Posted in #ausvotes by skepdadblog on July 22, 2010
Tags: , ,

So here’s what’s wrong with the Greens.  A major part of their support base – enviroactivists – can’t argue dispassionately or get their message across without being confrontational and sanctimonious.  That makes the Greens look like far-left wing hippies when in fact they have some quite reasonable and well-thought-out policies.

Here’s an example of a short twitter exchange I just had.  I was responding to a GreensMPs post on Formspring, where a Green representative made the following comment:

“…nuclear is still ultimately a non-renewable fossil fuel.”

Er, no.  Ignoring the semantic error, nuclear (read uranium) is not a fossil fuel.  Would have thought the Greens would understand that.  Hence my tweet:

“@greensmps nuclear energy depends on non-renewable “fossil” fuels? Back to the science books for you. #ausvotes”

Well, Moron_Moments decided they’d jump to defend the Greens’ obvious error.

“Moron_Moments Lots of coal electricity used to enrich natural uraniuml @skepdadblog: @greensmps nuclear energy depends on non-renewable “fossil” fuels?”

Yes, lots of coal and oil energy is indeed currently used to extract and enrich uranium.  Similarly, coal and oil energy is used to extract the minerals used in all energy technologies, including wind and solar devices.  Does that make them fossil fuels too?  I felt the need to snark.

“@Moron_Moments no, lots of *energy*, which could be coal or anything else.  It doesn’t make uranium a fossil fuel.”
” @Moron_Moments Lots of fossil fuels burned to mine the minerals for solar panels too.  Or did you think they were made out of rainbows?”

Oh, well didn’t that put the cat amongst the pigeons.

“@skepdadblog: @greensmps 1 GW nuclear requires 140k SWU/yr= 336M kwh all from coal”

If I read this right, that’s 336 million kilowatt hours (or 336 gigawatt hours) of coal energy to enrich enough uranium for 1 gigawatt of nuclear power?  Interesting.  Might fact check that one.  doesn’t make uranium a fossil fuel though.  And sure that energy currently comes from coal, because coal is all we currently have widespread.  It’s just energy, it could come from anywhere.

“@Moron_Moments *currently* all from coal.  Which is far less efficient than nuclear.”

Now the rest of the rhetoric torrent, none of which explains how uranium is a fossil fuel.

“@skepdadblog: Theres a reason why US enrichment  plant at Oak Ridge TN- TVA coal.”
“@skepdadblog: That’s  part of the reason why nuclear is a net negative energy source”
“@skepdadblog Solar comes from silica with no refining. .003 percent of ore is .07% U308-lots of dirt to move; lots of energy to enrich”

Sure, Moron_Moments – silica magically appears from the sky, you put it in a box and bingo, solar power.  Finally, the clincher:

“Moron_Moments Thus nuclear makes no economic or energy sense @skepdadblog: @Moron_Moments all from coal.  Which is far less efficient than nuclear.”

A non-sequitur and a misquote in one tweet.  Sorry – I don’t debate people who misquote me.  More tweets followed, dipping into ad hominem, but I’ve written this particular tweeter off as unable to have an objective debate and won’t re-engage.

Moron_Moments clearly has some knowledge of what they’re talking about.  But they waded in to my perfectly reasonable and scientific assertion that uranium is not a fossil fuel, brandishing all sorts of “facts” and ignoring the very small and logically consistent point that I was making in their eagerness to spread their rhetoric.  Bob would be wise to put a leash on these people.

Oh, and Moron_Moments – I was going to vote Green.  Nice job, hippie.


7 Responses to 'Hippies'

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  1. Sneferu Meydum said,

    You’re using semantics to hide reality.
    Solar panels come from two sources: growing crystals in pools, then slicing them really thin, or by vacuum spraying on sheets of glass or plastic. The energy intensity of doing either is miniscule in comparison with what is required to mine uranium and enrich it.

    Uranium is, of course, not a fossil fuel. But it is by no means a renewable fuel. And it takes more energy to generate electricity from it than the electricity it makes. Arguments that it “has no emissions” are just bogus. Enormous amounts of carbon are produced in the mining, processing, conversion, enrichment and fabrication of the fuel, as well as in the construction of the plant and its decommissioning, And lets not forget the emissions from cleaning up the mines, and creating the waste storage facilities.

    It is not economic, either. Latest nuclear plants in the US cost around $7,000 per kilowatt of capacity installed. Solar is in the range of $4,000 – and this is solar thermal with storage, so it operates 24/7, not just when the sun shines. There is no waste or decommissioning to deal with in solar.

    So: nuclear is not “emisisons free” nor is it economic. And that’s without considering the waste issue. Anyone who thinks differently has been had by the lobbyists.

    • skepdadblog said,

      And thus you prove my point, Sneferu.

      At no point have I indicated that I am pro-nuke, pro-coal or anti-renewables. This is an assumption you have made, leaping to attack anyone who dares question the Greens on anything to do with nuclear energy.

      I am not “using semantics to hide reality” – I made a very simple, very straightforward assertion of fact that uranium is not a fossil fuel. I have no agenda, no axe to grind and no earth-hating master plan hatching in my basement. These are all things that you have attributed to me. This is a weakness in argument, where you attack positions that you imagine your opponent holds, in flagrant disregard for the fact that they have never asserted those positions.

      “Uranium is, of course, not a fossil fuel.” Can you not understand that this is all I was saying? In your eagerness to proselytise your anti-nuke message, you created an enemy where there was none.

      This is exactly why enviroactivists are dismissed out of hand by the mainstream. You take a perfectly reasonable and by all accounts research-based position and bludgeon people with it, calling anyone who dares question you an enviroterrorist or a pawn of the lobbyists.

      Conroy does exactly this with his filter – anyone who raises any legitimate concern is labelled pro-child porn. It’s dishonest, reductionist and not a very intelligent way to get a point across.

      Thanks for your comment and your facts, which I will absorb with interest. I still have many questions on the nuclear issue, and would like to put them to you if you’re able to respond without the ad hominem.

  2. skepdadblog said,

    My first question is in relation to this link: which seems to be one of your sources for claiming that nuclear energy is net-energy negative.

    I’m wondering firstly why there isn’t a more contemporary reference, given that this was written over 23 years ago. My immediate impression is that technologies for extraction, enrichment, recycling and power efficiency probably haven’t stood still in that time.

    Secondly, the paper proposes to include “energy embodied in labor, government, and financial services.” While this might be an interesting academic exercise, I struggle to see how that is relevant unless there are energy technologies that do not require labour, government, and financial services, or require them in significantly different quantities. The opportunity cost of labour is a very dicey sort of way to bump up the figures.

    Finally, even if you accept the premise that the paper’s method is valid, the extract states the following:

    “We conclude that the operation of a large nuclear-power system … would yield a relatively small amount of net energy, under optimistic assumptions. Under less-optimistic assumptions the net-energy yield is negligible to negative. The average net-energy yield increases, somewhat, when optimistic assumptions are added to account for the possibility of improved efficiency in an all-electric economy.”

    To take “nuclear is net energy negative” from this is called cherry picking.

    I look forward to your response.

  3. skepdadblog said,

    My next question is related to this tweet:

    “@skepdadblog: @greensmps 1 GW nuclear requires 140k SWU/yr= 336M kwh all from coal

    I might have actually read that wrong due to my misunderstanding of what an SWU is. Thanks to your very helpful link, I’m now educated on that.

    So what you’re really saying is that a Gigawatt plant (i.e. a nuke plant producing 365.25 GW days or 8766 GWh per year) requires 140,000 SWU of fissile material per year. Wikipedia puts it at 120,000 SWU for a 1.3 GW plant (or say 93,000 SWU/1.0 GW), but let’s use your numbers for the sake of argument.

    336 million kWh to produce 140k SWU puts the per-SWU efficiency that you’ve used at 2400 kWh/SWU. Your own helpful link provided information that some aerodynamic separation processes (in 1970’s-era enrichers) are as inefficient as 3000 kWh/SWU, but also that there are current aerodynamic separators as efficient as 1000, projected as low as 500 kWh/SWU. Then, of course, there are modern centrifugal separators:

    “a centrifuge plant requires as little as 50 kWh/SWU power (Urenco at Capenhurst, UK, input 62.3 kWh/SWU for the whole plant in 2001-02, including infrastructure and capital works).”

    So even if we take your very pessimistic numbers, it requires 336 GWh of energy to enrich the fuel to produce 8,766 GWh of nuclear energy. How is that energy-negative?

    If we take the alternate numbers from your own link and from wikipedia, using 93k SWU at 50 kWh/SWU, that 8,766 GWh plant requires only 4.65 GWh of input energy.

    Can you see how your tweet might be perceived as an example of cherry-picking? Using the most inefficient figures you can find and changing units to push a message that doesn’t really stand up to skeptical fact checking?

    If my maths is wrong, please correct me. I would appreciate your comments on my investigation of your claims.

  4. skepdadblog said,

    Here’s a curious link: the co-founder of Greenpeace advocating nuclear energy. Not totally fresh (2007) but still an interesting thought.

  5. skepdadblog said,

    A little bit of reading on other green sources for comparison. No conclusions implied, just raw data at this point.

    An equivalent 1GW wind installation would cover roughly 128,000 acres or 518 square kilometers. . Roughly 800 turbines.

    Now looking to discover what land area an equivalent 1GW solar installation would cover. Help welcome.

    • vivvvi said,

      Statements on seem to suggest “Nanosolar have stated that approximately 6 square kilometers of land will be required to produce 1GW of nameplate solar capacity.”

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