Monthly Archives: January 2014

Land use nuclear vs wind and solar

An advantage of nuclear power over solar and wind is that it uses a lot less land, see graphic below. While I am doubtful that industrial gas causes global warming, I am not a fan of pollution, and that’s why I like nuclear power. Nuclear power adds no water or air pollution when it runs right, and removes a lot less land than wind and solar. Consider the newly approved Hinkley Point C (England), see graphic below. The site covers 430 acres, 1.74 km2, and is currently the home of Hinkley Point B, a nuclear plant slated for retirement. When Hinkley Point C is built on the same site, it will add 26 trillion Watt-hr/ year (3200 MW, 93% up time), about 7% of the total UK demand. Yet more power would be provided from these 430 acres if Hinkley B is not shut down.

Nuclear land use vs solar and wind; British Gov't. regarding their latest plant

Nuclear land use vs solar and wind; British Gov’t. regarding their latest plant

A solar farm to produce 26 trillion W-hr/year would require 130,000 acres, 526 km2. This area would suggest they get the equivalent of 1.36 hours per day of full sun on every m2, not unreasonable given the space for roads and energy storage, and how cloudy England is. Solar power requires a lot energy-storage since you only get full power in the daytime, when there are no clouds.

A wind farm requires even more land than solar, 250,000 acres, or somewhat more than 1000 km2. Wind farms require less storage but that the turbines be spaced at a distance. Storage options could include hydrogen, batteries, and pumped hydro.; I make the case that hydrogen is better. While wind-farm space can be dual use — allowing farming for example, 1000 square km, is still a lot of space to carve up with roads and turbines. It’s nearly the size of greater London; the tourist area, London city is only 2.9 km2.

All these power sources produce pollution during construction and decommissioning. But nuclear produces somewhat less as the plants are less massive in total, and work for more years without the need for major rebuilds. Hinkley C will generate about 30,000 kg/year of waste assuming 35 MW-days/kg, but the cost to bury it in salt domes should not be excessive. Salt domes are needed because Hinkley waste will generate 100 kW of after-heat, even 16 years out. Nuclear fusion, when it comes, should produce 1/10,000 as much after-heat, 100W, 1 year out, but fusion isn’t here yet.

There is also the problem of accidents. In the worst nuclear disaster, Chernobyl, only 31 people died as a direct result, and now (strange to say) the people downwind are healthier than the average up wind; it seems that small amounts of radiation may be good for you. By comparison, in Iowa alone there were 317 driving fatalities in 2013. And even wind and solar have accidents, e.g. people falling from wind-turbines.

Robert Buxbaum, January 22, 2014. I’m president of REB Research, a manufacturer of hydrogen generators and purifiers — mostly membrane reactor based. I also do contract research, mostly on hydrogen, and I write this blog. My PhD research was on nuclear fusion power. I’ve also written about conservation, e.g. curtainsinsulation; paint your roof white.

Stoner’s prison and the crack mayor

With the release of a video of Rob Ford, the Mayor of Toronto, smoking crack while in office, and the admission that at least two US presidents smoked pot, as did the Beatles, Stones, and most of Hollywood, it seems worthwhile to consider the costs and benefits of our war on drugs, especially pot. Drugs are typically bad for productivity and usually bad for health. Thus, it seems worthwhile to regulate it, but most countries do not punish drug sale or use nearly as harshly as we do in the US.

The Freak Brothers by Gilbert Shelton. Clearly these boys were not improved by drugs, but perhaps we could do better than incarcerating them, and their fans, for years, or life.

The Freak Brothers by Gilbert Shelton. Clearly these boys were not improved by drugs, but perhaps we could do better than incarcerating them, and their fans, for years, or life.

While US penalties vary state by state, most states have high minimum penalties that a judge can not go below. In Michigan, where I live, medical marijuana is legalized, but all supply is still illegal. Marijuana cultivation, even for personal medical use, is a felony carrying a minimum punishment of 4 years in state prison and a $20,000 fine. For cultivation of more than 20 plants the minimum sentence is 7 years in prison and $500,000; and cultivating 200 or more plants results in 15 years plus a $10,000,000 fine. These are first-time, minimum sentences where the judge can not consider mitigating circumstances, like a prescription, for a drug that was accepted for use in the US in the 70s, is legal in Holland, legalized in Colorado, and is near-legal in Belgium. While many pot smokers were not served by the herb, many went on to be productive, e.g. our current president and the Beatles.

In Michigan, the mandatory minimums get worse if you are a repeat offender, especially a 3 time offender. Possession of hard drugs; and sales or cultivation of marijuana makes you a felon; a gun found on a felon adds 2 years and another felony. With three felonies you go to prison for life, effectively, so there is little difference between the sentence of a repeat violent mugger and a kid selling $10 rocks of crack in Detroit. America has more people in prison than Russia, China, or almost every industrialized nation, per capita, and the main cause is long minimum sentences.

In 2011, Michigan spent an average of $2,343 per month per prisoner, or $28,116/year: somewhat over 1.3 billion dollars per year in total. To this add the destruction of the criminal’s family, and the loss of whatever value he/she might have added to society. Reducing sentences by 10 or 20% would go a long way towards paying off Detroit’s bankruptcy, and would put a lot of useful people back into the work-force where they might do some good for themselves and the state. 60.8% of drug arrestees were employed before they were arrested for drugs, with an average income of $1050/month. That’s a lot of roofers, electricians, carpenters, and musicians — useful people. As best we can tell, the long sentences don’t help, but lead to higher rates of recidivism and increased violent behavior. If you spend years in jail, you are likely to become more violent, rather than less. Some 75% of drug convicts have no prior record of violent crime, so why does a first-time offense have to be a felony. If we need minimums, couldn’t it be 6 months and a $1000 fine, or only apply if there is violence.

Couldn’t we allow judges more leeway in sentencing, especially for drugs? Recall that Michiganders thought they’d legalized marijuana for medical use, and that even hard-drugs were legal not that long ago. There was a time when Coca-Cola contained cocaine and when Pope Leo was a regular drinker of cocaine laced wine. If the two presidents smoked pot, and the Mayor of Toronto could do a decent job after cocaine, why should we incarcerate them for life? Let’s balance strict justice with mercy; so the fabric of society is not strained to breaking.

Robert Buxbaum, Jan 16, 2014. Here are some other thoughts on Detroit and crime.

Ocean levels down from 3000 years ago; up from 20,000 BC

In 2006 Al Gore claimed that industry was causing 2-5°C of global warming per century, and that this, in turn, would cause the oceans to rise by 8 m by 2100. Despite a record cold snap this week, and record ice levels in the antarctic, the US this week banned all incandescent light bulbs of 40W and over in an effort to stop the tragedy. This was a bad move, in my opinion, for a variety of reasons, not least because it seems the preferred replacement, compact fluorescents, produce more pollution than incandescents when you include disposal of the mercury and heavy metals they contain. And then there is the weak connection between US industry and global warming.

From the geologic record, we know that 2-5° higher temperatures have been seen without major industrial outputs of pollution. These temperatures do produce the sea level rises that Al Gore warns about. Temperatures and sea levels were higher 3200 years ago (the Trojan war period), without any significant technology. Temperatures and sea levels were also higher 1900 years ago during the Roman warming. In those days Pevensey Castle (England), shown below, was surrounded by water.

During Roman times Pevensey Castle (at right) was surrounded by water at high tide.If Al Gore is right, it will be surrounded by water again soon.

During Roman times the world was warmer, and Pevensey Castle (right) was surrounded by water;. If Al Gore is right about global warming, it will be surrounded by water again by 2100.

From a plot of sea level and global temperature, below, we see that during cooler periods the sea was much shallower than today: 140 m shallower 20,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age, for example. In those days, people could walk from Asia to Alaska. Climate, like weather appears to be cyclically chaotic. I don’t think the last ice age ended because of industry, but it is possible that industry might help the earth to warm by 2-5°C by 2100, as Gore predicts. That would raise the sea levels, assuming there is no new ice age.

Global temperatures and ocean levels rise and sink together

Global temperatures and ocean levels change by a lot; thousands of years ago.

While I doubt there is much we could stop the next ice age — it is very hard to change a chaotic cycle — trying to stop global cooling seems more worthwhile than trying to stop warming. We could survive a 2 m rise in the seas, e.g. by building dykes, but a 2° of cooling would be disastrous. It would come with a drastic reduction in crops, as during the famine year of 1814. And if the drop continued to a new ice age, that would be much worse. The last ice age included mile high glaciers that extended over all of Canada and reached to New York. Only the polar bear and saber-toothed tiger did well (here’s a Canada joke, and my saber toothed tiger sculpture).

The good news is that the current global temperature models appear to be wrongor highly over-estimated. Average global temperatures have not changed in the last 16 years, though the Chinese keep polluting the air (for some reason, Gore doesn’t mind Chinese pollution). It is true that arctic ice extent is low, but then antarctic ice is at record high levels. Perhaps it’s time to do nothing. While I don’t want more air pollution, I’d certainly re-allow US incandescent light bulbs. In cases where you don’t know otherwise, perhaps the wisest course is to do nothing.

Robert Buxbaum, January 8, 2014

Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, not as bad as first thought.

Three score days ago, The Harrisburg Patriot & Union retracted its unflattering 1863 review of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. But this retraction deserves more attention, I think, than that the editors reconsidered. The Patriot & Union was a Republican journal; it carried an accurate account of the speech, and so it’s worthwhile to ask why its editors labeled this great speech, “silly remarks”, deserving “a veil of oblivion”; “without sense.” Clearly the editors saw a serious lack that we do not see today. It’s worth asking then, what made them think it was silly and lacking in sense?

The Union & Patriot has retracted their review of this 1863 speech.

Lincoln in 1863; The Union & Patriot has retracted their review of this Gettysburg speech — in the fullness of time, they’ve come to reconsider their original review.

Lincoln spoke a few words in honor of the dead, but Edward Everett spoke on this topic for two hours before Lincoln rose. This lack does not appear to be what bothered the editors: “To say of Mr. Everett’s oration that it rose to the height which the occasion demanded, or to say of the President’s remarks that they fell below our expectations, would be alike false. Neither the orator nor the jester surprised or deceived us. Whatever may be Mr. Everett’s failings he does not lack sense – whatever may be the President’s virtues, he does not possess sense. Mr. Everett failed as an orator, because the occasion was a mockery, and he knew it, and the President succeeded, because he acted naturally, without sense and without constraint, in a panorama which was gotten up more for his benefit and the benefit of his party than for the glory of the nation and the honor of the dead.” The editors came to Gettysburg (I think) to hear Lincoln to hear things that only LIncoln could provide — his real thoughts on slavery and an update on his efforts at peace. As best I can tell, it was in these areas that they saw “a veil of oblivion.” Even so, for them to call this address, “silly remarks” there must be more going on. Here are my thoughts.

Lincoln had freed southern slaves a few months earlier by the emancipation proclamation, but no one knew their status; there had been a riot over this a few days previous. Did Lincoln claim equality for these ex-slaves, and if not, what were his thoughts on the extent of their in-equality. They were confiscated as war booty; would Lincoln return them to their owners after the war was over? If so, they were not free at all. Along with this, what was Lincoln doing to end the war? It was far from clear that the North could win in 1863. Lee had many victories, and now England had entered in support of the Confederacy. In my opinion, it was Ericsson’s Monitors that allowed the North to stop the British and win, but it appears that, in 1863, only the British navy realized that their power had been neutralized, and the south was lost.

By 1863 Ericsson was turning out two of these Monitor-type sips per month, enough to keep the British from any major port in America

The North’s Monitor, right, fights the Confederate Merrimac, left, to a draw over control of Norfolk harbor. Ericsson turned out two Monitor ships per month. In my opinion is was these ships that stopped the British and won the war.

Lincoln was cryptically brief when it came to slavery or peace: 271 words. About half the speech is devoted to the brave men who struggled here; the other half speaks of “the Nation,” or the “government.” Not the United States, the Union, the North, the South, but an undefined entity that Lincoln claims came into existence 70 years earlier, in 1776. Most educated people would have said that 1776 created no nation or government, only a confederation of independent states as described by the articles of confederation. Under these articles, these 13 states could only act by consensus and had the right to leave at will. To the extent that anyone held the South was bound now, it was because of the Constitution, signed ten years later, but Lincoln does not mention the Constitution at all– perhaps because most Democrats, understood the Constitution to allow departure. Also, to the extent the Constitution mentions slavery, it’s not to promote equality, but to give each slave 3/5 the vote-power of a free man. If “created equal” is to come from anywhere, it’s the Declaration, but most people understood the intent of the Declaration differently from the vision Lincoln now presented.

As far as most people understood it, The Declaration claimed the God-given right to separate from England and gain us a measure of self-rule — something that the South now claimed for itself, but Lincoln opposed. Further, we claimed in The Declaration, that British mis-management made the separation necessary, and listed the abhorrent offenses including suspension of habeas corpus, and the confiscation of property without process of law — things Lincoln was doing even now. Even the introductory phrase, created equal, was not understood to imply that everyone was equal. Rather, as Stephen Douglass pointed out in their 1858 Chicago debate, we’d created a nation “by the white man, for the benefit of the white man, to be administered by white men, in such a manner as they should determine.”

Ulysses Grant had a slave who he freed in 1859, and had control of his wife's slaves, who became free only in 1865. Lee's slaves were freed in 1862.

Ulysses Grant had a slave he freed in 1859; his wife held slaves till 1865. Lee freed his in 1862.

Where was Lincoln coming from? What was he saying that November day? It’s been speculated that Lincoln was proposing a secular religion of administered freedom. There appears to be some legitimacy here, but more I suspect Lincoln was referring to the UNANIMITY requirement behind the Declaration — by agreement all the states had to agree to independence, or we would all stay bound to Britain. If we had to unanimously bind ourselves, we must have unanimously bound ourselves to some shared vision of the union or democracy, -presumably that all were created equal. Five years earlier, William Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner, had given Lincoln a book of sermons by Theodore Parker, a Boston Unitarian. That volume includes the following section marked by Lincoln in reference to what the unanimous binding entailed: “‘Democracy is direct self-government, over all the people, for all the people, by all the people.” Whether Lincoln was now speaking in direct reference to this line, or more-likely, as I suspect, to a more general refutation of the claims of Southern separation and of Douglas’s 1858 white man claim, Lincoln’s understanding of the import of the Declaration was one that few understood or agreed with. The North still had slaves — Grant’s wife for example, and there was no obvious desire for a new birth of freedom, just an end to the war. Lincoln’s words thus must have sounded like gobbledygook to the majority of learned ears.

Based on the events and issues of the time, and the un-obvious point of the speech, I’d say the editors were justified in their ill review. Further, the issues that bothered them then, abuse of power, citizen and states’ rights, remain as relevant today as ever. Do the current editors see any import of the 9th and 10th amendment limiting the power of federal government? If so, what. Thus, I’m a bit disappointed that the Union & Patriot retracted its review of Lincoln’s short speech with nothing more than claiming to see things differently today. We stand on LIncoln’s shoulders now, and though we see the nation, and the Declaration, through his eyes, their issues remain, and the original review gives perspective on the nation as it looked at a very different time. Thus, while I understand the editors desire to look correct in retrospect, I’d prefer if the current editors would have left the review, or at least addressed the points that bothered their earlier colleagues. It’s a needed discussion. When every person thinks alike, nobody thinks very much.

January 6, 2014 by Robert E. Buxbaum, a doctor of Philosophy (in Chemical Engineering). Here is a translation of the Address into Jive. And into yeshivish. I’ve also written an essay on a previous retraction (regarding GM food). If Lincoln had a such a long address, how did he ever get mail?

Fractal power laws and radioactive waste decay

Here’s a fairly simple fractal model for nuclear reactor decay heat. It’s based on one I came up with over he past few weeks for dealing with the statistics of crime, fires, etc. — looking at the tail wither Poisson fails. Anyway, I find that the analysis method works pretty well for looking at nuclear power problems and comparing fission vs fusion.

If all nuclear waste had only one isotope and would decay only to non-radioactive products, the decay rate would be exponential. Thus, one could plot the log of the decay heat rate linearly against linear time (a semi-log plot). But nuclear waste generally consists of many radioactive components, and they typically decay into other radioactive isotopes (daughters) that then decay to yet others (grand-daughters?). Because the half-lives can barry by a lot, one would like to shrink the time-axis, e.g. by use of a log-log plot, perhaps including a curve for each isotope, and every decay mode. I find these plots hard to produce, and hard extrapolate. What I’d like to propose instead is a fractal variation of the original semi-log plot: a  plot of the log of the heat rate against a fractal time, time to the 1/4 power in this case. The plot is similar to a fractal decay model that I’d developed for crimes and fires a few weeks ago

A plausible justification for this fractal semi-log plot is to observe that the half-life of daughter isotopes relates to the parent isotopes. I picked  to plot time to the 1/4 power because it seemed to work pretty well for fuel rods (below) especially after 5 years of cool-down. Note that the slope is identical for rods consumed to 20 or 35 MW-days per kg of uranium.

Afterheat of fuel rods used to generate 20 kW/kg U; Top graph 35 MW-days/kg U; bottom graph 20 Mw-day /kg  U. Data from US NRC Regulatory Guide 3.54 - Spent Fuel Heat Generation in an Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation, rev 1, 1999.

After-heat of nuclear fuel rods used at 20 kW/kg U; Top graph 35 MW-days/kg U; bottom graph 20 Mw-day /kg U. Data from US NRC Regulatory Guide 3.54. A typical reactor has 200,000 kg of uranium.

This plot also works if there is one type of radio-isotope (tritium say), but in this case the fractal power should be 1. (My guess is that the fractal time dependence for crime is 1/2, though I lack real crime statistics to check it on). Unless I find that someone else has come up with this sort of plot or analysis before, I’ll call it after myself: a Buxbaum Mandelbrot plot –Why not?

Nuclear power is attractive world-wide because it is a lot more energy dense than any normal fuel; at 35 MW-days per kg, 1 kg will power an average US home for 8 years. By comparison, even with fuel cell technology, 1 kg of hydrogen can only power a US home for 6 hours. While hydrogen is clean, it is often made from coal, and (at least in theory*) it should be easier to handle and store 1 kg of spent uranium than to deal with many tons of coal-smoke produced to make 35 MW-days of electricity.

Better than uranium fission is nuclear fusion, in theory*. A fission-based nuclear reactor to power 1/2 of Detroit, would contain some 200,000 kg of uranium, and assuming a 5 year cycle, the after-heat would be about 1000 kW (1 MW) one year after removal.

Afterheat of a 4000 MWth Fusion Reactor, from UMAC III Report. Nb-1%Zr is a fairly common high-temerature engineering material of construction.

After-heat of a 4000 MWth Fusion Reactor built from niobium-1%zirconium; from UWMAC III Report. The after heat is far less than with normal uranium fission.

For comparison, I show a and as another demonstration of the Buxbaum-Mandelbrot plot for after-heat of a similar power fusion reactor. It drops from 1 MW at 3 weeks to only 100 W after 1 year. Nb-1%Zr is a fairly common engineering material used for high temperature applications. Nuclear fusion is still a few years off, so for now fission is the only nuclear option for clean electrical generation.

This plot was really designed to look at the statistics of crime, fires, and the need for servers / checkout people. I’d predicted that a plot of the log of the number of people needed to fight crime, fires, etc., is a straight line against the a fractal power of the number of hours per year that this number of people is needed. At least that was the theory.*

Dr. R.E. Buxbaum, January 2, 2014. *A final, final thought about theory from Yogi Berra: “In theory, it matches reality.”