Open letter to President Macron

This open letter, signed by 45 environmentalists, writers and academics, was originally published on Energyforhumanity.org

July 1, 2017
Dear President Macron,

We are writing as environmentalists, conservationists and climate scientists to congratulate you on your win in the presidential election, and to applaud your push for a carbon tax. Nobody has done more for advancing clean energy on the grid than France. In light of this knowledge, we are also writing to express our alarm at your decision to move France away from clean nuclear power.

Few nations have done more than France to demonstrate the humanitarian and environmental benefits of creating a high-energy, nuclear-powered, and electrified society. Not only was France host of United Nations climate talks, it also has some of the lowest per capita carbon emissions of any developed nation.

Any reduction in France’s nuclear generation will increase fossil fuel generation and pollution given the low capacity factors and intermittency of solar and wind. Germany is a case in point. Its emissions have been largely unchanged since 2009 and actually increased in both 2015 and 2016 due to nuclear plant closures. Despite having installed 4 percent more solar and 11 percent more wind capacity, Germany’s generation from the two sources decreased 3 percent and 2 percent respectively, since it wasn’t as sunny or windy in 2016 as in 2015.

And where France has some of the cheapest and cleanest electricity in Europe, Germany has some of the most expensive and dirtiest. Germany spent nearly 24 billion euros above market price in 2016 for its renewable energy production feed-in tariffs alone, but emissions have remained stagnant. Germany is set to miss its 2020 emission reduction goals by a wide margin. Despite its huge investment in renewables, only 46 percent of Germany’s electricity comes from clean energy sources as compared to 93 percent in France.

Solar and wind can play an important role in France. However, if France is to make investments in solar and wind similar to those of Germany, they should add to France’s share of clean energy, not inadvertently reduce it. Renewables can contribute to the further electrification of the transportation sector, which France has already done with its trains and should continue to do with personal vehicles.

Shifting from nuclear to fossil fuels and renewables would grievously harm the French economy in three ways: higher electricity prices for consumers and industry, an end to France’s lucrative electricity exports, and — perhaps most importantly — the destruction of France’s nuclear export sector. If the French nuclear fleet is forced to operate at lower capacity factors, it will cripple the French nuclear industry by adding costs and shrinking revenues. Eventually this will lead to poorer safety standards and less opportunities to fund research, development and efforts to export French nuclear technologies. Nations seeking to build new nuclear plants rightly want to know that the product France is selling is one that France itself values.

The French nuclear program has historically been the envy of the world. It demonstrated in the 1970s and 80s that the decarbonization of an industrialized country’s electricity sector is in fact possible. For France, the next necessary step to help combat climate change and improve air quality is to increase clean electricity from all non-fossil sources and massively reduce fossil fuels used in heating and the transportation sector. Nuclear power must play a central role in this.

Signed,

James Hansen, Climate Science, Awareness, and Solutions Program, Columbia University, Earth Institute, Columbia University

Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Hans Blix, Director General Emeritus of the IAEA

Robert Coward, President, American Nuclear Society

Andrew Klein, Immediate Past President, American Nuclear Society

Steven Pinker, Harvard University, author of Better Angels of Our Nature

Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize recipient, author of Nuclear Renewal and The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Robert Stone, filmmaker, “Pandora’s Promise”

Pascale Braconnot, Climate Scientist, IPSL/LSCE, lead author for the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report and Fifth Assessment Report

Francois-Marie Breon, Climate Researcher, IPSL/LSCE, lead author for the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report

Ben Britton, Ph.D, Deputy Director of the Centre for Nuclear Engineering, Imperial College London

Claude Jeandron, President, Save the Climate, French association

James Orr, Climate Scientist, IPSL/LSCE

Didier Paillard, Climate Scientist, IPSL/LSCE

Didier Roche, Climate Scientist, IPSL/LSCE

Myrto Tripathi, Climate Policy Director, Global Compact France

John Asafu-Adjaye, PhD, Senior Fellow, Institute of Economic Affairs, Ghana, Associate Professor of Economics, The University of Queensland, Australia

M J Bluck PhD, Director, Centre for Nuclear Engineering, Imperial College London

Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World

Bruno Comby, President, Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy

Wolfgang Denk, European Director, Energy for Humanity

David Dudgeon, Chair of Ecology & Biodiversity, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, China

Erle C. Ellis, Ph.D, Professor, Geography & Environmental Systems, University of Maryland

Christopher Foreman, author of The Promise & Peril of Environmental Justice, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland

Martin Freer, Professor, Head of Physics and Astronomy, University of Birmingham, Director of the Birmingham Energy Institute (BEI)

Kirsty Gogan, Executive Director, Energy for Humanity

Joshua S. Goldstein, Prof. Emeritus of International Relations, American University

Malcolm Grimston, author of The Paralysis in Energy Decision Making, Honorary Research Fellow, Imperial College London

Mel Guymon, Guymon Family Foundation

Steven Hayward, Senior Resident Scholar, Institute of Governmental Studies, UC Berkeley

John Laurie, Founder and Executive Director, Fission Liquide

Joe Lassiter, Professor, Harvard Business School

John Lavine, Professor and Medill Dean Emeritus, Northwestern University

Martin Lewis, Department of Geography, Stanford University

Mark Lynas, author, The God SpeciesSix Degrees

Michelle Marvier, Professor, Environmental Studies and Sciences, Santa Clara University

Alan Medsker, Coordinator, Environmental Progress – Illinois

Elizabeth Muller, Founder and Executive Director, Berkeley Earth

Richard Muller, Professor of Physics, UC Berkeley, Co-Founder, Berkeley Earth

Rauli Partanen, Energy Writer, author of The World After Cheap Oil

Peter H. Raven, President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden. Winner of the National Medal of Science, 2001

Paul Robbins, Director, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Samir Saran, Vice President, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi, India

Michael Shellenberger, President, Environmental Progress

Jeff Terry, Professor of Physics, Illinois Institute of Technology

Tim Yeo, Chair, New Nuclear Watch Europe; former Chair, Energy and Climate Change Parliamentary Select Committee

 

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Comparing nuclear power plants and wind farms resilience to hurricanes

Hurricane Matthew affected the continental US last week, the first since 2005. It was a category 5 hurricane that caused more than 1000 deaths, mostly in Haiti, and about 7 billion dollars damage as a preliminary estimate.

As Matthew quickly moved toward Florida and the Carolinas, rigorous procedures to ensure safe operations of nuclear power plants in the affected areas were implemented.

Four NPP are located within the affected area: St. Lucie (FL), Robinson (SC), Harris and Brunswick (NC), for an overall capacity of about 5600 MW.

Previous hurricanes have shown that NPP are robust facilities able to withstand strong hurricane winds and storm surge [1], nevertheless the “unusual event” status – the lowest NRC’s emergency condition- was declared for all the plants [2].

Hurricane Matthew in a snapshot from NASA, with the location of NPP. After [2].
Hurricane Matthew in a snapshot from NASA, with the location of NPP. After [2].
The plant personnel made sure that all the equipment potentially affected by heavy wind and rain were secured and a “walkdown” inspection through the plants response to disaster condition was initiated, including assessing the availability of emergency diesel power generators for at least a week.

When Matthew made landfall in South Carolina, early on Saturday, Robinson plant safely shut down due to loss of power and flooding of transformers. Harris suffered power outage too, but was already shut down for scheduled refueling. Brunswick was instead fully operational but was required to modulate down to 50% capacity on Sunday in order to respond to reduced capacity of the grid. By Wednesday all nuclear plants exited their “unusual event” status and, after routine safety inspections, ramped back to full capacity.

Wind power is the fastest growing renewable source in the US. According to DOE scenarios of 20% wind power in the US by 2030 (2008, [3]), offshore wind should contribute with 54 GW. Most of this power should come from shallow to intermediate depth farms along the Atlantic coast, that has a potential capacity of 920 GW and the Gulf region, with a potential capacity of 460 GW [4]. Incidentally, those regions are the preferred hurricanes corridors! Regardless the accuracy of these estimates and the feasibility of the envisioned goals, how would the wind farms stand a hurricane?

In August 2003, the typhoon Dujuan hit the southern part of China and caused severe damage to a wind farm located in the coastal area of the Guangdong province. The wind turbines were designed to survive a maximum gust of 70 m/s, but a maximum gust simultaneously with significant yaw error and rotor standstill had not been considered. The actual maximum gust did not exceed the design maximum gust of 70 m/s. Several wind vanes were damaged during the cyclone’s passage [5].

Few days later, typhoon Maemi almost flattened a wind farm on Miyakojima Island (Japan) [6].

Miyakojima Island 6 turbines wind farm after the passage of typhoon Maemi. Modified after [6].
Miyakojima Island 6 turbines wind farm after the passage of typhoon Maemi. Modified after [6].
While blades are relatively easy to replace, tower buckling is a severe damage that can require months to years for restoration [7].

At present there are no wind farms offshore the US East coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, but several are planned.

Thus a recent paper [7] estimated the resilience of offshore wind farms to storm conditions. Wind turbines are designed to operate with winds up to 25 m/s, over this threshold they shut down for safety reasons. The turbines currently on the market (Class 1) may (ideally, as Dujuan typhoon taught us) stand winds up to 70 m/s, but hurricane winds often exceed 80 m/s. Although the design of hurricane resilient turbines would be possible (Class S), this option comes with compromises on the productivity (i.e. they need stronger cut in wind to operate) besides higher costs [8].

Rose et al. (2012) [7] model both the risk from a single hurricane and the cumulative risk over the lifespan of a wind farm, through 4 sites offshore the Gulf and the Atlantic coast where farms are planned. Considering a farm size of 50 turbines, a considerable number of them is expected to be buckled down over a 20 years period by passing hurricanes: 16 out of 50 in Galveston County (TX) and 8 out of 50 in Dare County (NC), while numbers decrease in NJ and MA, where usually hurricanes loose strength.

Expected number of turbine towers buckled in 20 years for sample 50 turbines wind farms planned on the Gulf and Atlantic Coast. After [7]
Expected number of turbine towers buckled in 20 years for sample 50 turbines wind farms planned on the Gulf and Atlantic Coast. After [7]
Stronger hurricanes, category 4 and 5, cause more damage although occur less frequently. Overall, the damage occurrence over a turbine lifespan is dominated by one or two hurricanes. Most of the offshore wind potential is concentrated offshore Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina. The same for hurricane occurrence, at least one every 4 years, thus making the risk of significant loss of the capital investment relevant over a 20 years long period.

Rate of hurricane occurrence against Offshore wind resource. They go nicely together. After [7]
Rate of hurricane occurrence against Offshore wind resource. They go nicely together. After [7]
Yawing wind turbines, i.e. those that can oscillate and move accommodating fast wind direction changes, have better chances of survival. This would come to the expense of providing them a power back up, worth $ 30.000-40.000 each. The overall additional costs to improve hurricane resilience are estimated in 20-30% for onshore turbines, something less for offshore.

Another concern of a massive penetration of wind farms in hurricane prone areas would be how to assure the stability of the grid, thus of the power supply, through the shutdown period or the even longer time span required to restore severely damaged turbines. Again, as the recent case of Southern Australia showed [9], a base load of non intermittent and programmable is required. Thus here we are again talking about conventional thermoelectric power, you would think. Indeed “new energy” is often synonym of new unreliable installations with expensive back-up powered by fossil fuels, at best by natural gas. No thanks: our mind always run back to nuclear power!

 

Sources

[1] https://public-blog.nrc-gateway.gov/2016/10/06/hurricane-matthew-and-the-nrc/

[2] http://www.nei.org/News-Media/News/News-Archives/Southeast-s-Nuclear-Plants-Easily-Weather-Hurrican

[3]Shwartz M, Heimiller D, Haymes S, Musial W (2010) Assessment of Offshore Wind Energy Resources for the United States. (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Gold- en, CO).

[4] Lindenberg S, Smith B, O’Dell K, DeMeo E, Ram B (2008) 20% Wind Energy by 2020: Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to US. Electricity Supply (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, CO).

[5] Clausen N, et al. (2007) Wind farms in regions exposed to tropical cyclones. (Germanischer Lloyd WindEnergie GmbH, Hamburg) European Wind Energy Conference and Exhibition.

[6]Takahara K, et al. (2004) Damages of wind turbine on Miyakojima Island by Typhoon Maemi in 2003.

[7] Rose, S., Jaramillo, P., Small, M. J., Grossmann, I., & Apt, J. (2012). Quantifying the hurricane risk to offshore wind turbines. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences109(9), 3247-3252.

[8] Musial, W. (2011). Large-Scale Offshore Wind Power in the United States: Assessment of Opportunities and Barriers. DIANE Publishing

[9] http://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/preliminary-report-reveals-cause-of-south-australia-blackout/news-story/92606772798e23e1ceec8c53f4256900

 

It’s a matter of ethics, Mr. President!

How Obama’s administration is undermining the best non proliferation project ever, in the most unfortunate time.

While the Cold War’s winds are blowing again over relations between the U.S. and Russia since after the Crimean crisis and recrudesced with the war over Syria, President Obama seeks to send the wrong message to his Russian counterpart in the very end of his administration, risking to hamper costly efforts on non proliferation of nuclear weapons and casting a shadow on U.S. determination on pursuing global Peace.

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Recently issued 2017 Fiscal Year Obama’s proposal solicits to quit the MOX program at Savannah River facility in South Carolina. This facility, under construction since 2007 for an up to date estimated budget of 7.7 billion dollars, was envisaged to be operational this year to start the processing of weapon grade uranium and plutonium to mixed oxide fuel (MOX) to feed nuclear reactor and produce carbon-free electricity. The facility is part of two bilateral agreements the U.S. contracted with Russia regarding non proliferation of nuclear weapons: Megaton to Megawatts (1993) [see previous post on the topic] and Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (2000).
Under the former, 15000 weapons have already been destroyed, while the latter calls for U.S. and Russia to destroy 34 metric tons of plutonium each – something as 8500 warhead each.
There is no technical reason to quit the project, that despite increasing funding cuts through the years is now 70% complete and the plant already hosts most of the sophisticated equipment that will be need to the processing. The last budget destined by the Congress to the plant were 380 million dollars last December, than the presidential decision to ax the funds for 2017 and destine the U.S. military grade plutonium surplus to waste disposal in Carlsbad, New Mexico.

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The MOX plant at Savannah River is one of many federal budget programs risking interruption due to opposite parties vetoes and lack of political compromise. Republican Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina said the MOX is a vital program that has been continuously undermined by Obama’s administration who spread misinformation about its state of progress.
On another note, Russia already completed its own MOX plant and it is ready to feed with it fast neutrons reactors (for example the BN-800 connected to the grid just last year). In our opinion the U.S. simply can not afford to interrupt, or – even worse – to scrap such an important project. Or should we recognize that the President prefers watching dazed a Russia which makes great strides towards the future of nuclear recycling?
Neither South Carolina General Attorney, Alan Wilson, took the news well, saying that the Federal Government will owe 1 million dollars daily to the State, effective January 1st, 2016, if plutonium stocked at Savannah River is neither processed nor disposed.
Europe developed a large capacity of feeding nuclear reactors with MOX: currently over 35 European reactor are licensed to use MOX as fuel, and 22 French reactors can use MOX up to 30% of fuel blend. In a conservative hypothesis, burning a 30% of MOX in one third of the world’s reactor would remove about 15 tons of warhead plutonium per year, that means 3000 warheads per year burnt to produce 110 billion kWh of electricity.
Now it is really difficult to understand the rationale behind a decision that in hindsight seems not unlike that of people used to sweep under the rug. With the aggravating circumstance that in this case the “powder” also has an extremely interesting economic and energetic value. In fact there is no doubt that immobilize and store the plutonium through vitrification and deep geologic burial adds significant political complexity and physical challenges.
President Barack Obama, who, in 2009, was credited a Nobel Prize for Peace, is now freezing his only possible success regarding non proliferation efforts. Whatever could be the reason – like funding the costly Obamacare and other environmental projects possibly more close to the anti-nuclear lobby – he’s sending a two-fold dangerous message in a time of increased tension in the bilateral relations with Russia and announced efforts to reduce U.S. carbon footprint on the planet.
We hope this decision would not come to be effective and the next U.S. Governments – as the rest of the World – will keep betting on nuclear fuel recycle. Namely using the existing stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium, but also implementing Partitioning and Transmutation technology (P&T). This is the only highway we currently have to reduce both volume and radiotoxic level of nuclear waste, in order not to put those economical and environmental costs on the shoulders of the future generations. And, at the same time, to send the message that a World without nukes – or at least with less nukes – is actually possible.

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