Crumb Trail
     an impermanent travelogue
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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

If you want to get noticed you must be controversial. You can do that by being more shrill than fellow travelers or by loudly beating your way through the bush to blaze a new trail. George Monbiot has tried the former and now seems to be trying the latter. [via Envirospin Watch]

. . . the British government is even more likely to recommend a new generation of nuclear generators in its energy review in the summer. It can now summon some heavyweight support: on Friday, the Financial Times revealed that the International Energy Agency has converted to the nuclear cause. My fellow environmentalists argue that the money would be better spent on wind turbines. I find myself at odds with almost everyone, by deciding, at the worst possible moment, that in one respect at least our battle against climate change depends on neither nuclear power nor renewables, but on a fossil fuel. . .

. . . a hydrogen network will be viable only if it is cheap. According to a report by the US National Academy of Engineering, the wholesale price of hydrogen made from natural gas with carbon capture will, in "the future", be $1.72 (96p) per kilogramme; from coal, $1.45; and from electrolysis $3.93. In other words, if a hydrogen economy is to be taken seriously, the fuel has to be made from gas or coal, rather than by either wind turbines or nuclear generators.

Even in my confessional mood, I cannot bring myself to support coal. I defy anyone who knows what open-cast mining looks like to say the words "clean coal" without blushing. This leaves only gas. If my calculations are correct, the retail price of hydrogen made from natural gas will be about 50% greater than the retail price of gas itself. But because fuel cells supplying both heat and electricity are more efficient than gas boilers, the total cost would be roughly the same.

And achieve nothing of value. It's another hide-the-pea scheme to avoid what seems to be an inevitable increase in the use of nuclear power, at least as an interim step to some future energy technology such as greatly enhanced solar PV cells. Though it may be that the future technology at the other end of the nuclear bridge is also nuclear since there are new designs that are claimed to be much cheaper to operate through their whole life cycle - from construction to decommissioning - as well as being far safer and less subject to monkey-wrenching. It's a family of technologies that have been scandalously neglected for a couple of decades due to mass psychosis, and I expect some interesting developments in the not too distant future now that interest and research funding is beginning again. One of the most attractive aspects of interest in nuclear energy in the developing world is that they have far fewer fussy inhibitions about thinking nuclear thoughts.

posted by back40 | 4/26/2006 12:58:00 AM


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