By Harry {doc} Babad, © Copyright 2011, All right Reserved.

Lessons Not Learned from Nuclear Power ——— Doc’s Eclectic View

Introduction

The more I read and study the approach taken by the US and perhaps much of the rest of the world to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide [CO2] released from coal or gas burning power plants, the more perplexed I get.  Readers, I would welcome any feedback from you, on the CO2 and storage alternative I describe below.

At the root of my concern is the fact that the industry with Federal help is leaning toward geological disposal, as opposed to the easier, lower cost, and likely as safe approach to use long term near surface or surface storage at each generator site. I am also admitted biased toward interim 50-500 year engineering solutions to those that need demonstrating to thousands of years of geological media certitude.

To maximize the feedback I could receive from energy and climate change knowledgeable individuals, I post an earlier draft of this article on the American Nuclear Societies Social Media eList. This is an by invitation only ad hoc team of experts who share technical information about energy, greening technology and at times work, mostly as individuals, to counter false and fact-free media claims, cause not knowledge driven activists, or just mom-and-pop grass roots true believers about… what ever their cause.

I have appended the detail and itemized feedback comments I received and my thoughts about the information conveyed. I share only the first names of the folks who proved feedback; who they are is their business.

Preventing Carbon Dioxide Release to the Atmosphere

This article discusses a conceptual view for an alternative to geologic sequestration; the surface or near surface intermediate term (50-500 years) storage of the CO2 Released from Power Plants.

As I follow the government with industry support’s search for, and efforts to demonstrate a safe and publicly acceptable way to find a way to capture and search, dispose of CO2, I get very confused. The first task, based on what I’ve read is relatively straightforward. The chemistry and engineering is well divined and demonstrated at small and intermediate scale. The second step disposal, or even very long-term storage is a more difficult task, fraught with uncertainties. This is especially true for geological or deep seas disposal.

The idea of injecting CO2 in to depleted oil or gas fields, or brine filled aquifers reminds me of the efforts to site a ‘geologically safe’ nuclear repository. The key issue, politics aside, is whether an individual storage/disposal location will remain intact for the lifetime of the risk. For radioactive HLW, perhaps 10,000 years, a regulatory not a risk based limit. For carbon dioxide, forever or at least until we need it to reverse the next ice age.

I believe, iconoclast that I am, that the general and likely insurmountable problem with geological CO2 storage is predicting the long-term future in a heterogeneous environment. Specifically, the safety of each greenhouse gas geological storage site requires that their integrity must be demonstrated on a site-specific basis, alas expensive, even without considering NIMBY related legal costs. This seems to be the case until someone comes up with a cost effective, implementable method of irreversibly converting the captured CO2 to a thermodynamically stable form.

One possibility, we well understand, is concerting to calcium carbonate, in situ – underground.  Converting our captured carbon dioxide to limestone, in a geological formation places less of a burden on proving the geologic integrity of a specific site.

In nuclear terms, think of this as the waste form, which for HLW is borosilicate glass or the insoluble ceramic spent fuel itself.

A Potential Interim Storage Solution

I wonder why the near surface or surface storage of dry Ice in a well designed, terrorist proof passive facility hasn’t been studied, or if so, not publicized.

I’d like to acknowledge the fine diagram of the storage concept, which I described to Scott Armstrong, over the phone last night. Scott is president of MC•MUG, the local Macintosh Users group, a graphics expert and instructor, and a fine photographer.
  1. Pile up stacks of dry ice blocks, either one atop the other or on  some simple weight bearing shelving.
  2. These should insulated by a thick layer of dirt-cheap rock wool. Either blankets on the ice or as part of the dome structure. Which, that’s chemical engineering 101 engineering cost analysis issue.
  3. Located the storage unit, I picked a rebar reinforced dome, geodesic perhaps, both for esthetics and its easier for a hijacked747 to slide off such a dome.
    From an applicable forces perspective think safety analysis, such a dome would be much less expensive then that for a present, or near future generation designed, nuclear reactor dome.
  4. Instrumented the facility with thermocouples, CO2 detectors or what ever; all of the shelf items Add, if paranoid, for emergencies, a small external cooling plant.Why small – short of dropping a nuke on the facility or a direct hit by a well focused full strength solar flare (Science Fiction, there’s unlikely to be a way to heat the dry-ice blocks rapidly enough uncontrollably evaporate the CO2 back in o the atmosphere.
  5. Site these storage domes at every coal, oil or natural gas based power plant or generator complex, they make the CO2 they get store it. You want to generate hydrocarbon based electricity, then store the CO2 as part of your costs of operation.

The nuclear power industry does this of necessity, due to the fact the contracts with the Department of Energy to take possession of the fuel have never come close to being met.  [One more form of indirect taxation we all must pay.] This continues while the industry and consumer are simultaneously being ripped off by a tax for a virtual-cost over run plagued Yucca Mountain based nuclear repository which President Obama cancelled, but without either stopping the tariff or refunding the industry’s money.

Potential Benefits of Dry-Ice Storage

  • No requirement for trading emission credits! You create the CO2, you store it.
  • Avoids the need for carbon tax, at least on burning hydrocarbon burning power plants. No need to confuse the issue with gases released by other industries like feed lots or tailpipe emission, The make you keep!
  • Bearing the Costs of greenhouse gas-storage become part of doing business and paid by the local and regional electricity rate-payer’s. The real, not artificially subsidized cost of electricity is what you and will buy, of necessity. Thus, if politically possible, the cost of electricity become clearly visible. Not as now, snuck out of your pocket by the industry, congress and the IRS.This also levels the playing field for other energy alternatives, and we will not need pay taxes for lobbyist selected or government favorites.

Again, think Nuclear reactors where the owners-ratepayer are forced to store Spent Nuclear Fuel at the reactor sites and the storage cost seemed to be passed on to the rate-payers; a reasonable precedent.

Side Note: The average discharge in our coal-powered fleet is ca. 1.2 to 1.3 tons/MWh depending on the type of coal burned, and which reference you cite.

Conclusion

Am I missing something? Is our love for big-ticket technology and profitable Federal grants the driving force preventing a KISS solution? Feedback, particularly with references that negate or support my arguments would be welcomed.

A Few References in Passing

Carbon Capture and Storage, Wikipedia, 2011 and the references contained therein. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_capture_and_storage/]

What is Carbon Sequestration? by the Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership, undated [http://www.bigskyco2.org/whatisit%5D/

Carbon Sequestration, AAPGGEO-DC Blog, Dec 2008. [http://blog.aapg.org/geodc/?p=204/]

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Copyright Notice: Product and company names and logos in this review may be registered trademarks of their respective companies.

Some of the articles cited or quoted in this column are copyright protected – their use is both acknowledged and is limited to educational related purposes, which this column provides.

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Appendix – Social Media eMail Feedback

Responses to the Social Media feedback on “Long-term CO2 Storage A Nuclear Resembling Quandary”

The following is a set of cut and paste copies of the information provided our bloggers, members of social media email team. I have followed each individual’s direct feedback or general subject related comments with feedback, where appropriate. All emails discussed were received before the 8:00 PM of the 28th of January

Harry, aka doc_Babad

Feedback on Social Media Comments

My colleague Bob, a senior nuclear engineer/manager and cost effective going green advocate from Greenville, SC noted:

Dry Ice is a nice idea, but we’re tilting at windmills here.  Man-made CO2 in the atmosphere is a non-problem.  In fact it’s a good thing since it makes things grow and helps feed the world.  CO2 only makes up 3% of the GHG in the atmosphere and man only contributes 2% of the CO2.

Although I have tried to get my hands around such numbers, I’ve never been comfortable that they had been subjected to peer reviewed meta-analysis, such as is sometime done for conflicting drug testing result. Therefore I’ll continue to tilt at windmills should they not prove virtual.

Robert responded:

My biggest concern with CCS is the scale.  The amounts of CO2 to be captured, transported, and stored are immense.  While I am loath to call it impossible, I would think CCS a much greater technical challenge than nuclear waste (despite the media claims of the reverse).

I agree, with the general concern that Bob shares  – that’s why both capture and storage should be located at the point of origin, the generating complex. As far as which is more difficult, I believe today’s NIMBYs are tomorrows advocates.

Jonathan, in an engineering design focused feedback, pointed out:

1.   The immediate thing that strikes is how would the CO2 be cooled to form dry ice. I don’t have any top of my head figures, but my gut instinct is that it would be energy intensive. Add on top I doubt the best insulation would keep the dry ice solid for the decades necessary without more energy intensive cooling.
Jonathan, based on reading about currently available technology for (1) capturing heat not utilized for producing electricity, and (2) perhaps less robust means of turning such waste heat into power, I thought a real functions and requirements study coupled with detailed conceptual design analysis could flesh out the specific of how and how well. One alternative might be the use waste heat as a source of energy for CO2 solidification. My intent with the article was two-fold. First a response to at why I could, in 45 minute Google and DOE OSTI search session, I could find no reference to dry-ice storage as a potential methodology for curtailing the release of greenhouse gasses. Secondly, I wanted to get broad feedback for the participants in Social Media, on the concept. Thank you – you’ve helped me achieve that latter.

2.   You would also produce just under a cubic meter of dry ice for every MWh. That’s going to be one heck of a pile of dry ice very soon.

Of course, that reality might be even enough to frustrate the building of now power plants that use petrochemical to generate electricity.  In addition, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of land around the generating plant’s I’ve visited or lived down-wind from. Whether on the surface or for a shallow storage vault, these folks certainly have enough acreage to keep expanding large uncontrolled ash/slag piles.

3.    One KISS approach would be to pump CO2 to a deep seabed location, where the water pressure would be sufficient to solidify the CO2 as it emerged – not that I think this is environmentally sound.

I agree the pressure meets CO2 solidification requirements. Again there’s the transportation problem poised by Robert S. Margolis. In addition are you going to build such a disposal site in international waters — hmm? You could of course try to license such a site or sites in the states that have deep brine deposited associated with salt domes or bedded salt… Texas or Louisiana anyone?

4.   One difference between a nuclear repository and CO2 sequestration is that with CO2 some level of leakage could be more acceptable. In very simplified terms if we were to sequestrate 100 years of CO2 and it had a 0.1% leak rate we’d have a tenth of our GHG emissions for 1000 years. If stabilizing GHG emissions requires an 80% CO2 reduction then we’d be essentially ‘taking a loan’ on future emissions. A hundred years hence we’d have to reduce to 10% of current emissions and have the 10% emissions from sequestration.

That would be a big ask, but if leakage was only 0.01% it might become more arguable, pragmatically against the alternative of not meeting emissions targets at all.

I agree in general, but wonder whether the other alternates, other than going CO2 emission free, contain comparable potential bobby-traps. In addition, being somewhat mathematics adverse, I don’t follow how a 0.1% CO2 leak forces me to take a loan on the future. I just consider it a 0.1% additional un-captured release, but a bit time delayed. Were doing much worse than that now. I’ve seen no statistically defensible number on capture efficiency either at a power plant o a regional pipeline fed, facility. What am I missing?

5.    I personally don’t support the case above when there are already good alternatives, but I think it would be an argument made. And perhaps more significantly very low levels of leakage won’t be a showstopper for CO2 CCS in the way it is made for nuclear repositories.

Okay! However, everything I’ve studied suggests that current regulations controlling nuclear material or radiation release are based on fear mongering politics and regulatory over enthusiasm. We too long, listen to the loudest voice, safe at any costs, because the costs do not come directly and visibly out of our pockets. I’ve never been comfortable with the thesis of always safe-always multiplicatively conservative, using SciFi scenarios, rather than demonstrated actual risk. Lots of healthy folks get significantly higher doses such as the residents of (Guarapari, Brazil; Kerala, India; Ramsar, Iran; Yangjiang, China). I still can’t find, since co-authoring two textbooks with Dr. R. A Deju in 2008 and 2009, any peer reviewed data that identified meaningful differences in heath, heath compared to folks in comparable socio-economic niches.

Stephen more broadly commented

1.    I’m just amazed that CCS is regarded as a viable concept. US coal-fired power plants crank out 2 billion tons of CO2 every year, and Chinese coal-fired power emissions I believe has overtaken those of the US. Four billion tons every year from two countries — we’re just going to magically keep finding low-cost storage sites for all this stuff?

I pass; we’ve paid for stupid things since a CO2 emission free alternative like nuclear has not gained sufficient impetus to have a meaningful effect on US and China’s emissions. Additionally, the of the main green energy alternative, no system has yet been cost effectively been demonstrated to guarantee base-line power, However, my favorite science fiction based alternative, the beaming of RF radiation to desert areas, from space, might do so if the desserts selected were globally located. What you say, creating a commercially based satellite system that collects gigawatts’ worth of solar power and beams it down to Earth where it is converted to electricity. The ideas was first proposed by Dr. Isaac Asimov in 1941, and more recently evaluated by folks are diverse at the US Pentagon. For SciFi buffs, Harry Harrison and Ben Bova also expanded on the theme.

2.    Most of the cost of CCS is in the second “C” — capture. The only “proven” technology is amine-based chemical absorption. All sorts of R&D is going into other, hopefully less expensive ways of separating CO2 from flue gas, but these are early-stage R&D efforts. (And the operative word is “hopefully” — none has been proven to be effective, much less economical.) So if CCS had to be implemented today, it would be based on amine absorption.

Stephen, I am uncomfortable with your thesis about the scalability and cost effectiveness CO2 capture. Although amine technology is most often identified an s reasonable, if not yet fully test concept for capture, there are others including use of zeolites and membranes. When I have time available, I will more thoroughly search this topic and share my finding with Social Media.

3.    Which is why it hasn’t been implemented yet. Generating companies use coal because it is cheap. When it is no longer cheap, well there goes its advantage. CCS is simply not economical — it adds a cost to coal-fired power. Long before people find that out the hard way, coal-fired power generators will have gone bankrupt or switched their fleets to gas or nuclear — assuming coal generation is hit with emissions regulation or legislation. And in the near term, gas looks to be the front-runner — it’s okay to use the atmosphere as a CO2 dumps as long as the CO2 comes from gas combustion.

True, but comes the day of either a carbon tax;
… or the potential sea-level rise caused flooding of costal mega cities. There will be 20 coastal megacities (population exceeding 8 million) by 2010. The risk comes from a likely combination of sea level rise and storm surges. Lets pick a few likely targets — NYC, Bangkok, New Orleans, Mumbai, Shanghai, Manila, Caracas, Ho Chi Min City
… let’s see who pays the piper!

4.    If some use could be found for all that CO2, then maybe CO2 capture wouldn’t be such a joke. But that would depend on large-scale hydrogen production from water splitting. And the best hope for that is to use nuclear heat to split water — it’s the only way to make H production sustainable and clean. There should be way more R&D in nuclear hydrogen production.

Of course, Stephen, I agree!

Rod responded to the Social media dialog; I agree, by stating:

As a long time adherent of KISS approaches to engineering, I disagree with your interpretation. A real KISS type engineer who really works at keeping things simple would say – just don’t produce the CO2 in the first place. Then you do not need to spend any time, effort or money figuring out how to separate it from a waste stream, how to capture it after separation, where to store it or how to get it there.

The big difference between used nuclear fuel and CO2 is that the former starts off as a solid material encased in corrosion resistant cladding. It does not leak as long as you simply put it into a simple container. If the container ever shows signs of deterioration, fix or replace the container.

The only way you ever get any “leakage” from a used nuclear fuel storage area is if your computer models assume that people stop doing their jobs and that barriers magically disappear over time.

I agree with Rod but without going into politics and lobbyist support moneyed interests, let’s just always remember (to our idealistic despair) our democratic society is imperfect. But as Winston Churchill noted on November 11, 1947 “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Harry.

1/28/11       9:26 PM

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Comments
  1. harrybabad says:

    My Colleague Cal Holder, an energy production advocate responded to me by email
    on 4 February 2011.

    ==================== Carl Noted ==============

    Harry,
    I enjoyed your CO2 discussion, but you missed talking about the energy needed for these technologies. We cannot command future technologies that do these good tech tricks with an energy policy that depends upon conservation v production.
    Best regards,
    Carl

    I am posting his comment to add to the other discussions appended to it’s main theme-thread

    doc_Babad

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