For example, in eastern Wyoming, an analysis showed that
it would cost half a million dollars to construct a water
well into deep, but high-quality aquifer reserves. That,
plus an untested assumption that all the deep layers
below it could only contain poor-quality water, led
regulators to allow a uranium mine to inject more than
200,000 gallons of toxic and radioactive waste every day
into the underground reservoirs.
"Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you find that money cannot be eaten."
Advantage: they self-replicate royalty free, something the nanobot company would never allow.
Such restrictions, or similar, might be a good idea in general. A gray-goo excursion would not be fun. Algae blooms cause enough damage as it is, and at least there are things that eat algae.
A lot of people aren't willing to stand up for what's right and good and feel that attacking you is an appropriate response when you criticize their feudal overlords. It's really depressing and disheartening.
Am I misunderstanding you?
Harvesting a tiny fraction of the total solar energy available (on Earth) would look an awful lot like a miracle.
Look up Ilya Prigogine, self-organizing systems, and dissipative systems.
Humans and their societies (and other artifacts) are one such.
Also, unless that were the only school in the area, your question may have been unproductive. The marginal value to society of a commercial installation can be greater than that of a school.
People will spend ungodly amounts of money to move to an area with decent schools.
1) buy perrows book "normal accidents"
2) read the nuclear accident chapters
3) begin marching in the streets at the sign of any new old-style nuclear plants, or the continued operation of the existing ones.
4) wonder in amazement how a chernobyl or fukushima isn't happening every year. That type of nuclear power generation really is that terrible.
(note - I am actually pro-nuclear-power ... just not the way we do it now)
Comparing Fukushima and Chernobyl is like comparing apples and turds. The debacle at Fukushima had nothing to do with the reactor design; it was due to the braindead siting of the backup diesel generators and their switchgear behind a seawall that got overrun by the tsunami. The reactor design itself was fine, and in fact has withstood loss of coolant conditions that, by any reasonable prior expectation, should have caused much more radiation release than they did.
Chernobyl, on the other hand, had:
* No secondary containment;
* A Soviet-run staff that thought running badly controlled experiments at high power levels was just dandy;
* A graphite moderator that ignited when exposed to air.
Fukushima is not even in the same league from that perspective.
That type of nuclear power generation really is that terrible.
This is a serious overstatement. Many reactors designed along the same general lines have delivered decades of power with no problems. (Not to mention that the US Navy has run reactors of similar design on its ships for decades with no problems.) I'm all for improving reactor designs, but I also think there are existing designs that could have gotten plenty more use without significant added risk. The fact that we haven't done that is a bug, not a feature.
Imagine a coal plant that burns down 100,000 acres around it if the primary coal containment system (made up) loses power. Would anyone like that in their backyard?
Or a hydro plant that if power isn't continuously supplied to, not only could the dam breach and flood downhill but also somehow miraculously uphill too (not realistic but comparative to nukes).
That's what a nuclear power plant that can't slowly coast to a stop is like. I don't care how many backups and backups of backups you have, if physics isn't on your side if/when the plant loses power it's a horrible design.
EDIT: a few changes for clarity
You're right that this is an additional risk factor, which would be eliminated in a design that required only passive cooling after shutdown (and newer designs have this feature).
But "retarded" is too strong. Just having the backup generators not come on for a short time period isn't enough; they have to be unavailable for days or weeks, as the Fukushima ones were. Also, the switchgear has to be such that portable generators can't be brought in and hooked up. I was extremely surprised to find that all of those design decisions were apparently made wrong in the Fukushima plant.
And even then, when put in proper perspective, the negative consequences of nuclear power are less severe, when averaged over all the kilowatt-hours of power produced by nuclear plants, than the negative consequences of other forms of energy. Coal causes far more mortality and morbidity per unit of energy generated, for example. It's not "retarded" to choose a power source that has less severe side effects all things considered.
Again, that's not to say that reactor designs should not be improved. But by any reasonable standard, nuclear power even with existing designs is safer, all things considered, than other major forms of energy. The only reason the public does not understand that is that "radiation" is a buzz word, whereas "respiratory failure due to coal dust", for example, is not. (And even "radiation" is not used fairly; coal ash has higher levels of radioactivity than many forms of nuclear waste. But the public isn't exhorted to protest about radiation from coal ash.)
I can self-insure my computers because if one ever fails I have the cash to handle it. It's not a financial crisis. I don't self insure my car (for collision/comprehensive) because it's too big of an expense for me to absorb at any one time without severe hardship.
Nuclear reactors (as they stand today) are more like cars than computers. They tend to rob a few people of their whole lives and really eff up the ones that don't die. Coal plants have the "advantage" of robbing many people of a portion of their lives in a more subtle way.
LFTR reactors have physics on their side in that if containment is lost, so is criticality. Boiling water reactors, pressurized boiling water reactors, etc in my mind can't be made safe because they require power to stay safe, even if they're not generating power.
You've suggested that so long as the generators and whatnot arrive eventually, things will be fine. The problem is that you've made the assumption that somehow, some way the generators will arrive and the reactor can be made safe again over the course of some weeks or months. Nuclear reactors are one of the few pieces of infrastructure that can't simply be abandoned if something bad happens, or else the problem gets worse and worse and worse. This is a positive feedback cycle rather than a negative one. Positive feedback often "blows up" (a term we use in electrical engineering) or grows without bound. Nearly everything else in modern society functions with negative feedback and that kind of intrinsic safety is what most people want.
That's not to say that ALL nuclear reactors are by definition unsafe; just all the ones that are currently operating commercially because it's such a nightmare to permit new designs and the existing manufacturers have no interest in inviting competitors into their market.
But loss of criticality isn't sufficient for the reactor to be "safe". Even with the reactor no longer critical, there are still a lot of radioactive fission products left. The way to prevent them from escaping is secondary containment, which Chernobyl did not have, as I said (Fukushima, and indeed every other reactor ever built that wasn't built by the Soviet Union, has secondary containment).
Of course, as Fukushima illustrated, secondary containment is not the only necessary feature for safety. You also need decay heat cooling. The key advantage of a design like LFTR, as compared to a design like Fukushima, is passive decay heat cooling; simple thermodynamics is sufficient to keep the fission products contained and cooled after shutdown. That's why such reactors don't, in your words, "require power to stay safe, even if they're not generating power". However, LFTR is not the only possible design with passive decay heat cooling; there are ordinary pressurized water reactor designs that have passive decay heat cooling (by designing the piping circuits and placing the heat exchangers and core to take advantage of natural convection). Fukushima was not such a design, but they do exist (although AFAIK they didn't when Fukushima was built).
Nuclear reactors are one of the few pieces of infrastructure that can't simply be abandoned if something bad happens, or else the problem gets worse and worse and worse.
This is true, but it's just as true of passively cooled designs like LFTR. The problem here is what to do with the highly radioactive fission products. The way every nuclear-using country except the US deals with this is reprocessing: you take the spent fuel, separate out what's still fissionable (which is a pretty large fraction of it with most current designs), and put what remains through a special reactor that converts the fission products to either much longer-lived (and hence much less radioactive) or stable isotopes. Problem solved. France and Japan have been doing this at scale for several decades now. The only reason the US doesn't is politics.
A pressurized water reactor relies on the pressure vessel not being breached in order for the passive decay cooling to work, if that happens we're right back to Fukushima/Chernobyl style problems.
I am talking about short-term "everyone evacuate the building" types of disaster scenarios. You can do precisely that with a LFTR because of the passive decay heat cooling combined with the loss of criticality that happens when the freeze plug melts.
On a longer term the fission products might be a problem with an abandoned LFTR but because of the loss of criticality and the passive decay it's 100% acceptable to just wait for everything to cool down, fix the problem and restart. Or if things are so broken you can't fix them at least you don't have to keep putting people in harm's way to try and prevent a wider-scale disaster. Once things have cooled you go collect the nuclear material and send it to another plant to be used.
The best way for me to explain this is with analogies using potential energy.
1. The nuclear power plants we have now are a big heavy rock precariously balanced on top of a fairly narrow peak. Small movements to one side or the other can be recovered from but at some point that rock has started to move and will move aggressively. It will eventually reach the bottom of the hill but not before crushing everything in its path. We don't really even know how bad the damage can get.
2. A LFTR is like a big heavy rock perched about 10 feet up a shallow hill. It requires some energy to keep it there or else it'll roll down hill. You can't really push it up further so it's safe from disturbances in that direction. If you push it down hill (or cease holding it up) it only rolls 10 feet before it naturally hits the bottom and comes to a stop.
The majority of the things in the world act more like 2 than 1 and thus we aren't terribly scared of them. Yes there are a great many things you can do to ensure that 1 doesn't get away from you, but ultimately you're still fighting gravity.
Let me reiterate, I'm not against nuclear power. I just REALLY don't like the idea of the balancing act that has to be performed in 1 and far prefer the kind of intrinsic safety that you get from 2. I'm all for building plants like 2 even if they're not LFTR based. I don't have religion about the form, I just want as much safety as I can get.
AFAIK the pressure vessel was never breached at Fukushima. They had plenty of problems whose primary cause was the absence of cooling water (including a hydrogen gas explosion), but there was never an uncontrolled criticality because of it. (Also see further comments below on criticality.)
I am talking about short-term "everyone evacuate the building" types of disaster scenarios. You can do precisely that with a LFTR because of the passive decay heat cooling combined with the loss of criticality that happens when the freeze plug melts.
Ok, this makes it clearer where you are coming from. I certainly agree that the LFTR is a big improvement over the standard PWR design.
We don't really even know how bad the damage can get.
It's true that Chernobyl could have been worse, so we can't really judge the worst case from what happened there. However, these worst-case scenarios have been simulated in great detail; the physics is actually pretty simple.
With any design that isn't Soviet-built, a loss of coolant will not cause an uncontrolled criticality; losing coolant decreases the reaction rate, causing loss of criticality. The problem with the Chernobyl design was that it had a "positive void coefficient of reactivity", meaning that the reaction rate increased on loss of coolant. That feature, as I said, is not present in any non-Soviet design, which means it's not present in any commercial design currently operating (since all the old Soviet reactors have been shut down).
I just REALLY don't like the idea of the balancing act that has to be performed in 1 and far prefer the kind of intrinsic safety that you get from 2.
So do I. Now that we have such designs, we should certainly be building them, and should not be building the old designs that lack those passive safety features.
In my mind the worst-case scenario is that the core melts, the containment shell is cracked and the whole mess goes through the floor and into the ground. Has that been simulated at all? I'd love to read a paper if it has. I haven't seen anything with a cursory search.
Unfortunately, it's complicated to explain that to people. People don't really want anything to do with nuclear after all the issues of the past, and it's hard to blame them. Nuclear really needs a rebranding and safer designs.
Some common sense would help too. We should shut down nuclear power plants that are on earthquake faultlines.
It occurred to me on re-reading that you might have been referring here to the fact that the Chernobyl reactor had a number of features that acted to increase rather than decrease reactor power as actions were taken to try to shut it down. Those features are not present in any current reactor designs that weren't made by the Soviet Union. Certainly they were not present in the Fukushima reactors.
We don't really even know when this stops or how it stops or whatever because the only time (so far) that it really started to get away from us (Chernobyl) a bunch of brave men gave their lives and dumped boron straight on the exposed reactor core to stop it. By doing so they spared us from gaining the very painful knowledge of how a meltdown ends naturally, at what point an equilibrium is reached.
If it's the Chernobyl design, yes. Not otherwise. See my comments upthread in response to another of your posts. The Chernobyl design had particular features that are not present in any currently operating commercial reactor.
The Japanese have also exhibited some spectacularly poor nuclear management in the past (a criticality incident in fuel handling at Tokaimura: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokaimura_nuclear_accident) and significant involvement by the Japanese mafia in TEPCO). In fact many or most nuclear incidents anywhere can be chalked up to poor management -- it's a major risk factor.
As for the US Navy, the man who made that happen argued strongly against nuclear power. US Navy Rear Admiral Hyman Rickover:
I do not believe that nuclear power is worth it if it creates radiation. Then you might ask me why do I have nuclear powered ships. That is a necessary evil. I would sink them all. I am not proud of the part I played in it. I did it because it was necessary for the safety of this country. (see full quote and others at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyman_G._Rickover#Willingness_...)
Rickover also explicitly noted that the US Navy's safety was the result of a total philosophy and approach, not a solution which could be ladled or patched on to other systems.
This is true of any field in which, in the words of Feynman in his report on the Challenger disaster, "reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled".
the man who made that happen argued strongly against nuclear power.
As the Rickover quote you give shows, Rickover thought of "radiation" as having magical powers, like many members of the uninformed public. His arguments on such grounds are not cogent. (Another quote in the Wiki article shows that Rickover also disliked nuclear power because of its relationship to nuclear weapons, which is more reasonable, although still not sufficient to justify getting rid of nuclear power IMO.)
His comments on the US Navy's particular philosophy, which worked for a military organization but would not work for civilian power companies, are valid as far as they go. However, to me that's a bug, not a feature. To see why, consider the following sketch of an alternate history: in the mid-1970's, having realized that OPEC is not going to play nice any more and therefore foreign oil is not a good basis on which to run the US economy, the US government makes nuclear power a national priority on national security grounds (much as France did). Knowing that existing reactor designs require skilled operators and strict procedures to ensure safety, the government institutes licensing similar to what is done with professionals in various fields, such as engineers, whose activities can, if done incorrectly, pose significant risk to the public. The US Navy program is used as a model, but the military-style aspects of it are adjusted to something more appropriate for a commercial endeavor.
Result: in the alternate 2014, the US imports no oil (except possibly from Canada), the majority of base load electricity comes from nuclear power plants, coal mines are all shut down and their sites cleaned up to serve as ski resorts, offshore oil drilling is a thing of the past (so no Deepwater Horizon spill), and the US can just leave the Middle East alone (so no special treatment of Saudi Arabia, probably no 9/11, no invasion of Iraq).
There are some technologies which are inherently riskier than others. A solar meltdown or wind fuel spill isn't going to risk tens of thousands to hundreds of millions as a nuke plant incident could.
[Rickover's] arguments on such grounds are not cogent.
Y'know, blithely saying that of someone who spent 35 years in the nuclear industry, pretty much creating it, shows ... a certain hubris. I'm unpersuaded by your argument.
Your nuclear alternative universe omits the one glaring limitation of conventional nuclear: there's not enough fissible material to run nukes for more than a few decades, and much less than that if the fraction of energy produced from nuclear is increased. The alternatives are breeders (weapons, proliferation, and processing risks) or thorium MSR (MOX designs don't achieve the fuel utilization rates necessary to achieve a long-term sustainable energy source status). Thorium MSR suffers from the slight limitation that some 40 years after initial and very preliminary exploration, it's still at least 25 years from commercial deployment -- by the assessment of the usually optimistic Chinese: http://www.reddit.com/r/dredmorbius/comments/1uy239/energy_c...
I'll omit the other glaring omission: that oil provides fuel for transport, while nuclear doesn't. Synthesis of transportation fuels is a challenge of engineering, complexity, and scale.
Rickover actually addressed aspects of this in a 1956 speech:
I'd recommend reading it in full (he articulates and builds his argument well), but:
For it is an unpleasant fact that according to our best estimates, total fossil fuel reserves recoverable at not over twice today's unit cost, are likely to run out at some time between the years 2000 and 2050, if present standards of living and population growth rates are taken into account. Oil and natural gas will disappear first, coal last. There will be coal left in the earth, of course. But it will be so difficult to mine that energy costs would rise to economically intolerable heights, so that it would then become necessary either to discover new energy sources or to lower standards of living drastically.
(Global Warming wasn't yet a thing in 1956).
Huh? No nuclear plant incident has even come close to this level of impact; this number is at least four orders of magnitude too large, and quite possibly more.
someone who spent 35 years in the nuclear industry
I didn't say all his arguments weren't cogent, just the particular argument he made about "releasing radiation".
there's not enough fissible material to run nukes for more than a few decades
Sure there is, if you reprocess the spent fuel (spent fuel actually still has a fairly large fraction of fissile material in it) and/or run breeders (sure, you have to keep control of the nuclear material, but that's a lot cheaper than the alternative of making us all poor because we don't have enough energy).
I was surprised to see the Chinese that pessimistic about the time scale for thorium reactors; I haven't had time to dig into the details to see what the roadblock is. They're not the only ones working on those, either.
oil provides fuel for transport, while nuclear doesn't.
But oil provides fuel for other things besides transport as well. If it only had to provide fuel for transport, that would change things significantly.
(Also, battery technology is a lot better now than when Rickover made his speech; electric cars can now actually have decent range for things like commuting.)
Rickover actually addressed aspects of this in a 1956 speech
Yes, I've read it. One thing that struck me was that he came right out and said that energy == standard of living, which is true, but it's an inconvenient truth. Of course, he wasn't a politician.
Neither were failsafe. Where failsafes existed, they were disabled.
Bad things happened.
...have delivered decades of power with no problems.
Yet. The externalities are brutal.
What failsafes were deliberately disabled at Fukushima?
So are the externalities from coal mining and oil drilling. They just have a much more diffuse impact, so nobody complains. Per unit of energy delivered, nuclear has much less impact.
Anticipating your continued argumentative retorts in your spirited defense of nukes, it's also well known (documented) that this was an identified risk, and that other reactors along the coast did have sufficiently high shield walls.
You've omitted stockpiling reactive waste from your calculus. Ditto the inadvertent release of contamination.
A small tip: If you're pro nuke, you may want to advocate traveling wave reactors. Treehuggers like me are looking for solutions, not more rhetoric.
You mean the seawall that was protecting the switchgear for the backup diesel generators? That didn't fail; it was simply not high enough to keep out the tsunami. Which, as you note, was not the case for other similar reactors:
it's also well known (documented) that this was an identified risk, and that other reactors along the coast did have sufficiently high shield walls.
Agreed. Which shows that reactor designs of that generation can be operated safely. See below.
You've omitted stockpiling reactive waste from your calculus.
Which is a lot easier if you reprocess the spent fuel, as every nuclear-using country except the US does (US policy forbade it from the mid-1970's until about 2000, since then there have been, IIRC, contractual issues getting it started).
Ditto the inadvertent release of contamination.
Which, once again, is much smaller than other major energy sources when evaluated per unit of energy produced.
Treehuggers like me are looking for solutions, not more rhetoric.
And once again, of all the other major energy sources--by "major" I mean "capable of sustaining the required base load capacity for a country the size of the US at first world standards of living"--nuclear is by far the safest. What opposition to nuclear power by treehuggers like yourself has done is to force people to make a choice: either drastically reduce our standard of living, or use energy sources with much greater health and environmental impacts like coal and oil. Guess which choice people picked?
I completely agree that, now that we have safer nuclear reactor designs, we should be building them, and not building any more of the older, less safe designs. (I don't know that traveling wave reactors are at the point where we can build operating plants, btw; but there are other inherently safe designs that are further along.) But given that we have plenty of existing plants that are perfectly capable of being operated safely, we can get cleaner energy from them than we can from coal and oil.
It's simply better.
Go see just how much toxic and radioactive waste coal mining produces. WAY WAY more than nuclear power.
Photovoltaic solar produces lots of waste, more than nuclear. And it requires lots of land.
Solar thermal is much more efficient but it's expensive and no one seems to be doing it in scale. And it too requires lots of land.
And don't say we have lots of land, we do, but it's remote, so you need a lot of infrastructure to make use of it. We can do that (we did for hydrocarbons), but it's not a slam dunk.
Because of that, nuclear produces less waste and is better for the environment.
It produces treatable wastes, ones that can be allowed to enter the normal economy and processed, rather than wastes we are so scared of that we can't let anybody touch them and so inject them into deep water aquifers instead.
Also, all waste comparisons I have seen people make with nuclear generally seem to only include volume of spent fuel, and not the wastes from the process of making the fuel in the first place, which are several orders of magnitude greater.
The UK is currently committing to building a whole new set of boiling water reactors while still having not made up its mind about the location of the UK long term waste store, which is taking a while as for reasons of politics, the government is relying on voluteerism rather than geologic suitability to decide where in the country to put it.
We did have a breeder reactor in Dounreay. It is shut down now and the surrounding beaches are off limits for a while, due to old fuel rod fragments being pumped into the sea. The management were also prosecuted for dumping solid nuclear waste in landfill.
You can take a landfill, put dirt over the top, and now you have parkland for people to use. It's happened to two intracity landfills within a couple of kilometers of where I live. The same can't be done with nuclear waste.
Why not? Just bury it a bit deeper.
But it doesn't matter - you don't need to. Unlike bags, there is so little nuclear waste we can afford to dedicate one tiny area to it.
The entire nuclear waste of the US in the past 40 years can fit in a room 350 feet on each side. (Basically 1 city block.) That's it. That's all the space you need for the entire united states!
Maybe DOE should hire some HN experts so they'll learn how the job ought to be done? As much money as the nuclear industry has stolen from taxpayers, I think they can afford you.
But "environmentalists" stepped in and ended funding. Now we are stuck with the current situation of pretty much every power plant for themselves and storage all over the country.
These were the direction we were headed in the 60s, unfortunately, we then discovered that Uranium was not as rare as we thought it was, and in our usual manner, decided to go for the conventional ones we have today.
Whilst breeder reactors produce waste, they can also reuse it, as well as being more efficient. Some proponents say they would allow us to reuse today's nuclear waste.
Additionally, the waste produced has a shorter half life than the waste produced from conventional reactors.
(Plus with a bit of confidence and engineering we can burn all the waste to energy, leaving nothing at all.)
Solar thermal is much more efficient but it's expensive
and no one seems to be doing it in scale.
These things are dirty bombs, period.
Edit: To clarify, I am not arguing for coal. Just against nuclear power. I live next to a garbage->energy and gas turbine plant. It's not perfect, but I wouldn't want to live near a nuclear plant.
I knew people first hand who died from chernobyl's toxic rain. Took 10 years for their faces to completely fall apart.
It's gut, but un-informed feelings like yours that are the cause of so much environmental destruction.
> I knew people first hand who died from chernobyl's toxic rain.
And I know of people who today are suffering from asthma and lung cancer from coal's toxic exhaust. And newsflash: There are way way way way more of them.
It's irrational confidence like yours that nuclear power is in any way safe, and therefore a good replacement. Coal doesn't need a replacement, we need to start using energy responsibly. That means not using energy when we don't have it. A nuclear plant is not an acceptable way to generate energy.
Using less power is not a realistic proposal. You should not expect that to be taken seriously.
http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/national_world/2013/... says homes are down to using less energy in 2013 than anytime since the early 2000's. Here's a graph of energy use over time http://nation.time.com/2013/10/24/interactive-see-how-americ...
A uranium mine isn't just a fuel source, it is also part of a military arsenal at the highest level, so really it isn't that surprising to see so little care given to the externalities.
Personally I think that solar/storage is about to outcompete the pants off most everything else anyway, given the ever falling price of modules and the existence of companies like lightsail and gravitypower. http://www.lightsail.com/ http://www.gravitypower.net/
hot gravel edit; oh, and Isentropic - http://www.isentropic.co.uk/
My excitement for it is that it relies on 19th century technologies that anyone can implement and doesn't need a fab or another country to provide solid state solar panels.
Edit: Actually, something doesn't make sense, the type of well described has been banned in the US
Inject hazardous or radioactive wastes into or above USDWs. These wells are banned unless authorized under a federal or state ground water remediation project.
Is this accurate, deep water reserves are allowed to be polluted? That doesn't make sense at all, and it's completely insane if it's true...
Even Russia has laws protecting deep aquifers, in fact they're considered cleaner than the surface reserves (that may actually be true seeing as Baikal has a goddamn paper mill on its shore).
"In an effort to help cool the pile, the airflow was increased. This fed more oxygen to the fire and lifted radioactive materials up the chimney and into the filter galleries. It was then that workers in the control room realised that the radiation monitoring devices which measured activity at the top of the discharge stack were at full scale reading."
But of course, leave it to the Soviets to come up with something far crazier and far worse.
This is the process:
Hard to evaluate how serious the problem is without knowing how toxic and radioactive the waste is and how large the underground aquifers are.
The water from Colorado (via the Colorado River) also supplies Utah, Arizona, Southern California, Nevada, and Mexico with water. All of those areas need more water; even if Colorado stays at its current demand level, you could imagine one or more of those areas funding a well in Wyoming to divert water to Colorado to either send directly down the river or to take the place of water that would otherwise be removed from the river, so that their allocation could be correspondingly increased. (Pretty much every drop of the Colorado River is owned by someone. )
Water is life. :)
Pretty much every drop of the Colorado River
is owned by someone.
When the Colorado River Compact was drafted in
the 1920s, it was based on barely 30 years of
streamflow records that suggested an average
annual flow of 17.5 million acre feet past Lee's
Ferry. Modern studies of tree rings revealed
that those three decades were probably the
wettest in the past 500 to 1,200 years – and
that the natural long-term annual flow past
Lee's Ferry is probably closer to 13.5 million
acre feet, as compared to the natural flow at
the mouth of 16.3 million acre feet. This has
resulted in more water being allocated to river
users than actually flows through the Colorado.
As a result we've been in violation with a treaty with Mexico over the lack of promised water volume over most of that time as well. Again, too busy to find the link.
Or also to Southern California? So what if there's a few mountain ranges in the way?
I think pretty much any other solution will work better than digging a well in rural Wyoming and building a pipeline somewhere. For example, getting water from all the other places around Colorado. Why is this one particular spot in Wyoming so important?
Ignoring the "rural" aspect of what you're saying, the same can be said of Vegas. And most of Arizona. Not to mention, ahem, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. You suggesting that the 20M+ people in SoCal should pick up and leave because there isn't enough water? Because there isn't, except if you count the water imported from COLORADO.
Colorado actually has PLENTY of water; it's just that legally we're bound to give it to others.
Aside from which point, infrastructure costs money. "Pick up and move elsewhere" isn't reasonable if "elsewhere" doesn't have the infrastructure for millions of people.
Did you actually read the comment thread before replying?
You need to think further into the future. What happens in 50-100-200 years when all the surface and near-surface water is spoken for, and there is literally not enough water for the population to even drink?
(If you think I've being doomsdayish, this actually happens in Australia - a buddy of mine with a newborn in a city of 30,000 people had to rely on bottled flown-in water just to be able to drink)
Those words sound like the tell-tale signs of the short-sightedness that drives some of these decisions. I believe the next sentence, which may not be uttered until years later, is "Doh!", while face-palming.
And half a million dollars is really nothing, meaning the eventual face palm is even more likely. Not to mention it could become even less costly to access it in the future.
Not really. The West has been colonized for centuries. We have a pretty good idea of what is valuable out there and what isn't, and for the most part, extractive is what is valuable out there.
> Not to mention it could become even less costly to access it in the future.
Talk about one-sided reasoning - and there could be even less reason to ever want to access it in the future too. Rural areas in the plains have been depopulating for decades.
So far. In relative terms.
>extractive is what is valuable out there.
In some places, water is an extractive.
>Talk about one-sided reasoning - and there could be even less reason to ever want to access it in the future too.
Possibly, but then, I wasn't the one making definitive statements like "what would ever justify...". See the difference? I'm showing you another side, not declaring it inevitable. That's why I used the word could instead of will.
In general, you made a one-sided statement that also ignored the fact that your assumptions could change. I pointed that out, along with possible alternatives. Then, you reply that I am being one-sided? You're talking in circles.
Contortions aside, your posture makes no sense to me. You're saying there is no need now and may never be, so let's destroy it. I'm saying there may be a need, so let's think about that. If we don't know, then why burn the bridge? One approach gives us a way back, whereas the other doesn't.
And, that's the entire point of the article. The Mexicans are now having to dig deeper than they thought would be necessary or viable. At some point, they were saying "what would ever justify...".
What other terms could there be?
> In general, you made a one-sided statement that also ignored the fact that your assumptions could change. I pointed that out, along with possible alternatives. Then, you reply that I am being one-sided? You're talking in circles.
My point is that we have lots of information on what is valuable out there and what is not, and the people wringing hands over it seem to be trying to put all the burden of proof on everyone else, and speculating vaguely about how one might one day want that deep acquifer (without any consideration of future technological advances and economic and demographic shifts away from the areas, opportunity costs like foregone economic growth) etc. That's very one-sided.
> The Mexicans are now having to dig deeper than they thought would be necessary or viable. At some point, they were saying "what would ever justify...".
Greater Mexico City has been growing for how many centuries now? If they were saying that, they weren't doing a very good job of forecasting. There's a big difference between wondering whether one of the largest urbanizations in the world will one day want to tap in local water, and wondering whether some random plains acquifer located nowhere important will one day be worth the expense of tapping into and whether this can justify expensive restrictions now.
>we have lots of information on what is valuable out there and what is not
Again, that's now. Strange that you agree that we're talking in relative terms, but keep repeating this. Please understand that it's a meaningless statement in the context of this discussion. The very question is whether the water could someday be valuable.
>the people wringing hands...put all the burden of proof on everyone else
Of course, you realize I could say that as well; as in, "you guys are putting the burden of proof on the hand-wringers to show exactly when, where, and why we'll need it, else it's OK to destroy it".
>without any consideration of future technological advances of future technological advances
Why is it reasonable for you to consider future technological advances, but when others suggest the same, they're being "one-sided"?
>economic and demographic shifts away from the areas
Or toward the area, right? Also, who says the aquifer must serve the immediate area? We ship water from France and Fiji now as a "luxury". So, given that many are predicting a more global water-crisis, why is there reason to believe that our sources would be geographically bound when there is actual need?
In short, you're throwing out a bunch of hypotheticals, then declaring that's what the other side is doing. OK, let's call it a draw: no-one knows what will happen. So, what makes the most sense to do in that case? Preserve or destroy?
There is a certain arrogance that mankind has with regard to stewardship of our natural resources. Deciding that it's OK to destroy this thing or that one for some short-term economic benefit is short-sighted hubris at best.
>Greater Mexico City has been growing for how many centuries now? If they were saying that, they weren't doing a very good job of forecasting
I wasn't being literal. Mexico City didn't even know the water existed.
>wondering whether some random plains aquifer located nowhere important will one day be worth the expense of tapping into
According to the article there are 1,500 such "random" aquifers that are permitted for pollution in the U.S. . Many of these are in drought-stricken states.
So, it's not just the one aquifer. It's 1,500. Again, it's the overall attitude around these resources that's short-sighted and troubling.
Are you willing to state that all 1,500 (and possibly growing) will never be needed? If not, which ones will be?
The short answer is that we consume WAY more water than all of the precipitation on the entire region can support so we end up depleting the aquifers. Eventually (likely within my lifetime) those will dry up and they we will have to either start diverting water from Canada and Alaska, or decrease the population in the west.
Edit: Changed entire country to entire region. The Great Lakes area will do just fine for a very very long time.
Not to mention our practice of shunting rainwater off fields as fast as possible. This high-speed, high-runoff condition leads to soil erosion, failure to recharge aquifers, and really gives rise to the need for irrigation.
Dynamically unstable monocultures are neither sustainable nor efficient. They're not even cost-optimal or land-optimal, merely labor-minimizing (most of the arable land in the US is controlled either directly or indirectly by conglomerates, who generally view labor as messy and undesirable).
Again, dynamically unstable monocultures are neither sustainable nor efficient. Fortunately this means that when they inevitably collapse, we get wealthier as more efficient systems replace them.
that supports your 80%?
Because when I interpret the data I end up at 'most acreage is owned by families, families that may have done some sort of incorporation'.
I guess if you throw in some of the big forestry outfits you buy a lot of acres, but that perhaps indicates the need for a more precise phrasing or more interesting measure than arable (like, land used to produce food in the last 50 years, or something like that).
(Of course there are other family farmers who aren't like that, but they farm a small fraction of the acreage.)
Apparently the Farm Bill that just passed the House is supposed to change this situation somewhat, but I'll believe that when and if I see it over the next decade or so.
The landowner is less important than the entity in control of what actually happens there, which in industrial farming is generally not the landowner but the seed, fertilizer, biocide, machinery, agricultural education, and financing institutes that they are beholden to.
Perhaps with automation this cost can be brought down significantly though, so I really am curious what the optimal method would be.
For irrigation all that is necessary is to soak the rainwater in as soon as possible to prevent evaporation and runoff, since potability is not a requirement. This is even cheaper than rooftop catchment.
Of course you may need to re-green the upwind deserts first (since ~80% of terrestrial rainfall comes from plants, not evaporation), but we already have that technology. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1rKDXuZ8C0
This is hardly unprecedented. The CCC installed thousands of miles of swales during the Depression (that function to this day), but nowadays most people don't even know what a swale is.
crusso raises his hand then goes off to google.
It works when there is no rain without needing a tank big enough to last a several year long drought.
The architecture of the greenhouse acts as a solar desalinator that in testing creates more water than is needed to irrigate the plants, so it not only grows plants, but also can provide clean water in the desert.
That's not to say I'm against conservation. I think conservation is a necessity that few appreciate (having lived in a desert all my life, I have a certain appreciation for scarce resources), but comments like the one you replied to are exactly the kind we don't need. That is, dismissal of alternate solutions isn't going to help the problem get any better.
Out here, there's a large, untapped reservoir of brine that would be ample water to supply the neighboring communities for decades or more. The local government continues to humor bonds to build a desalinization plant every 10 years with conditions that the money will be redirected after 3 years if the plant isn't built, and unsurprisingly, the plant is never built. These greenhouses, if they work, would be a worthwhile experiment and probably substantially cheaper considering the wider variety of crops that could be grown and sold. Not to mention local growers could continue growing their crops without ruining the freshwater wells of their neighbors by running them dry. I just doubt it'll happen until the cost of pumping fresh water becomes too expensive or the wells are run completely dry.
GP here. :)
I'm 100% in favor of using technology "to offset much of what we've done, largely as a fault of technological advancement." After all, rainwater collection is technology! But desalination isn't that kind of technology — it's the destructive kind.
My question was genuine. What advantage does plastic greenhouse desalination have over rooftop rainwater harvesting? It uses less land. It costs less. It produces less pollution. No piped distribution to tear up the streets for every 50 years. No energy needed to pump water long distances.
The only advantage I can see is that under desalination, someone gets to control your access to water. Advantageous for them I mean.
Desalination does not intefere with rainwater harvesting. Rainwater harvesting is an entirely parallel enterprise, mostly involving accumulating very large bodies of freshwater.
Currently desalination is very energy intensive and so tends to do harm due the pollution generated from producing that energy.
These greenhouses desalinate water with a fraction of the energy requirements (pumping sea water inland takes energy, but nowhere near as much energy as you might imagine, as long as the inland end is not too far above sea level), while producing food, increasing the amount of moisture in the local area so greening that area of desert, and also increasing the amount of water available to the local municipal supply, at a rate that can be offset by the main farming business.
This is only control of water in the way that a pipe is control of water. It is continuous production of clean water in areas where that is often a problem.
But is it really? You're effectively doing what occurs in nature. Clearing land and building a distribution infrastructure is destructive, but certainly no more than what is already going to happen regardless of whether or not desalinization is used. Pumping from salt water aquifers might qualify as well.
> My question was genuine.
It was, but your comment seemed dismissive of alternatives. I don't think that objectively adds anything to the conversation. I apologize if that wasn't your intent.
I can see a solar desalinization system in place in areas where much of the water you encounter underground is brine or otherwise non-potable, and it's particularly useful in areas where other methods of collection won't work. Yes, it has the potential drawback of kicking the can farther down the road in terms of potentially extracting water faster than it's replaced. But that said, in much of the west, the topography lends itself well to draining much of the run off into large basins and water ingress likely far outpaces whatever could be pumped out of the ground. Perhaps a hybrid (rainfall collection + solar desalinization) would be ideal.
I think you're focusing exclusively on the advertised "seawater greenhouse" and may not be aware of the benefits such a design would have in areas where there certainly is plentiful salt water, just not from a sea.
Remember, the alternative I'm comparing it to is restoring the land to a forested state (specifically one with much higher food production).
>draining much of the run off into large basins
…from which it evaporates, leaving the salt. Not a great plan.
You have to design for the desert: evaporation > rainfall. That means getting the water shaded asap. Further, run-off is not a given. It's better to design for in-place infiltration instead of run-off by remediating hardpan, imprinting, contour earthworks, etc.
>water ingress likely far outpaces whatever could be pumped out of the ground
The Ogallala aquifer is currently pumped 6x faster than it's being recharged, and that's not even a desert yet. http://www.upi.com/Science_News/Blog/2013/08/28/Ogallala-Aqu...
You do both, the two activities feed into each other, the greenhouses increase air moisture down wind and help you get plants growing, which feeds back into getting more rainfall once you get a large enough area going.
You have to design for the desert: evaporation > rainfall. That means getting the water shaded asap.
That's what the fucking greenhouse is for.
I'm puzzled. If the land is forested, it's no longer usable for crops in the sense that land occupied by trees cannot simultaneously be occupied with something else. So, even if you interspersed crops among the trees somehow, you're not going to have higher food production than fields that consist of nothing but food crops.
> …from which it evaporates, leaving the salt. Not a great plan.
I see you're cherry picking my comments without full context. Although I can't remember specifically why I mentioned drainage basins. I suspect it was because of run-off storage. See below.
Anyway, the point of solar desalinization (or rather, any desalinization) is to, well, evaporate or separate the water to separate salt and other unwanted things in solution, so unless you're willing to accept that desalinization is going to yield dissolved salts, then there's no point in doing it, is there? The salt doesn't magically disappear.
I also suspect that you may not live in a climate like I do, which is largely classified as a high desert, mountainous region. You don't have to design for run-off. Run-off is a given. An inch or less of rain leads to heavy flooding of lower areas simply because the soil isn't conducive to drainage or absorption of precipitation, and the steep canyons upstream serve to collect and concentrate rainfall. So, you wind up with low-lying areas that fill up with brine collected upstream from various salts and minerals, and eventually settle in subterranean aquifers that are entirely non-potable without desalinization. The drainage basins already exist. Oftentimes, salt lakes appear and persist for weeks following a rain because the atmospheric humidity is too high to allow for quick evaporation. The upshot is that if you were using a solar greenhouse, you wouldn't have to pump the water particularly far. Or you could pump it out of the ground.
> The Ogallala aquifer is currently pumped 6x faster than it's being recharged,
I wasn't talking about potable water. I was humoring the "seawater greenhouse" as a method of treating non-potable water, pumped from underground briny aquifers. I think you have this idea in mind that all subterranean water deposits are fresh water. They're not.
You're way overestimating the size needed. Even in drought years there is substantial precipitation, but generally it happens at the wrong time of year.
Often you'll have flooding in the same year as drought! See this recent example: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/09/130913-color...
That flooding is made worse by hardware (meaning roofs, concrete, etc) that prevents infiltration and overwhelms surrounding areas.
It's often cheaper to oversize your catchment area and direct tank overflow to a nearby garden. Generally the available roof area isn't the limiting factor, but I encourage you to verify this by looking up annual rainfall numbers for areas you're interested in. Do you know how much rain falls on your roof each year?
They are very interesting technology and if I wasn't working on the organization I am working on now I would probably be working with a large scale Seawater Greenhouse installation somewhere today.
edit - I just had a look at what you are doing through your username, akvo looks pretty cool.
Anyway, you have made my day by merely mentioning that read, and I will have anything else you care to share on your reading list. I take it you are also an Edward Abbey fan?!?
And Ed Abbey wrote some great books, too. Desert Solitaire is always worth rereading. Last time I was camping at the Maze I took in a couple evening sunsets enjoying that book again.
I too second Desert Solitaire as a must read, it is not a novel like Monkey Wrench Gang, it made me think again about values of freedom and what it is to be alive without having to suspend one's belief in a way that pure fiction demands.
I also recommend walking down the Grand Canyon and up the other side carrying very little and without knowing what is going to happen to you. By very little I mean a light snack, some water and a picnic rug to sleep on (under the stars at the bottom of the Canyon).
Whether that would be enough to survive off the precipitation alone with our current population I kinda doubt (especially in Southern California), but you never know.
Also, is the problem really that the government subsidizes water. As I understand it, there is a naturally occurring aquifer that is currently being used at free market rates. We would need the government to tax this to reduce usage.
What actually happens is groundwater salting which starts at the coast and works inland, killing pretty much all plant life as it goes.
A bunch of water also goes back to the environment, but I don't think we want to take that.
If someone needs a big hole to store poisons in, I'd sort of prefer that it not already be filled with nature's favorite nearly-universal solvent. The water got down there somehow, and geology makes you no guarantees that it will never move that water again.
Also, professional polluters sometimes cut corners on measures to ensure that their pollutants don't actually end up somewhere other than the planned and approved place.
With that principle in mind, I'm not sure I care if deep resources are polluted for a few hundred thousand years.
 Mexico is rapidly improving economically; it may make sense for them to postpone the real solution until such time as they can afford to desalinate and ship water long distance.
Wow. The stupidity and nearsightedness exposed in this article is astounding.
(1) Both US freshwater (surface + groundwater) and groundwater usage in the US has been flat for 40+ years despite the population growing by 50%.
(2) Less than 2% for freshwater and 5% of groundwater is used for domestic uses (shower, washing, drinking, etc).
(3) Less than 1% of domestic water is used for drinking.
So of the 350 billion gallons of freshwater used in the US every day only 250 million is used for drinking. That is 0.07%! We could easily double the amount of drinking water with only a miniscule decrease in the water used for farming. And it is not like this problem is getting worse as usage is flat.
There is no reason to worry about a shortage of drinking water in the US.
What we do to this Earth needs to be evaluated on a regular basis by our Gov. officials and in this case, hopefully we can all agree that "deep, unknown potential sources of drinking water [DO] matter" and matter right now.
That having been said, wasn't there an article yesterday about how 30% of Californian pollution comes from China? Or a few weeks ago that radiation from Japan is hitting our shores? This is not what they meant with "Think locally, act globally."
Or is it on the factories / companies themselves? Is a factory in China going to sacrifice economic growth so that a Californian can breathe cleaner air? Or is a US drilling company going to buy more expensive formulas so that Mexico city can have clean water someday? These things won't happen on their own.
Ultimately that's the problem, in my opinion.
But regional powers already have a lot of trouble keeping good relations with other countries and often have dirt of their own (see the UN), so these alliances are usually ineffective for anything but trade regulations.
The US agreed to make one of the biggest De-salination plants in the world just before the border and now the US pays about $300/ton to clean up the Colorado River before it flows into Mexico.
That says the plant is not currently operating. It also says that it's only "included" in the water sent to Mexico. I don't see any indication that it's used for anything close to the full volume of the Colorado River.
Basically, imagine you have a glass of chocolate milk. You take a teaspoon of chocolate milk out and put a teaspoon of regular milk back in, you will reduce the chocolate content of the glass. The glass is the river as a whole, the plant only treats the teaspoon.
That doesn't really answer how it would enforce anything; sure, in that case, the US may have chosen to do something, but if it hadn't, its not like winning a case at the ICJ would have forced the US to do anything.
Consider, e.g., Nigaragua v. United States. 
2. People immigrate to developed countries.
I'd like to see that list controlled for cost of living. States away from the East and West Coasts tend to be much more affordable, which makes having extra kids more feasible.
EDIT: Scroll about halfway down for a ranked list similar to the one on Wikipedia.
Some people want to defend others' rights to conscientiously object to birth control (such as opting out of certain health insurance coverage), but that's more in the vein of Voltaire's famous sentiment. More like, "I do not agree with your morality but I'll defend to the death your right to have it."
⚫ Geothermal is available in limited areas. Few of those are proximate to salt water (though in Japan, Hawaii, and the Philippines this might be the case). I'm not aware that freshwater supplies are critically limited in any of those areas, however.
⚫ Geothermal itself tends to have substantial water requirements as a heat transfer / working fluid. Replenishing groundwater liberated through generating activities is a concern in many fields.
$ xc < ~/Downloads/unicode-medium-black-circle
Since the Earth is radiating its heat anyway, just over more area, you're also only transferring that evaporation to specific locations (though it's possible that goethermal heat would radiate into space without heating and vaporizing water in some cases).
On a net basis the effect would likely be too small to matter. I suspect utilizing the heat more directly for either heating or generating purposes would be more useful.
I wonder if the energy in the Yellowstone system could be tapped for that. We would at least have the plot for a really bad sci-fi movie...
Taking seawater to it would be an interesting problem in itself.