China hopes to export a 1.4 GWe reactor

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I see China’s nuclear program as the most likely path to global deployment of nuclear power fast enough to help mitigate climate change. South Korea will also contribute, but at much smaller scale. 

The World Nuclear Association reports that the CAP1400 may be exported at an estimated capital cost of USD $3000/kW. The CAP1400 design was completed in 2012, site works completed in April 2014 and the State Nuclear Plant Demonstration Company hopes to have this first plant operational by 2018. This all looks like good news to me:

Westinghouse announced in 2008 that it was working with SNPTC and Shanghai Nuclear Engineering Research & Design Institute (SNERDI) to develop jointly a passively safe 1400-1500 MWe design from the AP1000/CAP1000, for large-scale deployment. SNPTC initially called it the Large Advanced Passive PWR Nuclear Power Plant (LPP or APWR). It is one of 16 Key National Projects in China. This development with SNERDI opens the possibility of China itself exporting the new larger units with Westinghouse’s cooperation.

(…snip detailed description of the reactor…)

CNNC and SNPTC have talked of export potential, and SNPTC said that “exploration of the global market” for the CAP1400 would start in 2013, particularly in South America and Asia. In mid-2013 SNPTC quoted approx. $3000/kW capital cost and 7 c/kWh.

China is working diligently on new reactors designs that depend only on Chinese-owned intellectual property. This indicates a leadership that intends to take a big share of the global nuclear power market. That is a very good thing, because the US, UK and Germany have abdicated their leadership role – leaving only France & Russia of the original nuclear market players. It’s going to be an Asian Nuclear Century. Hopefully India will also engage the market once their designs are locally proven.

Image credit Paul Sakuma/Associated Press – Tesla Fremont plant

Parents: “Don’t send your kid to the Ivy League”

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Is there anything that I can do, a lot of young people have written to ask me, to avoid becoming an out-of-touch, entitled little shit? I don’t have a satisfying answer, short of telling them to transfer to a public university. 

If you have a child that is likely to attend a US four-year college, read on. William Deresiewicz is the author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and The Way to a Meaningful Life. His recent essay at New Republic is a must-read for both parents and prospective students. Deresiewicz finished a ten-year stint teaching at Yale in 2008, where he begins by describing admissions:

In the spring of 2008, I did a daylong stint on the Yale admissions committee. We—that is, three admissions staff, a member of the college dean’s office, and me, the faculty representative—were going through submissions from eastern Pennsylvania. The applicants had been assigned a score from one to four, calculated from a string of figures and codes—SATs, GPA, class rank, numerical scores to which the letters of recommendation had been converted, special notations for legacies and diversity cases. The ones had already been admitted, and the threes and fours could get in only under special conditions—if they were a nationally ranked athlete, for instance, or a “DevA,” (an applicant in the highest category of “development” cases, which means a child of very rich donors). Our task for the day was to adjudicate among the twos. Huge bowls of junk food were stationed at the side of the room to keep our energy up.

The junior officer in charge, a young man who looked to be about 30, presented each case, rat-a-tat-tat, in a blizzard of admissions jargon that I had to pick up on the fly. “Good rig”: the transcript exhibits a good degree of academic rigor. “Ed level 1”: parents have an educational level no higher than high school, indicating a genuine hardship case. “MUSD”: a musician in the highest category of promise. Kids who had five or six items on their list of extracurriculars—the “brag”—were already in trouble, because that wasn’t nearly enough. We listened, asked questions, dove into a letter or two, then voted up or down.

With so many accomplished applicants to choose from, we were looking for kids with something special, “PQs”—personal qualities—that were often revealed by the letters or essays. Kids who only had the numbers and the résumé were usually rejected: “no spark,” “not a team-builder,” “this is pretty much in the middle of the fairway for us.” One young person, who had piled up a truly insane quantity of extracurriculars and who submitted nine letters of recommendation, was felt to be “too intense.” On the other hand, the numbers and the résumé were clearly indispensable. I’d been told that successful applicants could either be “well-rounded” or “pointy”—outstanding in one particular way—but if they were pointy, they had to be really pointy: a musician whose audition tape had impressed the music department, a scientist who had won a national award.

“Super People,” the writer James Atlas has called them—the stereotypical ultra-high-achieving elite college students of today. A double major, a sport, a musical instrument, a couple of foreign languages, service work in distant corners of the globe, a few hobbies thrown in for good measure: They have mastered them all, and with a serene self-assurance that leaves adults and peers alike in awe. A friend who teaches at a top university once asked her class to memorize 30 lines of the eighteenth-century poet Alexander Pope. Nearly every single kid got every single line correct. It was a thing of wonder, she said, like watching thoroughbreds circle a track.

These enviable youngsters appear to be the winners in the race we have made of childhood. But the reality is very different, as I have witnessed in many of my own students and heard from the hundreds of young people whom I have spoken with on campuses or who have written to me over the last few years. Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.

My personal perspective is that an engineering or science degree from Stanford, Carnegie Melon or similar schools is a very good thing for the students that can truly afford the cost. But I also think an elite liberal arts education is a questionable value proposition – where the “product” the parents are buying isn’t necessarily what you think it is. Read the Deresiewicz essay.

CCS: If we can capture the CO2 affordably, do we have to store it on the moon?

VeloxoTherm

Since 2007 Canadian startup Inventys Thermal Technologies has been developing carbon capture technology based upon a new honeycomb activated charcoal adsorbent. They claim their “VeloxoTherm™ process is less than one-third the cost of existing post-combustion CO2 capture technologies and will finally enable the widespread adoption of enhanced oil recovery and carbon sequestration.” That’s USD $15 per tonne – but doesn’t include any of the cost of transport and storage to implement CCS (or enhanced recovery, the primary current market for CO2).

Existing pilot scale carbon capture from flue gas installations are expensive and energy intensive, with industrial scale installations expected to add 40 to 50% to LCOE of coal-based electricity.

Ucilia Wang‘s article describes recent Series B round financing that I read as indicative they may be on to something that could be close enough to affordable to get some adoption.  Chevron Technology Ventures joined the B round for an undisclosed amount. Steven Chu, former US Energy Secretary, joined the board in Dec 2013. That’s another indicator that there is something here. Given a carbon price of $25/tonne CO2, let’s hope that this process proves to be scaleable and “affordable”.

But where will utilities be allowed to store the captured CO2? Nuclear waste is produced in very small athletic-field scale volumes, and is safe to store in available geological formations – as well as perfectly safe to manage in dry cask storage at central repositories (think stadium-sized parking lots). I would be happy to have either one in my neighborhood. But to be useful as a GHG emissions strategy, CO2 storage involves volumes that are so large that the public is going to have real trouble grasping the scale. Unlike nuclear waste, there is comparatively larger risk of future CO2 leaks. Radioisotopes decay back to the level of the original rocks, only about 300 years for 4th generation nuclear waste. This CO2 needs to be “imprisoned” forever.

Will the NIMBYs and BANANAs ever allow these giant CO2 repositories on Earth? Or do we have to ship it to the Moon?

“Inside the NSA” Long Now Talk by Anne Neuberger

This notice was just emailed by Stewart Brand to Long Now Foundation members. If you are not a member you can purchase tickets for $15 each.

The NSA’s failures are public headlines. Its successes are secret.

These days America’s National Security Agency lives at the intersection of two paranoias—governmental fears of attack and citizen fears about loss of privacy. Both paranoias were exacerbated by a pair of devastating attacks—9/11 and Edward Snowden. The agency now has to evolve rapidly while managing its normal heavy traffic of threats and staying ahead of the ever-accelerating frontier of cyber capabilities.

In the emerging era of transparency, and in the thick of transition, what does the NSA look like from inside?

Threats are daily, but governance is long term. At the heart of handling that balance is Anne Neuberger, Special Assistant to NSA Director Michael Rogers and Director of the Commercial Solutions Center. (Before this assignment she was Special Advisor to the Secretary of Navy; before that, in 02007, a White House Fellow.) She is exceptionally smart, articulate, and outspoken.

“Inside the NSA,” Anne Neuberger, SFJAZZ Center, Hayes Valley, San Francisco, 7pm, Wednesday August 6. The show starts promptly at 7:30pm.

To be sure of a seat:
• Long Now Members can use the discount code on the Neuberger Seminar page to reserve 2 free seats.
• You can purchase tickets for $15 each.
• Seminar at SFJAZZ Center 201 Franklin Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
• Tune into the live audio stream for Long Now Members at 7:30 PT – become a member for just $8 a month.
Share this talk: Anne Neuberger, “Inside the NSA” Long Now talk on 8/6 

Roger Pielke Jr. on FiveThirtyEight and his Climate Critics

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Keith Kloor published an interview with Roger to discuss the Twitter-storm and blog-o-gale that blew up when Roger offended the climate-hawks by publishing on FiveThirtyEight a summary of his academic publications on disaster losses.

The attacks on prof. Pielke came from the usual suspects, but this time elites such as Paul Krugman and Obama advisor John Holdren piled on. The fragments that crossed my desk were examples of “non-contact criticism”. By that I mean they ignored Roger’s published work (including Congressional testimony, blog posts and public appearances). Instead the attacker applied the demon-label of “climate denier” and then proceeded to shred various straw man positions that Roger has never argued.

My view is that there’s nothing newly provocative in Roger’s FiveThirtyEight article. It expresses the science behind what we know about connections between global climate change and severe weather events like Katrina. What is new is that Roger was published by a hot new website illuminated by Nate Silver’s fame. The hawks evidently thought “this is too dangerous, to have a scientist explaining to Joe Six Pack why we can’t attribute every tornado to Global Warming”.

I’ve been reading Roger Pielke Jr. for at least a decade – motivated by his research and writing on science policy advice. I learned most of what I know about science policy from his numerous policy blog posts and from his 2007 book The Honest Broker.

Roger’s science policy background prepared him well to contribute to the group of thinkers that produced The Hartwell Paper, which I first encountered in Kyoto Wrong Trousers: Radically Rethinking Climate Policy. There you will find climate policy ideas appropriate for the real world where politicians and economics operate. Then came Roger’s book The Climate Fix: What Scientists And Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming. That’s the book I recommend to associates for training on how to advocate for effective policies. Hint: Kyoto isn’t one of those policies. 

In 2008 Roger joined The Breakthrough Institute, which is populated by other serious people who are focused on changing the world (really). BTI has adopted much of the thinking behind The Hartwell Paper - so not surprisingly several of Roger’s Hartwell colleagues are now working with the institute. E.g., Steve Rayner. And Nature Conservancy Chief Scientist Peter Kareiva.

Through all this reading I have observed Roger “calling it the way he sees it”. Consistently I have found Roger’s writings to align with what I think is the objective truth cast into pragmatic policy options. 

Robert Rapier on Global Coal Consumption

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Robert has been working through the definitive BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014, producing so far three posts on the implications of the BP data. Today he looks at the reality of coal power trends. Last year China consumed over 50%, and produced over 47% of global coal. 

This is why I cringe every time I see a breathless announcement such as Germany Now Produces Half Of Its Energy Using Solar.

Roberts previous two BP-based posts are – World Sets New Oil Production and Consumption Records and The US and Russia are Gas Giants.

Paul Collier on African Agriculture and Urbanization

Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion, is a thoroughly reliable source on development economics and development policy options.

In a recent review of Roger Thurow’s new book, The Last Hunger Season, Paul Collier asks: “Why is Africa so dependent on imported food, despite being the least urbanized and most land-abundant continent?” Though the answer is simple, African agriculture is not sufficiently productive, the solutions are more complicated and controversial.

Though new seed technologies and commercialized agricultural practices are likely the best ways to produce more food and overcome hunger, Collier notes that these approaches don’t currently attract much support from African governments, NGOs, and development agencies. Among the concerns is that a switch from smallholder to commercial agriculture would lead to an influx of migrants to cities that are not prepared to accommodate them. But as Collier suggests, this transition looks inevitable.

This, to my mind, is the more fundamental long-term failing of African development: The children of smallholders should, and will, pour into cities. So it is vital that cities become engines of opportunity: That is what cities are for — high density is the handmaiden of economic activity. Millions of young people could be productively employed in Africa’s cities, so the key policy issue that governments and development agencies need to address is what has been impeding urban success — and it isn’t the low productivity of smallholders.

Collier does not get into detail about what is impeding urban success but governance is no doubt near the top of the list. Policy approaches to accommodating the influx of urban residents in cities in the developing world will have to account for the limited capacity of many governments to enforce the rules. This is a theme in Solly Angel’s new book, Planet of Cities. Angel’s approach to planning for urban expansion recognizes that urban growth is fastest in the parts of the world where governance is relatively weak. He envisions a public strong role in planning for urban expansion, but one that is narrow enough to have a reasonable chance of being executed by capacity constrained governments.

Source: Paul Collier on African Agriculture and Urbanization; NYU Stern Urbanization Project Brown Bag Discussion Series.