Friday, January 02, 2009

Hansen writes to Obama

Jim and Anniek Hansen (husband and wife) have released an open letter that he wrote to the Obama's, both of them, it starts:

29 December 2008
Michelle and Barack Obama
Chicago and Washington, D.C.
United States of America

Dear Michelle and Barack,

We write to you as fellow parents concerned about the Earth that will be inherited by our children, grandchildren, and those yet to be born.
Barack has spoken of 'a planet in peril' and noted that actions needed to stem climate changehave other merits. However, the nature of the chosen actions will be of crucial importance.

and it is quite long. You can find it at the Guardian and on Hansen's Columbia web site. The web site also has a revision of Hansen's position paper on climate policy

The recommendations are:
(1) Moratorium and phase-out of coal plants that do not capture and store CO2. This is the sine qua non for solving the climate problem. . .

(2) Rising price on carbon emissions via a "carbon tax and 100% dividend".

(3) Urgent R&D on 4th generation nuclear power with international cooperation.

Energy efficiency, renewable energies, and a "smart grid" deserve first priority in our effort to reduce carbon emissions. With a rising carbon price, renewable energy can perhaps handle all of our needs. However, most experts believe that making such presumption probably would leave us in 25 years with still a large contingent of coal-fired power plants worldwide. Such a result would be disastrous for the planet, humanity, and nature.

4th generation nuclear power (4th GNP) and coal-fired power plants with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) at present are the best candidates to provide large baseload nearly carbon-free power


Anonymous said...

Thorium in a liquid fluoride breeder reactor could begin the second nuclear age.

Like Alvin Weinberg, the light water reactor patentee envisioned decades ago.

The first nuclear age that is going on right now, is just a transition, a sideshow of the weapons program.

I suggest you, dr Rabett, look at the chemical side of the LFTR, the online reprocessing system and various corrosion issues especially.

The operating principle:
Th-232 in blanket -> U-233 is bred from it -> The U-233 is separated and moved to the core -> Fission.

Everything is molten tetrafluoride, but U is separated from Th by bubbling F gas and that makes it gaseous UF6 (reduce to UF4 again for use).

Also there's a vacuum still to remove the fission products from core salt.

Additional bonus is that it works in the thermal spectrum and has a strongly negative temperature coefficient. The aircraft reactor (molten salt) didn't need control rods at all.

One industrial container of Thorium could run a gigawatt plant for 30 years.

Anonymous said...

Eli, I think Hansen's forthright and public push to inform the Obama's is critically important. Over at BNC I devoted 4 posts to the draft letter he circulated. See here for the first in the series (the other follow sequentially).

I've since also followed up on 4th Gen Nuclear (Integral Fast Reactors), here. It is an exciting prospect.

Anonymous said...

MarkeyMouse returns:

"You are probably wondering whether President-elect Obama owes the world an apology for his actions regarding global warming. The answer is, not yet. There is one person, however, who does. You have probably guessed his name: Al Gore.

Mr. Gore has stated, regarding climate change, that "the science is in." Well, he is absolutely right about that, except for one tiny thing. It is the biggest whopper ever sold to the public in the history of humankind......"

bi -- International Journal of Inactivism said...

Shorter Malarkey Mouse:

AAAAAAAARGH!!!!!!! Why won't you talk 200 hours a day about ALGOOOOOOOORE??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Anonymous said...

Err. Jim Hansen's recommendations would be fine IF he had demonstrated that a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere would lead to a 3 Deg C increase in Global Mean Temperature as he claims. Only problem is that he hasn't really demonstrated that that is the case yet.

And so far as I can see, over the past decade or so CO2 levels have continued to rise, but temperatures have tended to stabilise. Doesn't that mean that the empirical evidence is showing that the temperature sensitivity to CO2 increases is perhaps moderating?

I had thought (via the IPCC) that we understood all this stuff to a high degree of certainty. Doesn't appear to be so.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous writes:

Err. Jim Hansen's recommendations would be fine IF he had demonstrated that a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere would lead to a 3 Deg C increase in Global Mean Temperature as he claims. Only problem is that he hasn't really demonstrated that that is the case yet.

3 K is roughly the mean of 61 estimates of CO2 climate sensitivity I'm familiar with. Eliminate the hyphen and copy this URL into your browser's address window:

And so far as I can see, over the past decade or so CO2 levels have continued to rise, but temperatures have tended to stabilise.

They haven't done any such thing. The trend is still up. Check here:

Doesn't that mean that the empirical evidence is showing that the temperature sensitivity to CO2 increases is perhaps moderating?

What magic process would make that happen?

Anonymous said...

I have to dissent from Hansens's endorsement of nukes. Even with regulation "streamlined" (i.e. potential protests and lawsuits suppressed), they are expensive and take a long time to build. Windmills and solar thermal plants can be deployed fast, are cost-competitive, and can deliver as much or more energy than nukes can. The improved grid Hansen wants would stabilize energy production from these "intermittent" sources as it would from the nukes. Note, though, that even now, storage of excess heat in molten salts has enabled some solar thermal plants to operate nearly 24/7.

Anonymous said...

BTW, you can make a nuclear bomb from U-233. The critical mass is different and you'd have to configure the explosives and the neutron reflector a little differently, but it would work. Note that there is no way to make a nuclear bomb from the wind or from sunlight.

Anonymous said...

i think it's a weird letter. i think he's assuming a great-basin-full of standards and regulatory changes will assist the carbon price but doesn't talk about them much. further, he's on record, in the last half-year, supporting the "repower america" idea, but here treats it like it's a picnic he and some friends are thinking about, maybe other people would like to come, and maybe bring some better nukes for next time?

it's so incredibly casual that way it almost made me think it was an extension of things former president-elect gore would be talking about, like maybe -- maybe this is too far but -- maybe neonukes and tax-and-dividend are things hansen actually disagrees with gore about? gore's on record, in the post-stern era, proposing that carbon taxes replace payroll taxes for federal revenues, and also that nukes are big, slow, expensive, and slow.

is this what a responsible (meaning 350, meaning gigantic) but politically conservative climate action plan looks like? is it hard to debate this proposal for good-government liberals because hansen is essentially an extinct bird -- no dodo but wow -- a good government conservative! avoiding carbon hazard and moral hazard with a single plan.

i got mad at joe romm's read... but then realized (with help of the email exchange andy revkin published) that romm'd done everybody a favor with a fairly conventional modeling of a 350 game plan for the US... but i do suspect romm was fooled by the small-government leanings of the letter into misunderstanding the scale of hansen proposals... for instance, i'm pretty sure hansen suggests a national building standard... "just offhand... you know, something i've been thinking about, what's your sense of that...?"

whatever this letter is, or isn't, the fact that there's a politically conservative intellectual approach to avoiding suicide is heartening and i wish self-described conservatives could see that, rather than taking their "better dead than watermelon" sequel road trip to hell.

i really have no feeling about dividend-and-spending versus trading-and-targeted-assistance. that's really the debate, i think. trading gives me the willies because you just KNOW g-sax will be in charge. but. if we're not going to do it seriously -- setting rising tough prices, installing equipment, preventing loopholes or carbon bubbles, etc -- without intent, neither pricing scheme works. so: what. learn to breathe methane.

moratorium is obvious. lester brown thinks it's already here, de facto, which is probably right, since the recession gives us another couple years to get really really really frightened and really really really organized before utility-scale investment returns to being comfortable.

anyhow i'm still pretty much convinced in the utility of brown's "plan b" book... which can be read online... or something worldchanging's "inaugurate change" list of organizations and goals...

this is a strange feeling. coming together so fast like this, from having been so atomized, it's disorienting.

david lewis said...

Here's something that struck me in Hansen's letter:

"scientists at the forefront of climate research have seen a stream of new data in the past few years with startling implications".... "a stark scientific conclusion, that we must reduce greenhouse gases below present amounts...has become clear to the relevant experts. The validity of this statement could be verified by the National Academy of Sciences..."

I.e. he's claiming that the NAS will back him as he calls for stabilization of the atmosphere at 325 - 350 ppm.

I read Romm's critique of Hansen's call that civilization should aim for this target and all I saw was Romm sees no practical policy that could be implemented that would succeed in meeting this target therefore he will dispute the science. I think there were a lot of voices in England pre WWII who said Hitler could not be defeated, therefore he should be pronounced to be fine and dandy as well.

People who wonder at Hansen's policy recommendation on nuclear will find more information in Tom Blees' book "Prescription for the Planet". Hansen first mentions Blees and nuclear power in his open letter "Trip Report" and clearly states: "I do not have the expertise or experience to evaluate the cost and technology readiness estimates" Blees presents. Hansen is getting more confidence it seems. The reactor design under discussion is fascinating for its ability to transform the nuclear waste issue from a many thousands of years to a few hundred year problem. Blees also states that no further mining of uranium would have to be done for a few hundred years even if all of civilization's energy requirements were met using this type of reactor, because the design is so efficient and because of its ability to burn the nuclear material already mined.

Blees is critical of the MIT "The Future of Nuclear Power" study, which comes out against reactors such as the Argonne National Laboratory design he's touting, although the MIT study does not mention the Argonne design by name. John Holdren is listed as a participant in the MIT study. Quoting from the MIT study: "All too often, advocates of a particular reactor type or fuel cycle are selective in emphasizing criteria that have led them to propose a particular candidate."

I would like to see what Holdren would say about the Argonne design now, given the "startling" change in how serious and immediate climate change is seen to be by "the relevant experts" Hansen writes about in his letter, and given that Hansen himself is so prominently touting it.

Holdren is going to present Hansen's letter containing Hansen's call for urgent R&D into this reactor design to Obama once Obama is President, so at that point it would seem logical that someone could ask him about this.