Wednesday Night #1315

Written by  //  May 16, 2007  //  Economy, Environment & Energy, Geopolitics, Herb Bercovitz, Nuclear, Politics, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1315

May 16, 2007
This week, in the absence of Diana, who will be in Washington with colleagues from the UN Convention on Migratory Species, the agenda is all David’s and there will be no controlling influence from the left end of the table. Be warned!
Following last Wednesday’s (#1314) in-depth exploration of Nobody’s Fuel, Douglas Lightfoot will return for further discussion of the attractiveness of the nuclear energy option, while adding his views on the little known private member’s bill that could force the federal government to take action to meet its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. Douglas contends that “Bill C-288, if it becomes law, is a formula for severely hurting all Canadians economically.”
No doubt there will be comments on the recent developments in the Conrad Black trial with the cross examination of David Radler by the defense attorneys.
What do the changes in leadership in France and Great Britain portend? We note that some French media is already on the attack concerning President Sarkozy‘s links to businessman Vincent Bollore and the quashing of the story that Mme Sarkozy didn’t vote in the election, saying that Sarkozy has far too much control over what is or is not published.
On the other hand, he has chosen Bernard Kouchner, founder of Médecins sans frontières and a prominent Socialist, as Foreign Minister This should be interesting, M. Kouchner has never met a media opportunity he didn’t relish.
The World Bank board is due to give its decision Tuesday on Paul Wolfowitz‘s fate. Things look bleak for him now that even his African allies have turned against him, but he maintains that it was all the Ethics Committee’s fault
The situation in Pakistan continues to worsen. Could this be the beginning of the end of military rule in that country and, if so, what next?
Surely, even without Diana, there will be mention of Gilles Duceppe’s flip-flop over the leadership of the PQ and what that may mean for the Bloc in Ottawa.
Meanwhile, at a local level, we remind you of the Wednesday evening Public Consultation Meeting at Victoria Hall on Westmount’s proposal to put Astro turf on the soccer field in Westmount Park.
Patrick Barnard has been leading the opposition and we commend to you the excellent Website and the WMA presentation



Nuclear energy: The debate continues with new voices

Scribe’s Prologue

This week’s Salon was unusual if not unique, in that last week’s major topic, (Nuclear energy as a viable alternative to fossil fuels), was revisited and challenged by knowledgeable opponents who, by the end of the evening, appeared to have been converted or on the way to conversion. In the process, the Kyoto protocol was placed in the context of economics, effectiveness and efficiency and the irrational fears arising from the spectre of unleashed nuclear power, examined and deemed unwarranted.
There is little if any doubt that Hubbert’s peak is real and has been attained and that we have reached the era of ever-increasing cost and difficulty of extracting petroleum. The unique aspect of petroleum pricing is that oil from all sources is sold at the (same) highest price, independent of the cost of extraction. As eighty-five percent of oil produced is used in transportation, increasingly important, given the expansion and increasing affluence of the world’s population, an alternative must be found. And, one Wednesday Nighter reminds us, while people talk about oil, they forget the derivatives, the polymers and plastics for which the market is huge. He maintains that the world will have to adjust its lifestyle, seek alternative energy sources and be prepared for a slowdown.
The atmospheric and health dangers of coal as fuel have been well documented. Considering the incredible amount of energy required to keep goods and people moving around the world, such options as geothermal and solar energies have very limited application.
However well intentioned, complete implementation of the Kyoto Protocol would have very little atmospheric effect without implementation by India and China; would likely affect the world economy adversely, and would buy the world but a few years of unwarranted complacency, in the absence of providing a long-term solution. Kyoto is said to have the appearance of having been politically rather scientifically inspired. Nonetheless, the cost of doing nothing today must be measured in both financial and human terms.

· If every country met their obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, we would only gain 10 years

· There is no technology that will make it possible to achieve the Kyoto targets

· Why not ban all SUVs – surely that would make a huge dent in emissions and fuel consumption

· Solar radiation reaching Earth has declined ten percent since the 1980s, due to global dimming, largely due to emissions from China

[Editor’s note: The discussion on global dimming was incomplete and inconclusive, therefore, we felt it useful to include additional information for the participants.
“Dimming appears to be caused by air pollution. Burning coal, oil and wood, whether in cars, power stations or cooking fires, produces not only invisible carbon dioxide (the principal greenhouse gas responsible for global warming) but also tiny airborne particles of soot, ash, sulphur compounds and other pollutants.
This visible air pollution reflects sunlight back into space, preventing it reaching the surface. But the pollution also changes the optical properties of clouds. Because the particles seed the formation of water droplets, polluted clouds contain a larger number of droplets than unpolluted clouds. Recent research shows that this makes them more reflective than they would otherwise be, again reflecting the Sun’s rays back into space.
Scientists are now worried that dimming, by shielding the oceans from the full power of the Sun, may be disrupting the pattern of the world’s rainfall. There are suggestions that dimming was behind the droughts in sub-Saharan Africa which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in the 1970s and 1980s. There are disturbing hints the same thing may be happening today in Asia, home to half the world’s population. ‘My main concern is global dimming is also having a detrimental impact on the Asian monsoon,’ says Prof Veerhabhadran Ramanathan, one of the world’s leading climate scientists. ‘We are talking about billions of people.’
But perhaps the most alarming aspect of global dimming is that it may have led scientists to underestimate the true power of the greenhouse effect. They know how much extra energy is being trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere by the extra carbon dioxide (CO2) we have placed there. What has been surprising is that this extra energy has so far resulted in a temperature rise of just 0.6°C.” ]

What about hydro power? If we were to develop all the hydro power in the world, we would have only a small portion of the energy we currently require. Furthermore, the remaining undeveloped potential hydro power lies largely in relatively flat countries, like Brazil. The floodplains that would have to be developed would require flooding forests, producing methane and thus contributing to global warming. Another issue raised by the Sierra Club in the U.S. is the destruction by dams of vital ecosystems, the migratory paths of fish and of spawning grounds with consequent harm to human health.
The only viable option appears to continue to be nuclear energy with fast breeder reactors. Is there enough uranium to supply nuclear reactors? Opinions vary as to the availability of uranium; one mining engineer suggests that there is a 500-year supply. An estimated forty thousand nuclear warheads around the world are gradually being phased out; their fuel is being reprocessed to fuel nuclear reactors. Dr. John Jonas points to the development of thorium – “and there’s lots of it around” (three to four times more than uranium) as an alternative to uranium. The oceans are a rich source of uranium (estimated at 4.3 billion tonnes), which the Japanese are currently attempting to harness.
The obvious dilemma is the use of nuclear energy to power the transportation sector, currently using eighty-five percent of the energy. Ships can and some (principally warships) do use nuclear energy. Road vehicles can run on hydrogen produced from water using nuclear energy, but aircraft remain dependent on petroleum.

· If we are careful, we might have enough oil for road and air transport for 100 years
· At the winter Olympics in Whistler, they will have hydrogen fuelled busses- this can be the answer for cars, but the requirement for nuclear plants dedicated to making the hydrogen is so great that it is unlikely to be met before the end of the century

Some concern has been expressed about the cost and means of disposal of nuclear waste. Whereas waste from thermal reactors must be safely stored for ten thousand years, spent fuel from more efficient fast reactors degrades in five hundred years. A unique aspect of nuclear fuel is that the cost of disposal is included in the calculation of the production cost of nuclear energy released, contrary to the disposal costs of waste products of carbon-based energy sources, which are shared by the countries of the world in terms of pulmonary problems and other illnesses, smog and climate change.
France has had an impressive nuclear program for some time, claimed to be economically viable, but it is so heavily subsidized that the real costs are unknown. The French government has more recently, become somewhat concerned as to whether it is really economical and there is some talk of slowing down the program. However, on Monday, May 21, Alain Juppé, who heads the superministry in charge of the environment, transport and energy policy, told reporters there would be no compromise on President Sarkozy’s promise to promote nuclear energy, which already accounts for 80 percent of French power generation. The fact that France will pursue its electro-nuclear program is not a compromise; it is a decision.

[Editor’s note: the International Herald Tribune published on May 20 a thoughtful piece on nuclear energy and climate change, pointing to the problems caused by warming of the rivers from which many plants derive the cool water, and the effect on fish and plant life of the return of warmer waste water to those same rivers. “If temperatures soar above average this summer – let alone steadily increase in years to come, as many scientists predict – many nuclear plants could face a dilemma: Either cut output or break environmental rules, in either case hurting their reputation with customers and the public.”]

Probably, the greatest fear on the part of the population since the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl is the accidental eradication of most if not all of the world’s population or at least, that of their particular place of residence. Multiple layers of safety features are currently built into reactors, but attainment of zero probability of accident is impossible. The safety features at Three Mile Island worked and there were no casualties. Three Mile Island was a success. It suffered a partial core meltdown, eventually the reactor was brought under control and, although approximately 25,000 people lived within five miles of the island, no identifiable injuries due to radiation occurred. None of this, however, stemmed the tide of the public’s negative reaction.

Chernobyl was a totally different situation. The main problem was a confluence of situations while the operators were conducting a test; despite warnings of a danger situation, they continued with disastrous results The reactor in question, a graphite moderator reactor, was designed specifically to produce plutonium, and the graphite caught fire.

The risk is much lower than death from exhaust gases and the uranium that is released from mining coal.

As yet unaddressed as a potential threat to the world’s population is the current shifting of the magnetic pole, bringing with it, unforeseeable changes in climate over the next seventy-five years. This somewhat arcane subject was greeted with reverent silence, in the absence of knowledgeable contributions. For those who wish to know more, NASA is a good place to start.

The economy (see also Jacques Clément’s Report)
It is predicted that the T.S.X. will continue to outperform the Dow Jones because the U.S. economy is not only sliding, but with the outlook for the first quarter on economic growth at 0.5% – this is a hard landing. Consumers are starting to retrench because of gasoline prices. The housing market tumble is not yet finished. The Federal Reserve may not wait until September to ease monetary policy. The GDP outlook will have to be revised downward – all because of what is happening in the housing market. Alan Greenspan may, once again, be proven right.
This year is witnessing a six percent growth in emerging markets. China and India are expensive, but Latin America, particularly Brazil and Chile are still doing well thanks to better credit and better management of their economies. They used to be exporting economies, now they have domestic economies and they are working harder than we do. Their growth is also due to consumption as their younger populations are educated, more productive and more affluent.
The situation in United States remains better than it might have been as long as China chooses not to revalue its currency which is basically undervalued by 20%. The U.S. stock market would not be doing as well as it is if there was not the record amount of international liquidity leading to buying back of stock and continuing investment, as well as earnings outlook.
In contrast, the Canadian economy has been very robust. However recent reports show a negative employment figure, auto sales are flat, manufacturing orders declined by 1.5% and housing starts by 1%.

Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to try to convince the Germans to join France in trying to convince the European Central Bank not to tighten monetary policy. There is great concern that the strong euro is feeding the high unemployment.

Pauline Marois has demonstrated herself to be courageous in the face of the political cruelty that she has faced. Under her leadership, given her qualifications, competitive nature and political experience, the P.Q. is expected to experience a renaissance. Her motherly image in contrast to the flamboyant André Boisclair won’t hurt her either.

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