Saturday, June 28, 2008

To Yucca or Not to Yucca (Now)...

...that is the question addressed by Sen. Pete Domenici R-N.M in a recently proposed bill. The Las Vegas Sun has more here. The key points, though, are that he's:
"...put forward a bill that would allow $1 billion annually from the fund designated for Yucca Mountain to instead go for developing nuclear recycling and interim waste storage sites run by public-private ventures...[The bill also allows] a stable funding stream for nuclear waste projects separate from Congress, where the Nevada delegation led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has successfully slashed Yucca Mountain’s budget in recent years."

What ever would we do without Harry Reid? It won't help matters that he's got a former adviser as an NRC commissioner--the current lineup which likely will undertake the licensing decision for Yucca submitted recently.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Obama discussed his energy policy yesterday; see the video here.

It all sounds "good"... except where he says McCain's call for 45 new nuclear plans is "not a serious" energy plan. He makes specific note of used fuel storage and Nevada, i.e. Yucca Mountain.

I understand oil is the big ticket item today. I understand families are hurting. However, if we limit our attention to oil in the context of total energy consumption, then we are missing the big picture. Renewables just do not count right now. Biodiesel/ethanol to me is a joke.

Baseload energy should be the focus. If we solved--I mean really solved--the baseload energy problem, our transportation cost crisis would be mitigated severely. Think nuclear and think either plug-in electrics or fuel cells.

I am war-weary, surely, but I am becoming suspicious of Obama's ability to lead our energy future.

Friday, June 20, 2008

GPM, not MPG!

A Duke professor thinks we ought to think in terms of gallons-per-mile (gpm), not miles-per-gallon (mpg) according to this article. Essentially, Richard Larrick believes we are often misled by what differences in magnitudes in mpg actually mean and that manufacturers should employ the gpm numbers instead.

For example, the cost-per-mile difference between a car getting 10 mpg and a car getting 20 mpg is greater than the difference between a 25 mpg car and a 50 mpg hybrid.

He tested his theory of misconception on college kids; not being asked, I decided to find out for myself.

miles / gallon 10 20 25 30
gallons / mile 0.1 0.05 0.04 0.03333
cost ($) / mile 0.4 0.2 0.16 0.13333
% improve each 10 mpg 0.0% 50.0% 20.0% 33.3%
$ improve from 10 mpg $0.00 $0.20 $0.24 $0.27
% improve from 10 mpg 0.0% 50.0% 60.0% 66.7%
$ improve from 25 mpg -$0.24 -$0.04 $0.00 $0.03
% improve from 25 mpg -150.0% -25.0% 0.0% 16.7%


40 50 75 100 1000
0.025 0.02 0.01333 0.01 0.001
0.1 0.08 0.05333 0.04 0.004
25.0% 20.0% 33.3% 50.0% 90.0%
$0.30 $0.32 $0.35 $0.36 $0.40
75.0% 80.0% 86.7% 90.0% 99.0%
$0.06 $0.08 $0.11 $0.12 $0.16
37.5% 50.0% 66.7% 75.0% 97.5%

Assuming gas costs 4$/g, we see going from the Excursion (i.e. 10 mpg) to my '93 Bonneville (i.e. ~ 25 mpg) gives rise to a 50% reduction in per-mileage cost. However, going from my Bonnie to say a good hybrid (~50 mpg) would also be a 50% price reduction... so something is fishy.

Ah! He must be talking about absolute cost! For the first 50% reduction (Excursion to Bonnie), we see the net reduction is 20 cents. For the Bonnie to Hybrid, we see the reduction is just 8 cents!

It makes sense, though, for what we pay per mile is an inverse function of our car's efficiency. Thus, we expect a hyperbolic cost function with the associated diminished returns.

It looks like my biggest impact move away from Bonnie will be to ride my bike!

Nonproliferation, revisited.

The Wall Street Journal has a good article by congresswoman Harman (D-CA) about the need for new nonproliferation activities. Read that here.

Speaking about Iran, she writes "the dangers posed by unsupervised, weapons-grade material in the hands of a regime that has threatened to 'wipe Israel off the map' are unacceptable."

I tend to agree, especially after attending a lecture on enrichment safeguards yesterday. To sum it up, we all got a glimpse of the Iranian centrifuge bank, with an estimated separations capacity of 3000 tonne-swu (a unit measuring how much separations can be done per year; to put it in context, a 5000 tonne-swu capacity can produce a enough for a weapon in one year...)

Now, I can't readily say I'm for preemptive war, for I've seen what that does. However, comments like "wiping" countries off the map coupled with the potential means to do so is alarming.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

An Interesting Time

It's been some time, I must admit. Between finishing up my undergraduate degree at Wisconsin (+ thesis) and wrapping up an award winning year for our American Nuclear Society, I had little time for keeping up with things outside my world. Now, I'm settled back into the Lab environment to work on what ought to become my Master's work. With a DOE-funded Fellowship in tow, I should be fine.

Since Clinton dropped out two weeks ago, the playing field has been set. For me and others in nuclear, a big question has to be "where does Obama stand?"

McCain is already calling for more nuclear power, reminding us that it accounts for 20% of our energy. He also points out the agonizing fact that our national nuclear construction base is largely gone. The AP has a good review here.

From his own site, Obama says

"It is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power from the table. However, there is no future for expanded nuclear without first addressing four key issues: public right-to-know, security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage, and proliferation."

He also believes Yucca "is not an option."

What is an option, Senator? I want a real, carb-cutting energy diet plan. I don't believe he's got that at this point. Whereas McCain says "If I am elected president, I will set [my emphasis] this nation on a course to building 45 new reactors by the year 2030, with the ultimate goal of 100 new plants to power the homes and factories and cities of America", Obama seems to say he will wait around passively as our percentage carbon-emission output, oil-dependence, and cost-of-living rise.

In other news, I've got two tank-like tires on my bike; no more flats. I baked some corn bread, too.