How much time do we have? An Engineer Looks at Global Warming, Part 1

This is the first of a three part series entitled An Engineer Looks at Global Warming. Engineers are trained not to take sides. They are trained to understand the problem before proposing a solution. They are trained that in coming up with a solution everything is a trade-off. Every alternative worth investigating will have plusses and minuses, benefits and costs. This training goes against some of our most basic tribal instincts and is not always successful. But it does give an engineer a different perspective than most. Engineers solve problems by asking questions. This series asks three questions about global

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Preserving Nuclear Ore

A conservationist view of nuclear waste Spent nuclear fuel is a potentially valuable source of electricity, power for deep space probes and pacemakers, and uniquely effective, cancer killing drugs. After a few hundred years, it is no more dangerous than any other highly toxic poison. Only a sinfully wasteful society would treat such a bountiful ore as a disposable nuisance

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The Lessons of Three Mile Island

On March 28th, 1979, the nearly new Unit 2 at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania suffered a meltdown. This was an exceedingly expensive industrial casualty. The plant was a multi-billion dollar write off. The nuclear establishment did much finger pointing, soul searching, and hand wringing. Two major semi-independent reports were published: the Kemeny Report and the Rogovin Report. They claimed to have learned a number of important lessons. This note compares the lessons they should have been learned, with the lessons that were learned. In writing this piece, I had essential help from Mike Derivan, one of

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Shipyard Production of Nuclear Power Plants

There had been an immense amount of hype, and considerable nonsense written about Small Modular Reactors. When you are trying to solve a problem as big as the Gordian knot, the closely coupled issues of electricity poverty and planet heating, small is not beautiful. There are strong economies of scale in nuclear power generation. Any solution that does not recognize this will be hopelessly wasteful. But it is also true that we must take advantage of the order of magnitude improvement in productivity and quality associated with assembly line manufacture, as compared to conventional on site construction. What we need

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Green Hydrogen and Dunkleflauten

Until recently proponents of all RE grid have argued that a combination of hydro and batteries could turn unreliable power into reliable. But this solution has proven limited at best and transparently silly at worst. It does not scale planet wide. The new solution to intermittency is green hydrogen. Hydrogen is produced from wind and solar electricity by splitting water with electrolysis. When the wind does not blow nor the sun shine, the hydrogen is converted back to electricity, by burning it in a gas turbine.T his piece examines how this solution fares in the context of Germany.

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