ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Solar's Alright

But Nukes Do It All Night

Finally, some sanity and rational discussion on energy. From Wired Magazine:

Former 'No Nukes' Protester: Stop Worrying and Love Nuclear Power
By John Borland Email 12.07.07 | 12:00 AM

The only way to rescue our plug-hungry planet from catastrophic global warming is to embrace nuclear power, and fast.

That's the argument of Gwyneth Cravens, a novelist, journalist and former nuke protester. Her new book, Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy, is a passionate plea to understand, instead of fear, atomic power. In her book, Cravens is guided Dante-like through the entire life cycle of nuclear power -- from mining to production to waste disposal -- by one of the world's foremost experts on risk assessment and nuclear waste.

Her conclusion? Every day spent burning coal for power translates into damaged lungs and ecosystem destruction. If the world wants to keep plugging in big-screen TVs and iPods, it needs a steady source of power. Wind and solar can't produce the "base-load" (or everyday) steady supply needed, and the only realistic -- and safe -- alternative is nuclear.

Wired News talked with Cravens on the phone from her home in New York.

Wired News: You don't argue that nuclear power is entirely safe, but that it's vastly better than coal and fossil fuels. Do we have to choose between them?

Gwyneth Cravens: I used to think we surely could do better. We could have more wind farms and solar. But I then learned about base-load energy, and that there are three forms of it: fossil fuels, hydro and nuclear. In the United States, we're maxed out on hydro. That leaves fossil fuels and nuclear power, and most of the fossil fuel burned is coal.

Wow! Someone finally recognizes that we'd have to blanket the entire country with wind and solar farms to power a hair dryer.
In the U.S., 24,000 people a year die from coal pollution. Hundreds of thousands more people suffer from lung and heart disease directly attributable to coal pollution.

WN: That's opposed to a minuscule number of people who have been directly harmed by nuclear power?

Cravens: It's zero in the United States. Of course there is the occasional industrial accident amongst the workers. But over the lifetime cycle of nuclear power, if you go cradle-to-grave with uranium, the total carbon emissions are about those of wind power.

WN: You have an interesting statistic comparing the waste levels produced by individuals over a lifetime.

Cravens: A family in four in France, where they reprocess nuclear fuel, would produce only enough waste to fit in a coffee cup over a whole lifetime. A lifetime of getting all your electricity from coal-fired plants would make a single person's share of solid waste (in the United States) 68 tons, which would require six 12-ton railroad cars to haul away. Your share of CO2 would be 77 tons.

WN: What about clean coal plants, and carbon-sequestration technologies? Aren't they a practical alternative?

Cravens: At this point, no. There's one prototype in Colorado that the government is trying to sponsor. From a practical point of view, I think nuclear plants could be up and running and replacing fossil-fuel plants sooner than we get clean coal.

WN: People still fear Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. You say neither of these catastrophic events was as harmful as widely believed.

Cravens: Chernobyl's reactor had no containment building. If they had had that reactor in a containment dome, we wouldn't be talking about it the way we are. But there was a radioactive release, and people were affected. So far about 60 people have died, most of them -- almost all of them -- from immediate exposure when they were fighting the fire in the reactor, and the emergency workers. Nine children, unfortunately, developed thyroid cancer that was not treated.

We had a Chernobyl in the United States, it was called Three Mile Island. But you have to look at risk and benefit, and you have to do comparisons. Three Mile Island really scared people, partly because it was so badly bungled by nuclear industry and regulatory commissions. The psychological effects were real, but in a dozen independent studies, no health effects have been found as a result of the Three Mile Island event.

Radiation was never a risk at Three Mile Island. People in New Mexico, every day of their lives, get from nature maybe 100 or 300 times more exposure than citizens around Three Mile Island got during that event.

WN: Along with engineering failures -- the lack of a containment building is stunning -- Chernobyl and Three Mile Island both stemmed from what in retrospect were very stupid operator decisions. Can we ever avoid that kind of human error?

Cravens: The nuclear navy has operated more than 250 reactors since the 1950s, and they have never had an incident involving a release from a reactor. This is because (naval nuclear chief Adm. Hyman) Rickover ensured that every individual was considered accountable.

When Three Mile Island happened, and there was a commission held to investigate why it happened, Rickover basically said you need to do things the way we do in the nuclear navy. The nuclear utilities and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission took that advice to heart.

If you just leave a reactor alone, it will shut itself down. If a reactor doesn't have enough water, it will shut itself down. Humans probably do make mistakes, but they have tried to make these reactors as human-proof as possible, and I think everyone has learned from Three Mile Island.

WN: Waste, both transporting it and storing it, remains extraordinarily controversial. Some will remain radioactive for tens or hundreds of thousands of years. You say you're not worried. Why not?

Cravens: First of all, it's small in volume. Uranium is dense, so the waste is dense. The waste from one average reactor, the spent fuel, per year could fit in the back of a standard pickup truck. This small volume of nuclear waste is always shielded, always isolated, transported in thick casks. Radiation is stopped by a few inches of steel and concrete and water and so on.

WN: But people still worry about having it stored next to them. Critics say Yucca Mountain (the planned nuclear-waste facility in Nevada) isn't safe enough.

Cravens: I'm quite satisfied about Yucca Mountain. They have worked not only on putting it deep inside the mountain, a thousand feet below the top of the mountain, and a thousand feet above the water table; they are putting it inside steel casks. It's just really going to remain where it is. They've calculated out the risks.

It's good to see that facts can trump the incoherence of the No Nukes crowd. Let's just hope that there are enough brain cells in the Green movement to recognize that it's time to move on expanding nuclear energy in the US. I doubt many of them would be willing to look and investigate the facts regarding nuclear energy the way that Cravens did.

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler

On the Mormon Thing

Jonah Goldberg weighs in on the Mitt Romney speech. Here is an excerpt of Jonah's perspective, but recommend that you read the whole thing:

Irving Kristol has cited the fight over Utah's statehood as a quintessential expression of how America practices theological pluralism while insisting on moral conformity. It is the American way to care about what people do, not about what they think. Every religion's theology has some wacky stuff in it, not only from the atheist's perspective but from the perspective of pretty much every other religion. Muslims were indeed mortified by the spectacle).

I have liberal Jewish friends who are sometimes flummoxed as to how I could hang out, ideologically or personally, with "Christian fundamentalists." My short answer is: Have you ever met any? I may not want some of them planning my next trip to Vegas, but the ones I've met couldn't be nicer or more polite.

And the same goes for Mormons. Yes, I think there's some weird stuff in Mormonism, but they might say "Same to you!" about Jews. Still, all of the Mormons I've met have been serious, kind and morally upstanding. Republicans might also note that Mormons are among the most reliably conservative senators and congressman.

I think the objections to Mormon theology are often sound. But I think there are sound objections to pretty much every theology. It's a good thing for Romney that while theology isn't relevant to picking a president, morality is.

Romney is lucky that Mormonism doesn't have a bunch of whackos threatening to behead seemingly anyone who might offend the religion - or dare to leave it like this young Brit whose father is trying to find her so he can kill her. And, Islam Means PeaceTM is accurate like dalling someone "phat" means someone is obese. In reality, Islam means submission and if we must recognize that such a religion (in the extreme) means not a dual, co-existence of religious and political life, but complete submission of all human activity.

With regard to Mormonism, I'm not that hung up on it. Each and every Mormon that I've ever met (and I've had several friends who are adherents of the Mormon faith) have been decent and fun people. Sure, I don't agree with anything in the Book of Mormon nor many of the tenets of the Mormon Church. But, that has little bearing on whether Romney will be an effective President.

However, there is a segment of evangelicals who view it as a cult and it's unlikely that Mitt's speech will bring them to vote for him. Whether they do vote for anyone or whether endorsements from "leaders" in the evangelical community will overcome this objection, I don't know. I would hope that they'd recognize Jonah's points that actions are more important than one's beliefs.

Perhaps Romeny could promise that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir would perform at the Inauguration.... Or perhaps he could get Donny & Marie to join him on the campaign. Then again, that might not be a good idea.

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Yet Another Inconvenient Truth - Part 1,770

Previous Inconvenient Truths here

Excellent article by Roy Innis over at Townhall regarding the structural difficulties associated with "Alternative" energy.

The Truth About "Alternative Energy"
By Roy Innis
Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Every week brings new claims that clean, free, inexhaustible renewable energy will soon replace the “dirty” fuels that sustain our economy today. A healthy dose of reality is needed.

Over half of our electricity comes from coal. Gas and nuclear generate 36% of our electricity. Barely 1% comes from wind and solar. Coal-generated power typically costs less per kilowatt hour than alternatives – leaving families with more money for food, housing, transportation and healthcare.

By 2020, the United States will need 100,000 megawatts of new electricity, say EIA, industry and utility company analysts. Unreliable wind power simply cannot meet these demands.

Wind farms require subsidies and vast stretches of land. To meet New York City’s electricity needs alone would require blanketing the entire state of Connecticut with towering turbines, according to Rockefeller University Professor Jesse Ausubel. They kill raptors and other birds, and must be backed up by expensive coal or gas power plants that mostly sit idle – but kick in whenever the wind dies down, so factories, schools, offices and homes don’t shut down.

On a scale sufficient to meet the electricity needs of a modern society, wind power is just not sustainable.

For three decades, US demand for natural gas has outpaced production. In fact, gas prices have tripled since 1998, to $13 per thousand cubic feet today, and every $1 increase costs US consumers an additional $22 billion a year.

With Congress and states locking up more gas prospects every year, this trend is likely to continue – further driving up prices and forcing us to import increasing amounts of expensive liquefied natural gas, often from less than friendly nations.
[ed - Buy XTO!!!]

We simply cannot afford to halt the construction of new coal-fired power plants, though some are trying to do exactly that.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. masterminded and bankrolled anti-coal initiatives in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. The scheme was intended to drive up the price of natural gas, and thus profits, by making coal less available and more expensive – with little regard for poor families.
Ahhh, it's great to see the effects of big business and politicians joining hands to make things better.... for the children. If only we had a free market economy.
As Kansas discovered after its environmental chief blocked a proposed new coal generator, coal projects also come with transmission lines to carry intermittent wind-generated electricity and more reliable coal-generated power. Wind farms typically do not. Now a dozen Kansas wind projects are also on hold.

Former Clinton Administration environment staffer Katy McGinty engineered the lockup of 7 billion tons of low sulfur Utah coal, worth $1 trillion. Current and proposed air and water quality rules would make it even more difficult and expensive to provide adequate coal-fired electricity. But the facts support more coal use, not less.

Power plants fueled by coal are far less polluting than 30 years ago. Just since 1998, their annual sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions have declined another 28% and 43% respectively, according to air quality expert Joel Schwartz – and new rules will eliminate most remaining emissions by 2015.

Coal-fired power plants are now the primary source of US mercury emissions only because the major sources (incinerating wastes and processing ores containing mercury) have been eliminated. US mercury emissions are now down 82% since the early 1980s; America accounts for only 2% of all global mercury emissions; 55% of global emissions come from volcanoes, oceans and forest fires; and two-thirds of mercury deposition in America comes from other countries, Schwartz adds. (Compact fluorescent lightbulbs or CFLs could become a more serious potential source of mercury than power plants.) Nevertheless, new EPA rules require a further 70% reduction in mercury from power plants by 2015.

That leaves carbon dioxide and catastrophic climate change as rationales for opposing coal. The latest UN-IPCC report again reduces projections for future temperature increases, polar melting and sea level rise. Moreover, increasing scientific evidence suggests only slight warming, climate change controlled primarily by solar cycles, and no storm, drought or sea level trends that exceed historical experience.

Yet, claims about imminent catastrophes have become increasingly hysterical, as a prelude to international climate negotiations in Bali.

The inconvenient truth is that these climate chaos horror stories are based almost entirely on computer models and digital disaster scenarios. They are no more real than the raptors in “Jurassic Park.”

Nevertheless, politicians are promoting initiatives like the Lieberman-Warner bill and Midwestern Governors Association climate pact, which they say will prevent a cataclysm, by slashing CO2 emissions by 60-80% and generating “thousands of megawatts” from wind energy.

If these initiatives become law, experts say electricity rates would soar another 50% by 2012. Labor unions predict millions of lost jobs, as companies shift operations to foreign countries.
Don't worry, Roy... The Congress will pass a law that will make it illegal for any company to move its operations overseas.
Preeminent alarmists Al Gore and Hillary Clinton emit more CO2 in a week from the private jets they take to campaign, lecture and fund-raising events, than the average American does in a year. And yet they’re demanding a wholesale “transformation” of our economy and living standards.

Mrs. Clinton says she is switching to CFLs, to save a few kilowatts, which brings us full circle on the mercury issue. Mr. Gore justifies his emissions by noting that he gets “carbon offset” indulgences from his company.

China and other rapidly developing countries will build 1,000 new coal plants during the next five years – with few of the pollution controls that we require. That means even major sacrifices by American workers and families won’t affect global temperatures, even if CO2 is the primary cause of global warming – which numerous scientists say is not the case.

And, you know where all of the emissions from China's high-sulfur coal end up, right? It takes just 5 days for the pollutants to hit the US.
We need every energy resource: oil, gas, coal, hydroelectric, nuclear – and wind, solar and geothermal.

We cannot replace 52% of our electricity (the coal-based portion) with technologies that currently provide only 1% of that power (mainly wind). Wind is a supplement, not an alternative.

We cannot generate electricity with hot air from politicians eager to create tax breaks, subsidies and “renewable energy mandates” for companies that produce alternative energy technologies – in exchange for campaign contributions from those companies.

We cannot afford to trash the energy we have, and substitute energy that exists only in campaign speeches and legislative decrees.

Poor and minority families can least afford such “energy policies.”

I have little hope for any rational discussion regarding the environment or our energy needs. We've already seen that the focus of the Moonbats is to reduce our consumption through No Impact lifestyles and sterilization, which will only result in shorter lifespans, a deteriorating quality of life, and fewer of us.

Me? I propose that we start building some nuclear plants (and/or restart to study the possibility of power through fusion). If you're so hung up on reducing emissions, nuclear is the best option.

As the saying goes, Solar's all right, but Nukes do it all night!

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler

Monday, December 03, 2007

Sub-prime Mess

Interesting article in today's WSJ and you should read the whole thing... (Paul Krugman took the opportunity to blog on this article and then reference post by a Moonbat blogger called Atrios, further damaging his credibility outside of the Manhattan bubble.)

But, here's a snippet that I'd like to analyze:

Subprime Debacle Traps Even Very Credit-Worthy As Housing Boomed, Industry Pushed Loans To a Broader Market
December 3, 2007; Page A1

One common assumption about the subprime mortgage crisis is that it revolves around borrowers with sketchy credit who couldn't have bought a home without paying punitively high interest rates. But it turns out that plenty of people with seemingly good credit are also caught in the subprime trap.

An analysis for The Wall Street Journal of more than $2.5 trillion in subprime loans made since 2000 shows that as the number of subprime loans mushroomed, an increasing proportion of them went to people with credit scores high enough to often qualify for conventional loans with far better terms.
The surprisingly high number of subprime loans among more credit-worthy borrowers shows how far such mortgages have spread into the economy -- including middle-class and wealthy communities where they once were scarce. They also affirm that thousands of borrowers took out loans -- perhaps foolishly -- with little or no documentation, or no down payment, or without the income to qualify for a conventional loan of the size they wanted.

The analysis also raises pointed questions about the practices of major mortgage lenders. Many borrowers whose credit scores might have qualified them for more conventional loans say they were pushed into risky subprime loans. They say lenders or brokers aggressively marketed the loans, offering easier and faster approvals -- and playing down or hiding the onerous price paid over the long haul in higher interest rates or stricter repayment terms.

The article continues and provides additional information about how these credit-worthy borrowers ended up with sub-prime loans. I point to the following two causes:
  1. Average person in the US doesn't understand finance, interest rates, mortgages, etc thanks to a sub-par education system.
  2. Many people were enticed into the sub-prime, "state your income", interest only loans primarily because they viewed the risk of an increasing interest rate as minimal when compared to the rate of return on the increasing value of their home.
As someone who's gone through the mortgage process four times in the past 10 years (2 new loans, 1 re-fi, and 1 home equity), I have to say that it increasingly involved questions from lenders as to whether I preferred to simply state my income or whether I wanted to fill out a lengthy form. I was asked several times whether I would like an interest-only loan, a higher Loan-To-Value ratio, or something less "boring." Of the 4 loans that I've taken out, only one was a 5 year ARM (fixed for 5) with a cap on the interest rate over the life of the loan. And, since the home we were living in was well within our means, even the highest interest rate possible after 10 years would have been possible for us. Add to this the fact that we knew we would probably move within a few years and we made out like bandits.

I compare my experience with the final paragraphs of the story:
Often such loans involve fraud, says Peter Fredman, a California attorney who has two clients who wound up with loans with high interest rates despite good credit scores. "Because these people had decent credit scores, the lenders said they would do a 100% no-documentation loan and that opened the door for mortgage brokers to do whatever they wanted to do," he says.

Mr. Fredman is representing a couple in their sixties with a monthly income of less than $2,500 but mortgage payments of roughly $3,400, not including taxes and insurance. The husband and wife, first-time home buyers with credit scores of 680 and 667, expected payments of $1,500 a month. They tried refinancing to lower the cost, to little effect. They haven't made a mortgage payment since January.
I assume that their expected $1,500 per month is not including taxes or insurance, but regardless: someone with a combined total income of less than $2,500 per month should not be taking on a monthly mortgage payment of $1,500!

That leaves them very little for food, clothing, transportation, etc. That this was their expected payment shows that they are not responsible borrowers. Some quick math (using an estimated 6-7% interest rate and the $1500/month payment) shows that the minimum value of the house they bought was anywhere from $225 - $250k if they had a conventional, 30 year loan. The fact that they opted for one of the "teaser" loans (with what they thought would be a $1500/month payment) suggests that the house was probably valued higher than that!

Someone with a combined annual income of less than $30,000 should not be getting a mortgage on a house valued at more than $250k. Just saying...

Perhaps Congress can make the inability to budget or understand basic finance illegal. Just package it as being "for the children" and I'm sure it'll fly through.

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler