The High Costs of Copenhagen
What Obama's pledge to reduce emissions by 83% would mean in practice.
By RICHARD K. LESTER , professor and head of the department of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, where he is also director of the Industrial Performance Center.
December o3, 2009
hen President Obama goes to the Copenhagen climate change summit next week, he is expected to once again declare that the U.S. will reduce its carbon emissions 83% by 2050.. .

...Here is a recipe that would work: Add 30,000 megawatts of new wind turbines every year between now and 2050 (this is nearly four times what was added in 2008, a record year). Add another 35,000 megawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity annually (more than 100 times what was added last year—a record year for solar, too)....

...Now multiply the nuclear reactor fleet fivefold by midcentury. Retrofit all existing coal-fired power plants with carbon capture and storage technology. And build twice as many new plants, also with carbon capture. Natural gas could substitute for coal, but only with carbon capture too. By 2050, the electric power system would be four times bigger than today. Two-thirds of the car and truck fleet would be powered by electricity, and the rest would run on advanced biofuels...

...All of this would indeed reduce carbon emissions by 83%. It would also practically eliminate America's dependence on oil imports. But could it be done? ...

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Comments by Tommaso Fronte.


limate change or not, major evolutions in energy supply should occur to compensate declining oil reserves. The USA President’s decision to cut 83% of CO2 emissions by 2050 sounds as a radical and yet naive signal in favor of new projects.
        De Chirico - The big game - 1971 (detail)   The signal is significant since the emitter is the leading world power but the accuracy of the figure, 83%, is naive; why not 82% or 84% ?

Actually what will be next can hardly be predicted and a tentative technological recipe to reduce by 83% the CO2 emissions, by Professor Richard K. Lester (MTI), concludes: " Could it be done ? " This would be even more questionable if financial conditions were taken into account.

In the past, free-wheeling technical improvements decided the progress ; then we had to learn that science is not immune to some adverse human factors, especially dyshonest claims exceeding what regulators can or are prepared to detect and castigate.

For instance, the reason why USA have not been erecting nuclear plants for the last 30 years is that a string of incidents and some accident proved that nuclear safety assumptions were over-optimistic and in any case their implementation was more expensive than anticipated .
      During these same 30 years France has been building some 60 reactors - all of them are evolutionary models of the 900 MW PWRs designed by Westinghouse.

Costs and nuclear safety have been compromised differently, because the French reactors are designed and manufactured by a state owned company (AREVA, the former FRAMATOME) while the plant owner is a state owned firm (EDF), and state owned companies are in charge with the fuel and the waste managementt (COGEMA, ANDRA) ; the regulator and the nuclear experts are of course state organizations (ASN, IRSN) .

Transparency about the safety is a French stated policy, but embarrassing practices are covered up by methods which violate the ... safety rules and are supported at any level of the Administration , including the elected President; in fact, nobody in France has the power to challenge a nuclear national framework which provides 80 % of the electricity needed by the country. Such a strong inner institution compares to an army in war time, with its unwritten rules different from the ordinary rule of law.

Some facts illustrate this situation : as part of my scope of senior design engineer I had to report lucrative practices which I refused to support since they violated most stringent standards (ASME III, class 1) for power nuclear reactors; the regulator has confirmed both the importance of the gaps I had reported and their impact internationally; dissuading punishments were therefore decided, but only against me, the reporter ; as much as 4 rulings were issued against me by the Criminal section of the French Supreme Court and no press article has never covered these judiciary events.

This is a typical approach in France where the security of electricity supply grounds organizations which are key but out of control , driven by individual greeds and insensitive to abusive risks . The like happened in the USA with the bankers and their financial services... it may happen in other sectors like the energy. In France, in the past month, one reactor out of two was unavailable and electricity had to be imported. Also the progress of the French project of new reactor, the EPR, had to be stopped repeatedly for safety reasons and in Finland the initial cost of this project is now 75 % higher than agreed , while the delivery time shifts from 2009 to later , not before 2012. The situation is almost out of control .

Let me smile at the idea that goals involving energy policy can be expressed with an accuracy of few percent over four decades, like the 83% cuts in CO2 emissions promised by 2050 by the USA President B. Obama.

Tommaso Fronte …



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