us … but nations don’t face peak fuels at the same time. A country-level analysis of peak fuels suggests the possibility of a very different future.

How China could shake the world

As part of our assessment we looked closely at the fossil fuel production projections for four countries including China, Canada, the United States and Australia. Of these, China is by far the most intriguing.

China has little in the way of oil and gas resources and so has established its remarkable industrial growth on exploiting its substantial coal resources. Our projections indicate that the rapid expansion in Chinese coal mining is rapidly depleting this resource, with Chinese peak coal imminent in the mid-2020s under even the high fossil fuel scenario, as seen in the projections below.

Various scenarios for China’s fossil fuel supply. Gary Ellem
Click to enlarge

China is well aware of this and is currently scrambling to cap coal consumption and develop alternative energy projects and industries. Its leaders understand that the alternative energy sector is really an advanced manufacturing sector, and have moved to position themselves strategically as the world leader in solar, wind, hydro, battery and nuclear technology construction and manufacturing.

As fossil fuels start to fail China as a path to economic and energy security, China will join other regions in a similar position, such as the European Union nations, which have largely depleted their fossil fuel reserves.

For these nations focused on alternative energy investment for energy and economic security, global action on climate change is strategically aligned with their industrial strength. We can therefore expect them to pressure for increasing global action as a method of improving their strategic global trading position. We may see the beginnings of this transition at this year’s international climate talks in Paris this year, but it will take a few more years for the Chinese shift to play out as they exploit the remainder of their coal resource and gain confidence in the ability of their alternative energy sector to scale.

The question then becomes “can the USA manufacturing sector afford to be out of these global alternative energy markets?”. Our guess is “no” and a global tipping point will have been reached in the alternative energy switch.

This is perhaps the most profound way that peak fuels may contribute to a low-emissions future.

Does nuclear energy produce no CO2 ?

8 10 2013

Another guest post by Dave Kimble at

Proponents of nuclear power always say that one of the big benefits of nuclear power
is that it produces no Carbon dioxide (CO2).

This is completely untrue, as a moment’s consideration will demonstrate that fossil fuels, especially oil in the form of gasoline and diesel, are essential to every stage of the nuclear cycle, and CO2 is given off whenever these are used.

Ranger Pit 1

This is Ranger Uranium Mine’s Pit Number 1.
All of the material removed from this hole, over-burden and ore, was moved by truck.


heavy pit truck These trucks run on diesel. It would be interesting to know how much diesel is used for how much ore in a year at Ranger.If we are to increase the number of nuclear power stations, we also need to increase the number of these trucks (which obviously take a lot of fossil fuel energy to build), and the volume of diesel fuel. Currently Australia imports 26% of its diesel consumption, and this figure is rising as our oil production falls.

The tyres on these trucks are also particularly energy-intensive to make, and there is a world-wide short of these tyres.


Olympic Dam uranium mill The ore is taken to a mill, usually nearby to keep trucking costs down. The mill crushes the rock to powder. The powder is then treated with sulphuric acid to dissolve the uranium, leaving the rock (depleted ore) behind.


tailings neutralisation The depleted ore is washed and neutralised using lime, and the slurry is pumped to the tailings ponds.


tailings ponds Maintaining the tailings ponds, with more diesel powered machinery.


Saskatchewan uranium mill Hard rock ores, such as quartz conglomerates and granites, are approximately 3 to 4 times more energy-intensive than soft rock ores (limestones and shales) to crush.


Ammonium diuranate - yellowcake The dissolved uranium solution, including other metals, is then treated with amines dissolved in kerosene to selectively separate the uranium, which is then precipitated out of solution using ammonia, forming Ammonium di-uranate, or “yellowcake”.All of these chemicals, sulphuric acid, lime, amines, kerosene and ammonia are energy-intensive to make, and the energy required is in the form of fossil fuels, that produce CO2 when used.


The calciner roasts the yellowcake to produce Uranium oxide In the final stage, the yellowcake is roasted at 800ºC in an oil-fired furnace called a calciner. The Ammonium di-uranate is converted to 98% pure Uranium oxide (U3O8), which is a dark green powder that is packed into 44-gallon drums for shipment.


forklift stacking yellowcake drums Drums of Uranium oxide are stacked by forklifts, while they await shipment, sometimes to the other side of the world.


Hydrofluoric Acid transported by rail The next stage involves dissolving the Uranium oxide in Hydrofluoric Acid and excess Fluorine gas to form Uranium hexafluoride gas :

U3O8 + 16HF + F2 => 3UF6 + 8H2O

Hydrofluoric Acid is one of the most corrosive and poisonous compounds known to man.


Uranium hexafluoride gas in cyclinders The Uranium hexafluoride gas is then transported in cylinders to be enriched.


centrifuge cascade
Naturally occurring Uranium consists of three isotopes:
U-238 = 99.2745% ; U-235 = 0.7200% ; U-234 = 0.0055%
Despite its tiny proportion of the total by weight, U-234 produces ~49% of the radioactive emissions, due to its very short half-life.

The standard enrichment process for pressurised water reactor (PWR) fuel converts this mix to:
fuel stream : U-238 = 96.4% ; U-235 = 3.6%
tailings stream : U-238 = 99.7% ; U-235 = 0.3%

The centrifuges are powered by electricity, so this stage can be powered by nuclear power. However building the centrifuge cascades requires lots of fossil fuels.


low enriched uranium Low-enriched (3.6%) Uranium hexafluoride gas is then transported to the fuel fabrication plant.


30 gram fuel pellet The UF6 gas is converted to Uranium dioxide (UO2) powder, pressed into pellets, and baked in an oil-fired furnace to form a ceramic material. These are then loaded into a tube made of a zirconium alloy. Several of these tubes form one fuel assembly.


fuel rod fabrication Zirconium is a metallic element derived from zircon, an ore of Zirconium silicate (ZrSiO4), which is a by-product of rutile sand mining (another energy-intensive business). Naturally occuring Zirconium is always found with Hafnium, which has to be removed (with difficulty) for nuclear uses.For every tonne of Uranium in the fuel, up to 2 tonnes of Zirconium alloy are needed.


fuel rod assemblies Fresh fuel is only mildly radioactive and can be handled without shielding. The fuel assemblies are then transported to the reactor by truck or train.A 1000 MW(e) nuclear reactor contains about 100 – 130 tonnes of Uranium dioxide, and usually one third of that is replaced in rotation each year.


The Paluel complex at Fecamp, France If you ignore the vehicles that the workers use to get to work, the reactor does not produce any CO2. But it does use electricity, as well as produce it, and to the extent that electricity is largely produced by fossil fuels, this needs to be counted in the energy balance.


Blast furnace chimney It takes a lot of steel and concrete to built a nuclear power station, and steel is made by smelting iron ore with coking coal.


Cement factory And a nuclear power station uses lots of concrete, which is made from cement. Cement is made by crushing limestone and roasting it, using fossil fuels, to drive off Carbon dioxide. So cement is particularly CO2-intensive. Concrete manufacturing is one of the highest CO2 emitters globally.


Reactor waste storage flask Spent fuel rods ‘normally’ spend six months in cooling ponds located within the reactor building, so that short-lived radio-activity can decay, making the material easier to handle. In the US and many other places, these spent fuel rods stay at the reactor a lot longer than that, while politicians argue over what to do with it next.


Reactor waste removed by truckReactor waste removed by rail Reactor waste moved by road and rail.

The Pond at Sellafield, UK

Spent fuel is kept under water until it is reprocessed. This keeps it cool and acts as a radiation shield. In the ‘once through’ process, the fuel rods are dissolved in acid, and the Plutonium is extracted, and the remainder including the Uranium becomes high-level waste. In the ‘recycling’ process, Uranium is also recovered.


Plutonium and MOX transport Recovered Plutonium and Mixtures of Plutonium and Uranium oxides (MOX) are sent by road back to the fuel fabrication facility to be used in new fuel rods.


Underground waste repository This is not really a waste repository, ( it is the NORAD military bunker at Cheyenne Mountain ) but this is what one might look like if one was ever to be built.


Security Police This is a security policeman, well , it does say POLICE on his bag. I do hope everything is alright.


Ah, that’s more like it.
How many miles per gallon do you get out of one of those ?


security surveillance Security surveillance is needed to prevent terrorists from getting access to radio-active materials.



Tor-M1 anti-missile missile system And increasingly these days, one also has to defend ones nuclear facilities against attack by an increasingly sophisticated enemy. This is the Tor-M1 – a fully integrated combat vehicle with anti-missile/anti-aircraft missiles, that the Iranians are getting from Russia to protect themselves from the peace-makers.

As you can see, every step of the nuclear power cycle involves the expenditure of energy derived from fossil fuels, which nuclear electricity cannot replace. Thus it is untrue to say that nuclear energy is greenhouse friendly.

In the paper “Nuclear Power : the energy balance” by J.W. Storm and P. Smith (2005) download here, the authors calculate that with high quality ores, the CO2 produced by the full nuclear life cycle is about one half to one third of an equivalent sized gas-fired power station.


For low quality ores (less than 0.02% of U3O8 per tonne of ore),
the CO2 produced by the full nuclear life cycle is EQUAL TO
that produced by the equivalent gas-fired power station.


So the question is :
Given that the greenhouse claims for nuclear power are false,
and if the only way the nuclear industry can operate is with massive amounts of cheap fossil fuels,
especially diesel derived from oil,
and with oil going to be very much scarcer in the future,
is this a good time to be thinking of increasing the nuclear industry ?


Related article : Confronting a false myth of nuclear power by Mary Olson, NIRS