Category Archives: Uncategorized

Persistent Prejudice Against Nuclear – Can Anything Be Done? Part 2

Excerpt from Jim Hopf on Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) which will be mass-manufactured, then delivered to the site by rail or truck.

Many concepts, such as SMRs, give up size and power density in exchange for inherent safety advantages, resulting in the far lower accident probabilities discussed above. The lower power density and smaller size will tend to make SMRs more, not less, expensive. The hope is for volume production to reduce cost. However, what’s really needed is to use the SMR’s, or advanced reactor’s, fundamental advantages to reduce cost, as opposed to further reducing (already extremely low) accident risk. What needs to be discussed is what other (Nuclear Regulatory Commission/quality assurance) requirements can be relaxed so that accident risk is a little better than current plants, but costs are significantly reduced. However, any such discussion would be blasphemous, for both the public and the NRC. Never mind the fact that requiring reactor accident risk to be as low as possible simply means that fossil fuels will be used instead, resulting in a large increase in public health risk.

Nuclear City: updates

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Update: Will F @NeedsMorePower in Melbourne (Will’s blog) sent me the announcement Construction of Chinese ‘Nuclear City’ to start at Haiyan in Zhejiang province. And Martin Burkle sent the same press release with the comment 

Since we spent twice the money to build the same thing as China spends, we need about 350 million to get the city started. That seems unlikely.

Indeed – China can make progress faster in the “politically sensitive zones” that aren’t favored by the establishment. So where is China on the road to fast deployment of zero-carbon nuclear energy? So far I’ve not been successful to find out what progress has been completed with the “China Nuclear Power City” since the initial press release (I am finding mostly 404 bad links). Here’s an excerpt from the original press release that Will and Martin sent me:

Plans are advancing for the construction of the first industrial park in China to help with the rapid development of the country’s nuclear power industry, with detailed engineering and construction preparation work at the site in Haiyan, Zhejiang province, expected to start soon.

The coastal city of Haiyan, on the Yangtze Delta, has been selected to house the ‘Nuclear City’. It is some 118 kilometres (70 miles) southwest of Shanghai and close to the cities of Hangzhou, Suzhou and Ningbo. It also lies midway along China’s coast, where several nuclear power plants have been constructed or are planned.

…CNNC and the Zhejiang government plan to accelerate the construction of the nuclear components centre and training centre in Haiyan. The central area of the industrial park and the exhibition centre was to be launched first in July 2010. Enterprises in the industrial park will enjoy priority for bidding quota, bidding training, qualification guidance and specific purchasing with CNNC.

China will reportedly spend some $175 billion over the next ten years on developing the 130 square-kilometre Haiyan Nuclear City.

The Haiyan nuclear industrial park is entitled to all the preferential benefits granted to national economic and technological zones and national hi-tech industrial zones.

The Nuclear City is expected to have four main areas of work: development of the nuclear power equipment manufacturing industry; nuclear training and education; applied nuclear science industries (medical, agricultural, radiation detection and tracing); and promotion of the nuclear industry.

On its website, the Haiyan Nuclear City said that it will be based on the Burgundy region of France, which successfully became an industrial centre for the French nuclear industry. Several small and medium sized French nuclear-related companies moved to Burgundy to actively participate in the global market.

Whatever has happened since the announcement, I take this as a positive indication that the Chinese leadership is thinking seriously about how to accelerate the deployment of low-carbon nuclear. 

Working out what is really happening in China is challenging. For example, reading the WNA China Nuclear Fuel Cycle, I find the identical quote (as above) on “China Nuclear Power City” in Haiyan. Then at the bottom of the section on Industrial Parks I find this:

In May 2013 CGN and CNNC announced that their new China Nuclear Fuel Element Co (CN- FEC) joint venture would build a CNY 45 billion ($7.33 billion) complex in Daying Industrial Park at Zishan town in Heshan and Jiangmen city, Guangdong province. It was to be established during the 12th Five-Year Plan and be fully operational by 2020. However, in July 2013 the plan was abruptly cancelled. The 200 ha park was to involve 1000 tU/yr fuel fabrication as well as a conversion plant (14,000 t/yr) and an enrichment plant, close to CGN’s Taishan power plant.

Dear readers – I would appreciate links to current information. Comments?

There’s No End In Sight For California’s Extreme Water Drought

stressedSage.pngHenry I. Miller addresses the irony of extreme drought in areas where the politically correct but ignorant voters enact bans on the technology that can help farmers produce more with less water:

Water is in increasingly short supply in many parts of the United States.  Here in California, where most of the state is experiencing “extreme” drought, 2013 was the driest year on record, and we have had no relief during what should be the height of the rainy season.  Moreover, there’s no end in sight: The Climate Prediction Center of the National Weather Service forecasts that the drought will “persist or intensify” at least through April.

Reservoir levels are dropping, the snow pack is almost nonexistent, and many communities have already imposed restrictions on water usage.  In the city of Santa Cruz, for example, restaurants can no longer serve drinking water unless diners specifically request it; Marin County residents have been asked not to clean their cars or to do so only at “eco-friendly” car washes; and there are limitations on watering lawns in towns in Mendocino County.

(…snip…) Drought may not be partisan, but it does raise critical issues of governance, public policy and how best to use the state’s natural resources.  It also offers an example of the Law of Unintended Consequences: Ironically, Santa Cruz, Mendocino and Marin counties — all of which boast politically correct, far-left politics — are among the local jurisdictions that have banned a key technology that could conserve huge amounts of water.

The technology is genetic engineering performed with modern molecular techniques, sometimes referred to as genetic modification (GM) or gene-splicing, which enables plant breeders to make old crop plants do spectacular new things, including conserve water.  In the United States and about 30 other countries, farmers are using genetically engineered crop varieties to produce higher yields, with lower inputs and reduced impact on the environment.

Even with R&D being hampered by resistance from activists and discouraged by governmental over-regulation, genetically engineered crop varieties are slowly but surely trickling out of the development pipeline in many parts of the world.  Cumulatively, over 3.7 billion acres of them have been cultivated by more than 17 million farmers in 30 countries during the past 15 years – without disrupting a single ecosystem or causing so much as a tummy ache in a consumer.

(…snip…) Incredibly, in spite of the intensive, safe and successful cultivation of genetically engineered plants for almost two decades, four California counties have banned them entirely, either via legislation or referendums.  These actions in Trinity, Mendocino, Marin and Santa Cruz counties represent political leadership and voter ignorance at their absolute worst.  The measures are unscientific and logically inconsistent, in that their restrictions are inversely related to risk: They permit the use of new varieties of plants and microorganisms that have been crafted with less precise and predictable techniques but ban those made with more precise and predictable ones.

Rising Plague: The Global Threat from Deadly Bacteria and Our Dwindling Arsenal to Fight Them

Maryn McKenna cited this book, so after reading hair-curling reviews I just bought the Kindle edition. Maybe no sleep tonight…

Antibiotic-resistant microbes infect more than 2 million Americans and kill over 100,000 each year. They spread rapidly, even in such seemingly harmless places as high school locker rooms, where they infect young athletes. And throughout the world, many more people are dying from these infections. Astoundingly, at the same time that antibiotic resistant infections are skyrocketing in incidence creating a critical need for new antibiotics research and development of new antibiotics has ground to a screeching halt!

In Rising Plague, Dr. Brad Spellberg an infectious diseases specialist and member of a national task force charged with attacking antibiotic resistant infections tells the story of this potentially grave public health crisis. The author shares true and very moving patient stories to emphasize the terrible frustration he and his colleagues have experienced while attempting to treat untreatable infections, not to mention the heart-break and tragedy that many of these patients' families had to endure.

Dr. Spellberg corrects the nearly universal misperception that physician misuse of antibiotics and “dirty hospitals” are responsible for causing antibiotic-resistant infections. He explains the true causes of antibiotic resistance and of the virtual collapse of antibiotic research and development. Most important, he advocates ways to reverse this dire trend and instead bolster the production of desperately needed new and effective antibiotics.

He also warns against complacency induced by the decades-old assumption that some miracle drug will always be available to ensure the continuation of our “antibiotic era”. If we do nothing, we run the risk of inviting a bleak future when infectious diseases will once again reign supreme. Then many of the medical breakthroughs that we now take for granted from routine surgery and organ transplants to intensive care and battlefield medicine might all be threatened.

 

Health reform will close hospitals: Why that may not be a bad idea

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Health reform will close hospitals: Why that may not be a bad idea Robert Pearl is a physician and CEO, The Permanente Medical Group. This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.


A practical example: Cardiac surgery in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley stretches approximately 50 miles from San Jose to San Francisco. Within its boundaries there are 14 hospitals that perform heart surgeries: two academic medical centers, two hospitals that are part of larger health systems and 10 independent community hospitals. Some facilities are located as little as 1 mile apart.

While the operative procedures performed at these facilities are largely the same, their volumes and outcomes vary greatly. The highest-volume facility performed nearly 800 cardiac surgeries in 2011, the last year the State of California released its risk-adjusted data. The lowest performed 57.

Seven of the 14 hospitals performed fewer than 150 heart surgeries and, together, accounted for just 20 percent of the surgeries in Silicon Valley. Not surprisingly, the lower-volume facilities averaged more risk-adjusted deaths. In contrast, the mortality rates for the two highest-volume facilities were about half the hospital average.

Despite averaging less than one surgery a day, the nurses, technicians and other staff at low-volume facilities need to be paid regardless of whether any surgeries are performed.

Mortality_vs_volume_NEJM

Pose this problem to a first year MBA student and the solution would be clear: Close the half of the cardiac surgery programs that did the fewest procedures then watch as the volume and experience in the remaining seven increases, leading to higher quality and lower costs. Moving from less than one surgery per day to an average of three would make a noticeable difference. And using just a fraction of the savings, patients could be picked up at their homes, travel by limousine to the designated facilities and receive free hotel rooms for their families.

The benefits of consolidation apply not only to cardiac surgery but to just about every surgical and medical service.

(…)

Don’t expect hospitals to jump on board quickly

We can predict that the first hospital CEO who suggests closing down a cardiac surgical program will be fired on the spot. The doctors and local community will do everything in their power to stop it from happening.

Consolidating or closing entire hospitals will be even more painful. Regulators would likely intervene. Change will be resisted and delayed.

But if there were fewer hospitals with higher volumes, quality would rise and the overall spend on hospital services would decrease. We should not underestimate how difficult this process will be or how long it may take. But once it is complete, patients will barely miss the old hospital down the street.

Dr. Pearl cited the study Hospital Volume and Surgical Mortality in the United States published in NEJM April 11, 2002.

Lomborg on the declining share of renewables

When green renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels, they will take over the world. Instead of believing in the Tooth Fairy, we should start investing in green R&D.

Bjorn Lomborg examines the long perspective on renewable energy trends. I liked this piece because it so concisely summarizes both the engineering and social realities of the popular but tragically expensive/ineffective rush to solar and wind. Bjorn forecasts that, in the next 25 years –  from 2011 to 2035, renewables will only increase by about 1.5%. That means from about 13% to 14.5%. But what does “renewables” actually mean. It doesn’t mean “clean” because nuclear power is excluded. Most people think “renewables” means the politically popular “feel good” solar and wind. In some countries, think Norway, New Zealand or Canada, a large portion of renewables comes from hydro power. But expansion of hydro is severely limited – both by opportunity and by politics. So what “renewables” mostly means is burning stuff:

Solar and wind energy account for a trivial proportion of current renewables – about one-third of one percentage point. The vast majority comes from biomass, or wood and plant material – humanity’s oldest energy source. While biomass is renewable, it is often neither good nor sustainable.

And in most places “burning stuff” is really bad. That is the nasty, filthy life that the developed world has escaped – but continues to kill the poorest two billion by air pollution, especially indoor air pollution.

Burning wood in pre-industrial Western Europe caused massive deforestation, as is occurring in much of the developing world today. The indoor air pollution that biomass produces kills more than three million people annually. Likewise, modern energy crops increase deforestation, displace agriculture, and push up food prices.

The most renewables-intensive places in the world are also the poorest. Africa gets almost 50% of its energy from renewables, compared to just 8% for the OECD. Even the European OECD countries, at 11.8%, are below the global average.

The reality is that humanity has spent recent centuries getting away from renewables. In 1800, the world obtained 94% of its energy from renewable sources. That figure has been declining ever since.

(…snip…) 

The switch to fossil fuels has also had tremendous environmental benefits. Kerosene saved the whales (which had been hunted almost to extinction to provide supposedly “renewable” whale oil for lighting). Coal saved Europe’s forests. With electrification, indoor air pollution, which is much more dangerous than outdoor air pollution, disappeared in most of the developed world.

And there is one environmental benefit that is often overlooked: in 1910, more than 30% of farmland in the United States was used to produce fodder for horses and mules. Tractors and cars eradicated this huge demand on farmland (while ridding cities of manure pollution).

Of course, fossil fuels brought their own environmental problems. And, while technological innovations like scrubbers on smokestacks and catalytic converters on cars have reduced local air pollution substantially, the problem of CO₂ emissions remains. Indeed, it is the main reason for the world’s clamor for a return to renewables.

To be sure, wind and solar have increased dramatically. Since 1990, wind-generated power has grown 26% per year and solar a phenomenal 48%. But the growth has been from almost nothing to slightly more than almost nothing. In 1990, wind produced 0.0038% of the world’s energy; it is now producing 0.29%. Solar-electric power has gone from essentially zero to 0.04%.

There is lots more Lomborg at Project Syndicate.

Felix Salmon: ‘How Money Can Buy Happiness, Wine Edition’

Via John Gruber (emphasis mine):

Felix Salmon:

I, for instance, am absolutely convinced, on an intellectual level, that the whole concept of “super-premium vodka” is basically one big marketing con. Vodka doesn’t taste of anything: that’s the whole point of it. As such the distinction between a super-premium vodka and a premium vodka is entirelyone of price and branding. And yet, it works! The genius of Grey Goose was that it created a whole new category above what always used to be the high end of the vodka market — and in doing so, managed to create genuine happiness among vodka drinkers who spent billions of dollars buying up the super-premium branding. But if someone asks me what kind of vodka I’d like in my martini, I still care, a bit. And if I my drink ends up being made with, say, Tito’s, I’m going to savor it more than I would if I had no idea what vodka was being used.

What’s more, you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on first-growth Bordeaux for this to work. You just need to spend a little bit more than you normally do — enough that you consider it to be a special bottle of wine. That’s it! When you sit down and pop it open, probably with people you love, in pleasant surroundings, everything is set for a very happy outcome.

iOS 7 Locks Stolen iPhones to Prevent Resale

Glenn Fleishman at TidBits:

In the June 2013 announcement of iOS 7, Apple emphasized changes in the Find My iPhone app and service. With good reason: the new version makes any iOS device far less attractive to steal, erase, and resell, plus it provides more location-tracking data. These improvements should reduce thieves’ interest in iOS devices because they won’t be easy to sell or fence, and might help law enforcement track down less-wary criminals more often.

Apple added this feature because mobile carriers (at least in the United States and several other countries) have shown little interest in helping their customers recover stolen mobile phones or eliminate the value of those phones at resale. Both GSM and CDMA phones have unique, burned-in hardware identifiers — the IMEI and MEID, respectively — and carriers know which ID is associated with your account. If you report a phone as stolen, the carrier could prevent that ID from being reactivated, provide you with information about its location, notify law enforcement, seize it when brought into a store, and so forth. Carriers do essentially none of that.

As a result, expensive smartphones with high resale value, like the iPhone, have become desirable targets for thieves, and account for a significant percentage of serious crimes in many cities. For instance, cellphone-related thefts accounted for 41 percent of serious crimes for six months earlier this year in San Francisco, 40 percent of robberies in Washington, D.C., and over 50 percent of all street crime in New York City.

With iOS 7 and Find My iPhone, Apple now has the technology to stop iOS device theft in its tracks, although the company couches these capabilities in terms of “lost” iPhones, not stolen ones. No one wants to think about theft, but we all misplace things. 

The Myth and Reality of Terminator Seeds

Farmers have historically been glad to buy seeds from seed companies. Seed companies specialize in making seeds, not making food. Farmers specialize in growing food, not seeds. Seed companies can grow plants/seeds to maturity, harvest at the right time, process and store the seed, then perform quality control to guarantee the best product for the farmer.

University of Florida plant scientist Kevin Folta recently posted a very concise puncturing of a favorite myth of the anti-GMO activists: 

The topic of ‘suicide seeds’ or ‘terminator technology’ is a deeply engrained in the fabric of the anti-GMO movement.Suchominouslanguage is the basis of many websites thatconjure fear spanning from farmer manipulation to the death of every plant on the planet. That would be one heck of a frankenfood!

 Sticking a loaded gun in the ear is a sure way to develop vivid misinformation.

However, the reality is not nearly so scary. In 1998 Delta and Pine Land, one of America’s largest cotton seed company, recieved wide patent protection for a series of traits, one that was called’technology protection system’. Through a ratherclever process a self-fertilizing plant cannot produce germinating seeds. The molecular basis is a gene that encodes a protein called a Ribosome Interferring Protein. You might recall that ribosomes are the cellular sites for protein synthesis, so ifthis interferring protein is expressed, the plant can’t make otherproteins (which comprise enzymes and structural feature) so the plant would die before germination.

The gene was placednext to a promoterfrom an LEA gene. Think of promoters as on-off switches. LEA stands for ‘Late Embryogenesis Abundant’. So this promoter switcheson the protein that interrupts protein synthesis during late embroygenesis. Anembryo that can’t synthesize protein is pretty much DOA.

All of this was regulated through a clever but complex process that activated this mechanism upon self-pollination. If you’d like to know more send me an email. I could go into detail here, but a picture is worth 1000 words. Probably more.

Why do they callit ‘terminator technology’? This term actuallywas devised from a Canadia NGO called theRural AdvancementFoundation International. They were not so excited about the technology.

But to your point, how does this technology help farmers? It doesn’t. It doesn’t hurt them either.Why? Because it was never used in a crop beyond the greenhouse. The technology was never commercially deployed. Why not? Probably because itbecame a PR nightmare coupled tothe fact that Delta Pine’s products had a long, expensive road to deregulation ahead.

(…snip…)

There is much more detail at Kevin’s blog.